Sunday, October 30, 2011

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 64 - F/X and F/X 2

In this week's episode, Tyler and Ben discuss Robert Mandel's 1986 film F/X and Richard Franklin's 1991 film F/X 2.

Character Name Game Intro - 1:53

Media Consumed
Madhouse - 3:05
Class of Nuke 'Em High - 4:50
The Return of "Beavis and Butthead" - 6:28
"Once Upon a Time" - 7:51

Like Crazy - 13:30

F/X - 17:45
F/X 2 - 34:30

Next Time: BMX Bandits - 1:07:15
Listener E-mail/Voicemail/Twitter - 1:07:50
Character Name Game - 1:09:00
Hallow-wood Hills Horror Movie Game - 1:11:00
Where You Can Find Us - 1:16:10

Saturday, October 29, 2011

In Time

I'll admit In Time is a pretty stupid movie. There are a ton of plot holes, cliches every five minutes, and multiple time-related puns in the dialogue. But I had a good time with it, and I think it's perfectly passable entertainment. Sometimes, we go to the movies to see people go on the run, rob banks, shoot people, and look sexy doing it, and that's exactly what this film delivers.

In Time
Writer/Director: Andrew Niccol
Starring: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Vincent Kartheiser

In a vague future (or alternate timeline scenario), the currency of the world is no longer money, but time. People stop genetically aging when they turn 25, and a one year countdown begins until they "time out." When a stranger gives Will Salas (Timberlake) an extra hundred years to live, he takes the opportunity to get out of his live-by-the-minute ghetto and ventures to the rich district, where people live for thousands of years in their same 25-year-old bodies. He meets Sylvia (Seyfried), the daughter of the man behind it all (Kartheiser), and the two go on the run from a resilient Timekeeper (Murphy) tasked with stopping their Robin Hood-esque crusade to bring time to the masses. 

So we've established that this isn't a great film. But for every eye-rolling one-liner, there is something that's just plain cool about In Time. First off, writer/director Andrew Niccol (who also wrote The Truman Show) essentially teaches a class on world-building here. Without a ton of exposition or any unnecessary narration, he sets up the rules of the world in less than ten minutes, even if he doesn't make it feel exactly like a viable place. Aside from the obvious looming question of "how did things transition into time-related currency from the way we know them now?", the only aspect of the design that didn't work for me was when the production designers decided to get cute with it, adding in signs for things like "The 99 Second Store" as characters walked by. 

Secondly, the movie looks absolutely fantastic. Famed cinematographer Roger Deakins chose to shoot the film completely digitally for the first time in his career, and the results are sleek and spectacular. A nifty foot chase across rooftops and the occasional car chase keep the pace moving quickly, which is a necessity for any movie with a literal ticking clock. There may be stupid moments, but they're all moving so quickly that I found most of them easy to ignore. The action is more commendable than the smaller dramatic scenes, but I also found the cast to be really likeable: Timberlake can easily carry a film on his shoulders, Amanda Seyfried was solid (and awesomely hot) as usual, and Cillian Murphy managed to bring a bit of humanity to his bounty hunter role.

Niccol also inserts some social commentary into his screenplay. It's another case of the haves vs. the have nots (as if we haven't seen that on film a billion times), but at least it's done with some flair. Exchanges like the following are commonplace in this movie:

"How can you live with yourself watching people die right next to you?"
"You don' close your eyes."

It's not subtle filmmaking, but it's effective storytelling that gets the point across and provides a sliver of topicality for those on the hunt for something beneath the surface. Ultimately, In Time is a standard thriller that doesn't take any chances or play out any differently than you'd imagine. I'll resist the urge to end this on a time-related pun, since the movie itself was content to take most of the good ones, so instead, I'll leave you with this: do you think Justin Timberlake agreed to star in In Time because his name is JustIN TIME-berlake? Until next time...

The Rum Diary

Many A-list actors adopt a "one for them, one for me" mentality: they make one big movie for a studio so they can make a smaller passion project for themselves. Considering Depp's relationship with Hunter S. Thompson (the infamous novelist/journalist whose novel provides the basis for this film), it's clear The Rum Diary falls into the latter category. It's just too bad that the "one for him" wasn't a better movie.

