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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Movie Review: SLITHER


"Don't let them in your mouth!"
-- Bill Pardy

Slither is a 2006 horror-comedy written and directed by James Gunn that serves as a well-made, contemporary B-movie. When a meteorite containing an alien parasite crash lands in the woods outside Wheelsy, South Carolina, it may have gone completely unnoticed had it not been for the drunken shenanigans of Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) and Brenda Gutierrez (Brenda James). Grant stumbles upon the creeping crawling creature which shoots a dart into his stomach that maneuvers its way into his brain. Over the next few days, Grant develops a number of rashes, and his personality begins to change, much to the concern of his wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks). As more time passes, Grant's condition worsens, and it's apparent that something truly alien has started to take control of his body. He goes on a rampage, killing a number of pets and livestock around the community, and he attacks and kidnaps Brenda. In an effort to catch Grant, Starla and the local police chief Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) lead a group of deputies and townspeople in an effort to find him. Little do they know that Grant has laid a trap for them that will unleash an entirely new terror on the town of Wheelsy, and possibly, the entire world.

I remember seeing the trailer for this film back when it was set to be released, and I thought it was an interesting idea for a revamped B-movie. At the time, I wasn't necessarily gung-ho about seeing it, but as time went by and it managed to scare up some relatively positive reviews, I got it in my mind to give it a view. It never really dropped off my radar, but I wasn't as into the horror genre back then as I am now, so I just never took the time to give it a chance. But now, with it much more accessible to me than it has been in the past, I figured now was the best time to take this horror-comedy in.

Like many B-movies, Slither takes a look at what might happen if there were some sort of alien attack on humankind. This time, we're delving into the backwoods of South Carolina, taking a look at how one small town responded to a vicious parasitic attack on its populace. Needless to say, the film ends like so many others have before: with a very large body count and enough gleeful gore to satisfy the gore-hounds. The screenplay offers a good send-up of your classic horror B-movies, and once you can settle into that frame of mind, you can let the mindless entertainment ensue.

What I'm trying to say is that you shouldn't expect too much in terms of storyline. It's a humdrum tale of people reacting to a given situation, and that's exactly how it should be. Because of this, however, three other facets need to step up in order to make this a successful film. First, we have to have believable characters with whom we can mildly relate. Banks and Fillion fill those shoes well enough, and although I wouldn't go as far as to say I cared for their characters, I did find myself rooting for them to make it through. Second, the dialogue needs to be catchy and fresh. Slither also succeeds here. The dialogue felt realistic, and it did enough to keep me smiling from start to finish.

Finally, a successful horror-comedy has to deliver the scares as well as the laughs. While it's not as side-splittingly funny as, say, Shaun of the Dead, there's still plenty to laugh about here and there, and most of it comes from dialogue. Kudos to the screenwriter, as well as the actors, for having the comedic timing and sensibilities to pull this one off. In terms of scares, there aren't really any moments of suspense or times where you'll jump out of your seat. In true B-movie fashion, Slither instead goes for the jugular, almost literally. It attempts to shock you by its level of gore, and I do have to say that the filmmakers created a rather disgusting creature for all of us to "enjoy."

Because Slither manages to succeed on its three most important facets, it has to be considered a successful film. Each of these facets help make it an entertaining and mindless romp, and it should never be taken as more than such. Just know going in that you're going to be in for some slightly sickening images here and there, so those of you with an easily upset stomach might want to beware. Aside from that, throw Slither into your "movies to watch" list because it's a hell of a good time.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: B-
Status: Should See

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Movie Review: PSYCHO


"She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven't you?"
-- Norman Bates

Psycho is a 1960 horror film directed by Alfred Hitchcock that many consider to be one of the director's greatest achievements. The story begins in Phoenix, Arizona, where a young secretary named Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) embezzles forty-thousand dollars from her employer then skips town in the hopes of running away with her long-distance boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin), who lives in the small town of Fairvale, California. As Marion makes her way north, she stumbles upon the Bates Motel, a small establishment off the main highway, and decides to stay the night before pushing on to her destination. She meets the young Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), the caretaker of the motel, and after exchanging some pleasantries, Marion elects to turn in for the night. Before bed, however, she opts to take a shower...

I think you'd be a bit hard-pressed to find many a film fan who doesn't know the next sequence of events, as Psycho's shower scene has reached a certain stature of fame, or infamy, over the years. From that scene, the rest of the film serves more as a mystery than as a horror film, but none of that really takes away from the fact that Psycho manages to be one of the greatest films ever made. 

For me, Psycho has been a recognizable film for as long as I can remember. To be honest, my first interaction with it was a rather negative one. When I was about four years old, my family decided to take a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood. The park had a "special effects stage" attraction, where one of the rooms focused on the cinematography of Hitchcock's films. At such a young age, I was introduced to the shower scene, and I was absolutely horrified. I instantly became terrified of bathrooms and showers, and it took me quite a while to get past that fear. In addition, it took me another sixteen years before I could sit down and watch Psycho in its entirety, but boy am I glad that I did. 

The history of the film itself is a rather incredible one itself. The making of the film is chronicled well in David Thomson's book The Moment of Psycho, and Thomson offers some interesting insight on the film as well, if you have a chance to read it. One of my favorite little tidbits about the film's release is the fact that Hitchcock essentially forbade anyone from entering theaters after the film had begun to play (a tactic that is alluded to in the trailer at the end of this review). His reasoning? Hitchcock thought that a viewer needed to see Psycho from the very start lest they miss an important piece of information. It was a truly groundbreaking idea for the time, and audiences ate it up. 

Over the years, Psycho has become considered one of the most groundbreaking and important films to appear in cinematic history. Arguably Hitchcock's finest film, it does manage to live up to all the hype. The screenplay itself is a wonderfully-written mystery that almost plays as two separate stories. In the first half, we have a tale of love, crime and extortion, but as soon as the shower scene occurs and we as the audience lose our main focal point in Janet Leigh, we're left a little bit adrift. That's when storyline two kicks in, and we're thrown into the midst of a murder mystery in which we think we know the answer. The kicker? Well, I'll leave that to the film and to Hitchcock. What's truly great about the screenplay, however, is that in the midst of all this horror, confusion and mystery, we still get an ample supply of comedy. If you pay close attention, there's a number of bits of dialogue that are meant to be played out for comedic effect, and they're so perfectly-placed that they might even manage to draw a bit of out-loud laughter. Essentially, this screenplay has it all: horror, mystery, comedy, drama and romance. It brings it all together in such an effective manner that there just might be something for everyone.

