Tag Archives: cult

Midnight Special – Review

1 Jul

Science fiction is probably my favorite genre of film and literature because it can form such a huge spectrum of stories to be told. Recently, there’s been a huge influx of space films like the resurgences of Star Trek and Star Wars, but also completely original ideas like Christopher Nolan’s excellent work with Interstellar. If not space, the market seems flooded with science fiction via superhero films. What I don’t see a lot of are smaller films that still have a grand story to tell without all the bells and whistles of major Hollywood productions. This is partially why I was so interested with Jeff Nichols’ film Midnight Special, along with the fact that it stars my favorite actor, Michael Shannon. With my expectations raised pretty high, I’m thrilled to say that Midnight Special did not disappoint.

On a seemingly quiet night, and AMBER alert is issued for an 8 year old boy named Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher). It’s revealed that he’s safe and sound in a motel with his father Roy (Michael Shannon) and Roy’s close friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton). As the trio hit the road during the darkest hours of the night, the FBI raid a religious cult’s farmland to interrogate its founder, Pastor Calvin (Sam Shepard), who raised Alton since Roy and his wife, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), left the compound. The main interrogator is NSA communication analyst Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) who is more interested with how Calvin was able to get highly classified satellite communications through Alton. It’s soon revealed through Roy’s travels with Alton with the FBI and members of the cult hot on their tails that Alton may not be of this world, and while his origins are unknown to all parties involved, it’s evident that he’s about to reveal something that will change the world forever.

Let me just say, the way this story is told is fantastic. The structure that this narrative falls into is really the only way this story can be told. The film begins in medias res with Roy, Lucas, and Alton on the run and we as the audience don’t know why. This first part of the movie is so riveting because I really hadn’t the slightest idea of what everything meant. Was Alton an alien or some sort of experiment gone wrong? What was the deal with the religious cult? How powerful is Alton and what are his weaknesses. Nichols knows that with a story like this, there’s going to be some major questions and he uses that to the film’s advantage and creates this mysterious thread that totally morphs into a web. The atmosphere of science fiction blends well with the rural roads our travelers call home during the night, and the mystery of what is actually going on had me hooked from beginning to end.

My last review was of J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call, and I really liked that movie except for a problem with certain characters and their relevancy to the story. As much as I really liked Midnight Special, I feel like this film is a bigger offender of the same problem. Early in the movie we get introduced to the religious cult Alton comes from and its charismatic leader, Pastor Calvin. I really liked this element of the story in the way that it seemed to be blending science fiction and religion. It’s a theme that’s seen pretty frequently in the genre, but it felt really down to earth in this film. Unfortunately, this cult doesn’t really amount to much and the only impact they have on the story lasts a few scenes, one of them being quite intense. Still, I would have liked to see a lot more from the cult and especially from Sam Shepard’s character, Calvin, because he was really selling that role well.

Like I said, Midnight Special is science fiction brought down to earth. It’s something I felt like could be happening at this very moment, and I even thought about if I’ve ever driven past someone on a dark highway going through some extraordinary even like this, and I would never know. With these huge science fiction films taking us to different worlds and galaxies, it was refreshing to see a movie that just spans a couple of states with a story that deals with real people. While this movie isn’t action packed, it still has plenty of really unique special effects that I will forever associate with this film and some larger than life ideas that I feel pay off very well.

Midnight Special is truly just a wonderful story and I have to give Jeff Nichols credit for once again leading me down a road where I couldn’t have guessed the destination. This film works as science fiction, family drama, and as a mystery that’s wrapped in a very well shot and paced film. The only gripes I have come from some characters that feel underused or just completely forgotten. Still, this is some excellent science fiction that deserves more praise than it gets.

Final Grade: A

Advertisements

V/H/S Series – Review: Part 1

16 Apr

Found footage horror movies were a huge deal up until recently, and there was a good deal of bad mixed in with a handful of good. I firmly believe that if found footage is done correctly, it can be very effective, but the film makers who attempt this walk a fine line to make it seem realistic without making it look cheap. Perhaps one of the most recognizable series that implements the found footage style are the V/H/S films. These were mostly seen on the festival circuit before being released On Demand and then put on home media. I’ve never seen these movies, but I’ve heard plenty about them, so let’s dive right in.

Let’s start with the original 2012 film, V/H/S.

