19.10.10

Manhunter

Release Date: 1986
Directed by Michael Mann
Based on the novel by Thomas Harris
Screenplay by Michael Mann
Starring: William Petersen
      Kim Greist
      Joan Allen
      Brian Cox
      Dennis Farina
      Tom Noonan
      Stephen Lang

***** (5 out of 5 stars)
"As a child, my heart bleeds for him.  Someone took a little boy and turned him into a monster.  But as an adult... as an adult, he's irredeemable.  He butchers whole families to fulfill some sick fantasy.  As an adult, I think someone should blow the sick fuck out of his socks."
A quote that maybe describes the topsy turvy feelings one can feel when on the subject of an abused person who later in life succumbs to the evils done against them and beings to do evil themselves.  In possibly the finest of the films about Hannibal Lecter (spelled Lecktor here), even better than it's remake Red Dragon, Michael Mann serves up his classic style dropped into the world of Thomas Harris.  We follow Will Graham as he is brought back in on a case for the FBI that puts him back in the hot seat; a few years before, Graham nearly went insane trying to capture Lecktor, and got seriously wounded in the process.  Now, Jack Crawford wants him in to help catch The Tooth Fairy, a killer who takes whole families lives together.  Slowly we watch Graham fall back into the mindset needed to catch a serial killer, and of course he goes back to his old pal Hannibal for some advice, a little quid pro quo.  We watch two sides of the film between the killer's life and Graham's, a style which extended into Silence of the Lambs as we watch both Starling/Lecter battle with wits and Buffalo Bill a.k.a James Gumb as he goes about his routine.  This film in particular is very interesting because it shows us Francis Dollarhyde's life (The Tooth Fairy) as he struggles to find love but succumbs to the dangerous urges inside him.  It's a fairly twisted tale, and something that we don't usually see from Mann; I love his filmmaking, and having seen the 2nd film in the Thomas Harris series first I was pleasantly surprised to go back and see this one after already knowing about Lecter, and of course already enjoying Mann's style in other films.

William Petersen (most well known for his role as Gil Grissom, the overeducated crime scene forensics expert) is the true story of this film- he is on fire.  Between this and To Live & Die in L.A, Petersen never has to be in another film for me to consider him one of the top actors in his generation.  It's hard to look away from the screen when he's there, he commands the respect and the attention we give his character.  It's hard for an actor to really nail a role on the head perfectly to where I want to see the performances go, but Petersen pulls it off and really makes me feel like Will Graham is in front of me.  His delivery, his timing, the way he moves- everything feels right.  Not to mention the slick look that Mann lays over the film like a glossy coat; the director's choices for atmosphere really pull us into Graham's character.  We spend the long hours with him, we walk through the victims houses with him, we fall into his shoes.  He makes us go round each corner with him, feel what he's feeling.  A truly epic performance in my opinion.
Another exceptional performance I feel that's worth notice is Tom Noonan as Francis Dollarhyde.  That being said- I love Ralph Fiennes' portrayal as well, but Noonan is just creepy in general.  He later ends up on CSI up against Petersen's Grissom, which is pretty neat too.  In this film, he is a loner- a big, tall, creepy creeperton of a man.  He is shadowy, but also we get the feeling that at any minute maybe he could just smash someone to bits.  He looks tall and lanky but behind that lies some sort of mysterious danger.  He brings a quality to the role that Fiennes doesn't have in the remake.  Fiennes plays a physically fit, physically commanding Dollarhyde while Noonan plays the character as dangerous, but even more detached physically and emotionally.


This movie is top notch, from acting to directing.  One final scene at the end with Will Graham and his son sums it all up- the fight between the great evil and the great good.  They watch a family of turtles swimming, and the boy asks "How many?", and Will replies: "Most of 'em.. most of 'em made it!".  I take this a subtle metaphor for the families that Will has saved due to giving himself over to the FBI and what they needed.  He saved countless families from the wrath of The Tooth Fairy by giving up pieces of himself, and almost pieces of those he loves.   An excellent film, worth 5 stars.

Halloween

Directed by John Carpenter
Release Date: 1978

Written by John Carpenter & Debra Hill

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis
      Donald Pleasence
      Nancy Kyes
      P.J Soles
      Charles Cyphers
      Brian Andrews
      Kyle Richards

***** (5 out of 5 stars)

With this film, John Carpenter single handedly changed the horror genre into intelligent filmmaking.  He kept the killer hidden for the better part of the film, and still kept people tingling with fear.  We watch the scenes with the killer in them from the killer's point of view: staring out the eyes of a mask.  This creates a fear in the viewer that stems from the unknown.  It runs parallel with our original fear of not being able to see the killer: we still can't see him.  We look at him in the end and can only see a pale, white mask and while we look through his eyes we (of course) still don't see him.  No matter what way it's filmed, we still don't know who Michael Myers is.  This is a technique that really drives this film to greatness.

Michael Myers is not only a serial killer, but he is unstoppable.  As the series goes on we find out more and more about how immortal he really is.  Nothing works- no bullets, knives, falls, explosions or electrocutions.  Myers is a force to be reckoned with, and even from the beginning we see this.  He gets beat up, he just stands up and keeps walking through his victims.  He has the strength of ten men, evident when he picks up a victim with one hand by the throat.  He walks through doors and closets and fences, and we constantly cheer inside for the moment that someone blows his face off or cuts him up- that never happens.  Even in the end, we're left with a "holy fuck" feeling.  Where did he come from?  This is the only thing I wished Carpenter had elaborated on, and I guess now I've got Rob Zombie to thank for that.

