Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Being released in 1920, Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was an extremely controversial and unsettling piece of work when first unleashed among German audiences. Like the many German Expressionist films that followed it, Caligari focuses on several themes that weren’t openly discussed at the time, and to some degree, still aren’t: murder, loneliness, hopelessness, and rape, just to name a few. The film has several honorable credentials up its sleeve, including for being the first of the horror genre, and is even often cited as a major inspiration for film noir, which debuted only a few years later (while the “first” film noir is debated, some consider M to hold the title, directed by fellow German director Fritz Lang). This scene, where Dr. Caligari’s puppet Cesare attempts to claim another victim, is potentially the most hair-raising of the film’s (rather short) duration. This is particularly due to Giuseppe Becce’s haunting composition, which not only holds up against many compositions to this day - it outmatches them.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


If there was any doubt that only total badasses can chew on toothpicks, without the desire to clean their teeth, Ryan Gosling puts that silly rumor to rest. Despite what it's title might imply, Drive is not your typical ricer-approved action movie that we all know and love nowadays. The film is very patient and quietly paced, and proves how important and powerful the use of a camera can be if in the right hands. There are (almost) no climatic chase sequences here. Nicolas Winding Refn, director, instead relies on very steady and slow, yet controlled tension to keep us on the edge of our seats at all times. The opening scene is my testimony to this, and perfectly sets the tone for what's to come.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


James Gunn has quite the credentials. His first screenplay for a feature film is the critically panned Specials, starring Rob Lowe. He followed this with the live-action take of Scooby-Doo. Two years later, he must have realized what a huge mistake that crap was, because he went on to try something (slightly) more respectful and dignifying: Zach Snyder's remake of Dawn of the Dead. Looks like Gunn's career is taking a nice turn, after all! Oh...wait. Scratch that. The same year he helped scribe Scooby-Doo: Monster's Unleashed.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Beaver

Whatever your opinions are about fellow actor and director Mel Gibson, it's difficult to deny that inside that very disturbed and perhaps disfinctional brain of his, there is a portion of it that is actually quite talented. Maybe even, dare I say, quite brilliant. His directing abilities demonstrate this, because Apocalypto is a serious (and gorgeous) feat to behold. His acting performances are almost always rather powerful, although they certainly have their ups and downs. I will, until my last dying breath, defend the awesomeness of Payback. It is a constantly overlooked modern take on the film noir genre, and Gibson is top-notch. Call it a guilty pleasure, Rotten Tomatoes be damned. Despite this, his "retribution" has still yet to make an appearance. At least, in the eyes of the public. However, there is little doubt that his performance in Jodie Foster's The Beaver sought to change that.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Hobo With a Shotgun

Watching the trailer, one might wonder how a trailer so gory, so violent, so grotesque and so tasteless could possibly be stretched out into a 90 minute feature. Not only does it deliver to your disgusting needs, it shoots you in the balls with it. Still interested, sicko? Well, once upon a time in Hollywood, directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino wanted to make a film that would be a throwback to the "classic" grindhouse features, which mainly consisted of exploitation B-movies.  An exploitation film is essentially a genre that one-ups another to the point where if the film could vomit, it would vomit that genre into your eyes forever. So, the two collaborated to release Grindhouse, a double-feature including Planet Terror and Death Proof, directed by Rodriguez and Tarantino, respectively. If you saw the film in theaters, you got a special treat. Before the opening of each film, a series of fake trailers were shown, each offering something more ridiculous and insane than the features succeeding them. What's special about these trailers is that they were significant efforts by some famous names. Such trailers include Werewolf Women of the SS, directed by Rob Zombie and starring Nicolas Cage; Thanksgiving, directed by Eli Roth; Don't, directed by Edgar Wright, and Machete, directed by Rodriguez himself. As you might know, Machete was later made into a feature film, because of the praise received from the trailer. As you might not know, the script for Machete was actually already written several years prior to the release of the fake trailer, which rekindled his interest in finally bringing it to the big screen. The last fake trailer to precede Grindhouse wasn't created by a famous director, but rather a winner of Rodriguez's "South by Southwest" contest. The winner's trailer would be featured in Grindhouse. As you might have guessed, the winner was Hobo With a Shotgun. Obviously, someone must have appreciated the trailer, as it too was later shot as a feature-length.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Dollars Trilogy, Part III: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Wow. So, yeah. With The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Sergio Leone proves not only that is he not a crock (as if anyone doubted it), but he is a master of the craft. This is entirely predictable with just the opening credits, which has jumped to my top ten opening sequences ever. Although it is only an animated sequence, Leone's use of sound and Ennio Marricone's incredible composition is absolutely brilliant. This is easily the best use of my newly acquired surround sound system, and reminded me of why I installed it in the first place. In my review for the previous film, I stated that For a Few Dollars more essentially one-ups A Fistful of Dollars in every way. It is more than fair to say the same for The Good, the Bad, and Ugly. Leone takes the trilogy to places that I never expected it go.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Dollars Trilogy, Part II: For a Few Dollars More

