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Friday, October 19, 2018

Halloween (2018) Review

Halloween is the eleventh film in the iconic slasher franchise that started in 1978. It was co-written by Danny McBride, who starred in Pineapple Express and the show Eastbound and Down. He wrote the script with Jeff Fradley and David Gordon Green, who also directed and previously made Pineapple Express and Your Highness.




It was also produced by Blumhouse, famous for making highly profitable and often critically well-received low budget horror, like Get Out, The Purge, and Happy Death Day.

I had relatively low expectation for this as I actually thought the trailer looked super cheesy, but this was way better than I thought it was going to be. It’s leagues ahead of the Rob Zombie versions and easily the best since the original. It’s also probably the best straight-up slasher film to come out recently, at least that I’ve seen.

The 2018 version is decidedly more comedic than John Carpenter’s film, but it didn’t overdo it. It took itself seriously when it needed to and the funny parts were well done. Green’s sequel is predictable for the first half or so, but has some surprises towards the end. It mostly avoids cliches and characters are rarely bumbling idiots like in so many slashers.




This portrayal of Michael Myers is pretty solid. He looks great and we don’t get extensive explanations or backstory, and his true nature is wisely left ambiguous. This is much like the 1978 original as is how he’s not invincible and explicitly supernatural like he was in some of the other sequels.

Jamie Lee Curtis is fantastic as I was a bit unsure at first about how strongly they were emphasizing how much the traumatic experience affected her over the next 40 years, but her performance sold it for me. The Laurie Strode character is written as very intelligent and capable.

There’s a new doctor introduced who studied under Donald Pleasance’s character Dr. Loomis, but I don’t really care for his subplot. It goes in a weird, unnecessary direction and doesn’t have any sort of satisfying payoff. This is a pretty minor complaint, though. A few other minor characters were kind of annoying as well, but none of them detracted too much.

The kills are gorier than the original for sure, but they never go too crazy with the violence. John Carpenter returns to do the score, which I loved and listened to on its own as soon as I got home.

Halloween moves along quickly. It’s only around an hour and 45 minutes, which I think is about the perfect length for a horror film like this. Slashers generally don’t need to be over two hours.



It has a somewhat rocky start but gets better towards the end and leads to a very tense conclusion.

Green and McBride decided to ignore all of the sequels and reboots and I think this was a smart decision. The Rob Zombie reboots were poorly received by a lot of fans and critics and only hardcore fans care about the other sequels. There hasn’t even been a film in the original continuity since 2002.

Almost absurdly, the Halloween franchise now has 5 different timelines, in what has to be some sort of record. There’s a continuity with the original Halloween, Halloween II, and 4 through 6, one with the original, Halloween II, H20, and Resurrection, the reboots, Halloween III, which was an entirely unrelated story, and now this timeline with just the original and the 2018 version.

I definitely recommend this to any fans of the series and really just horror in general. Even some non-horror fans could get into this as it’s pretty accessible to general audiences.

Right now it has an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is 30 points higher than any other film in the franchise, excluding the first’s 93%.

Halloween only cost $10 million to make, less than both Rob Zombie versions. It’ll also outgross both of them before it’s even been in theaters a full week as it’s currently looking at a domestic opening weekend of at least $75 million. The would be the second biggest October opening weekend ever.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Tetsuo Trilogy Review (director: Shinya Tsukamoto)

Tetsuo: The Iron Man is easily one of the most unique films ever made and a landmark of experimental cinema. It has a singular style. even in the world of avant-garde film.




Tetsuo was released in 1989 and directed by Japanese filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto. It’s still his most well-known work, but he’s also garnered accolades for his other films, especially A Snake of June from 2002. Tetsuo is the first feature Tsukamoto made as an adult and he had previously only worked with 8mm film. It’s a good example of auteur theory as he was also credited as writer, producer, editor, art director, and he did the cinematography with Kei Fujiwara. He even stars as the Metal Fetishist and did all the animation himself. Tsukamoto has gone on to have a pretty notable acting career, working with acclaimed directors like Martin Scorsese in Silence and Takashi Miike with Ichi the Killer. He also lent his voice to the Japanese version of Metal Gear Solid 4.

