Monday, September 30, 2013

1970's Horror Halloween Celebration!

Tomorrow is the first day of October, which has my favorite holiday, Halloween, in it, so I'm doing something special.  I noticed that a lot of great and/or memorable horror films were made in the 1970's.  Therefore, I am reviewing only movies from this decade all month long!  Also, it won't be just horror because I like variety, and Halloween isn't just scary; it's fun! And I get candy.  Also, I realize I only have one month left to make our costumes so I need to get busy.

The scariest movie!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

Koyannisqatsi is a visual, nonverbal film. I chose to review this film because it was the longest word I have ever seen. It is supposed to be an environmental tale, but falls flat.  I can see what the filmmakers were trying to do, but they fell short of my expectations.

The worst part was the music.  Definitely.  I thought about watching the again with different background music to see if I felt differently about the film.  The first part is a gentle flowing music that sounds just like Tetris.  Odd, but I was okay with it because I like Tetris.  The next part was horrible loud digital repeating music.  It sounded like a casino or arcade with all of the machines blasting their tinny music, their loudness competing with one another.  It reminded me of when I was younger and worked for a year in an arcade.  I almost went insane because of the noise.  The music of this film was so awful I literally got a bad headache from it.  About an hour in, I gave up and turned the sound off.  I didn't have a choice.  The film got better after that.

This film is environmental propaganda.  But it doesn't do a very good job.  What do they show, a projects building being demolished; a highway system?  Come on, it is so obvious they were too lazy to leave West part of America for any of their shots.  Show the devastation to the land a factory farm causes.  Show unsustainable fishing methods.  Show that giant ball of trash in the ocean!  Show cute ducklings covered in Exxon oil.  Show something.  I'm not impressed.  I felt absolutely nothing from the images on the screen.

I was disappointed with this film.  I was expecting an environmental tale featuring the beauty of nature versus the destruction of man.  All I got was a few shots of the desert and some buildings.  They could have shown the beautiful forests of America, or our beaches and mountains, not some lifeless barren deserts.  I'm giving this film a 5/10.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Secret of NIMH (1982)

Today's animated feature is The Secret of NIMH.  This is it!  This is the start of Don Bluth and company's era of great animated films.  He, along with Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy all left Disney to pursue making this film, as their idea was rejected for being too dark.  They were soon after followed by 20 other Disney employees and later created United Artists.  This was during the time of the 1970s and 80s when Disney used cheap cost-cutting methods in their animations. Seriously, the animations are terrible.  After Walt Disney, the animation master, died, the company wasn't interested in cartoons anymore.  They were too focused on their new theme parks, Walt Disney World and Epcot, which opened in 1971 and 1982.

They went all out making this film.  There's actual smoke, magic crystals (that swirl in a different plane which is amazing for that era), and over 600 colors used and 1000 backgrounds.   It took over a year and a half to design and build the cameras.

This is another movie where I vaguely remember having to read the book as a child.  I know the main character's name was Mrs. Frisby, not Mrs. Brisby, but they had to change it to avoid legal problems with the Frisbee makers.  Yes, our legal system is that ridiculous.  I also remember the part about the rats escaping.  What I don't recall is the magic amulet, the red one that Nicodemus gives to Mrs. Brisby.

From the time when the rats escape the NIMH to go hide out under the rosebush, where did they pick up a magical amulet?  And if Nicodemus was trying so hard to conceal the necklace from Renner, why did he give it to her and then present her in a meeting with the rats?  Of course he would see it.  He tries to grab it from her and this starts off a Robin Hood style sword fight.  Where did they get swords now?  The swordfight between Justin and Renner is literally straight from The Adventures of Robin Hood.

I think the story would have been a lot better if they would have stayed away from the magic elements.  There was no magic in the book, they didn't need it.  The rats used their super intelligence to build their community and also to help Mrs. Brisby move her home safely.  I will give this film a 7/10 because of technical achievements.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Adaptation (2002)

Today's film is Adaptation.  Twice the Cage, Twice the fun!!

We get double the Nicolas Cages!  No matter how bad a movie is, Nicolas Cage is always entertaining.
I don't care if he's writing a screenplay or stealing the Declaration of Independence, I will totally watch that movie. And I liked how the twins had opposite personalities so Nick had to do twice the acting.

This film is actually meta because we are seeing what the twins wrote.  It's the story of them writing the story.  Charlie wrote the first half and Donald wrote the second half.  This way it feels like two different movies.  Charlie is struggling to adapt The Orchid Thief into a screenplay because it is a nonfiction book, not a novel.  What kind of story can he derive from it?  This is an exceptionally difficult task.  This part of the movie is slower but more intellectual.  (By the way, Charlie Kaufman actually did write this script and dedicates it to Donald.  But Donald is just a fictional character.)

The next half of the film, his brother takes over.  After all, he has taken a writing seminar and totally knows much more than his professional screenwriting brother.  He transforms the nonfiction book into an awesome action film.  He makes the author of the book fall in love with her subject, and together they do drugs and go after the brothers!!

I'm happy to see a film (or at least part of it) take place in Florida. There are orchids everywhere here, especially in my office.  The main class during our annual garden festival is "You too can grow orchids!"  We are serious about our orchids here, but I've never seen them used for drugs.  But that doesn't mean it's impossible.  Follow your dreams.  Also, Florida is not mostly jungle swampland as this movie would have you believe.  

