Let the Right One In – Review

19 Sep

Regardless of what people may or may not think, it is completely possible for a film maker with some talent to create a really cool vampire movie. There has been enough tom foolery happening with vampire lore, that it sometimes seems too much to handle. Enter novelist/screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist and director Tomas Alfredson who worked to create what may be the best vampire film of the last decade, Let the Right One In. It’s an outstanding blend of human drama, vampire folklore, coming of age, and romance but also will very likely remain a movie that I consider to be a modern day classic.

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Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a 12 year old boy living in the suburbs of Sweden who has trouble letting out his hostilities caused by the constant bullying he is subjected to at school. Life for Oskar is shaken up when a mysterious young girl, Eli (Lina Leandersson), moves into the apartment next to his. The two children soon become friends, even though throughout the town there are brutal murders and disappearances occurring. As the two children become closer and closer to each other, and a small romantic bonds for between them, Oskar begins realizing some strange things going on with Eli, starting with the facts that she is way older than 12, has an unending thirst for blood, and may be responsible for all of the missing and murdered people around town.

This is a movie that has so much going for it that it’s hard to just talk about it in so many words. I think it’s important to talk about some of the subtext going on in Let the Right One In. First of all, the way they handle Oskar’s character is brilliant. There are plenty of movies out there where a kid gets bullied, but in this one, we focus more on his time away from the bullies and how it is affecting him psychologically. Oskar spends his time clipping news stories about murder and guns before going outside to stab at a tree with a knife he hides under his bed. Much like another movie I recently reviewed, Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, this film deals with a mortal side effect to bullying. While we never see Oskar go to the extremes that are shown in Elephant, we do get a look at a boy who is slowly becoming more and more psychologically disturbed, which is just as terrifying, if not more terrifying, than any vampire you will see in any other movie.

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Despite what some people may want to think, vampires are very romantic creatures, even if the romance is in some form of creepy or unsettling way. Just look at Bram Stoker’s novel of Dracula. The romantic qualities of Dracula are certainly creepy, but he still seems to have a sort of power over women. In Let the Right One In, the romance is between 12 year old Oskar and the infinitely 12 year old Eli. This kind of romance is sweet to see and is also combined with a strange coming of age story for Oskar and a shift in the life of Eli. This is a much more interesting story than the murderous consequences of Eli’s thirst, although I can’t deny that this movie as some genuinely creepy moments that are guaranteed to make your skin crawl. This is a horror movie after all, but a horror movie that is devoid of those god awful jump scares. The horror in this movie feels legitimate, and not just something that gets your adrenaline fueled for a few seconds. Anyone who has seen this movie would agree that the climax of the film is one of the best in the history of horror films.

Finally, this is a film that will get people talking. I first saw this movie in school, and pretty much only watched it as an interesting take on vampire movies. Watching it again just a few days ago, I saw how brilliantly written it is. There is just enough information given in the plot for us to know what is going on. I never really had any questions or confusions about what was being revealed, but there is so much happening beneath the surface that is merely alluded to that left me, and I’m sure many people, wondering. Now, I’ve never read Lindqvist’s novel, and from what I hear, a lot is explained. That’s fine for the novel, but for the movie, I love the mystery surround Eli and her past. It adds a whole layer of depth that wouldn’t be there if everything was simply explained.

Let the Right One In is simply one of the best vampire films ever made and a personal favorite of mine in the horror genre. It retains an excellent feeling of terror throughout the whole film but also adds nice moments for the two children to grow closer to one another in a way that only children can. The performances by these kids are also both excellent and surprisingly believable considering who their characters are. I haven’t seen the American remake of this film, but I’m not sure I’m too interested in it. This movie is perfect enough as it is, and one that I could watch over and over again.

Dead Man’s Shoes – Review

16 Sep

Revenge tales are a dime a dozen in the movie business. If were to count how many films were released per year whose main focus was on a character getting revenge, the results would probably be staggering. Luckily for me and everyone else, I don’t have that kind of patience. The point of what I’m trying to say is that if someone wants to make a revenge film, they better make it original in one way or another, because if not, they don’t give anyone a real reason to see it. Enter Shane Meadow’s little revenge flick from 2004, Dead Man’s Shoes. This is a movie that has me torn in every sense of the word. On one end, this is a great story with enough originality to please any film buff, but also some weak writing and plotting that makes the entire movie feel close to wasted.

