Tag Archives: satan

Sheitan – Review

7 May

Some of my favorite horror movies come out of France. For example, there’s the more modern horror flick High Tension, but also a more classic example like Eyes Without a Face. That’s what brings us to the French horror/dark comedy Sheitan. I was first interested in this movie when I saw that Vincent Cassel was playing the psychotic villain, a role that I have yet to see him play to this degree. Developed by an underground group of French videographers, Sheitan is a movie that is made exactly how the developers wanted it to be made and without any major interference from studios. The end result is something disturbing, hilarious, and unique.

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While at a Parisian night club Bart (Olivier Barthelemy), Ladj (Ladj Ly), and Thaï (Nico Le Phat Tan) meet two girls, Eve (Roxane Mesquida) and Yasmine (Leïla Bekhti). After Bart gets kicked out of the club, Eve invites everyone back to her family’s mansion in the country where they can continue the party for as long as they want to. Upon their arrival, the group meets Joseph (Vincent Cassel), the groundskeeper that tends to the house for Eve’s family. As the day goes on, Joseph introduces the group to the people of the village who are all some sort of demented, but things get even weirder that night when they all go home for dinner and it becomes clear that Joseph has something sinister in mind for all of them.

This is one hell of a bizarre movie, and for that reason I give it a lot of credit. It’s a great blend of horror and comedy while still sustaining an ominous atmosphere throughout its entire run time. The story is told in a very weird way, which I will return to later, but I was compelled to stay with this movie until the end. Sheitan slowly but surely leads you on and drops a few clues here and there as to what Joseph has up his sleeve for the unsuspecting group of friends. That being said, this movie also works as a mystery of sorts because the whole time I was trying to figure out what the hell was actually going on. When I finally figured it out, it was so rewarding because I got to see my theory play out in front of me.

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Like I said, one of the main reasons I wanted to watch this movie was to see Vincent Cassel act like a lunatic, and he sure delivers a memorable performance. In fact, I might say it’s one of my favorite horror performances. There are times where I no longer saw Cassel, but was sure that the character of Joseph had completely taken over. The constant smile that is smeared across his face is made even more eerie by the face crooked teeth Cassel wore for filming. Much like the entirety of Sheitan, Cassel is both horrifying and hilarious. I also have to give credit to the rest of the cast for adding an extra layer of character. Each person felt different and important to the story.

Now, the way the story is told felt very odd. It seemed like for a very long time, nothing was really happening. In fact, the movie only starts getting really intense during the third act. This was both a good and a bad thing for me. It was good because it made me feel like I was being led along this dark, winding path to some conclusion that I couldn’t even imagine. On the other hand, I started to feel just a little bored towards the middle of the movie. I’m still pleased that the film makers decided to take their time telling the story. Even though there were some boring moments, they never bogged the movie down and I feel like they still helped create a feeling of suspense that made me have to know what happened next.

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Without knowing anything about it before watching it, I can say that Sheitan is a wonderfully underrated movie. It doesn’t even seem to have garnered a cult following, even though it definitely deserves one. It not only works as a grotesque piece of horror, but also a dark comedy full of complete lunacy. The art design and cinematography was even impressive. To all the horror fans out there who are looking for something off the beaten path, Sheitan may be just what you’re looking for.

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The Witch – Review

28 Feb

Horror movies have been in a pretty sad state recently with the constant remakes, sequels, and reboots. Does the world really need another Paranormal Activity? No, it really doesn’t. There have been some diamonds in the rough with critically successful movies like It Follows, which is one of my favorite horror movies to be released in a long time. Now we can add another intelligent and beautifully made horror movie to the rankings of modern horror classics. This movie is Robert Eggers’ debut film The Witch. Without rambling too early on in the review, let me just say that this is exactly how horror movies should be made.