The Rum Diary
Writer/Director: Bruce Robinson
Starring: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard

Written for the screen and directed by Bruce Robinson, The Rum Diary follows the story of Paul Kemp (Depp), a washed out novelist who goes to Puerto Rico to write for a local newspaper. Soon, he's intoxicated not only by the alcohol he's constantly swilling, but also by a beautiful girl named Chenault (Amber Heard). She's with Sanderson (Eckhart), a wealthy playboy with a ton influence working on an illegal land development scheme. Sanderson invites Kemp to be a part of the project and, after a ton of stumbling and drunken debauchery, Kemp and the rest of the guys at the paper take it upon themselves to bring down "the bastards" by blowing the whistle on their operation.

There are a lot of elements that I liked about this movie. It's hard to knock gorgeous locales, solid acting, and an intriguing plot - especially when you consider I have a bias in favor of stories involving journalism. But at a certain point, the movie itself begins to take on characteristics of its main character: it seems to drag for an interminable amount of time, bouncing from point to point with a "hey, look over there!" attitude and waiting far too late to attempt to wrap things up in a neat little package in the third act. It's not as "out there" as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - the other Hunter S. Thompson project in which Depp has starred - but it kind of tries to have it both ways with trippy drugged-out sequences tossed into the middle of a narrative that is, admittedly, a lot more cohesive than Fear and Loathing's. The main problem with The Rum Diary is the structure: by having the first two thirds of the film as this breezy, stumbling, quasi-romantic discovery piece, it feels forced and unnatural when the final act arrives and story elements have to be quickly wrapped up.

Depp has made himself a superstar by playing these types of roles, so it's not much of a departure from his past work. Even if you removed Fear and Loathing from the equation, simply mix his lead character in Rango with Captain Jack Sparrow and you've got Paul Kemp. I was much more interested in Bob Salas, the sidekick character more inhabited than played by former "Sopranos" actor Michael Rispoli. He was gruff but lovable, and seemed like the kind of guy you'd want to hang out with in an unpredictable island environment. Aaron Eckhart was great as the guy you love to hate, but this also wasn't that big of a change (or challenge) for him. Giovanni Ribisi really went for it with his portrayal of Moberg, a guy who drinks 400 proof alcohol and listens to Adolph Hitler speeches on vinyl. Richard Jenkins was really entertaining as the editor of the San Juan Star, playing "the man" as it were, forcing Kemp to curtail his writing to fit in with an idealized version of the American Dream.

Though the novel was written back in the 1960s, much of this film is especially relevant today with the Occupy Wall Street movement going on and this movie essentially railing against corporate greed. Our buddy Vince Mancini at FilmDrunk liked it far more than I did, and even with all of the meandering in the middle of the movie, it's easy to see how The Rum Diary would have a special charm to fans of Thompson's work. That said, I don't think I'd ever watch this movie again - and if you've read this far, that probably tells you all you need to know. Until next time...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within

It's sad, but (mostly) true: the action genre has devolved into a state which rarely produces both solid storytelling and effective action. Lucky for us, director Jose Padilha didn't get the memo. Elite Squad: The Enemy Within combines pulse-pounding action, unflinching political commentary, and compelling characters with fascinating moral dilemmas; it results not only in one of the best films of the year, but one of the best action movies in recent memory.

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
Director: Jose Padilha
Starring: Wagner Moura, Irandhir Santos, Andre Ramiro

It's easy to see why this movie currently stands as the highest grossing movie of all time in South America (passing Avatar during its release last year): the movie features a complex web of political corruption that surely strikes a chord with the viewership down there. It's full of universal themes about brutality, human rights, the prison system, local government, and elections, so it's also easy to see how this movie is relevant to any nation, democratic or otherwise. Blending some story elements from City of God and The Departed with handheld Michael Mann-esque action sequences, Elite Squad: TEW cares just as much about its story as the action beats...and that's exactly how it should be. I don't mean to sound elitist (get it?!), but sometimes it's great to see a movie like this after seeing so many watered-down studio films year after year. If you watch as many movies as I do, you've likely grown to recognize the patterns of safe studio filmmaking, and movies like this - ones that break the mold a little bit - provide a cool breeze after bathing in the aroma of typical Hollywood sameness.

