Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Some Movies I've Seen Recently

I feel like it's been forever since I've posted something on here. College has proven to be quite the irritant for me, taking up basically all of my free time. Though I have been writing articles for the school paper (movie reviews and previews), I still feel like I have abandoned my past life as a "movie maniac". I would very much like to get back to that persona. I enjoyed it very much. So just to get the ball rolling again (hopefully), here are some movies I have seen recently, with some very brief thoughts about them.

In the Loop (2008) - a biting satire about both American and British politics, this was a movie had a lot of coarse language but many funny moments. The highlight would probably be Peter Capaldi, as foul mouthed, high ranking British offical Malcom Tucker. Hilarious performance.

Layer Cake (2004) - Very fun gangster film in the vein of Snatch. A good balance of humor and action with an intriguing story. The title is referring to a metaphor one of the character's uses to describe the social hierarchy people can find themselves in. This film has nothing to do with cake.

Miller's Crossing (1990) - I really cannot help but love the Coen Brothers. This film was beautiful. You want to learn about cinematography? Watch a Coen Brothers movie. Honestly, the story to this film didn't drag me in right away, but after a while I cared enough to appreciate it.

Paranormal Activity (2009) - Cheap horror movie. Kinda creepy. Won't be remembered. Better than a lot of the crappy horror films Hollywood churns out nowadays. That doesn't say much, but it's worth saying.

Unfortunately, these are pretty much all of the movies I have seen recently. Perhaps if I had a car on campus I'd be able to drive to a movie theater once in a while. Hopefully I'll be able to get back here really soon and post an actual movie review with some substance to it.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity

Has the best horror film of the decade been discovered? Audiences and critics alike have heaped praise on Paranormal Activity as being one of the scariest movies they’ve ever seen. Steven Spielberg even claims that while watching the film in his home, the door to his room inexplicably locked from the inside, and he had to call a locksmith to set himself free. The film’s producers set up a viral campaign asking for one million signatures if people wanted the film to get a wide release. In less than a week, the million signature mark was achieved. But is this a case of bandwagon hype, or has something special truly been found in Paranormal Activity?
Paranormal Activity is a lower than low budget film that was conceived by video game designer Oren Peli. The story follows couple Micah and Katie, who have been experiencing some strange occurrences in their new home. Shot from the point of view of the camera that Micah bought to document the disturbances, we are placed directly in the house that is supposedly being haunted by a demon that has followed Katie since she was eight years old. After consulting a psychic who claims to be unable to help them, the couple must do what they can to flush the demon out, or at least just survive.
Expecting a let-down after all the hype, I was pleasantly surprised by Paranormal Activity. Though the all out “scares” were hard to come by, Peli does a great job of creeping out the audience using clich├ęs such as “stuff moving by itself” and “loud noises coming from the other room”. He even finds a way to make the worn out handi-cam gimmick seem new again, just by placing the camera on a tri-pod once in a while. Despite a rather dull first 20 minutes, once the paranormal activity in question starts, it is very hard to look away. Rookie actors Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat (I wonder where their characters got their names from) do a well enough job to keep the eerie tone of the film alive. Their dedication to the roles was definitely essential to keeping Paranormal Activity watchable.
However, the claims of Paranormal Activity being something special are a bit of an over-statement. Though it was an effectively creepy film, I would not say it was unnerving enough to keep me up at night. Shortly after leaving the theater, the effects of the film wear off and you can go about your day undisturbed.
Overall, Paranormal Activity is good enough for an unsettling movie-going experience, and is certainly much better than most of the so-called “horror” films being released today. You also may be interested in knowing that there is an alternate ending to the film online, which is said to be Peli’s original ending before the studio made him change it.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