Something else about this franchise in general that I enjoy is the choice of songs.  In this film, we hear "Don't Fear the Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult- how fitting.  Michael Myers is the Grim Reaper personified, except you'd probably have a better chance working out a payment plan with the Reaper.  I'm not sure if this movie uses it, but in several of the other installments we hear different versions of "Mr. Sandman" which also work well as a creepy reference to Michael.

Jamie Lee Curtis really kicks this film into gear with her performance.  She plays an every day type of high schooler who just so happens to have a muddy past as far as details go.  She is the queen of scream, and always will be.  Of course, Halloween will always be the horror film she's recognized for, but she has definitely made her mark on a couple.  
Pleasence is always enjoyable as Dr. Loomis.  The original is clearly where it all starts: the mad doctor desperately trying to convince the rest of the world of what he already knows.  He is hellbent on stopping Michael Myers and he doesn't care if the rest of Haddonfield thinks he's retarded- he's going to stop him.  An all-out performance by Pleasence, as always.

Halloween is absolutely iconic.  It set the pace for the next 22 years until now, and to be honest no film has ever really come neck and neck with it in my eyes.  Nobody has been able to come up with the same dynamic between characters as we find between Loomis and Myers, and nobody has been able to match the unstoppable force that is Michel Myers.  Until the day someone can reinvent the slasher genre, John Carpenter will reign supreme- and Michael will sit at his right hand.

Halloween II

Directed by Rick Rosenthal
Release Date: 1981

Written by John Carpenter & Debra Hill

Produced by Debra Hill & John Carpenter

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis
      Donald Pleasence
      Lance Guest
      Charles Cyphers
      Hunter Von Leer
 

***** (5 out of 5 stars)
It has caused me a lot of grief trying to sort out my feelings for this series.  Michael Myers is by far my favourite slasher in movie history, and until some brave filmmaker decides to change my mind I'm sticking to my guns.  The first Halloween movie was a step in a new direction: the unseen is where the terror lies.  Carpenter figured out that by not showing the killer's face, he could create an air of mystery that lends itself to the terror of Myers and his brutal path of destruction.  In this installment, we see everything.  Worst of it is that now Laurie Strode is stuck in an isolated hospital just on the edge of Haddonfield, and we watch as Michael tears the place limb from limb to find his sister.  The sense of isolation we feel in the hallways of the hospital are heightened by the fact that now we see Michael's face, and we watch as he creeps about the place, ready to murder in an instant.  Now the terror is right in our faces, we can't get away from it.  This contrast to the first film is what makes Halloween II one of the best films in the whole series.

As I just mentioned, isolation plays a huge part in this movie.  When you can put yourself into the shoes of the characters and really feel the desperation of being in the hospital while a madman stalks the halls, it really puts you on the edge.  The long empty hallways, the darkened rooms, the cold and sterile feel of hospitals, it all melts into one disturbing, long fight for survival.  The hospital itself provides a unique environment; in particular, I think of a scene where a couple nurses are chatting and in the shadows we see Michael as he hangs out in a room full of newborn babies.  Something about Michael in a place where people are supposed to be healed is almost ironic- after he's done with his victims, at least they don't have far to go to get stitched back up (if there's anything left to stitch).  There are plenty of empty patient rooms and O.Rs for Myers to creep among, places to hide in the darkness right before an unfortunate individual walks by.

Jamie Lee Curtis is the only Laurie Strode there is, she is perfect in this role.  She's a frightened, damaged young girl in this second film and this is where we first uncover the truth about her and Michael's relationship.  I couldn't imagine any other actress to play the role.  
Of course, Donald Pleasence is back as Dr. Samuel Loomis and this is him and at the height of greatness.  Loomis knew right from the start that Michael would do damage, and once again nobody believes him.  This is a central theme throughout the whole series: Loomis knows what's coming, but nobody heeds his warnings.  Probably because he sounds like a maniac most of the time, shooting at anything that even resembles the shape of Myers.  In the end though, he is always right.  Here we get to see the big showdown between Loomis and Michael, ending in an excellent explosion.  Pleasence brings a very down to earth feel to Loomis, who is written as a crazy, obsessed doctor; even on the rampage after Myers, Loomis is still played down to perfection.  Any of the series' installments that have Loomis in them are mostly my personal favourites.  The dynamic between Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis is incredible.

There are several really cool kills in this movie.  Before I get to them, I have to mention something that almost ruined the movie for me until they cleared it up.  At one point, someone wearing the same blank William Shatner mask is seen on the street and assumed to be Myers; a police cruiser then flies into him, pinning the man to a van, and then an explosion goes up leaving the man burning in flame.  The police then get a call, and take off with Looms- what the fuck?  They just left the man burning in flames.  Whether or not it was Myers, wouldn't they take some time to look into?  Over the course of the film, they do cover their bases and it saved their asses because I was almost ready to throw the DVD into the street because of it.
Moving on to the kills.  Specifically a brutal kill in a hot tub, which left my jaw dropped.  1981 wasn't exactly the time of stellar effects, but they pull off a lot of great kills.  Blood was never huge in this series, and that's something I enjoyed, but we do see the viciousness at the hands of Myers.  We also see the beginning of Michael's routine: isolate everyone as individually as possible, then slaughter them one by one.  He methodically picks everyone off, luring them out like a hunter with his prey.  This is the standard for most slashers now, that the killer picks off all the victims one by one, sometimes in pairs.  This is where the isolated hospital environment really comes in hand.  We also get a lot more "Michael creeps out of the darkness" in this film (i.e a young nurse finds the doctor dead in his office and Myers slowly comes out of the darkness, his gleaming white mask seeping out of the background).

