Tag Archives: classics

Strangers on a Train – Review

7 Apr

While on the set of Strangers on a Train, Alfred Hitchcock told the cast and crew that this was truly his first movie. Of course, that wasn’t actually the case. Hitchcock was making silent films before going on to classics like The 39 StepsRope, and Infamous. What Hitchcock meant by this was this was his first film where he could fully explore themes that were taboo at the time, while also telling a suspenseful story full of action and mystery. Strangers on a Train is definitely an interesting film in Hitchcock’s filmography. It was the start of a string of movies that would go on to change film history for the better, and was one of the first instances that showed how much of a story Hitchcock could tell without using dialogue.

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Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is an amateur tennis star on his way to meet his wife, Miriam (Laura Elliot), to discuss matters of their divorce. While on the train, Guy meets a fellow traveller named Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker), who has a very strange idea he’d like to share with Guy. Bruno believes that the perfect murder could be committed by a team of two, where one person murders the other person’s victim. Guy humors Bruno, but never actually thinks he’d follow through with his ludicrous plan. Unfortunately, Bruno is not a person to doubt, so when he murders Guy’s wife, Guy is forced to live his life evading Bruno and his desperate attempts to have Guy murder his father. Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), Guy’s wife to be, discovers this absurd plot and starts to help Guy put a stop to Bruno’s nefarious schemes. When this proves unsuccessful, and Bruno reveals a more sinister plan he has up his sleeve, Guy is forced to take action to clear his name and protect his family.

Before we get to the nitty gritty of Strangers on a Train, this movie succeeds greatly entertainment wise, and holds up really well today, as most Hitchcock movies do. We don’t call Hitchcock the Master of Suspense for nothing. This movie is full of great suspense and action that keeps the viewer engaged the entire movie. Certain scenes really stand out like when Bruno is staring down Guy during a tennis match or even the scene where the two men first meet. Don’t even get me started on the climax. Hitchcock understood what it meant to make a great set piece, and the climax is not only extremely satisfying, but also loud and intense. It worked great with all of the quiet menace that was spread throughout the movie. There’s also plenty of that great, dark Hitchcock humor. There’s something hilarious about watching two giddy old women talking about planning a murder.

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Everyone in this movie do great jobs with their characters. Farley Granger plays the unassuming protagonist very well, and Ruth Roman gives a strong performances as his lover trying to keep him on track. The real scene stealer, and I’m sure anyone would agree with this, is Robert Walker. There’s something really sleazy about the way he plays Bruno and he becomes one of Hitchcock’s most memorable villains. The character of Bruno is pretty interesting. He’s not some dastardly guy who deserves any kind of revenge. He’s a spoiled, demented brat who just loves causing chaos. He’s dangerous because he will do whatever he has to to get what he wants, and Walker really nails it.

Like I said before, this movie provided Hitchcock with material to explore things that were forbidden in Hollywood, but of course the Master of Suspense is also pretty masterful with subtlety. For one thing, there’s a motif of doubles all throughout the movie. There’s two men part of the conspiracy, two bespectacled women in danger, two murders, and even two players on a tennis court. Hitchcock was very interested with the duality of humanity and the moral gray area that most certainly exists. There’s also a very clear homoerotic vibe coming from Bruno. Hitchcock made it clear in the movie and confirmed it later that Bruno was attracted to Guy in a homosexual kind of way. That was most certainly a big no-no in Hollywood, but it’s something that just makes the characters and movie deeper than it could have been.

Strangers on a Train doesn’t necessarily reach the heights of other Hitchcock films like Rear Window or Vertigo, but it is still an exceptional movie. There’s plenty of action, suspense, and menace to keep anyone entertained. Robert Walker completely steals the show as one of the most memorable villains I’ve seen in a long time, and Hitchcock’s subtle exploration of taboo themes adds an extra layer to enjoy. Strangers on a Train is objectively defined as a classic, and it has certainly earned that title.

Don’t Look Now – Review

5 Apr

The late 1960s and the 1970s were a really important time for the horror genre. It was a time when new and exciting things were being introduced to this type of film making that really breathed new life into a genre of movies that didn’t yet reach its full potential. Auteur film makers were dabbling with new ways to make movies, and one of the most important experiments for horror was Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 film Don’t Look Now. Based off of a story written by Daphne du Maurier, whose stories were used by Hitchcock for Rebecca and The BirdsDon’t Look Now was almost destined to succeed before it was even made, and after its completion it has become a cinematic landmark.

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After their daughter (Sharon Williams) drowns in a pond behind their house, Laura (Julie Christie) and John (Donald Sutherland) Baxter take a trip to Venice where John has been hired to help restore a church. While there, Laura meets two sisters, Heather (Hilary Mason) and Wendy (Clelia Matania). Heather is blind but claims to have psychic abilities and tells Julie that she sees their daughter with them in Venice, and that she has a message of warning for John. John refuses to believe a word that anyone says about their daughter, firmly believing her to be dead and gone. As time goes on in Venice, the couple begin experiencing more strange and often dangerous supernatural events, while the city is also stricken by a mysterious and elusive serial killer that can strike anywhere and at anytime.

Don’t Look Now is a subtle trip down the cinematic rabbit hole that you may not even realize you’re going down. That’s probably the most brilliant aspect of this movie. While it’s on, I felt like I was watching a very straightforward psychological thriller, and in that sense, I felt a little disappointed as I was watching it. I wanted to see something that was really going to blow my mind as much as everyone says it would. It wasn’t until the movie was over that I realized that I wasn’t paying nearly enough attention as I thought I was. There are so many clues hidden in plain sight as to what is really going on, and if you aren’t a super perceptive viewer, they may go right over your head. After thinking about the movie and doing some research on it, the way Roeg made this film is truly remarkable and it demands a second viewing to really appreciate how he blends time, genres, and hides clues for you to find.

