September 2012 posts
October is upon us and that means that everyone loves to watch horror movies to prepare to stuff themselves on left over candy from those trick or treaters that are getting fewer and fewer every year. So we here would like to guide you in what to watch over the course of the next 31 days to ensure that you have weird dreams and avoid dark hallways.
Over the history of film, Horror has found its way into larger genres and has proven to be a consistent crowd pleaser from mutilated prisoners to people attached at the rectum (you know what movie I mean). So here are our top five horror movies as always this is not fact just preference so disagree as much as you like.
Night of the Living Dead
The are movies that come along and set the standard. From that point on, there are movies before and movies after, this is Night of the Living Dead. George Romero changed all the rules and made film history by making a low budget independent film with an African American Hero and Blonde Bombshell Heroine that scared the crap out of everyone. On top of all of this, Romero showed that Horror can be driven by the visual and not by an actor. Night of the Living Dead is the bible for modern horror, and in particular, one of the flash points that led to inspire some of the best make up artists in all of film history.
Here is our first one that does not seem like a true horror film. True there are no supernatural elements. There are no demented villains murdering people in a flesh suit. But how many people to this day think twice before going into an ocean while thinking of this movie. Jaws and Steven Spielberg scared generations of kids and adults from swimming in the ocean. To further the validity of this movie falling into the horror category, Spielberg used many elements from old horror and suspense films (especially Hitchcock) to further terrify the audience. There is the old trick of not showing the villain until half way through the movie, and Spielberg masterfully used this to the point that on opening weekend of the film when the shark appears people were either fleeing the theater or throwing up in their seats.
For lack of better comparison, this is Jaws in space. However, Alien goes above and beyond that. Alien is a combination of Jaws and 2001 and things exploding out of your body. Ridley Scott amazed everyone with this film, and still creates fear in those who watch (that is possibly before Prometheus). The idea of being trapped in a box with something hunting you is scary enough, but lets add that even if you can harm the hunter its blood will burn and kill you. Oh my god. Then to further complicate your survival, the main computer that communicates with an android have decided that the hunter’s life is more important than yours. To top it all, the thing was given birth out of your buddy’s stomach during dinner the night before, so screw any idea of eating in the future. Ridley Scott delivers all of this with terrifying suspenseful perfection, that can still give anyone nightmares.
How can you turn a great Stephen King book into an astonishing movie? Have Stanley Kubrick adapt it into a movie. If not for our number one, this would be the definition of how to scare people for a year or two after having seen a movie. From an elevator of blood to a creepy kids voice, the Shining incorporates all the best of Stephen King’s novel and improves on the bad parts. The similarities are the supernatural element that tie all the characters together, scenes like the woman in the bathtub, and those freakin twins. However Kubrick was able to create new elements through writing and filmmaking. By driving the cast to the brink of mental break downs, Kubrick ensured the most authentic performances to the point that Shelly Duval did not speak to him after the film for the rest of Kubrick’s life. The scene where the camera follows Danny Torrence on his big wheel through the hotel builds so much suspense resulting in those freakin twins that a seemingly mundane shot becomes on of the most terrifying in film history. The final alteration was the ending. While in King’s book, the supernatural element takes over and goodwill prevails, Kubrick’s ending is that of a man so single minded that a hedge maze becomes his demise. Giving us Jack in his most famous face frozen for all time.
You can sit and say that there are scarier movies, you can say that there are better movies at shocking you, you can say that there are movies with more blood. Shut Up. Hands down this movie scares more people per capita than any other. I have seen the movie over fifty times and certain scenes still keep me up at night. Whether you are a fan of spider walking or heads with no neck muscles, this movie instills fear in all who watch. Hell you don’t have to have religion to find it terrifying. Among all the scary things in the movie, there are always two that stand out. The first being the demon’s face that flashes through the movie (particularly the extended version), and lastly when you see the words “Help Me” rising out of Reagan’s stomach as if she is caught inside. The Exorcist took every note of horror and built upon it. From the supernatural to the desperation to right a wrong brings all of us in. But our challenge is watch multiple times and see all the subtle creepy moments, if you dare.