Overall, this movie is worth each of the 5 stars.  I love the kills, the plot, and of course the acting.  Another thing I love is the introduction of Samhain, essentially setting up the supernatural elements which start to take place in the rest of the series.  Here we begin to see where they're going with Myers' character- instead of being just a random serial killer, now he starts to become something even scarier.  I recommend this to any fan of old school horror, and anybody who's looking for a really creepy movie especially around October 31st.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Directed by Samuel Bayer
Release Date: 2010

Written by Wesley Strick & Erci Heisserer (screenplay)

Story by Wesley Strick

Based on characters by Wes Craven

Starring: Jackie Earle Haley
      Kyle Gallner
      Rooney Mara
      Clancy Brown
      Connie Britton
      Thomas Dekker

** (2 out of 3 stars)
"You have nothing to worry about- this won't hurt one, little, bit."

Freddy was wrong- this remake, which was more unnecessary than most, certainly hurt quite a bit.  Krueger is one of my favourite villains of all-time, horror or otherwise, and he's the only thing that saved this lame retelling of the original.  We don't get anything special as far as kills go, and most of the time I wondered why the made Freddy look less scary than the first time around?  We'll never know.  That being said, the story behind Krueger's death and the part played by Jackie Earle Harley are both what saves this film.  Other than that, there are a whole lot of emo kids and a whole lot of inconsistencies.  

Instead of listing what's wrong with this movie, I'll give you what I enjoyed.
Freddy Krueger was a child killer and the parents got revenge- that was the extent of Wes Craven's explanation in the original Nightmare on Elm Street.  There was no more, and no less.  In this version, we see a darker version of what Freddy's past looks like.  We get the feeling that he molested the children and tore them up with his claws, but then we also get the feeling that maybe Fred was pegged for something he didn't do.  We don't exactly get much evidence for either, especially not the latter, but once the kids of Elm Street figure out what their naughty parents did they immediately question it.  Rightfully so.  If your parents told you someone had hurt you and so they murdered that person, wouldn't you at least question it?  In the original film, this is something that I always wondered- didn't the kids have any questions?  Regardless, the murder was uncalled for (I'm against the death penalty in all forms, vigilante or by law) but wouldn't you want to know what the proof was?  It would certainly be easier to sleep at night knowing for sure that it was at least somewhat justified.  This is something I really enjoyed- too bad the rest of the movie wasn't as thought out as this point was.  
I saw Jackie Earle Haley in a movie called Little Children, and ever since that Oscar nominated performance I have been watching him.  He is the only shining point as far as acting is concerned here.  He adds a little something to Freddy that makes up for the terrible effects used on his appearance; a dark, creepy growl of voice and excellent delivery in the lines.  He is void of all the humour that Robert Englund brought to the character, and I think that it's fitting.  Even though this film didn't strike the bullseye by any means, Haley still gives Freddy dimensions that weren't present in the original performance and that is an attribute to this terribly flawed film.

It's hard to believe that Wes Craven was onboard for this one, but I guess that's the fad of the day- remake every and all horror film of the past 40 years, no matter if it needs to be remade or not.  You'd think that they would stick to remaking movies that had great premises in the 70s and 80s but weren't well executed, yet we still see them remaking classics.  I would assume it's all fueled by greed.  To think that a movie like Nightmare or Friday the 13th would need to be remade is like pissing all over the classic pioneers of slasher films.  I'll give it to Rob Zombie, he certainly impressed me with his remake of my all-time favourite slasher, Halloween.  I'll even give Marcus Nispel and Jonathan Liebesman for their reboot of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (particularly the latter for the prequel to Leatherface and his family's story), which is also on the top of my list for classic horror films.  But to me, there is no need to try and reinvent Jason or Freddy- above all, these two are iconic and immortal characters in the movie universe and we should just leave them alone.  Some of the sequels in these franchises were enough shame, let alone a flaccid reboot.

I honestly gave this movie 2 stars solely based on Haley's performance as Fred Krueger, and the elaborated backstory to his death.  Other than that there is nothing special about this film.  Maybe if they pulled off something as gnarly as Johnny Depp's death scene in the original film I could give them another star, but unfortunately it was a brutal effort.  Kudos to the filmmakers for trying- Wes Craven has some big directorial shoes to walk in.

Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre (a.k.a Harpoon)

Directed by Julius Kemp

Story by Torsten Metalstein Hvas & Sjon

Written by Sjon

Starring: Pihla Viitala
      Nae Yuuki
      Miranda Hennessy
      Terence Anderson
      Helgi Bjornsson
      Gudrun Gisladottir
      Stefan Jonsson

**** (4 out of 5 stars)

First, let me state that I have been waiting to see this movie ever since I saw the description of it on www.upcominghorrormovies.com even when it was just a plot synopsis.  So when reading this review, keep in mind that due to my excited state when I finally got to see this movie I may be biased.  
That being said: I love this movie.  If you're looking for an hour and a half of pure debauchery, gore and mayhem then this movie has got what you are looking for.  Some of the acting is a little off, and of course the script isn't exactly tailored to Bogart, but I still feel that this is a solid addition to the psycho family genre.  It's original in the sense that usually we find this sort of story working in the backwoods down South, or in a remote region somewhere in the European areas; here, we find a demented family floating the oceans on a large whale hunting ship, scrambling for meat on the open water.  The setup is a bunch of tourists that are going on a whale watching vessel to, you guessed it- watch whales.  Of course, through the jigs and reels (pardon the lameness), they end up in the clutches of the aforementioned psychopathic family of whale hunters.  The mother and her two sons are horny, hungry, and dying to kill.  From here it's a run of the mill horror, with some of the tourists being killed off brutally and of course the family takes a few hits.