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In the year 1630, a Puritan man named William (Ralph Ineson), and his family are removed from a religious plantation. The family decides to start a new life by building a house near a large forest and living off the land and the blessings they believe to receive from God. The entire family dynamic is thrown when baby Samuel is kidnapped and killed by a witch lurking in the woods near the house. After another incident in the woods harms William’s middle son, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), William’s wife Katharine (Kate Dickie) places the blame of witchcraft on their oldest child Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). As the days press on, the black magic of the witch torments the family more until the morning they finally reach their breaking point.

Like I said before, The Witch is a prime example of how horror movies should be made. Since the very first frame there’s a feeling of dread and claustrophobia. I’m not talking about claustrophobia in the sense that the family is constantly in an enclosed space, but claustrophobic in the sense that they are completely walled in by the literal interpretations of their religious beliefs. Throughout the course of the movie, the characters all make these incredibly naïve and outlandish choices and accusations, all because they depend so heavily on God’s divine intervention and judgement. This extremist mind set is almost as scary as the witch that is cursing the family, and it mirrors real life in eerily similar ways.

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What I think really makes this movie is the subtlety of it all. Scenes in The Witch very rarely get loud. Instead, the intensity and feelings of terror come from the silences, what can’t be seen, and the inability of the family to escape the tortures that are destroying them. Isn’t the monster lurking in the dark scarier than the one that you can see plain as day? Sure it is, because your imagination never fails to show you the most horrific possibility. Isn’t the overwhelming feeling of dread and helplessness more terrifying than a jump scare that you could see coming a mile away? Once again, of course it is. The Witch doesn’t rely on getting your adrenaline pumping to keep you entertained. Instead it completely infects your body with a spirit of uneasiness that may come back to haunt you when you least expect it.

Something became quite clear about this movie within the first five or ten minutes. I’ve didn’t watch the trailer for this movie, so maybe it was in there, but I had no idea that all of the dialogue in this movie is written in and spoken in old English. It took a little bit to get used to it, but once it did I really appreciated the effect that it had on the movie. It gives The Witch a very authentic feeling, along with the costume design and cinematography. It’s also really impressive that all of the lines were delivered with such ease. At no point was I confused about what they were talking about. I have to give much respect to all of the actors in this movie, but mostly to the younger actors who pulled off the dialogue just as well as the adults.

I went into The Witch not really knowing what to expect. I was just curious about it because all of the hype it got at the various film festivals. Now that I’ve seen it, I can definitely say it’s one of the better horror movies released in a very long time. It’s a very smart approach to the genre, both in the writing and execution. Robert Eggers has made a great start to his feature film making career, and I really hope he explores the horror genre some more. Plain and simply, The Witch perfectly encapsulates how a horror movie should be made.

Ghost Rider & Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – Review

3 Sep

I remember way back in 2007 going to see the movie Ghost Rider when it first came out. I didn’t know anything about the character, but the fact that it was a Marvel movie and featured a hero with a flaming skull riding a motorcycle seemed pretty cool. The fact is is that the character of Ghost Rider is really cool, but the movie was all around unmemorable. Since I first saw it 8 years ago, I’ve finally gone back and given it another go having not remembered any of it. I also decided to check out the sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance directed by Neveldine/Taylor, who directed the two Crank films and Gamer. My conclusion is that these two Ghost Rider movies should come with directions that say, “Turn off your brain, and add alcohol.”

Let’s take a trip back to 2007 with the first Ghost Rider.

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When Johnny Blaze was a teenager, he sold his soul to the devil, or Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda), in order to save his father dying from lung cancer. The devil cured his father, but he still ended up dying by the devil’s will. Now and adult, Johnny (Nicolas Cage) works as the world’s most renowned stunt rider. Even with all of the fame and fortune, Johnny can’t get the pact he made with the devil out of his mind, and isn’t surprised when he shows up once again commanding Johnny to hunt down his son, Blackheart (Wes Bentley) and send him back to hell. Now given the powers of the Ghost Rider, Johnny begins his hunt. When Blackheart makes it personal by kidnapping Johnny’s childhood love Roxanne (Eva Mendez) and threatens to unleash thousands of demonic souls on the world, the Ghost Rider is forced to ride like hell to complete his mission.