A gang of criminals is hired by a mysterious source to break into an elderly man’s house to retrieve a single VHS tape. What’s on the VHS tape is not explained and is deemed unimportant, so the thieves take the job. They easily break into the house but are shocked to find the old man dead and his house covered in an assortment of VHS tapes. In order to root out the correct tape, they start to watch what this man has in his collection, but are horrified at what they find. What is on these tapes are documented cases of horror that include a mysterious murderous entity, a siren that forces herself on men to feed her bloodlust, webcam footage that shows an unspeakable lie, a stalker hunting a couple on vacation, and a house that holds a deadly secret. While the thieves watch these tapes, they become aware of strange things happening around them that may have some connection with the dead man and what he has on these tapes.

So, I definitely have some things to say about V/H/S. Some of it’s good and some of it isn’t so much. Let’s get the negatives out of the way. First off, this is a found footage movie, and I believe that if found footage movies are done right, they can be a real success. This one takes that gimmick and goes a bit too far with it. The frame story of the thieves breaking into the old man’s house to find the VHS tape is fine, but it’s almost destroyed by these glitches in the tapes they’re using. This happens for the first few minutes, which didn’t really bother me, but they just kept happening. It drove me crazy. As I’m sure you’ve gathered, this is a horror anthology filled with short films. That being said, some of these shorts really didn’t do anything for me. The one that sticks out for being the most bland is the one titled Second Honeymoon. These shorts run close to 20 minutes long, so when one is really boring, it feels way longer than it actually is. This one leads absolutely nowhere, and it’s followed up by another short that also falls pretty short. This makes for a middle section of this movie that seems to drag on forever, but that’s the risk you take with anthology movies like this.

WhenV/H/S decides to get good, however, it gets real good. The general consensus from the critics I’ve heard from is that the first short and the last are the strongest, and I’m certainly inclined to agree. The first short called Amateur Night is a terrifying trip that has an excellent build up and an even better payoff. The final short called 10/31/98 isn’t the scariest of the bunch, but it does feature some pretty cool special effects that is the perfect climax to the style and mood that this movie has been building. There’s something startling about some of the imagery that’s used in this movie, and that’s probably what I’m going to remember the most about it. Since it is a found footage film, there are select elements that can’t be seen, which works since whatever you concoct in your imagination can be way scarier than the reality, but what is shown is brutal and has a style all its own.

V/H/S didn’t set a new standard of horror films when it came out, but the ripple that it made was well deserved. Comparing it to something like The Witch or It Follows isn’t really fair, but for what it is, it’s a pretty impressive low budget scare fest. There are certain segments that don’t hold up nearly as well as some of the other ones, and the acting can be a bit off at times. What does hold the movie up are some genuine scares and cringes that the scarier portions of the film provide.

Final Grade: B-

A year later, the sequel, simply titled V/H/S/2, was released. If this isn’t one of the most badass sequels I’ve seen in a while, I don’t know what is.

When two private eyes are hired to find a missing college student, their investigation leads them to a house that seems abandoned, except for a set up of televisions, a laptop, and a series of VHS tapes. The investigators begin to watch the tapes which seem to show unspeakable horrors. A man sees the vengeful undead through a new high tech prosthetic eye, a man on a bicycling trail is bitten and turned into a zombie, journalists witness a violent cult hit the climax of their worship, and aliens wreak havoc on kids having a slumber party. While the tapes don’t appear to be linked, it becomes clear to the investigators that something is very wrong with the house they’re in, and terror soon strikes them as they become part of their very own VHS tape to add to the collection.

Take everything you liked about V/H/S and turn it up to 11, and that’s how you get V/H/S/2. This really is one of the strongest sequels I’ve seen in a while, and certainly one of the strongest sequels in the horror genre. There are so many memorable moments in this film that it’s hard to wrap my head around all of them. If you want to talk about real horror, I’d be in trouble if I forgot to single out Timo Tjahtjhanto and Gareth Huw Evans’ segment titled Safe Haven. I have yet to watch the next film in this series, but I can say that this segment is going to be the strongest in the whole series. Take the real world horror of a Jonestown situation and add the supernatural, plus make it found footage so you’re smack dab in the middle, and you got some excellent moments of terror. I also want to single out Eduardo Sánchez’s and Gregg Hale’s A Ride in the Park, where we see through a zombie’s point of view via a Go Pro on his helmet. This is works as a zombie horror movie, but also a sort of wacky dark comedy.