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Richard (Paddy Considine) is a veteran returning back to his small English town to find it still in the hands of a small time group of drug dealers and thugs. These men don’t pose a serious threat to the community, but that wasn’t the worry of Richard’s in the first place. Richard has come for a much more personal form of revenge after he learns of the torture that this gang put his mentally challenged younger brother, Anthony (Toby Kebbell), through. As Richard’s vengeance becomes much more physically and psychologically violent, the drug dealers become more desperate and we are left to wonder if Richard is pushing things way too far.

To start with what’s really good about this movie, the story, at it’s very core, is actually really good because it caused me to actually really analyze the situation. This isn’t a story of really good guys that we can root for pitted against really bad guys that we love to hate. While Richard is seen as the protagonist, for most of the movie, I felt kind of uncomfortable with how he was acting and the violence that he was doing in order to achieve his mission of revenge. On the flip side, while the gang is definitely a despicable group of punks, they aren’t what I’d call evil. This leaves the story left in a morally gray area where there isn’t good vs evil, it’s actually just one person against other people.

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Where Dead Man’s Shoes fails in a way that hurts my very soul is the way the plot is laid out. I’m such a stickler for plots and narrative structure since the whole reason I love to watch movies is to get lost in a story. A movie can have nothing special going for it visually, but if it has a great story that’s plotted well, I really could care less. Dead Man’s Shoes has a great story that is plotted miserably. I felt like the movie went from A to C and brushed right by B only revealing the littlest but. A movie of this intensity that involves physical and psychological vengeance needs to have suspense, and this movie had very little. Don’t get me wrong, there was a scene or two with great suspense, so it was there, but there wasn’t enough in the movie as a whole.

So yes, the movie is almost spoiled by lack of suspense and a messy narrative structure, but not all of the writing is bad. Being co-written by both Shane Meadow (the director) and Paddy Considine (the star), the movie does have excellent dialogue and scenes. This might also add to the fact that I wanted more movie. The dialogue performed by the actors was so natural and real that it brought a level of realism to the film. That combined with Meadow’s often documentary-like directing in many of the scenes. You can see that the movie was made cheaply, but that doesn’t change the fact that it looks great and has great performances, especially by Paddy Considine who gives one of the most menacing performances I’ve seen in awhile.

Dead Man’s Shoes pulls me in a few different directions. On one end, I’m disappointed at the lack of suspense and the way the story just kinda rushes by, not giving me any time to get really nervous. On the other end, the story is original, the acting is excellent, and the ending kind of blew me backwards. It’s also true that as I’ve had time to think about it, I really want to see it again, and knowing what it’s all about I might like it a little bit more. I do like this movie, but not quite as much as I should have.

 

Slacker – Review

11 Sep

Richard Linklater has recently earned a lot of attention from both critics and audiences for his new film Boyhood, which I have unfortunately still not seen yet. Instead, I’m going to be looking at a movie that was the star of Linklater’s career and also a film that is considered by many to be the quintessential indie film and a modern day classic in its own right. This is Linklater’s 1991 film, Slacker. Being made with a meager $23,000 budget and shot on a 16mm camera, I believe that this truly is the indie film, but it also served as inspiration for film makers of a generation and gave a voice, however silly it may be, to a group of people no one wants to listen to.

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The plot for this film is extremely simple in the sense that there is no plot. This film follows a group of lazy, quirky characters over a period of 24 hours in Austin, Texas. After staying with a character for a few minutes, we segue on to the next one to hear what that person has to say or what they do with the time that they could be using to do something productive. Over this day philosophies are spewed, alcohol is consumed, and life is pretty much just lived, which for this eclectic group of losers, isn’t really all that special. In their own ways, however, they are all totally fine with that.

