March Summary


Best: "Gladiator"
Worst: "Noah"—I think I've exhausted my words on the film. Whatever you thoughts about the film, you're sure to have had an opinion.

A Streetcar Named Desire
Adam's Rib
Citizen Kane
In the Heat of the Night
It Happened One Night
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Seven Chances
Strangers on a Train
The Searchers
The Third Man

Best: "Strangers on a Train", "The Third Man", and "Vampyr"
Worst: "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"

A Night at the Opera

Best: "Moonstruck"
Worst: "A Night at the Opera"....this isn't a bad movie, it's just not as good.

The Square
Triumph of the Will

Best: "Olympia"
Worst: "Triumph of the Will"—it's a good movie, but the propaganda makes it a little indigestible.

All Is Lost
Body Heat
Good Bye Lenin!
Keep the Lights On
Ordinary People
The Dead
There Will Be Blood

Best: "Ordinary People" and "All Is Lost"
Worst: "The Dead"


The Exorcist

Best: "The Exorcist"
Worst: "Poltergeist"

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
The Leopard

Best: "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
Worst: "The Leopard"


Best: "NYMP( )MANIAC: Volume I"
Worst: "If...."—another film that isn't bad, but is too odd for its own good.

Once (2006) (R)

"Once" is a tender hipster movie about love and music. It's hard not to like the film, though the digital way it is filmed can be kind of distracting. It makes you feel like you're watching someone's home video—it's intimate and friendly to the audience.
The movie begins as a nameless guy (Glen Hansard) is playing on the street for money...well, for the sake of playing his guitar. "Once" exemplifies what the mind-set of the modern day musician is. They are talented, but stubborn. They want to play their music. This is why the guy plays on small corners at night. He doesn't want attention for other people's songs.
While he's playing, a nameless girl (Markéta Irglová) gives the guy a small amount of money and strikes up a conversation with him. She loves the way he plays and doesn't hesitate from asking him the hard questions—who is the song written for? do you have a job? where do you work? why don't you play during the day? 
The guy is both flummoxed and excited by this girl's quirky attention. He is attracted to her and her to him...though their attraction isn't sexual in nature. They love each other's music.
The girl takes the guy to a music store where the manager lets her occasionally play one of the pianos for an hour or so. She plays a Mendelssohn piece for him and he decides to share some of his music with her. They play a piece together and become lost in time.
What "Once" does better than any other movie I've seen (it's both more realistic and more romantic than "August Rush", which I confess, I did like) is give music a trance-like nature. I'm a musician, though I cannot write songs...believe me, I've just doesn't work. You do get lost in a world when you play music, "Once" shows the blisteringly intimate nature of literally making music together. When the guy and the girl play a song in the music store, they go into a's beautiful and truthful.
But instead of being just about the music, "Once" does throw a little bit of romance into the picture and in that way, the film reminds me distantly of "Lost in Translation".
Though billed as a musical, "Once" never feels corny in the way it introduces the songs. It always is genuine, never as crass as the musical genre can be. For this film, you can fully believe that these people would break into song...the atmosphere is right for it.
The guy and the girl—star crossed lovers? soul musicians? who knows? "Once" never takes the time to explain every facet of their relationship, which is a nice break from the "hipster romance" film.
This film comes at the beginning of the independent sweep, fueled by the digital age. It is so easy for anyone to make a film now, therefore a lot of terrible films are's sad, but it's true—not everyone can be a film maker though "Once" proves that any idea is worth filming.
The story itself is slight and the plot may seem very simple when written down, "Once" is a fairly complex movie in how its characters act. They aren't fully spelled out for the viewer's pleasure and often "plot twists" spring up because of what they tell each other.
The guy is likable, the girl is quirky; but "Once" never goes too beyond itself.
Take one scene for instance: you have the guy, with a guitar on his back and the girl, dragging a vacuum cleaner behind her, walking around town and going to lunch. If you jumped in at this moment, it would seem like the film was straining too hard, trying to be something decidedly non-mainstream; but this is where you'd be wrong.
"Once" never feels pretentious, it is a heartfelt piece that is uncaring about how it comes across to the viewer. It's a very sweet movie.
Or, to put it in more modern day terminology: THE FEELS!!!! <3

Score: ★★★½

Vampyr (1932)

Carl Th. Dreyer's "Vampyr" is one of the best horror movies ever made. It transcends the stereotypes of its own genre, established with contemporary films like "Dracula", and becomes a cerebral, perceptive tour de force.
You can tell that Carl Th. Dreyer was still stuck in the age of silent cinema when he made "Vampyr". There is almost no dialogue to the film and the sound editing of the film has only a few moments of bells clanging and the like. For the most part, it is a silent movie...and that's what makes it great. Because the viewer comes to expect the silent film dramatic music, when the sounds of a woman gasping for life fills our ears, it's quite chilling.
Dreyer probably wanted to make silent films forever, but his transition to sound films is stunning and he utilizes the technology perfectly.
"Vampyr" begins with a young man named Allan Gray traveling to an estate named Courtempierre. He's obsessed with the supernatural and we have to assume for why he's traveling....presumably there's something at this estate that he believes is haunted.
What "Vampyr" doesn't do that almost all other horror movies do is offer an explanation. On the first night at the house, Allan's room is broken into by an old man who speaks in cryptic sentences. He tells Allan that "she" can't die. While Allan is pondering over who "she" is, the man leaves a package and instructs that it shouldn't be opened until he has died.
Allan goes looking for the paranormal, and he finds it in abundant supply. There's a shadow man with one leg who haunts the walls. Then there's a mysterious figure who seems to be the looming bad guy of the town, the imposing villain.
By the title, we have to assume that this figure must be the village's vampire; but we don't know that.
What's great about "Vampyr" is the way that it abandons a narrative. Allan, though the main character, doesn't witness some of the crucial genesis moments. He comes across a girl who's been bitten by a subject to the whim's of the creature.
As opposed to the "Nosferatu" movies, "Vampyr" falls in the middle...let me explain. "Nosferatu", the original, made sure that the audience understood that the vampire wasn't human. In the remake, Herzog made the vampire deeply human and tormented. "Vampyr" seems to imply that the vampire is not quite human, but not a creature either. To be fair, the film doesn't give the bad guy enough screen time for us to understand.
We can't explain the shadows that move, the doors that close, or the sounds of children screaming. The ambiance of the film is one of the greatest hauntings on screen.
"Vampyr" isn't that scary, but it is chilling and remains visually striking. The way that Dreyer fashions that orchestral horror makes "Vampyr" seem more like a dance than a film.
Allan is a likable protagonist and seems to embody the everyday guy.
But then, the film shocks you. Abandoning the more straight-forward approach of films of that age, "Vampyr" becomes indescribable. It bridges so many genre gaps and its influence can immediately be seen stretching from "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" to Wes Anderson.
"Vampyr" is so entertaining, so riveting, and so poetic.

Score: ★★★★

Noah (2014) (PG-13)

