La La Land – Review

11 Jan

There are movies that come around every now and again where it’s so clear that the film makers poured their entire hearts and souls into it. Sometimes, a film maker comes along where it seems like that’s all he’s capable of doing. A few years ago, Damien Chazelle gave the movie world Whiplash, a film about jazz drumming, passion, and pain. It was easily one of the best movies of 2014. Chazelle knocks it out of the park yet again with his latest film, which just so happens to be an original musical, La La Land. Like WhiplashLa La Land is a film about jazz and passions to succeed in what you love, but told in a much different way. By the time the movie ended, I almost could believe what I saw.

1Sheet_Master.qxd

Hollywood is filled with a dreamers and hidden potential, but there are some who truly make these dreams part of their lives. Mia (Emma Stone) is a barista in a small coffee shop in a movie studio who also spends her days rushing to different acting auditions, hoping beyond hope that one of the will be her big break. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist who earns what little money he has playing in bars and restaurants, even when their theme or style isn’t the music he loves. His goal is to one day open a jazz club that truly is all about the music in its raw, organic form. The two also seem to keep running into each other as if by fate. While their both quite different, their passions for their respective dreams are very much the same and a relationship quickly forms. The ultimate test for them, however, is can it withstand what it takes for them to achieve their dreams.

There’s so much to talk about with this movie, I don’t even know where to begin. I left the movie feeling so excited and my brain was just going a million miles a minute. I’ve had some days to think on it, and I’ve been enjoying the movie even more as I think about it. I guess a good place to start would be the music. I’m not a huge fan of musicals. There are some exceptions to that rule like Meet Me in St. Louis, The Producers, or Chicago, but I really can’t get too into them. La La Land takes everything I do like about musicals and utilizes them to the fullest potential. The film opens with a big musical number on a crowded freeway, which is filled with different colors, sweeping camera work, and energy that flies off the screen. Every musical number keeps up this level of energy and wonder but uses them in different ways. Two standout scenes are a song and dance number on a cliff overlooking Los Angeles and a slower number inside Griffith Observatory. There’s grand numbers like the big finale, but there’s also smaller and quieter musical themes that tie the movie together.

la-la-land_image-2

Chazelle has shown in Whiplash that he is more than capable of writing characters that feel very original and exist perfectly in the movie they inhabit. When I went into La La Land I was excited to see the musical numbers, the colors, and a lot of the more technical aspects of the movie, but I didn’t really have expectations for the characters. I was pleasantly surprised with how well rounded and real these characters felt, especially since they existed in a musical. They never felt like archetypes or characters made solely to break into song and dance. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have fantastic chemistry, and it almost didn’t feel like I was watching them act a scene, but rather peeking into the lives of the characters. A lot of their realness can also be attributed to Chazelle’s writing and how he throws in a lot of quick comedy and natural dialogue.

Finally, we come to the film making. La La Land is one of, if not the best directed movie of the year. The way this movie is shot is a marvel to behold. From the opening shot to the very last, the movie has a beautiful widescreen quality and a color palette that will catch you attention immediately. The aspect ratio of La La Land is 2.55:1 which is known as CinemaScope. This makes the film look really big, and there are certain scenes in this movie where it really shows. Of course, it’s no surprise that this technique was used mostly in the mid-1950s into the 1960s. Chazelle also works great with cinematographer Linus Sandgren to use the camera and the lighting to the fullest. I go back to the opening musical number where the camera swoops all over the freeway in such grand ways. It caught me right away and held me until the very end.

Just thinking and writing about La La Land is getting me excited all over again. This is some of the most fun I’ve had at the movies all year and it’s a reminder of why I love them so much to begin with. This film is a love letter to film and the passion and love of the arts while also standing as it’s own established movie. It’s filled with excellent music, natural performances, and so much magic that I’m starting to think Damien Chazelle must be from some other dimension. La La Land is absolutely phenomenal.

Final Grade: A+

Mississippi Burning – Review

5 Jan

In 1964, 3 Civil Rights activists went missing in the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi. Foul play was suspected, so the FBI made their presence known and an official investigation began. Over time, a handful of city officials and other citizens were ousted as members of the Ku Klux Klan and sentenced to prison for the murders of the activists. This story shows a very dark time in modern American history and is a perfect incident to be dramatized because all of the themes and hostilities that it could explore. This is where Alan Parker’s 1988 film Mississippi Burning comes in. Parker isn’t one to shy away from controversial topics, and this film did spark controversy, but it also works well as a piece of hard hitting entertainment. There is just one major flaw that stands in the way of this being a truly excellent movie.