Slacker feels very similar to a few of Linklater’s other later films, mostly 1993’s Dazed and Confused and 2001’s Waking Life. In both of these films, there’s just a whole lot of talking and hanging around without any really big plot developments, or really plots at all, but in some way, Linklater makes them work. The way he achieves this is by making all of the characters different and interesting. They may talk a whole lot of bullshit, but it’s so much fun listening to them say this bullshit with such confidence and bravado. While Slacker has the youthful angst and mentality of Dazed and Confused, it feels much more similar to Waking Life in terms of style. No, Slacker isn’t roto-scoped, but it is just made up of a bunch of people hanging around and talking, which is exactly what Waking Life is, except on a much deeper level.

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It’s weird even thinking that Linklater wrote this movie since everything sounds so natural. This is a very difficult movie to make, in my opinion, because it all hinges on the writing and the performances to be executed as naturally as possible. There’s no plot for this movie to fall back on. The entire point of it is to hear and see these people go about a moment of their day, and if we don’t believe that that’s what is actually happening, then the whole movie is ruined. Luckily, even amongst all of the oddities, Richard Linklater and his cast pull off all the strange dialogue that you would expect to hear by a group of out of school/out of work youths who have nothing better to do than talk about their theories on every aspect of life.

What’s also really cool about Slacker is that this type of person is neither mocked nor praised. It’s quite clear that they aren’t who you want to turn into, but at the same time it seems like they are having a good time and enjoying the life that they have. It’s a nice middle ground that Linklater found, and it almost feels like he actually did just travel through Austin and go from one person to the next. The segues are also really fun, and they make everything feel connected. One thing I will say is that this movie can sort of start to wear on you. Trimming off 15 minutes definitely wouldn’t hurt it at all. It just seemed that some of the segments were nowhere near as interesting as others.

While Slacker isn’t a perfect film it certainly is a landmark in independent film making and it can not be denied that it has earned a place in film history, even though it was only made in 1991. Hell, this is the movie that directly inspired Kevin Smith to make his now iconic film, Clerks. Even though there is no plot to speak of, Richard Linklater’s Slacker is a movie that I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy, but ended up really liking it. The lack of story may definitely be a turn off to some people, but this shouldn’t deter someone from seeing this movie. Just spending time with this eclectic group of misfits is fun enough.

Elephant – Review

9 Sep

There are many things in life that completely baffle society which leaves us longing for a concrete answer. Many of these things revolve around apparently senseless violence, nonetheless senseless violence against children and teenagers. This is a very difficult topic to make a film about since you would have to walk a thin line between exploitation and dealing with the topic appropriately. Only in the right hands would violence against youth be handled correctly, and thankfully this is the case with Elephant, handled so well by Gus Van Sant. Not only dealing with the violence and horror of school shootings, Van Sant also examines the more microscopic violence and horror of high school and the effects of having so many clashing personalities in so confined a space.

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The morning starts just like any other at Wyatt High School in a quiet suburb in Portland. John (John Robinson) has to deal with being late for school once again because of his alcoholic father. Elias (Elias McConnell) spends his time taking pictures of students and developing them in the dark room. Nathan (Nathan Tyson) and Carrie (Carrie Finklea) worry about something obvious that remains unspoken, and Michelle (Kristen Hicks) worries about fitting in with the other girls. What remains unseen by all of these students are the activities of Alex (Alex Frost) and Eric (Eric Deulen), who are quietly formulating a plan to get revenge for the years of bullying that they have suffered through. Soon, this normally quiet school erupts into violence and bloodshed.

Elephant is one of the most brutal and disturbing films that I have ever seen, and it will probably remain that way until the last movie I ever watch. Many of the films that I have called disturbing certainly still will be, but the realism behind this and the thematic material involved hurts more than most films. This is one of those movies that could literally be sliced from a day of a real, seemingly normal day. This makes sense since Van Sant clearly took inspiration from the tragedy that occurred at Columbine High School. With all of the disturbing content, the most memorable part of this movie in terms of how it’s made, is the amount of really heavy suspense and the way the camera flows through the scenery; a technique that made me feel like I was a character in the movie.

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What Gus Van Sant succeeds at doing with this movie is making the viewer, whoever they may be, feel like they are these active observers in the sense that they move with the characters and see pretty much everything they are doing, but passive in a way that they can’t do anything about it. We follow the characters through the hallways like they are lab rats in a maze who are then faced with variables, Alex and Eric, that completely destroy everything about what they know. We are also never given much information about the characters. We only know just enough about them to know who they are on a basic level. Don’t mistake this for Van Sant turning this into a cold experience. The horror and shock is still felt on a very human level. This is film making at the most excellent.