This review contains SPOILERS!
Before you go into "Noah" you should realize one thing: you are about to witness a horror film. Darren Aronofsky has often delved into the psyche of humanity and pulled out an idea; but here he goes deeper and comes out, arms outstretched towards the audience....empty.
Besides the story of Christ, Noah and the ark is one of the most universally known moments from the Bible. As such, even if you've told your audience and your producers that your aren't adhering to the religious book, you can't just thrown random things in and expect people to be okay with this.
Case in point: rock monsters.
I really, really wish I was joking.
Yes, there are rock monsters. Living, walking, talking, breathing, helping, moaning rock monsters!
Anyways...more on that later.
From moment one, which gives us a quick overview of how we get to Noah...there were two people, Adam and Eve, who were in the garden of Eden. They had three sons: Cain, Abel, and Seth...Cain kills Abel so the only other brother that remains is Seth. Seth's and Cain's descendants become enemies. Cain's offspring only want to be selfish and further their own desires while the children of Seth are the more godly.
In the first five minutes of the film, Noah's father is about to pass on his birthright when he is interrupted by The Men. These descendants of Cain slay Noah's father and Noah is left in the wilderness alone.
Flash forward twenty or so years and Noah has a wife and three sons. He is out scrounging for the mold off of rocks, chiding his sons for plucking the flowers, when he has a premonition of something evil. Later on in the day he dreams that water will flood the earth. He decides that he will seek the advice of his grandfather, Methuselah, to better understand what "the Creator" meant by this dream.
He packs up his family and they start trekking toward grandpa, who lives in the dark, black, dusty land of Mordor...oops, I mean, um...Earth?
Once they reach the wise old man, who it turns out has magical abilities like an InstaSleep Thumb and and InstaBarrenWombHealer Hand, they find him to be a quirky and likable sage-like character. He gives Noah some tea laced with drugs which makes him sleep some more, which in turn tells him that he needs to build an ark to save all the animals...the pure souls.
Lost so far? Don't worry, it gets better...I lie.
"Noah", which is heavy with themes like justice versus mercy and faith without justification (I knew that one was coming), forces the idea of vegetarianism down the viewer's throat like a nice piece of kale. Animals are the true essence of God's creation, they are above everything else. The flood is meant to wipe out all of humanity (Noah and co. included) so that the age of the beasts can continue...what?
Yeah, gets better...I lie.
While accompanied by a rock monster (who, it turns out, is a fallen angel), Noah and his family start to build an ark. But how do you do this in the land of Mordor? Crap, there I go again....
The answer is simple, you take a seed from the Garden of Eden and you plant it and wait three hours, have another dream, make corny dialogue and voila it's an InstaGardenOfTreesThatWillHelpYouBuildAnArk...patent pending.
Aided by a group of remaining rock monsters, the ark is built fairly quickly, but not before The Men return again.
Noah will now have to finish the ark, defend his family, and remain loyal to a God who keeps Himself veiled behind the clouds.
First of all, after the problem with the CGI, which looks crude and unprofessional, "Noah" is a story that hinges on the movements and whims of its characters, chiefly its title character. Mood swings, hallucinations, gory imagery, and insanity help guide us with the character development. Yet there is something incredibly gaudy about the way that Aronofsky parades his characters around.
To avoid the incest that would pop up with a family of five, destined to repopulate the Earth, Noah comes across as small girl who is wounded when she is very young. He raises her as his own and she falls in love with his oldest son, Shem. Too bad a little scratch she had as a small child will make her barren...bummer.
"Noah" is shocking and horrifying, and not in the good ways. It has such offensive romanticism which is often destroys just for the sake of annoying the's not a fun movie to see. This, plus the fact that I don't understand how this movie eked out a "PG-13" rating. Though it isn't gory per se, "Noah" is very disturbing and often crosses a line of self-indulgence.
For the first half of the movie, it's Peter Jackson. For the second half, it's just crazy town.
Aronofsky treats the story of Noah like a fanciful fairy tale which he can bend to his whims. There is no reverence here, not that there should be, but his strive for creative liberty has led him down a path to the garden of sheer goofiness.
Two-thirds of the way through the movie, Aronofsky pulls off the gloves—anything goes. What does ensue is an orgy of stupid ideas, piled on top of one another like the mound of dino crap in "Jurassic Park". There is not a real animal to be found in "Noah", they are all computer generated, and all look fake.
In its bad third act, it descends into madness, this is where we see Aronofsky's true colors.
Still, the psycho-ness wasn't what sunk "Noah", what damaged the movie beyond repair was the clumsy script and the poorly defined characters.
I don't think even Aronofsky knew what he wanted to make with this movie.
The acting is good but so misguided in the film. Russell Crowe has a range of emotions and motives that no actor should have to be put through. The only decent actors in the film, not damaged by the story, are Jennifer Connelly and Logan Lerman. Lerman in particular does a good job, but that's not saying a lot.
If I haven't been scathing enough, let me clear up a few things: "Noah" is a terrible movie. It's by far the worst thing I have seen in theaters in years...and yes, there are rock monsters.

Score: ½ a star out of 4

Citizen Kane (1941)

Once again I find myself facing down cinema's most famous moment—no, that's not exaggeration. Every "credible" critics hails this piece as the best movie ever made and even if they don't—take Mark Kermode's stance that "The Exorcist" is, for example—they still have to shuffle around the picture to justify their likes and dislikes.
Then I come along...oh geez, can you feel the controversy already?
Today was the second day I had seen "Citizen Kane" and to be fair, I didn't like it the first time. Well, that's being nice, I was kind of bored the whole time. So this time around, I tried to clear my mind of prejudices and for a while it worked...and then it didn't work.
"Citizen Kane" while being extremely well crafted is hung up on too many ideas at once and for that it remains a confusing, preachy, and an altogether mediocre attempt at capturing a man's life.
Bold words for a nobody.
Take one of the last scenes in the movie for instance (oh, and SPOILERS): Kane's second wife is just leaving him, so he throws an adult tantrum. He heaves chairs at the walls, breaks record players, smashes vases, and then pauses right in front of a small glass snow globe, the same one that tumbles out of his hand and breaks against the floor in the notorious first scene, accompanied by the whisper of the movie's most famous line: "Rosebud". In this tantrum scene, Orson Welles is playing an old man, so he's a little awkward when he's tossing the furniture around. This scene is conveying a couple things: Kane is a selfish man, he's concerned only with himself, he is capable of love...but I was just chuckling at how awkward Welles looked bumbling around the room...does that make me a bad person? Probably.
The movie begins with the death of Charles Kane (Orson Welles) who was stinkin' rich. He has died in the seclusion of his own private mansion Xanadu. The press has heard about the last word whispered from his dying lips and as a news program about Kane is being prepared, a TV executive sends out a reporter to find out what "rosebud" meant. What it a person, place, thing, pet, inside joke? He needs to find out to better give the dying moments of the man their full due.
So the reporter goes out and tries to understand the man better...well, actually he's just looking for what "rosebud" is. He encounters several men from Kane's past and we are shown the life of a man told in flashback form.
It all starts on a small farm, where Kane's parents have accidentally stumbled onto a huge inheritance...a gold mine, literally. Kane's mother doesn't want him to grow up stupid so she sends him away with a man named Thatcher who becomes his guardian. When he turns twenty-five, Kane decides to take over a small newspaper called The Inquirer and he vows to only print the truth.
As much as anything else, "Citizen Kane" pokes fun at the media...which is something that still happens quite frequently seen in shows like "The Newsroom".
The reporter's task gets harder and harder as he tries to track down this elusive "rosebud". The information he's given, which the audience already knows having been shown a quick news clip that summarizes the movie nicely, tells us that Welles was not a great man...rather just a man.
He had "everything" yet still he wasn't happy or content at the least. It's a common theme in movies and "Citizen Kane" wouldn't be the first or last to try to tackle the issue.
Yes, the movie is splendidly made and the dark shadows that seem to overtake the screen enhance the movie's moodiness without making the film seem like noir. The camera lays low to the ground, making Kane seem like a larger-than-life figure and then it rises high up to make everyone else seem small in comparison. There is a large emptiness to the movie, a loneliness, the distance between man and wife.
Poetic, yes. Goofy? Equally yes.
My problem with the film, besides the fact that I find it a snooze-fest, is that I don't care about Kane or his doings. But maybe that's what I'm supposed to, I don't think so. If this is the case then why at the end of the movie does the reporter say that he feels sorry for Kane?
Voted the best movie ever made for decades, "Citizen Kane" has amazed and hypnotized critics for a large percentage of a century; yet I am cold for the movie. It's a character study at its most naked, but there's more to it than that. The not-resolved issues of maternity, greed, broken promises, and hubris make me feel like Welles just wanted to make a dark film that hardly did anyone any good. Ironically enough, the film reminded a great deal of "The Wolf of Wall Street", though I'd hardly consider that a masterpiece either.
The movie's ending shot implies that Kane would have rather given it all up to return to being a child again, blissfully unaware of greed and deception....cute.
"Citizen Kane" doesn't wow me, it doesn't impress me. I can usually understand the reason why people love films but for this one? Really? Why it is so good? Surely the antihero had been better portrayed in film two years before with "Gone with the Wind".
The best film ever made? I think not.
"Kane" can't.