"We ain't in the prisoner-takin business. We in the kiliin Nazi business. And cousin, business is a-boomin". This line, spoken by Brad Pitt as Lieutenant Aldo Raine, should just about sum up Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. The "We" in question: eight Jewish-American soldiers (accompanied by German defect Hugo Stiglitz, played by Til Schweiger) that have vowed to deliver 100 Nazi scalps each to their leader, the aforementioned Raine. Their group's name: the Inglourious Basterds. Don't ask about the spelling. It's never explained. These men have made quite the impression on the Third Reich, angering Hitler himself and landing on the radar of "the Jew hunter" Colonel Hans Landa (superbly played by Christoph Waltz). Showing no fear for possible death, the Basterds join a mission called Operation Kino. The mission, being carried out with the help of German actress Bridget Von Hammersmark (a traitor to her own country, clearly), involves suicide bombing a movie theater that happens to be inhabited by the four major heads of power in the Third Reich, including Hitler. Little do the Basterds know that while they carry out their plan, the owner of the movie theater, Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) has her own scheme in the works. When Dreyfus was a teenager, her family was murdered by Hans Landa, and she considers this to be the perfect time for revenge. Will either parties succeed in their mission? History says no, but Quentin Tarantino didn't set out to make a historically accurate film.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Public Enemies

From the first scene of Michael Mann's Public Enemies, I knew the ride would be bumpy. As John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) is led through the front gates of a prison, the camera jostles up and down in motion with the characters walking, but with extreme exaggeration. After a few lines of mumbled dialogue the cameraman evidently has a seizure while Dillinger and his jailhouse friends stage a breakout. As Dillinger and his buddies, including John "Red" Hamilton (Jason Clarke) and Homer Van Meter (Stephen Dorff), exit with guns blazing, not a moment of it is comprehensible through the frenetic cinematography and abrasively loud gunfire. This is just the beginning of the numerous complaints I have about Public Enemies.

In the year 1933, suave criminal John Dillinger is running wild in Chicago. Robbing banks in "a minute and 40 seconds. Flat." has made him public enemy number 1 for J. Edgar Hoover's (Billy Crudup) FBI. With Dillinger gaining popularity in the public eye for his easy-going demeanor, Hoover is desperate to get the criminal to the electric chair. So he hires Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), the man who hunted down and killed Pretty Boy Floyd, to spearhead the manhunt for Dillinger and his associates, including notorious Fed killer Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham). But the bulk of the story follows Dillinger in his troubled life, trying to balance his "work" with the love of his life, Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard).

The number one reason Public Enemies fails is it's writer/director Michael Mann. As I described in my opening paragraph, Mann's choice of cinematography was a poor one. Choosing to use an HD handheld video camera, Mann probably wanted the viewer to feel as though he was standing next to John Dillinger. Instead, I felt like I was watching a cheap re-enactment put together for the History Channel. By placing the camera directly into the actor's faces, a sense of claustrophobia sets in, and it makes sitting still very difficult. If that were not bad enough, during the gunfights, understanding what is being shown to you is near impossible. The camera moved so fast and so unsteadily that I would think one character was being shot, and then later in the scene he'd appear again perfectly fine. After just a few seconds of this home video-esque style, my head began to hurt and I started to feel woozy. Throw in the fact that Mann made the gunshots as loud as a sonic boom each, and I couldn't listen to the film either. During a scene showing the famous battle of Little Bohemia, after 20 seconds I had my head buried in my chest, eyes shut, with my hands over my ears, because I was becoming so uncomfortable. My sight and sound, the two senses one needs to enjoy a film, were actually rejecting Public Enemies.

If that weren't enough, Mann's writing skills were lacking greatly as well. (Though he shares billing with 2 other people, it's easier to just write his name). Though full of slick conversation, Public Enemies just doesn't make sense at some points. For example (nothing I'm about to say is a spoiler): the first 40 minutes of the film, the FBI is looking everywhere for Dillinger, and they frequently say they have no leads. Then in the next scene, while Dillinger is in a hotel room with Frechette, the FBI busts down the door and arrests him. That's quite the magic trick Mr. Mann, but how is it done? How could it be that the FBI can go from clueless to busting down his door in a matter of one scene? Well he doesn't explain it, so keep dreaming. For all I know, they did discuss it briefly, but who knows through the mumbled voices of almost every actor in the film. Anybody who has seen a film with Christian Bale knows that he has mastered an American accent. However, the chore of speaking in a southern accent proved too great the task for him. In one of his worst performances, Bale can't quite speak clearly enough to help out the audience. As a friend of mine affectionately put it, "it was like he borrowed his accent from Foghorn Leghorn, and he forgot to use it sometimes". Couldn't have said it better myself. The starpower of Johnny Depp, who tries very hard to save this sinking ship by giving a good but forgettable performance, can't distract us from the fact this film's screenplay is awful. It is painfully slow during most scenes, and then frantically hurried in scenes where valuable information is being thrown around. No medium was ever found in the script, and so the transfer to the screen was just as bad.