Another thing that works really well in Elephant are the questions that we are left with. I always like to think about a movie when it’s over, but this one made me want to have a full blown discussion. The title of the movie refers to the famous saying about there being “an elephant in the room,” a saying that is now about the violence that Alex and Eric have, but also about the subject of these events happening in our schools and who to blame. Columbine isn’t an isolated incident, and after each event like it, people are always looking for something or someone to blame. What Gus Van Sant has shown with Elephant is that there really is no easy solution. There are too many things that happen, from the smallest event to the largest tragedy, that can effect someone, especially in this age group. It would be too easy to blame the media or gun control or whatever since there is simply too much to consider.

On every level, Elephant is a success. I believe that this movie should be required viewing, not just to film students trying to learn to hone their craft, but also to a younger generation as a way to show what their actions could do or even to understand the natures of other people. The violence, as disturbing as it is, isn’t senseless and the beautiful camerawork is really something that I could write a whole essay on itself. Elephant is a prime example of a talented film maker showing the level that film as an artistic medium can be taken to, but also how to properly use it as a tool for social awareness.

I Stand Alone – Review

4 Sep

Gaspar Noé is a film makers who is known for making movies that shock and otherwise make people relatively uncomfortable. Noé’s film making should not be misunderstood, however, as his filmography is comprised of movies that are shocking, yes, but certainly not stupid nor trashy. My previous experience with this director can pretty much be described as mind melting, with his 2009 film Enter the Void. Before taking a look at his first feature film, I Stand Alone, I had to also watch his short film that starts the story, Carne. As I expected, these two movies shocked the hell out of me, but they also made me think… a lot.

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A man only known as the Butcher (Philippe Nahon) lives in Paris making a living selling horse meat, and in the mean time, taking care of his autistic daughter, Cynthia (Blandine Lenoir). The relationship with his daughter is creepy and complicated, but is pushed to the limit after he severely injures someone that he believes raped her. After being thrown in prison and losing his shop, the Butcher begins dating a barista (Frankye Pain) who soon becomes pregnant and takes him to live with her mother (Martine Audrain) in northern France. Life for the Butcher soon becomes one big and continuous disappointment which leads him to violently leave again for Paris to start life once again. This seems next to impossible when he is faced with constant rejection from friends and employers leading the Butcher to sink deeper and deeper into his own twisted psychology.

The parts of that summary that involve the Butcher injuring the man and getting thrown in prison only to marry the barista is actually mainly told in Noé’s short film from 1991, Carne. To briefly talk about that film, it left me feeling very strange. The way that it’s shot, including the no nonsense scenes of a horse being killed in a slaughterhouse to seeing a child being born in all of its icky glory, really make you feel like you’re watching the work of someone who has a vision and will not let it be compromised. Other than those scenes, which mainly only happen in the beginning, this isn’t a disturbing film in the way you would think. The way the characters behave and the way that they live is uncomfortable enough. This is a great short film that has a worthy successor in I Stand Alone.

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So take everything that was great in Carne, and make it a little bit longer, and you’ve got I Stand Alone. This isn’t saying that watching this film was too similar to his previous short film. What I’m saying is that Noé maintained the style and strange intensity that made his short film so good. This is probably one of the most cynical movies I have ever seen, and although it can be overbearing at times, it’s such an interesting trip inside the head of a quiet psycho who you could easily pass yourself walking down the street one day. I’ve seen a few critics compare this movie to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, and I can understand why. It has that kind of wandering feeling that’s also very French, which makes sense, this being a French production. It also has that same feeling of imminent danger, that this person can crack at any second and the outcome could very well be deadly.

The style also holds up in the transition from short film to feature film. The way this film is shot and edited is very unique and made me all giddy watching how strange it was. My favorite trick that Noé would do to make sure we’re really paying attention is a crazy kinetic dolly or pan movement accompanied by an obnoxiously loud noise. While it’s cool, it also is a cool way to visualize the instability of the Butcher’s mind. There’s also moments where the image will black out or jump cut with a low note cuing the action. This actually was kind of funny and an interesting way to edit the movie. Finally, there’s actually a 30 second warning before the gut wrenching climax warning the viewer that if they feel like they can’t sit through it, now would be a good time to stop watching the movie. This feels a little gimmicky since I was watching it on DVD, but it must have been odd to see sitting in a theater watching the movie. I’ve never seen something like that in any other movie. Like I said, I Stand Alone has a very unique style.