Score: ★★½

The Dead (1987)

"The Dead" feels like a commentary on high society and not one that's greatly original. It feels like the left over ashes of a cigar compromised of "La Dolce Vita" and "The Leopard" with all the tenderness of a Jane Austen piece...but then again, it's just ashes.
Just at the beginning of the 20th century in Dublin, a group of people assemble to have a party...the end.
It would be careless and crassly simple to write "The Dead" off as a vagrant and wandering piece that never cements its style and embroiled itself in me. Some movies have certain questionable aesthetic values (just look at anything Lars von Trier has made or the digital revolution—heck, even "City of God" might fit in this category) but the period piece has always stood the test of time. Even from the beginning of film, some of the earliest made movies were about a certain time and a certain place.
For us as the viewer, we are taken to Ireland where everyone sounds British to watch a story about people eating food and talking about politics/religion. Oh wait, that would imply that this movie is somewhat entertaining and "The Dead" is as far as you can get from a popcorn movie.
But movies cannot be judged on entertainment values alone, you'd have to eliminate half the famous movies if you simply hated the ones that didn't keep you riveted.
But with John Huston's "The Dead", which gives far too much credit to Anjelica Houston, who's barely in the movie, is just about a dinner.
While this dinner is being eaten and while the dances are being danced we have revolution brewing, mortality on the mind, the question of love lingers in the air, fidelity is all sounds rather interesting, right?
When three hostesses decide that they want to throw a dinner party, they invite all the usual suspects. There is your usual cast of characters: the ever-present trope of the late nephew and his wife, the drunk son, the has-been aunt, etc. etc. Cousins and friends come together for a night of drinks, dancing, and goose.
"The Dead" is curiously depressive, from moment one it wants to seize you by the throat with the moodiness that tries so desperately to stay around the next corner.
The flirting and reading and dancing and singing all seem to serve no point, which could be the point of the whole movie.
John Huston was in the last years of his life when he directed "The Dead" which was written by another Huston, Tony Huston. The film featured Anjelica Houston whose name got top billing because of her father. Really, she's almost non-present throughout the movie until the last few scene where she suddenly has a breakdown because of a song she heard.
Instead, "The Dead" is about Gabriel Conroy (Donal McCann) a man who I couldn't care less about.
If I'm expecting to empathize with a group of caricatures who seem to be miming out some humorless SNL shtick then think again.
There is nothing compelling about "The Dead" which has long monologues interrupted by the murmur of the dinner table. It's a dry and wintery cold tale that extends only to the select few who embrace it as a great movie...they seem to be more numerous than I would have assumed after finishing the movie.
There is no point to the film, besides the fact that we get to see a little bit more of a few characters. It only reinforces ideas that are present in everyone's mind. It's too cheerful to be about mortality, it's too depressing to be about love...I'm not going to say it's a hot mess because heat implies movement which is far from "The Dead".
Yes, I can see why some people like it. The last scenes make or break the film for you and for me, they broke it. Its time period had nothing to do with the rest of the story, the drunkenness is only present for you to abhor the piece. Its characters are flat, its story is wandering, and the point of the film, however morbid or lovely, just didn't ring true for me.
I don't care how many soliloquies you deliver to yourself while staring out a window while it snows...the sad fact is, probably no one cares.
"The Dead" is, ironically, one of the most lifeless movies you can see.

Score: ★

Strangers on a Train (1951)

"Strangers on a Train" always gets left out...for no good reason, either. It's the movie that's either forgotten completely or tacked onto the end of a sentence when talking about Hitchcock. This is easy to understand when the man made such works as "Rear Window", "Psycho", "Vertigo", "Notorious", "North by Northwest", "The Birds" and "Rope"...oh, that's right, and "Strangers on a Train".
The reason why "Strangers on a Train" deserves to be mentioned near the top of any Hitchcock list is because it shows how the director was feeling a decade before he became popular for it.
"Strangers on a Train" is nastier than "Vertigo" and it precedes it by seven years. It's a monster movie where the monster is a fully realized human as it is seen in "Psycho". It's about the damaged psyche and it's more fun to watch than nearly every other one of his movies.
At the movie's opening, Guy Haines (Farley Granger of "Rope" fame) tennis pro and average man is boarding a train, returning to his home. He's been away for a tennis tournament and as he is on the train, he is recognized by an avid fan/busybody Bruno Antony (Robert Walker doing his best evil Jack Lemmon impersonation). Bruno strikes up a conversation and the viewer is immediately granted the insight into his character. He is more defined than any stage persona in a theater...he's playfully insane.
There is a certain aura of Agatha Christie to the piece and Bruno's Mousetrap-esque ramblings only help to solidify that.
While on the train, with Bruno's mouth traveling faster than the engine, the two men are forced into having lunch together because of a full dining cart. Guy tolerates Bruno's presence; but he doesn't enjoy it.
Bruno's constant talking helps glide over the fact that he's a stalker. He knows everything about Guy's personal life, including a divorce that was meant to be secret and a relationship with a senator's daughter.
This is the deal: Guy's wife was cheating on him and got pregnant, she wants a divorce. While they were separated, Guy began seeing another woman and fell in love.
Now he's returning home to finalize his divorce so he can marry this senator's daughter...and Bruno has figured it all out. He's so proud of himself and pries deeper into Guy's life, salivating for the juicy details.
Before the beans have had a chance to spill, Bruno launches into his own personal problems. He has a rich father who is withholding of his wealth. He thinks that Bruno should have to work for a living...nobody puts Bruno in a corner.
Then comes a plan—Bruno believes that he has found the blueprint for the perfect murder. He hypothesizes that if two strangers were to meet, each one of them with someone to kill, they could kill each other's victim for them. He uses his father and Guy's wife as an example. The perfect murder would be for Bruno to kill Guy's wife and Guy to kill Bruno's father.
Haha, real funny, Bruno, now seriously, I've got to go.
"Strangers on a Train" predates so many thrillers including "Seconds"...the camera work is also reminiscent from that film.
Still present are the Hitchcockian classic tropes like the tangible homoeroticism, the sexual imagery, the fear of women, the wrong man, and the last minute pay-off. As opposed to "North by Northwest", this movie hesitates for not one moment before plunging its viewer into the suspense. As much as I am a fan of Granger, he is overshadowed by the deliciously evil Robert Walker.
When it reaches its climactic ending, "Strangers on a Train" could appear a little goofy, but its razor sharp writing and its psychotic nature make this picture one of Hitchcock's greatest.
It's hugely entertaining and wonderfully crazy.

Score: ★★★★

NYMPH( )MANIAC: Volume II (2014) (Not Rated)

This review contains SPOILERS!
The second part of Lars von Trier's film on sex and life: "NYMPH( )MANIAC: Volume II" proves that there is a stylistic shift even within the second part of a movie.
"Volume I" for lack of a better word, was fun. It had so much going on from the quirky black-and-white to the text that would appear on the screen in Tarantino fashion...and yes, the musical composition of sex that it was incredibly interesting.
Von Trier's fan-base has literally exploded because of the film and it's hard to see why when "Volume II" is included.
First of all, it should be said that the film itself is masterfully made. It's no wonder that von Trier is considered to be one of the great directors simply on style alone. I don't consider him a great weaver of stories and his dialogue sounds very stilted...yet this is all encompassing his world. His characters may not exist in our world and through them bits of our humanity is slowly revealed
That may not have made sense, but anyway.
Joe continues her story, telling Seligman how she came to be in the middle of an alley, beaten up. At the end of "Volume I", Joe lost the pleasure of sex. Her genitalia went numb...she couldn't feel anything. Now this could be taken literally or as a metaphor to how Joe and her lover's relationship—she is with the boy she lost her virginity to, though it's not half as romantic as it sounds—is slowly drowning Joe.
She exists outside the boundaries of normal human society and though she is prone to sex, she is somewhat in control. She has to have it; yet we all think that she would be fine without it. At one point in the story, Joe likens herself to a pedophile and though we may disagree with her, the likening itself proves that she's not completely devoid of what we consider to be "normality".
Because sex was everything to her, Joe is sent into a tailspin; but that doesn't keep her from sleeping around even more.
She verbally pens more chapters, even more quirkily titled than the first part—take for instance "Chapter 6: The Eastern and the Western Church (the silent duck)". Lars von Trier's writing seems very much like stream of conscience. What's great about this is that it takes you to a place that you can't trace back to an origin easily.
Joe's self-loathing is countered by her constant self-praising which would make sense because she is a pessimist. Seligman thinks that man has a great deal of good in him. Joe retaliates by saying that the true essence of man is hypocrisy.
She makes several blanket statements about humanity. Man is driven to orgasm. Man is driven to kill. Man is prone to hypocrisy.
There are truths in all these arguments and lies in all of's a deep movie, though so vagrantly shallow.
"NYMPH( )MANIAC" is a colossal film, if for the wrong reasons.
It founds its ideas so well that the purposeful degradation of those ideas are frustrating to the viewer...that's intentional.
As Joe proceeds with her sexual escapades, she experiments with S&M. She meets a reclusive and non-sexual sadist named K (Jamie Bell). Many of the characters in the film are just given letters of the alphabet to name them, including B, P, L, H, and Mrs. H. The cast is formidable and everyone gives great performances, Mr. LaBeouf included.
The movie does belong to Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stellan Skarsgård...they give tremendous turns that deserve Oscar nominations...alas, this is not the kind of film that the Academy recognizes.
There are moments of tremendous beauty in the film. The simple appearance of a naked tree on the top of a hill can make the viewer's heart swell with unbelievable emotions.
Lars von Trier should be commended for his handling of the subject. He never loses sight of the emotion of the characters.
But then, there's the ending. We all knew it was going to nasty...but I didn't expect this. I hated it.
That being said, after thinking on it for a while, I don't know how else it should have ended. It perfectly sums up the ending thoughts of the well as bringing back the idea of predator, prey, and fly fishing.
"NYMPH( )MANIAC" is a blistering success and one that I may never see again...but as the poet Justin Bieber said: "never say never".
It's gloriously beautiful, carelessly sexual, violent, disturbing, and—I hate myself for saying this so early—one of the year's most innovative films.

