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Here is a movie that the art-house cinema world has been anticipating
for quite a while now. We've all been looking forward to seeing what
Paul Thomas Anderson was capable of producing, especially after the
monumental success of There Will Be Blood. The hype around his new
film, The Master, was huge, what with all of the speculations about
what the film was actually about and all of the supposed allusions to
Scientology that Anderson has repeatedly denied. Now it's out and the
rumors and speculation become discussion and interpretation.
The Master tells the story about a troubled Naval veteran named Freddy Quell who returns home from war without a path to follow in his life. He spends some time going from place to place, trying to find himself, but not being able to overcome his violent tendencies and alcoholism. Things change drastically when Freddy meets Lancaster Dodd, a charismatically jolly man who has gathered a following of disciples to promote what he calls The Cause. Freddy quickly begins to embrace what Dodd has to offer him, and a relationship develops between Freddy and Dodd, and it is a relationship that will affect both of their lives forever.
The Master marks Paul Thomas Anderson's return to the movie theater in five years, but it also marks the return of Joaquin Phoenix coming back from his shameless publicity stunt where he decided to abandon acting and pursue a career as a rapper. Despite all of the crazy that Phoenix went through, The Master is one hell of a return. Phoenix's performance, as well as all the others in this film, is astounding. The performances in this film are nothing short of jaw-dropping. Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of my favorite actors, is profoundly compelling as Lancaster Dodd, and the scenes between him and Phoenix display some of the finest acting known to man in this modern generation of filmmaking.
The Master delivers in aspects that we would expect it to. The performances are some of the finest of these actors career's, and the look of the film is all Anderson style and nuance. Visually this film is an unreal spectacle full of some of the most compelling and beautiful cinematography that filmmaking can achieve. I was lucky enough to see it in 70mm print, which made the visual quality of the film unbelievably fantastic. It is what you would expect from Anderson, and the cinematography alone makes this film worth watching.
I can assert very clear cut opinions on the acting and directing of this film. Where I'm not as sure in my belief is the story. The Master is astonishingly ambitious. There is a lot going on. Anderson's script has built an incredibly complex web of character relationships and story dynamics. The amount of things going on at one time in this film is, for lack of a better word, overwhelming. It is a powerful and moving experience to absorb all at once, but it is easy to miss some things.
I'm not sure if The Master is trying to accomplish too much, or just enough. Regardless, I am incredibly excited about seeing this film again. It is a film with so much to offer and I feel there is so much profundity to take away from it. I will definitely be watching this film a multitude of times to understand it fully. For now, I'm just not entirely sure.
The Paranormal Activity franchise just seems to keep on trucking along,
never losing any steam it seems. Paranormal Activity 3 is, obviously,
the third film in the franchise. This time around we jump back 18 years
to when Katie and Kristi, the unfortunate pair of demonically
terrorized sisters, are children. The film chronicles their first
encounter with the demon that returns to terrorize them in the first
two films. Obviously, the film is shot in the same first person style
as the first two films, always adding to the creepiness factor that
possesses the entire film franchise.
Three movies in and I still haven't managed to sit through a single one of these films in the franchise without being incredibly scared for my life. Paranormal Activity 3 doesn't let up on the thrills, and employs all of the same chilling techniques that scared the crap out of us in the first two films. It goes in a similar route as the second film in setting up surveillance cameras around the house to monitor the strange happenings that the characters encounter at the beginning of the film. We are obviously somewhat used to this by the third time around, but Paranormal Activity 3 does have one stroke of genius that ramps up the scariness ten fold. And that is the cruelly suspenseful oscillating camera that pans back and forth to monitor the living room and kitchen of the house. This was a fiendishly clever move by the filmmakers and helped to keep the style of the franchise at least somewhat fresh.
However, Paranormal Activity 3 really starts to show the redundancies of this franchise. I like the prequel element as it is interesting to see the story that began with the first Paranormal Activity grow deeper and deeper, but this film does sort of feel like more of the same. It is still scary, but the disturbingly tense atmosphere that the first two films had down so well wasn't as prevalent here. Paranormal Activity 3 is still entertaining, and still frightening, but its also a little crazy and, especially by the end, seemed to go a little overboard.