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What also makes Don’t Look Now a successful horror movie is the creeping feelings that lurk behind every dark corner and worried glance. There’s so much paranoia and grief that is caked on the entire narrative, and that combination makes for a very suspenseful ride. Don’t Look Now is comparable to Rosemary’s Baby, in that there are many times where you and the characters really have no idea what’s actually going on. Sometimes you may not even realize this confusion, but trust me, you will be confused at certain points. This a sign of a great horror movie. If you watch it and feel your hairs standing on end, find yourself breathing just a little faster, or thinking a little harder, you know you’re watching something worth while. This sort of true suspense is what’s lacking in the “spooky ghost” movies that have flooded the market as of late.

Having the story take place in Venice is also a fantastic idea. This isn’t the same Venice that you see in movies like The Tourist. No way. Far from it. This is the back streets of Venice in the winter, when things are gray, murky, and dead. The water also seems to be posing some sort of ominous threat or holding some unknown secret. Meanwhile, it’s easy to get lost in the labyrinthine alley ways that sometimes lead to nowhere. Venice transcends just being a location, and becomes something of a side character with its own living and breathing personality.

Don’t Look Now has firmly made a name for itself as one of the greatest horror movies ever made, but it would be unfair to just call this a horror movie. It’s a thriller, a mystery, and a family drama all rolled into one. This blending of time and genre set this movie above many, but the attention to detail and suspense is what truly make this film great. You may not realize how intricate it is upon your first viewing of it, but after thinking about it and watching it again, you’ll be completely entranced by its mystery.

The Right Stuff – Review

8 Mar

To me, the idea of going into space is like the worst thing ever. I’m quite comfortable staying down here on good old planet Earth for the rest of my life. For some people however, that just isn’t enough. Take for example the Mercury Seven, the American astronauts that were some of the first people to go to space, and the very first people to orbit the Earth. This is the story of The Right Stuff, a movie by Philip Kaufman based off of the book by Tom Wolfe. It’s a very interesting and adventurous movie that tells the stories of these astronauts very well, and for that I applaud it. On the other hand, this movie is goes on for what seems like forever and could have been either trimmed down or made into two separate movies.

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The story begins back in 1947 when there was a belief that it was impossible that it was impossible to reach the speed needed to surpass Mach 1 and break the sound barrier. That is until UNSAF pilot Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) stood up to the challenge and pushed the Bell X-1 jet faster than any before it and broke the sound barrier. This opens up many doors for scientific aeronautic progression for the United States, and pressure begins building as the United States enters the space race with the Soviet Union. The rest of the film follows the Mercury 7 astronauts (Dennis Quaid, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Lance Henriksen, Scott Paulin, Fred Ward, and Charles Frank) and their different experiences training, finally going into space, and the effect it has on their social status and families.

No one can really deny that the story of The Right Stuff may be one of the greatest stories ever told. In all aspects, it’s a story of bravery, camaraderie, and love all woven together by historical truths and the knowledge that most of what we see really happened. The events shown in this movie are crucial scientific breakthroughs, and that being said, I wish this was a longer movie. Well, sort of. Watching this film in one sitting was pretty daunting, and by the end I was ready for it to be over. What I mean is that this is another one of those movies that would’ve have been a lot better if it was turned into a mini series. There’s so much history in The Right Stuff that sometimes feels glazed right over. Despite it’s run time of three hours and fifteen minutes, I still felt that there was more of a story to tell.

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The Right Stuff got its limited release in October of 1983, while Return of the Jedi got released in May of that same year. I’m saying this because I want everyone to have an idea of what sort of special effects could be accomplished at that time. For 1983, The Right Stuff had some pretty incredible special effects that still hold up today. Using practical effects like models, stock footage, and other unique effects, the effects in this movie gave it a very authentic feel. I also have to mention Caleb Deschanel’s beautiful cinematography that helps bridge the gap between authentic and cinematic.

It’s impossible to talk about The Right Stuff without mentioning its truly all star cast. Not only is it a very large cast, but its a cast that does their jobs very well. My personal favorite performances come from Ed Harris as John Glenn and Dennis Quaid as Gordon Cooper, although Scott Glenn’s portrayal of Alan Shepard is also memorable. They’re all just so into their characters, and Ed Harris especially could be John Glenn’s doppelgänger. The only person I feel is underused is Lance Henriksen. I’m a big fan of Henriksen, so the more I see of him the better.

The Right Stuff may feel like it goes on forever and it may get kind of cheesy with its over the top patriotism, but it is still one hell of a movie. The special effects, performances, music, and cinematography are all top notch and it tells a really great story, even if some of it isn’t all too accurate. While it wasn’t met with much attention when it was released, The Right Stuff is now regarded as a landmark film of the 1980s, and I can certainly understand why and wholeheartedly agree.

Sergio Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy” – Review

11 Nov

There are a lot of different way to make a western film. There’s the more traditional ways that are often equated with actors like John Wayne and there’s also more modern and/or revisionist westerns that have been made by film makers like Sam Peckinpah, Quentin Tarantino, and Clint Eastwood. My personal favorite kind of westerns, however, are the Italian made spaghetti westerns. I like to compare spaghetti westerns to comic books since they’re usually colorful (with setting and characters), over the top, and often violent. The most famous of these films arguably make up Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, which are A Fistful of DollarsFor a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Not only did these films help launch the careers of Leone and Clint Eastwood to new heights, but also plenty of other reasons that make these films classics and worth a review.