2ca7d2dc101a82d09960ba33a1e4b810

When three Civil Rights activists go missing in Jessup County, Mississippi, two FBI agents are sent to investigate. The investigation is headed by the young and hardheaded Agent Alan Ward (Willem Dafoe), who is partnered up with the experienced yet brash Agent Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman). Upon their arrival they are warned by multiple city officials that nobody wants them there and that whatever happens in their town is their business. This is unacceptable to the two investigators who call in more agents to help with the search. This causes an uproar in the Mississippi town, and causes the KKK to become even more hostile to the African American community in this town. With more lives being threatened every day, the town suddenly seems to be at war with itself which forces the agents to change their tactics in order to achieve justice.

The strongest thing that Mississippi Burning has going for it is its fantastic cast.  Other than Dafoe and Hackman, Frances McDormand, Brad Dourif, R. Lee Ermey, and Michael Rooker all have supporting roles. This is one of the stronger casts I’ve seen in a movie in a long time and they all bring their best to the table. While everyone is great I have to focus the most on Gene Hackman. There are times when he really stands out and there are times where I don’t really remember him, but never is he bad. In this film he’s downright excellent and it may be my favorite performance of his I’ve ever seen. These performances work really well with getting me really into the story and into the time period, which is super important for any period piece.

mississippi-88-02-g

What also be remembered to get an audience into a time period are the production values and costume design. Mississippi Burning exceeds in these two areas. This is a fantastic looking movie and is well deserving of the Academy Award it won for Best Cinematography. There is a great juxtaposition of serenity in the film making mixed with much more harsh and unforgiving film making. This works great with the themes and story of the movie. The set design and costume design also looks very natural and very believable. Sometimes when a movie about the 1960s comes out, there can be some unnecessary flashiness like the film makers are trying to prove that it’s a different time period instead of trusting the audiences to see for themselves. This movie looks exactly what I’d expect a small Mississippi town to look like the mid-1960s. I wasn’t alive, of course, so this is just an assumption.

There is one major thing about Mississippi Burning that really gets under my skin and I didn’t really notice it as I was watching. It was only when I was thinking about it afterward did I realize that the representation of African Americans in this movie isn’t all that flattering. There’s mention of Martin Luther King and there are a couple of marches shown in the movie, but altogether they’re just portrayed as weak, helpless, and scared. Of course, that’s a part of history. It was a terrifying time to be alive for many people, but it was also a time to stand up for yourself and your basic human rights. There could have been more black main characters instead of just using them as mostly silent side characters. This isn’t something that made the movie any less entertaining as it was on, but it was something that kept eating at me afterwards.

Mississippi Burning is very close to being a great movie. The performances are amazing and the cinematography is worthy of the Academy Award that it won. The only issue is that there are no central black characters in a movie that is all about racism in the South during the 1960s. Even if there was just one main African American character to ground the film with that perspective, I would have been pleased. Still, Mississippi Burning is a very entertaining movie that is filled with tension, suspense, and realistic atmosphere.

Final Grade: B

Moonlight – Review

4 Jan

One of the most talked about movies of this year is Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. It has taken me way too long to see this movie, but I’ve finally made my way to the theater to go see it, and I was completely blown away. I had such high hopes for this movie because the praise from both audiences and critics has been unanimous. Having the high hopes that I did can sometimes be dangerous because it’s rare that a movie so perfectly matches your expectations. I’m happy to say that Moonlight, with its solid performances, story, and cinematography, stands with some of the best movies of this year.

timthumb

The story of Moonlight is broken up into three separate acts. In the first act, we meet a young Chiron (Alex Hibbert), a shy boy who is constantly being chased and bullied by his classmates. He can’t even find help at home since his mom’s (Naomie Harris) problems with drug addiction and prostitution often forces him out of the house and back on the street. His only solace is in a local drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monáe), who let him stay over and give some of his first life lessons. In the second act, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is in high school and is still being harassed. He knows something is different about him and finds a new kind of comfort in a classmate named Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). This comfort is soon destroyed and Chiron, himself, becomes pushed too far. In the final act, Chiron (Trevante Rhodes), now going by Black, is an adult drug dealer living in Georgia. He gets a call from Kevin (André Holland) one night in Florida and the two meet up in the restaurant that Kevin works in. This meet up once again rekindles something in Chiron which forces him to come closer to his insecurities and his true self than he may ever have before.