One thing that I didn't like about this film but it doesn't surprise me they put it in there, is the rape scene.  One of the young tourists is a beautiful young woman, who we assume from the start seems to be damaged goods; she is lured by a crew member into a room downstairs, where she is then forced to have sex.  The thing that bothers me most is that most movies in the horror genre always use that rape scene as the "go to" scene.  Right off the bat, we get this.  The other disturbing part about this scene which pushes it past the typical rape scenario is that when one of the other female members of the tourist group finds him forcing himself onto the other girl, she just stands there as if she is disgusted with her; you'd figure that from one woman to another, she would have at least asked "Are you alright?".  Not here.  Maybe that's what makes it a good placement, that it's not your typical rape scene, there is no feeling bad, there is no want for revenge.  It's like we're meant to look at this girl as a skank, because that's what this other chick obviously thought.  We don't even get to see anybody take some revenge on the guy either- the girl had sought him out to let him know the Captain of the ship had been seriously injured, and after he figures that out above deck he takes one of the lifeboats and sails the open sea by himself, leaving the tourists out on a limb.  This is where the family comes in and all hell breaks loose.

The biggest plus for this movie overall are the amazing kills.  We get everything from double head shots, a ridiculously cheesy decapitation, Kamikaze action, and a good flare to the eye.  The effects were great- there was lots of excellent gore to satisfy the hungriest horror fans.  Even in the end, the girls finally see a whale and it tries to kill them.  Can't get any better than that.
Another thing that made this movie even better for me was the fact that the protagonist of this story is a gay, black man.  We find this out shortly after the horror starts up on the whale hunting ship, and of course the leading lady is upset because now how is she going to get laid?  The family hates black people, clearly, and it's excellent to watch his character get one over on them.  Of course the joy gets cut short when the law shows up, and a devastating mix up happens- this adds more flavour to the pot.

The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre a.k.a Harpoon is one of the finer films to come out of this sub genre.  Most of the movies that we see that are along the same lines usually fall short due to a terrible plot, terrible acting or even terrible effects and scares.  This one serves up a healthy portion of great kills and some half decent acting; the story is pretty original when it comes to the setting, which adds a little something more.  4 out of 5 star movie, and I recommend it to anyone who loves horror movies; you'll certainly get a good kick out of this one!

Paradise Lost II: Revelations

Directed by Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky
Release Date: 2000 (TV)

Featuring: Damien Echols
Jason Baldwin
Jesse Misskelly
Kathy Bakken
Steven Branch
John Mark Byers
Melissa Byers
 
*** (3 out of 5 stars)

The post-title says it all: Revelations.  This film picks up several years after the original trial, and now Damien (along with the other two boys) is a little older, and has spent a long few years in jail.  If it all isn't sad enough, we find out that Damien Echols has been raped repeatedly inside jail and nobody would help him out of the situation he was in.  Due to the fact of the closed mindedness of a small town and the lapse of judgement on the part of law enforcement and the judicial system, a young man has been robbed of his innocence and manhood; of course, there are groups of people (especially in West Memphis) that would argue he deserves every bit of it, that nothing he gets is good enough to fit the crime he has supposedly committed.  We get more and more disgusting commentary from Mark Byers, stepfather of one victim Christopher Byers, and others who were involved in the original case.  A lot more mumbo jumbo, for lack of a better word, gets spilled from the lips of the closed minded folks who live in this small West Memphis town.  Each time I watch either the first or second installments in this series, I keep thinking that I'm lucky to not have been 16 in a town like this because even today if the police raided my room and looked at my literature or media, they'd find enough to lock me up for eternity on their watch; apparently reading and listening to certain types of music or watching certain movies is no longer something that is attached to freedom.  We are revealed with more and more disturbing evidence that points us in the direction of the rightful owner of these charges.  Many more questions get raised the second time around, and at this point the filmmakers had gathered up quite a following.  After seeing this film, I took more time to look into www.wm3.org and try to find more ways I could help out.  The injustice that we see in both Paradise Lost films is absolutely appalling, and would make anyone with either bit of a warm heart cringe.

There was no doubt in my mind even after watching the first film that Mark Byers was responsible for the deaths of the three children, or at least had something to do with it all.  After this second installment, there is even less than no doubt about that fact.   We see more and more evidence pile up against Byers.  The scariest of all is the fact that his wife's death is, to this day, due to unconfirmed causes.  There is evidence that leans towards the fact that Mark Byers probably hurt her, and possibly caused the death; but we will never know.  By the end of the film, we find out that the supposed holy man was arrested for selling drugs.  We hear mounting evidence about how Byers had given a kid a knife and urged him to use it on another kid after he and his wife had left town and moved on somewhere else.  When they had left town, they also robbed as much as they could from 'friends'.  What makes everybody so easy to accept that these young kids were responsible for the murders and that a man like Byers isn't capable of anything like that?  The man lies through his teeth, contradicts himself and his stories, yet people still lap up all the milk that police and the judges give them.  Ignored is the fact that Byers had a knife with blood on it that matched his blood type as well as his stepson Christopher's type, and the fact that he blatantly lied about knowledge of blood on the knife and then twisting, turning his statement until it was barely even recognizable by the end.  Worse is the fact that everybody still can't see past the lies and recognize that Jesse Misskelly is not mentally fit enough to testify for or against anybody, and that he was coerced into giving a false statement.  We ignore all these things, and look past the fact that Byers is putting on the grandest show of all- he parades in front of the camera, having a makeshift funeral for the West Memphis 3 in the woods (where he calls the three dead children his "babies", which to me is indicative that he thought he had some relationship with the other two little kids), arguing with reporters and activists.  The best way to hide is in plain sight, and that is what Mark Byers has been doing ever since the discovery of the bodies in Robin Hood Hills.  He plays the church man, he plays the grieving father and husband, he plays the good ol' Southern boy.. while everybody watches.   Not to mention that he did have an argument with his stepson on the day of the murders, and spanked him; this is something that always factors into motivation for murder, if anybody had altercations with a victim.  
Later in the film, we discover that there were bite marks on the face of one of the victims.  The three alleged murderers are cleared, but Byers could not be properly tested due to the fact that he has had false teeth since four years after his son's murder.  Copies of dental records were used, but came up inconclusive.  Byers then takes a polygraph and feels he has been exonerated, although he was on a variety of medications that could have affected proper testing (Xanax and Haldol are two of the substances).  Every time he feels he has beaten the rap, it's like he is taunting the cameras, dancing for the onlookers.  Byers is so in our face and so outspoken, it feels to me that he is the true murderer, or at last had some involvement.  Anybody else would probably shy away and not want any attention; the average every day person does not want to be involved in a media circus surrounding murders, but Byers seems totally at ease with being there, almost as if he does feel that being the center of attention helps him hide in plain view.