This film was great and had a unique plot.  In fact it was kind of original.  I liked it.  I will give it a 7/10.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Festen (The Celebration) (1998)

Today's film is The Celebration.  The movie was okay, just not the camerawork.  The celebration is for Helge's 60th birthday party.

Helge has four adult children, Michael, Helene, and the twins Christian and Linda.  Recently, Linda has killed herself.  Helge asks Christian to give a speech at his birthday when all of their relatives are gathered to eat dinner.  Christian takes this opportunity to explain to everyone why his twin killed herself, because their dad raped them often as children.  That had to take a lot of courage.  Still, almost no one believes him until his sister, Helene, reads a letter written by their sister.  After that, the whole mood changes and everyone realizes what a villain Helge is.

One thing I could not stand was the camerawork.  It is part of an artsy fartsy movement called Dogme.  That means there is no soundtrack, no music and all the cameras are handheld.  Sure it provides realism, but it greatly detracted from the film and gave it an overall cheap feel to it.  I would have given this film a higher score if it were not entrapped by this poor camera handling.  I felt like I was watching The Office or a college-student-made documentary, not a decent film.  So, I'm forced to give this film a 5/10.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Las Hurdes (Land Without Bread) (1933)

Today's film is Las Hurdes.  Is this the world's first mockumentary?

The "hurdanos" live in an isolated region of Spain.  They have a great tradition of cutting off upside-down roosters' heads for reasons that are unclear to me.  Further in the valley, bread is unheard of except for those children that we are watching eat bread.  The children must eat the bread in view of their teacher, otherwise their parents will take it away from them.  As a mother, how dare those children eat bread.  Who do they think they are?

Look at these jerks eating bread like they're all that.

The hurdanos are a resourceful people, walking for miles to gather leaves to sleep on.  The area is rich with walnut, olive and cherry trees, and yet nothing grows here because the soil is bad and that's why everyone is starving. Riiighttt.  They almost never eat meat, except when this happens -*goat randomly falls off cliff*.

Also, everyone drinks dirty river water.  Everyone has goiter, dysentery and malaria, just not at the same time.  Even though no one eats, they still walk 50 miles to find work.  Also, when someone dies, they walk for days to the cemetery since there is not one nearby.  How hard is it to dig some holes in the ground?  That was one of the most absurd parts.

This mockumentary was told in a serious tone, and yet everything about it was absurd and unbelievable.  I can't call it comedy even though it was absurd because it wasn't funny.  I will give this a 5/10.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Frankenstein (1931)

Today's film is Frankenstein.  I have previously seen Young Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein, but I thought I would review Frankenstein since it is such a horror classic.  I found out that James Whale directed both Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein.

In the scenery, I saw many aspects of German Expressionism, which to me, the darkness of it isn't a scary dark, it's a shadowy dark.  It had the same kind of vibe to it that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Dracula had.  Also, early Expressionist films dealt with themes of madness and intellectualism, and doesn't a mad scientist cover both of them?  

I read the book in school, but I don't remember much of it.  Actually, we have Universal to thank for how we see Frankenstein, his lab, and his monster, not the book.  Frankenstein's lab has a lot of fancy electrical equipment with voltage zapping everywhere and does not look at all OSHA approved.

In the American version of the film, the scene with Maria and the monster stops right before she drowns, because the critics objected to her violent end.  Well of course they would object to a child's death; anyone would.  But they missed the point.  It was to show that the monster was not a malevolent creature; it simply had a childlike way of thinking.  If my three year old daughter was throwing things into a pond and ran out, she would look around and throw in the biggest thing.  This is exactly what the monster did.  I think that maybe the monster didn't have a criminal brain, but maybe one of a mentally challenged individual, maybe someone who didn't know how to make the right choices.
This brings me to my next point.  If Dr. Frankenstein is such a great scientist that he can bring life to dead tissue, why couldn't he see that the brain was no good?  The professor kept them in jars marked "abnormal" and "normal".  He explained to the class how to visually tell the differences between them.  Frankenstein told the professor that his monster's brain was "perfectly good".  Why couldn't he tell?  Is he not as smart as he thinks he is?  Or is he so arrogant that he was careless in examining it?
After Frankenstein succeeds in bringing his creature to life, he exclaims, "I know what it's like to be God!"  Later this was removed from the film as the censors thought it was blasphemous.  What is this, Iran?  We have freedom of speech here, or at least we were told we did.  The novel was written in Victorian times, when technology and medical science were progressing at a rapid pace.  People had no idea what we could eventually accomplish.  Would we use our knowledge for good or evil?  How far can we go?  Frankenstein's monster is like a straw-man argument about the worst possible situation for medical science - a giant man made of stitched up dead flesh powered by a criminal brain.  The thought that something this horrible might be possible is really scary.  That's why this made such a great horror film, and why it's still a classic.  I will give this film a 6/10.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Today's film is Star Dark Into Darkness, which is a glossy high-tech retelling of the Wrath of Khan and Space Seed, the Star Trek episode.  I'm giving it a 6/10.
So as we learned from Star Trek, the timeline changed so new characters and experiences can emerge.  Therefore, I was highly disappointed to see a remake of Wrath of Khan.  I don't care how high tech it is, or how much cgi they use.  I actually got bored in some parts, especially parts that seemed to be all action and no plot (or maybe too much plot).