Since Mann chose to "put us in the action" rather than tell us an actual story, Public Enemies was an all out failure. Even if I were to forgive the flaws of the screenplay and most of the acting, I'd still give this film a scathing review because of it's direction. It just goes to show that a cast list alone cannot make a film good. You know what I would like to see? A film based on Baby Face Nelson, played by Stephen Graham again. I felt Graham gave the best performance of the film, and I'd like to see him again in the role. That movie might be good. Public Enemies, not so much. My rating (2/10)

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Film Class

What a bittersweet moment it is to write about the end of this fantastic chapter of my life. Actually, it's not sweet at all. Just bitter. First hearing about a film class elective made me giddy, and actually getting in made me ecstatic. I had never had Mr. Bennett before, and was intent on making a good impression. The first week of the class I tried my hardest to whip out every bit of knowledge I had about film in a pathetic attempt to look good. After we got into the class a little further, however, I realized that my knowledge of film was bottom of the barrel, and that I had much to learn. So for the rest of the year, I pretty much kept my mouth shut in class, and left it all to the blog. Humility: my first lesson of the film class.

Naivety is a hell of a thing. I've been writing movie reviews since February 2008 (and I promise, I will be getting back to that as soon as school ends), and I always assumed I had all the information I needed to do so. Though my estimations on acting were correct, my idea of what good direction and screenwriting were was seriously flawed. There are so much more to both aspects of film, and without this class I would have gone to my college film class just as simple-minded. I now have the ability to determine if a line is significant or an object on screen means something. I still haven't mastered this ability, but I'm on the track.

But a film class is pointless without good, nay, great films to watch. Of all the movies we watched, I had only seen two previously (there were even a few I'd never heard of). Although some films were leagues better than others, there was never a movie that I out and out despised. I was even enjoying Top Hat. The film I liked the least was A Simple Plan, which was a bit slow for my taste without enough stuff in between to keep me interested. But even this film had it's perks in Sam Raimi's direction and Billy Bob Thornton's performance. Though we already did it in class, I'll post what I believe to be the award winning films of the class. So put your hands together for the 1st ever Mayoral Choice Awards!

Best Cinematography - Runners Up - Unforgiven, Citizen Kane - Winner - THE SEVENTH SEAL

Best Screenplay (Original or Adapted) - Runners Up - Dark City, Fargo, Memento - Winner - UNFORGIVEN

Best Supporting Actress - Sorry ladies, not much in this department.

Best Supporting Actor - Runners Up - Sterling Hayden (Dr Strangelove), Eric Roberts (Runaway Train), Dustin Hoffman (Midnight Cowboy) - Winner - GENE HACKMAN (UNFORGIVEN)


Best Leading Actor - Runners Up - Orson Welles (Citizen Kane), Guy Pearce (Memento) - Winner - PETER SELLERS (DR STRANGELOVE)

Best Director - This was by far the hardest category to decide - Runners Up - Christopher Nolan (Memento), Stanley Kubrick (Dr Strangelove), Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven), Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal) - Winner - ORSON WELLES (CITIZEN KANE)

Best Picture - Runners Up - Dr Strangelove, Unforgiven, Fargo, Memento (this remains my second favorite film of all time and is probably my favorite film shown in the class, but I wanted to give this award to one of the new films in my life and so...) - Winner - THE SEVENTH SEAL

I hope most of you find these picks satisfactory.