A lot of this film is a rehash of the first, but I still enjoyed it.  Enjoyment may not be the right term- I found this enlightening, just as I did the first.  We get a lot more information, as I talked about previously, but in the end we stay at the same standstill as before.  Damien Echols will now be a product of the system: forced to fight against being raped by other inmates, no doubt he will become a hardened shell of a man.  Eventually, he could end up having to use force to defend himself and then probably add more charges to the already bogus one he is serving a sentence for now.  The fact that they've locked away an innocent person who now has to fight to survive will only work against Echols; he'll eventually be conformed to life in the system, and no matter if he makes it out alive or not he will always have the strain of prison life sitting on his shoulders, reminding him of what was once taken from him.  Neither three of the West Memphis trio will ever live a normal life again, all thanks to a conglomerate of individuals that were essentially working against them.  We see more and more of what prejudice and closed minds can do to those who don't fit their view of 'normal'.

I gave this film 3 stars, not because it wasn't good but because as I mentioned previously there is a lot that just rehashes the original trial.  I enjoyed it thoroughly, however, and I recommend this to anybody who has seen the first.  These films are important to the future of our justice system- a very relative how-not-to story.

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?
Directed by Werner Herzog

Produced by Eric Bassett

Executive Producer: David Lynch

Written by Herbert Golder & Werner Herzog

Starring: Michael Shannon
      Willem Dafoe
      Udo Kier
      Chloe Sevigny
      Grace Zabriskie
      Brad Dourif

***** (5 out of 5 stars)

So what?  So, what?  So.. what?

Sometimes you don't know what to think while watching Herzog's latest endeavour.  Moments where the camera stops, and we literally watch a frozen frame: there is no pause or freeze to it, the actors literally stop moving and stare as if they're caught in the reality that is being filmed, as if to say "Hey we're making a movie here".  Other times, Herzog literally just films people in their natural state.  Brad McCullum goes to Peru to find himself and explore the world, and in one scene is walking through a market; it looks in this scene as if Werner Herzog literally just shot clips of people on the street and then edited to be from Brad's point of view, a very effective technique (along with Brad monologuing, talking about how people seem to keep staring right at him, into him).  Music also plays a huge part in this film, and a strange one.  Brad keeps playing a song by Washington Phillips, "I Am Born to Preach the Gospel", over and over, saying that this was "it".  All these oddities create Herzog's world, where we weave in through past and present, blindly following McCullum on a bizarre trek through his mind.

Werner Herzog is probably my favourite director, and when I heard that Absurda (David Lynch's production company- of whom I'm also a huge fan) was putting out his latest work.. well let's say I was a little more than thrilled.  My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? is, in my mind, a masterpiece; admittedly, there are some confusing elements to the story that the movie tells but it is a classic indeed.  Based on a true story, Herzog tells the tale of a series of events that led up to a man killing his mother with a sword.  We watch a series of flashbacks about the time leading up to the murder, told mainly by the man's fiancee (Chloe Sevingy) and close friend (Udo Kier) to the lead detective on the scene (Willem Dafoe).  The man (Michael Shannon) claims to have two hostages with him inside the house, and the police are setup outside to try and defuse the situation.  Slowly, the story of Brad McCullum unfolds before our eyes.  For the most part it makes perfect sense but of course Werner Herzog, responsible for many classic films of both documentary format and fiction, has to give the story a thick air of mystery; a few scenes in particular leave the viewer truly wondering- what is happening?

The directing is always the highlight of a Herzog film for me, no matter if the subject matter is sensational or if Kinski was on the screen hamming it up; a filmmaker like him usually tends to be very true to form, very distinctive.  At every point in this movie you can tell you're in his world.  Even in his non-documentary films, Werner manages to give us such a real looking, real feeling environment that it may as well be a documentary that we're watching; this works even more effectively than normal, as this is based on a true story.  

Michael Shannon is the true glory of this movie.  I've seen him time and time again playing different roles but always seeming like the odd man out- here, Herzog places him at the center of a bizarre mystery that unravels the mind of an eccentric man.  Shannon plays a man in his mid to late thirties, Brad, who still lives with his mother, and is trying to balance between that and a relationship with his fiancee (played wonderfully, as always, by Chloe Sevigny).  It's not so much the eccentricities that keep us watching, it's the hope that eventually we will find something to explain the alienation of Brad McCullum.  We never truly get a good explanation as to why he's turned out like this, maybe only the fact that his mother was overbearing and strange in her own right.  Sevigny plays Ingrid well- a young fiancee trying to bring her husband-to-be back to reality and keep him grounded.  She is a simple character but she plays the concerned party very well, just as her character in Zodiac played off of Gyllenhaal's determined persona; we also get to see Udo Kier, a guilty pleasure of mine, play a friend and fellow actor/director in the same capacity, as a worried friend.  
Willem Dafoe is one of my favourite actors and has been since he played a powerhouse of a character in Oliver Stone's Platoon.  He is an actor who doesn't seem to fall into the character, but always put his own little fun twist on who he is playing.  One of the highlights is very early into the movie when he tells his partner, played by Michael Pena, about a law enforcement situation; Dafoe puts on his cute, Souther belle voice as he laughs with Pena about the story.  This is something that always stands out for me with Willem Dafoe, the small idiosyncrasies he puts into his roles.  Also worth mentioning is Brad Dourif who is always a pleasure to see onscreen, whether in a leading or minor role.  Even as a blatant racist, Dourif is always worth watching (clearly everybody must remember Mississippi Burning!?  Coincidentally, Dafoe is also in that film and plays a fine role indeed).