I do have a few complaints about this movie, and they really just have to do with the strength of a couple of the tapes. The frame narrative with the investigators really doesn’t seem like much, but the end pay off makes it all worth it, so that one gets a pass as a positive. The first short titled Phase I Clinical Trials has a good idea if it were an episode of The Twilight Zone. For a movie that has shorts like Safe Haven in it, I expected a little bit more. It has some scares, but it’s over before it begins and there’s really nothing to it. The last short called Slumber Party Alien Abduction also doesn’t hold up as well as the two that come before it. There’s some interesting sound work and the aliens have cool reveals, but it feels underwhelming after the gems that have already been shown.

V/H/S/2, despite some of the segments being weaker than others, is a really good horror anthology film that is even better than its predecessor. It takes the scares, the gore, and the ideas and turns them way up to create a horror film that I may never forget. All the film makers that worked on this movie each had a specific task, and some of the made gold while the others follow up with silver. Never was I bored during this movie and it’s one that I’d love to watch again.

Final Grade: B+

So there’s the first two entries of the V/H/S series. Both were solid movies, but I have to give the edge to the sequel. Stay tuned for my next review where I’ll talk about V/H/S: Viral and the spin off movie, SiREN.

Zombie – Review

6 Aug

Italian horror offers some of the most popular and beloved films of the genre. With names like Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and Lucio Fulci, there’s plenty of content to choose from, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that whatever movie you find will be violent and equally gory. But, hey, that’s what people come to expect in horror movies, right? For this review, we’re going to be looking at arguably the most famous film by the Maestro of Gore, himself, Lucio Fulci. Zombie may just be an unofficial  sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and an attempt to cash in on the zombie craze, but this film actually stands alone as one of the greatest zombie films ever to be made.

Zombie_Flesh_eaters

 

When Dr. Bowles (Ugo Bologna) goes missing and his boat carrying a rather large zombie shows up in New York Harbor, his daughter Anne (Tisa Farrow) is brought in for questioning. While investigating the boat herself, she meets Peter West (Ian McCulloch), a journalist with the same questions she has. Their inquiries lead them to the Virgin Islands, where they hope the find the mysterious island of Matool. Along the way, they enlist the help of Brian Hull (Al Cliver) and his wife Susan Barrett (Auretta Gay), a seafaring couple who are more than willing to give them a ride on their boat. When the group gets to Matool, they find the island ravaged by zombies, whose numbers are increasing more and more each day. Their only chance for survival may lie with Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson), a scientist working to solve the mystery of these zombies who was also a close friend to Anne’s father.

First, I’d like to give you a little history on this movie since it’s a bit out of the ordinary. It all starts in 1978 when George Romero released Dawn of the Dead, which was the sequel to his 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead. Internationally, this film was known as Zombi. Now, in order to cash in on the massive success Romero’s film, the Italians decided to make an unofficial sequel, this being Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2, now known as Zombie in the United States. This film has absolutely no connection to any of Romero’s movies, other than the fact that there are lots of zombies in it. Strangely enough, from this film, even more sequels were released. That gets a bit too confusing so I’m just going to stick with Fulci’s cult classic.

b36dc18685dacd5e80880c203f333912

 

Now let’s look at the movie itself. This is without a doubt one of the greatest zombie movies ever made. In a time when zombies have become a subject of parody, even within its own genre, it’s so satisfying to see a movie that takes its subject matter seriously. Let’s just say that when this movie was first released, it was banned in the UK for being too obscene, and as a fun gimmick, the theaters handed out barf bags. Sure, the whole barf bag thing is all in good fun, but that’s not to say that there aren’t some really sick scenes in this movie. Some are so gross that they have become iconic. The most famous scene has to do with someone slowly getting their eye pierced by a sharp piece of wood. This isn’t done offscreen either. Oh no. We see it in all its gory detail. Think Un Chien Andalou, but with zombies.