While the storyline tends to ebb and flow throughout the film, one thing that does remain consistent is the high level of acting performances we receive. Leigh starts out as the apparent lead, and she does an incredible job with the role. At times, she manages to seem both vulnerable and invincible at once, and it's this duality that makes her both appealing and fascinating until her untimely and sudden demise. From there, the disillusioned audience has no choice but to pick up on the film's seeming sub-lead: Perkins's Norman Bates. And let me tell you, Perkins steals the show. The more I watch the film, the more I become mesmerized by just how strong a performance Perkins manages to bring forth. It's a subtle but profound type of brilliance, and I think it's often under-appreciated. Perkins slips through so many emotions even in the course of only one scene that it might be difficult for the casual viewer to keep up with it all, but I would argue that he brought forth one of the greatest performances in cinematic history. 

The rest of the cast fills out rather well mostly because each person plays their part to a tee. Vera Miles comes in for a supporting role as Marion's distraught sister. She teams up with Gavin's Loomis hoping to find answers. Gavin is probably the weakest link in the film (a thought that Hitchcock shared), but even he isn't all that terrible. It's just that, in comparison to the talent around him, there just wasn't any way for him to keep up. Of all the supporting characters, however, I have to tip my hat most to Martin Balsam, who plays the private detective Milton Arbogast. He's a wonderfully-consistent addition to the cast, and he and Perkins combine for one of the film's best scenes. It's just a well-rounded cast all around, and I think the acting in the film has taken a bit of a back seat to the screenplay and the direction itself. Someone needs to herald it, so why shouldn't I?

One of the most effective components of Psycho, however, is its cinematic score. Composed by Bernard Herrmann, I can't quite say it's the most instantly recognizable pieces of music, but it definitely has to be high on the list. Though not quite as iconic as, say, John Williams's score for Jaws, I think Herrmann still managed to create something truly brilliant with his score. The bit from the shower sequence might be the most recognizable from the film, but the rest of the score is so splendidly-crafted that it's hard no to enjoy it from start to finish.

At the end of the day, Psycho proves to rank near, if not at, the top of the list of horror films, and it also manages to be ranked very highly on the list of greatest films of all time. I myself would have to place it within the top five greatest films I've ever seen, and that's saying quite a bit considering the amount of films I've seen. If you haven't had a chance to take in this iconic film, then maybe this Halloween season should be the time to do so. It's not as terrifying as it may have used to be, but it's still so profound that it's easy to understand why it's reached such an idolized place in cinematic history. Congratulations, Mr. Hitchcock. You created a masterpiece.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A+
Status: Must-See

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Movie Review: LOOPER


"The only rule is: never let your target escape."
-- Joe

Looper is a 2012 sci-fi action film written and directed by Rian Johnson that serves as his third directorial effort, and his first since 2008's The Brothers Bloom. The story tells the tale of a futuristic world in which time travel exists but is outlawed, used only by major crime syndicates for purposes of disposal. These syndicates will send victims back in time where men known as "loopers" wait for them only to execute them on sight. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is such a man, and he maintains an extravagant lifestyle as a result of his career. One day, as Joe waits for his victim, or "loop," he finds an older version of himself (Bruce Willis) kneeling before him. After a moment's hesitation, Young Joe allows Old Joe to escape, sparking a massive manhunt by Young Joe's company to find the older man. As Young Joe and Old Joe start to interact through their meetings, light is shed on the elder Joe's current agenda for transforming his future into something much more desirable.

I apologize if the above synopsis seems a little bit shoddy, but I don't want to give away too much information about the plot and the storyline. What I wrote, along with the trailer posted below, really gives away the first half of the film. It's the second act that proves to be a little bit astonishing, and I'd rather not be the one to give it all away.

I've been anxiously awaiting this film for quite a while. Many of my readers will know that I have a bit of a man-crush on Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and that might have played a part in me seeing this film as soon as I did. The real selling point for me, however, is the return of a collaboration between Gordon-Levitt and director Johnson, who first joined forces for 2005's Brick. I'm sure that fact has probably been mentioned in every single review for Looper thus far, but I figured I'd reiterate it. Because I loved that film so much, the idea of another film from the two seemed like a gift-wrapped present at Christmas. What I'm here to tell you is that Looper does not disappoint. It's opened to some fantastic reviews - it currently holds a ninety-three percent approval rating on - and that only fueled the fire for me to get to a theater and see it as soon as I possibly could.

Let's start with the screenplay, shall we? In the past, a number of successful film franchises, such as Back to the Future and those little Terminator films, have dealt with the concept of time travel. For whatever reason, the plot device has remained a viable option for filmmakers in today's society as well, but I don't think I've ever seen it quite done like this. Johnson manages to create a cinematic world where the idea of time travel can understandably exist, and yet, he never takes the time to spell out the precise details for such an existence. Instead, he gives us just enough information for the audience to understand and believe the capability, and it's this tactic that sets Looper apart from the some of the other great time travel flicks. Rather than trying to bash the viewer over the head with drawn-out explanations, Johnson allows the explanation to be this simple: it exists, and it works. For the most part, that's all we need to know.

From there, the film plays out in a relatively straight-forward manner. Anytime you involve time travel, there are going to be a few moments where things can get a little confusing, but the screenplay does well to keep things from getting too convoluted. At the end of the day, I couldn't see any major issues with logic and continuity within the constructs of the story, but some nitpickers will surely find a few minor details here and there. The screenplay does go on to excel in the second half of the film, blending action sequences with a number of thrills and some fantastic plot twists towards film's end. While some of the storyline becomes a tad bit predictable, I can honestly say that I was not expecting the film's ultimately finale, one that just might blow your mind.

To bring this screenplay together, we'd need a pretty good cast, and that's just what we're getting. Gordon-Levitt is fantastic as Young Joe, and with a fantastic bit of make-up, he does his best Bruce Willis impression. In the early going, it's uncanny just how much the young actor mimics the likeness of the veteran, and I have to say I was thoroughly impressed. Willis himself also brings a strong performance to the screen. Always one of my favorite actors, I can honestly say that I don't think I've seen him bring forth this strong a character since his turn in 2005's Sin City. I might even go as far back as The Sixth Sense in 1999, if I think about it. Kudos to these two leading men for crafting engaging on-screen characters.

Now, the rest of the cast fills out incredibly well, and you're going to see quite a few familiar faces. Emily Blunt offers a great performance as our leading lady. She continues to impress me with her acting prowess. Also be on the lookout for the likes of Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano and Garret Dillahunt, each of whom brings a great bit to the screen. Where I was truly impressed, however, was with the performance of young actor Pierce Gagnon, appearing in only his third feature film. Even for such a young age, he brought quite a presence and power to the screen, which was definitely a necessity for his particular character. To stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt is quite a feat, but the young Gagnon manages to do just that.

At the end of the day, Looper is a fantastic film, as well as an incredible addition to the science-fiction canon. Sure, it has a few minor flaws here and there, but with any film involving time travel, a bit of disbelief is a bit necessary. If you can let yourself get lost in this world and this story, I don't think there's any reason you won't enjoy the film. Rian Johnson strikes yet again, and I can't wait for his net endeavor.