For a Few Dollars More, the second entry in the "Dollars Trilogy", essentially one-ups it's predecessor,  A Fistful of Dollars in almost every way. It is clear that the sequel was granted a much bigger budget than Fistful. The set pieces are noticeably bigger, and we get a lot more triumphant explosions. Director Sergio Leone wittingly held onto Ennio Marricone, who managed to top himself and create another incredible score. There is not much else to say about the film, other than it has everything you could expect from watching the previous film, but overall more entertaining and satisfying. The script is much tighter and its characters show much more emotion and depth. It is arguable that the audience will have more investment in El Indio, the antagonist of the film than any other character. He is not as shallow of an evil character as Ramón, from the last film. Not to say that El Indio isn't a villainous bastard, because he is. He deserves everything he has coming to him, and more. The difference is I didn't feel like El Indio was mindlessly thrown into the script. When they get deeper into the film, he audience eventually gets a sense that he has actual emotions and thoughts, as opposed to Ramón, who killed people because, well, it's just so much fun being bad! He is also not an idiot, and is simply a worthy contender of the stranger, now known as "Manco". Manco is as intimidating and mysterious as we were first introduced to him in Fistful, and no one is complaining. To top it off, a third player is also thrown into the mix: hit man Colonel Douglas Mortimer, perplexingly played by Lee Van Cleef. Thanks to his deceiving eyes and menacing smile, it is never exactly clear for some time where his true allegiance lies: with "Manco", El Indio, or himself. I found myself constantly guessing at what he was going to do next.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Dollars Trilogy, Part I: A Fistful of Dollars

The Dollar Trilogy films are what are known as "spaghetti westerns". These are a sub-genre of films, as you might have intelligently guessed, that were directed and produced by Italians. They are essentially the Italian filmmakers' take on the western genre. Popularity of these films arose in the early '60s and had a good run before they more or less died out in the late '70s.

Shameful as it might sound (it is), only until a few days ago, I had yet to see any of Sergio Leone's famed "Man With No Name" Trilogy. As a double whammy, this is also my first witness to Clint Eastwood in the western genre. In order to make up for this unnecessary guilt that I have imploded upon myself, I thought it would be interesting to write about them as I watch not only the Dollar triliogy for the first time, but my first Spaghetti westerns as well. The difference between spaghetti westerns and the "American" westerns, arguably made famous by John Ford and John Wayne, that most of us have become accustomed to aren't night and day, but they aren't difficult to point out either. It's the small and subtle differences that make (almost) make spaghetti westerns a standalone genre.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Super 8

*As a note to all three of you who will read this, I will TRY to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but read at your own risk, since to is hard to review this film without keeping out some major details and plot-points.

**By "TRY", I mean I won't.

JJ Abrams has (arguably) crafted a few of the best television series of the current generation, and love him or hate him, he's reaching for the skies on the big screen. Super 8 isn't his directorial debut (that title belongs to Mission Impossible: 3), but it is clearly his most ambitious to date. Both MI: 3 and his re-invisioned Star Trek were both his attempts at already existing and widely popular properties. Super 8 is Abrams' first attempt at creating something entirely original, born from his own mind. However, it is impossible to watch Super 8 and not give credit to Steven Spielberg. Because besides actually producing the film, it is very heavily influenced by Spielberg's previous work, particularly his earlier extraterrestrial films. It's no secret that Abrams dreams of being the next Spielberg, and Super 8 is living proof of that.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fish Tank