THE MASTER (IN THEATERS/2012) Set in the post-war 1950s, this masterful work, which has already won major prizes at the Venice Film Festival, is Paul Thomas Anderson’s 6th film and his first since 2007’s “There Will Be Blood.” They say you should really see this movie twice before reaching any conclusions about it, but I’m ready to tell you that it’s absolutely spellbinding. To begin, the images you look at on screen are startlingly clear and perfect. Credit to the cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. who composed gorgeous shots and to Anderson as well, who decided to shoot the movie on 65mm stock, a format not used for several decades. Credit also goes to production designers Jack Fish and David Crank, and to costumer designer Mark Bridges, who recreate the 1950s for us down to every detail and show us an amazing array of ties, shoes, hats, dresses, you name it—all making the film visually stunning. And then there’s the acting. It’s almost impossible to describe the brilliance and range of Philip Seymour Hoffman as cult leader Lancaster Dodd and the scary intensity of Joaquin Phoenix as Dodd’s protégé and guinea pig Freddie Quell. The story, written by Anderson, takes its inspiration from L. Ron Hubbardand his creation of Scientology during roughly the same time period. Dodd is the head and creator of a movement called “The Cause.” He presents himself as a brilliant man, or a shaman, or both. It doesn’t matter—his followers hang on his every word. Freddie, coming out of WWII where he was an “able bodied seaman,” is clearly damaged and due to his restless and violent nature, is unable to hold down any job. He is also a raging alcoholic and the most creative moonshine maker you’ve ever seen—using ingredients that will make you groan. Ultimately, he lands on a boat where Dodd’s daughter is about to get married. Dodd takes him in and welcomes him to The Cause (and also welcomes Freddie to make him some excellent hooch).
The two go round and round for the rest of the movie, almost like dancers on a stage. Amy Adams appears as Dodd’s wife Peggy, perpetually pregnant but a real force behind the Master. She disapproves of her husband’s attachment to Freddie and often the camera catches her critical eye as she sits in silence. Other actors in supporting roles are solid as well, including Ambyr Childers as Dodd’s daughter Elizabeth, Jesse Piemons as his son Val, and Laura Dern as one of Dodd’s devoted (and wealthy) supporters. As any number of others have noted, don’t go to this movie expecting to find the answer to Scientology or how it works. The movie is really a combination of character study and examination of large issues–man’s very nature, for example, and his need to believe in and belong to something, the search for meaning, and ultimately, for Freddie, the inability to exert control over base needs. An exceptional film, in every respect and well worth one or many viewings.
TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (2012/IN THEATERS) Clint Eastwood’s new film is his first since “In the Line of Fire” (1993) in which he acts but didn’t direct. But his hand is evident since Robert Lorenz, the film’s first-time director, has helped produce Eastwood’s last 12 films and was a second-unit director on others. So the straightforward storytelling and filmmaking we’ve come to expect from Eastwood will seem familiar. As for the story, this movie is the “anti” Moneyball. Remember the old guys in that movie—the scouts sitting around the table– who argued with Brad Pitt and Seth Rogen’s computer-based statistical approach to baseball? Well, in Trouble with the Curve, they are vindicated. In fact, by the end, Eastwood’s Gus Lobel has beaten the computer guys hands down, even while he’s losing his eyesight to macular degeneration. Let’s hear it for the old dudes! The story is pretty simple: Gus Lobel (Eastwood) is facing old age and the possible loss of his job as a recruiter for the Atlanta Braves. His only daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) is a hotshot lawyer looking to become the first female partner at a firm in the city. She’s a no nonsense woman with a shaky relationship to her father who was widowed at an early age and sent her away for much of her childhood. But it’s clear that she has his passion for the sport and a talent for spotting talent also. Gus is heading out for his make-or-break recruiting trip to North Carolina when Mickey turns up. She’s been sent by his best friend and colleague Pete (John Goodman) who knows about Gus’ big problem and his unspoken need for help. While on the road, the two hook up with Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), a former pitcher discovered by Gus now turned recruiter for the Red Sox. Johnny has an eye for Mickey and slowly begins to thaw her lawyer’s tough front. Cast as the “bad guy/ambitious rival of Gus” in the flick is Matthew Lillard who had a similar role in “The Descendants”—he played the sleazy real estate agent who was having the affair with George Clooney’s wife. How ironic for Lillard! But he does play sleaze-balls well. This film is corny and predictable but still enjoyable. It moves slowly right up until the end when suddenly it kicks into gear and finishes with a flourish. I’m recommending it for Matinee viewing….something light, with funny parts and plenty of Eastwood playing his “Gran Torino” old guy/curmudgeon role. Adams is fine and solid, but not exciting, and the same can be said of Justin Timberlake, who basically adds some comedy and romantic charm to the piece. The folks in the theater where I saw this film gave it a thumbs-up. See what you think.