I also learned that my husband has never seen the original Star Trek series and I plan to rectify that immediately.  It's on Netflix instant right now if you want to watch it too.  Replacing Ricardo Montalban as Khan is Benedict Cumberbatch, a blond guy with a super deep voice that I can't understand Anything he says. Anything.  My husband was so lost watching this film, and I filled him in with details from the two sources (the original movie and episode).  A lot of it seems based on the episode more than the first movie.  Trust me, if I hadn't seen them, I would have been super lost as well.  Honestly, this is the crapola we get from a director that claimed that Star Trek was "too philosophical for me".

Saturday, September 21, 2013

An American Tail (1986)

Today's animated feature is An American Tail.  This movie came out when I was a baby, so I recognized all the songs but didn't remember much of the plot.  I was excited to show it to my daughter.  Later, after hearing one of the songs, she fell asleep.  This is a good thing.  Usually animated movies make her hyper and I am glad to find one that calms her down.  This gets extra points in my book.

I watched this for purely nostalgic reasons.  During this particular time, Don Bluth's animated films far surpassed those of the Walt Disney Studios, and for good reason.  But I'll talk about that much more next week.  This film is the first collaboration between Don Bluth and Steven Spielberg.

The story focuses on Fievel, a Jewish mouse from Russia, and his family.  Tired of being tormented by cats, they face a long journey to America.  This prompts the songs, "There are No Cats in America" which my husband randomly sings often.  Every mouse from different countries are all there to find the American dream.  And now as an adult, I'm wondering what "cats" are actually referring to.  Could it be lack of freedom or opportunities  a lack of jobs. The mice also says they now have freedom of speech, which means they can say "Cats!"  When I was little, I didn't even notice the actual humans in the film, but now I did.  The experiences of the mice coming to America mirror those of the humans.

On the way, Fievel is tossed off the boat, but manages to arrive unharmed in a bottle.  Once he reaches New York City, he tries to find his family.  While there, he makes new friends, including a cat!

I remembered this movie best because of its songs.  "Somewhere Out There" will always remain a favorite song from any movie.  This movie is darker than any cartoon made today, but my daughter greatly enjoyed it.  I will give it a 6/10.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Eyes Without a Face (Les yeux sans visage) (1960)

Today's film is Eyes Without a Face, which was actually better than I thought it was going to be.  An accomplished surgeon and his assistant kidnap beautiful women and cut their faces off! Why??

The surgeon, Dr. Génessier, is cutting off their faces to graft them onto his daughter, Christiane.  She was injured in a terrible car accident. She appears to have healed from all her wounds, except her face, which was torn clean off.  She is forced to wear a creepy white mask for most of the film, but we do get to see her actual face once.

I put off watching this film for years because it actually sounded too scary for me.  But it's not really scary.  The film actually shows the surgery and doesn't cut away during the actual incisions like I thought it would.  It looks way too simplistic for what it would actually take to transfer a person's face to someone else.  The first real-life successful face transplant wasn't until 2005.  I thought the makeup was pretty great especially at this part.  One scene shows the pictures displaying the progress of her body rejecting her new face and the makeup used here looks almost modern.

The main thing that takes away from the enjoyment of the film is the police officers' complete incompetence.  They have an idea of who is kidnapping the women and send someone as a decoy to the hospital where Dr. Génessier works.  They should have sent an undercover officer or someone who was completely aware of the situation and knew what to do.  Instead, they chose a woman almost at random, did not inform her of the situation or the danger involved, and didn't even follow up until much later when she is captured.  She could have died and it would have been their fault.  You would think they would have known better.

Christiane is the saddest character in the film.  Understandably, she hates living without a face, and her own father has claimed her as dead.  She lives as a human guinea pig for her father, who also cuts up dogs for experiments.  The dogs love Christiane, who comes to visit them.  Christiane uses this against her father and sets all the dogs free.  Finally I have an answer to the song, Who let the dogs out?.  It seems strangely fitting that the first real-life recipient of a face transplant was a victim of a dog mauling.  Strange.  I will give this film a 7/10.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

Today's film is The Purple Rose of Cairo.  At first glance, it's a romantic comedy, so I'm like blehhh.  But let's look at the film as a whole.
Cecilia is a failure at life.  She'd rather chat about celebrity gossip than do her job.  She can't even butter toast without smashing a plate.  After breaking plate after plate, she's fired.  She also has an abusive, drunk husband, Monk (played by Danny Aiello) that she threatens to leave.  She packs her bag and after walking down the street a bit, returns home.  It is apparent this happens often.  Monk drinks, sleeps around, gambles, and does nothing to contribute to their income.
I kept looking for Woody Allen in this film, but even though he directed it, he is not in it.  Cecilia escapes her pathetic life by going to the movies.  The movie of the week at her local theater is The Purple Rose of Cairo.  She is enchanted by one of the characters, Tom Baxter, who is an archaeologist.  He is handsome, kind, charming, and perfect - the opposite of Monk.  She loves the film so much she watches it again and again.  Tom takes notice and steps right off the screen to meet her!
So I liked the fact that it's an original kind of film.  It also provides opportunities for discussion.  Cecilia shows Tom around the Tom to show him the real world. He is fascinated by everything.  She takes him to a church and questions him about God.  He assumes she means the writers of his movie.  I was reminded of the film I watched yesterday, Baraka, and was so inspired by it.  Everyone is beautiful and has so much potential.  We're not movie characters with our lives and actions carefully written out for us; we write our own destiny.  People like Cecilia are so desperate to find a point to their life that they forget to simply live.  This is how I still feel after watching these films:

You are beautiful! And you are beautiful! And you are beautiful!
And you are beautiful!  And you are beautiful!
Naturally, the absence of Tom from the film worries the filmmakers and their lawyers, especially Gil Shepherd, the actor who portrays him.  Gil goes to the theater where Tom escapes and meets Cecilia.  Later, he kisses her and she has to choose between him and Tom.  She chooses reality over perfection.  She missed out on a great opportunity to do something awesome that no one had ever done before - go inside a film and live happily however she wanted to.  If you don't take an opportunity like that, you'll miss out on something awesome.  She had her chance of a fairytale and gave it up, and now has to live with the consequences. It's a more realistic ending to a fantasy story.  I'd like to share a passage by Sylvia Plath:

I saw my life branching out before me 
like the green fig tree in the story.
From every tip of the branch
like a fat purple fig,
a wonderful future beckoned and winked.

One fig was a husband and a happy home and children.
...and another fig was a famous poet...
...and another fig was a brilliant professor...
...and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor...
...and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America...
...and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila
and a pack of other lovers with queer names
and offbeat professions.

And another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion
and beyond and above these figs were many more figs
I couldn't quite make out.
I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree,
starving to death,
just because I couldn't make up my mind
which of the figs I would choose.

I wanted each and every one of them,
but choosing one meant losing all the rest.
And, as I sat there, waiting to decide, 
the figs began to wrinkle and grow black
and one by one,
they plopped to the ground at my feet.

Like the figs that wither away because she couldn't choose one, Cecilia's chance of a perfect romance withered away as well.  I enjoyed watching this film and especially liked the originality of the story.  I will give this an 8/10.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Baraka (1992)

Today's film is Baraka, a non-verbal documentary.  It's not just a film; it's moving art.  I watched it in 1080p hd and it was awesome.

Baraka is a Sufi word meaning "a blessing, or as the breath, or essence of life from which the evolutionary process unfolds".  The filmmakers shot this film using 70mm in 24 countries on 6 continents.  First, it starts off with images of nature, showing the desert, the Himalayas, and the beautiful night sky.  Then, it shows more primitive peoples as they perform their religious rituals, the busy people of the cities, and eventually it comes full circle to show the barren natural world again.  However, it is a film that has to be experienced and it is hard to describe a wordless film with words.

Sometimes the film was frustrating because I couldn't figure out what location they were filming.  But that's the point.  It's about a day on Earth so it doesn't matter particularly where on Earth we're watching.  I liked the time lapse photography that compared the Japanese subway system to chicks being sorted down a grinder.  However, it did invoke bad memories.  We used to live a few miles away from a commercial chicken farm and it had a unique smell.  The smell.  One never forgets a smell like that.  If you are wondering where the chicks are traveling to, they're being sorted.  The females, prized for their egg-laying abilities, are being kept while the males are going down a grinder to be turned into feed. The images of the city people make me wonder if we are traveling through life too fast and need to slow down.  The music is more quickly paced and rhythmic in this section.

In the beginning and final sections, the music is slower and grand.  Grand is the best way to describe it.  I love the images of nature, and especially the ones of the night sky.  I love those images much more than the images of anything humans have built.  I mean, it's taken Earth over 4 billion years to get this beautiful so I'm going to enjoy it.  However, I do want to show one image I liked; it's so shiny!  I have no idea what or where this is - but shiny (And I don't mean that in a Firefly sense, I mean it's actually shiny).

This film is so beautiful and shows people from all over the world following everything from their day to day lives and occasional celebrations, along with images of nature, set to amazing music.  I will give this film a 10/10.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Today's film is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  Wow, this is the first time I have laughed out loud so much at any film.

There's not really much of a plot.  Raoul Duke and his Samoan lawyer, Dr. Gonzo, travel in a candy apple convertible from LA to Las Vegas to cover a motorcycle race in the desert.  Raoul Duke is played by Johnny Depp channeling Hunter S. Thompson.  His performance was outrageously funny and he made the entire movie.  Just his eyes darting back and forth and his reactions to everything elicited a laugh.  Dr. Gonzo, played by Benicio Del Toro, is not as funny as Johnny Depp, but his character provides most of the craziness.  Neither one is a very stable person, and we join them on their drug-filled escapades.

One scene I found funny but was unexpected was when Dr. Gonzo and Duke are attending a conference of DA's and drug enforcement officers.  Yeah, really.  They're surrounded by police who specialize in taking down drug addicts while doing drugs at the same hotel.  Anyway, one of the speakers has many things to say about marijuana, all wrong, and I realized something that I wouldn't have if I weren't a parent to a toddler.  The speaker is Mr. Noodle from Elmo's World (a part of Sesame Street).

It's Mr. Noodle!
Dr. Gonzo and Duke do so many drugs that the writer of the story (Hunter S. Thompson) ran out of drugs.  He invented a new one, adrenichrome, based on adrenaline.  I want to go back and say one of the funniest scenes is when Duke checks into the Mint Hotel while tripping on acid, and the front desk lady turns into an eel.  The whole film itself is a total trip.  And it's a fun one too.  I enjoyed watching this film so much.  I will give it an 8/10.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

M (1931)

Today's film is M,  which is just as relevant today as it was in 1931.  Someone is going around town killing kids, and the police are at a total loss.  So, assuming he's a regular criminal, the police raid the criminal areas night after night.  So, the criminals are upset at this, since they can't do "business" they'll go broke, not to mention they are tired of being harassed.