Don’t get me wrong, though. Zombie is more than just a festival of gore. In fact, it’s still a pretty cool movie in its own right. Think of it as if The Serpent and the Rainbow and Cannibal Holocaust had a baby. There’s a lot of cool voodoo type stuff going on and the gore just kind of adds to how cool everything else is. The pacing moves very slowly, especially the scene with the boat pulling into the harbor. It adds a great sense of suspense and dread that overtakes the entire movie. To top it all off, that late 70s Italian synth soundtrack just makes the movie all the better. It definitely feels like a movie from the 1970s, but it feels like a great one.

No matter how you look at it, Lucio Fulci’s Zombie is a classic of the horror genre. It’s fill of suspense, gore, violence, and fantastic makeup and effects. Zombie movies have become something of a cliche recently, and that’s a shame because they used to reign as some of the greatest horror stories in film. This film may not be for the squeamish of feint of heart, nor is it a movie for people who treasure their eyeballs, but it is an important part of film history as one of the landmarks of horror, and also as a film that has earned its title of a cult classic.

Deep Red – Review

22 Aug

Oh boy, here we go again. This isn’t the first, nor will it be the last, time I’ve talked about that crazy weird Italian horror film maker Dario Argento. This time, we’re going back to the time before Suspiria, which I never even thought existed. Alright, that’s not true, but it was strange seeing what came before that one since I consider Suspiria to be the go to film for Argento. Two years before Suspiria there was a movie that many say is Argento’s best film, Deep Red. While there are a lot of great things in Deep Red that foreshadowed what excellent things this director was capable of, I felt that this movie lost its focus way to often to be really taken seriously.

deep_red_poster_01

During a performance, psychic Helga Ullman (Macha Meril) begins sensing very violent thoughts being sent to her by someone in the audience. Later on that night, she is brutally murdered with the only witness being jazz pianist Marcus Daly (David Hemmings). Soon, Daly makes himself part of the investigation along with the persistent journalist Gianna (Daria Nicolodi), but it aways seems like whenever the two find a clue or a lead, someone involved ends up dead in the most discomforting of ways. As the bodies begins to pile and resources being to run out, Marcus and Gianna begin to seriously wonder how the murderer seems to always be one step ahead of them, and also how long they will stay alive in order to uncover the twisted mystery of the murderer’s past.

Depending on which version you see, you may have different takes on the movie. I saw the completely uncut version which runs a little over two hours. For some people who know me through this blog or in real life, you know that I’m a real stickler for run times. If a movie is too short or too long, the entire experience may be ruined. In this case, the movie was far too long. There are other versions that exist that run an hour and a half or an hour and forty minutes, which is a much more acceptable run time for a movie such as Deep Red. The extra twenty minutes to a half hour that were added in for the uncut version is just a bunch of bantering between Marcus and Gianna, which is really boring considering Gianna is pretty much a useless character to begin with.

dr_shot1l

That is really the main problem that I have with this movie. Those added scenes that make the “complete” movie completely veer from what makes Deep Red fun and exciting. But that’s not the only thing that rubbed me the wrong way. At first, I thought whoever was responsible for the sound design should be executed, because it is absolutely horrendous. The cast would all of a sudden start speaking Italian and then back to English, which is weird enough, but the Italian voices didn’t match the English voices at all. It’s laughable! Turns out, the movie was originally shot in Italian with English voices dubbed over, but some of the English was lost which meant that the Italian actors spoke with their real voices in some scenes, and someone else’s voice altogether when they were speaking English. Talk about distracting.

But, let’s be real. This movie isn’t all bad. In fact, there were some scenes that literally almost made me jump up and down out of sheer excitement. These served as a reminder as to why horror buffs love Dario Argento in the first place. First of all, the death scenes in this movie are so strange that you can’t help but chuckle at the morbid silliness. Sure, they’re kind of gross at times, but there’s plenty of that trademark bright red Argento blood to fill the screen. There are also other frightening scenes that are wonderfully unique, including a hidden skeleton behind a wall and clever usage of children’s music. Also, the soundtrack by Goblin, who would also do the soundtrack to Suspiria, really drives the action onscreen.

All in all, Deep Red is a disappointing film for me. There are some really excellent scenes of horror, but above all else, this movie is a mystery film. I’d be totally fine with that if the focus was kept on the mystery and not the useless banter between the main protagonist and another character that serves next to no purpose. It’s really a shame since there are sections of this movie that are sincerely creepy, while there are more scenes that are really boring. I’d be curious to watch another version that’s shorter to see if I enjoy it more. Still, Deep Red is reserved to horror buffs only.