I enjoyed this film, but it was easily my least favorite of the three. If you have seen the first two films then don't miss out on this one, even though it isn't as great as the first two in style or substance. It definitely delivers on the thrills, but it has its fair share of issues. But, as I've said before, go in without skepticism and just enjoy the film because it is plenty entertaining.
Some intelligent producers knew they had created a profit monster with
the original Paranormal Activity, and so was spawned a cavalcade of
sequels. By cavalcade I only mean three so far, but this is a franchise
that will keep on going until it stops making money. Anyways,
Paranormal Activity 2 is the sequel to the infamous Paranormal
Activity. This sequel begins a few weeks before the events of the first
film. It follows the family of Kristi, the younger sister of Katie, the
main girl from the first film which meets her demonic demise at the end
of that film. It plays out much in the same way as the first film.
There are some weird noises and strange events occurring in their
household, so they decide to buy security cameras to set up all over
the house. And, as anyone would expect, things get pretty creepy from
To me, this is an incredibly scary and disturbingly clever franchise of films that are so much fun to watch. I have a soft spot for any film done in this first person camera style of filming so this entire franchise is right up my alley. I think you can go into these films with a skeptical eye and you will come out hating the film, but if you really just sit back and enjoy these films for what they are they can be awesome. They are really entertaining, put together with a great suspenseful atmosphere, and they get truly scary when the time comes. To me, these films are all very successful in what they are trying to accomplish.
As far as Paranormal Activity 2 goes, it at times feels like more of the same, but the filmmakers actually do a plethora of devilishly clever things throughout the film. The introduction of the surveillance cameras adds a whole new element of creepy to the film. Each night we jump from camera to camera, seeing the same things around and outside the house, just waiting for what is going to happen. The suspense is cruel at times as we just sit and wait for a door to creak open, a chair to move, or a cabinet door to fly open. This is an element that the original film did a great job of, and Paranormal Activity 2 just keeps it going. I wouldn't say that it is as scary because we already know, to some extent, what to expect from this demon, but nothing stopped Paranormal Activity 2 from scaring the hell out of me.
Honestly, you should see this film. If you enjoyed the first one at all then Paranormal Activity 2 should be a really fun experience. Don't be a party pooper and go into the film full of skepticism. Just enjoy it, be scared, let it get inside your head.
This is the film that more sophisticated horror fans have been waiting
for. It takes your stereotypical horror story of a group of
archetypally based friends going off and getting terrorized by some
horrific being or creature for one reason or another. One thing always
seems to stand with this type of film. The humans are really stupid,
and most horror films are fueled by an onslaught of bad decisions.
Well, The Cabin in the Woods does the same, but puts a twist on it. A
devilishly clever twist that completely transcends the horror genre.
The Cabin in the Woods is unlike anything you have ever seen.
All that you really need to know going into The Cabin in the Woods is that it is about a group of friends who go to a remote cabin in the middle of the woods to party, drink, have sex, etc, etc. Naturally, things get weird, but not what you would expect. If you can guess exactly how this film will pan out then major kudos to you. But, if you actually can guess whats going on in this film then you're probably cheating. The point is, The Cabin in the Woods is fiendishly unpredictable and completely unlike any horror film you've ever seen.
And, to praise this film even further, it's just plain awesome. It is so incredibly smart and so deliciously clever, combining so many different genres and doing things with these genres that we have never seen before. I have to be really vague in how I express my absolute love for this movie, because you absolutely have to see it knowing nothing about what is really going on. This way, as events unfold you will be completely floored, just as I was. The film is constantly building towards some big reveal, hinting at little things here and there that suggest what is actually going on, but still being very vague and very ambiguous about the whole thing. This brilliant subtlety to the progression of the story is what makes this film so incredibly enthralling and a non-stop roller coaster of excitement.
The Cabin in the Woods is a must see. It doesn't matter what you think going into the movie. You can expect it to be awesome, you can expect it to be awful. It doesn't matter. It is a one of a kind experience and you would be a fool to miss out on it. See this movie to experience one of the most clever films I have seen all year.
