Tuesday, October 31, 2017
This is both an exciting and a daunting task. I have so many thoughts I want to get out that I've had bottled in, yet how to do so in a way that does this movie justice makes me really intimidated. Nevertheless, I will proceed. This will also be a good practice in getting all my thoughts out in a concise manner. However long this review ends up being, know that it could definitely be a lot longer. Before I dive in, I want to metaphorically get down on my hands and knees and beg everyone who hasn't seen "Psycho" to please close this review, go watch the movie and come back. Upon this movie's initial release, Hitchcock went to great lengths to make sure the secrets of the movie were preserved. Upon obtaining the film rights to Robert Bloch's novel "Psycho," he had his assistant buy as many copies as possible so that it would be difficult to obtain a copy. He also established strict guidelines at theaters that once the movie began, no one would be let and and no one would be let out. Not even the Queen of England. And he begged people who saw the movie to not share the secrets. Obviously you have the ability to choose what to do, but in true Hitchcock fashion, it is my heartfelt desire that no one who hasn't seen this movie reads this review.
In case you have continued onto this paragraph without having seen the movie, allow me to stall for just another paragraph and talk about a minor annoyance I have with a certain letter that will be printed on the back of every copy of this movie. The upper-case R in a little square box. I obviously don't have a problem with watching R-rated movies. My personal philosophy is to look at the content of the film and make my choices based on that because I think the MPAA is a flawed system that too many people lean too heavily on. There's a lot of reasons why, but "Psycho" is a classic example. Upon initial release, it was given the Approved rating by the Hays Code that existed at the time. When film ratings came out, it was given the M rating, which eventually became PG. It wasn't until the 80's when parents were flipping out about adult content in their PG movies that "Psycho" was re-branded as R, 24 years after its initial release. And right before the thing called PG-13 came into existence. I don't know why they didn't do one final change, but content-wise, "Psycho" is absolutely a PG-13 film. I bring this up simply to say that if you've decided to skip "Psycho" because of its rating, I'd beg of you to treat it as a PG-13 film, because that's what it is.
So yeah, these two people whose lives get flushed down the drain in this movie are Marion Crane and Norman Bates. As we watch the tragic tales of their lives unfold before us, there are two things we can do. The first thing we can do is to learn from their experiences and not repeat the same mistakes as they do. The second is to ignore their stories and end up like them. The harsh reality of life that this movie so beautifully tells is that many people will choose the latter. And I think the entire message of this is encapsulated in one conversation that the two of them have right before she goes into her room:
"You know what I think? I think that we're all all in our private traps. Clamped in them. And none of us can ever get out. We scratch and claw, but only at the air. Only at each other. And for all of it, we never budge an inch," Norman says to Marion.
"Sometimes we deliberately step into those traps," Marion responds back.
"I was born in mine. I don't mind it anymore."
"Oh, but you should. You should mind it."
"Oh, I do. But I say I don't."
Given that none of us are perfect human beings, I think there's a lot of truth in Norman's statement there. We're all trapped in our own struggles and it often seems that there is no out. Obviously there is a bigger picture present, but I also think this conversation is reflective of the mindset of each of these individuals. Norman feels trapped. He's always felt trapped. He feels there is no out. In many ways, he's accepted his fate and given up. But deep down, he wishes he could escape from this. I think there's an honest sincerity coming from Norman in this scene where he's able to express his honest opinions of life and his situation to this strange girl who he's decided to trust because she is a very attractive young lady who seems equally as troubled as he is. Thus you feel for Norman. You care about him. You wish that he could overcome these personal traps of his and find happiness. As we find out later, much of his traps come from a legitimate psychological disorder of which he doesn't have much control over. Perhaps he once did when he was much younger, but various choices he's made in his life have sent him far over the edge to the point of no return, which then makes him a rather terrifying antagonist when you realize the harm he is capable of inflicting.
More on Norman a bit later, because much of his tale is detailed in the second half of the movie. The first half of the movie is all about Marion Crane and her struggles. I'd be willing to bet that most people reading this review can relate much more to Marion Crane's story. She seemingly has a lot going for her if she would take the time to look around her. She has the physical beauty that most girls aspire to. She has a good job with co-workers and a boss that have full trust in her. She has a boyfriend who is madly in love with her. But yet she is caught up in the negatives, specifically when it comes to this thing called money. The opening dialogue of the movie is a very important one between her and her boyfriend, Sam Loomis, where they are discussing the idea of getting married, but his personal debts stand as a barrier between them. At least in Marion's mind. We can tell that she is very conflicted about this, and Janet Leigh pulls off a marvelous performance of portraying this. Thus when her boss gives her $40,000 to deposit in a bank, she secretly pockets it and begins the journey from her place in Phoenix, Arizona to Sam's home in Fairvale, California. If she gives him the $40,000, the two of them can be rich and live happily ever after.
The choice to steal the money is a heavy one that weighs on her mind quite a bit, as one might expect. It's a choice that ultimately leads her down a dark path that she doesn't feel comfortable with, making her very on edge when she interacts with a police officer and when she trades her car at the dealership for a new car. Meanwhile, while her personal choices are leading her down a dark path, the element of nature as well as getting caught up in the crossfire of other people's poor decisions also fights against her, which are elements that all of us have to deal with and sadly they are often out of our control. In this instance, when Marion is just 15 minutes away from her destination, the rain becomes too much for her to drive in and she pulls off at the Bates Motel, a decision that would turn out to be fatal. Not that we can blame her for this because she had no idea what she was getting herself into. But nevertheless, she would not walk out of that motel alive. The time at that motel allowed her time for self-reflection about her choices she had made. That and conversations with Norman Bates helped her determine that she was going to right her wrongs and return home. In both a literal and metaphorical sense, she steps into the shower to cleanse herself.