Let me just get a very unpleasant fact out of the way. Ghost Rider was written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson who was also the writer and director the Marvel flop that was Daredevil. Now that’s pretty bad news, and Johnson didn’t seem to really get it together for Ghost Rider. I’d even go so far as to say Daredevil is more memorable, which is an odd thought. Watching the movie again reminded me why it was so unmemorable. There’s not really a whole lot of action, and the down time which seems to stretch on and on isn’t anything interesting. The screenplay seemed desperate to make Johnny Blaze into a relatable character, but he’s really not very deep at all. This probably adds to why all of the dialogue sounds either forced or said without much feeling, and that goes for everyone in the movie.

Like I said before though, the Ghost Rider is a really cool character which gives the action scenes a good kick. One particularly cool scene has the Rider using his chain to latch onto a building and ride right down the side of it. Unfortunately, Blackheart as a villain isn’t that exciting at all and Wes Bentley’s version of hamming things up doesn’t really work. The bottom line is that this movie really isn’t good, and I can’t even say it’s so bad that it’s good. All I saw was a cool anti-hero thrown into a movie with a lot of useless talk, bland characters, and a few action scenes spaced too far apart. A movie based on a comic book character really just shouldn’t be this boring.

Five years later in 2012 a sequel was put out called Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. It’s a sequel that we really didn’t need, nor did people seem to want it. Nevertheless, being directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor made me curious to see how they could inject their hyperactive style to this character.

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Some years after the events of the first film, Johnny Blaze is hiding out in a secluded area of Eastern Europe. This is the only way he knows how to control the monster inside him that turns him into the Ghost Rider. His seclusion is disturbed when he is found by a priest named Moreau (Idris Elba) who pleads with him to find a young boy, Danny (Fergus Riordan), and his mother Nadya (Violante Placido). The two are being hunted by Nadya’s ex-boyfriend Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth), who was hired by the devil (now played by Ciarán Hinds) to deliver the boy for a prophesied ritual. In return, Moreau promises to rid Johnny of his curse, which is all the motivation he needs to find the mother and son before they fall into evil’s grip.

This movie has been panned by critics and audiences alike in an overwhelming way, which, despite my curiosity, made me hesitant to watch it. Now, I may be committing some kind of sin against movie criticism by saying this, and I apologize in advance, but Spirit of Vengeance is far superior to the original. In fact… I sorta…kinda…liked this one. I’ve heard numerous complaints about the story, the effects, and the acting so I’ll just address them one by one. The story is very straightforward and most certainly unoriginal, but it’s at least functional (unlike a certain Marvel film that came out this year). The effects are what I expected from Neveldine/Taylor. They’re way over the top and almost cartoonish, which is the kind of effects and editing I saw in the Crank movies and Gamer. Finally, the acting is also serviceable, and there’s even a few great scenes of Nicolas Cage going absolutely nuts.

I understand that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance may not be everyone’s cup of tea. That’s one thing, but I don’t really understand why it’s hated so much. There’s more action sequences in this movie, and all of them play out like their fueled by an insane combination of cocaine, LSD, and rage. Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s anarchic and almost nonsensical editing style also give the movie a jolt that moves it along much faster than the original, which in turn makes the movie much more entertaining. Being released by the Marvel Knights production company, the same company that did The Punisher: War Zone, the budget is relatively small and the material is darker than most Marvel films. That being said, this movie is just so much damn fun.

Even though the Ghost Rider is a unique and unusually awesome Marvel character, he hasn’t really gotten the big budget treatment that he deserves. The first movie is stuck in the mud, and the second movie is pretty much ignored. Personally, I could do without the first one, but I embrace Spirit of Vengeance, and I’m not ashamed of who knows it… Maybe just a little.