Right from the very first shot of Moonlight I was hooked. The film opens with a fantastic long take that circles a group of characters having a mundane conversation that’s made interesting by this stylistic choice. The whole movie is a visual and auditory masterpiece that uses these techniques to help tell the story instead of completely washing the story out with style. Barry Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton find very unique places to put the camera or move the camera to get an image that is evocative and sometimes unexpected. This is easily one of the best looking movies of the entire year. The sound also helps better the story and sometimes isolate you into the mind of Chiron. There are moments when people are yelling and screaming but there’s this strange silence that fills the screen that is far more dramatic than anything that’s being said. There’s a few instances where the sound becomes more of a staccato which creates the tension necessary for a scene. This combination of sight and sound really gives this movie a special artistic touch, and I couldn’t imagine the story being told by someone else.

23mahershala2-master675

Like I said, the style of this movie doesn’t overshadow the story, and that’s mainly because the story is so well told and so beautifully realized. Without giving anything away, the story of this movie takes a very real and relevant situation someone can be going through and puts this situation in a really harsh and unforgiving environment where only a few people around you really understand and care about you and what you’re going through. This can often times be a tough movie to sit through because it can be very unforgiving with what happens to some of the characters. By the end, however, I felt like the characters have all changed, matured, and learned. The only way this movie could be told is in the three part structure that it’s set up as. If the film only focused on one of these time periods, then Chiron’s character wouldn’t learn and change like he does in the finished product. This is a very real and down to earth film that doesn’t pull any punches but still leaves the audience feeling satisfied.

Like so many great movies, none of this would have the impact that it does if the performances weren’t as strong as everything else. This is also one of the best acted films of the year, right along with Manchester by the Sea. Mahershala Ali gives his best performance in Moonlight, and I really want to see more of this actor in feature films and not just television. The real stand outs for me, however, are all three actors that play Chiron. Trevante Rhodes and Ashton Sanders who play the adult and teenage Chiron, respectively, share very similar quirks and characterizations that really makes the audience feel like they’re watching the same person at different ages. Of course the different angsts and motivations of their ages come out as well. I especially want to talk about Alex Hibbert who plays the young Chiron. It’s rare that an actor of his age can make me believe so easily that I’m seeing a real person and not just a character onscreen, and he pulls it off with ease. It’s a great performance. The rest of the supporting cast featuring Naomie Harris, Janelle Monét, and André Holland are all perfectly casted and performed as well.

There’s been a lot of great and memorable movies to come out in 2016, and Moonlight is up there with the best of them. This is a very dramatic movie that never falls into the pit of melodrama while also exploring themes that may seem familiar, but never actually makes itself a cliché. It’s written and performed in such a way that feels very down to earth and organic. It’s also filmed in such a way that is very artistic and stylistic without ever going overboard. I highly recommend this movie for so many different reasons.

Final Grade: A+

The Crying Game – Review

4 Jan

Back in 1992 a movie came out called The Crying Game and it succeeded at causing a major stir among audiences which made it one of the most talked about movies in recent history. Critics and journalists were having a field day writing about the secrets of the movie, and it ended up being nominated for 6 Academy Awards and winning for Best Screenplay. Writer and director Neil Jordan worked very hard to get this controversial film made and it wasn’t always an easy task. At certain points it just seemed downright impossible. As history shows, The Crying Game did get made and has become something of a classic even if it isn’t something that is discussed too much anymore. I’d like to get some of that discussion started up again, so let’s get started.

timthumb

After Jody (Forest Whitaker), a British soldier, is covertly abducted by a group of IRA members, he is taken back to their hideout deep in the woods. Over the course of a few days, one of the IRA members, Fergus (Stephen Rea) befriends Jody and learns a lot about his past and his girlfriend, Dil (Jaye Davidson). After tragedy befalls the group, Fergus flees to London acting on a promise he made to Jody to check on Dil. The two quickly meet up in a bar and form a relationship which weighs heavily on Fergus’ conscience. As Fergus wrestles with his beliefs and motives, to of his IRA colleagues, Jude (Miranda Richardson) and Maguire (Adrian Dunbar), arrive in London and force him into another job that involves the assassination of a judge. His two lives from the past and present proves to be a volatile mixture that will lead to an inevitable murderous outcome.