Let’s start with A Fistful of Dollars from 1964.

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In this film we are introduced to the now iconic character, the Man With No Name (Clint Eastwood), a wandering gunslinger who happens upon a small Mexican border town called San Miguel. What the Man finds in this town is surprising. San Miguel is a town that is under the clutches of two rival gangs. One one side there’s the Rojo family, who deal in liquor, and on the other side is the Baxter family, who deal in weapons. The mysterious gunslinger realizes a way where he can make a profit from both sides by playing each family against each other. While this is a great source of income, the Man learns by the local innkeeper, Silvanito (José Calvo), of the great stress that the two warring families have put on the town and the lives that have been lost in the process. This turns the Man’s mission of profit into a mission of protection and vengeance for the townspeople.

If you’re thinking that the plot for this movie is almost the same exact plot for Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 samurai film Yojimbo, you wouldn’t be the only one. The fact that this film was an unofficial remake to Yojimbo, without giving credit to that film as inspiration stirred up some controversy when it was released. To be fair though, Yojimbo was pretty much lifted from Dashiell Hammet’s 1929 novel Red Harvest. While A Fistful of Dollars seems to be taken from a couple different sources, the film still stands as a film that helped redefine the western genre.

Clint Eastwood’s performance as the Man With No Name is one of the most iconic in film history. It’s been imitated and parodied, but never has it been equaled. Not only is the Man a real tough guy and quick to shoot, he also shows a lot of compassion and has a great sense of humor. It’s really everything you look for in an archetypal hero like this. Sergio Leone’s direction also elevates this movie above many others in the genre because of the abundance of style thrown into it. Not only does it have western tricks and motifs, but also implements Eastern styles of film making like using close ups and quick zooms. Finally, this movie really wouldn’t be complete without Ennio Morricone’s controlled and melodic score.

So, in conclusion, A Fistful of Dollars stands tall as a classic of the western genre, but this review doesn’t stop there. After being pressured by the studios, Leone would go on to make a sequel, For a Few Dollars More released in 1965 overseas and in 1967 in America. Not only is this a great sequel, it’s a huge improvement over the first film.

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The wild west was the land of bounty hunters, and the people that matched the hunters in dangers were only the people that were being hunted. Problems also tended to arise when two bounty hunters vied for the same target, which is the case of the $10,000 reward on El Indio’s (Gian Maria Volonté) head. On one side there’s Col. Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef), an ex-soldier who was labeled the “finest shot in the Carolinas.” On the other side is the Man With No Name, aka Monco, a wandering gunslinger who can draw faster than you can blink. When the two bounty hunters wind up in the same town, it becomes quite clear that they would be more effective if they teamed up to take down El Indio and collect the enormous bounty on him and his gang.

This is a movie to get really excited about because you have to think about how cool A Fistful of Dollars was and add a bigger story with more larger than life characters and then you finally get For a Few Dollars More. This film perfectly builds on my describing spaghetti westerns as the comic books of the western genre. Monco and Col. Mortimer feel like superheroes the way they can hit their targets from so far away. Even the way they dress is symbolic to their characters. El Indio on the other hand is a perfect super villain since he can shoot almost as well as the two heroes and has a gang of henchmen surrounding him. Not to mention his over the top personality. This film is just a super entertaining and well made movie.

Ennio Morricone returns as composer for the film and the music is also a huge step forward. One song in particular is written and performed like something you would hear in a music box. That kind of composition reminds me of Morricone’s work for The Untouchables. This film is also the point where Leone found out just how skilled he was as a film maker and also strengthened his stylistic choices. Leone is known for his sound and editing, and there are many scenes in For a Few Dollars More that feature no dialogue, but only some sound or quiet music. This trademark would be perfected in the opening scene of Once Upon a Time in the West.

While A Fistful of Dollars is arguably one of the best westerns ever made, it can be debated that For a Few Dollars More may be one of the best films ever made. Believe it or not, things only get better with the third film of the trilogy. This is of course the 1966 film The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which has become one of the most iconic films in the history of cinema.

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As the American Civil War ravaged the entire country, there were many people who did anything they had to to survive. Tuco (Eli Wallach) is a bandit on the run from law enforcement and bounty hunters that seem to be coming from every direction. Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) is a ruthless bounty hunter who will kill anyone of any age in order to complete his job and get paid. Finally, there’s the Man With No Name , aka Blondie, another bounty hunter, who along with his new partner Tuco, scam towns by collecting reward money and then escaping later on. As Tuco’s and Blondie’s partnership collapses, another monkey wrench is thrown into their lives: a rumor of hidden gold buried in cemetery. Blondie knows the grave and Tuco knows the cemetery, forcing them to once again work together. Unfortunately for both of them, the sadistic Angel Eyes also wants a piece of the gold and will stop at nothing to claim it all for himself.

While it can be argued that For a Few Dollars More is one of the greatest films ever made, I’m pretty sure that anyone who has scene The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly will agree that this is definitely one of the best movies ever made. Everything that I’ve said was great about the first two films are back for this one, but enhanced on such an epic scale. There are so many iconic moments that it’s hard to name them all. The destruction of a bridge strategically placed in the middle of a major Civil War conflict and the climactic Mexican showdown in the middle of the cemetery are just a few examples. The film’s themes are also as epic as the everything else you see. The catastrophic effects of war and how it shapes people trying to survive through it is a surprising theme for a movie like this, but there are scenes where it really can strike a nerve and get the emotions flowing.

