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

15 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

Final Grade: D

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

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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.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead – Review

25 Feb

Noir is something that will hopefully never go out of style. It’s far too cool to just disappear off the face of the earth without a trace of hope that it may return. There’s so many interesting things you can do with the noir genre, and Mike Hodges’ I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead certainly does something different to it. Hodges may best be known for directing the British gangster classic Get Carter, so it was exciting to see what he would do with a more modern gangster/noir film. Well, the result is many things. It’s weird, boring, tedious, and strangely thought provoking.

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Will Graham (Clive Owen) was a notorious gangster before suffering some mysterious mental breakdown that prompted to leave London and start a new life as a drifter devoid of any complicated moral responsibilities. This decision to leave town is met with the risk of leaving his irresponsible brother, Davey (Jonathan Rhys-Myers) to fend for himself. After a night of partying and an especially brutal encounter with a car salesman named Boad (Malcolm McDowell), Davey is found dead in his bathtub of an apparent suicide which prompts Will to return to London to get to the bottom of what happened to cause Davey to do such a thing. Coming back to his old city starts some trouble with his old friends, relationships, and enemies, but Will’s main goal is to track down whoever is responsible for pushing his brother over the edge.

As far as gangster movies go, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is about as minimalist as you can get. The pace of this movie is deathly slow and the overall mood is so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. Along with the whole noir aspect, there’s also touches of New Wave and British Realism thrown in, which is an odd combination to mix with noir. I’m not saying this is really a bad thing, but it does make for a movie that isn’t really too much fun to watch. The not even two hour run time feels stretched to the lenghths of Goodfellas‘ run time with so many scenes of quiet conversations and brooding moments of Will walking down the dark London streets. Since there are so many scenes like this, the conflicts of the movies often feel minimized to a huge degree.

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When I say that there is very little conflict in this movie, I sort of mean it, but at the same time I recognize the other kinds of conflict. For example, we hardly see Boad in the movie. He gets maybe 10 minutes of screen time in total. There’s also another gangster that feels threatened by Will’s return, but we only ever see him talking to people in his car and nothing ever really comes out of his storyline besides an ending that serves to confuse the viewer. The conflict really lies in Will’s character and his troubles readjusting to life in the city while also trying to stay clear of his criminal past. This is hard since he wants revenge for his little brother. This movie’s really about inner conflict and regression, rather than a simple revenge story. Like I said before, this movie isn’t really fun to watch. It’s more fun to talk and think about it once it’s over.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is a pretty deep movie, but it’s important to remember that just because a movie is super slow doesn’t mean it’s super intelligent. There are plenty of interesting points in this movie, but the execution of them feels so slight that they might as well not have happened at all. The main force of pain for Davey is one of the most daunting things to ever happen to somebody, and it’s something that I don’t see in movies too much. There’s a very interesting premise that almost makes up for the whole movie. The rest of the ideas and conflicts either get fixed to soon or conclude in the most enigmatic of ways. I get that was the whole point of the movie, and I’m not meant to feel satisfied at the end, but I don’t know, it just didn’t feel right.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is a strange exercise in low key film making and it’s one that doesn’t really mix all that well. The acting and the dialogue is all great, and the premise takes a story that could be generic and makes it more interesting. The only problem is that it movies too slow, thinks it’s making a much bigger and complicated statement than it actually is, and resolves conflict too easily or not at all. It’s not completely ruined or wasted, but I wanted a little bit more out of it. I can’t really recommend watching it, but some people may find it interesting.

Nil by Mouth – Review

3 Mar

Everyone knows about Gary Oldman’s acting career. He’s been in so many movies as great as The Dark Knight Trilogy and as awful as the 2009 “horror” film The Unborn. He’s one of those actors that seems to turn up everywhere, but he always brings an air of seriousness to all of his roles. I’ve just recently learned about his work in directing after reading about his 1997 directorial debut Nil by Mouth. I didn’t really know what it was about, but being a fan of Oldman’s, I felt it was worth checking out. That being said, this is a surprisingly gritty, disturbing, and genuinely upsetting film.