Movie Review Summary
Grade: A
Status: Should See

Wednesday, September 26, 2012



"Hold my hand. Close your eyes."
-- Justine

Melancholia is a 2011 dramatic arthouse film directed by Lars von Trier that delves into the concepts of depression and disaster. In the midst of her wedding celebration, new bride Justine (Kirsten Dunst) unwittingly falls victim to a number of outside circumstances that keep her from enjoying what should be the happiest day of her life. Her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) continually pester her about her mood, and she withstands a number of confrontations from her employer (Stellan Skarsgård) about work-related issues. Her mood swings affect her new husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), and at the end of the night, Justine finds herself without a husband and without a job. The film then transitions to its main story: Justine has fallen into a deep depression, and the world watches as a rogue planet called Melancholia heads on a course for a fly-by of Earth. Justine comes to stay with Claire and her family, and she slowly gets back on her feet. Around the same time, Claire begins to worry that Melancholia might, in fact, collide with Earth, causing the end of the world as she knows it.

I first heard about Melancholia as it made its way through the film festival circuits back in early 2011. Dunst managed to nab the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival, a feat which sparked early Oscar buzz for her performance. The film itself would go on to be selected as the best film of 2011 by the U.S. National Society of Film Critics, and it managed to score a number of nominations and wins at ceremonies around the world. But it was the performance of Dunst, whom has been both good and bad over the years, that truly drew my personal interest in the film. Little did I know that von Trier had something truly special hidden up his sleeve.

I think I need to start with this disclaimer before I get into my overall review: Melancholia is an arthouse film, and it's not going to appeal to all viewers and audiences. Fortunately, the film's opening sequence will set the stage for whether or not you are personally going to make it through the over two-hour venture. The film opens in true arthouse fashion with a number of seemingly random sequences that are sure to confuse many. I myself was scratching my head at the very outset, wondering what exactly I was getting myself into. If you're already turned off by the opening sequence, then Melancholia might not be the flick for you, but if it offers you a sense of intrigue, I implore you to keep watching.

As I previously stated, the film delves into the deepest realms of depression and disaster. It's not the easiest film to watch, and it certainly doesn't offer any real happy ending. It's going to leave a bit of a sour taste in your mouth, but I think that's the point. The storyline itself is relatively rudimentary, but it's the subtle nuances about the screenplay that bring this film to life. The events taking place in the world outside of the film's characters are merely the pieces that keep time moving forward. Melancholia is more about investing yourself in the characters and the emotions they convey. The brilliance in the screenplay stems from the wonderfully-written characters. Even the characters we only see for a moment seem perfectly-placed, and it gives the film a true sense of reality and validity.

The best part of the screenplay, in my opinion, is von Trier's look at the world of depression. Having had my own issues with mental illness, I'd be lying if I said I didn't take a personal emotional interest in the cinematic look at this world so familiar to me. Von Trier himself has had his own issues with depression, and it was these circumstances that led him to craft this particular film. What he creates is one of the most honest and heartbreaking looks at a person with depression, and for that alone, I have to applaud the filmmaker and writer.

This character-driven creation would have never come to life were it not for the stellar cast that von Trier was able to bring together. Dunst is a revelation as one of our principal leads, and I'm left scratching my head, wondering how she was left off last year's Oscar ballot. This is a role unlike any she has ever taken before, and she knocks it out of the park. I laughed with her Justine, I cried with her, I fell to the very depths of sanity with her. When an actor is capable of bringing the viewer on that kind of emotional ride, you know they're doing something right. What's incredible is that Gainsbourg is just as good as Dunst, and it's almost unfair to think that this film managed to snag two fantastic performances. Between the two, it's easily one of the best pairs of performances I've seen together in one film in the last few years. Dunst may take the cake, but Gainsbourg is definitely having a slice or two. The rest of the cast fills out quite nicely, with both the elder and younger Skarsgård offering solid, albeit small, performances. Sutherland also does well with his bit, but he's overshadowed by his female counterparts. Also be on the watch for a great bit piece from John Hurt.

As I said before, Melancholia is not going to be a film that everyone will enjoy. If you've watched other arthouse fare and had trouble remaining engaged, then you might want to pass this one by. However, I personally found it to be an incredible cinematic feat, and Dunst's performance alone is enough to give it recommendation. If you have the patience for it, I'm sure Melancholia will deliver for you in the way it delivered for me.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A-
Status: Should See

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Top 10: Films I Need to Re-Watch

Have you ever watched a movie based on someone else's recommendation, only to find that it didn't quite live up to the bar they set? I can't begin to tell you just how many times this has happened to me. This becomes most frustrating when I watch an allegedly "great" film that has achieved a certain stature in cinematic history, but I simply can't find a way to like it or enjoy it. Because I want to have that intimate knowledge of the better films released through the course of history, I can say that I've had my share of disappointments. However, I think I may have a bit of a problem with my logic.

I usually only give most of those films a single viewing, and because I'm so put off by them the first time around, I simply don't take the time to give them another shot. There could very well be a chance that I'll enjoy the flick more the second time around, but I'm always just a tad bit wary of undertaking a film I didn't necessarily enjoy for a second time. However, sometimes it yields fantastic results. For example, I strongly disliked Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction when I first gave it a view, but after a second watch, I managed to see its incredible merit. Perhaps there are more such films out there.

So what I've done is create a list of films I've seen in the past that I didn't particularly enjoy for whatever reason of another. These are films that have stood out to me as ones that, for whatever reason, I think I might like after a second go-around. I could be completely wrong, but here goes nothing.

(Note: Of all the films on this list, I did not hate any of them on my first viewing. I simply think I didn't like them quite as much as I expected, and subsequent viewings seem to be in order.)

10. Kill Bill Vol. 1 / Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2003 / 2004)

Fitting that the film should start with another Tarantino venture, isn't it? When I saw the two Kill Bill films, I was in a place where I didn't really like Tarantino's style. Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs were good flicks, but I didn't really think they were all that brilliant. It wasn't until 2009's Inglourious Basterds that I started to come around on his filmmaking process, and I've since come to respect and enjoy Tarantino's vision. The Kill Bill flicks are the only ones I haven't managed to re-watch just yet, but I'm thinking I might like them a bit more than I did last time.

9. Rocky (1976)

My dislike for Rocky stems from two particular sentiments. First, I thought the film was a little bit too slow, and all that build up didn't really make for a terribly strong finish, in my opinion. Second, I'm really not much of a Sylvester Stallone fan, so it was difficult for me to relate to his character. Still, I understand the merit and achievement of the film, but as a pure entertainment factor, I think a re-watch might do me a little bit of good.

8. The Exorcist (1973)

Cited as one of the scariest films of all time, The Exorcist simply managed to spark a rise out of me the first time I watched it. Maybe it's been a bit dated since it was released in 1973, but I wasn't even left sitting on the edge of my seat, let alone be scared out of my wits. The problem I saw was that it felt like two different movies. The scenes with Linda Blair were fantastic, but everything else seemed like a melodrama that was a bit too talky.