Rosemary’s Baby – Review

24 Mar

In the 1960s, Hollywood was undergoing a major change. From the 1930s up until the late 1950s/early 1960s, movies were strictly regulated in terms of their content. A new Hollywood was now forming and the regulations were not so strong. Enter Roman Polanski’s horror masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby, a deep exploration of psychological dread mixed with dark occultist magic. It’s an excellent combination that is executed perfectly, and couldn’t have been made under the much more strict guidelines of classic Hollywood.

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Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy (John Cassavetes) are a young married couple in search of a new place to live. They finally find comfort in the Bramford, an old New York City apartment building with a strange, dark history. Rosemary and Guy soon become friends with the elderly couple living next door, Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman (Sidney Blackmer), who are both eccentric and incredibly friendly. When Rosemary learns that she is pregnant, Minnie and Roman seem very excited, but Guy never really wants to think about it. As time goes on, and the due date for the baby becomes closer and closer, Rosemary begins to become paranoid about everyone around her while dealing with incredible pain from her abdomen and strange concoctions given to her by Minnie and Roman, whom Rosemary now believes are witches. All of this may be a deeply Satanic plot or just a deeply personal problem for Rosemary.

Much like Polanski’s earlier work, Repulsion, this film puts horror in the worst place you could ever have it. In the comfort of your own home. I have place set aside in my heart for films that bring the horror to you, in a sense, like the first Paranormal Activity and The Strangers. What Rosemary’s Baby does differently than these movies is add the plot point of an unborn child into the mix to create some deeply rooted chances to explore psychological dysfunction, but I’ll talk more about that later. Rosemary is never really safe in this movie, and that’s part of where the paranoia and the fear comes from, but Polanski makes sure that this never gets out of hand.

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What makes this film so successful is Polanski’s deft maneuvering of a plot that at times appears to be stuck in the mud, but is never really stopping. The pacing is slow and makes the audience wait a long time to really understand what is actually going on. That combined with the fact that even we don’t full know if Rosemary is in the right state of mind or if this is actually all a big occult plot against her. We spend a good deal of the movie questioning what’s going on around Rosemary and try to piece together all of the evidence that makes sense and the rest that doesn’t make sense. It’s a great way to construct a plot.

So the style and the plot are both really good, and the final thing that makes Rosemary’s Baby the horror classic that it is are the performances. Mia Farrow begins as an innocent housewife into a woman who is completely in shambles, both mentally and physically. John Cassavetes brings his traditional realistic, and almost improvisational, acting style which gives his performance a believability that you don’t always get from movies before this time. Finally, Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer are perfect at playing the old people next door, but bring a disquieting element of distrust that makes for exceptional antagonists.

This video is from Bravo’s countdown of the 100 Scariest Movie Moments. They perfectly summarize everything that makes Rosemary’s Baby as great as it is.

So, if you haven’t already guessed, I firmly believe Rosemary’s Baby is one of the greatest horror movies to ever grace planet earth. It’s pacing and feeling of constant dread and paranoia is very effective and really makes the viewer question what is going on. It’s almost a cliche to say “you never know what’s real and what isn’t” in terms of movies. That may be so, but it is the truth when it comes to this film. If you haven’t seen this, you’re missing out on an essential piece of film history that may even keep you up a little bit tonight when you’re doors are locked and you think you’re safe…

The Exorcism of Emily Rose – Review

9 May

Believe in it or not, the concept of being possessed and needing some sort of holy man drive whatever all fiction has taken hold of your being is a pretty bizarre and terrifying. When The Exorcist was released in 1973, people were blown through the theatre walls and it was called one of, if not, the scariest films ever made. Now, it’s pretty much a guarantee that we will see an exorcism movie at least once a year. They have become a dime a dozen. In 2005, when The Exorcism of Emily Rose was released, this wasn’t yet the case, making this movie an original and surprisingly dramatic piece of film making about innocence, morality, and personal beliefs.