Speaking for both Carne and I Stand Alone, I was really affected by them. Both of these films are difficult to sit through and stomaching the content may not happen too easily (or at all), but these are movies that will leave you wondering about the characters and might even get you thinking about the truth of the world. I don’t believe that Gaspar Noé was trying to say anything with the heavy handed political and societal thoughts of the Butcher, which are made clear in long monologues throughout the films. I believe these thoughts are to allow us to sink deeper into the Butcher’s twisted mind. This is a movie about a man trapped in society and the loneliness and betrayal that he may wrongfully feel. These films are sick, stylish, and are going to stay in my mind for quite some time… which is a little unsettling.

Cosmopolis – Review

30 Aug

Anyone with a real interest in film has seen a David Cronenberg film at one point in their lives. From what I’ve seen of his filmography (ScannersA History of ViolenceThe FlyVideodromeEastern Promises), my own opinion of him is a real mixed bag. I love some of his movies and I hate just as many, so I went into Cosmopolis with a blank slate. I wasn’t expecting to love it nor was I expecting to hate it. I was merely going to see what happened without any pre-judgement. Well, unfortunately for me… very unfortunately for me, Cosmopolis is Cronenberg’s worst movie yet and shows almost no sign of how talented he really is. This movie is just abysmal.

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Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) is a 28 year old billionaire who’s interests for the day lie in an investment in the yuan that may crumble his entire fortune, but more importantly, he needs to get across town so he can get a haircut by his favorite barber. Packer’s trip to the barber soon becomes an odyssey into himself and his beliefs that is complicated by the funeral procession of his favorite rapper and also high security due to the president being in town. As Packer travels through the streets in his high tech stretch limo, he comes in contact with advisors, friends, and lovers that he shares deep existential philosophies with in order to better understand his feelings as a human being. After these conversations don’t help him better understand his own existence, he resorts to violence in order to truly feel something real.

What really pisses me off about this movie is that it had real potential to be something really awesome. It’s like Bret Easton Ellis, William S. Burroughs, and Stanley Kubrick had a baby, but something went really wrong during the pregnancy resulting in this mess of a movie. I hardly even want to call it a movie because at times it really didn’t feel like one. Have you ever been reading a book and thought that a particular passage was boring so you kind of just half read it, but mostly skimmed over it? That’s what I wanted to do with a handful of scenes from Cosmopolis, but couldn’t. Instead I had to sit through these scenes and listen to these people talk and not give a shit about what they had to say. This movie was based off a book, so it makes sense that it feels like one and I’m not sure how good the book actually is, but the translation from page to screen just didn’t work at all.

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It’s so disappointing to see this movie fail since the cast and the other talent involved are more talented than this movie would begin to let on. I’ve already said that Cronenberg is much better than this, even though I really don’t like all of his movies. I still respect him as a film maker, but this movie is a bad example of his work. I also don’t have a problem with Robert Pattinson, although I know a lot of people do. He tries his best in this movie, but he just can’t do anything good with what he’s given. I actually enjoyed watching him though. That’s one thing I will say good about this movie. The only persons who actually function well in this movie are Paul Giamatti, who doesn’t even show up until the end, and Kevin Durand who plays Packer’s bodyguard. Everyone else besides the three I just mentioned are terrible. Every performance is stale and annoying, but I don’t think that it’s all of the actors’ faults.

What is really troublesome about this godforsaken movie is the writing. It’s shot nicely and I firmly believe that the actors try and do their best with what they were given, but the writing is just so horrendous that it’s almost unbearable to listen to. It’s like  encyclopedias on finances and basic existential philosophy were giving me half assed lectures for the entire two hours of my life that this movie made up. Listen, I’m happy to sit through a movie that’s loaded with philosophy. Hell, I loved watching Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, but Cosmopolis has no soul or heart. It was so dead pan and detached, that I couldn’t connect with any of the philosophy that Cronenberg was shoving down my throat. If you want to make a movie that’s heavy on philosophy, it’s kind of important that people can connect with it.