 

Mad Max Trilogy – Review

17 Jun

Despite having major controversies surrounding him recently, everyone and their mothers know who Mel Gibson is. Nowadays he’s a major movie star, producer, and director but he had to start somewhere. Enter the cult classic dystopian sci-fi trilogy of Mad Max. Spanning from 1979 to 1985, this trilogy was a new and unusual re-imagining of what dystopian science fiction should look like, and has spawned many film makers and designers to mimic what George Miller had originally created. Obviously, to any who have seen these films, this trilogy isn’t perfect, but you really can’t deny how influential and fun these movies are.

In 1979, George Miller directed and released the first film, Mad Max, on a budget of just $400,000, which is extraordinarily cheap for a movie like this. Somehow, Miller was able to make this movie work and work very well.

2-Mad-Max

In a bleak future due to a worldwide energy crisis, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is the last chance for law and order in the violent Australian highways. Working for the MFP (Main Force Patrol) has become a major driving force for Max’s life, along with his relationships with his wife (Joanne Samuel) and his best friend Goose (Steve Bisley), who is also a member of MFP. When a vicious motorcycle gang led by the Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) rides into town with the plan on getting revenge on Max, who is responsible for the death of one of the gang members. When the Toecutter and his gang finally catch up to what Max loves he most, he wages a one man war on the motorcycle gang, and won’t rest until they’ve all got what’s coming to them.

The plot for Mad Max is anything but difficult and complex. You don’t have to do a whole lot of thinking during this movie as long as you know the basic plot that runs through every revenge movie ever. What the biggest draw is to this movie is the completely ridiculous and awesome vehicular action scenes and stunts. Cars, motorcycles, and trucks get completely demolished in what can only be described as vehicular mayhem. If you’re expecting anything else from this movie, you may be sorely disappointed. The narrative of this movie doesn’t feel very good with a very exciting first act and third act, but a second act that drags on way longer than it should. This would be a perfect, mindless action movie if the second act was shortened and the third act was longer.

444052-action-and-suspense-surrounded-the-opening-scene-for-6297558-jpg

Still, for what it’s worth, Mad Max is a very entertaining movie and was the start of a trilogy that became an influential sci-fi hit. This film didn’t make it into the US for major distribution until after the second film, which isn’t only an excellent film but also one of the best sequels ever made.

In 1981, George Miller released the second installment in the trilogy, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. People, including me, who complained about some of the lackluster qualities in the narrative of the first film, but praised the high octane action will fall head over heels for this movie. Not only is it the best of the trilogy, it very well may be one of the best action films ever made.

M-0014_Mad_Max_2_The_Road_Warrior_one_sheet_movie_poster_l

Five years after the events of the first film, society has fallen into even worse conditions after a global war has wiped out most of the oil supplies that was keeping civilization moving. Max is still wandering the wasteland and, like everyone else, is left to fend for himself in search of oil. Max soon comes across a compound that is acting as an oil refinery that is under constant siege by a gang of leather clad savages led by the Humungus (Kjell Nilsson). Max strikes a reluctant deal with the leaders of the oil refinery that consists of him bringing them a Mack semi-truck to transport the oil in return for as much oil as he can carry. As expected, the Humungus and his gang are waiting for them and begins one of the most epic chases ever to be captured for the silver screen.

This is how an action movie should be made and this is also the film that pretty much defines what the Mad Max trilogy is all about. The over the top punk, savage gang members have become the iconic image for these movies and is what a lot of people think of when these movies are mentioned. The action and chase sequences in this movie are choreographed and shot so well that it almost seems unbelievable. Now a days, with a few examples, CGI is used for a lot of special effects in the industry, but in The Road Warrior, all of the destruction you see is genuine. Of course, people aren’t really getting decimated by these vehicles, but it sure looks like it! The story also follows a narrative arc that is seen in some Akira Kurosawa samurai films and westerns like The Magnificent Seven and A Fistful of Dollars.

mad-max-2-the-road-warrior

Mad Max 2 is an achievement of the action genre that inspired many people, including the Wachowskies and their epic car chase in The Matrix Reloaded, which was done with very little CGI. Not only does it fix all of the flaws of the first film, it enhances everything that was awesome about it. Even if you’ve never seen any of the other films in this trilogy, you can’t miss out on this one.