Nascimento (played by Wagner Moura, the Brazilian Mark Ruffalo) is the leader of BOPE, a special forces division in Rio de Janeiro that busts skulls to get things done; they're like the Expendables if those guys were actually awesome and not old. When a prison riot goes bad (a righteous setpiece in the first few minutes of the movie), Nascimento is moved into another position and, after discovering a sh*tload of high-level corruption, takes it upon himself to battle against the system. A left-wing professor named Fraga - coincidentally is married to Nascimento's ex-wife - runs parallel to our hero throughout the movie, becoming a thorn in his side not only because of his human rights complaints, but also because of the influence he has over Nascimento's son. (Don't worry - they could have overdone this plot point, but it's handled pretty perfectly.) Nascimento must come to grips with the realities of the political system in his country and do what he can to uncover the corruption before things get any worse.

For those of you completely averse to reading, I've got some bad news: there are subtitles. But the performances are so good, the visuals so striking, and the storytelling so engrossing that it shouldn't matter - this movie straight up kicks ass in all the right ways. The slums of Rio are presented similarly to their depiction in the excellent 2003 film City of God (the writer of that movie co-wrote this one, too), though not quite as slickly this time around; there's a lot more at stake here than the loss of one kid's innocence - the fate of the entire country hangs on the actions of Nascimento. Much of this movie is presented in such a smart way that it's honestly a bit shocking to experience, especially considering that if Blockbuster stores were still a big thing, you might have seen something like From Paris With Love sharing a shelf with Elite Squad: TEW. Guess which one actually belongs in the Dumpster out back?

If you've been disappointed with the releases of 2011 so far, check this one out. It'll give you a jolt of what movies are supposed to be like and remind you why you dig action movies in the first place. Until next time...


Anonymous offers an alternate historical account of the creation and popularization of the works of William Shakespeare. Based on a real but unsubstantiated theory, the plot suggests that all of Shakespeare's famous plays and sonnets were actually the work of the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), a wunderkind writer who is shackled by the constraints of his upper class status and therefore can't release the plays under his own name. The Earl teams with a young playwright, Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) to create the ruse, choosing a drunken actor named William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) as his avatar.

Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Jamie Campbell Bower, Rafe Spall

The biggest compliment I can give Anonymous, aside from it being a decent period drama, is that it doesn't feel like a Roland Emmerich movie. That director, famous for huge blockbusters like 2012 and Independence Day, hasn't made what I would call a "good" movie in close to twenty years, so it's nice to see him scale back his typical "disaster porn" and take on a more personal, controlled film. The movie works particularly well in the first half, as the Earl suffers as he watches his own plays from the balcony of London theaters, unable to accept the applause and credit bestowed upon the blithering young actor. It has shades of The Prestige, in which Hugh Jackman's character, relying on a body double, must take his bows beneath the stage to complete the illusion while his double relishes in the ovation above.

But by the end, the movie seems to get too wrapped up in the politics of its setting. The magic of the first half gives way to plodding explanations of character motives that have nothing to do with the much more interesting "who is the real author?" question. Rhys Ifans, soon to be donning scales as The Lizard in the upcoming reboot The Amazing Spider-Man, is solid as the Earl of Oxford, but it's Jamie Campbell Bower, who plays the younger version of that same character in flashbacks, that provides this film with an emotional spark. Real life mother and daughter Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson play the older and younger versions of the Queen, respectively, and both actresses are excellent.

Speaking of flashbacks, this movie LOVES them. It jumps through the timeline often, and structurally it can leave the audience scratching its collective head at times. The film opens with a performance of a play (which is the movie we're about to see) in modern day New York City, and quickly transitions into the "film world" with Ben Jonson being questioned as to the location of the works of "Shakespeare." It flashes back one year earlier, setting up characters and explaining the world, and then flashes back forty years before that, skipping back and forth between those last two time frames for the majority of the film to detail the relationship between the Earl of Oxford and Queen Elizabeth across the years. Confused yet? It then skips back to one year later, and wraps up with the modern day New York stuff again. It all makes sense, it's just a little messy from a storytelling and editing standpoint.

Is Anonymous worth seeing in theaters? There's certainly no epic scope to it, so I'd say it's not necessary. Is it worth seeing at all? As with all film choices, that's up to you - but I'll recommend a home video viewing if you're at all interested in Shakespeare, good period pieces, or revisionist history. It's inspiring at times, favoring the power of words over swords on battlefields; though the film never explores these acknowledgments too deeply, it still touches on them in an engrossing way for most of its duration. Until next time...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


The Midnight Hour is Close at Hand with Alan Trehern

You know the guy who played Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars?  Sorry, you don't know what I'm talking about.  I mean the really old guy on the Death Star who insists that there is no chance the Rebels will be able to blow it up, and then they do?  Yeah, that guy.  No, not Darth Vader.  Man, you're bad at this game...