When the film was first released in 1966, most critics gave it a lot of negative reviews because they were disgusted by how violent it was. Yeah, it’s violent, but like the other films in this trilogy it happens very fast and always has a reason. The only thing excessive about The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is the run time. Granted, I’ve only seen the extended version so I may be a little unfair. What isn’t unfair is my complaint that Angel Eyes doesn’t get NEARLY enough screen time. This film is also very episodic in nature, but watching the characters adapt to whatever strange scenario happens next actually builds up who they are more than you might expect. Finally, I can’t talk about this film without mentioning how Morricone created one of the most beloved film scores in the history of movies. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is a landmark of film making, and must be discussed whenever the topic of film history comes up. It truly is a masterpiece.

I could say so much more about the Dollars Trilogy and I might one day. For now, I just wanted to give an overview of it and try to explain why they are three of the most important films you may ever see. Leone completely deconstructed the western genre and turned it into something never seen before. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing these films yet, it must be done as soon as possible.

Hammer’s “Mummy” Series – Review

19 Jul

Many moons ago, I did a two part review on Hammer Film’s Dracula movies starring the late, great Christopher Lee as the title character. Hammer didn’t stop it’s remakes of Universal monster movies there, however, with a long running series of Frankenstein films and also a series of Mummy movies. This four film long series ran from Hammer’s hay day in 1959 to 1971, when the company was in its decline. While there are certainly aspects of these movies that have that genuine Hammer horror feel, a few of the outings feel like complete rehashes of what’s already been done, and one even seemed completely devoid of any and all types of thrills.

Like I said the series started in 1959 with The Mummy and continued after quite a few years in 1964 with The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb.

 

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The series continued in 1967 with The Mummy’s Shroud and finally ended in 1971 with Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb.

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At the risk of sound repetitive, I really only need to give one basic summary for the first three films in this series. Pretty much throughout these movies, archaeologists discover ancient tombs containing mummies and priceless artifacts, which they use to try to make a profit at a museums or as sideshow attractions. The mummies in the tomb awaken because of a curse and then begin to kill members of each expedition one by one. Now, Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb changed the pace up a little bit with an expedition team finding a perfectly preserved Egyptian princess buried in a sacred tomb. This princess has been reincarnated as a professor’s daughter and is soon tricked into working to bring the evil princess back to life… by killing members of the expedition, so the basic formula is pretty much still there.

The Mummy starts the series off with a bang, and it unfortunately never quite achieves the thrills and fun that are packed into this movie. Part of that may be because this is the only film in the series to feature Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. These two Hammer titans clash just as good as they always do in this film. There’s one excellent scene in particular where the mummy, played by Lee, unexpectedly crashes through Cushing’s glass door and lunges at him with a vengeance that has been boiling up for a thousand years. There’s also a memorable flashback sequence that shows how Lee’s character, Kharis, became the mummy. The Mummy is a wonderfully creepy Hammer classic that shouldn’t be missed.

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So, like I said before, the first film of this series is unfortunately the peak of all the excitement. The next two sequels can be best described as incredibly lackluster. The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb has almost no redeeming qualities. The actual mummy in this movie has very little screen time, and pretty much just lumbers around. The scenes all have the appropriate atmosphere, but no actual climax that is worth watching. Terence Morgan’s character is really the only interesting part of this movie, so honestly, just skip this one.

The Mummy’s Shroud thankfully steps things up a little bit, but not by all that much. Take the atmosphere away and replace it with a much cooler mummy and some really awesome death scenes, and you have this movie. Being released in 1967, this starts the period when Hammer began its fall into obscurity. People just weren’t interested in what they were making, and when films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were released, people REALLY weren’t interested. Like I said though, this movie has some redeeming qualities. The death scenes are over the top and memorable, and they also give the mummy something to do. There’s also a great climactic scene in which the mummy appears to disintegrate before our very eyes. I don’t really have too much to say about this one other than it showed where Hammer was at at the time, and it has some wonderfully eerie scenes that make it worth at least one watch.

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Finally, it seemed like Hammer saw that they couldn’t just have another movie where a guy wrapped in cloth terrorized upper class British men who accidentally resurrected it. Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb is actually based off of a novel by Bram Stoker called The Jewel of the Seven Stars, which is a story about archaeologists working to revive an Egyptian queen. That’s more or less the story of this last movie, but it steps up the “Hammer Factor” big time. There’s plenty of blood, eerie scenes, and…well… let’s just say there’s plenty of Valerie Leon to go around… It was also nice to see a different sort of story than the other movies. This makes Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb the best in the series after the original 1959 movie, but also an underrated Hammer classic.

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This Hammer series is ultimately pretty uneven. There’s really only one awful movie in the bunch, and that’s The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb. Just a step above that we have The Mummy’s Shroud, which has some really memorable scenes. Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb and The Mummy are the real stand out film in this series, since they have the most style and are all around just better made movies. Any fans of Hammer films have probably already been exposed to these movies, but if you’re new to their works, stick with the first and the last films. Those ones just scream Hammer and rank as some of their best work.

Shock Corridor – Review

26 May

It’s always a joy to talk about one of the greatest film makers to grace American cinema, and this time it’s Samuel Fuller. With films like The Big Red OneWhite Dog, and of course Shock Corridor under his belt, it’s easy to see why. I can almost compare him to Sam Peckinpah in some ways. He’s a master of his craft, but his eccentricities and often taboo subject matter in his films didn’t quite make him popular in Hollywood. Shock Corridor is one of those examples of such odd film making filled with subject matter that certainly shouldn’t have flied in the early 1960s. Nowadays, however, it’s regarded as something of a small classic.