I had been waiting for a long time to see this movie, ever since I got word that Lynch and Herzog were both involved in a project.  Finally I was able to see it and I was not disappointed in the least.  Another 5 star film.  Werner Herzog continually surprises me, and it's nice to see Lynch producing something that isn't totally confusing (although Lynch is up on the top 5 directors list in my mind) and mind boggling.  Although that's not to say that this movie doesn't mess with your head, but the fact is that this is based on a truly bizarre and macabre man's life and there is no trickery.  What you see is what you get.  Leave it up to Werner and Lynch to make it spin like a top.

Cache (Watch this ASAP!)

Cache
Directed by Michael Haneke

Written by Michael Haneke

Starring: Juliette Binoche
      Daniel Auteuil
      Maurice Benichou
      Walid Afkir
      Lester Makedonsky
      Daniel Duval
      Nathalie Richard

***** (5 out of 5 stars)

Wow.  Possibly the only thing that I can say about this film.  Cache shows us the life of a family flipped upside down by the appearance of videotapes and drawings at their front door; the videos are of their home, appearing as if they are being watched.  Slowly we watch how these tapes terrorize the family.  After awhile, we figure out that it has mostly to do with the father of the family, played by Daniel Auteuil.  In the end, I'm not sure if we're supposed to know what's happened or if we sort of just make up the rest ourselves but by the finish of the film I was left with my jaw hanging.  In particular one scene had me floored- I even rewound the part several times before continuing, it contained more shock value than Lars Von Trier's Antichrist just because of how unexpected it was in this movie.  For a few minutes after it was all over, I sat and wondered if I was satisfied with the ending and to tell you the truth, I'm not really.  Yet at the same time I consider this to be one of the finer thrillers I've seen in recent years.  The reason being is because I feel as though it's like they built the story up, all about the tension and the unknown, and instead of giving us that sweet payoff we're hoping for the filmmaker gives us a very open ended finish.  We are left to wonder many things.

The script was great.  Lots of unexpectedness in this film which is something that we don't see much of in American Hollywood movies.  The manner in which the story unfolds is classic suspense and mystery, something to keep us waiting for the next big thing, keeping us on our toes.  A lot of things are left unexplained, or maybe they were and it all passed me by but it adds to the mystery.  This, to me, seems like a sign of intelligent filmmaking: trusting the viewer.  The filmmakers seemingly trust us enough to think, "Why show it when we can just allude to it?"; instead of assuming your audience is too dumb to follow along on their own, we are granted the permission to fill in the blanks.  This is what keeps this movie rated as high as it does, alongside the other great qualities, is that the audience is respected and we're not spoon fed all the information.  Albeit, confusing at times but still very innovative.

Juliette Binoche was wonderful.  On one hand, you want to be mad at her because she is a little annoying and hard on her husband (who is clearly having a rough go of it) but on the other side you can totally understand her behaviour as a mother, and a loving wife.  She is always classic and in this thriller of a film she is fairly subdued but still highly intriguing.  Daniel Auteuil plays the man in the middle of it all with grace.  We watch him go from anger to confusion to tears and back again, all due to the past.  This movie is all about what catches up to you, it seems like everybody in the film has something running after them, and how everybody deals with; unfortunately, in this case, everything doesn't turn out as good as it could have for those running from something.  The part of Majid, Maurice Benichou, is played wonderfully as well, a very haunting performance at the center of the story.  The acting on all parts is near perfect, I was lost in the performances of the whole family in the story which made the plot move along much smoother than a lot of thrillers.

This movie is a full 5 stars because it has a great story, wonderful direction and expertly played characters by some wonderful actors and actresses.  I would highly recommend this to anybody who loves a great mystery or thriller; this is a cut above, and it also leaves you with a strange feeling in the end.  I still am not sure what the last scene really means.  On one hand, you could think the worst, and on the other hand you could think a number of different scenarios up in your head.  I enjoy an open ended conclusion because if it's carried out appropriately it can leave a movie with you for weeks, even longer.  Cache has stayed with me months later and I still can picture it all in my mind.

10.10.10

When A Stranger Calls

Directed by Fred Walton
Release Date: 1979

Written by Steve Feke & Fred Walton

Starring: Charles Durning
      Carol Kane
      Tony Beckley
      Steven Anderson

***** (5 out of 5 stars)
This film redefines the term 'creep'.  A lot of people talk about how Black Christmas was the first to do the 'killer calling from inside the house' bit, but honestly (even though that's one of my favourite horrors) I love When A Stranger Calls and how it executes it's story.  Carol Kane plays Jill Johnson, a young babysitter taking care of a doctor's children while he and his wife go out on the town.  While hanging out in the living room and studying presumably, she gets a creepy call a few times in a row asking if she's checked the children.  She soon calls police and long story short, it turns out the man is calling from inside the house on the other line.  The man, Curt Duncan (played amazingly by Tony Beckley), has killed the two children and later we find out that he did it only with his bare hands.  Seven years later, we find John Clifford (played by Charles Durning, who I'm a big fan of from Denis Leary's show Rescue Me) trying to track Duncan down after he has escaped the mental hospital in which he was a patient.  Now we watch Clifford's search as well as Duncan trying to fit back into the world, which doesn't turn out so well.  He stalks another woman and then when the heat is on and Clifford is right behind him, he finds Jill again and terrorizes her new family.  For the time it was made, this film was very progressive mainly due to the fact that it was brave of Fred Walton to have the children killed; most films, even nowadays, either spare us the details or have children saved at the last minute but When A Stranger Calls pulls no punches in the gruesomeness of the murders.  The film pairs the script with an atmosphere drenched in creepy suspense, something that works well because even the good guys aren't without their flaws- we find out halfway through that John Clifford is planning to kill Duncan, not bring him back to the hospital.  It's a very dark film and it works well both literally and visually on that level.