7. Vertigo (1958)

Now, I did not dislike Vertigo the first time I watched it, but after a bit of studying, I realize I may not have entirely understood its meaning and message. It was recently voted by Sight & Sound as the greatest film of all time, and that alone makes me want to give it another watch, if only to remember just how great it is.

6. Blade Runner (1982)

Another film that I found to be a bit boring on its first viewing, I think I may have been a little too young for Blade Runner when I first saw it as a teenager. Having grown accustomed to seeing Harrison Ford in over-the-top action flicks, this dialed-down thinker didn't do quite enough to keep my adolescent mind engaged. Now, I think I have a little more patience with films, and this one might be right up my alley.

5. The Birds (1963)

Growing up, I was unable to watch The Birds because the concept utterly terrified me. I finally watched the film in a high school film class, and the ending left a sour taste in my mouth. I was extremely put off, and for a while, I was arguably quite angry with Alfred Hitchcock for ending the movie in such a way. The more I've thought about it though, the more I think it might be the right one, but I want to watch the movie again to give myself a little peace of mind.

4. Apocalypse Now (1979)

My problem with Apocalypse Now is that my only introduction to it was the Redux version, which runs fifty minutes longer than the original piece, which is lengthy itself at 153 minutes. Any film that lasts over three hours has to do a lot to keep the viewer engaged, but the Redux version couldn't quite do that for me. I think seeing the film in its original incarnation might give me a stronger appreciation for it.

3. The Shining (1980)

Can one actor ruin a film? In the case of The Shining, I'd argue yes. Shelley Duvall is so off-putting in the film that I was completely taken out of the storyline. It's even sadder to imagine because Jack Nicholson is so damn good in the film, ya know? Watching the film again knowing about Duvall's character should alleviate some of the strain, allowing me to focus on the story at hand.

2. The Matrix (1999)

I'm a little embarrassed about this one, but the reason I think I didn't like it the first time around is because literally everyone was enjoying it. I was in a stage of my life where I wanted to go against the grain, so disliking The Matrix was my big source of rebellion. Now that we're thirteen years later, I think another viewing is in order, if only to know that I've given it a proper chance.

1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

The first time I saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I hated it. I didn't get the humor, and I didn't find even one bit of it to be funny. To be fair, I was much younger than I am today, but I'm not quite sure that makes up for it. In the time since I've seen the film, I have seen - and thoroughly loved - a stage production of Spamalot, which is "lovingly ripped off from" the film itself. I think it was a matter of understanding the humor, and my positive reaction to Spamalot might mean that I'll have an equally positive reaction to the film.

Well, there you have it. The ten films I need to re-watch. Tune in next week for another top ten list!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Top 10: Films My Girlfriend Thinks I Should See

It's another Tuesday, and so I'm bringing you another "Top 10" list. This one, however, proves to be a tad bit different. In past weeks, I've offered up some of my own lists, delving into particular genres and sub-genres. But for this week's list, I thought we could go in a different direction. Now, I've mentioned here on a post here or there before, but my girlfriend Chloé wanted to help me with one of these particular posts, and I figured, "Why not?" It's a good change of pace, and it proves to be a very interesting list, I think.

What we have is a list of the ten films that Chloé thinks I need to see. Although I am quite the avid movie watcher, there are still plenty of flicks I've never had an opportunity to view. Luckily for me, Chloé is also a bit of a movie fan, and although our tastes match up quite a bit, there are plenty of flicks she's seen that I haven't. Ergo, the creation of this list. It's an eclectic selection, but I hope it can both engage you as well as give you ideas for new films you might like to see.

And so, without any further delay, here's the top ten films my girlfriend thinks I should see:

10. Velvet Goldmine (1998)

I've heard about this film from time to time, and I think I've seen it sitting on Netflix Instant Watch now and again, but I've never taken the time to sit down and watch it. With a now high-profile cast that includes Ewan McGregor, Christian Bale and Jonathan Rhys Myers, this venture into the glam rock of the 1970s has always sparked an interest. Says Chloé:
I was initially interested in Velvet Goldmine based off its title. Being a huge fan of David Bowie, I can say that I was extremely happy with the parallels between Bowie and the Brian Slade character on-screen. This film did not disappoint.

9. Kirikou et la sorcière (1998)
(Kirikous and the Sorceress)

I can honestly say that I've never heard of this animated film until Chloé offered me her list. She said that the film follows the story of a young boy named Kirikou, who tries to bring water back to his village after the evil sorceress Karaba kills all the men in the village and dries up the spring. Says Chloé:
I have fond memories of my grandmother playing this animated movie for my sisters and I after dinner, but it wasn't until I re-watched it last year that I realized just how brilliant it actually is.

8. Howl (2010)

I do have to say that I had every intention of seeing Howl when it first hit theaters. I'm a bit of a James Franco apologist, enjoying him in nearly all of his endeavors, and it was that reason alone that I had originally wanted to see this film. I knew a little bit about Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" on which the story is based, but I guess I didn't know enough to warrant going to see this one in the theaters. Says Chloé:
I truthfully didn't know what I was going to be getting as I sat down in the theater to watch Howl. A friend had told me about the film, but the only introduction I was offered was that the film featured Franco starring as Allen Ginsberg. What she didn't say was just how strong of a movie Howl proved to be.

7. Les demoiselles de Rochefort (1967)
(The Young Girls of Rochefort)

Another flick I don't really know anything about. I know that Chloé has mentioned this film on a few occasions in the past, but it's never been much of an in-depth conversation. The movie tells the story of two twins as they begin their adult lives and start to look for love. Says Chloé:
Les demoiselles de Rochefort is another film that links me back to my French roots. It's possibly my favorite film musical of all time. I just can't find any words that will do this movie justice, so I think you should just give it a chance. It even stars Gene Kelly, which I personally think is a huge plus.

6. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

I know what you're thinking: how haven't I seen a film as iconic as Breakfast at Tiffany's? To be fair, I'm sure Chloé has also asked that question on a number of occasions, and I don't think I've ever really had an answer for her. Says Chloé:
The fact that my boyfriend has not seen this movie is an insult to me, the resident Audrey Hepburn fanatic. I know that I want him to see all the films on this list, but the fact that he hasn't seen this one is probably the biggest tragedy.

5. Grey Gardens (1975)

In 2009, a made-for-TV movie called Grey Gardens was released and was met with critical acclaim. I knew that the film was a type of remake, but I didn't know that the original 1975 venture was actually a documentary. It took a look at the real lives of two of former First Lady Jackie Kennedy's cousins. Says Chloé:
One of the weirdest documentaries I've ever seen, Grey Gardens still manages to be my favorite. Our two central women have such enormous personalities that the film becomes utterly entertaining, documentary or not.

