Archive for December, 2010

The Shining

It’s hard to remember exactly when I first saw “The Shining”. I believe it was some time in my early to mid teens.  I will, however, never forget the immediate impact it had on me and, as a result, remains to be one of my very favorite Stanley Kubrick films even today. It is often said that, for the bulk of this film, there are four main characters, the first three being the members of the Torrance family and the fourth being the Overlook Hotel itself. I would go further though and say that it is not only the hotel that constitutes the fourth lead, but that coupled with the absolute solitude established throughout most of the film.

Quite frankly, where would this movie be at all without the most subtle yet obvious element of the plot, the solitude, that is with us almost from the get go and upon which the whole tone of the story relies. It is the true genius of this story, and stories like it, that they have us scared before anything happens. Before anyone dies. Before we even really see anything out of the ordinary. The sensation created over several virtually silent, extended scenes, employing great directing, camera work and editing, is the same as that we feel being all alone in an unfamiliar home or other large space at night. It’s fear created by sensory depravation. In daylight we are not quite as concerned with certain dangers as we have a feeling that we could at least more easily see them coming. At night, no matter how old we get, there is always that slight, sneaking fear, or at least caution, of what might be hiding in the next shadow or around that corner, especially in an unfamiliar space.

In this film the same sensation is created, but for a different reason. In order to set the audience up for the later climax, the filmmakers don’t just want you to understand that these people are all alone, they want you to feel it yourself. In this case, the fear doesn’t come from the dark, although that never helps, but from the absolute isolation and the enormous size and complexity of the place in which the story takes place. Once isolation is established and we feel comfortable that we are alone, things like a boy playing with his toys on the floor and a ball rolling slowly to him from an empty hallway become far more unnerving.

“The Shining” is another one of those films that does a great job creating lots of suspense and terror while employing very little violence or horrific imagery. Only two people die in the entire movie and majority of the blood is limited to the visions experienced by the Torrance family, but it manages to keep the suspense going until the very end as well as mixing in a fair amount of frightening and unsettling moments. This movie gets better every time I watch it.

Rating: 5 Stars


Falling Down

This is one of the movies that I snuck into at 12 years of age when I was supposed to be seeing whatever PG-rated movie happened to be starting around the same time at that theater on that day. At this this age, though I had been exposed to a significant amount of violence in other movies I also wasn’t supposed to have watched, I was not mature enough to fully grasp the story of this film and, though there were parts I had liked, I left the theater somewhat bored by the whole experience. This was not an uncommon experience for me. All regular moviegoers have their hits and misses and, from the time I was first allowed to attend a movie by myself, I was as regular a moviegoer as humanly possible.

Probably 15 years passed before I saw this movie again on television. And, though obviously edited for broadcast, I had one of those moments you get to have once in a while with a movie you didn’t “get” the first time around. Once I’d finished watching it, I was taken aback by the intelligence and depth I hadn’t seen before, and it has continued to get better with each successive viewing. On the surface, this appears to be an action / revenge movie with a somewhat weak and/or obscure plot that doesn’t really take off. That’s what you’ll see if you go into this looking for an action movie. You will be disappointed.

But if you change your perspective and expectation, you see something else emerge entirely. Something crafted with such a simple brilliance that it is a joy to watch. A joy from an intellectual perspective, not from gratification for some kind of revenge fantasy film. This is not the story of a man getting even with some of the more annoying parts of life we weather regularly. It is the story of a regular guy, a guy you might see anywhere. Maybe even sitting next to you in traffic. A working stiff who has done everything he’s been told he should do, made the compromises most of us have come to except as part of life and his life has still fallen apart.

He doesn’t see his part in the procession of negative actions that brought him here, so he is desperately looking for anyone to blame, at least in part, for how he has been wronged. In doing this we see a parade of different symbolic characters representing some of the more frustrating, infuriating and terrifying parts of life that your average person either is or could potentially be subjected to just by the fact that they are part of the society in which we live. However, none of these potential scapegoats, though it is hard to feel bad for some of them, are the actual cause of our lead character’s problems.

We come to learn that his problems began long ago and they began within him, not by being wronged by outside sources. And today just happened to be the day that this seemingly average guy, sitting next to the rest of these average people in traffic, just snapped. This movie is about a journey that is physical, mental and emotional. As William “D-Fens” Foster (Michael Douglas) makes his way, on foot, across the city to see his daughter on her birthday, we also watch his sanity, compassion and self-control slowly start to unravel. This is NOT an action movie. It is psychological, suspenseful at times, intelligent and challenging. There are times you are pulling for Douglas’ character, and there are times you’re against him. It really is quite a ride with an absolutely pitch-perfect ending that will not leave you the least bit disappointed.

Rating: 5 Stars

Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter

How can you see a title like “Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter” and NOT have a slight urge to watch it out of simple morbid curiosity? Especially when it’s available for instant viewing on Netflix and it won’t cost you a dime, which is good because I wouldn’t have paid that dime. This is an incredibly stupid movie. The writing, acting, production work and everything else is all done very badly. I also had a passing urge to watch something else about half a dozen times over the 85 minute duration of the film. However, it is NOT “The Underground Comedy Movie”. It isn’t trying to be offensive or push the envelope, though I guess if you are VERY conservative and religious you might find it blasphemous.