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Johnny Barret (Peter Breck) is a journalist who’s bent on winning the coveted Pulitzer Prize. He will literally do anything to win it, so when he learns of an unsolved murder in a mental hospital, he jumps at the opportunity. Using his girlfriend, Cathy (Constance Towers), to pose as his sister, he gets admitted to the hospital after supposed charges of attempted incest and abuse. Now fully undercover for his newspaper, Johnny begins to interview the three crazed witnesses of the murder and slowly begins piecing it together. All the while, however, Johnny is getting more and more into his role and slowly begins welcoming all of the insanity.

Shock Corridor was unleashed onto the public in 1963, making it one of the more provocative films I’ve seen of that era. This was a time where the Cold War and Communism was a big fear and the Summer of Love was still some years away. This wasn’t exactly a time of free artistic expression, and Samuel Fuller couldn’t care less. I really wish I was around to see what people’s reactions would have been to this movie when it was released over 50 years ago. There were a few moments where things like incest and prostitution were being discussed in such detail that I would wonder, “Could he really get away with that?”

 

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Shock Corridor is basically Fuller turning a mirror around on society and its beliefs through the use of patients in a mental institution. Think about that for a second. It’s probably not the most flattering someone could do. There are themes in this movie that deal with communism, atomic powerhouses, and racism which are all very important topics that Fuller handles in this most abrasive of ways. What really sticks out is the commentary on racism and how he pretty much makes racists and extremists look like complete wackos, even when he is speaking through the mouth of a black man who believes he is a white supremacist.

The main character of this movie is journalist who is striving to win the Pulitzer Prize through any way possible. There’s really no other film maker with enough credentials to write a journalist character than Fuller, considering he worked in journalism for pretty much his whole life up until he started making movie. You can see he has a lot to say through the way Barret behaves and conducts his interviews. While his subjects pretty much pour out their souls to him during their moments of clear thinking, all Barret cares about is solving the murder. What he doesn’t realize is the people in the hospital provide him with more than enough information for a Pulitzer Prize. I’m not sure exactly what he’s implying, but it’s certainly something about journalistic integrity.

Shock Corridor is another one of those movies that reminds me why I love them in the first place, and who better to remind me than Fuller, the man who inspired people like Jim Jarmusch, Quentin Tarantino, and Martin Scorsese. This is definitely a bizarre movie that defies all logic at time, but it’s one that has a lot to say about the time that it was made. This is a film that’s way ahead of its time, but that makes it all the more memorable, and more than worth the watches it may take to completely dissect it.

Creepshow and Creepshow 2 – Review

30 Dec

Doesn’t it seem almost too good to be true to have a movie exist that was written by Stephen King and directed by George A. Romero? It almost sounds unreal, but this is not the case. In 1982, a movie called Creepshow, a movie made up of five different stories, was released. This proved to be a huge success, which is unsurprising, and it’s also unsurprising that a sequel would be released five years later, Creepshow 2. While the first film is a really solid horror comedy that has become a classic, the sequel only provides the least amount of entertainment needed to keep and audience’s attention.

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Like I said before, this movie is broken up into five different short films written by Stephen King. A sadistic, deceased father (Jon Lormer) returns from the dead to get revenge on his murderous family and also enjoy his father’s day cake that he loves so much. A dim witted farmer (Stephen King himself) discovers a meteorite and is exposed to its chemicals that makes bushes and grass grow all over him and his property. A vengeful husband (Leslie Nielsen) gets revenge on his wife (Gaylen Ross) and her lover (Ted Danson), but soon gets more than he bargained for. A mysterious crate is found in a college that contains a bloodthirsty and hungry beast. Finally, a man (E.G. Marshall) who is deathly afraid of bugs and germs must defend himself from a swarm of thousands of cockroaches during a power outage.

Now, a lot of these stories sound cheesy and that’s because they are deliberately cheesy to the point of being comical. The style of Creepshow is heavily influenced by the E.C. horror comic books of the 1950s which were full of violence, sex, and dark comedy all of which combined to form a parent’s worst nightmare. That being said, a lot of this movie feels like it’s straight from a comic book with crazy color designs and dialogue boxes that seemed to be ripped right off the page. The gore and brutality of this movie is also appropriately tuned down, especially compared to Romero’s other works, like certain scenes in Day of the Dead.

The horror, the comedy, and King’s knack for clever stories all come together perfectly in Creepshow. This movie may not have hit the same level of success of other horror movies of the ’80s, but it certainly holds a very special place in the hearts of horror aficionados everywhere. It’s stylistic, creepy, and hilarious with a cast to really DIE FOR!! Wow, I’m hilarious.

In 1987, Creepshow 2 was released, but things were different. Instead of five stories, there are only three, Stephen King wrote the stories, but George Romero wrote the screenplay, and Michael Gornick, the cinematographer of the first film, was in the director’s chair.

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After the owners of a small shop in the middle of nowhere are murdered during a robbery, the wooden statue of a Native American goes on a rampage to get revenge on the people that ran the store and took care of him. Four college students head to the middle of the woods to relax on a raft in the middle of the lake, only to start being devoured by a blob that swims on the surface of the water. The last story tells of an adulterous woman (Lois Chiles), who while rushing home to meet her husband hits a hitchhiker and flees, only to be haunted by his corpse and reminded of what she’s done.

Remember how I was say Creepshow was the perfect combination of horror and comedy? Well Creepshow 2 sort of is…kind of…maybe. There’s something seriously lacking in this movie. For one, the clever comic book references are gone, and instead cliche horror tropes are added. The first one is pretty much a slasher, and so is the second for that matter. There’s nothing really special in these ones, except the effects of the statue and the blob. The last one with the murdered hitchhiker is the only one that really holds up with the standards of the first. That one was not only creepy, but also really funny in a twisted kind of way. Also, the talents from the first like Leslie Nielsen and Hal Holbrook are nowhere to be found.