The first Tetsuo film is an insane, visceral experience dripping in style. It was shot on grainy black and white 16mm film, which leads to a very gritty look. Tsukamoto uses high contrast imagery, extreme camera angles and frenzied, hectic editing to overwhelm and bombard the viewer. At times, the camera will even go completely sideways.



Stop motion photography is used throughout and is a distinct part of Tetsuo’s aesthetic. These effects are technically impressive as well as visually stimulating and the prosthetic work is equally skillful. Dialogue is kept to a minimum as Tsukamoto chose to tell the story more through visuals and this sometimes makes Tetsuo feel more like a music video than a movie.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Hold the Dark Review (2018, director: Jeremy Saulnier)




Hold the Dark is a Netflix exclusive and the newest film and fourth feature from Jeremy Saulnier, who’s currently one of the best up and coming directors out there. His first feature was 2007’s Murder Party, but he gained a lot more respect in 2013 with the tense thriller Blue Ruin. His third film Green Room was even better than Blue Ruin and got a 90% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

I still haven’t seen Murder Party, but I loved Blue Ruin and Green Room, so I was highly anticipating Hold the Dark. Like Saulnier’s previous two efforts this is a violent thriller full of dread. It’s a slight step down from Green Room, but about as good as Blue Ruin. It just doesn’t quite have that same intensity as Green Room that kept you riveted throughout. Hold the Dark has some gore, but isn’t as brutal as Green Room was. However, it is a much more philosophical and ambiguous film than Saulnier’s prior work.

I won’t give away much of the plot as it’s very difficult to describe without spoilers. It begins with a wildlife expert and author being contacted by a woman who says her son was abducted by wolves. It’s a little hard to tell where it’s going at first, and I think this worked. The plot isn’t super complicated, but there are some interesting twists. I recommend watching this knowing as little as possible.



Hold the Dark is leisurely paced and over two hours but I never found it boring. The slow build up increases tension and the impact of the sudden violence, which is a trademark of Jeremy Saulnier, who proves yet again he’s great at creating atmosphere.

The cinematography is good but doesn’t bring attention to itself. There are slightly long takes,
but nothing too crazy. The film is set in the Alaskan wilderness are there are certainly plenty of beautiful shots of the scenery.  The wide nature shots drive home the isolation of these small towns.




This is the first Saulnier film that he didn’t write the script for, and it’s not quite as tightly written as the ones he penned. The dialogue is at times cryptic or unnatural, but this fit the feel of Hold the Dark, so this wasn’t a huge negative.

The characters are fine but we don’t really get to explore too deep into any of them to care much what happens to them. The main character, played by Jeffrey Wright, is mostly passive, but I know by now not to expect a traditional protagonist from a Saulnier film. The performances are all good and pretty subtle and there’s definitely no overacting, but none of them will blow you away.



The ending wasn’t that satisfying, especially compared to the director’s earlier films.

While Hold the Dark is certainly a solid film, I don’t anticipate it ending up among my favorites of 2018. But since you don’t have to leave the house or pay any extra money if you already have Netflix, I highly recommend giving this a chance. And unless I’m forgetting something, this might just be favorite Netflix original film so far.

Right now Hold the Dark has a decent Rotten Tomatoes score of 73% and a 64 on Metacritic.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A Beginner's Guide to Japanese Cinema

The nation of Japan has been one of the most significant in terms of cinema, and quite possibly the most important in the continent of Asia. Japanese films have won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film four times, and they also have five wins of the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Both of these are more than any other Asian country.

Japanese movies have often been very experimental and broken many boundaries and taboos. Their influence on the world of cinema is simply undeniable.

The biggest icon to come from Japanese film is easily Godzilla. It started with the movie Gojira in 1954 and has impressively gone on to over 30 Japanese installments as well as multiple American versions, notably in 1998 and 2014.



Godzilla is part of the kaiju genre which focuses on giant monsters. Other notable examples from Japan include Mothra and Gamera, and it’s inspired Hollywood movies like Pacific Rim as well.

The Godzilla series was mainly produced by Toho studios, the famous Japanese distributor and production company that was also involved with well-known anime from people like Hayao Miyazaki as well many of the biggest art house directors.

While the franchise has a reputation for being silly monster movies, Godzilla started with a deeper meaning. The original film came only a decade after the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Godzilla was created by nuclear radiation, and it also echoes the mass destruction of those events.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Weirdest Movies of the 1970s

With the rise of the counter-culture and experimental film in the 1950s and 1960s, there were plenty of bizarre movies, but in the1970s, we start to see a plethora of films that descend into absolute insanity.