Madhouse (1974)
Directed by Jim Clark
Starring Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Natasha Pyne

Well, Tarkin was played by Peter Cushing, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors to watch in pretty much anything from the middle of last century, especially in the horror/suspense department.  Guy can act.  Sure, he's dead now, but when you've been a fan of the character of Tarkin for so long, not knowing that there are a myriad of roles equally as enjoyable, finding these movies is pretty awesome.

Madhouse stars Cushing as the best friend of Paul Toombes (Price), an actor who has popularized the film character Dr. Death.  After the mysterious "death" of his financĂ©, Paul disappears from the public eye, only to reluctantly make a comeback on a television show based on the Dr. Death character.

The audience immediately knows what is going on: someone is murdering people in the fashion of the Death films, and there's a slew of characters the movie wants you to suspect.  It's fairly easy to guess who is behind all the madness, and I feel the transparency of that answer is one of this film's downsides.  Other than that particular critique, I really enjoyed the ambiance of this movie.
I dare say, I am chilled to the "bone"?
The film carried the grittiness and look so commonly associated with cinema in the 1970s, and although very British, the film provides pretty good suspense and violence.  Proving more a "murder mystery" than an actual "horror" movie, it's well-paced, intriguing and well-acted.  Music is used sparsely throughout the film, with some dramatic scenes having only environmental noises, but music didn't really present itself as a real character, like in other movies.

Price, in film, usually portrays the creepy mastermind or the villain that organizes the strife within the plot-line.  Here, though, he's on the other side of the tale as the mentally wavering protagonist, and although you may be certain he is not responsible for the killing spree, there's that little voice in your head that keeps saying, "This is guy is about to crack and people gone get got!"
You look ridiculous!  Now pour me a brandy...
In conclusion, another great suspenseful pick that I feel movie-lovers should check out, so I fear giving too much of the details away.  Price is great, as is Cushing, and the story is well told.  It will keep you guessing, especially about the larger story line, even if you've already guessed some of the smaller outcomes.  Nice job, Trehern!  Heh, gotta pat myself on the back for not always reviewing completely sh*tty movies.  Onward to the next review!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Class of Nuke 'Em High

Getting Expelled with Alan Trehern

In my continuing quest to top the last crappy horror movie I reviewed, I think I've succeeded with this B-movie flick from the 1980s.  Now doctors have tried to diagnose me with a severe case of crapo cinesadism, but I like to see my life glass as half full, if that makes any sense.  Oh wait, it doesn't?  Well, neither does this movie.  But that doesn't mean it isn't fun!!!!

Class of Nuke 'Em High (1986)
Directed by Richard W. Haines, Michael Herz and Samuel Weil
Starring Janelle Brady (Heeelllloooo nurse.), Gil Brenton and some other people

While some may see this as a terribly corny and horribly edited teen horror comedy, others may call it a brilliant film with tons of jokes, plenty of gross deaths and messages about drugs and nuclear power.  Both arguments are valid.  As the story goes, Tromaville High School has just recently got a new neighbor: a nuclear power plant.  While the plant's operator and his propaganda claim that nuclear power is clean and safe, the lackluster OSHA requirements of the plant's workers and their methods result in abandoned barrels of toxic waste, leaking toxic vapors and mutated marijuana plants.

This guy stole my homecoming date a day before the dance...respect.
Meanwhile, a group of honor students have mutated into Cretins, harassing the other students and administrators at the school.  Their greatest achievement?  Turning the hot German teacher into one of their dominatrix side-kicks.  Nice job.  Some of the power plant's nuclear waste starts leaking into the school in some form or another, causing majorly heinous and grotesque side effects.  Most of the kids are oblivious to the danger, as are most of the adults.  Warren and Chrissy, though, have released something even more revolting, however: mutated offspring.

Just a run-of-the-mill between class orgy, that's all folks.  Move along.
The quality of this film is hilariously awful.  As a quasi-unprofessional movie reviewer (or whatever this is I do), I've seen some abhorrent films; some that are just plain bad (Vampire Bikini Beach), others that are hyped as good but are just wet farts (Black Swan...haha, suck it.).  Nuke 'Em High wants you to think it's terrible...that's the whole point!  The creators wanted to tell a ridiculously funny tale about radiation and teenage sex drive mixed with a monster/horror movie.  The small quirky things in this film really sell the thing, and it gives a better perspective on the high school experience than The Breakfast Club could ever imagine doing.  Just kidding, but that movie's not so great either.