This is one of those movies that knows how bad it is and revels in it. It looks likes something that a group of friends with a couple of cameras and little to no film-making skills threw together in a weekend. It can basically be summed up as Jesus serving as the protagonist of a really bad action movie, fighting vampires (who apparently aren’t bothered by sunlight) that prey on lesbians. Yes, that’s right. Jesus saves the lesbians. Don’t pay money for this, but if you’ve got about and hour and a half to kill and occasionally like movies that are proud of how bad they are, this one has got you covered. The best scene was Jesus fighting the atheists.

Rating: 2 Stars

The Case For Christ

I’ll lead with the best I have to say about this film. I believe this is one of the best and strongest representations of the modern Christian argument for legitimacy. If you find the proof or justification in this that you were hoping for, I congratulate you. You can also take solace in the fact that many others have and will feel the same as you do about this production. That said…

The film-making: A classic cliched amateur documentary that anyone can pull off these days with a couple cameras, a green screen, iMovie, willing participants and a love of “Unsolved Mysteries” reruns. Topped off by the classic feel-good ending as the symbolic cherry on top. Move over, Scorsese.

The content: Everything presented in this film is contingent on the idea, which they try to establish first thing out of the box, that the biblical authors, and particularly the authors of the biblical gospels, were unbiased and diligent historians. You have to buy in to this claim for the rest of the conclusions drawn in this film to have any credibility. For me, a My Cousin Vinny scene about bricks and playing cards comes to mind. The word “evidence” is thrown around pretty loosely here once they get rolling. Your belief is also further solicited by the idea that your being led through this by not only a former skeptic but a former atheist. At its core, this is the classic idea that the bible proves everything in the bible and work backward from that. Tie God inseparably to the Bible. If you can prove Jesus existed and that people believed he was the messiah, son of God, etc then he WAS the messiah, son of God, etc. And above all… trust us… really.

Conclusion: Please. I genuinely invite you to draw your own and I send you on your way with my sincere blessing.

If you want mine, it is this. That religion, in my opinion, often has more do do with love and trust for the people from which you acquire it or the fact that it may have filled the role of the philosophy used to guide you back from the brink of a potentially more destructive life than it does with belief or God. Either that or the assumption that in a genuine search for God, or a higher power of some sort, that religion truly speaks for him or it. I don’t believe it does and this film did not convince me otherwise, whish I believe was the goal. But this is my opinion and, again, please draw your own.

Rating: 2 Stars

Halloween 2 (2009)

I have, quite literally, just finished watching Halloween 2 as written and directed by Rob Zombie. I must say that it took me a while  to get my hooks into this one, but once I did, I couldn’t let go. It wasn’t the best horror movie I’ve ever seen but it wasn’t supposed to be. What’s more, they knew this. I have an admiration for films that know what they are and are not only comfortable with it, but relish in it. Contrary to what many critics might think, and there were definitely more negative criticisms than I expected, Rob Zombie knew exactly what he was doing here. For me, this film was part artistic film-making and part homage to movies of this ilk from the 1970s and 80s. In the world where there are enough remakes and reboots to choke your average moviegoer to death, Rob Zombie is one of the very few I give credit for putting out a good end product.

I strongly suspect that you have to have watched a lot of good and bad horror movies to appreciate Zombie’s work here, and I have. He is a fan of horror who now makes it. There is no better hands for such a movie to be in. In a field where literally EVERYTHING has been done, where do you go? How many times can the killer come out of absolutely nowhere before you no longer jump. How many sick and depraved ways can you see a body mutilated and torn apart before you are desensitized and it all gets stale. You can only go down the same road for so long before you reach the end. Zombie does his best with the scares and the blood here, but from the mindset of a fan who’s waiting for them and thinks they know what’s coming. Some are decided meant to be seen coming, though that might not be obvious to some viewers (If you don’t know by now that the friend running downstairs to call 911 is going to die then you haven’t watched enough horror movies). Others are meant to see if they can sneak up behind you before you turn around.

There is some great artistic camera work and editing done to change things up a bit from your expected death scene. I was in tears at the death of Annie (both with Laurie and Sheriff Brackett). The end in the shed could have had some more depth to it and while I did understand and respect the point being made with Dr. Loomis (people who will profit off of horrific events and the pain of others), it could have used some more work too. Zombie gives a new and more realistic feel to the unstoppable monster, even in the presence of ghosts and visions. I also think the groundwork laid in the first film goes a long way in making the character of Michael Myers even more interesting in both films, though you definitely can not understand this movie without seeing first one. All in all, I believe Zombie achieved what I think his goal was and I was sucked in to the movie. I didn’t finish it and feel that I’d wasted my time. On the contrary, I was quite entertained and please with the film.

Rating: 4 stars.