4. Never Let Me Go (2010)

Another film I had every intention of seeing during its initial theatrical release, Never Let Me Go simply managed to slip through my fingers. Based on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel of the same name, the film features the acting talents of Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield. The cast alone would have led me to the theater, but the overly emotional trailer also caught my eye. Says Chloé:
This movie is definitely a sad one. So sad, in fact, that when I tried with watch it with my mom, she literally refused to watch it through to the end. However, you shouldn't let that keep you from giving it a view. It's a near-perfect dystopian film with a beautiful love story. It's just a beautiful film, but be warned: it may leave you feeling sick to your stomach.

3. Withnail and I (1987)

The final film on the list of which I had never truly heard. Withnail and I is comedy that, according to Chloé, has a huge following in England. It tells the story of two struggling actors who decide to take a vacation together to get away from their mundane lives. Says Chloé:
Withnail and I is one of my favorite black comedies, and I just wish more people had heard of this brilliant film. It manages to keep you laughing all the way from start to finish.

2. Best in Show (2000)

Of all the films on this list, I think Chloé has been driving me to see this one the most in recent months. She even went as far as to buy me a copy of the film so that I could give it a view. I will eventually, I promise. Best in Show is a mockumentary that tells of five dogs and their owners as they train and prepare for the famed "Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show." Says Chloé:
Best in Show is my very favorite comedy and mockumentary. It's the cast that truly makes the film, featuring performers like Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey, Christopher Guest, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Lynch and their dogs.

1. The Ice Storm (1997)

I wish I could count how many times Chloé has mentioned The Ice Storm to me, but I've simply lost count. This Ang Lee production features an ensemble cast that includes Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Christina Ricci, Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood and Sigourney Weaver, and it tells the story of two dysfunctional families as they deal with affairs, drugs and sex. Says Chloé:
The Ice Storm is my favorite film of all time. There are really no words for it. I just love this movie.

And so, that concludes the list of the ten films my girlfriend thinks I need to see. I hope it gave you a few ideas of films you'd like to watch as well. Tune in next week for the next top ten list!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Movie Review: LAWLESS


"I'm a Bondurant. We don't lay down for nobody."
-- Forrest Bondurant

Lawless is a 2012 crime drama directed by John Hillcoat that is adapted from Matt Bondurant's 2008 novel, The Wettest County in the World. The story follows the Bondurants, a family of three brothers led by the eldest Forrest (Tom Hardy), who run an illegal moonshine business in Franklin County, Virginia in the midst of the Prohibition era. With the help of his brothers Jack (Shia LaBeouf) and Howard (Jason Clarke), Forrest has become one of the biggest suppliers of moonshine in the county. One day, a special deputy from Chicago named Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) is brought into the county in order to destroy the bootlegging businesses, and he immediately clashes with the Bondurant clan. He starts to rid the county of its numerous illegal distilleries, and he soon starts a personal vendetta against Forrest Bondurant. Youngest brother Jack finds a way to keep the business afloat, only increasing the tension between the brothers and the ever-present Rakes.

I first heard about this film about a year ago when it was still to be titled The Wettest County in the World. At the time, I took a passing glance, noticing it merely for its casting star power, but it didn't necessarily ring a bell as a must-see. When the film's trailer was released, however, something about the stylistic grittiness compelled me to at least give it a view. The film has opened to moderately positive reviews, but I can't quite say they've been entirely stellar thus far.

One of the biggest issues most critics - including myself - have had with Lawless is its screenplay. While there's definitely a strong and emotional story of family bonds and revenge hidden beneath it all, there seems to be a little too much extra storyline given to the film. At its core, the story should be about the three brothers and their loyalty to one another, regardless of how much they drive one another crazy. There were a few ancillary characters that turned out to be more important than they should have been, and it ultimately helps to bog down the story a little bit. Despite this, the film's climax and finale still prove to be quite strong, even with the obstacles along the way.

Where this film's strength truly lies is in its cast. Now, I have to start by saying that I have never been much of a fan of Shia LaBeouf. I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but there have been times where I have downright hated his presence on-screen. However, I think Lawless will ultimately be the film where we as the audience see LaBeouf mature into a legitimate actor right before our very eyes. At the start of the film, he almost seems a little bit of touch, as he often does, but by film's end, there's a power and a grace to his acting ability that I haven't seen him convey before. I have to tip my hat to the young actor for breaking out of his acting shell and transforming (pun intended) himself into something entirely different.

The rest of the cast fills out quite nicely as well. Tom Hardy continues to prove to me that he is one of the better actors working in Hollywood today. You can place his performance in Lawless right next to his noteworthy turns in 2009's Bronson and 2011's Warrior. Pearce is also great as the film's central villain, and I thought he brought the film's second-best character (behind Hardy's Forrest) to the screen. Also worth mention for their smaller, albeit not entirely necessary, roles are Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska, who all manage to bring strong performances to the film.

At the end of the day, Lawless manages to bring together a very strong ensemble cast that ultimately falls prey to a less-than-stellar screenplay. Still, the strength of the performances helps to keep this film afloat, and an emotional second act gives the audience an opportunity to stay engaged and involved with the events on-screen. See it for Hardy and Pearce's performances, and be surprised by the growth of Shia LaBeouf into a legitimate actor.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: B+
Status: Should See

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Top 10: Foreign-Language Films

While Hollywood may dominate the worldwide box office with its constant stream of films, there has been many a brilliant piece of cinema that has been produced outside the United States. Most of the world's larger countries have strong and flourishing film industries, and although they can't quite compare with the strength of Hollywood, they still manage to produce a number of great flicks. I've only recently - as in the past few years - started to delve into the world of foreign-language film, but in that span, I've managed to see quite a few great flicks, so I figured I'd make this particular list to showcase them.

Below is a list of the top ten foreign-language films I have ever seen. Now, while it could be considered a foreign film, you're not going to see any films from English-speaking countries like Canada or England. Instead of taking films simply produced outside the United States - which would include classics like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West - I chose to stick with films that are predominantly not in English. I think that makes for a little bit more of an interesting selection.

With that, here's the list! I hope you enjoy it!

10. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
Japanese: Letters from Iwo Jima

Released nearly simultaneously with its English-language sister film Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima manages to expand upon and outperform its predecessor by bringing a more emotional tale to the screen. Director Clint Eastwood does well to show the Japanese side of the lost battle, and it works in brilliant fashion, and the film benefits from a fantastic leading performance from Ken Watanabe.

9. Downfall (2005)
German: Der Untergang

Many people have seen snippets of this film, but they may not quite recognize it. There's an ongoing Internet video featuring a scene from Downfall in which the subtitled language is replaced for comedic purposes, but the scene comes from this particular picture, which documents Adolf Hitler's last days alive. It's an interesting character study about a man who's losing his grip on reality, and in a way, it's almost a tragic tale.

8. The Lives of Others (2007)
German: Das Leben der Anderen

Although I think The Lives of Others was an undeserved winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture - it went up against Pan's Labyrinth, for goodness sake - it still manages to be one of the better foreign films I've ever seen. Equal parts mystery and human drama, it manages to keep you completely invested with each character, regardless of whether you like them or not. Kudos to the cast and crew.