Finally, in 1985, Miller and his co-director George Ogilvie released the final film in the trilogy, that being Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. A title like that is certainly intriguing, but as anyone who even knows a little about these movie knows that this is not only the weakest entry in the series, but also a major disappointment as a whole.

mad_max_beyond_thunderdome_ver1_xlg

It’s been twenty years since Max first started wandering the wastelands. His adventures finally bring him to a place called Bartertown where he comes searching for the camels that were stolen from him. Upon arriving, he meets Aunty Entity (Tina Turner), who is the self proclaimed ruler of Bartertown. She  makes it clear that she is willing to give Max his property back as long as he challenges the head of the Bartertown underworld, Master Blaster (Angelo Rossitto and Paul Larsson), to a battle in the Thunderdome where the rule is that two men enter and one man leaves. After refusing to kill Blaster, Max is banished to the desert where he meets a tribe of children that he vows to protect and enlist their help to free Master from Bartertown and start a new life of their own.

To be fair, the first forty five minutes to an hour of this movie are awesome. The whole idea of the Thunderdome and Master Blaster being two people acting as one is awesome. Tina Turner also gives a gleefully over the top performance as the queen of Bartertown. At first, I was confused as to why this movie was so disliked. That’s when Max met the kids and it turned into Mad Max Meets the Goonies. Of course, that’s not true, but it felt like Steven Spielberg took over and decided to make this a family adventure film. Well, it’s not supposed to be! It’s a Mad Max movie! The chase looks eerily similar, and a thousand times more goofy, to the one from The Road Warrior and lots of the intensity is sacrificed for a more Hollywood film.

8126_5

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is too long, too uneven, and too goofy for my tastes. It did build on Max’s character in some cool ways and the first half was really awesome. It’s just unfortunate that the second half is damn near unwatchable. This film is solely for die hard Mad Max fans that would feel incomplete without this film. It’s a mess.

So the Mad Max trilogy isn’t perfect. It has one shitty movie, one good movie, and one excellent movie. That’s pretty good in my opinion, and the whole mythology surrounding the story is really cool. George Miller is planning on releasing another film featuring Tom Hardy as Max in 2015 called Mad Max: Fury Road. I’m definitely impressed by these movies and am ready for another one, so I can honestly recommend these movies to anyone who likes to turn their brains off and just have a good time watching a movie.

Martha Marcy May Marlene – Review

10 Jul

When a film maker has the ability to create a movie that infiltrates your mind, even when you think that all is right with the world, you know that you are truly watching something special by a very talented artist. Martha Marcy May Marlene is a vicious spectacle of subtlety and paranoia that will remain buried in your mind long after the credits have stopped rolling.

6071590787_3258c1619f_o

 

Martha’s (Elizabeth Olsen) life all of a sudden doesn’t seem like her own anymore. For the past two years of her life she has been staying with a mysterious cult, led by Patrick (John Hawkes), in the Catskill Mountains of New York. One morning she decides to leave and go stay with her sister (Sarah Paulson) and her brother in law (Hugh Dancy). Automatically, Martha’s behavior appears out of the ordinary to her family with an ever growing paranoia as the backbone of her whole mental discomfort. As the days go on, and more time is spent contemplating the past two years, Martha finds herself not knowing what is real and what is just her imagination.

Martha Marcy May Marlene is one of the most pure psychological dramas/thrillers that I have ever seen. There are plenty of great psychological films that go way over the top with how the present the mental collapse of its characters (Dragonfly) and sometimes it really works well (Antichrist). The look into Martha’s head is much more subtle. As a viewer, I didn’t even know that there were times that my head was being messed with until I really thought about it. Then, I had to go back and re-evaluate major parts of the movie because more and more puzzle pieces were falling into place, even after the movie ended.

Martha-Marcy-May-Marlene--007

 

Part of what makes this movie work so well is the pacing and how the shots and scenes are pieced together. Martha’s time with the cult is all seen in flashbacks and the rest of the movie is Marta trying to adjust to family life. These parallel story lines are triggered by the other with something happening in the present that initiates the jump to the past events. This mirrors Martha’s fragile state of mind and shows her regression and obsession with the past, along with her inability to escape what has happened. In one particular transition, the two story lines appear to converge without me even noticing. It’s brilliant film making that really makes Martha Marcy May Marlene work.