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Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson) is charged with criminal negligence in the death of Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter), a nineteen year old girl believed to have been possessed and put under the care of Father Moore. Defending him is a rising star lawyer, Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), who is an agnostic who is only taking the job to get her name on the law firm and establish herself as an accomplished defense lawyer. Through a series of flashbacks and witness recounts, the story of Emily Rose is slowly put together, and Bruner’s beliefs are tested when what she thought was real melts away with this supernatural possibilities taking over her life.

The first thing that really sticks out about The Exorcism of Emily Rose is the depth that this story is willing to go.  The focal point of the story could have easily been the exorcism itself, and filled with really crazy exorcism scenes  which would have helped in selling tickets and surging the audience’s adrenaline. Instead, Scott Derrikson chose to take a more dramatic approach which really forces the audiences to think about their own beliefs and open their minds up to greater possibilities than what they really think is true. The same thing can sort of be said about The Last Exorcism, but that movie got to be so overblown by the end, I wasn’t really doing any introspection.

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Still though, the scenes that did show Emily Rose and her possession were top notch horror. Jennifer Carpenter gives an absolutely outstanding performance both vocally and physically. A lot of the vocals are created in post production with audio layering, but when she contorts her body in all the crazy positions that we see, it’s just her. Even something as simple as a hand gesture is stiffened and gives off this really creepy vibe that is necessary in movies like this. These scenes are also very important in ensuring that the more drama oriented court room scenes have some points of reference and really balance out the movie.

The scenes in the courtroom are also really good, but do suffer from some heavy handed dialogue and some acting that is just a little off from some of the more minor characters. Even some of the main characters like Bruner and Father Moore have some over the top dialogue that wouldn’t have worked if the actors saying them weren’t as serious and into their roles like Linney and Wilkinson. Hearing them sometimes would pull me out of the movie and make me think, “no one would actually say that.” What is cool about these scenes is that they don’t fall into pits of cliches and the proceedings can be pretty unpredictable. The ending is so unpredictable that I still don’t really buy it, and it would have been better for the writers to stick a bit closer to the actual history.

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The Exorcism of Emily Rose wasn’t so much an entertaining movie as it was an intellectually engaging one. That seems sort of odd to say about a movie that is about an exorcism, but again, this was before the time that one was pretty much release every year. It’s more than just a courtroom drama and an exorcism movie. It’s a clever combination of the two that will force the viewer to look inside themselves and see what they actually believe. Any movie that can shake someone up so much has to be good, and that’s what this movie is. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a genuinely good movie.

The Ninth Gate – Review

11 Dec

There’s enough movies about Satan coming to Earth that it can be classified as a sub genre of thriller, but I guess you can just call them supernatural thrillers. This is more of an observation. With the panic of the world ending in 2000, Hollywood of course capitalized on the fear of the people and churned out movies with apocalyptic stories with normal people caught in the middle. Even though director Roman Polanski is the opposite of what people may call “Hollywood”, he was still part of this with his film The Ninth Gate.

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Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is a rare book collector and dealer who has been tasked by the mysterious Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to acquire two copies of the aged book The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows. Only three are left in existence with Balkan already owning one, but afraid that his and another might be a forgery leaving only one to be authentic. As Corse travels Europe investigating the books, he finds a demonic conspiracy involving murder and arson, all to summon Lucifer to Earth.

The premise of The Ninth Gate provided so much material to craft an intriguing tale of paranoia, religion, and a possible supernatural truth. For a good portion of the film, that’s what I thought it was all about, but then some weird things started to happen that really didn’t need to. One of these things is actually showing someone glide down a set of stairs, and this really came out of nowhere. By showing something as surreal as this, no matter how cool it looked, I felt like Polanski was taking away the mystery of the entire movie. If it was supposed to be a thriller about the paranoia Corso feels due to this particular assignment, I would have been so much more interested. Instead, I felt like I was being spoon fed what to believe.