The leaders of each criminal organization meet and come up with a brilliant plan.  They will find the killer themselves.  They enlist the help of the beggar's organization to keep watch on the streets.  They have a great system of communicating with each other through the streets, by sounds and whistles, like an old-fashioned twitter.  The blind balloon seller recognizes the killer's whistle and tells a friend to follow and mark him.  The killer was whistling the same tune when he bought a balloon for a girl named Elsie, who became one of his victims.  The man marks his coat with the letter M for murderer so everyone can spot him easily.  The killer, Beckert, realizes this and takes off.  The criminals track him down to an office building and search for him.  They use their talents to break in and search each room.

About the same time the criminals find the killer, the police have enough clues to arrest Beckert.  But he's gone from his house, hiding in the office building.  After a watchmen in the building trips the alarm, most of the criminals flee, carrying Beckert away.  The police catch a stranded thief and question him.  I did not like the upward crotch shot of the detective while he was talking.  What an odd angle.  Anyway, Beckert has been taken to a court set up by the criminals.  He pleads that he is paranoid and is compelled to kill.  The lead criminal doesn't want him to go to a real court, where he can plead insanity and be taken care of by the state.  Which I agree with.  I am reminded of the case of Andrea Yates, who drowned her five children and now resides in a LOW security mental hospital in Texas.  A child killer just like Beckert.  Beckert pleads for his life, but the women of the court speak out about losing their children to him.  The criminals rush toward him but are stopped by the police.  The final scene show them in a real court, with the mothers telling each other they have to still watch their children.  Because you'll never know when he'll be released and start killing again.

I thought this movie was great and was well-made.  I enjoyed every minute of it.  It started a little slow, but it built up until the final scene.  So I will give it a 9/10.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Adventures of Mark Twain (1985)

Today's animated feature is The Adventures of Mark Twain.  I am struggling to figure out what the target audience of this film is.  It is way too dark and frightening for young children, and as an adult, it did not interest me at all.  This is my reaction after watching this.

Mark Twain's birth and death coincides with Halley's comet.  The last time Halley's comet appeared was a few months before I was born.  So, there is a chance I will never see it.  And you know what?  I really don't care.  But, Mark Twain did care about seeing the comet again and believed that it was his fate to go out with the comet.  This film takes that very literally.
Mark Twain builds an elaborate balloon/flying machine thing and hopes to fly to the comet.  Yes, he wants to fly into outer space and see the comet.  That's fine for a kid's movie, right?  No, his goal is to slam into the comet so he'll die.  He makes several allusions to this before he reveals his intentions.  He feels his life's work is complete and he has no more to offer.  A suicide mission in a kid's movie.

The weirdest part is his flying balloon has an index-o-vator, an elevator that features all the stories he has written.  The characters go in and out of the stories/real world as they please.  For example, the most famous characters, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Becky stowaway on his balloon and later try to stop him from flying into the comet, because their lives are at stake as well!
Sometimes, the film would illustrate stories that Mark Twain wrote, such as the jumping frog.  The movie, weird as it is, would be okay if not for the heavily Christian, fatalistic overtones.  At least 85% of this movie is the story of Adam and Eve.  What does that have to do with Mark Twain flying into a comet?  I don't know.  If I were the question the filmmakers' choices I'd be here all day.  I don't want to watch an hour's worth of the story of Adam and Eve.  I feel like I was tricked.  And, I'm glad Azalea is too young to question things because I don't know how to explain why a cartoon character wants to kill himself.  I cannot believe that someone thought it was a good idea to make this movie.  I will give it a 2/10.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday the 13th (1980)

Today's film is Friday the 13th because it is Friday the 13th.  I am so confused.  All the pictures of Jason Voorhees are of a grown man wearing a hockey mask.  Do I have the watch the sequel (or all 50) in order to understand?  Jason drowned as a little boy. So, if he returned from the dead wouldn't he still be a little boy? Do dead people age?

This film was okay.  It's a typical slasher film, but still better than most I've seen. But, in the end, it's just people randomly getting murdered in gruesome ways.  Also, they can't run for help since they are in a camp far away from any town.  Then, we learn who the real killer is, and it's not Jason.  This was unexpected.
The scariest part was the "dream" that the little boy leapt from the water like a great white shark and attacked Alice, the last survivor. Although, I didn't get the shock factor because at that exact moment, Azalea wanted my attention so she kicked me in the face. Why can't she tap me on the shoulder like a normal human being? I didn't like the hospital sequence at the end.  It would have been scarier to end it on the lake when Jason attacked.  I was rather disappointed, but the movie wasn't terrible.  So I'll give it a 5/10.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Today's film is Requiem for a Dream.  It is a very dark and disturbing drama that will keep you up all night and leave you feeling empty inside.  The film takes us through the paths of four people whose lives are destroyed by drugs.

Three characters fall victim to heroin addiction. One is addicted to amphetamines.  Their lives go swimmingly for a while but then gradually fall apart.  Marion, a promising dress designer, loses everything to her addiction.  Tyrone and Harry made a lot of money selling their drugs, but as their stash and cash dwindle, they follow a shipment to Florida.  There, Harry's infected arm becomes too much to handle and has to be amputated and Tyrone is arrested.

Harry's mother, Sara Goldfarb, becomes inadvertently addicted to amphetamines while trying to find a quick way to diet.  She's also addicted to television.  Her life is empty. All she has is her empty boring apartment, her television constantly set to the same reality show, and sitting outside with all the other old ladies.