Score: ★★★½

NYMPH( )MANIAC: Volume I (2014) (Not Rated)

This review contains SPOILERS!
Lars von Trier lives for controversy. He adores it, he loves it, it's what keeps him going. Seeing a film like "NYMPH( )MANIAC" or "Nymphomaniac" coming from him is absolutely no surprise...seeing as just in the title, he tries to push the boundaries a little bit more. But the sad fact that Mr. von Trier can't seem to avoid is that he is a very sentimental man and his latest film shows that...and it shows a whole lot more.
Lars von Trier has made some doozy films, most notorious probably being "Antichrist"(a film that he later quotes in "Volume II" which assumes that everyone who sees "NYMPH( )MANIAC" is a Trier-ier) ; but he's not the most shocking director in the world, not even close in fact...that being said, his films aren't for the faint of heart.
Stirring up as much press as he can, von Trier's decision to use Shia LaBeaof (I am not famous anymore) in the film has actually helped add to the mound of controversy surrounding the film, which is probably what the director wanted in the first place.
"NYMPH( )MANIAC" begins with a woman named Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) lying in the middle of an alley, beaten up. The sounds of the rain hitting the tops of trashcans, the wind blowing the chains lying around her fill the viewer's ears. Then, a hardcore rock song blasts into sound. This is what much of the film feels like, a quiet moment followed by a punch to the's not exactly subtle; but hey, it wasn't meant to be.
A passing man named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) sees her and tells her that he's going to call an ambulance; but she tells him not to. Instead, he brings her back to his house and serves her tea and pastries and she starts telling him her story.
She addresses herself as a nymphomaniac from the first moment of her story. She tells him that her sex addiction isn't exactly a sex addiction; but more like a lust for lust's sake. We are taken back into her mind, in chapter form, to see how she came to be lying in the middle of an alley, bloodied up and bruised.
Her rescuer, Seligman, is an observant and caring man. He rarely ever holds back from voicing his psychoanalytical opinions, often drawing from other sources to make his point. He likens fairly much everything to fly fishing.
Joe's story is sexual, but it is also about sexual hurdles. It's about sexual awakening, and manipulation. The film seems to be implying that a nymphomaniac can be a good person; but Joe does not exemplify this because her own manipulation fills her up.
Joe goes back to start her sexual awakening, which begins at age two, which she discovered that she was a woman. Von Trier tries too hard to be shocking, he tries to make us uncomfortable; but it doesn't always work, because his tenderness shows too often...and do his inconsistencies.
Joe's mother, she unfussily describes as "a cold b**ch", is detached from her daughter's life. Her father is a pragmatic poet, but just a pragmatic. Von Trier's script is most confusing when describing Joe's father (played by Christian Slater). He is a man of science—as part of her exploration, Joe reads pages of books about human anatomy—yet he has whimsical stories about the trees and flora.
Talking to Seligman, Joe recounts the time that she lost her virginity and when she joined a club that banned the girls from ever having sex with a man more than one time. Headed by her best friend, B (Sophie Kennedy Clark), Joe starts to live the dogma of the cultish group. B has always been the one that pushed Joe's sexuality farther. One scene has Joe reliving a dare. The two of them on a train wanted to see how many men they could have sex with before the ride was over...the winner would get a bag of chocolates. It seems trivial, but the girls have such a careless view of sex, which turns into an addiction for Joe.
Like the lead character from "Shame", sex becomes a release for Joe. She has to have that escape.
The scene that best showcases this is a hospital scene when Joe randomly has sex with a few of the staff to make her forget what's happening around her.
The final moments of Volume I imply that the next part is going to be even be cautious.
What surprised me more than anything else was the stance on sex Lars von Trier was taking. Sex is a dangerous act to him, it can tear homes apart, make people irrational, damage the mind.
It's not what we've come to expect from him. Then again, the movie is quite touching at moments, and no I don't mean that in any other way.
"NYMPH( )MANIAC" throws everything and the kitchen sink at the viewer including on text on screen, black-and-white, archive footage, Edgar Allen Poe, and Cantus Firmus. From the Fibonacci sequence to the best way to catch fish, von Trier has crafted an intense and engrossing film.
"NYMPH( )MANIAC: Volume I" is very intriguing and very hypnotic. It's not von Trier's most shocking work, but that doesn't mean you should go see it.
The best advice I can say is know your limits...and see this film if you want. It's moving, pretentious, and leaves the door open for the second part of the film.
There's a lot going on here to either make or break the movie for the viewer. I really liked it, but I don't think I would recommend it.

Score: ★★★½

Olympia (1938)

Leni Riefenstahl's movie about the 1936 Olympics is most famously cut into two parts, though it should be viewed as a whole worked instead of the sum of bookends.
Here I will review both works and judge them as a whole.

PART 1: Festival of the Nations
It begins with the Greek columns and the naked human form. With sculptures that melt into real flesh, athleticism is the center of "Festival of the Nations".
If you know your history, you know that in 1936, we really weren't that concerned about the Nazis. In fact, two years later Hitler was infamously awarded the title of "Man of the Year" by Time magazine. To put that in comparison, the most recently named was Pope Francis.
But in 1936, the world's most formidable athletes arrived in Berlin to compete in the Olympics. Having seen "Triumph of the Will" which was made three years before this film was released and only a year before the actual competition, you would expect the Nazi propaganda to fill the screen with unbearable shots of the German flag. Not seeing this, it's a lot for the Western mind to wrap around when the film doesn't shy away from the many American and Great Britain wins that occurred. In fact, the film makes pains to show them, praising the athletes with its slow motion extolling and the way the camera ogles the most pleasing angles on the men and women.
Even more shocking to us is when Jesse Owens and the other "black Americans" get their dues. In real life, Hitler refused to shake Owens' hand after the athlete won many gold medal simply because he was black; but in the film, Hitler just presides over the ceremony like a majestic eagle.
Now this isn't to say that there isn't a lot of heil-ing going on here because every time a German or another nation that recognized Hitler won (such as Italy), the arms went straight up towards the Führer.
Starting out with a brief history on the Olympic ceremonies which culminates in a very interesting moment when an ancient runner travels through time and races into the Berlin stadium with the torch and lights the Olympic flame.
This scene reminds us that Leni Riefenstahl was a powerful artist and a very talented director. I doubt you'd be able to convey as much in a modern day movie without using least, not an American movie.
The events that are documented start with track and field and end with the marathon, which, I'll admit, is some of the most powerful film making I've seen in a long time. While the discus throw may seem trivial, it builds in momentum as the men and women through themselves over the high jump, then to the pole vault.  In the marathon, Riefenstahl pulls out all the stops. The music crescendos and the men collapse at the end.
Propaganda aside, Riefenstahl has crafted an ode to athleticism. It's a powerful movie...and one that demands to be seen.

PART II: Festival of Beauty
As compared with "Festival of the Nations", the second part of Leni Riefenstahl's documentary on the 1936 Berlin Olympics is much more individualized and even more celebratory of the human body.
The movie opens with runners jogging alongside a riverbank. The camera slyly captures them as they jump and swim and then go to the steam room. Riefenstahl, whether it's propaganda or not, seems to favor the male form more. Women do appear on screen sometime but it pales in comparison with the male-dominated time. Perhaps the film is viewing true athleticism as a more masculine act...perhaps not.
"Festival of Beauty" is much less about the competition as "Festival of the Nations" is. Instead, as its title states, it is about the beauty.
There are moments in the film that are glorious, like the hypnotic high dives. There are also moments that seem eerie, like the equestrian dressage. The horses seem like slaves to their riders. They are thrown over hurdles, around obstacles, and into the water. The riders get thrown, this is the event where we see the most injuries. No matter how much slow motion camera work she uses, Riefenstahl can't seem to make this event seem athletic or beautiful. Though, I doubt the film would have been complete if it was excluded.
"Festival of Beauty" seems even less like propaganda than "Festival of the Nations" did because I couldn't find a single appearance of Hitler in the film. The swastika stays on the arms of the Germans and the arms go up in heil fashion; but you can't really find overbearing Nazi dogma in the film. It is much more about the athletes, the competition, and the Olympics.
"Festival of Beauty" includes the equestrian sports, the water sports, and the rest of the track and field.
It concluded with the high dives, which are the most transcendent moments of the film. By the time the movie is finished, Leni Riefenstahl has proven that she is a force of the film word.