Even though I could spend 2-3 paragraphs on each of those three elements that I crammed into that one paragraph, there's another element of this scene that I think is what makes the scene so great and that is the emotional weight that it carries. Here's a girl who represents the common human and the mistakes that we make. I honestly feel that I connect with Marion and thus I care deeply for her. And it is so sad that the moment she decides to change her life around is the moment that she gets killed. You can say there's a flicker of hope that she was putting herself in the right direction, but I can't help feeling the sensation of "too little, too late" applying to her and it makes me scared that something similar could happen to me. I mean, I don't consider myself a horrible person, but none of us are perfect and all of us have wrongs that we want to make right. But what if we are like Marion and don't get the chance to? That's a scary thought. Thus seeing Marion slide down the shower wall, reach out and grab the shower curtain, and then flop over dead is the saddest moment ever. Then we cut to the water and blood draining down the shower drain, transitioning into a close up of her and eye and face, and it's honestly almost too much for me to handle.
Whenever I'm watching this movie on my own, this is the moment where I almost have to pause the movie. It is a signal of the ending of the first half of the movie and I need time. I did the same thing last night when I re-watched the movie. I paused the movie at the head shot of Marion Crane and I spent an hour or more in personal reflection. In fact, I almost decided to stop the movie there and pick up the second half in the morning. The next time you watch "Psycho," I'd recommend trying the same. Stop the movie at that moment and let the gravity of the situation simmer into your soul. I only continued because I wanted to get this review out before it got too late on Halloween. But it still took a while to get through. I also honestly think that if the movie ended right there, transitioning from dead Marion to end credits featuring sad music, that it would be en extremely effective 50 minute short film. But nevertheless, we have to continue. After seeing Marion die, I want that hate and anger to simmer in me and to unleash it all on Norman Bates. But I can't. Because it's just as much of a tragedy on the part of Norman because I think he was able to connect with Marion on a level that he probably never connected with anyone before. And he, himself, didn't really kill her.
Thus the second half of the movie begins with Norman crying out to his Mother for the awful tragedy she has committed in Marion, while then being forced to take Marion's dead body, throwing it in the trunk of her car and sending the car to the bottom of the swamp. So what in the heck is going on? I really love a good mystery movie and that's what the second half of this movie is. Now that we know what Norman is capable of, we have Marion's sister Lila Crane teaming with Marion's boyfriend Sam Loomis and Detective Milton Arbogast to uncover the mystery of Norman Bates. Arbogast would've figured it out, but he ends up dead in the movie's lone jump scare, which is quite brilliant if I might add, resulting him being put into the same swampy grave as Marion a few movie minutes before. Now Lila and Sam are super confused because both Marion and Arbogast are missing and they are dead set on talking to Norman's mother, the old lady in the house who they think holds all the answers. Adding to their confusion is that the police chief is convinced that Norman's mother died 10 years prior, which is a huge curveball because we as an audience heard Mother yelling at Norman while Lila and Sam saw her in the window. So again, what's going on?
Is the portrayal of Dissociative Identity Disorder, or D.I.D., done accurately in "Psycho"? I'm not sure. It's definitely a real disorder where a traumatic experience can cause multiple personalities to exist in one's mind. When certain triggers go off, other personalities take over and the original personality has no idea what happened when it comes back. The trigger for Norman is whenever he starts feeling romantic feelings towards anyone. Because Norman got jealous when his mother fell in love with another man, when he killed her and sent his mind spiraling into D.I.D. with the mother personality taking over in his head, he assumes with that personality that she felt the same way. Thus Norman is never allowed to love. So when he starts loving anyways, the mother personality takes over and kills the girl. Again, I don't know how realistic this is for real D.I.D. Can there be situations where a part of your personality is a serial killer? I have no idea. I do know that Robert Bloch loosely based Norman Bates off of the real life psychopath Ed Gein, but I don't think he suffered from D.I.D. He was just a creep who did a lot of disgusting things, even though we wasn't technically a serial killer due to him only being charged for two kills. But eh. Semantics.
Realistic or not, I think having Norman Bates suffer from D.I.D. and kill because of that is a fascinatingly unique way to set up a serial killer. It adds a whole lot of depth and connectivity to his character. He's not a killer who goes around killing for the heck of it. There's motive and there is purpose. Norman Bates is as equally interesting of a character, perhaps even more so, than Marion Crane is. When you can care for your protagonist and your antagonist, completely understanding each person's motive and reasoning, I think that makes for a much better horror movie than having serial killers killing for the sake of killing. Even though I still see "Psycho" as more of a psychological thriller than an all-out horror film, it is considered the very first slasher horror film as all of our 70's/80's slasher horrors, of which I've reviewed a handful of this Halloween season, took inspiration directly from "Psycho." In my opinion, though, most of them were never able to capture the magic of why "Psycho" was so good. Hitchcock left a gold standards of how to make proper horrors and thrillers. That formula was mixed around. Even though the result was often successful, none of them ever had as much depth and power as "Psycho." They went for the simple entertainment instead.
If you made it this far into the review, give yourself a big pat on the back and make sure to reward yourself this week. That was a long read. But I think you all know that was coming with this movie and I'm glad that I finally got around to reviewing "Psycho." I honestly hate declaring a favorite movie because there's so many movies that I haven't seen. Literally hundreds of movies have been made each year for the last hundred years and there's no way I will ever be able to see them all. So how can I declare a favorite? Of the movies I have seen, there's a lot of movies that I love for completely different reasons, so it's often hard to compare that way, too. But nevertheless, I absolutely love psychological thrillers. That specific subgenre of film is my favorite. Thus when it comes to diving deep into the psychology of two very different characters in a very thrilling way, it doesn't get any better than "Psycho." Pondering on both Norman Bates and Marion Crane, watching their stories weave together, is beyond fascinating to me. I honestly don't know if there's been a more impactful film that I've spent this much time thinking of. When it comes to my grade of "Pyscho," do I really need to say this? Was there any question going in? Of course "Psycho" gets a 10/10.
