Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best Movie Music of 2011

Overall 2011 was not a particularly amazing year in motion pictures, but there were the few that struck just the right chords, figuratively and literally. Presented here are what I believe to be the stand-out pieces of music in this year's slew of films (in no particular order).  I use the broad term "music" because I'm encompassing everything, including music scores, original and previously written songs, and anything in between. I'm doing this because sometimes, even when the music was not originally written for the film itself, the bond between sound and screen is so powerfully cinematic that the piece has been given a whole new life.  Enough with my babbling, let's start this thing...

Drive (Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
Song:  "Nightcall" - Kavinsky feat. Lovefoxxx

This song immediately brings you into the world of Drive.  Playing over the opening credits, this chilled-out electro-80's sounding track let's you know that Drive is not a rockem sockem action flick, in fact it borrows more from the French New Wave Movement of the 50's and 60's than Speed.  This song is strangely catchy, offbeat, moody, and although I'm no music connoisseur, is unlike anything I've ever heard - much like the film it accompanies.

Rango (Dir. Gore Verbinski)
Score:  Hans Zimmer
Song: "The End of the Road" (Originally from The Kingdom) - Danny Elfman

Rango was definitely my favorite animated movie of this year thanks to Pixar tripping over Cars 2.  The soundtrack is pretty eclectic, with Hans Zimmer's booming score underlying the whole piece, the Mexican trio Los Lobos singing in for Rango's theme song, and other random pieces of music are featured as well, including a banjo-laden version of "Ride of the Valkyries" (who knew banjos could make things so much more epic?).  My personal favorite music moment is actually a piece originally written for the forgotten 2007 film, The Kingdom, but the piece's use in this movie gave me goosebumps.  Great movie, great soundtrack.

Hanna (Dir. Joe Wright)
Score: The Chemical Brothers

Much like how last year's Tron: Legacy and The Social Network attained score-writing newbies yet highly notable musical talents to compose the soundtrack, Hanna follows suit, giving the acclaimed British electronic music duo The Chemical Brothers a shot at establishing the mood for this interesting, offbeat action flick.  They hit the nail on the head with this - it's fast, it's electric, it's weird: exactly what was needed.  My favorite track is called "Container Park," and during the film it takes place during the final action scene in the movie.

The Muppets (Dir. James Bobin)
Music Supervisor: Bret McKenzie

The Muppets was pretty much a love letter to Henson's talking puppets from a generation of now-famous talents who grew up on them.  Bret McKenzie, best known for his role on HBO's Flight of the Conchords, was in charge of the overall music and wrote most of the original songs, including my two personal favorites, "Life's a Happy Song" and "Pictures in My Head."  The first is truly one of the catchiest and happiest Muppets tunes ever created, and the second almost had me in tears over a talking puppet frog singing to portraits.  Also included as a bonus is a barbershop quartet version of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" simply because I shat a brick when that happened in the movie.  The Muppets are too awesome for words.

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Dir. Sean Durkin)
Song:  "Marcy's Song" - John Hawkes

Martha Marcy May Marlene doesn't have much music and its "score" is limited to mostly the diagetic sounds of nature and the farmhouse.  However, in one of the best and most powerful scenes in the film, John Hawkes (Winter's Bone), a cult leader who has lured many lost young girls into his farmhouse, sings a special song for his newest recruit, Martha.  The song encompasses everything that works in the film and is as dark, mysterious, and haunting as its best scenes.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Dir. David Fincher)
Score:  Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
Song:  "Immigrant Song" - Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross feat. Karen O.

Holy mother of fuck, this is the best score of 2011 hands down.  Reznor and Ross have once again teamed up with The Social Network director David Fincher and have outdone themselves.  As of this writing I have yet to see the final film, but this makes me extremely excited to see the final product.  Before the trailers for the movie came out, I really was not very into the idea of this adaptation.  I mean, not only have I read the book, but I've already seen the story put to screen in the Swedish-language version, which only came out in the US a year or so ago.  But that trailer, booming with a techno-garage rock version of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" and quickly cutting from one dark, perfectly beautiful frame of film to the next I was won over.  Can't wait for this now - it's going to be badass.