The Others director Alejandro Amenábar directs this dramatic historical
epic set in Roman Egypt during the rise of Christianity. Rachel Weisz
stars as Hypatia of Alexandria , the famous mathematician and
philosopher who is credited as being the first to discover the
elliptical orbit of the Earth around the sun. Max Minghella stars as
Davus, a slave who turns towards Christianity looking for freedom,
while also falling for Hypatia. The Christian uprising and subsequent
quelling is a tumultuous and violent ordeal that leaves Alexandria in
ruins and puts strain on Hypatia as she tries to discover the ultimate
truths about our universe.
If you like historical dramas then Agora is certainly a good movie for you. It is plenty dramatic and its historical context is very relevant and at times it almost plays out as a history lesson. There is a ton of ancient history within this film between the discoveries of Hypatia and the conflict between the Christians and Jews that dictates most of the events that happen in the film. It's a pretty interesting film to watch and there is certainly a lot to be learned from the film.
However, Agora isn't all that exciting overall. It's not bad but I felt indifferent about the film overall. It's somewhat melodramatic and can border on cheesy at times. Amenábar directs with a good eye for detail, mixing in some beautiful aerial shots throughout the film, along with the film's overall high quality cinematography. Of course, the film still feels very Hollywood. Agora holds back in many places where it could have excelled in deep and unsettling subject matter. The war between the Christians and Jews gets pretty brutal during the film, but I still felt like it was sugarcoated, seeing as this was a truly horrendous and bloody conflict. Agora could have done more, but it is, overall, a pretty decent film.
Zack Snyder's directorial debut tackles the remake of George A.
Romero's 1978 zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead. While Romero's original
was a slow moving suspense filled gore fest, Snyder's version is just a
gore fest. In this remake the zombies no longer shuffle about
aimlessly. Now, they are feral creatures that will run at you as fast
as they can, snarling horrendously the whole time. The film follows a
group of people, including a nurse and a cop, as they make their way to
a mall where they plan to hold up until this apocalypse blows over, or
something like that. Of course, the calm and peace is short lived
before hordes of the undead start making their way to the mall, forcing
the survivors to find a way to escape this hellish nightmare.
Zack Snyder is honestly the only thing that makes this film watchable. If not for his wicked visual stylization we would be left with an utterly silly film full of characters we can't wait to watch die. This is a plot hole ridden film where the characters actions don't seem to be backed by any logic or reasoning. These moments of total stupidity range from laughably bad to frustratingly moronic that you just want to punch something. Needless to say, we would all be screwed if we wound up with these people during the zombie apocalypse.
That being said, if you like zombies and you like copious and almost over-the-top amounts of gore then it's hard not to enjoy Dawn of the Dead. It's so intense, so brutal, and so non stop that you really sort of become enthralled in the graphic events unfolding before your eyes. If you watched Dawn of the Dead when it first came out in 2004, chances are you suspected this Zack Snyder guy to be someone worth keeping up with. And of course, he was worth keeping up with because everything he has done since this debut has been an improvement of his style and eye for sick visuals.
With a story that actually made sense all the way through and characters that we could actually sympathize with, Dawn of the Dead actually could have been really good. But its plot really drags it down tirelessly, and all we are left with is cool zombie action, and that isn't quite enough to save this film from being pretty bad.
After the Alien saga was treated by a Brit and two Americans it was
time for a Frenchie to step in and take the reins. Enter French auteur
Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the man to helm the fourth Alien movie, Alien:
Resurrection. This fourth installment takes place 200 years after Alien
3. Scientists have gathered blood samples from Fury 116, Lt. Ellen
Ripley's final resting place, and used them to create a super strong
alien/human hybrid clone of the Xenomorph slaying expert. These
scientists pulled the Queen alien that was inside of Ripley out of her
and used the Queen to start breeding the Xenomorphs. And, as one would
expect, things quickly go wrong. It is, once again, up to Ripley to
save a rag tag gang of space pirates from these horrific creatures
running amok on a ship that is headed towards Earth at an alarming
Alien: Resurrection is undoubtedly a Jeunet film, with its darkly comic atmosphere and animated and eccentric style. He adds all of his usual European flare to this exciting and explosive film. Alien: Resurrection reverts back to James Cameron's way of doing things in this saga, making the film an action film rather than a suspense horror. Honestly, this is something I was happy about. It was neat to see the series switch back and forth between these two genres with Alien being a true sci-fi horror, Aliens being a strictly action packed film, and Alien 3 returning to the horror roots. Alien: Resurrection is non stop action and with Jeunet's visual brilliance it is an absolute visual spectacle.