Cosmopolis is ultimately a failure on David Cronenberg’s part, which is upsetting since he had a lot of cool ideas to work with. Instead, what I got was a lecture by characters who had no personalities. And you know what? I get it. It may seem cool and edgy to make a film with a rich character who is completely detached from society. Just look at American Psycho and The Social Network. What made those movies great? There was still humanity in them that allowed the audience to connect. Cosmopolis is completely devoid of any humanity making it one of the most boring and pretentious movies that I have seen in a while. I don’t think I could hate this movie anymore than I already do.

M – Review

27 Aug

Fritz Lang is one of those names that pops up quite frequently in the history of film, but it always seems that everyone is completely baffled on who Lang really was. Being an avid liar during interviews as well as being notoriously awful to his actors and the crew, it can’t really be denied that, as a person, Fritz Lang sucked the big one. The same can’t really be said about his work as a film maker, however, being one of the most influential of the early directors. I’ve already covered Metropolis on this blog, but now let’s look at his first sound feature, and what many call his masterpiece, M.

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After little Elsie Beckmann is kidnapped and murdered on her way home from school, the entire city of Berlin is put on alert to watch their children and keep their eyes open for this killer that has escaped the law once before. This killer is Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre), a meticulously evil man who has his eyes one every little girl in the city. The investigation, led by Inspector Karl Lohmann (Otto Wernicke), has been unsuccessful in almost every regard, even after numerous raids on crime dens in the city’s underworld. Soon, the criminals of the city begin to fight back against the murderer, after the heavy police activity has disrupted their own business. A man only known as the Safecracker (Gustaf Gründgens) organizes an army of beggars to being a patrol of their own.

Much like Metropolis, this film is also ahead of its time, and helped pave the way for psychological thrillers yet to come. The topic of child murderers wasn’t a big trend at this time in movie history, and I can’t say that I’ve seen a movie before this one was released that deals so heavily with the topic. MGM studio executive Irving Thalberg was especially affected by M, even though he admitted that if he didn’t know any better, he never would have agreed to the project. Still, he showed this film to all of his newly hired directors and writers as a point of reference for the kind of work that they should all be doing. This makes sense because everything from the acting to the writing to the cinematography work very well in unison, and especially Lang’s use of sound helped give this early talkie a special kind of touch.

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Film noir wasn’t really considered a style back in 1931, although you could see elements that would be essential in some films of this time. is one of those movies that obviously was a huge inspiration to film noir film makers of the forties and fifties. Shadows from buildings make stark shapes on empty streets in the dead of night, and silhouetted characters make certain scenes even more suspenseful. Sound like some of the best noir movies out there. The way the city at night is also very German, with some of the shadowy shapes hearkening back to the days of Expressionism. Sound and music are also very important in M. This was the first film to actually equate a song (In the Hall of the Mountain King) with a character (Peter Lorre’s character). It was done before in opera, but now made the jump to film with this movie. Some scenes are also eerily quiet which was done to save money, but Lang also said it gave scenes of terror more suspense, which is true.

This film has had a very unique history. Being released a few years before the Nazi party officially took power, Lang was uninhibited by certain censorial procedures that would’ve been in place. Joseph Goebbels, himself, even stated that was a remarkable film, but would later go on to use it in propaganda against the Jews, leaving both Lorre and Lang to flee to America. It was kept locked away for many years, but was found once again, only with many frames damaged. The film was even cut down to a much shorter run time which pretty much bastardized Lang’s original vision. It’s only been recently that has been restored to the closest its ever been to the original version. Only one scene is known to be missing, but all of the damaged frames and aspect ratios have all been fixed.

is truly and amazing movie and without question Fritz Lang’s masterpiece. It isn’t just a masterpiece for Lang, but one for the entire genre of psychological thrillers. The themes were new and controversial, while the acting, cinematography, and set design were all fantastic. While it did inspire many film makers of the future and even help shape film noir, is a movie that stands alone as just a fantastic piece of work that will stay in your mind forever, and quite frankly, as perfect a movie as you will get.

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