The Crying Game is a movie that takes so many different themes and mash them together to create a hodgepodge of intriguing subject matter. Like the characters in the movie, these themes often clash together which causes a lot of the drama in the film. At first, the movie seems to be solely focused on the tension between Britain and the IRA. The barrier that breaks between Jody and Fergus in the first third of the movie is interesting to see because it shows that if you take away the labels of “British” and “IRA,” what’s left is just being human. The next part of the movie focuses on identity in multiple ways. Without getting into the realm of spoilers, there’s a huge focus on who Fergus is, was, and who he wants to be. This all happens when he meets Dil and introduces himself as Jimmy. He pretty much changes his appearance and name to become someone else, which is threatened when the IRA finally catches up with him. There’s so much more thematic depth that I’d like to talk about, but that would be at the risk of ruining parts of the movie.

042413-shows-star-cinema-movies-about-terrorism-the-crying-game-forest-whitaker-jpg-custom1200x675x20

To go along with the deep thematic material of The Crying Game is an incredibly well realized screenplay by Neil Jordan. The characters that are written come with many layers, and each layer is slowly peeled back as the movie goes on, even if the character is only in the movie for a short time. These dimensions are best explored during the many conversations characters have with one another as the plot unfolds. The first half hour of the movie is pretty much different interactions between Fergus and Jody, which has a huge impact on the characters, especially with Fergus who is the main character of the movie. These two men should be enemies, but simple conversations turn them into close friends. This kind of dialogue also opens up an moral ambiguity that stirred up some controversy when this was released in the UK. In 1992, it wasn’t a popular thing in Britain to have a movie with a sympathetic and relatable IRA member as the protagonist.

The Crying Game is one of those movies that has a history that’s almost as interesting as the movie itself. Neil Jordan made a pretty good name for himself with his more independently produced films at the start of his career, but as his bigger budgeted efforts in the United States came along, things started to get a little bit shaky. Jordan saw The Crying Game as his chance to earn back his good reputation and feel like he was making films that were worth it again. The problem was that no producers or distributers seemed to share his enthusiasm about the screenplay. Jordan and his producer, Stephen Woolley, went all over the place asking for funding, and they finally found this funding in the UK, Ireland, and Japan. When the movie was released, it became a sensation. Critics warned audiences not to spoil the movie and it remained in theaters for much longer than anyone anticipated. The cherry on top of it all was an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

The Crying Game is a gem from the early 1990s and has unfortunately seemed to disappear from mainstream audiences. That’s really a shame since the film deals with timeless themes of violence, identity, and humanity in ways that were very controversial, especially for a movie released in 1992. This isn’t just a throw away thriller that is forgotten about 15 minutes after seeing it. This is a movie that stays with you days after you’ve seen it and has so many layers to peel away at to see the whole picture and the message the creators were trying to convey. This is a rich, intelligent, and rewarding movie that I certainly recommend.

Final Grade: B+

The Rover – Review

28 Dec

Back in 2014, a movie called The Rover was released and I was determined to see it. The trailers for this movie were all incredible and promised a really tense and artistic ride through a post-apocalyptic world. As with a lot of movies I am determined to see, I never actually went to the theaters to see it and disappointed myself greatly. It wasn’t until just recently that I finally saw it, and after two years of build up I can tell you that I had really high expectations for this movie. What I got was pretty much everything I thought it would be and everything the trailers promised, but there were a few surprises along the way. The Rover is a very subtle and nonconventional film about a future that hopefully will never exist, but doesn’t seem all that far away.

timthumb

It’s been a decade since the collapse of Western civilization and people are doing whatever it takes to stay alive. One of these people is a mysterious loner named Eric, whose only possession he has left is his car. One day three thieves, led by Henry (Scoot McNairy), crash their truck and steal Eric’s car when he is in a bar. Eric watches them drive away and his initial search turns out to be completely hopeless. He soon runs into Rey (Robert Pattinson), Henry’s brother who was left for dead by the other thieves. Rey lets on that he knows where Henry and his cohorts are heading, which forces Eric to keep Rey around in order to find them and his car. As the search continues, Eric and Rey encounter many different people that inhabit the wasteland with their own secrets and dangers.