Monday, October 30, 2017
The premise for "Wait Until Dark" is one that we've seen a lot in Hollywood, that being criminals doing crazy things in order to get their drugs. I'm not saying that's a flaw of the movie and I won't even use the word cliche to describe it, but I'm just pointing it out. We start off with a woman named Lisa taking a doll stuffed full of heroin through the airport, after which she hands the doll off to another gentlemen. At this point of the movie, I wasn't sure what was going on, but I knew something intense was about to take place due to the simple, yet creepy score that playing, thus I was immediately hooked on the film, these characters and what was about to happen. It often takes me a bit of time to get invested in a movie, so when this hooked me from the very first second, I knew I was in for a good ride. Because, yes, it's true that I tragically hadn't seen this one before I watched it earlier today. It was one of those sensations of "Where has this movie been all my life?" Moving forward, we are then introduced to Alan Arkin's villainous character of Mr. Roat, who hires two thugs named Mike Talman and Carlino to help him find this doll that he's sure is hidden somewhere in the house of the blind lady Susy Hendrix, played by Audrey Hepburn.
I really loved how this movie set the tone early with the score in the early sequences. I think it successfully informs the audiences that you are about to be in for a serious thrill ride, so buckle up. But after that initial sequence that puts you on edge, I love how this movie takes its time to build the suspense. The job description given by Roat to these two thugs isn't to kill Susy. It's to get the doll. If they successfully get the doll without anyone being harmed, then all is well. No one gets hurt. Everyone ends up happy. Except the doll has drugs in it, so you know this isn't going to end up happy for everyone. When a movie involves someone trying to get their drugs, the characters trying to get said drugs aren't necessarily known for their kind, compromising generosity, if you know what I mean. Alan Arkin pulls off scumbag pretty well in this right from the start. Even when he's starting with the soft and simple Plan A, you know that he has a Plan B, Plan C and Plan D up his sleeve in case things don't go smoothly. Thus we are very uneasy when he starts executing his plan, but the movie doesn't throw you right into the fire from the very beginning. We are instead placed at the edge of the fire before we slowly get pushed further and further into the flames.
While Alan Arkin does a great job of pulling off the villainous antagonist of the film, and it was certainly fun seeing him young as most of the films I've seen him in are when he's much older, the star of this movie is the woman who received the Oscar nomination for her performance. The queen of acting herself. Audrey Hepburn. This was her fifth and final Oscar nomination for her acting (she was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award following her death in 1993), having previous won for "Roman Holiday" in 1953 while also getting nominated for "Sabrina" in 1954, "The Nun's Story" in 1959 and "Breakfast at Tiffany's" in 1961. I don't know how many of those movies I've seen, so I'm not going to rank her performances, but she gives an absolutely stunning performance here in 1967. She first of all does a great job of playing a blind lady, specifically a blind lady who was more recently blinded and thus feels a bit lost in the world. I think that's much harder than playing someone who has been blind his or her whole life, such as Matt Murdock in "Daredevil" or the crazy old dude in last year's thriller "Don't Breathe." Thus this isn't an invasion movie of a blind person acts as though they can see everything. It's a much more complex performance.
I don't really want to say anything about the ending of the film, but the fact that the audience watching and our three thugs end up just as blind as Susy does is rather genius. A similar thing happens in the movie "Don't Breathe" as the kids who break in end up in the dark, but we as an audience see everything. Not the case here. My computer screen went blank as I was left to listening to certain sequences and I loved that. And apparently an effect happened in the movie theaters themselves in 1967 where the lights slowly dimmed until being all completely turned out when the lights on the screen went out. Thus we are left to the power of sound design to tell parts of the story. Overall this was a movie-watching experience that I really enjoyed. As both movie's originate from the same playwright, we can call "Wait Until Dark" the cousin of Hitchcock's "Dial M for Murder." If you've seen the latter, I think this is as equally intense and thrilling. If you've only seen this one and love it, go check out Hitchcock's film. I think "Wait Until Dark" is the type of thrilling Halloween-appropriate movie that 60's audiences probably loved while also being a thriller that absolutely holds up and can be enjoyed by today's audiences as well. Thus I'm giving "Wait Until Dark" a 9/10.
Saturday, October 28, 2017
As far as this movie's plot goes, this is definitely an unashamed 80's slasher horror film. By 1984, we were well into this genre and filmmakers knew exactly what audiences wanted, so Wes Craven completely takes advantage of that. If that's not your genre, then this is not your movie and that's totally fine. At the same time, though, this is much more than just a movie about a killer wandering around killing people. There's a bit of a mystery element to it. Sure, if you're well-versed in the Freddy Krueger lore, there's no surprises here, but all of our characters in this movie are trying to figure out what the heck is happening. At the beginning of the movie we are introduced to Tina, who we think is our main character. She's having these nightmares where she's getting chased by a crazy, burned psychopath. She wakes up and her clothes are ripped, which is really confusing. So the next night she has her three best friends, Nancy, Rod and Glen, over to keep her company so she doesn't have to sleep alone. They slowly begin to figure out that they are all having these same nightmares, but they haven't quite figured out what's happening yet. These are just dreams, right? They're not real. So they just need to figure out how to comfort each other so it all gets better.