In any case, SEE THIS MOVIE!  We need to talk about it!  We need to laugh about it!  We should watch it twice!  It's fun, it's crappy, it's just a great time.  If you come back complaining about it, then dude, you might be a square.  Don't be a square.  It's totally not radical.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The NJNM Podcast: Ep. 63 - Videodrome

In this week's episode, Tyler and Ben discuss David Cronenberg's 1983 film, Videodrome.

Character Name Game Intro - 3:26

Media Consumed
Dracula - 3:53
Wolfman - 6:20
"Once Upon a Time" - 12:13

Helvetica - 13:30

Videodrome - 19:45

Next Time: F/X and F/X 2 - 43:17
Listener E-mail/Voicemail/Twitter - 45:03
Character Name Game - 48:32
Hallow-wood Hills Horror Movie Game - 50:20
Where You Can Find Us - 1:00:55

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Three Musketeers (2011)

There have been many film adaptations of Alexandre Dumas' classic 1844 novel, but this steampunk-inspired version of The Three Musketeers from the director of Mortal Kombat and Alien vs. Predator looked so purposefully terrible that I just had to see it. Much to my surprise, it turns out that the first half of the movie is totally competent (and even fun!), and it's not until the latter half when things go off the rails and drag this film down into the realm of the mediocre.

The Three Musketeers
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson

Starring: Matthew Macfayden, Ray Stevenson, Luke Evans, Logan Lerman, Milla Jovovich, Christoph Waltz, Orlando Bloom

I won't try to convince you that this is a great movie. But it is a lot better than it has any right to be, and that's mostly due to the fact that this story, at its heart, is so much fun. There's heroism, deception, loyalty, betrayal, romance, swordplay - so many classic elements that it'd be hard to completely destroy the inherent awesomeness of this adventure. The screenplay is laced with humor, and for the most part, the actors make it work. (There's an additional character tossed in for "comedic relief" that was totally unnecessary, but that's to be expected from almost any studio film like this.)

Another reason this movie is better than it should be is some fantastic casting. Say what you will about the rest of this movie, but the casting director knocked this one out of the park. Logan Lerman is excellent as the cocksure D'Artagnan, turning out my favorite performance of his career. Matthew Macfayden plays the jilted Athos with style, leading the group with a straight face through the film's wildly anachronistic twists and turns. Up-and-comer Luke Evans (who should be a household name in a few years with upcoming roles in big time projects like The Hobbit) brings just the right level of gravitas to the role of Aramis, something that Charlie Sheen failed to do in my definitive film version of this classic tale, the 1993 Disney film of the same name. Ray Stevenson is the best fit of everyone in the cast for his character, the surly and comedic Porthos. He's brash, charming, and easily the most entertaining of the heroes.

Perhaps the biggest casting coup was snagging such big names for the villainous roles. Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz doesn't quite match Tim Curry's over-the-top sliminess from the '93 version, but brings his own level of quiet menace to the role of Cardinal Richelieu. Orlando Bloom's ridiculous haircut makes more of an impression than the actor himself in this movie, but he's still fun to watch as the dapper and deceptive Duke of Buckingham. Mads Mikkelsen is perfect as the evil Captain Rochefort, and even Milla Jovovich (wife of this film's director) is sufficiently seductive and well-equipped to handle the action elements of her role as Milady de Winter, the double-crossing assassin and Athos's former love interest.

I was actually shocked at how much I liked the first half of this movie. The sword fight sequences are spectacularly choreographed, and at no point does it ever feel like a bunch of loosely trained actors swinging fake swords around. Paul W.S. Anderson's direction is surprisingly confident and precise, and the editing is simple and effective. The geography of the action is well established at all times, and avoids the shaky cam trend of the past decade. Even the sets are beautiful, and Sony should take a good look at these for its upcoming film adaptation of the Assassin's Creed video game. It's only when the movie starts really concentrating on the steampunk elements, introducing giant airships based on stolen designs from Leonardo da Vinci - ahem, Hudson Hawk - that it starts to lose its luster. Because of how solid the first half of the movie was, this part of the film feels like studio intervention ("give us something that looks COOL!"). If they had avoided the ridiculous aspects altogether, this could have been a truly great interpretation of this story.