The most stunning part of the film is the score.  It is so beautiful.  I listened to the score long before I watched this film.  Another beautiful element is the color choices.  Sara is covered in red.  She has red hair and an unusual red hair dye job.  The red matches her manic state.  The other addicts wear dark, drab colors.  Marion always wears gray, one of the darkest and most depressing colors.  Their costumes go from brighter in the beginning to darker and grayer as the movie progresses.

This one of the the darkest films I have ever seen.  It was well written and every character is someone I wanted to succeed, but their addiction became too much for them to handle.  I will give this film a 9/10.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Körkarlen (The Phantom Carriage) (1921)

Today's film is The Phantom Carriage.  It is a dark drama, but has some spectacular effects for a film from the 1920's.

One thing that is interesting is that this film has different stories within the main story.  The main story is that Sister Edit is dying of TB and wishes to see David before she passes.  David is too busy drinking with his buddies to bother coming.  The friends talk about a legend where the last person to die on New Year's Eve, if they are a great sinner, will be forced to drive Death's carriage and pick up dead people for a year.  After getting smacked on the head with a beer bottle, Death's carriage driver, who just happens to be his friend who died last year of all coincidences, comes to pick him up.  Through flashbacks, we learn just how awful David is and how drinking has destroyed his life.

He gets to see Edit before she dies and realizes how terrible a person he was.  Then his wife decides to kill herself and their children while he is powerless to stop her.  He is so upset that he prays and begs for someone to spare them.  Death decides that he has learned his lesson and returns David to his body where he races home to stop his wife.  And he does.  The main theme of this movie is that alcohol is a great evil that will cause you to be addicted at the first sip and must be avoided at all costs.

The best part was the special effects.  Death and David can pass through walls, and Death lifts the person's soul right out of their body.  It is easy to tell how they did this, but it is still impressive for the year it was made.  It was made with double exposures made in the camera as optical printing wasn't available yet.  Since the cameras were hand-cranked, they had to be cranked at the exact same speed for each exposure in order to work.  I will give this film a 7/10.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Persona (1966)

Today's film is Persona.  At first look, it is not an interesting movie.  But, the real story lies deeper within the film.  Imagine a really ugly cake.  Then, you cut into it and it's a strawberry cake! And you're like, Yay strawberries! (or whatever flavor you like).  That's what this film is like.

Elisabeth is an actress who, one day, stopped talking.  She absolutely refuses to talk.  The doctor says they have run every test possible. She is completely sane, she is just willfully not speaking.  I think that takes a lot of willpower.  Speaking is our main way of communicating and she simply stopped.
I do have some personal experience in this department.  My daughter and co-film critic, Azalea, doesn't speak either.  She can speak, and usually says about one or two words a day, and only when she absolutely has to.  Otherwise, she uses subtle hand signals or elaborate interpretative dances.  It is easy for me to figure out what she wants, but when she is around others she is easily frustrated.
 The doctor tries to figure out what's going on inside her mind, and instead of sending her home, sends her to a nice beach house.  Wait a second.  The doctor sends her to a beach house, with a private nurse to watch over her, even though she's perfectly well?  There's nothing wrong with her. The doctor should have just sent her home, right? Ok, well get this.
get this.

She never left the hospital.  Everything that transpires at and around the beach house is Elisabeth's dream (or imagination).  Alma (which means soul) constantly speaks while Elisabeth stays silent.  I got rather annoyed because Alma just would not shut up.  But it helps to realize that it's just Elisabeth's inner thoughts. (Also, Bibi Andersson, who portrayed Alma did a great job acting) And they are rather unfiltered.  A nurse would never tell such a personal story of sex and an abortion to their patient.  That's unprofessional and not to mention very private.  Soon, Alma finds she is gaining more of Elisabeth's persona.  Well, Alma was part of Elisabeth's persona all along. So, Mr. Vogler, Elisabeth's husband, didn't mistake Alma for her.  In her dream, they are one and the same.  In the end, when the images of their faces merge, we fully realize this.

In the beginning and at the end, we are bombarded by surreal images.  There's a spider, the film goes off the reel and goes everywhere, lots of blood, and finally we see the ugliest boy I have ever seen.  And I wonder, what's with all the surrealism?  He's not 
Luis Buñuel.  The images seemed totally out of place with the rest of the film.  They actually took away from the mindbendingness the film provides and lessens its impact.  Anyway, I will give it a 7/10.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Zero for Conduct (Zéro de conduite) (1933)

Today's film is Zero for Conduct.  It's only 40 minutes long, but it's still not worth watching.  It's about a group of boys who return from vacation to school.  It turns out they don't like being in school.  Wow.  Who could have thought of that.  Little kids not wanting to be cooped up in school all day.

Every time the boys disobey, they get a zero for conduct.  It's a very repetitive movie.  Tiny things happen, the boys overreact, and they plot a rebellion.  For example, a teacher steals a student's hidden chocolate stash.  What does the student think will happen once he gets to high school?  That's why high schools have lockers!  If you leave your stuff out, it will be stolen.  They do have one cool teacher, though.  I think all schools have one exceptionally cool teacher.  The rest of the teachers are dull and overbearing.

Then, the boys complain that they are tired of having beans for lunch.  I can remember how horrible the school lunches were here.  But I never thought to plan a rebellion and run across the roof.