But PSYCH! Tina's not the main character of the movie, despite the fact that she's been the focus for the first part of the movie. When night has actually come, she's sleeping upstairs with her boyfriend Rod when the nightmare happens again and this time Freddy's got her. No escaping. No waking up. But instead of seeing Freddy kill her, we immediately cut to reality where she's being cut up, sliced up and thrown around the room by what looks like an invisible killer from Rod's perspective. It's really quite brutal and graphic. But it's an "Oh my heck" sort of moment. Things are about to get real in this movie. Rod is understandably shaken up, but then he bolts when he realizes that he's about to get blamed for this murder because suddenly his dead, bloody girlfriend is on the ground next to him when the door was locked. Eventually he gets caught and thrown in jail. Then the movie focuses on our real protagonist, Nancy. Man is this girl a boss. All she has is her useless, but charming, Johnny Depp boyfriend (it was Depp's first film role) and her parents, who refuse to believe anything she's saying. But she's bound and determined to figure out what in the heck is happening to her and her friends and how to stop this nightmarish killer from continuing his rampage.
If you read my review of "Halloween," you'll remember that I was very nit-picky with the character of Michael Myers. I didn't think he had a good enough backstory and I thought there were a lot of plot holes or other things that either didn't make sense or were left unexplained. I have none of those complaints in this movie and I saw these two movies around the same time, so there's no nostalgia factor giving the edge to "A Nightmare on Elm Street." I think the biggest reason that I'm so forgiving of Freddy Krueger is that, when push comes to shove, he's a supernatural villain as opposed to an attempt at a serious, realistic serial killer. So I put on my supernatural horror hat while watching him and I totally buy everything. In fact, I think Nancy's best option would've been to call Sam and Dean Winchester to take care of this guy. Or perhaps Mary and John with this being in the 80's. It totally fits the "Supernatural" lore and I'm 13 seasons into that show and still loving it. Also, despite being super creepy and dark, the movie is also extremely self-aware. Wes Craven totally owns up to his ridiculous premise and has a ton of fun with Freddy. We even get high-tempo 80's video game music when Freddy's chasing someone and it's quite the entertaining blast.
And since I'm such a stickler with this thing called backstory and motive, let's take a look into that. Fair warning, if you haven't seen this movie before, I've been spoiler-free up to this point in this review, but I'm about to dive into those spoilers. You've been warned. When we learn about Michael Myer's backstory, we essentially learn that he was a kid born without a soul and kills people because he has no sense of right or wrong. That wasn't good enough for me. With Freddy Krueger, we don't dive deep into his backstory. We simply learn that he was a serial killer who kidnapped and murdered children. Those people sadly do exist in the world whereas kids born with no soul don't exist. We don't know why Freddy became a serial killer. We just know he is and that's good enough for me. In terms of specific motive in this movie, Freddy was captured and thrown in jail, but when it came to his trial, the justice system goofed up and he was set free. Seeing this as an injustice to the law, the parents on Elm Street got together and came up with a plan. They gassed up his place and burned him alive. Years later, Freddy has come back as a supernatural demon of sorts and he incites his revenge, not by killing the parents, but by killing their teenage kids. That's solid motive.
The very final sequences are a bit ambiguous. That's the one part of the movie that I forgot about and I don't know if I'm a huge fan of, but if we ignore that for a second and focus on Nancy vs. Freddy and how Nancy wins, I think it's a very powerful lesson. It's a very subtle moment and I think I only caught it because I try to be a good Christian boy and search for things like this, but Nancy actually turns to God to help her beat Freddy. The first thing is that part of the creepy song that the little girls in white dresses sing is the line "5... 6... Grab your crucifix." In other words, use the power of Christ to help you overcome evil. In accordance with that, right before Nancy jumps into her final confrontation with Freddy, after doing everything in her power to stop him, she says a prayer. In that prayer she starts by asking the Lord for his help while finishing by asking the Lord to take her soul if she is unsuccessful. The battle of good vs. evil in horror films is a very important one, I think. Specifically I think there is a lot of power when a horror film teaches that good can overcome evil, regardless of how hard it may seem. For an 80's slasher film to subtly throwing in Nancy using the power of God to help her in her fight, I think adds a lot of power to this movie.
No, I don't have any major nit-picks with this film. It's very much a product of the 80's, thus if you don't like these 80's slasher horror films, this is not going to be the movie for you. But if horror is your thing, specifically 80's horror, I honestly don't think it gets much better than "A Nightmare on Elm Street." You could say I'm biased because I watched and loved this film when I was younger, but I was equally as impressed, perhaps even more so, when I watched it this week. We have one of the absolute best horror villains in Freddy Krueger, who is one of the creepiest looking villains who is voiced perfectly by Robert Englund with his maniacal laugh and speech. We have a director in Wes Craven who knows how to use Freddy the right way. Sure, the movie has plenty of violence and gore. But that's not what's used to scare the audience. Craven uses creepy music, perfect lighting, great camerawork and phenomenal timing to go along with a creative supernatural premise that for over 30 years has made people terrified of falling asleep at night. Add onto that a fun, mysterious plot with good characters, led by Nancy, one of the strongest female characters to ever grace the sets of a horror film, and we have a darn near perfect horror film that I'm confidently awarding a 10/10.
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
You can't be a true movie critic until you've reviewed John Carpenter's iconic horror classic "Halloween" during Halloween season, right? If so, then I officially submit my name as a movie critic because it's finally time for me to talk about "Halloween." When I made the decision to write these Halloween movie reviews, this is obviously one of the first ones that jumped into my head. In fact, I was going to make this the first review of the season as it seemed like the most fitting one to kick things off with. That ended up not happening for various reasons, but that's OK. I'm content with releasing this review closer to Halloween. Now that we're less than a week away, if you need to get yourself into the Halloween spirit by watching a movie that will scare the tar out of you, this just might be the perfect choice. Michael Myers has certainly done a great job of scaring me for many years. Because, yes, unlike with my recent review of "Friday the 13th," "Halloween" is a movie that I've had a lot of experience with. Accordingly, I have a lot of thoughts about this movie that I've had bottled up for years that I'm really excited to finally get out as I think there are a lot of discussion points with this movie pertaining to what makes a good horror film as well as a good villain.