Despite the dreary second half, I actually liked this movie overall. It's far better than the "so bad, it's good" I'd initially hoped for, and if you can sit back and have fun with the spectacle of it, you're sure to be entertained. I saw it in 3D, which provided some highlights during map transitions between countries and during the Pirates of the Caribbean-inspired airship battles, but ultimately 3D isn't a necessity for The Three Musketeers. If nothing else, this movie has stopped my knee-jerk reaction to immediately write off Paul W.S. Anderson movies as unwatchable. This is perfect lazy afternoon home video entertainment. Until next time...

Dracula/The Wolf Man

Yup, We're Back in the 1930s, With Alan Trehern

Welcome back, NJNM readers, to another great (NOTE: up for interpretation) installment in the Scare-A-Thon series.  Damn, this series' title is so long, even **I** have to abbreviate it.  So far, we've looked at some good, some bad, and 
definitely some SCARY films in the horror genre.  With this entry, I wanted to go back even further into cinematic history and catch up with the remaining Universal monsters that kind of set the trend for horror/monster movies...  We talked about Frankenstein's monster, now let's talk about...

Dracula (1931)
Directed by Tod Browning
Starring Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler and Dwight Frye

I knew Dracula would look and feel ancient, but I was pleasantly surprised that its silence and dark shadows added to the ethereal feel of the Dracula mythos.  I own the Stoker novel, but haven't made it past the part where Jonathan is on his way to Castle Dracula (i.e. the first chapter).  In the movie, I know a couple of characters are switched around, and a few events are altered, but this is probably because they were drawing the story not only from the book, but from the stage play as well.  Lugosi had played and made famous Dracula on the stage before the production of the film.

Renfield (Frye) arrives at the castle of the Count, and the story begins with Dracula purchasing some property in London.  Very civil of you, dude.  Dracula then travels from Transylvania to London, and then starts creating a stir by biting all the single ladies round foggy ole London town.  People keep seeing large bats and wolves, and then whilst the damsels sleep, Dracula is there, sneaking in through the windows and stealing that eternal kiss of death.

Now, I don't have time to bring up the current abhorred raping of the classic vampire/werewolf/supernatural being mythos.  I just don't have the energy nor the patience to deal with that.  F you guys!  This is classic vampire stuff right here, where vampires are out for blood, aaand that's about it.  Sure it was sexy, I guess, if you're into Hungarian mouth harassment, but there was also a darkness and an unholiness to it as well.  Vampires aren't cool kids, they need to die.

I am Hungary for your blood!  AH! AH!
And if you were wondering, you're damn right Van Helsing (Van Sloan) is in this movie, and he's the only one that can wrap his head around this supernatural phenomneon, and he's the only one that knows what to do!  Of course, Van Helsing's not as bad-assly (sp.) portrayed as he would be by future actors like Peter Cushing, Sir Anthony Hopkins or Hugh Jackman.

There have been a couple scenes removed from the original bone-chilling version of Dracula.  One of them a scene with a frightening death scream.  Another censored segment of the movie has Van Sloan come out to tell the audience not to be afraid, but vampires ARE real...Interesting that these were cut out because they were deemed too frightening.  Have you smelled my unwashed desk chair pillow?  That's frightening.

Showing he can palm an invisible basketball...
Final Thoughts
Other than the famous score during the credits, this film is devoid of any score or music.  Sound effects be damned!  Long, drawn out silences carry this movie to its conclusion, with Lugosi carrying most of the film.  Audiences today would laugh at its simplicity, but for a film coming out of the silent era, this thing would have given me the creeps.  It's something that could haunt your dreams, with the hypnotizing stares of Dracula (flashlight!), the deathly screams, the demented laugh of Renfield (Dracula's servant) or the very lack of music!  Check this out late at night to discover the true roots of horror!

The Wolf Man (1941)
Directed by George Waggner
Starring Lon Chaney, Jr., Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers and (BLAH! AH! AH!) Bela Lugosi

Now this is what I'm talking about when it comes to those classic Universal monster movies. This has the murdering, the dames, the score and the acting that reviewers like me need to enjoy a film, even if it clocks in at around 69 minutes. Movie makers today sometimes can't tell a story in 2.5 hours, but The Wolf Man managed to entertain me while successfully structuring a story and concluding it without too much left open.

Larry Talbot (Chaney, of Dracula vs. Frankenstein fame) returns to his family's home in...uh...somewhere in Germany?  Wait, no, it was Wales.  Anyway, he comes to town, macks on an antique store employee (who is engaged...playa.), buys a silver cane, and beats down a werewolf.  Suspense and fear ensue!