Yeah, that's their rebellion.  They all climb into the attic, hurl random objects onto the celebration below and then run across the roof.  And yet, I wonder what the point of this is.  I really got nothing out of this short film.  At least it's short.  I think there were large parts that were cut and didn't make it into the final cut of the film.  At lot of it seems jumpy or missing.  And the film itself didn't age well at all.  It's very grainy.  I will give this film a 5/10.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Princess and the Cobbler (1993)

Today's animated feature is The Princess and the Cobbler.  It is a great film for young children.

Although it shares many similarities to Aladdin, it was actually designed in the 1960's.  It just didn't get the funding it needed until much later.  The princess and her father have similar clothes to their Aladdin counterparts, but that has more to do with the actual clothes of that era.  Also, the genie and Zigzag are both blue.

Zigzag the blue sorcerer/grand vizier (think Jafar) wants to take over the kingdom of Baghdad by marrying the beautiful Princess Yum Yum.  I wonder why they decided to name her that.  Anyway, he steps on a tack of a young cobbler, Tack, and becomes infuriated.  He drags him to the castle to be executed.  Princess Yum Yum saves him because he's cute.

Baghdad is protected by the magic of three golden balls.  There is a thief who steals everything shiny or gold he sees, like a seagull.  He is very dirty and stinky and constantly mumbles to himself.  He steals the three golden balls and that starts of chain reaction of destruction.  One ball he says he'll use to by a castle by the sea, the next ball will allow him to turn his basement into a rec room.  When he steals the third ball, he yells, "I'm going to Disneyland!"  It is worth noting that most of the artists who worked on this film later worked on Aladdin.

Zigzag helps the evil army of the One-eyed people invade Baghdad.  Tack throws a tack at them and somehow this destroys the entire army.  Then, after the thief decides begrudgingly to return the golden balls, the kingdom is safe once more.  Tack marries the princess and everyone lives happily ever after; except Zigzag because he's a jerk.

This movie is great for young children.  The bright colors and beautiful scenery kept my daughter's attention, while the story is comical and fun.  Yes, it doesn't have a big budget like a Disney film would, but don't let that bother you.  We found this film charming.  I will give it a 6/10.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Back to the Future (1985)

Today's film is Back to the Future.  Yes, this really is my first time watching this film.  I don't know why I put off watching it for so long.  I read every book about time travel (and the physics behind it) that I find.  So I'm very excited to watch a movie that deals with time travel.

Marty, played by Michael J. Fox, is a teenager who is friends with a kooky scientist, Dr. Emmett Brown (played by Christopher Lloyd).  Doc has built a time machine out of a DeLorean, and inside is a flux capacitor  which is what makes the whole time machine work.  The machine runs on plutonium, which Doc has bought from the Libyans.  Once the DeLorean reaches 88 mph, the time machine activates and sends the driver through time.  Or, at least that's how I understood it.  Doc sets the year, but before he can do anything else, the Libyans arrive and shoot him!  Marty drives away to escape and activates the time machine and ends up in the 1950s, when his parents were his age.

Now, we've already seen Marty's parents.  His dad is a very timid man, while his mom is prim and proper.  Marty's arrival prevents them from meeting so he has to do everything he can to make sure they meet and fall in love, or else he won't exist!  When Marty meets the teenage Mom, she is not proper at all, in fact she is very flirtatious which is all kinds of funny and awkward because it's his mom.  How will he get his parents to meet?  And how will he return to the future?

Marty finds the younger version of Doc and shows him the time machine.  However, he doesn't have the stuff necessary to make the machine run.  What they need is a strong jolt of power - like a bolt of lightning.  Luckily, there was a famous bolt of lightning that destroyed the clock tower.  And it just so happens to have occurred close to the same time as when Marty arrived, so he won't be stuck forever.  How's that for ultra convenience?

This film is comical, and full of suspense at times, too.  Will Marty reach the bolt of lightning in time or will he be stuck forever?  Will he get his parents to meet and fall in love?  Will his visit to the past alter his family's destiny as well, and will it be for the better?  Of course, all of the answers are yes. It's a comedy.  It's also a great film to watch with children.  I will give it an 8/10.  Also, the mall where they meet to go back in time is called "Twin Pines Mall".  When Marty goes back in time, he runs over a pine tree, and when he returns to the future, the mall is now called "Lone Pine Mall".  It's little details like that that I love.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Birds (1963)

Today's film is The Birds which is a really well made B movie.  The entire premise is stupid - a town being terrorized by a flock of birds, but it is fun to watch.  I will give it a 6/10.

The film stars Tippi Hendren as Melanie, a rich San Francisco woman who travels up the coastline to pursue a cute guy.  She stays at his family's house in the small town.  Soon, the birds begin acting weird.  And then they attack! Oh no!!  See, this would never happen here because absolutely everyone carries a gun and we'd pick them off in no time.

There is no soundtrack except for an early electronic instrument and the children singing. I think the lack of music makes it more eerie.  When I was little, they actually had a 3D version of this film at Universal Studio.  Although the film was done by Universal Studios, only Walt Disney Studios was equipped to handle the sodium vapor process needed to film the birds' rapid wing movements.