There you have it - I hope you enjoyed listening and feel free to leave your thoughts, comments, and/or criticisms!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

QUAD-Review: Because I'm Lazy

I'm gonna half-ass some of these - and by some I mean all.  Sorry to all two of my readers!

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Brad Bird, the celebrated director of Pixar's The Incredibles and Ratatouille is making his live-action feature debut with the forth entry in the Tom Cruise spy movie series.  The film also marks a comeback for Cruise after some terrible numbers at the box office.  The story follows what's left of the IMF after they are framed for a terrorist plot; with a rag-tag team of four unique members, Tom Cruise has to drive, jump, and run intensely to clear their name and to abort a possible plan to destroy the world using nuclear missiles.

The story is pretty cookie-cutter but what makes this a great flick is some amazing action and great casting of the main "ghost protocol" team.  Co-starring with  Cruise is Jeremy Renner (Academy Award nominee for The Hurt Locker and soon-to-be Hawkeye in The Avengers), Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead star/Hollywood's go-to British nerd), and Paula Patton (who you may remember as the teacher from Precious).  All have different personalities and all make the movie more entertaining.  But really, the action is where it's at and this film is a must-see for adrenaline junkies.  I don't want to give anything away (although the trailer shows pretty much every action set piece), but I'll just say that one scene literally gave me vertigo.

The film is not perfect at all; the "villains" in the film are generic and lifeless, and certain side characters that could have been interesting are underused, but when it comes to the gadgets, the guns, and the gratuitous amounts of action, it's hard to not enjoy MI:4.  What else could you want out of this movie?

Rating: B+

My Week with Marilyn:

It's entertaining to see Kenneth Branaugh scream as Lawrence Olivier and Michelle Williams is spot-on as Marilyn Monroe in this true story about a young man, aspiring to be in show business, who has a week-long affair with the legendary sex icon.  The portrait of Monroe is layered and interesting, and the time period is captured pretty well.  Some of the characters (like the role Emma Watson plays, aka Harry Potter's platonic friend) aren't given enough to do, but the central love story is well handled.  Entertaining for any Marilyn fans, or just anyone who likes a good drama.

Rating: B+

The Descendants:

George Clooney cries a lot in this story about a Hawaiian man whose wife gets in a boat accident, rendering her in a catatonic state.  The acting is really good, especially from Shailene Woodley, who I didn't recognize from anything, playing Clooney's daughter.  You can also tell this movie succeeds on some level because Matthew Lillard is playing an actual character and not just "that dude from Scream."  Plus there is a nice and disgusting body we get to look at for the nearly-dead wife (complete with white lip-crud). Despite what it had going for it, for my taste the film was a little too much of a downer.  It's still good, but expect the joy of believing Hawaii as a bright, sunny tourist destination to be sucked dry and ruined forever for you.

Rating: B

Young Adult:

Charlize Theron stars in the latest film directed and written by Juno alumni Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody.  The film to me was "The Wrestler" for not-yet-matured thirty-somethings.  It was very true-to-life, had some great writing, and packed some very powerful moments.  Patton Oswalt also brings in a surprisingly dramatic performance and I have nothing to complain about regarding this film (besides its overly comical marketing and just a few strange behavioral moments from Patrick Wilson).  No real loose ends, just a raw look at the facades people create.

Rating: A-

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Double Review: The Muppets and Hugo

I didn't "double feature" these or anything, but I'll probably release my reviews two or three at a time from now on.  Just a little note!

The Muppets:

I grew up with the Muppets.  I truly consider Muppet Treasure Island and A Muppet Christmas Carol to surpass their source material [in entertainment value].  Hearing that the Muppets were coming back to theaters both excited and scared me.  This could be the perfect chance to re-establish a franchise, or it could be an opportunity to ruin childhoods.  All the recent Muppet-related Youtube videos that were popping up and the movie tie-in “The Green Album,” a collection of Muppet covers by modern artists, gave me a feeling of security, but still, considering all the hype and hopes put into this movie – a screw up could be very easy.  Although the resulting product at the end of the day isn’t perfect (in fact I have some major problems with certain aspects of the film), it handles its source material lovingly and by the final credit scroll it’s impossible not to feel your spirits lifted up.