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Then, after all the unnecessary exposition, we get an ending whose only cause is to baffle the audience. I feel like I was stuck in this weird limbo of not being too sure of what was going on. If a film maker decides to reveal the mysteries of the plot, that’s fine, even though I don’t always feel like that’s a good idea. What happens here is we get a lot of exposition, but not enough to really grasp what’s happening. Did Polanski and the other writers not know whether to make this a puzzle movie or straightforward thriller and just decide to meet each other half way? That’s sure what it feels like.

But, even though the way the story is presented has brutal flaws, I will concede that it had some excellent scenes. One in particular is the aftermath of a murder that is revealed so well and creatively. Another scene that sticks out happens when two characters do the dirty in front of a burning castle with some epic demonic music playing in the background. These are just honorable mentions and saved the movie from being totally unmemorable.

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Roman Polanski is no stranger to films about Satan or the insanity of religion. Just look at Rosemary’s Baby. That is a fine example of how a thriller of this type should be done. Mysteriously and with subtlety. The Ninth Gate started with these recipes, then just disintegrated into unremarkable attempts at creating something memorable. Polanski said that he only wants to make movies “that he would want to see.” I can’t really imagine getting too worked up over this movie. It has a few scenes that stick out, but not enough to support the entire movie.

The Devil’s Advocate – Review

11 Sep

Films that put religious or mythology in modern times has a real draw to me since I don’t think it is really easy to connect them. The Devil’s Advocate doesn’t just do that, but it also exposes a rather hated view of the judicial system and the laws that make up our nation, but also connections between religion and mental illness. This was a great multi-layered supernatural drama that never took itself too seriously, but still manages to be intelligent.

Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) is a defense attorney he appears to have the perfect life. He has a beautiful wife, Mary Ann (Charlize Theron), a 64-0 case record and now the chance to work for one of the leading law firms in New York. Upon arrival, Lomax gets close to the boss, John Milton (Al Pacino) who quickly take him under his wing. Despite the pleas for their old life from his wife, Kevin decides to stay and begin his rise to the top. Soon a strange evil seems to blanket over Kevin and Mary Ann, and it appears that John Milton isn’t just a defense lawyer, but the Prince of Darkness himself.

The writing was the first thing that struck me about this film. The introduction is a real slap in the face when it comes to real world problems, disgusting human beings, and the moral dilemma that defense attorneys must face. Only a certain type of person can be a defense attorney as this movie clearly states in an almost condemning way. Are they all terrible people? No, but they have to understand that they might defending a horrible human being.

The pacing of the film is great. It’s a slow movie that adds layers upon layers of new characters and story lines to wrap your head around, it isn’t difficult to find yourself lost and totally engrossed in the story. Pacino’s character isn’t revealed right away, but instead we have to wait. This is a great way of building up the character, and let me tell you he is fantastic. This looks to be the most fun Pacino has had since Scarface, and his best performance he’s had since.

The entire film is filled with random supernatural occurrences that remind me very much of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, especially the scenes involving Mary Ann. The scene that really lingers with the viewer, however, is the outstanding climax. Of course I won’t reveal what happens, but I will say that Al Pacino kills it. I feel like I’m talking about him a lot in this review, but it’s warranted since this is practically his show. He really runs the entire movie.

What almost soured the entire film was the very end. It seemed that I was going to have to spend an immense amount of my night brooding over how gut wrenchingly awful it was. Now, it wasn’t as bad as I originally thought, but it was still pretty unsatisfying. There are ways to analyze it that make it seem more “plausible” or at the very least appropriate, but something about it just doesn’t sit right with me. It’s really unfortunate considering everything that happens before it, and we are rewarded with a strictly forced and mediocre ending.

The Devil’s Advocate is smart, accusatory, chilling, and at times darkly comedic. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a strong conclusion to support the rest of the movie. It got me thinking about how strange it is that a bad ending can really detract from a movie or piece of literature. They are so important to the rest of the story, and endings are usually a big thing to be remembered. Still, 98% of this movie is excellent and should really be checked out, especially for Pacino’s performance.