As far as the plot goes, this is a very simple movie. It's Halloween in 1978 and Laurie has the obligation of babysitting Tommy. Meanwhile, her and her two friends, Annie and Lynda, are trying to come up with a plan to hang out together on Halloween night despite these babysitting obligations. But it's safe to say that plans are interrupted by one Michael Myers, a 21-year-old serial killer who has just escaped from a mental institution that he's been in since he killed his older sister when he was just six years old. For reasons known only to Michael Myers, and possibly not even the director or screenwriter, he's decided to stalk these girls all day before he attempts to kill them at night. Perhaps he just has a thing against teenage girls or babysitters for some reason and Laurie is the first, or one of the first girls he comes across after his return to his hometown, and he has decided that she is going to die along with her friends. I don't know. That's my best guess. Michael Myers is not one that is given a specific motive. He just does things. His character is written as a purposely mysterious human being who ultimately is the embodiment of pure evil and is referred to frequently during the film as the boogeyman. And the boogeyman is coming to get you!
When I think of the boogeyman, I think of an unknown evil that is lurking in the shadows waiting to jump at me when I least expect it. I don't know who or what the boogeyman is, but I know that he's not a pleasant individual. That fear of the unknown is a very powerful fear that this movie preys on, specifically the fear of an unknown entity that you won't be able to escape or overcome once you have been captured. Once you put a name and a face to the boogeyman, he becomes less scary, thus the less you know about him, the more terrifying he is. Thus when it comes to horror villains, Michael Myers is the one that has gotten under my skin the most. Surprisingly, much of this movie isn't a gratuitous gore fest of murder. It's Michael Myers sitting in the shadows, waiting for the right opportunity to strike. Sure, we get a murder right of the bat in the introduction, but that's done to show us what this evil person is capable of, thus putting us on the edge of our seats in pure fear as he just sits there watching everyone. As a young kid, I legitimately hated walking home at night and that was partially due to the fact that I envisioned Michael Myers hiding behind every corner. Yeah, probably not a movie to watch when you're younger. But oh well.
I think there's a good lesson here on how to make an effective horror film. There's not a lot of jump scares in this movie and there isn't a ton of gore, either. I think some horror directors or studios have this false impression that if they cram a bunch of jump scares into their movie, that it will make it a scary movie. False. There's also other directors that think gore fests are scary. Also false. I prefer creepy. When you have a deadly combination of music, camerawork and sound effects, that's a lot more terrifying than throwing a bunch of jump scares at me or bathing the sets in blood and gory images. Even when we're not in the Michael Myers POV, we often see him placed in various locations in the shot that subtly catch our eye and creep us out. The times where he is hidden in the background are extremely effective at making us uneasy as we progress through the plot. Then of course there are times where he suddenly shows up right in front of us, making us want to get up and run away so that we aren't massacred right along with the characters. Regardless of what's going on in the story, John Carpenter does an absolutely perfect job with this movie in providing fear to the audience. If that's the type of film you are going for, then look no further.
It's funny, though. I've seen quite a few YouTube reviews of this movie over the last few years during Halloween and there's several of them that get all confident and happy that they are going to be bold and actually criticize this movie. Then they tell me about how awful the side characters in the movie are. Yeah that's cute. Now hold my BYU-approved caffeinated soda for a second while I dive into some ACTUAL critiques of this movie. Because, while I still hold strong to the idea that this is one of the creepiest movies I've seen due to the aforementioned horror techniques courtesy of John Carpenter, there's a few aspects of this movie that have always nagged at me. But sure. Let's humor the crowd for a second and talk about those side characters. They're really annoying. I'm specifically talking about Annie and Lynda. Annie gets killed off first and I was kind of sad, but not really. Then we have the sequence where Lynda and her boyfriend Bob are alone making love and acting so annoying that when Michael Myers walks in, instead of being scared, I found myself saying, "Get 'em Michael!" Then I pause and laugh because that's not how I'm supposed to be reacting to this film. But so be it. Laurie is a strong lead character, so she makes up for it.
Perhaps I'm looking too far into this and being too philosophical with a simple movie that's just designed to scare people. But when Michael Myers has been inducted by many into the super villain hall of fame as one of the greatest cinematic villains ever created, I look at that designation and shudder a bit. So how about we take a look at some of the other villains and see how he compares. Darth Vader. Why is he so evil? It's not because he has a scary looking outfit and James Earl Jones' epic voice. It's because he was once a powerful Jedi that was supposed to bring balance to the force before he fell from grace and turned to the dark side. Norman Bates. He is honestly a charismatic, troubled human being trying his best, but his dark psychological history with Dissociative Identity Disorder has ruined him. We can also look at Walter White on the small screen, who, throughout "Breaking Bad," experiences a harsh, depressing fall from grace. If we jump away from cinema and look to the Bible, it doesn't get much more pure evil than Lucifer. Yet in Isaiah he is described as someone who was the son of the morning who then fell from grace. In my mind these are much stronger examples of pure evil, thus I don't think Michael Myers himself compares well.
In summary, I believe the goal that John Carpenter had when he made this film was to create a slasher horror that would scare people silly for years to come and he absolutely succeeded in a huge way. This is one of the most iconic horror films whose influence is still felt today in modern-day horror. People are still trying to replicate what John Carpenter pulled off and many of them have failed, partially because they seem to forget what makes horror films scary. While this movie is a product of its times as it isn't without its moments of gore, language and sexuality, those elements aren't the focus of the terror. The music, the camerawork, the sound effects, and the thought of someone always watching you is what makes this movie scary and I have all the respect in the world for that. Not just that, I do genuinely love this movie because I think it is one of the scariest horror films out there. If terror is all you want or need this Halloween, then this is a perfect movie for that scenario. I just personally hesitate to call this a masterpiece. There's no depth to it when you analyze the characters and the story, specifically Michael Myers himself. There are better horror villains out there. Thus I won't give this a perfect score, but I still am comfortable with a 9/10.