ARBITRAGE (2012/IN THEATERS) Oscar buzz is out there big time for Richard Gere’s performance in this classic mystery/suspense movie set in upper-upper crust NYC and Wall Street. Gere plays Robert Miller, a billionaire hedge fund manager and philanthropist who is introduced to us as that guy making like a duck in the old adage—smoothly swimming on the pond while paddling like hell underneath. Miller, giving speeches to Forbes about his theories of investing and celebrating his 60th birthday with his beautiful family, seems to have it all going for him. He’s preparing to sell his company, has a beautiful wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon, excellent as always), and a brilliant successor in his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling). But wait—you know it’s too good to be true and sure enough, the film wastes little time in undercutting that lovely surface as Robert exits his birthday party early in order to visit his young lover Julie (Laetitia Casta), a French woman making her way in the art world thanks to his patronage. And there’s more: Robert is over-extended to the tune of $412 million thanks to a promising investment in Russian copper which has gone bad and is now locked up in a political stand-off with the U.S. He’s borrowed that amount to cover his books until the company sells but his lender is demanding the money back and his buyer keeps stalling. A giant default is looming and Robert is more than aware of it. That storyline makes up one big piece of the plot, but the other involves Robert’s needy and whiney mistress, and trust me, it doesn’t go well. I don’t want to spoil any suspense for you, so I’ll say no more about that. But I will say this movie will suck you right in and hold you to the end. For first time feature director Nicholas Jarecki (who also penned the screenplay), it’s an impressive beginning. Jarecki is only 25 but comes from a family of filmmakers that includes half brothers Andrew (Capturing the Friedmans) and Eugene (Why We Fight). His mother and father are well-known, successful and still active commodities traders, as well as philantropists, so he certainly understood his source material for this film. The lead role is absolutely perfect for Gere who gives such a well-rounded and compelling performance you never cease to be secretly rooting for him, even though he’s the “Bernie Madoff” of the piece. Good work also from Tim Roth as Detective Michael Bryer in what I think of as sub-plot two, as well as Nate Park as Jimmy in that same story twist. And a bonus: we’re treated to two wonderful cameos featuring Graydon Carter (renowned Editor of Vanity Fair) as James Mayfield, Miller’s acquirer and a worthy competitor. Well worth your time.
It’s time for movie lovers everywhere to celebrate the end of the summer movie doldrums and get ready for the start of the Oscar season. What are the movies you’re most excited about? We offer our thoughts below for your consideration.
#1 on our list: The Master
“Like everyone else in the world,” as SML Reviewer Kim says, we can’t wait to see the latest from Paul Thomas Anderson. Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman have already won acting awards at the 2012 Venice Film Festival and while the movie is said to be difficult and confounding, we can’t wait for it. The film opened in NYC and LA on Friday and blew out all previous openings for independent films. Moving to more theaters this weekend so keep your eyes out!
Also on our Radar:
SML ace reviewer Kim says: “Lee Daniels has lost his mind!” Daniels, as you’ll no doubt recall, was the driving force behind the film Precious which came out of nowhere in 2009 to win numerous awards including an Oscar for Mo’Nique. This is his first film since then and it features an interesting cast including Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron, John Cusack and Matthew McConaughy. The story is set in the south and most of the buzz about it from Cannes involved Kidman peeing on Zac Efron….guess we’ll have to see it to judge, eh?
Says Kim: “Or maybe just reading its reviews–I don’t see how Ang Lee is going to pull this off.” Filmed in 3D and featuring a cast of all newcomers, the extended trailer for this movie got raves when it premiered at ComiCon in San Diego earlier this summer. If you’ve read the book (and we highly recommend it), you’ll know what a tough task filming this one must be. On the other hand, who better to take difficult material to the screen than Ang Lee of “Brokeback” fame.