The film should be viewed as one work, though differences pop up from part 1 and part 2. The key differences don't matter when the arc of the work is about athleticism and strength. You may find yourself turned off of the film because of Hitler's form and the Nazi flags. But Riefenstahl's movie is the quintessential sports film, never duplicated in its style or beauty.

Score: ★★★★

The Exorcist (1973) (R)

The juggernaut of horror movies, the impassible and inescapable landmark film that succeeded in every way possible even for being such a controversial movie, "The Exorcist" seems to exist out of time. It has aged extremely well considering the physical special effects of its contemporaries still don't look as good, or as frightening, as it does.
Probably the most infamous image of the film is Max von Sydow emerging from a cab on a foggy night, wreathed in shadow. The other moment would be little Linda Blair's head spinning around on her torso. Two very different moments, and neither explain what the film is about.
The film, more so than anything else, is uncovering the innermost emotion...wait, let me explain.
The movie opens in Iraq where a man is assisting on an archaeological dig when he finds something. It's a little statuette of a head, but it obviously freaks him out. He meanders around the dig, through the town, and at other sites; and we begin to see that he has awakened something. He has brought to life an ancient power...perhaps?
Flash over the Georgetown where we flip through many different characters as the story starts to weave together. Whether you like him or not, you can't deny that William Friedkin was a powerful director. He adds enough intrigue to each character to keep us interested.
We meet Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), an actress whose work is very well-known. She is planning on moving to Los Angeles soon with her daughter Regan (Linda Blair). The two of them have a great relationship, seemingly too ideal. Naturally the perfection is interrupted by the presence of something in the attic.
Chris is woken up during the night by sounds coming from above her, she assumes that it's rats and tells her servants about it so that they can put out traps.
But the noises keep getting louder and eventually her curiosity gets the better of her and Chris goes to investigate.
Meanwhile, we are given a montage-like look into the life of a priest, Father Karras. He is a specialist is psychology as well as a priest and he's beginning to have his doubts about the faith. He confides this with another priest, who begs him to stay with the church because he's "one of the best they've got". Set in an emotional tailspin because of the deteriorating state of his mother, Karras is the backbone of the film, though it doesn't seem apparent at first glimpse.
The bumps in the night get louder and soon little Regan starts acting a wee bit odd. For those who have seen the film, you know what I'm talking about...for those of you who haven't, you're in for some nasty surprises.
For this reason alone, "The Exorcist" could be seen as a simple, gross-out horror film. It relies on its moments of cringe-inducing make-up to be scary; but that's not giving it its full credit. For the film is entirely character driven and it's the people that the story is about that make it compelling, not that weird moments of horror that happen to them.
But anyways, I was talking about reveling the inner emotions. Father Karras is having trouble grasping this situation with his mother...but hearing of Regan's sudden changes help him confront all the emotions inside—even if his answer to this is something that an audience wouldn't necessarily enjoy. I find it truthful. For this reason, "The Exorcist" is Father Karras' movie, because it hinges on what he does.
I do have slight problems with the movie. When did the possession start? What caused it? There are certain moments that don't make sense to me like a reaction to fake holy water or the desecration of a statue in a church.
Yet, when the final frames have faded, I don't really care. These aren't gigantic plot holes, they're present for a reason.
Further still, the film is remarkably well made and some of the more beautiful cinematic moments include Ellen Burstyn walking down a windy sidewalk while the infamous score takes over or the way the camera spins around the house, dizzying the viewer.
It's a marvelous movie, in technical aspects alone. But all-inclusive, it remains one of the most impactful horror films ever made and above everything else, incredibly entertaining.

Score: ★★★★

A Night at the Opera (1935)

After the success of their movie "Duck Soup", the Marx brothers found themselves needing to one-up their own work. Along comes "A Night at the Opera" which is a more coherent work than "Duck Soup"; but it's not quite as funny.
A mockery of Hollywood and the machine that makes one famous, "A Night at the Opera" places Otis Driftwood (Groucho) as an opera business manager. He gladly accepts the checks of one of the opera company's chief benefactors: Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont).
What is more interesting in the film is what happens behind the curtain. You have a pompous tenor named Lassparri who can't seem to get enough of himself. He's in love with the leading lady, Rosa (Kitty Carlisle). Then there's Ricardo (Allan Jones) a man with a gorgeous voice who doesn't have the experience to get on stage.
"A Night at the Opera" makes fun of the Catch-22 of the movie: you have to have experience to sing; but you can't sing without experience.
Lassparri's dressing boy (Harpo), like many others in the film, is someone who shouldn't be pushed around. After receiving one too many blows to the head, he knocks his boss out cold while Ricardo's old friend, Florello (Chico) decides that now is the best time to boost his friend's career. Ricardo's singing voice could best be described as anti-operatic as opposed to Rosa's. His singing voice brings back references to Bing Crosby and the like, it's a crooning voice instead of a powerful tenor...for whatever it's worth.
Florello and Otis almost strike a deal that will mean Ricardo's future is saved; but that doesn't quite happen.
When the opera company moves to America and they take Lassparri and Rosa with them, Otis doesn't know about the stowaways in his trunk. The trio made up of Ricardo, Chico, and Harpo get stuffed inside Otis' huge trunk and they end up on the steamship headed towards America.
Lots of the gags in the movie work, like the most famous: stuffing a small room with too many bodies. They file in one after the other with some poor excuse to be present until the door is opened and they all come tumbling out.
Then again, some of the gags don't work like the aforementioned negotiation of the contract.
There are moments that the movie pauses, but in these pauses there is both greatness and dullness. Coming out of the cramped cabin in search of food, the trio of stowaways join in the festivities on the ship. Ricardo sings some songs and then we get a break from everything to see Chico play the piano. Like a duet sung between lovers earlier in the movie, this has no place in the film; and it only gets worse when Harpo gets on the piano. However, when the harp enters, there is a moment of silence, crushing silence. It's a beautiful scene sandwiched between awkward moments.
That being said, "A Night at the Opera" is delightfully entertaining and quite crass for the day. It's a reminder that niche comedies like "30 Rock" would come later on.
But it isn't as good as "Duck Soup", which is a shame.

Score: ★★★½

Blowup (1966)

This review contains SPOILERS!
There's a large problem with Michelangelo Antonioni's film "Blowup" besides the fact that its plot, ending, and lead character make no sense: it's boring. Sense has often not been made in movies, it's something that we find forgivable, particularly when it comes to the greats. With Kubrick we claim that it all means something, with Bergman we claim that it all means something, and with Antonioni it must all mean something. Sadly, I don't think it does and if I'm wrong, I really couldn't care less.
For some reason, I couldn't get Tarkovsky's "Solaris" out of my head as I watched "Blowup", I still can't point my finger at the reason why this is, but I assume it's because of the long stretches of the film when nothing is said. In the moments that the jazz score doesn't fuel the film there is an almost palpable quiet.
Thomas (David Hemmings, irksome and pretentious) is a photographer who really likes to spend his life in a state of defiance. He thumbs his nose at the rules, the law, and other people. He wants what he wants and he's not above asking for it or simply taking it. He's a selfish character and never really explained. Not wearing his heart of his sleeve, the viewer has to hypothesize the thoughts running through his head. The power that Antonioni gives his viewer is normally something that I would normally find attractive; but not here.
For much of the first part of the movie, nothing happens and for the second part not much happens either and in there somewhere is a murder and what tries its best to be a thriller.
In the early scenes of the movie, Thomas drives back and forth in town in his nice car. The actual opening of the movie gives us a company of mimes mobbing a crowd. They run back and forth and harass people, apparently looking for money. This is juxtaposed next to what seems to be Holocaust victims walking out of a concentration camp. I just don't get it...and the film is so reluctant to even hint at what it's saying that it becomes a chore to watch instead of a joy.
Sticking with his mule-headedness and pompousness, Thomas goes to a park and takes several photos of a couple in a romantic moment, they don't realize they are being photographed. When he is spotted, the woman runs up to him and demands the film, citing her right to privacy. But Thomas doesn't care, he just shrugs his shoulders and walks off...what a gentlemen.
There's a lot of scenes that don't seem important like Thomas buying a large propellor because he thinks it's beautiful. He visits an antique shop and doesn't buy anything. There are two girl who want him to photograph them, but he just won't...because he won't.
But the pivotal moment of the movie comes when the woman from the park (Vanessa Redgrave) tracks Thomas down and demands the film again. He toys with her a lot, telling her that she's be a perfect model. The scene seems to take a large part of the entire screen time of "Blowup" but not much happens in it and the actions that do occur are completely insane.
Midway through their conversation, Thomas turns the music on and the woman can't help but start dancing but Thomas asks her not to. Then they smoke a cigarette and she takes her shirt off...what?
Eventually, he tricks her into thinking that she's got the film, but he hangs onto the negatives. He starts developing the pictures, which are beautiful and he discovers hidden people when he starts to blowup the pictures...hence the name.
Not sure what to do, Thomas makes no rational decisions. The two girls who wanted to be photographer arrive at his studio and what ensues is a rape-threesome in which the character violently undress each other while screaming and laughing. This added onto the way that Thomas treats his exclusively female models like furniture gives the film its chauvinism or chauvinistic commentary that is the final nail in its dismal coffin.
I'll give it this, it has a great ending, though it makes no sense whatsoever. The mimes reappear and play tennis and Thomas watches. For whatever reason, he accepts their fantasy and as the final frames fade out the viewer can hear the imaginary noises of a tennis game.
Dissatisfaction is hardly the word. "Blowup" isn't a let-down because it was never exciting enough to be promising. The irrationality of the characters is what the movie is shooting for, no pun intended. It's about a character making decisions that don't seem logical. It's about fantasy and it's about photography.
But it's also an exercise in futility because, while somewhat odd with its perspective changes—sure to inspire works like "The Conversation"—it's never interesting enough to be any good.