The story follows a newly introduced Muppet, Walter, whose friends Gary (Jason Segel) and Mary (Amy Adams) are planning a trip to Los Angeles for their anniversary.  Walter happens to be the biggest-ever fan of The Muppet Show, and the Muppet Studios is located in Los Angeles.  Gary decides to let Walter come along, but they find out that the Studio is long abandoned and an evil oil tycoon (Chris Cooper) wants to demolish it.  It’s up to Walter to find all the Muppets so they can stop the evil son of a bitch.  They have to raise $10 million dollars to save the theater, so the incredible talking puppets must reunite, play the music, light the lights, raise the curtains and play the Muppet show for one last night!

There’s a lot going on here, and the beginning of the movie hits all the right marks and feels absolutely perfect.  Many of the songs in the film are top notch, especially “Life’s a Happy Song” which is bound to be a new classic.  The film is filled with wit and endless pop culture references that would clearly fly over kids’ heads.  There is also one celebrity cameo after another, most of which are seemingly random but always hilarious.  Alan Arkin as the Muppet Studios tour guide is a highlight for me and without inducing spoilers, Zach Galifianakis, Jack Black, and Dave Grohl have some great moments as well.  Sometimes it just seemed like famous faces just popped up with no rhyme or reason as if they just grabbed someone walking by and said, “Hey, want to be in The Muppets?”  “Sure, why the fuck not?” 

So the songs, the humor, and the pop culture “adult” portions are fine and dandy – then what’s wrong?  Well not much, but there is one song in the film that made me feel very uncomfortable, called “Me Party.”  The song features a lonely Amy Adams dancing and singing in a dimly lit restaurant, suffering neglect from her partner who is more interested in Walter’s antics with the Muppets than spending the day with her.  The song is handled really awkwardly and she is juxtaposed with Miss Piggy's cartoonishly desperate love connection with Kermit; when the love is between a talking frog and a pig wearing fine french jewelry it's cute, but when it's a human displaying those emotions it's just weird.  Another thing that bothered me was the product placement.  There was so much blatant product placement, I would have thought that the characters would have eventually mentioned it in their fourth-wall-breaking witticisms.  A huge billboard for Cars 2 is prominently displayed three times throughout the film to the point of distraction.  Also, criminally there’s not enough Gonzo.  He has a pretty good introduction scene but that’s about it.  And Rizzo the Rat?  Not even one line of dialogue.  For shame.  Pretty much everyone else in the Muppets cast [that I care about] is given their moment to shine, but come on, give the rat one damn line (maybe there is a Rizzo scene somewhere on the cutting room floor, but I'm sad to see him subject to background character status).

So yes, sometimes moments got a little awkward, and others were overly cheesy, but by the end of the movie, I just felt happy – remembering old Muppets memories and going back to a more innocent care-free time (and a time when there was no 3D or CGI bullshit everywhere).  The movie is genuinely funny and witty, and has a lot of that good ol’ fashioned fuzzy-wuzzy heart.  Considering the balancing act the writers had to deal with, including having material both kids and adults would like, making catchy, plot-moving songs, trying to include all the Muppets, introducing and making us care about the new Muppets and human characters, placing the right amount of cameos and jokes, and putting in enough nostalgic elements for the older members of the audience who grew up with the Jim Henson creatures (not to mention the technical challenge it is to animate the characters, with sometimes 20 or so puppets in the same shot) – I’d say I can look past the film’s problems.  They did a damn good job.

Rating: A-


Martin Scorsese + 3D = me in a theater.  My main thought going in was just how will this true artist of the medium make a film using this extra dimension?  Plus this is his first foray into “family film” territory.  It’s odd to consider the man responsible for Goodfellas and Taxi Driver would want anything to do with either 3D or family fare, but here we are.  The result is eye-popping to say the least.  Hugo is visually a breakthrough and cinematographically is very impressive.  On the other hand I had some major story and character problems – but the look and feel?  Spot-the-fuck-on.