The amazing part is how they made this movie.  There are 370 different trick shots, and many of them were invented specifically for this movie.  There were no computers back then.  If it were made today, it would probably be all CGI, which to me doesn't look as good.  I was so impressed with the special effects.  When Melanie is attacked by the birds near the end, the scene took an entire week to film.  For this year's local film festival, Tippi Hendren came as part of our feature of classic films.  Of course the film featured was The Birds.  The film is okay because of the special effects, but I find it a rather weak story.  Also, birds are not scary, so there.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

This is Spinal Tap (1984)

Today's film is This is Spinal Tap.  I usually like mockumentaries by Christopher Guest.  He co-writes and stars in this film.  I truly enjoyed Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman.  (He's also in The Princess Bride so he gets bonus points).  But this is the least funniest movie he has ever been a part of.

The mockumentary follows the fictional band, Spinal Tap, as they travel on their comeback tour of America.  Unfortunately they find out they are not nearly as popular as they used to be.  They were never a great band; they were just an okay band riding on the popularity of their style.  However, most of their song lyrics are hilarious.  Such as "Big Bottom" which is about a ... big bottom, but all three front men are playing bass, so the sound truly matches the name.  Also, all of the actors are actually playing the instruments in the movie.

 There are some gems in this film, and the most familiar is that there amps go all the way to 11.  Also, there is a scene where Nigel plays his guitar with a violin, which mimics how Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin would play his guitar with a violin bow.  Supposedly the funniest scene is the little people dancing around the tiny Stonehenge, but I just thought that was stupid.

There is an actual documentary that is very similar to this film, but it is as funny as it is endearing.  It's about Anvil, an 80's metal band that never quite made it.  It's called Anvil: the Story of Anvil.  At the very end, they discover they have become big in Japan, so they go there to meet their crowds of fans.  That's exactly what happens at the end of this film, too.  I guess Japan loves its metal as much as we do.  I thought this was an okay mockumentary, I just didn't see much humor in it.  I will give this film a 6/11.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Do the Right Thing (1989)

Today's film is Do the Right Thing, where almost no one does the right thing and it all ends badly.  It takes place in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn where the only two businesses are a Korean fruit stand and an Italian pizzeria.

I thought the funniest part was the heat itself. 92 degrees climbing up to 100? Please that is a spring day in Florida.  Quit your whining.  Samuel L. Jackson was great as the local dj/narrator of the film.

Part of this film really isn't about racism as it's about being an ass.  Buggin Out gets irate because the pizzeria only has pictures of Italian Americans on the wall and no black people.  I'm not going to go into a pizzeria and yell about them not having any Arab Americans on the wall, because it's their business.  Part of my job is to solve complaints, and I get all kinds.  It is absolutely crazy what people will find to complain about.  Pictures on a wall seem small to the wild things I hear complaints about.  Point is some people just like to complain about things either to get free stuff or to make themselves feel better.

Buggin Out decides to boycott the restaurant but finds no takers. Everyone grew up on this food and won't abandon it. He searches the entire neighborhood until he finds Radio Raheem, a man with the biggest boombox on the planet that only plays Public Enemy.  Buggin Out talks him into boycotting the pizzeria with him.  Their method of "boycotting" the pizzeria is to go in there and yell at the owner.  I thought boycotting meant you avoided the place and didn't give them money.  They blast their horrible music and yell at him and call him a guinea (which is very racist) until he snaps and destroys the precious boombox with his bat.  Radio tries to choke him until the cops come and pull him off.  They arrest Buggin Out and manage to kill Radio in a chokehold.

The next part involves Mookie, a delivery boy of the pizzeria.  He's played by Spike Lee, the director, and is one lazy individual.  He takes two hour lunches and has no intention of bettering himself or taking care of his infant son.  Da Mayor, a friendly old man who is probably the smartest person in the film, tells him to always do the right thing.  So, when the cops are arresting people, he takes a trashcan and tosses it through the window of the pizzeria.  This ignites a riot and besides the violence, the pizzeria is set on fire.  The neighbors turn their sights on the only other business there - the Korean fruit stand.  The owner saves himself by declaring himself "black". And it ends with Mookie returning to the pizzeria he helped destroy and demanding to be paid.  Everyone is such a class act in this film.  But the filmmaking itself was good so I'll give it a 7/10.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Smoke (1995)

Smoke is a collection of short stories that revolve around a Brooklyn smoke shop.  It's a good movie, but it's not great.  I will give it a solid 6/10.

Auggie runs a smoke shop, and takes a photo every morning in front of his store.  So far, that's 4000 photos.  If he takes one photo each morning, he's been doing this for 10 years and 105 days!  He claims that's why he's never been on vacation because he's devoted to his hobby.  One story involves his ex-wife and his possible daughter (she's not sure of the paternity). Her daughter is a runaway and needs help.  He agrees to go with her and talk some sense into her.  His ex-wife is played by Stockard Channing and it looks like she hasn't aged a day since Grease.

Another story involves a loner writer who lost his wife to a stray bullet.  His life is saved by a teenager, who he offers a place to stay in return.  The teenager's goal is to locate his long lost father.  He finds him working at a garage in the country.  He gets a job working for him, but hasn't had the nerve to tell him yet.  The writer becomes concerned about the teen and goes looking for him, along with Auggie, who happens to be his friend.

The last story is Auggie's Christmas Story, which is easily the least interesting story but it's the one the entire film was based on.  I liked the acting, and I felt it was refreshingly natural.  Harvey Keitel did a great job as Auggie.  I was trying to figure out where I had seen William Hurt, the actor who plays the writer.  It turns out he's in a ton of dramas.  I think his best role was in Children of a Lesser God.  Anyway, the film was okay but it's not like I'm going to run out and buy it and keep it forever.