Friday, October 20, 2017
You know how this movie was being advertised as an epic disaster movie that seemed like it was made 20 years too late? Yeah, put that on hold. For as much Geostorming as this movie promised, there's not very much Geostorming at all. The movie is a dark, serious, whodunit political thriller for most of the run time with some major storms thrown in as an afterthought, most of which you already saw in all the trailers. Thought you signed up for a self-aware, fun, disaster movie where you could sit back and shove popcorn in your face for two hours? Well, put that popcorn down and take a nap for the first hour of the movie. We get teased for a brief few moments with a frozen Afghanistan city followed by some sort of fiery, volcanic earthquake in Hong Kong. Outside that, we have to wait for the storms and I started to get bored as heck. Most of the movie is I think was trying to make some sort of painfully horrible political statement that you absolutely don't want when you go into a disaster movie and a whole ton of family drama between our two main characters in the movie, who are brothers, that I just didn't care about it. For some reason the writers and directors thought that the world wanted a super serious drama with lots of politics and I found that baffling.
OK, I get it movie. All politicians are evil, crazy idiots who can't be trusted. Can we drop it? No. We're not going to. Instead, after the fiasco where Gerard Butler gets fired, we jump into the future even more, making me completely lose track of what year we're in, and we get a whodunit thriller because apparently someone has inserted some sort of virus into our space station thing that is causing it to malfunction and create these huge storms. If they don't figure out who is doing this and how to stop them, the world is going to experience a Geostorm, a super huge mega storm where natural disasters everywhere combine together and destroy the world. You know, the title of the movie. So three years after this younger brother ruined his older brother's life, they are forced to go back to him to help them stop this thing. In order to save the world, he accepts. So he goes up to outer space while the younger brother handles things down on earth and after much investigation, they have determined that their prime suspect is the President of the United States. Who, get this, is a democrat. Oh, so now we're saying that the democrats specifically are all evil and going to destroy the world? Holy cow. I'm not even a democrat and that infuriates me.
Are we ready for the storms, yet? Because I thought I signed up for a movie where I got to watch the world get destroyed by natural disasters. Not a long, boring, drawn out political thriller where democrats are portrayed as evil human beings. I wanted my storms! Which, in thinking about, seems like insensitive timing anyways. With how much damage various earthquakes, hurricanes and fires have already done to our world, is this really a movie that we needed right now? But whatever. If we ignore that point, we didn't get those storms anyways. Not on the level that I thought I would. Eventually after all this nonsense, the storms started. I'm normally not an advocate of pulling out your phones during a movie, but when these storms started, I just had to know what time it was. My showtime was 1:00. The movie is 1 hour, 49 minutes long. It was 2:25 when the storms started. Granted, we had 15-20 minutes of trailers beforehand, but even with that it means we were at least at the halfway point through the movie before we started to get what we thought we were going to get. But even with the storms starting, we only got like a total of 15 minutes of storms scattered throughout the second half of the movie as we focused more on wrapping up our political thriller.
Again, there's a lot of movies in theaters right now. There's holdovers from the last several weeks that deserve to be seen. Five new options this weekend. Oscar-bait films that are starting to surface. There's a lot for you to see. And that's not even mentioning what appears to be a very fun holiday season in November and December with movies such as "Thor: Ragnorok," "Justice League" and "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" heading our way. There's no reason for you to ever waste your time with "Geostorm." I write movie reviews. That's what I do. And often I'll purposely try to see movies like this so that you can be informed as to what not to see. I consider it taking one for the team so that you don't have to. Had this been a self-aware, lighthearted, fun disaster movie, I may have been able to recommend it as a guilty pleasure like I did "San Andreas," but this movie tries to be so serious and dramatic that it ruins all that potential. No one cares about overdone drama in a disaster movie. It's not fun. And it's certainly not fun watching an in-your-face political thriller about how evil the democratic party is. Due to good acting and serviceable technical aspects to the movie, I'm not going to give this a horrible score, but I'm certainly not going positive. "Geostorm" gets a 5/10.
Thursday, October 19, 2017
After having heard of this movie for the first time a month ago and watching it for the first time a week ago, I even more recently learned that "The Night of the Hunter" is based on the book of the same name, which in turn is based on the life of one Harry Powers, a serial killer who was hanged in 1932 for the murder of a woman and her three kids. Powers lured women to him via Lonely Hearts ads (the old-fashioned version of dating sites?), claiming he was looking for love, but instead had a goal to kill them for their money. Thankfully he was caught, convicted and put to death before too many people fell victim to him, because apparently he got 10-20 letters per day based on his ads and had written love letters to many of them with the intention of killing them for their money. This gives you a bit of an idea of what you're in for if you decide to put in "The Night of the Hunter," although not really because, while the movie is based on the life of Powers, "loosely based" might be the proper terminology. The fictional version of this story that is told in this movie is a lot more toned down than the real life version as I'm guessing that director Charles Laughton wanted to make a movie that people of his time would actually watch.
This makes for an interesting conversation. A dark, gruesome, bloody thriller is probably not something that audiences would gravitate towards in 1955. Even Hitchcock had to restrain himself in order to get the rating of approved that was necessary for films back then to actually make money. I'll talk about that more on a later date when I review a certain Hitchcock film. But 2017 is much different than 1955 in terms of content that a director is capable of making. I feel many of Hitchcock's films would be much more intense if he had lived in today's world with his same mind. Perhaps Charles Laughton would've elected to go darker and scarier if he also were around today to make this movie? With that in mind, what if we hired a director today who excels at dark, crime thrillers to return to this material and give it a more realistic, darker feel to it? Put that thought on hold for a bit, because I'm going to come back to it. As far now, we have to talk about this movie, which surrounds the fictional character named, not Harry Powers, but Harry Powell. Guess what he does? Yup. He goes around killing women for their money. At least that's his goal in this movie. And he's learned of $10,000 that he's absolutely dead set on owning.