Finally, something has to be said about the performances. I first saw John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone, which certainly isn’t a movie that I need to see again, but I do recognize that it’s objectively a good movie and the performances are especially something to admire, Hawke’s being one of them. He has this quiet and misleading attitude that hides his maliciousness, which really only comes out in a few scenes. But all my respect has to go to newcomer Elizabeth Olsen for not only taking on, but owning such a challenging role. Martha is one of the most complex characters I have seen on film, and Olsen completely sells it. I’d definitely like to see her in more serious roles in the future.

martha-marcy-may-marlene-trailer

 

Martha Marcy May Marlene, to me, is the perfect example of a psychological thriller. It’s subtle, yet jarring. The level of discomfort that I felt while watching this was enormous, and when the movie was over, I was so glad to find myself in my living room and no longer in this woman’s mind. For fans of the genre, this is a must see. It’s a slow burn that will leave you speechless.

House – Review

15 May

This may be one of the hardest reviews I’m ever going to have to write. House is a Japanese movie from 1977 that was directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi, who started as an experimental film maker and advertiser, but was asked by Toho to make a film that would resemble the American hit, Jaws. When Toho got House in return they were completely shocked and eventually pulled it from the theaters after it started doing well in the box office out of fear that people would think that this is the direction Toho would be going in. Is it as strange as this introduction has made it sound? Absolutely right it is, but that is just fine with me.

House_obayashi

 

Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) is a Japanese school girl who invites her friends to come with her to visit her aunt’s (Yōko Minamida) house in the country. Her friends are appropriately named Prof (Ai Matsubara), Melody (Eriko Tanaka), Kung Fu (Miki Jinbo), Mac (Mieko Sato), Sweet (Masayo Miyako), and Fantasy (Kumiko Oba). Each girl’s name represents their different personalities. When they arrive at the house, they all get the grand tour and are very happy with what they see, all of them looking forward to their stay. Unfortunately for them, on the first night strange things begin happening and one by one they all start to go missing. The house turns out to haunted by the strangest apparition you may ever see on film.

I really can’t give a a summary of this movie and make it sound interesting. It’s a very cut and dry narrative to look at written out. On the surface, it would seem like a stereotypical haunted house movie. That couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a head trip, psychedelic experience, horror film, and dark comedy all mashed together in one film. There’s a piano that eats people, a cat portrait that shoots gallons of blood across a living room, a pair of disembodies legs causing all sorts of mayhem, and of course, my personal a favorite: a giant head that comes out of nowhere with a warning to the terrified girls.

house1

 

The real draw to this movie is the in camera and analog effects that Obayashi exploits. He really does not hold back when it comes to showing off what he can do. What one needs to remember when they are watching House is that it is from 1977. A lot of the shots outside used matte paintings to make the world that these girls inhabit very surreal and other worldly. The images seem almost too beautiful and artificial to be real, and that’s because they absolutely are. A lot of the effects are also done with a blue screen which are very obvious to notice. Normally, this would be a detraction, having special effects that look unreal. For this movie, however, it works just fine. Nothing about this movie is supposed to look ordinary, so the effects look very cartoonish and silly. This adds to the whole dream like vision that Obayashi wanted, even though he even said he wasn’t too thrilled with some of the effects. I personally loved them.

For the times where there wasn’t a crazy special effects happening, there was at least one or two boring scenes of the girls just sort of hanging out. This makes the movie feel a lot slower than it should feel, especially with the subject matter of the movie. This could be on account of sloppy writing, since some of the jokes seem to stretch on too long or there are plain and simply scenes where nothing really happens. Another contributing factor to the pacing may be that there are scenes that are so ridiculous that when it slows down, the change almost seems jarring. One second, possessed mattresses are attacking someone, and the next the characters are sitting around talking and laughing. It feels weird to me.

House1

 

House truly is a one of a kind movie for better or for worse. Some people will call this a masterpiece when it comes to cult classics. Others will say that it shouldn’t even exist and that it’s a blemish on the history of film making. Personally, I don’t see how you could possibly ignore this. It isn’t perfect, but then again it isn’t really anything that can be classified or labeled. It simply exists, and it is up to the viewer to decide what they make of it. Trying to say that it’s good or bad wouldn’t be doing the film justice. House is just House, nothing more and nothing less.