The movie begins in the 1930's with Hugo Cabret, a boy from Paris who tends to all the clocks in a train station, spying on the various comers and goers behind giant ticking hands.  He’s known as a thief; often robbing from the local merchant in order to finish repairing an automaton (a robotic machine that, when operational, writes a message) his father was working on before he died.  The first half, maybe the first two thirds of the film, involve Hugo trying to figure out what the message is that is located in the Automaton, and as an audience member, I assumed it had to do with his father or something that held a lot of personal weight to him.  I don’t want to give anything away, but what the machine creates is essentially a snowball effect towards Scorsese showing off his knowledge and love for movies.

Now I enjoy learning about film history in a classroom setting or on my own accord – but when Scorsese gives you a history lesson in film, he wraps it up in the disguise of a children’s fantasy film.  Sounds cool, but this was my main problem with Hugo.  A lot of critics and audiences are lauding this film for how it expresses Scorsese’s love for cinema.  I have no problem with the fact that the man is expressing his love for something, but when you make a movie leading me on for 40 minutes, telling me I’m going on a children’s fantasy adventure only to 360 yourself midway through, I personally get annoyed.  Had I known at the onset that this was a film about movies, I would not have been as off put.  It’s hard to write about the film and not spoil it, but I had the same problem with this as I did Super 8 this summer: simply expressing your love for a certain kind of movie (in Super 8’s case it was old Spielberg and monster movies) gives me a sort of weird vibe.  It goes beyond allusion or homage – it’s simply showing you what was great about those films.  Save that stuff for a documentary or a lecture; there’s just something so “I have this knowledge of cinema” about it, I don’t know.

It's not like I totally detest Hugo. The beginning of the film, where we're introduced to the train station and this labyrinth of clockwork that Hugo maneuvers around is one of the best uses of 3D I've ever seen.  In particuar there's this one swooping shot that runs through the entire length of the station, past all the passengers and conductors, and up towards a big clock where we get closer and closer until we see Hugo looking out through one of the numbers.  This, to me, is as impressive as the "Copacabana" steadicam shot in Goodfellas - it just totally brings you into this world.  I also really liked the overall look of the film.  Although I wish its scope was a bit bigger and that it would stray outside of the station a bit more, the brown and golden hued locations, the old-fashioned clothing, and the steampunk-ian automaton were visually arresting and "cool."

Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz are the two main child actors, and their “love story” was pretty weak.  Moretz showed a lot of promise in last year’s Kick-Ass as the killing machine/daddy’s girl “Hit Girl,” but here she is outright annoying.  Her voice is chirpy and irritating – maybe it’s just me, but I think her character could have not been in the film at all and it wouldn’t have made a difference.  Co-starring are some familiar faces, including Sacha Baron Cohen, who plays a bumbling station guard who poses as a villain in the film, but is not even close to threatening enough.  Also featured is Ben Kingsley, who gives a solid performance as always, as a local owner of a magic/knickknack shop.
Overall, Hugo was impressive on a technical scale, but failed to keep me interested to the end.  Once the element of Scorsese sucking cinema’s dick crept into the movie, I felt as though my time had been wasted.  I already have this knowledge of old movies, so maybe to an uneducated viewer they might be more "awed."  There’s all this “everyone has a purpose” talk at the end, signifying that there’s some sort of message to the film, but by the end all I got was, “I love movies and you should too!”  Well I do love movies, but I don’t make them just to say that.

Rating: B-

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Triple Review: Ghosts, Antonio Banderas, and the third Olsen sister.

To the one or two people who are disappointed, I'm very sorry that I gave up on my "Month of Terror."  It got to a point where I ran out of time to make them and I'd rather have given up than to have posted rushed, horribly written garbage.  I've been pretty busy with school and whatnot, so I may not write a full review for every movie I see in theaters anymore either...sometimes I'll do quick reviews, like now, just to get my thoughts out there for those interested.