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Set in the working class environment of South London, this film examines the life of a small, but poor family. Billy (Charles Creed-Miles) is a heroine addict that struggles with both his finances and his addiction, mostly using one to help the other. Billy’s sister is Val (Kathy Burke), a relatively unhappy woman who is married to Ray (Ray Winstone). Ray is a thief, an addict, and violent, many times taking out his rage on the pregnant Val. After a vicious night between the two, the family really seems that it is finally ready to break down and leave everyone on their own.

When it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997, Nil by Mouth was received with much critical acclaim and Kathy Burke winning for Best Actress. This is really no surprise to me since this movie tackles subject matter in an unflinchingly realistic way. As I was watching it, my mind kept going to Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher, although the main protagonist in that movie is a kid and it was released two years later in 1999. It still deals with the same ideas as poverty and the breakdown of a family. There were many times in this movie that it got so intense and real that it stunned me.

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Like I said before, Kathy Burke won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for this movie, but that isn’t where the excellent performances end. Everyone in this movie seems to be working their hardest to completely sell their roles to you. Burke has a lot of different levels she plays at and Ray Winstone matches her perfectly by showing an aggravating and complex character. He has become one of the most hated characters for me because Winstone makes him so real. Charles Creed-Miles also works well as the pathetic drug addicted thief who I really couldn’t help feeling sorry for.

To really make Nil by Mouth work, Oldman had to create a certain kind of uncomfortable atmosphere that isn’t really easy to do. Many of the scenes are shot in dark side streets of London, the kind of streets that you wouldn’t want to find yourself alone at night. When we’re not in some alley, we’re in cluttered, tiny apartments that seems to have a few too many people in it. That being said, certain scenes have to appear comfortable and livable since this is just the way of life for these people. It’s an odd combination where I would be disgusted one moment and then almost feel at home the next.

Nil by Mouth can definitely be classified as a film that isn’t easy to watch, nor is it particularly entertaining. It is, however, a film that seems to be a very deep and personal project of Gary Oldman’s, and that comes through in how realistic and honest everything is in the movie. This may be one of the realest movies I’ve seen and it certainly isn’t afraid to throw a rotten piece of life into your face. While it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it’s an intense experience nonetheless.

Eastern Promises – Review

3 Jan

When it comes to David Cronenberg, I’m pretty hesitant. Scanners and A History of Violence were very disappointing movies for me, and The Brood was only acceptable. Eastern Promises is the fourth movie I’ve seen by this film maker, and it surprised me completely. I was concerned going into it knowing it was Cronenberg. He is a great film maker but just doesn’t catch my fancy too well, but this entry in his filmography is a deeply moving and cringe inducing crime thriller.

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After a 14 year old prostitute dies during child birth, hospital midwife Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts) is determined to find the proper home for the new baby. She asks Russian restaurant owner, and dangerous crime boss, Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), to help translate a diary she found on the dead prostitute. Unbeknownst to Anna, this diary holds incriminating evidence against Semyon and his son Kirill (Vincent Cassel). The only help Anna seems to have comes in the form of the crime family’s driver and “cleaner”, Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) who seems to have a tight grasp on what is actually going on within the family and on the crime riddled streets of London.

This is storytelling at its tightest and its finest. Saying that this movie is about protecting a baby and solving a potential murder mystery wouldn’t be doing the plot any justice. This movie is about the people and how the lives of crime and innocence can blend together. Its a story about strains on families and how violence can take life or save life. Cronenberg doesn’t condemn anyway of life in Eastern Promises by expertly showing the good sides and the bad sides of every character presented in the movie. They’re deep, complex characters who are the real driving forces behind the movie.

