Tag Archives: psychological

Get Out – Review

13 Mar

When Key & Peele first aired on Comedy Central, I didn’t think the show was going to go anywhere, but then I watched it and realized that the two stars had an incredible talent when it came to comedy and satire. I loved their movie, Keanu, and when I saw Jordan Peele was writing and directing a horror film based on racism I was immediately on board. I knew that it would be a blend of horror and sharp satire, and at times probably even be funny, and that’s exactly what I got. Get Out is a really smart, eerie, and subversive film that has many different ideas and perspectives while also telling a creepy, and sometimes even gleefully campy, horror story.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) are at the point in their relationship where it’s time for Chris to finally meet her parents. Normally, this would be a passably awkward experience, but Rose’s parents have no idea that Chris is black. Despite Rose telling Chris that her parents, while being typically eccentric, are nothing to really worry about. Upon their arrival to their suburban home, Chris is whole heartedly greeted by Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) Armitage. Over time, Chris starts to notice strange remarks concerning both him and the Armitage’s black housekeepers. Things only get stranger when Missy hypnotizes Chris during a late night conversation, a session which ignites a furious paranoia in Chris that causes him to investigate what is really going on in that house and the real horrors that lie beneath the surface.

There’s so much to say about Get Out that I don’t really know where to begin. When this movie was first previewed, there was a lot of backlash for it showing this overt racism directed at one particular race to another. The thing is that this movie is not as clean cut as that. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface that trailers can’t convey, and I’d be pretty upset if they did because the way this movie unfolds is riveting. While Peele does explore the overt racism towards African Americans, it doesn’t really stop there. The story also delves into the realm of paranoia and preconceived notions of both races that arise because of these problems. It also goes in a pretty cool direction where certain actions from people, while they claim they may be trying to help, are only making certain situations worse or changing nothing at all and coming off as condescending. While not giving anything away, the last third of the movie goes absolutely haywire and only makes things more complicated with certain unexpected twists that come out of nowhere… Twists that just so happen to be awesome.

While this is definitely a horror movie through and through, there’s a couple really cool things that kind of help Get Out step outside of the box and escape genre conventions. For one thing, this film can be super funny. Like gut busting funny, and a lot of that comes from the hilarious performance by Lil Rey Howery, who plays Chris’ best friend. We all knew that Jordan Peele was a really funny guy, but it’s impressive that he can so seamlessly weave his off the wall sense of humor into a genuinely unnerving horror tale. I mentioned that the third act just introduces a whole new layer in terms of thematic material, but it also really shakes things up when it comes to style and genre conventions. I’m not going to say anything about what happens, but any B-movie fan will appreciate the story taking a sudden turn into that kind of territory.

What would have been a major problem for this movie was if it was too obvious. If Peele whacked you over the head with the messages and points he was really driving at, the movie would feel too preachy. While there are a few moments that do feel a tad bit heavy handed, they are completely out shined by the subversive nature of the rest of the film. This is mostly due to Jordan Peele’s fantastic screenplay and direction, but credit also has to go to the actors. I had no idea who Daniel Kaluuya was before seeing this movie, but he was outstanding. He gives a very natural and level headed performance that can be both shocking and funny. The other stand outs are Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener as the older Armitages, who just seem to radiate the kind of eerieness this movie needs. I already mentioned Lil Rey Howery, but I just have to reiterate how funny this guy is and how essential he is to the entire movie.

I’ve been saying recently that we are living in a renaissance of horror, and Get Out only proves that point even more. This is a brilliant and wonderfully subversive film that gets under your skin while also succeeding at making you laugh. It has some really great thematic depth to it that will make any audience member with half a brain think about the characters and motivations, which is a great first step to making a great film. Add on some memorable scenes and a lead character that you can’t help but love and you have a winner on your hands. Get Out is a superb film that will challenge your mind as much as entertain you.