There are two things that become very clear to me after watching the first five minutes of The Rover. From the very first shot, I had a grasp on what the rhythm and the pacing of this movie was going to be, and it filled me with that all too familiar film geek glee. Writer/director David Michôd is someone who understands pacing, suspense, and maybe more importantly stillness. The film opens right away with Guy Pierce’s character sitting in his car for close to half a minute without moving. After that, there’s very little dialogue for the first 20 minutes of the movie. At least, there’s way less than what is expected in a movie. The rest of the movie moves at that pace and it’s exactly how a movie with a story and setting like this should go. Another thing that becomes clear is how pristine and beautiful the cinematography is. Michôd and director of photography Natasha Brair work so well together to create a look that is equal amounts gorgeous and dreadful. There are so many unique scenes in this film, especially one involving a car crash in the beginning of the film, that becomes seared into your brain.

the-rover03

So while The Rover is noticeably a beautifully shot movie there’s still something about it that remains very un-cinematic, and I mean that in a very positive way. I wouldn’t call this an action movie and there isn’t all that much violence in it, but when there is it’s startling and sometimes unexpected. People die in ways that aren’t cinematic or grand in any way. This film shows exactly what life would look like in a post apocalyptic Australian wasteland. There’s tragedy and humor, but by the end of the movie you see that all of that can be inconsequential depending on who the subject is. The cynicism of this movie is so strong I could almost feel it radiating from the screen. What else could be expected from this kind of future, though? The Rover isn’t a movie to make you feel good or have an uplifting time at the movies. It exists to show the lengths a person will go to protect themselves and their humanity in a time where these ideas are becoming extinct.

The characters of Eric and Rey are the only two characters that get any sort of attention or development, which means the whole movie and dramatic tension is riding on their shoulders and how well they play these parts. Guy Pierce has proven himself to be a very unique actor that is easily recognizable. It was no surprise that he took the weight of this post-apocalyptic world and turned it into a character that’s been so beaten down he will do anything to protect himself from any more suffering. This means he’ll kill or hurt anyone who is in his way, and Pierce helps make this character into an anti-hero of the everyman trying to live in the world of this movie. The real surprise was Robert Pattinson, who I’ve always tried to defend as an actor but never got any real proof of what I was defending. Cosmopolis was a giant disappointment, but The Rover shows that he can really do great work.

The Rover is a one of a kind movie that has stuck with me since the days that I watched it. The pacing and cinematography worked wonders at putting me in the world the movie took place in and the performances kept me focused on what would happen next. This is a great example of a post apocalyptic nightmare that also succeeds at being a unique and artistic vision. It is unconventional compared to a lot of other films in this genre, but that’s what makes The Rover such a memorable movie.

Final Grade: B+

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Review

21 Dec

It’s been about 5 days since I’ve seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and since then I’ve been thinking about it constantly. Last year, we saw the return of the franchise to the big screen with The Force Awakens, which to me felt like new life being breathed into it that was lost during the prequel trilogy. Rogue One is trying something new by telling a story that takes place between two of the main episodes instead of continuing the main story. This left me feeling kind of skeptical and a little nervous that it wouldn’t pack the kind of punch that I expect from a Star Wars movie. As the credits began to roll and I left the theater, I was ready to sit down and watch it again.

rogue-one-a-star-wars-story-theatrical-poster_1688

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) has been labeled a criminal by the Empire after breaking their laws and giving them trouble time and again. She has every reason to have such animosity towards them because when she was young she saw the villainous Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) tear her family apart when he forced her father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), to come with him to help develop a new superweapon for the Empire. Years later, Jyn is recruited by the Rebel Alliance for a very important and secret mission to obtain a secret message sent by Galen through a defecting Empire pilot, Rook (Riz Ahmed). Jyn, along with Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), his droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), a blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), and mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), begins her adventure to find this message, rescue her father, and stop the Empire from unleashing its new superweapon, the Death Star.