You, sir, are accused of murder!  Now finish your breakfast, and when
convenient, meet me at the police station!  TAKE CARE!
Chaney brings Talbot alive in this film, with an emotion-driven performance you don't see nowadays.  While numerous critics claim movies of the golden age had stiff performances and proper English, you're correct to an extent. These fellas were proper as hell.  Even when you were being accused of a crime, murder for instance, you were treated with some respect.  Today, people send you death threats and hurl rocks at your children!  It's called the legal system, people; have faith in it!!

Anyway, Talbot is now cursed with werewolfism (medical term: Lycanthropy), but the insanity that accompanies it proves the true hurdle.  As the entire film unfolds, we watch with dramatic irony as Talbot questions his actions, quarrels with the family who deem him sick, and struggles with the gypsies who just seem to be messing with him.

I'm sure she wouldn't mind if I paw at her just a little bit...
Final Thoughts
I fear giving away too much of the film, because I think that The Wolf Man is just one of those classics you HAVE to see.  Good dialogue, intrigue, suspense...all that stuff!!  I keep arriving at this same point, but let me make it again.  In cinema today you can have gallons of blood and guts pour out of your victim, and the audience hopefully responds with disgust!  When movies were severely censored, you had to show murders and deaths in a way that not only alluded to them, but shocked the audience as well.  I feel The Wolf Man, and Dracula too, achieved those goals.  Today, directors and producers should use these artifacts as examples of HOW to tell a good story and scare someone, maybe not so much how to gross them out.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Paranormal Activity 3

Continuing the exploration of mysterious hauntings in Katie and Kristi's family from the first two films in the series, Paranormal Activity 3 takes an already successful formula and manages to improve upon it. Catfish directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost create another suspenseful and terrifying entry into a franchise that's become a staple for Paramount.

Paranormal Activity 3
Directors: Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost
Starring: Christopher Nicholas Smith, Lauren Bittner, Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown

After a brief introduction to the characters from previous films talking about old home videos, this movie flashes back to 1988 and details the inciting incident in the childhoods of Katie and Kristi. Their mother Julie thinks Kristi is going through a phase with an imaginary friend, but her new boyfriend Dennis (the clear protagonist this time out) is shocked to find out there is much more going on than anyone anticipated. The acting is pretty solid from everyone involved, including the child actors (which is a shocking statement if you know me and my stance on kids in film). The girl who plays young Kristi is especially creepy, and there are a couple of secondary characters - the grandmother, Dennis' best friend Randy - who round out the cast with some great moments, including a phenomenal scene in which Randy and Katie play Bloody Mary in the bathroom (which is notably different from the trailer, which shows Katie and Kristi playing the game).

I'm convinced that the biggest star of these films is someone who's never actually seen on camera at all: the editor. This movie is a master class in building and releasing tension, and it makes this franchise one of the most frightening I've ever seen. It's not the script that gets everyone riled up - this story is essentially a Poltergeist rip-off from one of my least favorite directors of year, Christopher B. Landon - it's the editing. Rarely does a movie make me examine each shot so closely, constantly scanning the frame for signs of things that are out of the ordinary. It's exhausting watching these films, and by the time they reach their conclusions, there's always a no-holds-barred rumble with the demon haunting these characters.

Paranormal Activity 2 added to the structure of the first film by adding security cameras to the mix; instead of scouring the image from just one camera set up over the main couple's bed, we watched multiple security cameras as they rotated through the feed, giving us more images to pour over. For me, the goal is always to try to spot the abnormality as quickly as possible; it minimizes the scariness if I know what to look for and where it's coming from. Trouble is, the filmmakers are onto me and my train of thought. In PA3, they've added yet another element to the fray, and it's perhaps the scariest yet - an oscillating fan with a camera attached to it. It may sound stupid if you haven't seen the movie, but if you've witnessed it, you know that the unyielding and indiscriminate back and forth motion is responsible for some of the film's scariest moments.

I don't know if I can say I actually enjoyed this film because it scared the hell out of me, but it's certainly more of the same tension-filled frightening moments this series is known for. In other words, if you liked the first two, you'll like this one. And I know I gave Chris Landon crap earlier, but I have to applaud one quick line he wrote regarding memory loss that allows this movie to seamlessly transition into future films. Until next time...