Paranormal Activity 3:

By this point in the game, I think you know whether or not this series is for you.  For fans of the first two entries, Paranormal Activity 3 should not disappoint.  It's just as scary and benefits from some new sparks of creativity brought to you by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, directors of Catfish, one of my favorite movies of last year.  The same sort of story takes place here, with the whole camera-catching-ghosts-while-you-sleep thing being the crux of the scares.  The film is a prequel to the other two movies and basically shows the "beginning" of the haunts from the other films when the two main sisters were little (in those movies they said they had "blocked memories" or something like that from their childhood).

Since this takes place in the 80's, I had hoped that that era's technology would've played a bigger role in the film, but it's really the same kind of stuff.  However, there was one camera set-up that was really ingenious; although the main guy is a videographer for weddings, he still doesn't have fancy pantsy security equipment so he rigs up an oscillating fan with a video camera and can therefore record from the living room to the kitchen.  What's great about this from a cinematic standpoint is that the appliance moves from side-to-side; it's what we don't see on the other "half" of the frame that makes our palms sweaty.  I also really loved the "Bloody Mary" scene, which cleverly alters from the scene seen in the trailer.  Although we don't get too much more of the backstory of the characters, it's just as fun and exciting as the other films, although perhaps a tad less at this point only because I feel as though the series is starting to re-tread old ground.  A fourth film is bound to be made; let's hope that it manages to keep the mythology going without repeating the past. Besides those gripes, Paranormal Activity 3 is a real slow burn and it's refreshing to see a horror movie that doesn't rely solely on randomly placed jump scares.

Rating: B

The Skin I Live In:

The popular Spanish melodramatic director Pedro Almodovar's latest project, The Skin I Live In, is an amazing, original film.  Antonio Banderas stars as a surgeon who, against the morale and law of his practice, is using pig cells to revive the skin of burn victims.  His latest subject, played by Elena Anaya (who's possibly one of the most perfectly formed and attractive women I've ever seen anywhere), is kept locked in a room in his estate, overlooked by himself and his servant played by Marisa Paredes.  To say any more might ruin this film, and there are some great twists that happen early on.  Watching this reminded me of the first time I saw Pulp Fiction - not in its content or style (although this film does ingeniously toy with jumps in time) - just in that while watching it I felt I was seeing something unlike anything I've seen before.  There are some filmic influences of course, but the overall picture is a truly unique experience.  It's intense, it's complex, it's emotional, and it will even make you wince.  Don't know what else to say...just see it!

Rating: A

Martha Marcy May Marlene:

Try saying that ten times fast.  To be honest, I had to recite the title a few times beforehand just so I could purchase a ticket without sounding like an asshole.  Going into this movie I really knew nothing about it besides that it got some buzz from Sundance and that movie folks on the Internet that I respect gave it high praise.  The film follows Martha (played by Elizabeth Olsen, the Olsen twins' younger sister) - a young woman who manages to escape from a cult in the Catskills and calls up her older sister to try and escape her past.  Unfortunately this cult, whose leader Patrick (played by the emaciated-looking John Hawkes from Winter's Bone), has brainwashed her to a point where she can't function outside of her "family" anymore.

On a technical scale this movie was handled really well.  The cinematography told so much through so little, making it easy to crawl inside Martha's psyche.  Often the amount of time objects take to come in and out of focus deviates from the norm, re-creating the very hazy mindset of her mind. The editing is also very subtle but powerful, linking the two sections of the film - that of Martha's time in the cult and that of her holding up at her sister's summer house - seamlessly and gracefully.  For instance, we'll see Martha stirring a glass of water in the present and then we drift into the past were she is also stirring a drink (I don't want to give anything away, but these actions have weight to them and have more meaning than the simple actions I'm describing).  I have a feeling that every shot in this film was heavily pre-planned and what the final product is did not come through on accident.