Where Alien: Resurrection fails, however, is in its script. Not so much because the script is bad, but writer Joss Whedon and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet had two different visions for the film. Whedon wrote a crazier and more tongue-in-cheek script, while Jeunet directed a more straight edge final product. This clashing is what makes this film falter the most. The style doesn't match the script, and when characters say or do things that seem a little silly in a more serious environment it feels awkward and cringe worthy at times.
Also, Joss Whedon made a very bold move in what he did with the space pirates. He tried to create a group of characters who we could believe have worked together for a very long time and he tried to create an atmosphere around them that made them feel like a true space crew, not just actors thrown together to play certain archetypes. This is one of the most revolutionary things that the original Alien succeeded phenomenally at. No science fiction film has ever created this sort of atmosphere, and Alien: Resurrection does't even come close. Whedon tried to pay a great homage to the first film in doing this, but really he just revealed to us the things that made the crew of Alien work by showing us what absolutely doesn't work.
Visuall, Alien: Resurrection is astounding and as pure entertainment it works pretty well. It's definitely fun and a great way to kill two hours. But with a script that is mismatched with the film's style and a story that is full of odd plot holes that continually take you out of the experience this film is kept from being much more than just a fun little action film. It has some great moments and if you've seen the other three films then definitely see this one, but don't expect the kind of quality you are used to with this franchise.
In 1979 Ridley Scott gave us one of the greatest sci-fi films ever
made, the horrific masterpiece that was Alien. In 1986 James Cameron
dished out a sequel that went a completely different direction from the
first one, but was amazingly just as phenomenal, when he made Aliens.
And then in 1992 David Fincher, in his very first feature film, gave us
Alien 3. Poorly received, initially, this third installment in the saga
continues the story of Ripley when her escape pod that her, Newt,
Hicks, and Bishop escaped in at the end of Aliens crash lands on an all
male prison planet. Ripley is the only survivor of the crash...or so
she thinks. Soon enough the horrible xenomorph shows its face again and
Ripley once again has to fight for her live while protecting those less
experienced in fighting these horrible creatures.
Now, a quick disclaimer. The version of Alien 3 I watched was the aptly named Assembly Cut of the film. Alien 3 was stuck in development hell for a very long time, going through a plethora of rewrites and directors. David Fincher signed on and construction began on sets before the script was even finished. Then the script changed drastically and the tons of things had to be reworked and the film was constantly changing. When everything was finally laid out Fincher put together his first cut of the film, which was two and a half hours long, and turned it into 20th Century Fox. The studio was not pleased with it and changed the film significantly. The final product that the studio released was about a half hour shorter with a totally different beginning and end. Fincher despised the reworking of his film and has since disowned this film entirely. But in 2003 when the Alien Quadirlogy box set was released on DVD Fincher's preferred Assembly Cut was included. This is the version I watched.
The reason I went into so much detail is because the theatrical release of the film was very poorly received. However, the Assembly Cut that I watched was awesome. It's a truly excellent film and an awesome addition to the series. It hearkens back more to the first film, only featuring one xenomorph and focusing more on claustrophobic terror than the guns blazing action film that was Aliens. Not that Aliens didn't work unbelievably well, but I loved that Alien 3 shifted back to the suspense/horror roots of the series. Of course, this film is not as good as either of its predecessors, but still a fantastic film in its own rights.