7. Cinema Paradiso (1990)
Italian: Nuovo Cinema Paradiso

This is a more recent watch for me, and I instantly fell in love with the story of an aging filmmaker reminiscing about his childhood introduction to the world of cinema. It's an epic tale of a boy's life and growth into a young man, and it manages to hit all the key emotions along the way. It's a film made for people who love film, so if you fall under that category, this one's definitely for you.

6. Amélie (2001)
French: Le fabeleux destin d'Amélie Poulain

I remember first hearing about this French film during my first year of college, and after hearing so many people talk about how much they love it, I had to give Amélie a try for myself. What I got was a splendidly delightful tale about a young woman with whom you can't possibly fall in love. Audrey Tautou gives a stellar performance, and the light-hearted and whimsical tone of the movie is sure to draw you in immediately.

5. Das Boot (1982)
German: Das Boot

I've long known of this movie's existence, but as you can see by my year-old review (linked above), it's only recently that I've been able to take in its greatness. Arguably one of the best war movies ever to film, Das Boot effectively manages to convey the claustrophobic atmosphere of submarine life, all while bringing forth an incredible story of men just trying to survive.

4. Amores perros (2001)
Spanish: Amores perros

I saw this film after seeing movies like 2005's Crash and 2006's Babel, when the "intersecting storyline" thing was a big deal. Four years earlier, Amores perros did the same, with arguably much better results. It's a gritty tale, and it's going to take you to some very deep places, but if you can stomach some of the violence, then you're going to be amazed by the final result.

3. Let the Right One In (2008)
Swedish: Låt den rätte komma in

What starts as a very strong look at an off-beat horror film turns into something magnificent and beautiful with the film's climactic scene, and ever since, Let the Right One In has stuck with me. The relationship between the two young leads' characters is heartbreaking, but it's the glue that keeps this film together. Although still a strong film, the 2010 English-language remake (Let Me In) just doesn't compare to this original Swedish masterpiece.

2. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
Spanish: El laberinto del fauno

In 2006, Guillermo del Toro gave the world Pan's Labyrinth, one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen, and one that made a run for the top spot on this list. Heralded as a fairy tale for adults, the film manages to bring a sense of wonder and dread all at once. Set against the backdrop of war, the story takes many a dark turn, and it's definitely not for the faint of heart, but I'll always hold this one dearly in my heart.

1. The 400 Blows (1959)
French: Les quatre cents coup

What can I say about this film other than its about as perfect as they come? It might be the truest "must-see" film I've ever managed to see, if only because I think every single person needs to see this masterpiece at some point in their life. I watched it at exactly the right time in my own life, and I think that was the reason the message seemed so clear to me. There isn't a person in the world that can't relate to the film's central character, and for that reason, I think that makes this a must-see for everyone.

And so, there's my list of the ten best foreign-language films I've ever seen. As with my other "top 10" lists, this one will be ever-changing, so keep your eye on it!

Monday, August 27, 2012



"I like to dissect girls. Did you know I'm utterly insane?"
-- Patrick Bateman

American Psycho is a 2000 satirical thriller directed by Mary Harron that serves as a film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's novel of the same name. It tells the story of a young Wall Street executive named Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) living the yuppie culture of the 1980s. Believing himself to be better than his peers, he delves into materialism and greed so that he can stay ahead of the curve, all while trying to "fit in." He admits that his emotionless lifestyle leaves him very bored, and that has led to a sort of nighttime blood-lust that's slowly creeping into his everyday activities. His homicidal desires reach a peak when a colleague named Paul Allen (Jared Leto) proves himself to be better-off than Bateman is, and in retaliation, Patrick crafts a plot to murder him. This experience only goes to further Bateman's string of psychotic episodes, leaving him in a state where he can't quite determine what's really and what's imagined.

My first interaction with American Psycho came with Bravo's television special "30 Even Scarier Movie Moments," which aired in October 2006 and served as a sequel to their original mini-series, "The 100 Scariest Movie Moments." The 2006 special included the scene where Bale's Bateman murders Leto's Paul Allen, and that little snippet of a scene managed to hook my interest. I soon hunted down the film and gave it a view, and I was instantly confused about what it all meant. It was quite a bit to take in, and over the years, I've managed to see the film on a few other occasions. And yet, even after this particular viewing, I don't quite know what's going on during American Psycho.

At its core, the film is truly a satire about the materialistic and greedy culture of the 1980s. We see a number of Wall Street businessmen doing their best to stay ahead of the curve their colleagues set, all the while delving into basic carnal needs to satisfy their lives' emptiness. Bateman does the same, but takes his methods of satisfaction to an entirely different level with his need for violence. For the first half of the film, all that seems fine and dandy. However, as soon as Bateman goes through with his plot against Allen, we see the strings of his sanity start to come a little bit loose. He's not sure exactly what's real in his life anymore, and by association, we as the audience aren't quite sure either. It all leads up to a very vague finale that's probably leaving the interpretation open and on the table. I can honestly say that three-quarters of the way through the film, I'm sure I know what's going on, but as soon as the final scene fades to the credits, my ideas have changed, and I'm not sure at all.

What is grounded in reliable fact is the strength of the central performance from Christian Bale. While the film offers strong, albeit small, roles from familiar faces like Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas, Reese Witherspoon, Chloë Sevigny and Willem Dafoe, this is really Bale's vehicle, and he's the one who demands all the attention. Even in the more mundane scenes, where we see Patrick going through his every morning routine, you can't help but be encapsulated by Bale's character. At times, he manages to show absolutely no emotion on his face, and given that's the character's biggest identifier, I have to say I'm always thoroughly impressed. As Bateman spirals into insanity, however, Bale becomes a little more over-the-top, but never so much that he becomes unbelievable. As strange as the character may seem today to today's audiences in 2012, Bale always makes Patrick Bateman believable.

At the end of the day, I'm not quite sure what the real drawing power of American Psycho proves to be. Bale's performance is enough to keep me watching, but I think it's the open-endedness of the ending that will keep bringing most viewers back. I've heard many a fan argue both sides of the spectrum, and I have my own ideas as well, but I'll refrain from going into detail about them here. From the outset, American Psycho was toted as a big deal: at its debut at Sundance in 2000, it was hailed as the "next Fight Club." And while I don't think it quite measures up to that 1999 masterpiece, I do think that, given enough time, American Psycho will be held with the same such clout and respect.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A-
Status: Must-See

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Movie Review: PREMIUM RUSH


"I like to ride. Fixed gear. No brakes. Can't stop. Don't want to, either."
-- Wilee

Premium Rush is a 2012 action thriller directed by David Koepp that focuses on a group of bike messengers making a living on the fast-paced streets of New York City. We meet a young cyclist named Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a former law student, who uses his job as a bike messenger to supply him with an ample number of thrills in his life. His fellow messenger and girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) thinks he has a death wish with the way he rides, but Wilee simply thinks he lives for the rush. After losing out on one delivery, Wilee asks his boss to give him another route before the end of the day, and he luckily receives one last job from his friend Nima (Jamie Chung), who needs an envelope delivered to Chinatown by seven o'clock that night. After he picks up the envelope, however, Wilee is confronted by a mysterious man (Michael Shannon), who continually attempts to steal the envelope from him. As the clock continues to race toward his deadline, Wilee begins to piece together a much larger plot into which he has unwillingly been made a pawn.