But these films were all nothing without our terrific teacher, Mr Bennett. The enthusiasm with which he spoke was infectious, and it made sitting in his class not a chore, but a privilege. I hardly considered us to be a "class" because I think that title is a bit insulting to it. Though learning took place, it was not the stuffy environment of an English class or the brain paralyzing environment of a Math class. We were just a group of people who loved movies. That's all we really needed to be. I loved how after the very first day of class, everyone seemed to have an immediate respect for Mr Bennett. I remember on that day, he explained to us the concept of labeling a movie as "pretentious". After that, "pretentious" was the word of the month. We all started saying it. It's died down since then, but the fact that it happened was telling. When Mr Bennett told us he'd probably be leaving Tech after this year, I was shocked. I wondered how much it would suck to be a Senior next year without being able to take Bennett's film class. It's a shame. I was looking forward to coming back next year to discover who the new Mayor would be. Though I guess it is much more presitigous to be the final Mayor to grace the classroom.

To wrap things up, I'll never forget this amazing class. It felt great talking about movies with people who actually cared. It gave my girlfriend a nice break from having me talk her ear off about something she is inept in. Thank you to everybody who made the class great.

Oh yea, I saw The Maltese Falcon yesterday. Would it be relevant to say this class was "the stuff dreams are made of"?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What Exactly Did Johnny Do?

Today in class I made mention of the song Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye when Mr Bennett asked about the songs used in Dr Strangelove. He said that the song in the movie was actually When Johnny Comes Marching Home. I was going to leave this alone, but something in me (Stubborness? Need for attention? Kicks and giggles? All of the above?) won't allow it. Part of me knew that at least I was half right. In sophomore (?) year, I had Mr Murray, who on St Patricks Day sang us a few songs. One of them was Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye. It had the exact same melody as the song in Strangelove, so I naturally assumed it was the same. Upon research, I have found the answer that I was looking for. - Trivia Section for Dr Strangelove: The score for the B-52 scenes is mostly made up of the melody of "Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye", a traditional Irish anti-war song, which also provides the melody for the somewhat better-known (at least in the United States) American Civil War song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again". While the former tells the story of a soldier coming back from a war heavily mutilated and broken, with the last lines being "They're rolling out the guns again, but they'll never take my sons again", the latter describes the celebrations that will take place when the soldiers return from war: "The men will cheer and the boys will shout / The ladies they will all turn out / And we'll all feel gay / When Johnny comes marching home."So the song is in fact When Johnny Comes Marching Home, but my mistaking it for Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye is justified. (Self Esteem WIN!!!)

For those of you who want a side by side comparison of the songs, I would like to give you one, but the only version of Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye I could find was the Dropkick Murphy's version, which changed around some lyrics and added some, uh, loudness haha, but it kept the basic melody. I'll post it anyway, for fun. If you can see past the loudness of the second one, you can detect the similarites of melody.

When Johnny Comes Marching Home:

Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye (Awesome Version):

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Donnie Darko

Reminder to Mr Bennett: Please bring in that book.

Thanks to the kindness of Yuriy, I was able to watch the movie Donnie Darko today. I've been hearing great things about this movie for years. It's starring Jake Gyllenhaal, so naturally I was skeptical. I never really read the plot synopsis, so I was pretty clueless going in. Coming out, I'm just as clueless. I've got no idea what I just watched. Donnie Darko was an interesting movie. I don't know if it was a good, interesting movie, but it certainly was interesting.

I'm going to be honest and say half of this movies screenplay went in one ear and out the other. I tried my hardest to follow the film closely, but I must not have filled up on enough carbs beforehand. I was exhausted. Time travel, demon rabbits that may or may not exist, Maggie Gyllenhaal looks like a Puerto Rican, I've got no idea what this movie was doing. There were random slow motion sequences and frequent shots of people jumping on trampolines. Were these significant? I haven't the slightest idea. Were they annoying? Without a doubt.

The ending of this movie blew my mind. And not in the sense that, "Wow, that was AMAZING!". It was more in the sense of, "trying to put this puzzle together is destroying my will to continue. Function overload". I'm pretty sure that now that time has passed, I've got it. But don't ask me to explain it to you.

But will I watch it again? Yea, I think I will. The very fact that I can't piece this film together is telling me that there is something there. There HAS to be. If there isn't, I'm going to punch Jake Gyllenhaal in the ear.