Don’t get me wrong, Creepshow 2 isn’t horrible, it just is ok. The first film is a special piece in the history of horror where two titans of the genre combined forces to make something awesome. The second film is just a failed rehashing of what already was, but without the style, cleverness, and scares of the original.

So, there’s a quick look at the Creepshow movies. Anyone who claims to be a fan of horror movies are pretty much required to watch both of these movies, just for the history alone. There’s also an unofficial third movie that Romero and King had nothing to do with, so forget all about that, but don’t miss out on the other two.

The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2 – Review

7 Nov

Imagine that Die Hard is just hanging around, minding its own business, when someone sneaks up behind it and injects it with a near lethal dose of adrenaline. The result would be the 2012 film The Raid: Redemption. It’s exciting to see a movie, let alone an action movie, and be able to think that what I’m seeing is going to be considered a classic in the years to come. This film is so wild and damn near unstoppable that when it was over I felt like I needed to take a long shower and take a nap. That, my dear cinephiles, is the highest compliment that I can give to an action movie.

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Rama (Iko Uwais) has a pretty good life. He’s in a loving relationship with his wife and they’re soon expecting a son, but who knows if Rama is going to be there to see it. His next assignment is a raid on a tenement building run by crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy), who provides his employees, customers, and other criminals with rooms as long as they pay the price. After a small mishap, Tama is soon made aware of the SWAT team’s presence, and he soon makes all of the other criminals aware and offers a fine reward to anyone who is responsible in aiding in the deaths of every officer present. Thus begins the mayhem.

That was one of the easiest summaries I’ve ever written because there really isn’t that much story to speak of. Police go into a building full of bad guys. The bad guys find out they’re there. Then the rest is just non-stop action, whether it be with guns, knives, batons, explosives, or fists. This movie is loud, violent, and fast but never is it boring. It’s almost like I couldn’t even believe what I was seeing. Is it legal to have so much action and martial arts packed into one movie? It’s like I died and went to heaven. Never have I seen a movie move so fast and behave so relentlessly. It’s an action junkies dream come true.

So since the action and martial arts is literally all this movie is about, it better be really damn good. Well it’s better than that. It’s absolutely excellent. People are literally thrown all over the place, and Evans seems to know of all of the most uncomfortable ways someone could get killed during hand to hand combat. Meanwhile, the camera zooms all over the place, covering every inch of the action and never getting so close or shaky that we have no idea what’s happening. Finally, and what may be the most satisfying, every bone breaking and fist making contact is heard in gleefully graphic detail. Not only is this an excellent action movie, it’s also just a really well made more in general.

I can see that a lot of people may not be too interested in The Raid, since there really isn’t too much of a story, only something more of a goal. Anyone who loves a good action movie owes it to themselves to see the adrenaline shot to the heart that is this movie. It’s wild.

And with such a successful action film, of course there’s going to be a sequel, but oddly enough I’m completely fine with that in this case. In fact, this is a rare example of a sequel actually surpassing the original. Just this year Evans released The Raid 2, a film that keeps the same kinetic action, but also adds a pretty lengthy story.

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Picking up right after the first movie left off, Rama goes to meet Bunawar (Cok Simabara), the chief of an anti-corruption task force in the police department. He explains to Rama that the corruption that was revealed in the tenement building is just the beginning and enlists him to go undercover to root out the dirty police commissioner, Reza (Roy Marten). Rama then spends two years in a prison to get close to Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo) who is one of the crime bosses running Jakarta along with the Japanese boss, Goto (Kenichi Endo). What Rama soon learns is that Uco is planning to betray his father and start a war with the Japanese, so that he and his new partner, small time gangster Bejo (Alex Abbad) can run the city for themselves.

This is a pretty odd combination for a movie. It’s like martial arts meets Scorsese. As you can very well see there is much more of a plot in this one than in the first one, and a surprising amount of development on the revelations of the first film that were minor to say the least. Originally, Evans wanted to make a movie with the same idea as this called Berandal, but he didn’t have the money for it. With what he had, he made The Raid, sold the rights for an American remake, and then used that money to make The Raid 2 which is pretty much just the updated version of Berandal to go along with the continuity of the first film. It was actually released with Berandal as the subtitle, but was just changed to The Raid 2 when it reached America.

So take everything great I said about the first one and just multiply it by 5 and that’s The Raid 2. Thanks to a bigger budget, the action is even more impressive than it was in the first film. Two characters by the name of Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) and Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman) are very welcome additions to the brutal combat. There’s also the same kinetic camera work and sound, but we also get the pleasure of an excellent car chase that would never have been possible on a much smaller budget. This movie does feel a bit too big sometimes, with the complex storyline, but it’s still actually a really good story that kept me engaged the whole way through.

The Raid 2 somehow surpasses the original and kicked me in the face with high octane action and a storyline that is reminiscent of classic gangster films by Scorsese and Coppola. I can recommend this one more than the first because there is more backing it up than just really cool action, there’s also a really cool story. This is a really fantastic film that has earned its spot in history.

That’s just the thing about these movies. I’ve seen them compared to Die Hard and Hard Boiled, and much like those movies, The Raid films have secured a spot in action cinema, and film history in general. Not only are they both exceptional examples of how to make an awesome action movie, they’re also really good examples of how films should be made. It was awesome to see history in the making with Gareth Evans’ masterpieces of action.