If I have any complaints it's that the film doesn't really head anywhere.  The premise is very intriguing and specific scenes are incredibly absorbing, but there's never any real "climax" or major confrontation.  With a story like this I would've expected something "big" to happen, but it's simply a dark, quiet, character piece.  Elizabeth Olsen is a captivating lead, and John Hawkes is equally interesting.  Although it's hard to imagine that a person of some intelligence could end up "falling" for this cult, through their performances and the supporting cast it becomes easier to see.  Martha Marcy May Marlene is a very interesting movie that may not "go" anywhere and has a title that's hard to remember, but it's worth a watch if anything just to see a possible star in the making!

Rating: B+

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pwaters' Month of Terror Day 26: Dracula

Hello ladies, gentlemen, and creatures lurking in the shadows!  This month, October, is a favorite among horror fans, such as myself.  My goal for the next 31 days is to share with you the scariest and best of the genre.  The films will range from old school classics to modern day gorefests (they won't be in any particular order).  So scout these movies out, grab a bag of popcorn (or a blood bag) and enjoy!

Dracula (1931)
Dir. Tod Browning

Universal's Dracula may not hold up as well today with a contemporary audience more used to seeing perfect CGI fighting robots than bats dangling on "invisible" strings, but it's still gothically atmospheric and Bela Lugosi created an iconic performance that to this day holds the golden vampire standard.

One of the scariest things about Dracula (and still relevant to even contemporary horror films like Paranormal Activity) is the fact that he bites you on the neck while you're sleeping.  If you are conscious and have a cross and clove of garlic you stand a fighting chance, but in terrifying Freddy Krueger fashion Drac will kill you while you dream of kitty cats and puppy dogs, making you into a horrible vampire without you even knowing!  Dracula covers a lot of the "horror" standards like this - such as old creepy castles, bloodthirsty animals, and scariest of all a Hungarian actor.

*Sorry about the laziness, but this one was either gonna be half-assed or I would've screwed up doing one per day!  Sorry folks - it's not like these blogs are mind-blowing academic studies into the annals of each film anyway...I'm just throwing out movies off the top of my head!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pwaters' Month of Terror Day 25: The Shining

Hello ladies, gentlemen, and creatures lurking in the shadows!  This month, October, is a favorite among horror fans, such as myself.  My goal for the next 31 days is to share with you the scariest and best of the genre.  The films will range from old school classics to modern day gorefests (they won't be in any particular order).  So scout these movies out, grab a bag of popcorn (or a blood bag) and enjoy!

The Shining (1980)
Dir. Stanley Kubrick

Pure and simple, The Shining is one of the best horror movies ever made (despite what Stephen King makes of it).  Jack Nicholson is at the top of his game in this one and Stanley Kubrick meticulously plotted out a film that has stood and will stand the test of time.  The story follows the Torrances, who are the latest caretakers of the secluded Overlook Hotel during the winter.  It's rumored that the previous caretaker went nuts and slaughtered his family in a cabin fever frenzy -- but clearly Jack Nicholson is the best choice to keep everything sane again.  Throw in Scatman Crothers, a creepy little kid with some kind of supernatural power, a tear-and-snot waterfall named Shelley Duvall, and some of the most seemingly random nightmarish images ever in a movie and that's The Shining for you.

Not much to say with this one; Jack Nicholson being my favorite actor it's easy for me to love this movie.  His performance is so intense and crazy that in the hands of anyone else it would come off as comical.  There are so many great sequences in this fact, pretty much every moment during its run time is a classic scene!  From Duvall discovering Jack's typewriter, to Danny (little boy) yelping "red rum" over and over, to the "Here's Johnny!" axe-to-door scene, to a terrifying hedge maze chase, and last but not least to Scatman Crother's funky bachelor pad, almost all the scenes and lines of this movie have seeped into our cinematic sensibilities. If you haven't seen it, Halloween is just around the corner - you haven't lived until you've experienced The Shining.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pwaters' Month of Terror Day 24: [REC]

Hello ladies, gentlemen, and creatures lurking in the shadows!  This month, October, is a favorite among horror fans, such as myself.  My goal for the next 31 days is to share with you the scariest and best of the genre.  The films will range from old school classics to modern day gorefests (they won't be in any particular order).  So scout these movies out, grab a bag of popcorn (or a blood bag) and enjoy!