Final Grade: A-

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Kill List – Review

23 Feb

I’m always up to the task of watching a movie that challenges the idea of genre and narrative form. It’s an excellent mode of expression to take preconceived notions of storytelling and flipping them on their head to create something new. For this to be a success, however, it has to be done right. Movies are archetypically based, so changing the formula can be a tough thing to do. This is exactly what Ben Wheatley attempted to do with his 2011 film Kill List. This was a very strange movie to watch, and I’m still kind of processing it, but it’s really a very interesting film to say the least, even if some of it doesn’t really work.

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Jay (Neil Maskell) is a hitman who has been out of work for months after a particularly traumatizing assignment in Kiev. Shel (MyAnna Buring), Jay’s wife, talks their friend, Gal (Michael Smiley), and convinces him to recruit Jay to help in an assignment with a large payout. After some arguing, Jay agrees and the two hitmen meet their employer (Struan Rodger), who gives them a list of three people and all the information they need to execute the hits. As the two hitmen start their mission and begin working their way down the list, things seem a little bit out of the ordinary, and a dark secret connects the three targets on the list; secrets that contain brutality and sadism on such a level that it horrifies the contract killers and sends them spiraling into a mystery that they may not come out of alive.

I think it’s kind of a compliment to say that a movie keeps rattling in your brain and forcing you to think about it, even when you don’t particularly want to. That’s the relationship I’m having with Kill List. This film blends two genres together to create a mash of oddness. I can’t think of another movie that takes a crime thriller and puts it together with sadistic horror to create something that is as chilling and unforgettable as Kill List. I don’t think this movie is a masterpiece or anything like that, but I do have this feeling that Kill List will forever be somewhere on the back burner. I also have to give Wheatley credit in how he handles a lot of the subject matter. There are scenes that will make the squeamish leave the room post haste, but never does it go over the top into an exploitive affair. This movie effectively crawls under your skin without it being too much or overdone. It’s very well thought out film making and storytelling.

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At the core of this movie, though, is a really intriguing mystery. This is where I got really hooked. The film starts off easy enough with a story of a hit man forced back into the business, but it was enough to keep me watching. When things started getting strange for no reason is when I really started to pay attention. It was great trying to figure out just what in the hell was going on, and for the most part, there really aren’t any clues. You’re left to sit and watch and wonder. I was really dying to know what happened, but this is very ambiguous movie that is left for you to interpret. This might be where the movie falters for me just a little bit. I really wanted to know everything and have concrete answers, but Kill List has none of these to offer. That being said, this is an incredibly frustrating film that succeeds in leaving the audience baffled and freaked out.

When I say freaked out, I really mean freaked out. I’m a real sucker for well made and effective horror movies, so I do expect horror movies to go the extra mile. Technically speaking, I don’t know if I’d call Kill List a horror film. I really don’t know how I’d define it. Still, the last third of this movie is frightening, and I’m not ashamed to say it royally messed with me. I would love to get deeper into what happens, but the most fun you’ll have with this movie is the tension and suspense of it building to what is actually going on. Saying anything more would spoil some of that, so just know that I thought it was one of the creepier displays I’ve seen in a while.

To me, Kill List is a lot of things. It’s frustrating, stunning, difficult, but also extremely memorable. Despite all of the confusion I felt watching it and all of the questions left unanswered, I’m really thrilled that this movie didn’t remain under my radar forever. It’s one that I’m going to want to show to people just so I can see their reaction to it because there really isn’t another movie quite like this one.

Final Grade: B

Caché – Review

27 Oct

Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (I’m partial to the 2007 version) is one of my favorite films of all time, and I’ve been severely slacking at watching some of his other works. I’ve finally gotten around to it with his 2005 critical success Caché. This film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival and many critics call it one of the best films of the 2000s. All of those critics kind of have to slow down a little bit there. Caché is a very interesting and complex film when all is said and done, but it’s also extremely pretentious and often feels like a chore to sit through. The real joy of this movie comes through when you begin thinking about it after the credits roll.

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Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (Juiliette Binoche) Laurent are a upper middle class family living a relatively quiet life in Paris. Georges is a talk show host on a public television station, Anne works as a publisher, and they both have a 12 year old son named Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky). That quiet life soon gets uprooted when they begin finding videotapes from an anonymous stalker showing up at their doorstep. Why they are being recorded and who is responsible forces Georges to look back into his past and come to learn that actions he did when he was just a young boy could be the cause of the family’s stalker finally taking his revenge.