The acting was fairly solid for a film of this genre, especially in the 70s.  Carol Kane sometimes bordered on being a little too loud but other than that her performance was wonderful; conveying a sense of dread the way she did throughout the film isn't always easy, and the breakdown when she receives a call at the restaurant is very real and gritty, truly believable.  Charles Durning and Tony Beckley make a great pair nemesis'- John Clifford, the hard-nosed, waddling private detective and Curt Duncan, the absolutely bat shit crazy criminal.  There's even a chase scene which fits the two very well; Clifford isn't the supercop or all-star athlete we see in most crime movies, and Duncan isn't your typical villain more so just a really creepy psychopath.  There is a lot of believability when it comes to these three roles and it's what makes this a top notch movie.  There are many chances to stray into cheesy, hokey acting when it comes to this genre but these players manage to make this into a very dark, realistic portrayal of their characters.  The highlight is Tony Beckley- he plays Curt Duncan in such a subtle manner that when we do see him in flashbacks of the murder, it's almost hard to imagine that this man is a killer.  Very impressive.

The colours of the movie and the lighting make this the gritty film that it is.  We see Clifford roaming the streets, searching for Duncan.  The city is dark but alive with faded neon lights, an eerie glow cast out all over the streets.  One scene in particular after Clifford and Duncan's chase, when Duncan has eluded him he sits in the dark and talks to himself ("I don't exist.  I was never born.."), the camera slowly fades into black so we see less and less of his face as he disappears into the darkness.  This creates a figurative image in our mind, that Curt Duncan as a person is slowly disappearing and the only thing left is what he has done and what he is- he's a murderer.  The lighting in the city during the film is something that really adds to the aura of the film itself, and a few particular scenes in the houses (both beginning and end) are what gives it that spectacularly creepy sensation.

This movie is a five star rating for me.  I was generally unnerved by some of the scenes with Tony Beckley, and the all around feeling of the film is very dark and creepy.  It's not often I find a movie that disrupts my thinking and makes me wonder what is in the shadows when I go to sleep, but this is one of them.


Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills

Directed by Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky


***** (5 out of 5 stars)
Paradise Lost is a story centered around a small town and their intolerance for people who are different than the rest.  Three young teens (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin & Jesse Misskelly) are arrested after one of them gives a confession stating they sexually ravaged and murdered three little boys; Jesse Misskelly is the first to be tried, as he gave the confession to police.  Immediately we are able to figure out that Jesse is not a strong mind- his defense determines that he was forced into confessing, mainly due to the fact that he has a very low I.Q, somewhere in the 70s.  From here we watch as these three teenagers are persecuted because they wear black, listen to Metallica, and read books about the occult and Pagan religion.  Damien Echols is tarred as the leader of the group and is eventually found guilty, being sentenced to die via lethal injection.  What's amazing about the whole case is that there is no physical evidence tying the three teens to these murders; the Prosecution relies solely on the fact that Jesse made a confession, and then drawing off the fact that they claim these young men were under the influence of a Satanic cult (Fact: FBI and other law enforcement agencies have never successfully been able to link a crime in the United States to a Satanic cult or ritualistic ceremony).  This movie is a horror movie in it's own right.  We also get the distinct feeling by the end that Mark Byers, the stepfather of Christopher Byers (victim), had something to do with the deaths of these boys; at one point, he gives the filmmakers from HBO a 'gift' which is an old knife.  When the filmmakers discover blood on the knife, they hand it over to police (blood that was taken for a sample was found in the hinges of the knife, seemingly a difficult and awkward place to get blood in); the police test it finding Byers' blood type, which is also Christopher's blood type, but determine it to be inconclusive and eventually they get rid of the knife.  The blatant disregard for protocol and sensibility on the part of the police, as well as the judge and prosecutors, is absolutely astonishing.

It's funny, because if the police came to my house and thought like the people from this town they would probably take me in for questioning because I have books about the Nazis, as well as The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey.  I have these because I like to read about these things- there is a huge line between reading for interest, and reading with intent to use the material for wrongdoing.  What else I find funny is the fact that if these people that are prejudiced against freedom of expression and thought would read these books (specifically LaVey's book), they would discover that most of it is almost the opposite of what they think.  The Satanic Bible is so far removed from what these God fearing people believe it to be that it's ridiculous.  This movie further pushes the fact that there are still those who cannot, and will never, accept others for their differences.  If I had lived in that town, it could be me sitting behind bars for a crime I didn't commit.

One thing in particular that really struck me about this movie is the fact that there are three of these teenagers accused.  Did the prosecutors and police ever think for a second about the number of murders (of this nature) that happen involving three killers?  The odds of having two people come together to murder is very slim (proven by the documented cases of coupled killers, such as Fred & Rosemary West, Bonnie & Clyde, Paul Bernardo & Karla Homolka), let alone three people will the same will, the same desire to kill.  That right there is enough for me to have to think long and hard about, and I have.  Another thing is the fact that none of them even seem remotely guilty.  Most times, you can pick apart someone's behaviour when it comes to criminality and you can start to spot some indications of where this murderous ambition comes from; yet when we watch these teens talk about the proceedings, their innocence, each other, it doesn't look anything like watching three killers talk, it looks like watching three high school kids.  Three innocent high school kids.  Yet Damien Echols is sentenced to die, appeal after appeal going down the drain.