What should have been a throwaway story about a bratty 15 year-old with a crappy life ended up being quite the opposite. Because, let's face it, 15 year-old girls suck, and they don't deserve the privilege of breathing in oxygen. But with Fish Tank, Andrea Arnold gives us a glimpse into the life of one of said teenagers, perhaps in an attempt to let us understand why 15 year-old girls are the way that they are (i.e., spawns of the devil). For the most part, she succeeds.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Most movies I find entertaining are hard to recommend to, say, my mother. Dogtooth is admirable and original in almost every way, but oddly enough, it is incredibly difficult to recommend to almost anybody. Also, it is difficult to discuss without spoiling and ruining the first-viewing experience for a potential viewer. To get the best experience out of this one, it is best to dive into it without knowing what lies ahead. Because of this, I will do my best to keep this review short and sweet. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Let Me In

When I first heard there was an American remake of Let the Right One in in development I was very skeptical, as I'm sure many fans of the original were. Let the Right One in is a 2008 Swedish film directed by Tomas Alfredson that has built a very strong fan base, and the fact that Hollywood was trying to profit from it had many nerds foaming at the mouth. If you are unfamiliar with the film, I wrote a quick review of it a while back, and it is currently still on Netflix's Watch Instantly, so there is no excuse not to watch it.

The American

Don't fall under the impression that Anton Corbijn's The American, starring George Clooney, is a Jason Bourne-esque thriller, with lots of killing, explosions, car chases, etc. In fact, it is quite the opposite of the fast paced, in-your-face assassin films that we have become accustomed to. The film opens with a beautiful, snow-coated landscape, containing a cabin that is inhabited by Jack (Clooney) and his lover. Within minutes, they are assaulted, presumably in an attempt to take out Jack, but he takes care of the problem, and makes it look easy. In an anti-Clooney decision, he takes out his lover, who is now at witness, as well. He then travels to Italy, where the rest of the film is located. As an assassin, most would think the reason he has traveled to such a distant location would be, of course, to assassinate. Instead, he has been asked to build a customized gun for another talented professional. Having never seen an automatic rifle being built before, it was fascinating to watch Jack assemble it in such a way that one could argue that it is a form of art. It is clear he has a lot of passion for his profession, and I have probably learned more about Clooney's character watching him do this in mere silence, that any other scene in the film.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I'm Still Here

Unfortunately, before seeing this film, I was predisposed of the knowledge that I'm Still Here, the "documentary" directed by Casey Affleck and starring Joaquin Phoenix, was indeed a performance. So I didn't have a chance to revel in the confusion and discussions (with myself) after witnessing the film. But then again, most people probably didn't anyway. That's not to say I wasn't fooled by Phoenix's crazy antics, from the notorious Letterman appearance to his newfound "career" in hip-hop. Watching I'm Still Here is very similar to the experience of watching films such as Borat or Bruno, films that can make the audience twinge in their seats at the ridiculous situations these actors will put themselves into, just to make people (eventually) laugh. The difference is, I realized, that not only were the people on screen oblivious to to Phoenix's antics, but so were we, at least at one point. I'm not ashamed, because let's face it, we've all seen worse. However this effects the viewing experience is debatable, but I sure had a blast watching Phoenix publicly drive his career to the ground for the sake of filming a semi-fictional documentary. However, the film differentiates from most "mockumentaries" in many ways.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Directed by Rodrigo Cortés, Buried is about a man, Paul (Ryan Reynolds), who wakes up in a coffin, with nothing but a Zippo and a cell phone that isn't his. We don't know how he got there or who Paul really is as a person. All we know is unless he gets very lucky, he will die. What makes this film such a ballsy one is this entire movie is seen from Paul's perspective in the coffin. The entire movie. It is difficult to imagine how watching Ryan Reynolds sweat and scream in such a claustrophobic narrative for 90 minutes can successfully be pulled off without boring the audience to tears, but amazingly, it gets the job done better than most people probably expected.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Black Swan

Directing such projects as Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain, Darren Aronofsky's films are never easy for most people to consume, and as expected, Black Swan is no different. Nina, a skilled ballet dancer, is granted the lead role in a "Swan Lake" production, and we watch as her obsession of perfecting the role ultimately destroys both her body and sanity. Judging the trailers before seeing the film, my assumption was this would be Aronofsky's unique take on the horror genre. In a few ways, I was right, but not exactly.