The interesting thing that I found about this movie is that the setup of the film is not really dark or scary in terms of the tone and feel. It almost starts off as quite the opposite, that being light and happy. Which then catches you off guard when you hear what this guy is actually saying and the dread sets in without the movie even having to pound that dread in with music, lighting or camera work. If this guy hadn't admitted to being a serial killer, perhaps he would've even been a character worth caring about. The thing is, while we as an audience know his secret right off the bat, no one around him knows the secret, which makes you scream inside your head as this happy, lovable preacher starts introducing himself to everyone and eventually marrying this girl. I was genuinely terrified, yet I fully understood why everyone else made the decision to put their complete faith in this man. I mean, a happy, lovable minister is always someone worth trusting, right? I was on the edge of my seat for most of the first third of the movie as this creep moves his way into this family's life. The horrific anticipation of knowing something awful is about to happen is a rather suspenseful feeling, which is perfect for this time of year. We all love being scared at Halloween.
You'll note, though, that I said I was on the edge of my seat for most of the first third of the movie. I don't want to give too much away in case there are others reading this who, like me last week, haven't actually seen this movie. But the movie is essentially a three act story. I don't know what the time proportions are, but there are definitely three distinct parts. The first part of this film is what I have been describing to you. This is the horror of knowing that something awful is going to happen as this man gets closer and closer to achieving his goal. But for me personally, the movie didn't quite hit the levels of fear that I thought it was building to. There's definitely an overhanging sense of dread in the second and third parts of the movie, but I found myself a lot less interested in what was actually happening. I wanted the movie to unleash all of its terror and dread on me, but I felt like the director either made the choice to purposely hold back or didn't quite have the creative liberty at the time to do so. Thus we are left with a movie that, while still satisfying enough in the end, did come off as a bit cartoonish if you will. Certain aspects of the movie wouldn't have transpired the way they did, I didn't think. And they absolutely didn't when you look at the real story of Harry Powers.
Maybe it's because "Gone Girl" was the first movie I came up with when seeking comparisons to "The Night of the Hunter," but when I was contemplating the proper director for my remake, David Fincher was the name that seemed perfect. In addition to "Gone Girl," he's also made movies like "Se7en" and "Zodiac" that proves he has the thriller genre down pat. I believe that he would do "The Night of the Hunter" complete justice with his version. He could give it the modern grit and tone to please today's audiences while still being faithful to the original film. I also came up with a cast that I would love to see, which includes Jake Gyllenhaal as Harry Powell, Armie Hammer and Michelle Williams as our original couple Ben and Willa Harper, with Jaeden Lieberher and McKenna Grace as the two kids. I feel this is a cast that would deliver absolute power to these roles, especially with Fincher directing them. I don't have my exact script hammered out in my head, but it would be dark and intense. Perhaps we could even go back to the original source material by telling the true story of Harry Powers. Or maybe a combination of the real story and the fictional version. I don't know. Maybe you hate me right now for suggesting this, but I think it could work.
The point of all this is, while I honestly did enjoy myself in "The Night of the Hunter," I think the intensity was turned down quite a bit from what it could've been, perhaps due to restrictions based on what 1955 audiences could handle. While it's very true that I'm not an expert on classic cinema from this age, thus making me not the most qualified person to review this movie, thrillers are my thing. It's my favorite genre. When I compare "The Night of the Hunter" to other thrillers that I've seen, I didn't get quite the thrill out of it that I was expecting or hoping for. The first act was solid, but it got a bit cartoonish at times, wandered around through the second act and perhaps went on a little further than it needed to in the third act in terms of the story (not the run time of the movie). Perhaps it's unfair to compare it to modern-day thrillers like "Gone Girl" or "Nightcrawler." But I think a comparison to Hitchcock's films are absolutely on the table. Movies like "Psycho," "Rear Window," "Vertigo" and "The Birds" are a lot more refined, intense, terrifying and boundary-pushing. Even with that said, "The Night of the Hunter" is still a solid film and might even be perfect if you like your thrillers a bit more toned down. My grade for it is still an 8/10 despite what I've said.
Monday, October 16, 2017
If you're like me from two weeks ago and you haven't been exposed to "Young Frankenstein," allow me to give you a quick taste of what you're in for. This is a movie directed by the great Mel Brooks and stars Willy Wonka himself (Gene Wilder) as Frederick Frankenstein, the grandson of the infamous Victor Frankenstein from our original "Frankenstein" story. Frederick Frankenstein hates his heritage so much that he gets angry when someone brings it up and he even prefers to pronounce his last name the German way instead of the traditional English way in order to separate himself from his grandfather. He'd prefer to be famous based on his own merits and not because of the cynical and crazy history of his grandfather. Despite this hatred, he ends up being dragged into his grandfather's work, anyways, when he's informed that he has inherited his family's estate in Transylvania. Curiosity gets the better of him and he checks the estate out and, with the help of the hunchback Igor and the beautiful assistant Inga, he discovers his grandfather's secret lab and can't help himself. The three of them work together to create another monster from the remains of others, which leads to practically everything going horribly wrong in perhaps the most hilarious way possible.
But now is not the time for that. Now is the time for "Young Frankenstein," the movie that came long after those and does not take itself seriously at all. This is not a movie designed to make you think on all the deep mysteries of life. Even though I don't find the "Frankenstein" movies scary, per se, "Young Frankenstein" isn't even a horror movie. It's a straight-up comedy that's meant as a "Frankenstein" parody movie. Even though I personally prefer my original "Frankenstein" movies, when it comes to a light-hearted comedic telling of a classic story, it doesn't get a whole lot better as alot of this humor is quite on point. Much of this is shouldered by Gene Wilder, who absolutely owns this role as Frederick Frankenstein. I haven't been exposed to Gene Wilder as much as I would like to, but I've always adored him as Willy Wonka in "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" from 1971. That exposure alone was enough for me to be sad about his passing last summer. It was fun seeing him in something else as I watched "Young Frankenstein" and I was super impressed as he went all in with this role, embracing both sides of this complex character of Frederick Frankenstein. The other actors in this movie did well, too. But I honestly don't think this movie would've gone anywhere had it not been for the brilliant performance of Gene Wilder.