Alien 3 flows wonderfully, the characters are a lot of fun and they are very fresh archetypes in the series. The setting of the film, again, hearkens back to the setting of the first film, but now with some new and very interesting elements that you have to experience for yourself. Alien 3 is riveting and enthralling from start to finish, with Sigourney Weaver giving it her all as Ripley once again. It has its small flaws here and there, but they are far from fatal. There are some minor plot holes, the script isn't the best in the world, and the CGI is actually pretty bad at times, somewhat removing you from the experience.
But, as a whole, this really is an invigorating film where you never know what will happen next. It's a film that just keeps on giving and keeps on impressing in the goriest and most exciting ways possible. You would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't watch Alien 3. It's not nearly as good as Alien or Aliens, but that is only because those two films are masterpieces.
If you are traveling abroad in an Alfred Hitchcock film, chances are
things are going to go wrong. Such is the case in The Man Who Knew Too
Much, a very early Hitchcock film that he actually remade twenty years
later. The film stars Leslie Banks and Edna Best as a couple on holiday
in Switzerland along with their young daughter. Everything is going
fine until a friend of theirs is murdered, and in his dying breath he
tells them a crucial piece of information about an imminent
assassination attempt. The couple has to keep this information safe and
sound, but when they deny having any information their daughter is
kidnapped and they must try to do all they can to get their daughter
back and stop this assassination from succeeding.
The Man Who Knew Too Much has pretty much all the makings of a good film. It has a well thought out and well executed story, well rounded and multi dimensional characters, and with Alfred Hitchcock in the directors chair he obviously does some interesting things with the camera throughout the film. We see a variety of unique shots that would later translate into Hitchcock's overall style of filmmaking. The acting is pretty sub par aside from the great Peter Lorre, but it's not too dreadful.
The thing is, I just wasn't crazy about this film and it really didn't do much for me. The story, while neat and intelligent, is a little disjointed at times and I found myself getting lost pretty easily. The film really tries to be suspenseful, but it isn't at all. This is definitely due to the time period and how much different films were made back then, but I honestly didn't feel anything during The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Hitchcock shows that he will one day grow into a legendary director through some of the unique camera angles and movements he employs in this film, but overall I found the film to be a little lackluster. I shrugged when it was over, and I could not see myself watching this again. It's not an inherently bad film, it's just not much of anything.
Robert Rodriguez brings out the big guns, literally, for the final
installment of his El Mariachi trilogy, Once Upon a Time in Mexico.
This last chapter gets El Mariachi, once again played by Antonio
Banderas, involved in international espionage as a CIA agent tries to
bring down a powerful drug cartel leader in Mexico who is working with
a corrupt general. El Mariachi is hired as a hit-man by this psychotic
agent and once again finds himself involved in lots of gunfire and
explosions, narrowly avoiding death at every turn.
Once Upon a Time in Mexico is Rodriguez's most explosive and action packed installment of the trilogy, but it is at the expense of a well rounded story with good dialogue. The plot is pretty straightforward and easy to follow most of the time, but it's very disjointed and all over the place. I think Rodriguez threw too many characters into this film and it made the core of the story spiral out of control. It's an example of too much ambition without enough structure. So many characters, so little time. Maybe if this had been an hour longer it could have worked out better, or maybe it would have been a miserably grueling three hour experience. I think there's something that could have been done to make this film really good, but whatever it was Rodriguez didn't realize it.
All that being said, Once Upon a Time in Mexico is still an incredibly exciting and explosively entertaining film. It doesn't capture the same glamorous style as Desperado, but Rodriguez still touches it up with his unique flare. Plus, this film is so chock full of big stars that to see them all work together is a lot of fun. Johnny Depp as the lunatic CIA agent is awesome, especially when he goes gun slinging crazy towards the end of the film. Mickey Rourke and Willem Dafoe have small roles as villains, and they are both fiendishly fantastic. And then you have the great bit parts from people like Cheech Marin, Ruben Blades, and, one of my favorite character actors, Danny Trejo.
With such an all star cast and a visionary behind the camera it's a shame that Once Upon a Time in Mexico is a little lackluster. But it's a fun experience despite being full of problems. If you have seen El Mariachi and Desperado then certainly don't miss out on the final film of the trilogy, even if it is the weakest.
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