Caché is a very smart and well executed thriller that definitely does not fit the Hollywood definition of what a thriller is supposed to be. I highly respect Michael Haneke for stepping outside what is considered to be the genre conventions. Haneke said in an interview that he didn’t want the viewer to figure out what the one possible answer is to the mystery of this movie, he wanted people to accept all of the possible answers. This makes for some ingenious movie making, but to me it didn’t hit the mark well in the entertainment department. In my opinion, there are two kinds of art house movies. There’s a movie like Drive or even Requiem for a Dream. Those movies are “artsy.” Caché falls into the other category that I like to call “artsy fartsy.”

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Technically speaking, though, the movie is really cool. The very first shot lasts a few minutes, and just shows the front of the Laurent’s house. It’s a great opening shot and got me in the mood to see how Haneke’s artistic vision would help tell the story, but this trick is used a few times too many. The film is also shot on video, which is actually an appropriate choice since the whole plot revolves around videotapes being delivered to this family. All of the artistic qualities that are in Caché do enhance it and halp it stand apart from more run of the mill thrillers. I’m just saying that for me some of it was a bit too much for me.

I will praise wholeheartedly the performances in this movie. Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche work perfectly together and both of their performances are very natural and feel very real. The same can be said about everyone in the movie, even the younger actor, Lester Makedonsky. Someone who really steals the show every time he’s onscreen is Maurice Bénichou, and while he’s not present very much, every scene he’s in is memorable.

This was a strange review to write because I liked Caché more as I thought about it, but as I was watching it, it felt pretty tiresome. This may be because the real payoff is looking back on the entire thing and putting all of the pieces together instead of just being confused the entire time. There’s that and the fact that Haneke goes a little overboard with long takes of nothing, which he is actually also guilty of in Funny Games, which I love. Caché is a memorable movie that is in the same vein as Hitchcock, but watching it is nowhere near as entertaining as it probably should be.

Dogville (2003) & Manderlay (2005) – review

17 Oct

I can’t stay away from the works of Lars von Trier, the self-proclaimed “greatest film maker in the world” and the “Mad Genius of Denmark.” I could continue with all of the nicknames this eccentric guy has garnered over the years, but I’d like to instead look at two of his films that are supposed to be the first two in a trilogy. The trilogy is called USA: The Land of Opportunity and the two films are Dogville and Manderlay. Now, I knew nothing about these movies, other than they were made by Trier, but what I got out of them were two piece of experimental film that I haven’t quite seen the likes of before.

First, let’s tackle Dogville.

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Somewhere neatly tucked away in the Rocky Mountains, near an abandoned silver mine, is the small town of Dogville. Tom Edison, Jr. (Paul Bettany) is the moralist and philosopher of the town who does his best to teach the people of Dogville the proper way to live. Late one night, Tom hears gunshots and finds Grace (Nicole Kidman), a mysterious woman who has just so happened to stumble onto the hidden little village. It turns out that Grace is on the run from the mob for some unknown reason, and a logical place for her to hide is this is hidden town. It takes a while for the townspeople to agree to let her stay in Dogville, and the only condition that she can is that she does labor for all of the people living there. This works well for a while, but soon the residents of Dogville begin to take advantage of Grace to the point of abuse. What they don’t realize is the dangerous secret the Grace is holding behind her unassuming demeanor.

Let me set the scene for you. I put in my DVD of Dogville, grabbed some food, and set myself up for what I thought was going to be a pretty run of the mill movie watching experience. Let me just reiterate that I had no idea what this movie was going to be like. When I saw what the movie actually was, I thought that I wasn’t going to make it through the entire three hour run time. Basically, the entire thing takes place on a stage with very little set design or props. It’s as minimalist as you could possibly get. As the film progressed, I realized that this is really the only way to tell this story, since Dogville isn’t about the the town itself, but more so the residents. Because of the minimal set, we can see into their houses for some of the most private moments and really learn what their characters are all about. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this is one of the most brilliant films that Lars von Trier has ever made.