This is a very important movie about indifference to the freedom of expression and interest, justice, and small town life.  I rated this movie a 5 start rating because it is an amazing documentary that needs to be seen by everyone.  If we do not protect our freedom to be different than others, then this could and will happen more often.  It's sad to think that these guys will never get out of jail, and all due to the fact that they wore a little black and read some weird books.  I urge everybody to follow this link: WM3.org.  After you watch the movie, go to the website and pitch in- you can donate, you spread the word, you can even write a letter to the boys (The West Memphis Three, as they're being called).  I wrote a letter, mostly directed to Damien, and I hope that the three of them can read it; I tried to send along my hope, but I know that being behind those bars knowing they are innocent is enough to suck the life away from them.  I can only hope that filmmaking like this will prevent and educate.

Jesus Camp

Directed by Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady

Edited by Enat Sidi 

Cinematography by Mira Chang and Jenna Rosher

Original Music by Force Theory

***** (5 out of 5 stars)

I find it quite fitting to start this review off with my favourite quote from this film, which is something along the lines of this: "And while I'm on the subject, let me say something about Harry Potter.  Warlocks are enemies of God.. and had it been in the Old Testament, Harry Potter would have been put to death".  I literally couldn't even laugh, as much as it's one of the funniest things I've ever heard, because it was so shocking- can people really feel that way in the 21st century?  Apparently they can.  In one of the following scenes though my redemption comes as a few kids sit around a table eating lunch and one points out to the others that one of them looks like Harry Potter; they all laugh and one child says his mother won't let him watch Harry Potter movies (but he watches them anyways when he goes to dad's house- obviously dad is a dirty Democrat).  As the movie goes on, we see more and more what these impressionable young people are being taught: evolution is foolishness, global warming doesn't exist ("It only went up 6% last year"), Harry Potter and his young wench Hermione are depraved, heretical witchcraft users.  We watch as children scream in tongues directed by a youth Minister; they bawl and cry, writhing their hands, speaking in broken syllables through mouthfuls of tears, praising the "Almighty".  The insanity that is Jesus Camp makes for a very eye-opening experience from start to finish.

One thing about this documentary is that it presents an ambush of information about what's going on behind Evangelical doors.  I am not religious- I grew up and was raised a Catholic, but at the age of about 13 I was given the choice by my parents (who I'm proud to say were and are still very liberal people) to stop going, and I chose to stop.  I have beliefs, but I do not subscribe to organized religions/any of the major religions; I don't believe in a god.  The main thing that I found that intrigued me most as someone who is an atheist is there are three categories when it comes to "God": things he likes, doesn't like, and things he seems not to have made his mind up on.  According to this movie it seems that "God" does not like the following: Harry Potter and (presumably) Lord of the Rings, ghost stories, schools, dinosaurs, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, gays/lesbians, science/scientists, real facts that stem from research.  However, God does like some things a lot it seems: war in his name, people that speak in tongues, children preaching the word of the "Lord", violence.  There are a few things that it also appears he is divided on: rock music, where he likes to go to church, education.  There are so many quotes from this documentary that I could probably take up most of the review with them.  At one point we have a man onstage talking about the perils of science, and he says (while smirking as if the joke is on us): "You're not just a piece of protoplasm- whatever that is!".  I almost felt bad watching the snide grin on his face as he chuckled silently over his 'joke' because unfortunately science is real- and the joke is on him.

We get excerpts from Ring of Fire, a radio show in Texas, that is run by a man named Mike Papantonio who is a Christian but believes the Evangelical, fundamentalist way of doing things is just wrong.  Numerous points he makes throughout the course of the movie as we watch and listen to him take calls are so valid that I felt like pumping my fist every time he would retort against a caller.  He presents the frighteningly real case that these Evangelists are basically trying to make an Army of "God", which Becky Fisher almost confirms in the film's early parts; his point is that nowhere does it show to him, and most devout Christians around the world, that Jesus' message was aimed towards what they're doing.  He tells one caller: "The word learn is different from the word indoctrinate".  This is a key point about the whole movie- these people are indoctrinating young children into this school of thinking.  It reminds me of the Amish- at 16, sometimes until the age of 21, Amish teenagers are sent into the 'real world' to party, make 'English' friends, explore relationships, drink, and this is so that they can decide whether they will follow the Amish religion for the rest of their lives or not.  At least the Amish, as far out as they may seem, give their own children the chance to choose at some point (just like my parents did for me).  Evangelists seemingly don't care for their children's right to choose, and would it matter?  It seems that all their big decisions are left up to "God" anyways.

This film is a 5 star rating because it presents information that I really did not know a whole lot about.  Everybody knows that Evangelicals are very strict in their religious teachings, but not everyone knows the true extent of what these children are being 'taught'.  I applaud the filmmakers for taking a, sometimes, brutal look at the way of life these children grow up in. In closing, the most interesting moment for me in this film happens right at the end during the beginning of the credits.  One little girl at the end asks a bunch of black guys (you'll understand why I particularly say black guys), "If you were to die right now where do you think you would go?", and an older man says, "Heaven" immediately.  She asks, "Really?", and then the next shot they're walking across the seat and she says, "I think they were Muslim".  It just goes to show that they might think we're being hard on them because they live the way they live, but by the evidence of this last scene- aren't they hard on everyone else?  Why should the touchy grounds of religion become a grounds for censoring feelings and thoughts?  I guess Republicans are taking over the world, that's why.

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