Score: ★★

Moonstruck (1987) (PG)

The movie when Cher reached the peak of her cinematic fame, "Moonstruck" remains a bitterly perceptive and altogether enjoyable film that influences the romantic comedy genre more than what would be expected.
Set in New York focusing on an Italian family with much more cheeriness than Scorsese ever managed, "Moonstruck" exemplifies an effortless watchability as it delves into many lives. Loretta Castrioni (Cher) is a peppy, sassy secretary for a funeral home. She's content with her life, considering that she thinks she's unlucky in love, in situation, and in life. She's convinced that because she didn't have a traditional wedding—she got married at the court house—she has been cursed ever since; but she doesn't have the good graces to admit to herself that she thinks she's cursed. Her husband died seven years ago after being hit by a bus.
Now Loretta is dating an older gentleman named Johnny (Danny Aiello) who proposes to her at the movie's opening. She scolds him for not proposing in the right way, making him get down on his knee and give her a ring. She is of the opinion that doing it all over in the right, traditional way will bring her good luck to weigh out all the bad.
But she doesn't have much time to celebrate with Johnny before he gets on a plane and heads out to Sicily to be with his dying mother. Before he gets on the plane he gives Loretta a phone number to call. When the phone is answered she is to ask for Ronny—Johnny's estranged brother with five years of bad blood between them.
She agrees and figures that she can coax him into coming to their wedding, but soon forgets about it when Johnny leaves the country,
The situation of the home-front is a little awkward. Loretta's mother and father don't seem to be getting along that fantastically. Her father rejects the idea of Johnny as a son-in-law and balks at the proposition of paying for a wedding...but he must if Loretta is to do everything right this time.
Romantic comedies prey on the idea of disorder because that's where the intimate moments and the romantics spring up in. It's not necessarily true, but it's nice to think so.
As such, there is a lot of imperfection to "Moonstruck", not just in how the characters interact but how the film is actually produced. It's small peas compared to the general pleasure that is viewing the film.
A strew of hilarious and interesting characters each get captivated by the romantic moon that appears over New York at night. It's a romantic setting for a love story, but one that strays far from the fairy tale lore.
Once Loretta gets in contact with Johnny's brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage), she finds him immediately and assuredly hard-headed. Five years ago, he accidentally lost his hand in a baking accident that was not Johnny's fault, but the two haven't spoken since.
Loretta, and the viewer, both think this is ridiculous and she says as much to him...or she tries to but she's just not as articulate as she would like to be so a long speech about him being a wolf who gnawed off his own paw ensues.
What "Moonstruck" is doing is giving us caricatures that mimic life. It's giving us bite sized pieces of humorous takes on our own life. It's a delightfully enchanting movie, one that hardly has aged at all, though its stars certainly have.
The kind of film that would help movies like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" be made, "Moonstruck is just so darn charming.

Score: ★★★½

Her (2013) (R)

This is a guest review by KJ Craig

Theodore Twombly [Joaquin Phoenix] begins the movie talking about how love makes you feel like you’re a part of something. Part of someone. It’s one of the best opening monologues about love I’ve heard in a movie… Did he just say “Love, Loretta”?

Theodore is employed at “”, where he writes letters for other people. He speaks it to the computer, the computer writes it, product delivered. He turns on the tiny Bluetooth equivalent in his ear, and his phone reads all his emails and texts to him as he heads home… Alone. He stays up, has sexy talk with unknown women of the internet, then goes to sleep repeat the next day. 

He’s intrigued by an ad for OS1, the world's first Artificial Intelligence-based operating system. He appears to buy one immediately. After a few questions, he meets Samantha [Scarlett Johansen]. How did she come up with her name? She took .4 seconds to read a book of baby names and liked that one the most. Duh. She immediately begins to help him organize, where we discover more depth to Mr. Twombly. Samantha not only helps him organize his files and e-mails, but helps him organize his life and helps him truly live again. So cheesey and lactose filled, but alas that’s the story.

I was extremely excited my local theater got “Her”. It was an unsuspected surprise and I’m glad I had the opportunity to watch it. I thought the movie was beautifully done. Everything was clearly in a future, more technology advanced society… It looked like what our future could look like in 30, 40 years. Hipsters would adore the costume design, and it was consistent throughout the movie. The acting was great. I think Joaquin deserved at least a nomination in this year’s Oscars, seeing as he was basically alone in most of the shots, responding to what was a voice in his head. Scarlett did a great job as well, conveying the emotion without overdoing it. Amy Adams and Chris Pratt did their roles splendidly. The camera work was great. Arcade Fire produced a pretty good soundtrack! Like I said, hipster love. This movie could have been way overdone, but it wasn’t. The only issue I had with the movie was the plot itself… Exactly what it was awarded for.

I personally believe “new” and “fresh” ideas are given too much credit often times, like somehow that means it has to be good because it’s original. The opening was great. How people were developed was awesome. Samantha shows up and is an epic hero that is doing so much for Theodore! Huzzah Samantha! But then there’s this moment where things got… Strange. There’s no better word for it. It was something I could have looked past, but then the rest of the movie builds off that moment and occasionally meets up with other plot points later. Although I understand she’s an AI, Samantha is given way too much power over what she can and can’t do. I can believe that she would be capable of evolving emotions, but the moment she can feel, as in the sensory input of touch… Just no. 

Overall the elements of this movie were great. Ruined half-way through by the plot. Way to go, Oscar winning Spike Jonze. 

Score: ★★½

Poltergeist (1982)