It's impossible to talk about weird movies of this era without bringing up "The King of Bad Taste" himself, John Waters. He eventually settled down and became more mainstream, but his films from the 70s were absolutely nuts. The most well-known is easily the transgressive classic Pink Flamingos from 1972, which starred the drag queen known as Divine and was made for only $10,000.

Pink Flamingos featured over the top acting that was far from naturalistic and was full of extremely offensive content, such as a man with a sausage tied to his penis, Divine giving unsimulated oral sex to an actor that portrays her son, and the also unsimulated ending which consisted of her eating actual dog poop. This is the only non-pornographic work I'm aware of that featured an actor going to such lengths.

There's plenty of other stuff that's just weird without being gross or disturbing, like the so-called egg lady and characters licking each other's feet. Waters' film was so far out there that it was banned in Australia as well as parts of Canada and Norway.

There have been imitators, but no one has made a film quite like Pink Flamingos since. Along with a couple other films I'll mention, it was crucial in the popularity of the midnight movie phenomenon that formed in the 1970s, where theaters started playing cult films late at night.

Waters' second most famous movie of the 70s was Female Trouble, also starring Divine and many other cast members from Pink Flamingos. It doesn't quite reach the depths of depravity of that film, but it's still very odd and includes a scene where two characters have sex and are both played by Divine, one female, and one male.




It wasn't just low budget movies that were strange in the 1970s, but expensive, mainstream films as well. The most obvious example is the self-indulgent science fiction film Zardoz, from acclaimed director John Boorman, who had already garnered an Oscar nomination for directing Deliverance.

Zardoz lets you know right from the start how weird it's going to be. After an intro featuring a disembodied human face on a black background, the first scene has a giant floating stone head announcing the "gun is good" and the "penis is evil". Then a bunch of guns spill out of its mouth. Boorman thought this scene would make it easier for audiences to understand, but he later admitted that this didn't quite work.

Zardoz starred Sean Connery, who was a huge name at the time having just come off portraying James Bond multiple times. He spends the film in a ridiculous outfit that consists of thigh-high boots and red shorts that resemble a diaper.

This film had a decently sized budget at over $1.5 million and barely made that back at the box office. It unsurprisingly didn't get a good critical reception and has gotten somewhat of a cult following over the years.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

How Home Video Changed Movies

With the rise of home video that began in the 1970s and 80s, the way we watch movies changed forever. To me, the biggest difference is that films were no longer a practically once in a lifetime event.



Prior to television, for the most part, the only way to see a movie was to catch it in theatres. Sure, a few got re-released but only the most popular ones, and these were rare occurrences. And even once TVs were a fixture of people’s homes, finding what you wanted was a crapshoot. You had to hope you were available when it happened to air, and of course, there was no pausing or rewinding. On top of all that until channels like HBO, films were edited for content, time, interrupted by commercials, and the aspect ratio was altered, so people definitely weren’t getting the full experience. Hypothetically one could get their own projector and prints, but this was costly and very uncommon, especially compared to what was to come.




Once home video became commonplace, there was no longer a sense of urgency to see a film in theaters, and many started waiting for something to come out on VHS or DVD if they weren’t dying to see it as soon as possible. In fact, at this point, some moviegoers only see visually impressive action, science fiction and fantasy in the theaters and think of dramas and comedies as something to watch on streaming or on Blu-ray. Some think this trend may lead to theaters being solely for big-budget spectacle with quieter films being relegated to streaming services.

On the other hand, this also meant that fans could enjoy their favorite films over and over again at their leisure. This led to some movies gaining huge cult followings and people watching things like Star Wars dozens of times and memorizing every line of dialogue. Star Wars may not have had as much staying power if new generations weren’t able to easily get access to it on home video.

Similarly, this has allowed movies that underperformed at the box office to sometimes have a second chance to become loved by audiences, like with Fight Club, Donnie Darko, or Big Lebowski. In earlier eras, offbeat films like these would most likely fall into obscurity. This allows filmmakers to experiment more as their work has a chance to become profitable in home video or at least gain more respect among fans.