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Dogville isn’t just about visual flair, though. There’s also a really tricky story filled with memorable acting to back it up. Nicole Kidman and Paul Bettany really steal the show as their characters. Supporting actors like Lauren Bacall, Stellan Skarsgård, and James Caan also do great, and let me just say that John Hurt should narrate everything. Sorry Morgan Freeman. As far as the story goes, it’s subtle and effective. It plays out like an interesting character study of the evils that can broil in small towns like this, and the whole thing kind of plays out like some strange experiment in human psychology and morality.

The only thing I really have to add is that Dogville is a fantastic movie watching experience and may be my favorite of all of Lars von Trier’s works.

The sequel, Manderlay, continues Grace’s story not long after the events of Dogville. Even though it’s made in a similar style, my reactions to the film were far from that of its predecessor.

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Now on the road with her father (Willem DaFoe), Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) and the rest of the travelers happen upon an Alabama plantation called Manderlay. What shocks Grace is that this plantation is filled with slaves, even though at this point slavery has been abolished for 70 years. As soon as Grace arrives at the plantation, Mam (Lauren Bacall), the head of the plantation dies and Grace, angered by the idea that there are still slaves, writes a new contract for the people there. The white people living on the plantation become responsible for the hard labor, while the black slaves are allowed to live a more free life. Grace begins to see improvement, but there are many secrets of Manderlay that she doesn’t know.

While Dogville was a subtle film with a strange story that somehow made perfect sense, Manderlay practically bashes you over the head with it’s preachy morality tale. Even though the set remains similar to the first film with its minimalist style, that is just about the only similarity. Bryce Dallas Howard is nowhere near as affective as Nicole Kidman, in fact she just comes off as ignorant and annoying for pretty much the whole movie. The most interesting characters are the former slaves of Manderlay, with some of the most important of those characters played by Danny Glover and Isaach de Bankolé, but sadly their talents are underutilized and Howard’s played up too strong.

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To me, it sort of seemed that Trier didn’t care about Manderlay as much as he did Dogville. While some people may find this idea very upsetting, some of the main themes of these movies are very anti-American. That’s fine with me as long as I don’t feel like I’m getting preached to by someone who thinks they are far superior than us commoners. That’s what watching Manderlay felt like. It’s true that it is still a visually beautiful movie, but that’s all I can really say about it.

While Manderlay is a pretty rotten movie in my opinion, Dogville is a genuinely fantastic piece of experimental drama. The style of these movies take a little bit to get used to, but once you do Dogville is definitely worth your time, if not just to experience a different style of film making. Manderlay, however, can be left well enough alone.

The Rambler – Review

31 May

Here we have one of those movies that I found for an insanely cheap price at a Best Buy and I thought, “Why not?” I picked it up solely based on what I read on the box, but other than that I had absolutely no idea what I was buying. While it wasn’t released in theaters, The Rambler did have screenings at festivals like Sundance and the SXSW Film Festival before it was released on DVD and blu ray. From the reactions I’ve read of other critics, be it amateur or professional, people either hate this movie or sort of like it. It’s pretty fair to say that I didn’t really have high expectations going into it.

 

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After getting out of prison, a man only known as the Rambler (Dermot Mulroney) returns home to his less than faithful and loving wife, Cheryl (Natasha Lyonne). The Rambler soon finds himself kicked out of his trailer, but finds a glimmer of hope when his brother invites him to come work on his ranch. The Rambler sets off on the the road across the country and finds himself face to face with some of the most bizarre and depraved people you could possibly imagine, like the Scientist (James Cady) whose machine that records dreams to VHS is more than likely to make someone’s head explode and the Girl (Lindsay Pulsipher), who may be the Rambler’s downfall as she keeps meeting him and dying in many different scenarios and ways.