"Poltergeist" is a revolutionary horror film. Not only does it include many of the tropes now found in horror flicks—in all fairness, it can't be said that this film originated them—but it also manages to squash the giddy pleasure of watching other people suffer into a film. If you think about it, horror films shouldn't work because it's all about terrible situations happening to non-deservant people. Then again, we all know someone is escaping, we love's this expectation that gives Haneke's "Funny Games" its power...but that's another day.
The film is determined to prove to everyone that Steven Spielberg had a hand in making the movie. He was the producer and writer of the film, but not the director since he was making "E.T." at the time—the film that "Poltergeist" most resembles. Both occur in cookie-cutter type suburban neighborhoods and both films deal with the a family bonding during a difficult time. But I think that Spielberg is given way too much credit here, though it appears to be his style we see on screen. The credit for "Poltergeist's" success should lay more on the shoulders of its helmsman, Tobe Hooper. Hooper's only other credible film is "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" so his style really never cements. "Massacre" was gritty, nauseating, and intense. It was hyper-disturbing and low on scares. "Poltergeist" lives for the scare moments, it searches them out and it brings them to the foreground. But more than just jump-scares, the one thing the movie does better than any other contemporary I've seen is install a sense of suspense. It takes those long pauses and uses them to its advantage.
Simply by the name of the movie and the eerie music that accompanies the piece, we all know that things aren't going to turn out well. This, added on to the infamous shot of Heather O'Rourke placing her little hands up against a TV screen and the terrifically quote-able line "They're here!" is enough to give the modern day viewer a clue of what they're in for.
"The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" was an invasive film. Invasive in mind and invasive in body. With "Poltergeist" we get invasion of home, the least sacred.
There had been haunted movies in the past like "The Haunting", but they rarely delivered a satisfying explanation for why this disturbances would occur. In this fashion "Poltergeist" is no different and begins to get a little silly near the end...but that's not before a fantastic first half.
Set in an almost picture perfect neighborhood, we are shown a typical family of five—mother, father, and three children. The youngest child, a girl named Carol Anne (O'Rourke) has nighttime walks when her father leaves the television on. The first few shots of the film reminded me of David Cronenberg's "Videodrome" simply for the technological commentary it seemed to be making...I stick with my first thought after the last frame.
Her parents think that she's just sleep walking so they don't think anything of her talking to the television filled withs static. But we know that there is something more sinister happening here.
Later in the film, when the ghostly apparitions have finally started to show themselves often, the family is taken down a stress filled tunnel of emotions. They call in paranormal investigators the lead doctor played by "Network" actress Beatrice Straight. There is something comical about these scenes, when the investigators are finally seeing their beliefs manifested in such wild ways, they had never even dreamed of.
But "Poltergeist" proves a great point about horror films, they have no idea how to end. They write themselves in a corner and then they can't finish it without feeling phony. Even Spielberg couldn't get it right and this trend would continue until today. But Hooper manages to pull the most from every scene, even when it's ridiculous. The effects aren't anything compared to what we have today, but this horror film is a gentle reminder that its absence would deny us films like "Nightmare on Elm Street", "The Sixth Sense", and "The Conjuring". Indeed some of the better scare moments have been stolen by other directors in other films.
If blatant thievery isn't the highest form of a compliment, I don't know what is.

Score: ★★★

Jezebel (1938)

There's a key difference between Julie and Scarlett, the two manipulative women from epics about the civil war—separated by only a year in their release: the difference being that I don't think that Scarlett can help it. Much like the "Gone with the Wind" protagonist, Julie (Bette Davis) seems to get her kicks by making the men squirm as she controls situations better than a puppeteer. She takes and gives just enough to have everyone eating from her hand, anything less is unacceptable. For whatever reason, the Civil War is a perfect time to showcase horrible women so in that way "Jezebel" could seem like a flimsy copyright free version of Margaret Mitchell's book.
At the movie's beginning, we are to assume that Julie is the talk of the town...since everyone can't stop talking about her, that's reason enough to believe them. They chit-chat, in a bar of all places—gasp—about the romantic doings of the girl. After much loud talk and period piece references, we get catapulted over to a party that Julie has thrown herself. Cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends arrive all very prim and proper, happy in the traditions of New Orleans.
The northern manners are considered vulgar and modern, they are spurned. Imagine everyone's surprise when Julie shows up late to her party wearing her riding clothes—gasp! Not having time to change, Julie relies on her charm and faux bubbly personality to win people over. The Southerners smile at her face and throw daggers at her back when she's gone...the gossip has never been more disgusting or more truthful.
The man who Julie is engaged to is Preston Dillard (Henry Fonda). This is actually the second time that they have been engaged, the first time didn't seem to work out; yet Julie's claws had sunk deep enough into Preston's skin that it brings him back for more. He's a successful and honest banker who is in a very important meeting when Julie comes to fetch him so he can watch her have a dress fitting. He tells her he's sorry and to run along.
That is not a good answer. She storms into the bank and her manipulation begins. She lies and flirts, bats her eyes and scowls, pulls every trick out of her bag to make him suffer and suffer her does, but he sticks with his job.
Going off to the dress fitting, Julie decides that she will buy a red dress—gasp!—instead of a white one. She will wear it to a ball where everyone will be. You see, it's just not normal for an unmarried girl to wear anything but white at a ball—Julie will appear like a harlot.
But she wants to make her fiance suffer so she buys the dress anyways.
It's this dress that makes everything fall apart.
Preston is told that he should beat Julie with a stick and that she'll love it, he considers it for a long time but never carries through with this thought. Still, there is an underlying misogyny to the picture that is never overshadowed by the redemptive nature of the ending.
Bette Davis is conniving and fun, but my main problem lies with how the movie handles the situations. A red dress is scandalous enough to ignite and entire town's gossip and a slap on the face becomes way much more. It's a movie about the times it was made, yet it feels very much like a 20th century take on the 19th century. At one point a character ever screams out "It's 1852. It's 1852!" just in case we were in doubt about anything.
Broiled for us is Southern tradition which is showcased as pig-headed and ignorant.
The emotion of "Jezebel" is what is surprising. It's a fascinating work in character growth and despair; but beyond that, it gets a little too odd and too melodramatic for its own good.

Score: ★★½

Keep the Lights On (2012) (Not Rated)

"Keep the Lights On" exemplifies what I both love and hate about the indie wave of gay cinema from recent years. Though I still hold on that Xavier Dolan is the master of this sub-sub-genre, what these films can pronounce of themselves is that they feature stellar, genuine performances and they look fantastic...sadly, this is usually not enough.
This is true of Ira Sachs' film of love and heartbreak: "Keep the Lights On". The independent film has done a lot for cinema, most of it is seen in the way characters talk and interact. Writers and directors strives for realism, but what usually occurs on screen is some hyper-sensitive dance-around-the-issue dialogue and acting.
Take for instance a scene that plops us in the middle of the story and the tension. The two lovers that the story concerns have been pulled apart by the fabric of the universe and drug addiction. Platonic to a fault, our main protagonist sits outside the door while his boyfriend has sex with a male prostitute. Half-way through, he is called in to the room and he holds his lover's hand while they finish. The point of the scene is quite symbolic, that our main character is so in love with this other person that he is willing to literally do anything. This, added to sorrowful, apologetic way they hold hands, means that they are still somewhat in tact even through all the drugs, sex, and alcohol...that's the point, but would this ever happen in real life?
Erik (Thure Lindhardt) is a homosexual director of films that no ones sees. The opening scene observes him calling up guys and trying to get laid. He is successful, this is when he meets Paul (Zachary Booth). The two share a passionate night together—the film is noted for its sexual frankness—and Erik leaves his phone number.
Because of time jumps and large gaps in the story, we are never told how the two really come to be a couple, the movie just throws us that plot device without showing it to us. This is common, because while the relationship spans years and years, it's only a few pivotal moments that are important enough to appear on screen.
Paul is still in the closet, he has a girlfriend; but is so drawn to Erik that we all realize his hetero-relationship won't last for long. The two young men start a romance.
Low on plot, high on characters "Keep the Lights On" gives us two characters that we equally are drawn to and repulsed by.
Erik is a clingy sort, he's the right fit for Paul; but he's co concerned with other people that he doesn't take care of himself.  Paul, on the other hand, is as selfish as Erik is selfless. In one of the first romantic scenes filmed, Paul pulls out a crack pipe and lights up several times, while telling Erik that everyone has their vices.
It doesn't become a huge problem; but they do fight about it a lot. Paul is jealous that Erik would flirt with other guys and Erik is mad about the drug abuse that turns Paul into a zombie. Paul will wander the streets and not respond to calls, he'll vanish for days on end.
The film is very reminiscent to the book I'm Not Myself These Days and I had my own problems with that. It's a work designed to evoke an emotional response, and it's really not good for anything else.
That being said, its emotions are very real and very intimate. I had no problem empathizing with the situations.
It all sounds very crass when written down and it only gets worse. Erik has a friend who wants a baby and she's asked him to help her conceive. He's not sure whether he will or not, mainly because he doesn't want to offend Paul...he really wants this to work out.
Beginning in the late 90s, the film spans a great span of time, but doesn't have the maturity of "Laurence Anyways" to span these years with painful accuracy—ironically, that's the problem I had with the film.
Time distends, the problems come and go and the poignancy of the film flares up, then fades. It's a film of love, crafted with love. It's not a fun film, but it does seem accurate. It's sensitive portrayal of love as a hard and strenuous emotion is the modern day view.
It's somewhat laborious to watch; but I do think it is worth it.