“Can you believe that trailer? I didn’t want to like it, but I love it.” Thanks, Kim, for that comment—Gotta love Quentin Tarentino who wrote the script and directed this one, featuring an ALL STAR cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, and Jamie Foxx as well as Tarentino’s favorites Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz. And hey! Don Johnson and Bruce Dern make appearances as well. Can’t wait.
Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisend: “Maybe Barbra can be funny in this? Hopefully?” The synopsis reads as follows: An inventor and his mom hit the road together so he can sell his latest invention. OK….bring it on.
Kim says: ”Because I love band movies and it’s directed/written by David Chase, so it’s either going to be brilliant or a total old-guy misfire”
And More from Rebecca:
Director Joe Wright and British beauty Keira Knightley team up again but this time with a twist. Best known for their work together on the highly admired and popular period pieces “Atonement” and “Price and Prejudice,” Wright has chosen to interpret this famous Russian passion play within a theatrical setting. Some reviewers are raving, others call it a “travesty.” Who knows? I admire this duo and can’t wait to see what they’ve created. Plus the costuming alone will be worth the price of admission.
I absolutely loved director Walter Salles’ treatment of The Motorcycle Diaries back in 2004 — and I hope he succeeds equally well with Garrett Hedlund in the Kerouac role of Dean Moriarty and Sam Riley as his along-for-the-ride pal Sal Paradise. Kristen Stewart appears as the young and wild Marylou, with cameos from Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst, Steve Buscemi and others. My fingers are seriously crossed for this one.
Ben Affleck’s latest effort at both directing and acting got great reviews at the Telluride Film Festival and came up 2nd in the People’s Choice Awards at Toronto. It’s the timely (and true) story of captives who were smuggled out from the Iran hostage crisis back when Jimmy Carter was president, all under the guise of a fake film and crew. Some who were at Toronto think this one has real Oscar potential. Affleck just gets better and better. Thank heavens for that.
I realize it’s only getting so-so reviews, but I do love Bill Murray and can’t wait to see him as FDR in this take on a real-life historical weekend in 1939 when the King and Queen of England came for a visit. That would be King George VI of “The King’s Speech” and Queen Elizabeth, the current Queen Mother. Laura Linney co-stars.
THE CAMPAIGN (2012/IN THEATERS) I know that this movie hit theaters weeks ago but trust me–now is actually the perfect time to go see it in theaters, particularly if you’ve been following the Republicans and Democrats at their national conventions over the last two weeks. For one thing, you’ll find all your favorites back at their respective news desks since Wolf Blitzer, Chris Matthews, Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, Ed Schultz, Lawrence O’Donnell, and even Piers Morgan, Bill Maher and Dennis Miller play themselves as part of the satire. What could be better? And honestly what could be a better antidote to this year’s endless presidential election than a broad, raunchy send-up of a nasty political campaign? That was clearly the thinking behind the film, which stars Will Ferrell, back in his Talladega Nights mode, as Republican Congressman Cam Brady. Cam has a nice swagger and a perfect $600 John Edwards style haircut; he’s looking to score his 4th term running unopposed in a rural North Carolina district. Thanks to a little “sexual indiscretion,” Cam’s campaign manager Mitch (Jason Sudeikis) tells him that his approval numbers are sinking like a stone causing his financial backers– the Motch brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd–ironically reminiscent of the Duke brothers in “Trading Places”)–to decide to find another candidate they can own and control. Enter Zach Galifianakis as Marty Huggins, the earnest but clueless head of tourism for the district and the youngest son of a wealthy, former political handler (played by Brian Cox) with deep connections to the Motch’s. Next thing you know, Marty is running against Cam and the knives are out. The Motch brothers assign Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott), their kick-ass campaign manager, to whip Marty into shape. Soon even his beloved Chinese Pugs are replaced by a Labrador and a Golden Retriever–complete with bandanas, natch. The plot is totally predictable after the set-up but the jokes are plentiful and even though many (most?) are sophomoric, people in my audience were laughing out loud. And I have to say that I loved Marty’s campaign slogan: “…it’s a mess.” Washington, of course. Who could agree more? Especially after two weeks of close observation.