Rogue One introduces a lot of new characters to the Star Wars universe, but it also introduces a new director to helm the project, Gareth Edwards. Edwards got his recognition with his 2010 independent film Monsters and went on to direct the 2014 American version of Godzilla, which people had differing opinions on. Either way, it’s safe to say he is a fantastic visual director, and this vision is one of the best parts of Rogue One. This is easily the most beautiful Star Wars film ever made with a unique blend of CGI, location shooting, and practical make up and effects. There’s so many beautiful scenes that show how great Edwards is with size and scale. From the AT-ATs coming through the fog to the Star Destroyer hovering over a city to that jaw dropping shot of the Death Star coming out of hyperspace. This is just such a beautifully crafted film in terms of its visuals and its sound and I give Gareth Edwards a lot of credit for creating a very unique looking Star Wars film.

rogue_one_at_at-1024x576

With all of this praise I’m throwing at Rogue One for its impressive style and beautiful cinematography, I have to also say that this is not a perfect movie and there are some flaws that are more apparent than others. The first 20-30 minutes of this movie are really rocky and often times confusing. We see Jyn’s backstory first, but after that we are forced to bounce back and forth between multiple different planets to introduce a plethora of characters really quickly. This feels messy and it’s hard to remember a lot of these characters this fast. As they are more established later on it was fine, but the first part of this movie was so scattershot. While Jyn and the rest of her crew are come pretty cool characters, only a few of them really get the attention that they deserve. Jyn gets plenty, but someone like Baze and Rook get next to nothing. It sometimes felt that these characters were pushed a bit too far into the background for a movie that is based on a team of heroes. Finally, there are a few CGI effects that happen for a certain character that is kind of weird. I understand and appreciate what they were trying to do, and on some levels it’s pretty cool, but it’s also really distracting to look at.

So while this movie does have faults, it’s still a really entertaining movie that stands alone as well as acting as a springboard for the original trilogy. It combines lore deeply engraved in the Star Wars universe while also giving us all these new characters and ways of seeing characters we already know. The story takes us to all these different planets, each with their own feel and design. Star Wars has been known for its many different planets, and Rogue One uses its settings really well. When I say that this movie stands alone, I mean that it feels like a very different kind of movie in this franchise. This is a war movie with just a little bit of mysticism in the rare times that the Force is mentioned. There’s something about how this story is told that often times gave me goosebumps. It just feels like such a perfect fit into a universe that we all know and love.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a great addition to the franchise and it really is a relief to say that. This is a beautifully crafted film that looks, sounds, and feels very unique while also fitting into the established universe very well. There’s some weird pacing issues and not all of the CGI choices work as smoothly as the film makers seemed to think they did, but all of that is overshadowed by how much fun I had watching this movie. If you want to go into this movie and nit pick it so much that nothing is left of it, then go right ahead, but if you are a Star Wars fan and are ready for another trip to a galaxy far, far away, then brace yourself for Rogue One.

Final Grade: A-

An American Werewolf in London & An American Werewolf in Paris – Review

15 Dec

I gotta be honest, werewolf movies really aren’t my cup of tea. There’s something about them that just strike me as kind of silly, but I guess that can be said about a lot of classic monsters. One of the most iconic werewolf films is John Landis’ horror/comedy An American Werewolf in London. Over the years this film has become known as a cult classic due to its wit, blending of genres, and it’s outstanding practical special effects. Like many horror movies that have come before and after, a sequel was released, An American Werewolf in Paris, years after the original. This one has received the opposite kind of attention and it seems that people just want to forget about it. Today, I’m going to be looking at both of them and giving my own thoughts.

Let’s start with John Landis’ original film from 1981.

1981-an-american-werewolf-in-london-poster1

David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are two American college students backpacking through England. After being warned by locals to “beware the moon” and “stay on the road,” the two end up getting lost and attacked by a large animal. Jack is killed and David is injured, waking up in a hospital three weeks later. At the hospital, David meets nurse named Alex (Jenny Agutter) and the two form a relationship with David eventually staying at her apartment. Throughout this time, David is plagued with bad dreams and is getting visits from Jack’s slowly decaying corpse who explains that he has been infected with the werewolf’s curse, and if he doesn’t die then all of the werewolf’s victims are doomed to walk the earth in limbo and more people will die because of David. David doesn’t know what to believe until the night of the full moon when he first transforms into a werewolf and begins a bloody spree throughout the city of London.