REC (2007)
Dir. Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza

REC, in my opinion, very well may be the scariest film of the 2000's.  Recently we've seen a huge influx of "mockumentary" styled horror films (such as Paranormal Activity, Diary of the Dead, and Cloverfield), but REC outshines them all in terms of sheer nightmare-inducing quality.  This Spanish production follows a news team as they go on a routine "around town" type of story at a local fire station.  The fire team gets an emergency call from an apartment building and the news crew, not wanting to miss some juicy coverage, travels along with them.  Once inside however, it turns out that what has been causing the disturbance wasn't a fire - it is something much more sinister....ZOMBIES.  Unluckily enough the news team along with everyone else in the apartment are soon quarantined inside and must fend for their lives from terrifying, infected monsters!

If this sounds familiar to you US Americans out there (reference to Miss Teen South Carolina), that's because a pointless, nearly SHOT FOR SHOT english-language remake was released as Quarantine, starring that chick from The Exorcism of Emily Rose.  They're pretty much identical films, but the acting is much, much better in the Spanish version.  If you're one of those people who'd rather watch it sans subtitles it really doesn't matter with this film - the dialogue is sparse and it feels more like a walk-through haunted house than a typical horror movie.  It's also pretty annoying that during the advertising and publicity of Quarantine little was mentioned of the [superior] original film.  REC is a perfect movie for Halloween, especially if it's a dark night and you've gathered up a crowd of scaredy cats - so find it, love it, and pray to your god that the building you're in now won't be sealed off next!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pwaters' Month of Terror Day 23: Carrie

Hello ladies, gentlemen, and creatures lurking in the shadows!  This month, October, is a favorite among horror fans, such as myself.  My goal for the next 31 days is to share with you the scariest and best of the genre.  The films will range from old school classics to modern day gorefests (they won't be in any particular order).  So scout these movies out, grab a bag of popcorn (or a blood bag) and enjoy!

Carrie (1976)
Dir. Brian De Palma

Carrie is based off of Stephen King's first ever published novel of the same name.  The story follows a teenage high school girl (...named Carrie, how'd you guess?) who is a little "different" than her peers.  She grew up extremely sheltered from the real world by her insanely religious mother - and as a result she is often mocked and humiliated by her peers for not knowing the "right" way to act (in the first scene, Carrie panics and believes she is dying after having her first period in the girls' shower).  Even the principal gives her a hard time, screwing up her name calling her 'Cassie.'  However, Carrie soon discovers that she has certain psychic powers and when she is provoked or just really pissed she can whip objects around with only her mind.

Myself never being quite "Mr. Popular" growing up, I find Carrie to be despairingly tragic.  Her home situation mixed with the ridicule at school - it's easy to see how someone like that could just snap.  I don't think I'm ruining the movie to say she takes a nutty at her school prom (it's only on every Carrie-related poster, trailer, DVD cover, CD, book, t-shirt, newspaper clipping, lunchbox, and/or bedsheet).  As a joke, the "hottest" guy in the school asks her to the prom; after a 'false' good time, the kids were then to dump a bucket of pig's blood on top of her when she gets up on stage (to further mock her "period incident").  Once that happens she just can't take the relentless abuse anymore and finally goes berserk - her eyes widen and she blazes the school into a hell-like fury.  Carrie a story of a girl being pushed to the edge by bullies, and I think what has made this story stay with us all these years is the fact that we connect with Carrie since [most of us] have been bullied at one point or another, and that makes it so intense to see her become an almost feral, Bride of Frankenstein-type psychotic fire-starter.  Carrie is at it's core the ultimate anti-bullying movie.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pwaters' Month of Terror Day 22: Saw

Hello ladies, gentlemen, and creatures lurking in the shadows!  This month, October, is a favorite among horror fans, such as myself.  My goal for the next 31 days is to share with you the scariest and best of the genre.  The films will range from old school classics to modern day gorefests (they won't be in any particular order).  So scout these movies out, grab a bag of popcorn (or a blood bag) and enjoy!