When I first heard about this film, I was immediately drawn to it based solely on the fact that Gordon-Levitt would star. Arguably my favorite actor at the moment, I'll go out of my way to see any of his films, and seeing as Premium Rush is arguably the biggest release this weekend, there really wasn't much debate as to what I would be seeing. Although I wasn't really expecting it to be a brilliant film, I did hope that it would at least be entertaining, and the early, mostly-positive reviews helped quell any real fears I had going in.

What Premium Rush ultimately offers is a fast-paced, action-packed, end-of-the-summer thrill ride. The storyline doesn't necessarily offer much, although it does allow for a number of moderately emotional scenes and concepts, but at the end of the day, it's a basic and rote screenplay that doesn't truly offer anything utterly brilliant. What sets Premium Rush apart is the stylistic power of the direction and the cast itself.

Let's start with our actors, shall we? Now, I have to be honest and say that I do have a bit of a man crush on Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and thus far in his film career, I have yet to see him do any wrong. He's managed to create so many different characters, and his Wilee in Premium Rush is no exception. This may be the most "badass" he's gone thus far in his career (although that's sure to be challenged by the soon-to-be-released Looper), and he plays the part perfectly. I also have to applaud Shannon, who is generally a hit-or-miss actor for me. While I thought Shannon was brilliant in the 2010 film The Runaways, I wasn't sold on his bit part in 2008's Revolutionary Road. With him, it always goes back and forth. At the start of Premium Rush, I wanted to hate his character. It seemed over-the-top and ridiculous, but as the film continued forth, I think it made a little more sense. By film's end, I truly thought he was a great antagonist for a picture like this. It worked well. The rest of the cast fills out quite nicely, but the best scenes come between Gordon-Levitt and Shannon. That's where the meat of this film lies.

But aside from all of that, what truly makes Premium Rush a success is its stylistic production. For starters, setting the story against the backdrop of New York City, one of the fastest-paced cities in the world, was a perfect decision. Having visited New York on a number of occasions, I know just how hustle-bustle those streets can get, and to see bicyclists moving even faster in order to make their deliveries seems incredible. The setting helps make the film seem like its moving even faster than it is, and that works in this film's favor. Because it's not offering a brilliant screenplay or Oscar-winning performances, it has to rely on its ability to grab hold of its viewer and its ability to keep that viewer engaged. And from the very start, Premium Rush does just that. Once it grabs hold, it never once takes it foot off the pedal, so to speak. And that rush of exhilaration is what makes it so darn good.

To sum things up, Premium Rush is the ideal type of end-of-the-summer cinema fare. It's not a film that's too deep to understand, but it's also not too dumb to make it unwatchable. The story is strong enough to keep you caring, but it's the direction and the action that's going to keep you entertained. So sit back, relax and grab a bucket of popcorn because this is one wild ride.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: B+
Status: Should See

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Jaws: An Experience

Anybody who reads this page on a regular basis will surely know these two facts: Jaws is my hands-down favorite film of all time, and it's the film I consider to be the greatest ever created. Now, I've gone back and forth on that latter statement - Hitchcock's Psycho and Curtiz's Casablanca give it a run for its money - but the more I watch Jaws, the more I'm convinced that it deserves that top honor. I have grown up watching the film over and over again, and it's the one movie that, if caught on TV, I will drop what I'm doing to give it yet another view.

The one thing I've always wanted to do, however, was see the film on the big screen. Having been born thirteen years after the film's initial theatrical release, I never had many chances to do just that. I'd hear about screenings here and there, but they were always out of my locale and driving range, and so, I'd sadly sit back and think about what might have been. Seeing Jaws in a movie theater became one of my life's goals. There seemed something grand about the idea, and I wanted to have the chance to see the film as so many did back in 1975. My dad always used to recount tales to me about seeing Jaws during its initial theatrical run, and he would tell me about how terrifying it actually was. I simply had to have the experience for myself.

Along comes this little company called Cinemark who, in honor of the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of Universal Studios, has chosen to "re-release" a number of classic Universal films for one night only over the course of the next month or so, and they started tonight with Jaws. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance as soon as I saw that a theater only eight miles away would be playing it. I was so excited that I actually bought my ticket before realizing I had been scheduled to work at my outside job tonight, but I quickly scrambled to switch shifts around. Finally, I had the night free, my ticket bought, and my spirit jumping for joy. (Im)patiently, I waited the week until I had the chance to see the flick. That night was tonight.

Before I get into the specifics of my viewing experience, I want to talk a little about what the film means to me. As I previously stated, I grew up watching the film, and from an early age, I can remember being drawn to its simple story of man versus nature. Looking back, I can honestly say I didn't really understand the movie as a child and adolescent, nor do I remember the film as a whole. The only parts I remember were the ocean sequences where we saw Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and Captain Quint (Robert Shaw) battling the massive shark one-on-one. I have no early recollections of the first half of the film where we delve into small town politics and a number of other themes and ideas. Rather, I just remember the film as being man versus shark, and for a young boy with an insatiable appetite for action and suspense, that was all I really needed.

It wasn't until my late adolescence and young adulthood that I started to view Jaws in a very different light. As it was always one of my personal favorite films, I always had a copy of it readily on hand for whenever I felt the need to give it another go. I started to see the brilliance of the film, and considering how difficult it was to bring it to life, I started to garner quite a bit of respect not only for the film as an entity but also for the cast and crew, helmed by a young Steven Spielberg. On the surface, the film presents a very simple storyline of man against beast, but with all of the politics behind the decision-making, there's so much more going on in the film than meets the eye. It's a brilliant film that almost didn't make it to the cutting room floor, but for whatever reason, Spielberg managed to pick up the pieces and bring it all together, making one of the most memorable and influential films in cinematic history.

Fast forward to today, and I'm getting myself ready to head out to the theater. I'm leaving extra early in order to alleviate any possible traffic or parking issues I might hit. Dressed in my light blue Amity Island shirt (compliments of my awesome girlfriend), I set out for the theater and made it there with plenty of time to spare. To create my full experience, I ordered both a large popcorn and a large soda so that I could fully enjoy the world's first-ever "blockbuster."

I have to admit to this: as the opening credits started to roll, I turned into a bit of a blubbering fool. After so many years of waiting and wondering whether I would ever have the chance to see Jaws in a movie theater, my wish was finally coming true, and I simply couldn't hold in my emotion. Surrounded by a nearly sold-out theater of equally-interested enthusiasts, I settled in for what would be the most fulfilling movie-going experience I have ever had.