Let me just start by saying that I totally understand where some of the hate towards this movie came from, but I can’t really say I understand why there’s so much hate from a good portion of those people who have seen this movie. Before anyone goes into The Rambler it may be worthwhile warning them that what they are about to see is extremely weird. Like aggressively weird. This weirdness may be part of the reason why a lot of people were not into this movie at all, at least amongst other things. I was really expecting to be bored, annoyed, or both with this movie and I even started asking myself what even came over me that made me purchase it in the first place. Honestly though, this is a pretty cool movie that I would actually CAUTIOUSLY recommend people who have any interest in film makers like David Lynch or weird movies in general.

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The reason why I stress the word “cautiously” is because I don’t want anyone to think that this comes anywhere near a David Lynch movie. Let’s look at Lost Highway, for example. Lost Highway is a deeply unsettling and weird movie, but you can tell that there’s something really deep going on beneath the surface of the movie, even if it takes multiple viewings to get even close to figuring it out. The Rambler is a different story. I don’t know if I’m missing something, but it doesn’t feel like that deep of a movie with any sort of actual puzzle to solve, which is what makes movies like this so much fun. The theory that I have about the meaning of the movie is really weak, but it’s really the only thing I could extrapolate from what I saw. There were a lot of scenes where I thought writer/director Calvin Lee Reeder was doing weird stuff for the sake of weirdness, which isn’t really the right way to go about it.

There are some things in this movie, however, that actually saved it for me as a whole. First off, Dermot Mulroney, who is known mostly for his performances in dramas and romantic comedies, really hits it home as the stoic Rambler. He doesn’t talk much, but he really doesn’t even have to. I love characters like that. The soundtrack is also first rate, and the cinematography really isn’t bad at all. There’s also some scenes that really made me howl with amusement and disgust at the same time. The first time someone’s head explodes because of the dream machine is startling and hilarious. There’s also a scene that probably features the strangest game of poker I will ever see. So while not all of the movie really works, there are parts that hit it out of the park.

While I expected to be completely put off by this movie, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed The Rambler. It is in no way a first rate movie, but as a B-movie directed by an altogether unheard of film maker, it really isn’t bad. By the time I reached the hour mark in the movie, I was beginning to grow a little tired of it, and by the time the movie was actually over I had more than enough. Still, for anyone who likes movies that go places you would never expect and contort reality in nightmarish ways, it may be a movie you’d like to check out at least once.

Bad Lieutenant – Review

6 Feb

Abel Ferrara is one of those film makers that you either love or you hate. Some people may call his movies smutty or exploitive, but there are others who call him a true artist with a firm grasp on the medium. In my opinion, Ferrara takes exploitation movies to a more artistic level. I’ve already reviewed his 1990 film King of New York, but now I will be looking at what is objectively called his best movie. It goes without saying that it’s his 1992 crime film Bad Lieutenant.

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The Lieutenant (Harvey Keitel) is not exactly the kind of cop anyone wants to deal with. He seems a little rough around the edges, but he’s more than meets the eye. He’s violent, addicted to all sorts of drugs, and gambles away most of his money. He seems to have the year’s World Series all figured out, and begins betting everything he has into the game. During all of this, he is also investigating the rape of a young nun (Frankie Thorn), but this particular case gets him thinking about his own actions and what may be the only chance he has at redemption. As his gambling and drug abuse worsens, he is pushed over his limits and begins to lose track of his own life and the parameters of his enforcement of the law.

Before I started watching Bad Lieutenant, I had it in my head that this was going to be a straightforward crime film where the Lieutenant was going to have to catch the guys who raped the nun, and along the way we would see him engage in all of his dark, illegal activities. It’s actually the other way around, in a sense. We actually see the Lieutenant practically destroy his life with drugs and gambling, and sometimes he moves on the case, but not too often. This is more of a character study than it is a straightforward narrative.

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That being said, I do wish there was more of a story. There is some semblance of a plot, but a lot of the movie is just the Lieutenant on the job in the seediest parts of New York City as he gets into all sorts of depraved things. The depravity does reach an all time low in Bad Lieutenant, and there were time that I was surprised that the character went as far as he did. He’s a reprehensible human being, but also very interesting. Still, as cool as his character is, I wanted to see more from the movie. It felt a lot longer than it actually was because not a whole hell of a lot happens by the end of the movie. I guess part of this is because I went into it expecting a more straightforward movie and wasn’t really expecting a movie as wandering as this, if that makes sense.