THE WELL DIGGER’S DAUGHTER (La Fille de Puisatier) (2011/IN THEATERS) If you’re looking for a complete change of pace from all the action flix of this past summer, look no further than this beautiful and classic French tale of life in Provence around the time of WWI. Adapting the story from a novel by Marcel Pagnol, familiar French actor Daniel Auteuil not only penned the screenplay but also directed and stars as the main character Pascal Amoretti. Pascal is the well digger in question, a hard working but poor man who has been blessed with no less than six daughters. His wife is dead and Pascal now counts on his eldest, Patricia (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), to help him with the others. He regards Patricia, who has been educated in Paris, as something of a saint, returned to him just when he needed her most. Pascal’s helper in the well-digging business—the earnest and amiable Felipe (Kad Merad)–is also enamored of Patricia and hopes to propose to her as the film opens. Unfortunately for Felipe, just at the same time Patricia has also caught the eye of a young pilot, Jacques Mazel (Nicolas Duvauchelle), who is the son of the wealthy town merchant. Jacques is quite the flirt and Patricia falls for his spell, becoming pregnant and setting into motion the film’s main storyline involving paternity and the wealthy vs. the working class. Does this sound familiar? Between the gorgeous scenery and the central questions of lineage, I felt sure we were heading straight back into the territory of two other Pagnol stories, also set in Provence, which were made into striking films back in 1986–Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring. If you missed these two, or just need a refresher, I highly recommend renting both. Yves Montand stars as the wealthy landowner in the two pictures, with Gerard Depardieu as the young hunchback in the first film and beautiful Emmanuelle Béart as his daughter in the second. Daniel Auteuil appears in both movies as the son of Montand, ultimately dying of heartbreak in the latter. The two films play like grand Opera and they are magnificent. But wait! Don’t run away! This one chooses to take a lighter path, one you won’t want to miss. Enjoy.
LAWLESS (2012/IN THEATERS) Based on a historical novel by Matt Bondurant entitled “The Wettest County in the World,” Lawless tells the tale of three brothers—the Bondurants, based on the author’s great uncles and grandfather in real life—who were legendary moonshiners and bootleggers in rural Franklin County, Virginia, during Prohibition. The oldest of the three, Forrest (played by Tom Hardy in the film), out-lived death so many times he earned the moniker “invincible.” His two younger brothers are Howard (Jason Clark) and Jack (Shia LaBoeuf). Their parents are long gone and the three brothers run a café as a cover for their liquor sales which are thriving. Jack serves as the audience’s primary focus—he’s a young man desperately trying to grow up and become part of the moonshine business. However his brothers are reluctant to let him in to their dangerous and often violent lives. As the film gets going, we meet the two women of the piece—Maggie (Jessica Chastain), who shows up mysteriously at the café one day looking for work, and Bertha (Mia Wasikowska), the daughter of the town’s preacher. Maggie, it appears, is fleeing from the big city of Chicago. As the movie progresses, she grows closer to Forrest and even offers herself to him. Jack is smitten by Bertha and tries various means of contacting her against her father’s wishes. The two women serve to soften the movie a bit, but the real plot (and violence) kicks into gear as Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) appears. Cast as the villain of the piece (with everything but a big, curly mustache), he’s been sent from Chicago to bust up the stills or better yet, take a piece of the action. Naturally the Bondurants refuse any cooperation with him and the war begins. In the course of the film, Gary Oldman also makes a brief but effective appearance as Floyd Banner, the king pin of a local mob, who provides Jack with his first giant sale and gets him into the family business in a big way. Given the cast and the pedigree of director John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road) and the screenplay and music from Nick Cave (who provided the same for The Proposition), expectations were high for this movie. But while it delivers in fits and starts, it can’t quite create a cohesive and satisfying whole. Despite what you may read elsewhere, I found Shia LeBoeuf to be just fine as the young kid enjoying the fruits of his labors with new cars and fancy clothes. And I felt his interactions with Mia Wasikowska were spot on (credit to her for that, I’m sure). Jessica Chastain is also solid in her few good scenes and Tom Hardy is certainly believable as the “man of few words” Forrest. Maybe it’s Guy Pearce’s over-the-top villain who turns the film into something too predictable or stereotypical. Who knows? I say, give the film a shot if you like period dramas but don’t get your hopes up too high.