From the very outset I could tell I was in for quite an evening. While seeing the film for the (note: estimation) one-hundredth time wasn't going to bring forth any real changes in my view of the film. What was really surprising, however, was the audience reaction. As I said, the theater was mostly-filled, with probably around two-hundred occupants (none of whom left during the film's entirety, by the way). It was the way the audience reacted to the film that made this evening such an enjoyable experience.

Now, back in 1975, Jaws scared the crap out of people. It kept people out of the ocean for years, to the point where you could go to the beach and see hundreds of people sitting along the shore, but none of them would dare venture into the water. By today's standards, Jaws really isn't the scariest of flicks, but there are a few moments of suspense and jump-out-of-your-seat thrills there for your enjoyment. And let me tell you: there was plenty a scream in the theater tonight. Another interesting point is that I'd forgotten just how funny the film is. The audience was roaring with laughter at all the right places, and that made for even more entertainment. But what really got to me was the reverence that the crowd showed to the final act, starting with Quint's monologue about the U.S.S. Indianapolis. Just before that point, we were laughing as he and Hooper compared tattoos, but as soon as Robert Shaw delved into the haunting story, the theater went silent. And from that point, the audience was hooked into the action, all the way to the finish. And yes, the film got a stirring round of applause as the final credits started to roll. It was utterly beautiful. I shed another tear or two as I, along with the rest of the audience, sat through the credits in their entirety.

I had always known that Jaws had an incredible amount of staying power, but tonight's screening proved to me just how strong that power is. People still love this film just as much as I do, and they're passing it onto their children and their children's children. I saw a number of families out tonight, and I couldn't be happier that the film is being introduced to today's generation. It's a film that needs to be seen by all, and I just hope that newer audiences will love it as much as I do. I know that it's definitely a bit dated, but it's still one of - if not "the" - greatest film ever put on the silver screen. I'm just so glad that I finally had the chance to see my favorite film in the grandest way possible. And as for the continuation of its staying power, Jaws need only look at one of its final lines, uttered by Dreyfuss's Hooper:
Keep kicking.


After the smash hit of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in the early 2000s, it was only a matter of time before director Peter Jackson brought The Hobbit to life as well. As one can imagine, Jackson has split the story into three separate films, the first of which - subtitled An Unexpected Journey - will be released this December. Here's the first, and still only, full-length trailer available for the film:

And now, for a few questions that came to mind after watching the trailer:

1. At the end of the day, The Hobbit trilogy is going to be compared to the Lord of the Rings trilogy whether it likes it or not, so why not tackle that right now? How will this new "franchise" hold up in comparison to its predecessor?
When you take a look back at the accomplishments of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it can seem a bit staggering. Combined, those three films won a total of seventeen Academy Awards and have earned over $2.9 billion at the worldwide box office. You can make the argument that The Lord of the Rings is the franchise of the 21st century, and you probably wouldn't have many naysayers. All that being said, how will The Hobbit fare in comparison? I think the hype leading up to this first film will bring plenty of people to the theaters, but the overall success of the continued franchise will rely on how well-made An Unexpected Journey proves to be.
2. Why is this new saga being released so long after The Lord of the Rings? Will that affect its popularity?
There are a number of reasons that Peter Jackson probably waited this long to bring The Hobbit to audiences, many of which probably deal with his work schedule. In the time between The Lord of the Rings and now, he directed both 2005's King Kong and 2009's The Lovely Bones, both of which were rather grand in stature. After spending so much time creating The Lord of the Rings, the guy probably needed a bit of a break. Seeing as The Hobbit has, like its predecessor, all been shot at once, Jackson ultimately just needed the time to take on such an endeavor.

Now, as to the question of whether or not the nine-year delay between The Return of the King and An Unexpected Journey will have any affect on this new film's popularity, I have a few mixed feelings. Normally, I'd want to say that it will have no bearing, and the recent buzz makes it seem as though there are quite a few people excited for this film. However, in a world where franchises like Spider-Man are being rebooted only five years after the previous installment, it's really hard to say how today's "younger" audience will take an epic feature like The Hobbit. Teens and young adults are sure to be a key demographic for The Hobbit, but these people were only pre-teens or younger when The Lord of the Rings was released. Who knows how they'll respond to a film like this. 
3. Why is Jackson crafting The Hobbit into a trilogy rather than the original plan of a two-parter?
To be honest, I'm still trying to figure this one out. When the announcement for a third Hobbit film was made, Jackson stated, "It has been an unexpected journey indeed, and in the words of Professor Tolkien himself, 'a tale that grew in the telling.'" He hopes that using three films will allow him to tell more of the story, but it's left a lot of people scratching their heads. From a pure standpoint of source material, we can see why a The Lord of the Rings trilogy made sense: it was already separated into three books with a combined page count of over 1500. The Hobbit, however, is a stand-alone story that tops out at 310 pages, making it shorter than any of the Lord of the Rings books individually. How can Jackson possibly craft two films, let alone three, out of such a small amount of material? This one has all the feel of a grab for more money, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. 
4. At least the film seems to have the same vibe as The Lord of the Rings, right?
From this lone trailer, I think we're seeing a lot of the same pieces we got from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I think that bodes well for the carry-over audience. At the end of the day, most fans of a franchise want to see something similar to what they've already loved, and The Hobbit presents a very strong possibility for such. The trailer seems to show a good mix of drama, comedy, adventure and action, all of which made The Lord of the Rings such a success. If The Hobbit can dial into that vibe, there's no limit to what success it may enjoy.
5. Doesn't it seem like there are a lot of characters bouncing around?
That was one of my first real issues with the trailer. We're introduced to a number of characters right from the start, and they come flying at you at a very rapid pace. While The Lord of the Rings had a slew of key central characters, it never really felt like there were too many. Everyone played their role, and it all balanced quite well. This trailer, however, makes it seem like there are a few too many new pieces entering the canon, and that may cause a bit of confusion for movie-goers. 
6. Is anyone from the cast of The Lord of the Rings returning for The Hobbit?
While a lot of the talk should be about the newer characters - namely, Martin Freeman as a younger Bilbo Baggins - many people are going to wonder which of their favorite characters will be making appearances this time around. Heavily featured in the trailer is Sir Ian McKellen's Gandalf, so we can be sure to see plenty of him. Also noticeable are the returns of Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Andy Serkis as Gollum. And according to the cast list, we should be seeing appearances by Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Orlando Bloom, Elijah Wood and Ian Holm. So we'll see how that goes, I suppose.

At the end of the day, none of us can truly be sure as to what's going to happen in The Hobbit, and we can't know for sure just what kind of an impact it will have. Although I wasn't a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I do find the films entertaining, and I understand their impact and presence on the cinematic landscape. For that reason, I am excited for, and am eagerly awaiting, the release of The Hobbit this holiday season.

The Hobbit is currently slated for a December 14, 2012 release here in the United States.