Star Trek (1979-1991) – Review Part I

8 Jul

Star Trek is one of those shows that changed the way people watched television and is definitely a prime example of something that was way ahead of its time. From philosophical question to sociological arguments to the first interracial kiss ever broadcast, this show changed things for the better. Other than that, it also provided some excellent science fiction adventure with a group of characters that have only become more beloved as time went on. It’s surprising that the original series only lasted 3 seasons. What isn’t surprising is that that wasn’t the end. After the third series ended, Star Trek: The Animated Series finished off the final two of their five year mission, but the films are what people seem to remember the most. From 1979 to 1991, six films were released, some of which define cinematic excellence and some that make me think if the film makers ever watched Star Trek.

The first of the films to be released is the appropriately named Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

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Some years after being head of the U.S.S. Enterprise, Admiral James Kirk (William Shatner) now holds a high ranking position in Starfleet, but longs for the days in which he was traveling the unknown reaches of space. He soon gets his chance to step back into the captain’s chair when an enormous space cloud is seen destroying Klingon war ships (woo!) but also heading straight for Earth (boo!). It’s up to Kirk and his trusty crew including Spock (Leonard Nimoy), McCoy (Deforest Kelley), Scotty (James Doohan), and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) to pilot the Enterprise onto the course of the cloud and learn how to stop whatever it is controlling it. What the crew learns about the cloud is shocking to say the least, and relates back to Earth in a much more direct way than they could have possibly imagined.

At the start of this movie, it really feels like you’re back into Star Trek. Klingons, murderous space clouds, and Earth in peril are all ingredients to make this a successful movie. Well, too bad director Robert Wise was more interested in making a rip off of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Don’t be fooled by the name Star Trek. This is nothing like it, and what’s worse it is unbelievably boring! For example, the first time we see the Enterprise with Kirk is supposed to be a special moments since he hasn’t seen it, and at the time neither had audiences, for quite a while. Instead of making it a nice moment, the scene goes on and on and on with shots of Kirk looking at the ship, Kirk looking at Scotty, space, and random bullshit. I swear it goes on for at least ten minutes. There are many scenes like that and a really random, trippy sequence that also seems to go on forever.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture has all the right parts to make it a cool science fiction movie and an acceptable entry to the Star Trek franchise. All of the plot elements are in place, and towards the end it starts getting really cool, but unfortunately that doesn’t completely save the movie. This is the longest of the original Star Trek movies and it really doesn’t need to be considering the narrative material. Overlong scenes of just space and environments might have worked in Kubrick’s space ballet that is 2001, but it obviously is the completely wrong way to go about doing a Star Trek film.

The series really needed help to get it out of the mire. Enter a new director, new writers, and a story that wraps up a season 1 episode and we have the miracle that is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

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On a routine mission for Starfleet, Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) is sent to investigate a planet that just so happens to be where Kirk banished an old enemy, Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Monalbán) a genetically enhanced dictator from 20th century Earth. Khan has vengeance in his soul for Admiral Kirk, who is back at Starfleet headquarters working with Spock to train the new cadets, one being an overachieving Vulcan, Saavik (Kirstie Alley). The training mission on the Enterprise soon gets out of hand when it is revealed that Khan is planning on stealing the Genesis device, a machine that has the capability to create life, but also destroy it when used improperly. When the two finally meet, the most important battle the Enterprise has ever faced begins.

The Wrath of Khan is an excellent example for the phrase “back to formula.” Wouldn’t Norman Osbourne be proud? After the monstrosity that was the first film, this second entry is more than just a breath of fresh air. It’s everything a Star Trek film should be, and maybe ever a little more. The fact that the writer went back to a little season 1 episode called Space Seed is just the first reason why this movie is such a success. Obviously the writers and the director have seen the show and knew exactly how the movie should feel. There’s lots of excitement, humor, outrageous science, and dialogue that push “hamming it up” to the extreme. What’s not to love here?

Any fan of Star Trek will be quick to say that The Wrath of Khan is the best film in the series and maybe even in the entire franchise. The action is stunning and the story is really cool, but hasn’t Star Trek always been about the characters? The answer is yes. Yes it has, and they’re finally back like themselves again. Just to be clear, even though the story is fun doesn’t mean it’s stupid. This is a well written, well executed film that puts the pseudo philosophical bullshit of the first film to shame. This is Star Trek at its finest, and quite possibly cheesiest.

The Wrath of Khan was actually the beginning of what is know as the Star Trek Trilogy because the next two films would also follow the same story arc presented in the second film. Following up The Wrath of Khan is an entry that I believe can be held in just as much regard as it’s predecessor. This movie is Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

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Right after the events of The Wrath of Khan, the Enterprise is on its way back to Earth while Spock’s body has landed on the planet created by the explosion of the Genesis device in the nebula. Back on Earth, things are pretty weird. Kirk is depressed after the news of the Enterprise being decommissioned and McCoy is acting like he’s losing his mind. Kirk soon gets a visit from Spock’s father, Sarek (Mark Lenard), who informs Kirk that Spock’s being was transferred to before he died and needed his body in order for his being to be returned. It turns out Spock transferred his being into McCoy. Meanwhile, on the Genesis planet, Saavik (Robin Curtis) and Kirk’s son David (Merritt Butrick) find Spock reborn as a child with no mind and must protect him from the planet that’s tearing itself apart. Soon, Kirk and his crew arrive and find a Klingon Bird-of-Prey sitting in wait led by the sadistic Kruge (Christopher Lloyd), who wants the secrets to the Genesis device.