Before we could watch movies at home, most were limited to what was currently playing, but since the 70s and 80s we can all check out stuff from any era or things that didn’t make it to where you live. For those that like older or foreign films, home video is a godsend. Anime likely wouldn’t have become as popular in the United States in the 1980s if it weren’t for VHS and Laserdisc. It’s now much easier for anyone to become a cinephile.

Another major way that video formats have changed the world of cinema is through special features that give movie watchers insight into how they’re made and what the filmmakers were thinking. This has made making movies into a less opaque process that everyday people can wrap their heads around. Acclaimed directors such as Ava Duvernay have specifically stated that they used supplementary materials as a sort of film school. With things like deleted scenes and full-length commentaries, we have unprecedented insights into what went on during production.

The ability to pause, rewind, and fast forward can also not be overstated as we are no longer at the mercy of a projector. Pausing has led to creators adding in little tidbits and jokes that are difficult or even impossible to notice without freeze frame. Minor continuity errors or goofs could be left in without anyone seeing if they were on screen for a short enough amount of time, but now we pause and pick up on small mistakes. And with rewinding, we are able to watch our favorite scenes over and over or fast forward past parts we don’t feel like seeing.

Especially once DVDs made it big, director’s cuts or other alternative versions were often made. In the early 2000s, it seemed like every other movie had a so-called “unrated cut” or something along those lines. With some films, an alternate version became the definitive one, like how hardly anyone recommends the Theatrical Cut of Blade Runner. With the original Star Wars trilogy, a lot of younger viewers probably only know the Special Editions as that’s the only way you can access it in HD. Directors know going in that they can at least make minor tweaks later on, an opportunity not afforded to filmmakers in the golden age of Hollywood.



Home video has also greatly opened up the world of film production, as it allows for straight to DVD movies, or more recently exclusives to streaming services. These can have much smaller budgets, especially when it comes to marketing, so way more people can make content. Straight to DVD used to be an indicator of low quality, but now with Netflix and Hulu, artists can take risks and not worry about how many tickets they are going to sell. Scorsese’s upcoming film The Irishman was rejected by the major studios and probably wouldn’t have been made if Netflix hadn’t picked up on it.

One more huge factor is the massive increase in piracy. In the first half of the 20th century, paying to see a movie was pretty much your only option. Piracy reached the mainstream with bootleg VHS tapes, and now, those of us who are even a bit tech-savvy know that they can easily obtain any movie for free a few months after its release while sitting on their couch. It’s become harder than ever to convince us to pay to see things in theaters.

Clearly, home video has had a significant impact on the film industry and this isn’t likely to slow down in the future.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Academy's Bias Against Genre Films is Overstated

I often hear people lamenting the supposed bias that the Oscars have against genre films. Usually, this is in regards to things like horror movies and comic book adaptations, with science fiction and fantasy sometimes thrown in there as well. I won’t deny this bias exists entirely, but I do think it’s massively overstated. It's true that these types of movies rarely get Oscar nominations, but do they necessarily deserve it? I love horror and superhero films, but I hardly ever find them to be among the best of the year. Most film critics, when they release their end of year lists, rarely include a lot of these genres, so if the Academy does have a bias, its one they share with many critics.



It’s well known that most of the movies nominated for Academy Awards are realistic dramas, often about social issues or historical events. When you look at the films considered to be among the best of all-time, you usually see stuff like The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia and The Shawshank Redemption. These examples are all relatively realistic, dramatic works. Of course, there are a few genre films that rise to these levels, but they are few and far between, and when they do the Academy often recognizes them.

Even just looking at this year, they gave tons of nominations to two films that at the very least had strong horror influences, with Get Out getting 4 and Shape of Water getting 13, the most of any film. The science fiction movie Blade Runner 2049 got mostly technical nods but did get a cinematography nomination. I personally thought it should have gotten nominated for Best Picture, but I think missing out on it may have more to do with its financial failure than its genre, especially considering there was a sci-fi Best Picture nominee just last year in Arrival.

The superhero genre was even represented as Logan got in for Best Adapted Screenplay, but some thought it should have gotten in for Best Picture as well. I do think it’s better than a 1 or two of the actual Best Picture nominees, but I can think of several I’d put in before Logan, so I don’t think of this as a snub. A lot of people were calling for Wonder Woman to get a best pic nomination, but to me, that’s a bit silly.