Horror and comedy often time go hand in hand. When I’m watching a really scary movie and something just frightens me more than I thought it would, I often find myself laughing at both myself and the incident that happened onscreen. This is why horror/comedies also blend dark humor and horror so well. An American Werewolf in London is one of the classics of the horror/comedy genre. This is a very lighthearted movie and at no time does it ever really take itself too seriously. Even when things do start getting more intense towards the end, the film adopts this over the top brutal slapstick that is more funny then actually scary. What is taken very seriously, however, is the outstanding make up and special effects work. Rick Baker, who previously worked on Star Wars, does amazing work with the famous transformation scene and also creating monsters and walking corpses that appear throughout the movie. Baker’s also the first person to win the Academy Award for Best Best Makeup and Hairstyling, which was a new award the year of this film’s release.

With all of the cool werewolf effects and dark humor at the forefront, there are some elements that get pushed aside. For one thing, the characters in the movie are nothing all that special. David and Jack are both fine characters, but what’s really memorable about them is the situation they’re in. The ending of the movie also can define the term “anti-climactic.” While I was being critical of how the story was being told with some scenes not seeming to go anywhere in particular, I had time to admire how much like a classic Universal monster movie An American Werewolf in London felt like. Everything from the foggy countryside to the pub in the beginning with the cautious villagers to the relationship that grows between David and Alex. You can really see how much John Landis was inspired by those movies to create a classic of his own.

An American Werewolf in London has become a shining example of horror/comedy and the work that can be achieved with practical special effects. It’s a darkly funny story of a fish out of water that also happens to be a werewolf. I only wish that the story could have been tightened up a little bit and the ending made into something more memorable. Still, any fan of horror movies or even comedies will have a lot of fun with this film and see why it’s considered a modern cult classic.

Final Grade: B+

Sixteen years after the release of An American Werewolf in London, the sequel titled An American Werewolf in Paris was released and was met with pretty overwhelming negative results. After seeing it for myself, I’m comfortable jumping on that bandwagon.

220px-pariswerewolf

Andy McDermott (Tom Everett Scott) and his two friends are traveling Europe looking for excitement and girls. When the trio arrive in Paris, Andy chooses the Eiffel Tower for his next base jumping stunt and ends up saving a woman, Sérafine (Julie Delpy), from jumping off and killing herself. After this heroic act, Andy and Sérafine get more involved with each other, but the relationship gets more than a little complicated when it is revealed that she is a werewolf who, along with her step father, has been working on a cure for their curse. On the opposite side of Sérafine are a group of werewolves, led by the vicious Claude (Pierre Cosso), who want to reverse engineer the cure and use it as a way to transform anytime they want to.

Compared to the original film, this one is completely outrageous. The positives of An American Werewolf in London that helped it become a cult classic is its charm, simplicity in story, and the remarkable practical effects. All of this is completely absent in An American Werewolf in Paris. This film has all the charm of a bargain bin sex comedy and special effects that are guaranteed to cause belly laughs. It’s hard to even call this movie a sequel because at first glance, there’s nothing to really connect it to the original film. It was only after reading up on the film a little bit did I realize there’s an absurd connection that is teetering a very fine line of making sense. What we have here is more of an absurd remake than an actual sequel, but calling this a remake would be an insult to the original. My best guess is that this movie is simply a cash grab that’s riding on the name and popularity of Landis’ classic.

after

There really isn’t a whole lot to say that isn’t painfully obvious once you actually watch the movie. I’m not sure who thought that the idea of making the plot to this movie as contrived as it is was a good idea, but they couldn’t have been in their right mind. Amongst all of the negativity, I will say that Tom Everett Scott and Julie Delpy seem to be doing their best, but a lot of the lines they deliver that’s meant to be funny are cringe worthy at best. When people finally do start turning into werewolves, which feels like forever with the “character building” scenes, they aren’t anything impressive at all. In fact, the look unfinished and out of place. There are a few instances of practical effects which are welcome, but they’re so few and far between.

The bottom line is that this isn’t a movie anyone should see even if they are fans of werewolf movies. It takes the same ideas as John Landis’ film and presents them in a much weaker way without the wit and charm that should come with a movie that’s related to An American Werewolf in London. Just stay away from An American Werewolf in Paris and your brain cells have a better chance of staying intact.

Final Grade: D

There you have it. An American Werewolf in London is a cult classic that deserves all of the praise it receives whereas the sequel is a disaster disguised as a horror/comedy. Like I said before, I’m not a huge fan of werewolf movies, but An American Werewolf in London is just too much fun to pass up.