Just as I was writing this, I realized just how stuffed and preposterous the whole movie is.This doesn’t change the fact that I love it. If The Wrath of Khan can be compared to that episode that everyone likes and considered to be a classic, The Search for Spock is that crazy season 3 episode that is surprisingly effective and entertaining. This film is a lot darker than its predecessor, but I feel like the entertainment value is just as high. Christopher Lloyd goes absolutely crazy as Kruge even though he’s the last actor I ever would have though would make a great Klingon. It’s also cool seeing the story carry over from The Wrath of Khan. Plus that fight scene in the end is enough to make any fan of the original series remember all of the brawls that Kirk was constantly getting himself into.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is a great entry into the series. The movie does have some shortcomings and weaknesses, but nothing that really hurts the movie at all. I’m just curious as to why they decided to bring Spock back, especially after Nimoy was only interested in coming back for The Wrath of Khan only if Spock dies. Well, I’m fine with whatever the reason and it was cool seeing Leonard Nimoy have a chance as director as well. Any fan of Star Trek should appreciate this entry, even if it shouldn’t be considered as perfect.

Well, that wraps up the first part of the original Star Trek movies. We still have three movies to go, so keep an eye out for part 2!

 

Planet of the Apes Franchise – Part 1

11 Jun

 

The Planet of the Apes franchise is truly a wonder to behold. Starting as a novel written by the French author Pierre Boulle, it was adapted five years later as a film in 1968 starring Charlton Heston. Within the next five years, four more sequels would be made to build upon the philosophy and the mythology that was started in the first film. The franchise doesn’t end here, however. In 2001, Tim Burton remade the original film and most recently in 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes showed a brilliant return to the series and acted as a reboot that changes the original format in a very interesting way.

This will be part 1 of a two part review. In part 1, I will go through the original series from 1968 to 1973. Part 2 will highlight Tim Burton’s remake, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and what the future may hold for this franchise.

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For the sake of covering all of the movies in the original series in one blog post, I’m only going to give a very skeletal outline for every movie.

In 1968, Planet of the Apes told the story of a group of astronauts led by Taylor (Charlton Heston) who crash land on a mysterious planet that seems uninhabited at first. As they astronauts travel further and further, they come across humans who seem very primitive and unable to speak. More importantly, they find that the humans are subservient to a race of talking, civilized apes who use the humans as slaves and for experiments. They are shocked to find Taylor who defends himself and humanity with his ability to speak and understand the apes. In 1970, the sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes continued the story. Taylor now knows that the planet is a post apocalyptic earth and that humans completely ruined the world for themselves. A new astronaut, Brent (James Fransiscus), is sent to find Taylor and lands on the planet.  What Brent finds is the Ape City but also an underground civilization of mutant telepathic humans who know that the time for battle against the apes is close at hand.

In 1971, Escape from the Planet of the Apes told the story of Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy Mcdowall), who in the same manner of time travel as Taylor in the first film, finds themselves in the 1970s. They are at first welcomed, but soon paranoia begins to grow around their existence and what they say the future holds. 1972 brought about Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. This film is the story of how the apes realized that their subservient nature to the humans didn’t have to happen. Cornelius’ and Zira’s son, Caesar (also played by Roddy Mcdowall), teaches the other apes through his higher intelligence and ability to speak to revolt against their masters and begin thinking for themselves. Finally, the series ends in 1973 with Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Caesar is in charge of both humans and apes, but when a hidden group of humans radiated by nuclear fallout threaten the apes, gorilla general Aldo (Claude Akins) plans a revolution of his own. This makes the defense of the new ape city more complicated than it needs to be.

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Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

 

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Trying to cover the entire series in two paragraphs isn’t really giving the movies too much justice. Despite being called a “B-movie franchise” by many people, it still offers plenty of things to think about. The first film is an excellent piece of science fiction film making, which means it offers a grand warning. Taylor condemns all of mankind when he stumbles on the remains of the Statue of Liberty, and even makes mention of our violent nature in the beginning monologue. This, in and of itself, should serve as a clue of what’s to come. Science and religion are both contrasted in this movie, and even though it seems that science is favored throughout most of the movie, the end reveals that it carries the same weight of human error and evil that religion carries. In doing this, the film is stating that science and religion aren’t to blame. We are.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes and Escape from the Planet of the Apes deal a lot with paranoia. In reality, Beneath should have been the one and only sequel, although Escape is very entertaining. Anyway, back to the paranoia. A main plot element in these two films is the destruction of earth by a huge doomsday missile. Why is this such an important plot point? Think of the time that these were made: 1970 and 1971. The Cold War is in full swing, and with that is enough suspicion and fear to practically crumble an empire. In my opinion, these are the last films in this series that truly succeed in what they are trying to say, despite the budget being cut in half after the first film.

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Conquest and Battle are when things start to get iffy. The thematic elements are still there, this time with slavery, acceptance, and the chance of corporate dictatorship and governmental problems, a la 1984. These are all well and good, and Roddy Mcdowall does very well as an actor, as he has in all of the films he’s been in in this series. The problem lies in how cheap everything appears to have become. Conquest is really dark looking, and there were times where I was struggling to see what was actually going on. Battle looks a lot better, but by this point, I was more than ready for the series to be over. There was some weird editing and continuity problems in this movie that were glaring, but definitely something I could forgive. The real problem is that this series went on for way too long. Five movies? We really didn’t need that many. Two would have sufficed, although the third is entertaining enough.

I don’t have too much to say about the last two other than they seemed thrown together and haphazard. I could talk about the first three until tomorrow morning, but I feel like this has gone on for long enough. All five movies are on the right track with their dystopian warnings, and I feel like that, the cool make up, and Roddy McDowall are the reasons to watch this series. You have to really be in to sci-fi to really appreciate these movies, but if you love dystopian literature, cool make up, and over the top performances, then this is a cool and ground breaking series. For the history of the movies alone in relation to film history as a broad topic, these movies should be checked out.

This concludes Part 1. As I said before, Part 2 will cover Tim Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes, the newest film Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and what to expect in the future for these movies.