It’s hard to think of too many superhero films over the years that got snubbed for Oscars. Obviously, The Dark Knight is the commonly cited example, but while it missed out on a Best Picture nod, it did get a major win in Best Supporting Actor and a Cinematography nomination among others. The Dark Knight has significant flaws and I can easily see not putting it in your top 5 of the year. And that’s one of the very few superhero movies that even comes close to a legitimate claim of being snubbed.

It’s true that horror films haven’t gotten a ton of Oscar love, but when they do excel they can get Best Picture nominations as we see with things like Jaws, The Exorcist and arguably The Sixth Sense and The Silence of the Lambs. Rosemary’s Baby, Carrie, and Misery have gotten major nominations as well.

One notable horror snub was The Shining, but Kubrick was tragically underappreciated by the Academy in general, so I don’t know that you can blame that one on genre.

Similarly, Psycho surely should have been nominated in 1960, but Hitchcock also didn’t get the Oscar attention he deserved, especially after the 1940s and Psycho did get major nominations like Best Director and Supporting Actress. Hitchcock was nominated for Best Director five times, but three of those were in the 40s and never won despite being one of the most respected and influential directors ever.

His movies got nominated for Best Picture four times, but all four of those were in the 40s despite his most impactful work coming in the 50s and 60s. So Psycho missing out on a Best Picture nomination isn’t that odd as classics like North by Northwest and Vertigo did as well.

Even the most influential classic horror films like Halloween, The Omen, and Night of the Living Dead aren’t quite good enough to say the Academy completely disregarded them just because of the genre. Also, those movies gained a reputation over time, so these could just be one of the many examples of the Academy looking wrong with decades of hindsight.

And recent horror films like The Witch, The Babadook, and It Follows were all excellent, but again, not so good that it’s some great tragedy they were ignored during award season.

I think the fact that top-level actors, writers, and directors don’t often work on horror films is likely a much bigger factor in why they don’t get any Oscars than any bias the Academy might have.

A science fiction film has never won Best Picture but many have been nominated. It’s an absolute travesty that 2001 didn’t get at least nominated, but it was much more experimental than your typical Oscar fare and like The Shining it may have been more of a Kubrick thing than a genre thing.

Like with horror, a few of the classic science fiction films that are considered among the best movies ever did get a chance to compete for the top prize, including Star Wars, A Clockwork Orange, and E.T. However, in recent years many more sci-fi movies have done so, including District 9, Avatar, and Her.

I also think that whatever bias does exist will likely disappear over time as younger Academy members are more used to genre films being mainstream.

Part of the reason the conventional wisdom regarding the Academy exists is because many more casual film fans focus more on blockbusters and may not have seen the smaller dramas that often get nominated. They may not have a complete understanding of just how difficult it is to get Oscar buzz and how stiff the competition often is.

They also may not realize how differently the various craftspeople that make up the academy view films and that they don’t just consider entertainment value.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The History of Live Action TV Shows Based on DC Comics

DC comics have been adapted into live action television for over 6 decades now, with dozens of shows on several different networks.




The story begins in 1952 with Adventures of Superman, the first television show based on a comic book (not counting comic strips). The syndicated show was shown in black and white and starred George Reeves as the title character. Reeves was mostly known for his work as Superman and tragically took his own life at age 45, although the exact circumstances of his death have been hotly debated.

Despite the efforts of the producers, the series did not survive the death of its star and the final episode was broadcast in 1958. There were 104 episodes over 6 seasons.

It featured the famous description of Superman as "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound" as well as the lines "It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Superman!"

Adventures of Superman's special effects may look silly by today's standards, but for the time, and especially for a television program, they were actually pretty impressive. At first, they made the scenes of Superman flying by suspending Reeves from wires, but during the first season, they broke causing him to fall and be injured, so a safer method was devised. In season three, they started filming in color, even though the episodes were still being broadcast in black and white and this coincided with a more lighthearted tone aimed at younger viewers.

Some comic creators even worked on Adventures of Superman, like Mort Weisinger, who served as story editor.

They attempted a pilot called The Adventures of Superpup in 1958 with a main character named Bark Bent, but it was never actually aired. Similarly, The Adventures of Superboy pilot three years later also went nowhere.