As far as the comedy itself, I will admit that not all of it worked for me. I think that's the case with comedy in general, which is why it's such a hard genre to pull off. Not everyone is going to laugh at the same jokes, especially in this case if they are less familiar with the source material that this movie is parodying. If you're less familiar with "Frankenstein," I'd suggest you watch that first instead of this, because otherwise the comedy might go right over your head. But even with the knowledge of "Frankenstein," not all of this worked for me. I'd hesitate to use the word "raunchy" to describe this movie, but there is quite a bit of sexual humor scattered throughout that I think would put this movie at a PG-13 in today's standards, thus making it not quite the Halloween movie for the whole family to enjoy. Specifically there's an ongoing gag about the size of the monster's you-know-what that was kinda chuckle-worthy the first time they used it, but completely unfunny every other time, but yet they kept going. I will admit that I did laugh when Gene Wilder exclaimed his amazement at the size of the knockers on the door in which Inga responded with a "thank you." That was a cleverly timed joke, even though it does fit under the same category as the other.
I definitely think there is a strong place in this world for Halloween movies like this. Halloween is a fun time of year, but it's understandable that some people are not on board for the scary, horror side of Halloween. As such, it's good to have a wide selection of light-hearted, Halloween humor to enjoy. Even though I prefer the dramatic, serious side of "Frankenstein" more than this, I would still give this my strong recommendation, especially if you are one that prefers the lighter side of Halloween. It's not as deep and powerful as other "Frankenstein" movies. And it does dive more into the sexual humor than it needed to. I think this would've worked best as a movie the whole family can enjoy as opposed to it being targeted more towards the adult audience, but this is still a fun movie to enjoy that is propelled by Gene Wilder owning the role of Frederick Frankenstein, but supporting roles from the likes of Marty Feldman (Igor), Teri Garr (Inga), Madeline Kahn (Elizabeth), Cloris Leachman (Frau Blucher) and Peter Boyle (the monster) certainly have to be given credit as well. It was a good team effort all around, thus we also have to give a lot of credit to Mel Brooks for being the director at the helm of the project. I think a fair grade for "Young Frankenstein" from me is a solid 8/10.
Sunday, October 15, 2017
In the movie, Jessica Rothe plays a college sorority girl named Tree Gelbman. She wakes up one day in the dorm room of a guy named Carter Davis, played by Isreal Broussard, having not remembered what happened the previous evening. She puts on her shirt, leaves the room, and heads off to class, making sure to be rude and arrogant to everyone in her path, roommates included. Because, you know, that's how we have to have her in this type of movie. We have to watch her learn to be nice to the world. Except she does kind of have an excuse. Today is her birthday, which is not a very happy day for her due to certain family issues. But after living a somewhat normal day for her, she ends up all by herself in a dark part of town where she comes across an individual dressed in black with a baby-face mask, that's apparently the school mascot. That person kills her and then she wakes up back in the dorm room of Carter Davis. And what do you know. It's the same day again. At the end of each ensuing day, the crazy person with the baby face mask is waiting for her to kill her again. Why trap her in a time loop instead of kill her for good? I don't know. The movie doesn't really answer that question. This is the type of movie where certain things you just have to accept.
Because of that, there's a few ways you can look at this movie. You can take it super seriously and complain at all the logical fallacies present in the movie. Why is she in a time loop? I don't know. Why doesn't she use one of her lives to de-mask the killer to figure out who he/she is? I don't know. When the mystery is revealed, does it make sense when you think back on the rest of the movie? Probably not. Is it kinda silly that it follows the "Groundhog Day" formula to a t, with a "Groundhog Day" reference thrown in there? Yeah. But here's the thing I'd say to you if you did take that route with this movie. The movie itself doesn't take itself seriously at all, so it's a bit unfair for you to do so. This is a very self-aware movie that simply decides to have a ton of fun with a silly premise, thus I think it can be enjoyed if you try to sit back, relax and just have fun. That's exactly what I did and it was a very enjoyable ride. I imagine the writers had a lot of fun writing this screenplay. I imagine the director had fun bringing it to life. And I definitely know that the lead actors had a ton of fun in their roles. Jessica Rothe completely owns this role by going all in on whatever she was told to do, thus she ends up carrying this whole movie on her back and you can't help but like her.
My biggest gripe that I had while watching the movie is that it seemed like it was going to end a specific way and I don't think I would've been happy with that specific ending. I don't want to dive into specifics with this, but right when I started to grumble and complain at how they decided to wrap this up, they turned the corner slightly and went a bit of a different direction and that direction was enough to please me. Is this a movie that I plan on owning and watching every Halloween for the rest of my life. No. When you compare it to "Groundhog Day" and "Edge of Tomorrow," it doesn't get very close to that. I don't know if I even have a huge desire to watch it a second time, but if I have family or friends that are curious enough to check it out, I'll happily sit down and enjoy the movie with them. It's a fun, enjoyable ride as long as you don't take it too seriously. If you are wanting dark, scary and serious, go watch "IT." If you want fun and enjoyable, then check out "Happy Death Day." If you are poor or have no time to head out to the theaters this Halloween, then don't be too upset that you missed this. Find it on Netflix or rent it at Redbox sometime. That's perfectly acceptable. You're not missing "the movie of 2017." My grade for "Happy Death Day" is an 8/10.