Harvey Keitel does do an outstanding job as the Lieutenant. That same year he starred in Quentin Tarantino’s first film Reservoir Dogs, but his performance in that just doesn’t match the visceral intensity that he displays here. It was said by the people making this film that Keitel dove really deep into this character and Ferrara left him a lot of room for experimentation and improvisation. Now, the stuff that the Lieutenant gets into, if I hadn’t made it quite clear before, is reprehensible and by the end of shooting, crew member said it was almost hard to watch Keitel get so into character.

It would be easy to call Bad Lieutenant a piece of trashy exploitation, but whoever says that would be sorely mistaken. This is a beautifully shot movie filled with disgusting people and places. Abel Ferrara has a way of filming dirty urban environments and the characters that inhabit them with such a gritty style, and rare moments of true beauty, that it’s hard not to feel like you’re really in the movie with the characters. Now that I know what it’s all about, Bad Lieutenant deserves a second viewing from me, but this movie is not everyone’s cup of tea. Still, it has the hitting power of a Louisville slugger and is as loud as a magnum fired point blank, so if you can stomach the content check out Bad Lieutenant.

Straw Dogs – Review

28 Nov

Sam Peckinpah is a name that goes along with controversy in the film world. In fact, one of his nicknames was “Bloody” Sam. Straw Dogs continued that streak of controversy, and even went on to be banned in the UK for 18 years! The reasons for this is Peckinpah’s unapologetic depictions of violence and rape, and his filming something so graphic at the time was pretty ballsy and I respect that. This has made the film somewhat of a keystone in modern film making, even if Peckinpah’s depiction of women can be somewhat… I don’t know… misogynistic?

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David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) and his wife Amy (Susan George) are trying to get away from the anti-war protests and anger that has engulfed the United States, so to get some peace and quiet they move to a small village in Cornwall, England. This being the village where Amy grew up, she starts to get harassed by an old boyfriend. The troubles don’t stop there as a group of drunken villagers begin tormenting them day in and day out, until one day David just can’t take it anymore. As the villagers begin attacking his house, David lets out a much more violent side and shows that he will kill, maim, and otherwise disfigure anybody who steps through his door.

The first time through this movie, it feels really slow and really boring. I will admittedly say that for a while, I wasn’t really feeling the movie at all. Then the climax came and the whole drama played out and I was sitting on my couch in a state of shock. First of all, in terms of suspense, I can’t believe how intense and violent this climax is, and in such a way that I felt like I was stuck in the scene. The lighting and sound is gritty and dark, and once David begins blasting Irish music, my blood really starts pumping. Another thing that this now infamous climax does though is make you appreciate the slow boil of this movie and the constant pushing that the villagers do to David.

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When I say slow, I mean slow. It seems, at times, that nothing is really happening in the story, but once the movie is one you realize that everything is connected and everything is important. This isn’t a very complicated movie when it comes to the story, but the tension is what really makes it. It seems like every line of dialogue is pushing the movie forward in some way. Plus the slow pace of the movie makes the climax that I just can’t stop talking about even better since we’ve been waiting and watching for an hour and some minutes.

We’ve all been pushed in some ways in our lives, whether it’s at work or home, it’s happened to us before. In this way, we can relate to David and stand by him in his acts of extreme violence. Peckinpah had it right there. In terms of the woman in the movie… that can be debated. In a way, her dynamic made the movie very interesting, up until the end when she was just annoying. Without giving too much of the plot away, Amy behaves in a way that people may find unrealistic and kind of sexist towards women. That’s really the only fault I have for this movie. Unfortunately, this fault could be a major turn off for some people, which is really disappointing considering how great this movie is.

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Straw Dogs is a violent and evil ride. Evil is a weird way to put it, but I feel like it’s one of those movies that have been stigmatized so much that it’s considered a necessary evil in the film world. It did help push film into the more modern direction and was a good early film in one of my favorite decades of film. This may not be for the weak stomached not folks who turn away at the possibility of cringing, but it is a very important movie and I love it very much!