Score: ★★★

Gladiator (2000) (R)

Although its fan base is incredibly daunting and a tad aggressive, channeling their favorite moments from the movie, "Gladiator" is a simplistic movie, one based on revenge and honor.
Maximus (Russell Crowe) is a loyal general to Rome. He's an avid fan-boy of the current emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) and does everything in his power—which seems immense—to bring glory for the emperor. The movie's beginning shows us a battle that would seem to be the average battle waged between the Romans and whoever they happen to be fighting. Naturally, the Romans win under the great instruction and courage-inducing actions of their superhero general Maximus.
At the end of the battle, we flash over to Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) and Lucilla (Connie Nielsen), the son and daughter of Marcus Aurelius. They have an interesting relationship...but more on that later. Commodus seems power hungry and a bit whiny...we'll see a lot of him in the movie.
Maximus is reveling in the glory of winning the war, the company is joined by Commodus who doesn't seem to unhappy for missing the war, and the homesick feelings take over Maximus. All he wants to do is go home to his family and be with his wife and son; but the emperor has different ideas for him. Marcus Aurelius is not pleased with the injustice that he sees in his son and he offers the Caesar-ship to Maximus who is shocked by the is Commodus when he hears about it. He does what every love-hungry son does with his father gives the throne to a loyal general instead of honoring the heir—he kills him.
Now Rome falls to him and he asks for Maximus' allegiance—he's given the proverbial cold shoulder. Irate at being spurned, Commdus demands the head of Maximus, who shows us once again his superhero powers and escapes the men going to kill him. Fleeing back home, Maximus experiences panic and comes to his estate with the full realization that his worst fears have become true—his wife and son have been killed.
After burying them, Maximus is kidnapped by slave traders who use him as meat for the gladiator rings.
Not to be pushed around, Maximus remains very quiet until his gets in the arena and he stretches his muscles—they don't have any kryptonite so he's safe.
Hell-bent on revenge, Maximus knows that he will have to kill Commodus or die trying, and we as the audience are completely fine with this.
Though the movie jumps around and its characters are never really nailed down—I think the worst offender is Lucilla who ranges from being scared for her life and from the advances are her incestuous brother to being a sexual being who radiates seduction towards both Maximus and Commodus...the writing justifies this a little bit on with the "oh, she does anything to survive" line. Yes, it's stupid, but it does work—the film remains very entertaining.
If you read Roger Ebert's review of "Gladiator" which he really hated, his point was that the movie was too depressing.
My thoughts: so?
Ebert compared the movie with Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark" because he assumed that all gladiator movies are good fun and have happy endings.
The movie is meant to be dark which is why impending death is so often foreshadowed throughout the entirely of the film. Lines about mortality never cease to flow from the characters' mouths. Death is a huge part of the film.
Revenge is also a large part as is honor. Marcus Aurelius, in angelic hyperbole, states that he wishes something better for Rome. His longing is that the Senate should be reinstated instead of the monarchy...democracy is good and all that other stuff.
Maximus is loyal to Marcus Aurelius even after the Caesar's death, his mind is stuck in the rut that is the philosophy of the emperor.
Yet he shows this by kicking major butt.
The film, which went on the win 5 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor, really is nothing spectacular in film making. Ridley Scott has been known to make visually stunning films and "Gladiator" is a very attractive movie, but it doesn't compare to his science fiction masterpieces. It's a film entirely based on the attraction you feel towards Maximus, which is an easy likening to calculate. Maximus, much like SuperMan, is a moral hero. He doesn't kill unless he has to, and he has to...a lot.
Sold to a man named Proximo (Oliver Reed, the best part of the movie) Maximus sees a silver lining here—he may be able to get back to Rome and kill Commodus. A relationship grows between Maximus and Proximo and the former lets the latter know of his intentions. Feeling slightly indebted to Marcus Aurelius, Proximo will do his best to help Maximus achieve his goal...but it may not be enough.
The action of "Gladiator" is fun. It's mindless and sometimes enjoyable, the most exciting fight having the arena release tigers from its floor. The thought behind the movie has everyone acting a little bit eccentrically and beyond themselves. Maximus is beyond fault, Lucilla is incredibly smart and conniving, Commodus is too evil, and Marcus Aurelius is a saint. It places the film just out of arm's reach of the viewer, making the overlying arcs of honor and revenge the palpable meat of the film.
Shot with entertainment in mind, Scott's film is a success albeit not a perfect one nor his best.
Russell Crowe is likable, Phoenix is dislikable, and Nielsen is a woman...there, you have your formula.
There are moments in the film that I find eye-rolling-worthy; but the sheer epicness of the piece is hard to ignore.
It does come down to the fact that the film masquerades as truth when the gladiator known as Maximus never existed and Commodus didn't kill his father. Commodus' demise came at the hand of assassination, which seems like a much more fitting death for such a screwed up man, but the audience demands the revenge. For being rooted in such realism, "Gladiator" remains a fairy tale period piece; but a riveting one at that.

Score: ★★★

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

So take a gaudy musical, add a little sexism, sprinkle on a dash of sexual confusion and you've got the perfect mixture for a terrible movie. I wish these ingredients didn't all have to be included in a film, but since there's "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", I stand corrected.
The movie's concept never once seems realistic, which I guess is permissible since people don't randomly break out into dance and song when they're walking down the street. Still, every other musical, musicals of spectacle included, isn't as unbelievable or as offensive as this one is.
Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel) is in town looking for a few supplies, and a wife. He asks the man at the local store where he could find a young beauty...he is scolded by a woman standing nearby; but that doesn't stop him from walking out of the store and sizing up every single girl outside while singing a song that reminded me of one of the numbers from "Hello Dolly" in chauvinistic terms alone. He's looking for a strong woman who can cook, clean, and mend clothes. Naturally, the girl he's most attracted to is chopping wood when he first lays eyes on her. On top of being a good worker, this woman is an excellent cook and is drawn to Adam's swagger and
Milly (Jane Powell) serves men their lunches, cleverly dodges their advances, and goes outside to milk the cow which is where Adam makes his move.
"Hey babe, you want to get hitched?"
Okay, it's not that bad, but he just bursts out with it and guess what? She accepts!
So they get married quickly and then ride away twelve miles to the Pontipee estate where there are six brothers waiting for Adam...they don't know about the woman. In his fervor to get married, Adam forgot to mention his siblings to his newly acquired wife. Both parent-less, Milly and Adam stop on their journey to sing a song or two and then continue. Much of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" looks unfortunately like a set...its stagey pretentiousness doesn't help.
Imagine the shock when you find out that your husband has six brothers, all of whom are living with him. Milly doesn't exactly get a great first impression of the Pontipee clan: Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Eli, Frank, and Gideon. They are ruffians with big beards to match their unruly red hair...and they're all pigs. The house is in a state of disrepair, mainly because men don't do housework...duh. Milly is immediately set to work, cooking dinner for the brothers while trying to avoid the fistfights that break out spontaneously. When dinner is made, it is trampled on a devoured quickly, without grace being said. Milly doesn't take to well to the rough and tumble, uncivilized way the family conducts themselves. She overturns the table and storms off to her room and locks the door behind her...metaphorically. Adam is now scared to share a bed with this woman, as he should be because she's figured out that all he wanted was a servant.
The rest of the boys are eager for Adam to get into bed with his woman, they have an odd sexual longing for Milly that shows up more than once.
But Milly resigns herself to the role of servant and she puts the boys in line and teaches them to be gentlemen. She tells them how to court women, the skills they put into use with a dance off for the girl's affection. This scene ends with Adam scoffing at his brothers for being turned into sissy-boys and another fist fight.
The Pontipees are a scruffy bunch, and they don't take no crap from nobody.
Eventually, they are convinced by Adam, who kind of admits he doesn't love Milly, to storm down on the town and kidnap six women...which they do. Dragging the women back to be their wives in a very cave-man-ish way, the brothers set off an avalanche that leaves them and the women together for the rest of the winter.
Milly protects the women, but it doesn't take too long for them to warm up to the, romantic.
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" is the dirge of the movies. It's a too sweet piece of distasteful ideas, melted into the saccharine mold of cheery musicals and poured into the viewer's lap in huge hot clumps like spoiled milk.
Overstated from moment one, the actions of the men are never punished. They are allowed to carry women around, be abusive, and they we are told that women will love that.
The misconception of abusive relationships, the misconstrued idea that woman love rape, physical attraction without emotional love, body image issues—yep, they're all here in abundance.
Perhaps the movie was made so you wouldn't have to think about it. Just be amazed that people can sing and dance; but that's not enough and it assumes that the audience has no brain.
"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" is a mistake, one that I would gladly erase from the history of cinema without feeling remotely sorry about it. It's possibly one of the worst movies I've ever seen...and that's me being nice.

Score: ½ a star out of 4