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While the violence in this movie is brutal thanks to Cronenberg’s unforgiving film making, it isn’t what the movie is all about. A lot of the violence is actually described in a voice over and not directly shown. While I don’t necessarily agree with the use of a voice over, I will say that the scenes that they describe are brutal and definitely help with the full impact of the story. The violence that is shown onscreen is just as intense as the violence that is described, but never do you think that something like what you are seeing could never happen. It is realistic and an impressive display of brutality.

Viggo Mortensen is out of this world awesome in this movie. In order to prepare for his role, he traveled to Siberia and the area around it without a translator in order to learn how to talk and behave by the people who live there, even if they weren’t the most savory people in the world. Naomi Watts also shows good chops as the sort of eyes and ears into the Russian criminal underworld that plagues the streets of London. Mueller-Stahl is appropriately intimidating, but Vincent Cassel playing his son is more enjoyable. He is borderline psychotic and excruciatingly uncomfortable with himself, which proves to be a dangerous combination.

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Eastern Promises is the first movie I’ve seen by David Cronenberg that I really enjoyed. I recognize that he is a very talented film maker, but I just can’t seem to get into his movies. Luckily, this one brought me hope for my future Cronenberg viewings. It’s a brutal story of violence, but also a tragic story of family. This is an incredible movie that can be ranked with the best gangster movies, and should be seen by anyone who is a fan of the genre or just enjoy excellent movie experiences.

Blitz – Review

14 Oct

If Jason Statham is in a movie, you know there is going to be a certain degree of ass kicking. It’s pretty much a given, and Blitz is no exception. This is still a mixed bag for me with more positives than negatives. Still, it’s frustrating to see a movie that has the potential to be great, but falls short, nonetheless.

Detective Sergeant Tom Brant (Jason Statham) is causing a bit of controversy for the police force due to his violent tendencies. His position on the force appears to be jeopardy until a maniacal serial killer, who goes by the name Blitz (Aidan Gillen), begins targeting cops. Now they could use a cop like Brant, and with the help of Sgt. Porter Nash (Paddy Considine), a manhunt through the darkest corners of London begins with deadly consequences.

I want to start with the positives. First of all, Aidan Gillen gives a phenomenal performance as the killer. He doesn’t even have to say anything. Just his facial expressions and body language are enough to understand what he is thinking. The whole psychology behind him is so well crafted that I couldn’t help but love to hate this guy. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about any of the other characters, including Statham’s. It’s weird to have a movie where the main character isn’t anything memorable. It makes you almost not care about the outcome. Thankfully, Gillen supports the entire cast and makes the viewer care.

 

The compositions of the the shots in this film are surprisingly well done. Not very often do I see an action thriller of this caliber with style so above average. The use of negative space is utilized to the best degree that really gives the feeling of being exposed. No one is safe in this movie and there is nowhere to hide. This could have been a very bland looking movie. The gray London streets without anything really interesting to look at. But, the film makers recognized this and made it much more elaborate.

As far as the story goes, it’s nothing I haven’t really seen before. Sure, it’s original in its own way, but the formula remains the same. A tough cop who’s been through hell and back uses whatever means necessary to bring a villain to justice, even if it compromises the integrity of the station. Basically, it’s your textbook “tough as nails cop who doesn’t play by the rules.” I don’t want to say that the movie had stretches where it bored the shit out of me, but it had stretches where it bored the shit out of me. Statham has been in movies that are thrilling and not very violent. He can kick ass or act in a plot driven story like The Bank Job and ChaosThese are two fine examples. This one was close, but wasn’t as original as the other two I mentioned.

 

Blitz is saved from the hell of sub par action thrillers, and sits comfortably in the upper realms of the land of mediocrity. Jason Statham has been in many awesome action and thriller films, and even a couple bad ones. This one is closer to being good than bad, but is still just ok. Aidan Gillen’s performance supports the entire movie, and the style that is present adds a little bit more.Too bad the story and the rest of the characters have all been seen before in one form or another. If you’re a Jason Statham fan, then I don’t see why you should skip this. It isn’t bad, but isn’t too good. Still, give it a chance and see what you think. It definitely has potential.