Saw (2004)
James Wan

Saw typically gets a bum wrap from critics and naysayers who brush it off as "torture porn" or trash cinema - but if you sit down, watch the movie, and give it an actual chance, you'd see that it's much more clever and well-made than you would have believed.  The story begins with two strangers (played by Cary Elwes and the writer himself Leigh Whannell) waking up in a dirty, dingy bathroom, handcuffed to opposite sides of the room.  As they begin to regain consciousness and try to piece together what happened, they realize they are now the pawns in a sick game created by the latest "killer," Jigsaw (voiced, and played in later entries by Tobin Bell), after they each find an audiocassette player and play a message regarding the "rules."  Elwes is told he must kill Whannell before the clock times out or else his family will die; they are also given small clues as to how to escape.  All the while police detectives are on the trail (Danny Glover and the asian ghost whisperer from Lost), and by the end there have been so many twists and turns your head will be spinning.

As opposed to the films with which it's often compared (such as Hostel or Wolf Creek), Saw has a complex story and a killer with a philosophy.  He doesn't kill to "get off" or for pleasure or just for the sake of doing it - he plays his game in an effort to give people a new perspective on life, to show them how valuable and fragile their life is (usually picking his victims based on the wrongs they have committed).  In a demented way, his unconventional thinking kind of makes sense, which is what I think makes the series much richer than most people give it credit for.  The villain wants to cure, not kill, his victims.  He also makes a unique trap for each individual, each one representing whatever atrocity they have committed.  So not only is it intense, brutal, cleverly written and completely disgusting and gory (in an over-the-top good way), but it leaves you second-guessing your own morality once it's over, and I can't say that about many movies, let alone a blood-drenched torture flick.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pwaters' Month of Terror Day 21: Misery

Hello ladies, gentlemen, and creatures lurking in the shadows!  This month, October, is a favorite among horror fans, such as myself.  My goal for the next 31 days is to share with you the scariest and best of the genre.  The films will range from old school classics to modern day gorefests (they won't be in any particular order).  So scout these movies out, grab a bag of popcorn (or a blood bag) and enjoy!

Misery (1990)
Dir. Rob Reiner

Based off of the Stephen King novel of the same name, Misery stars James Caan as a writer who finds himself in a car wreck in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a snowstorm, and in a dilly of a pickle.  Luckily (...well, kind of luckily...) Annie Wilkes, played by Kathy Bates, is there to save him.  She also happens to be his absolute number one fan.  She places him in bed so he can rest and for his broken legs to heal -- but when she reads his latest novel, she flips a major shit when he "kills off" the main character, named Misery.  Slowly but surely we find out that Kathy Bates is a sadistic psycho-bitch and the film becomes claustrophobically and almost frustratingly terrifying as we watch her imprison Caan and force him to rewrite his own story.

Caan and Bates are two wonderful actors, but Bates really shines here in one of not only her best performances, but one of the best horror villain performances ever (she accepted the 1990 Oscar for Actress in a Lead Role thanks to this).  When King wrote this story of an obsessed fan, it's probably likely that he had ran into a few "Annie's" in his time, which makes it eerily personal.  Bates is psychotic, but in a way that seemed as though someone like her probably does exist somewhere (I'd bet money on it).  Because the majority of the film takes place in this bedroom where Caan is trapped, it's almost like a play and it's really the actors and the script that build the suspense.

There is an infamous scene involving James Caan and a black of wood that is definitely the highlight of the movie, but Misery is a great picture to not only see another King story brought to life and handled well (by the likes of Spinal Tap and Stand By Me director Rob Reiner), but to have a very different kind of villain brought to the screen with an amazing complexity.  Misery is a great flick to watch when you're snowed inside during the winter and you want to watch something to pass the time while sipping on hot chocolate; fame comes with a price, and in a way, this is probably Steven King's truest nightmare!

*Ok, this teaser trailer kind of sucks, I know...but the only other official theatrical trailer I could find ruined many of the best scenes in the film!  Sorry; if you haven't seen the film but are hell-bent on ruining it for yourself via Youtube videos, feel free to surf the web...
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