Psycho (5/15/12)

PsychoMovie One Hundred Nineteen

Psycho is considered one of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest films and to date stands as one of the best thrillers ever made.

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals $40,000 from a client at her office and flees from Arizona to California to be with her lover. After being paranoid about the police after a brief run-in with an officer that follows her, Marion finds herself at the Bates Motel. She soon meets Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and before spending some time talking with him, hears Norman’s mother from the house behind the motel. While taking a shower, Marion is stabbed to death and the mystery of the Bates Motel begins to unwind as people begin looking for Marion and the stolen money.

Psycho is a timeless film and considering its age, holds up remarkably well considering the myriad of horror films that we have been inundated with since. Hitchcock builds a distinct level of tension and mystery very early on and holds it until the finale. While many of you are likely aware of the ending, don’t worry, I won’t spoil it.

As with other Hitchcock films there are many hidden layers that reward multiple viewings of Psycho. Things like all the references to birds or the shots through mirrors may not be picked up at first but are a delight. My grandparents went to see Psycho in the theaters and they still talk about how it was the only movie they’ve ever walked out of. Considering the shower scene alone, I’m not surprised. Even though it is fairly tame by some of today’s standards, it still evokes a heart-in-your-throat reaction for me. For fans of Psycho, I would also highly recommend Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques, which came out about 5 years prior to Psycho and shares many similarities. In fact, Clouzot got the rights to Les Diaboliques as Hitchcock was trying to. Oh, and do not bother with the 1998 remake, it is awful.

For those who have not yet seen Psycho, it’s a must. Very few films come close and even fewer thrillers, including some of Hitchcock’s own, match it.

I give it 5 Bates Motels out of 5.

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Jaws (5/14/12) and (8/23/12)

JawsMovie One Hundred Eighteen and Movie One Hundred Ninety Six

Out of those of you that have seen Jaws, how many are still ill at ease for swimming in the ocean?

It’s the beginning of July on popular beach town of Amity Island in New England and there is monster lurking in the water. The town is whipped into a frenzy as people become victims of shark attacks and the mayor demands that the beaches stay open. When the shark attacks continue and they realize the problem will only get worse, police chief Brody (Roy Scheider) calls in a shark expert, Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), charter a boat and its captain, Quinn (Robert Shaw).

To me, Jaws is the perfect monster movie. It’s believable but terrifying. Some may contest the view and argue that it doesn’t even qualify as a horror movie, but consider the shark itself. It doesn’t care who it kills, it’s not killing for any purpose (you could say that it’s feeding, but that doesn’t always seem to be the case) other than territoriality, it’s nearly invincible, it’s enormous, it’s unrelenting, and most of all, it’s a real animal that we can all know of. Considering Jaws is based loosely on a string of shark attacks that happened in an inland creek in Matawan, New Jersey, I think Jaws hits even harder.

Some of you may notice that in addition to watching movies I also enjoy reading and the novel Jaws by Peter Benchley is one I heartily recommend. There are actually quite a few differences, mostly in the character developments, but the soul of the novel gushes from the screen in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation. Considering the age of the film and the technical difficulties presented in the animatronic shark (dubbed “Bruce” by the crew), Jaws is truly a marvel, even today.

When I was younger, two movies left their impressions on me so deep that I am still very weary of the ocean, even though I love it. The first was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – the giant squid literally scared the crap out of me as a kid. The second was Jaws and to this day it remains one of my favorites.

I give it 5 comparing scars out of 5.

[Update]

I had the pleasure of watching the newly restored version of Jaws on the big screen and it was, in one word, stunning. The restoration done is subtle but brilliant. The colors are bright and vibrant and the sound was thunderous. Jaws has never looked or sounded better and the restored version is available on blu-ray too. Over the years, I have seen Jaws numerous times and seeing it as it was meant to be seen was a truly new experience for me. Knowing what was going to happen and when, had no effect on me. Every scare was fresh and I even jumped several times. The tension of the film was like I had never experienced and it made this rewatch of Jaws something I will never forget.

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West Side Story (5/12/12)

West Side StoryMovie One Hundred Seventeen

West Side Story is a “modern day” take on Romeo and Juliet using New York City’s racial tension as the backdrop for two ill-fated lovers.

Recently re-released for its 50th anniversary, West Side Story has been hugely popular both on and off Broadway. The film takes a well-known story but throws in an urban setting and deals out the race card and then sets the whole thing to music.

Warring neighborhood gangs the Jets and the Sharks are frequently clashing in turf wars. The Sharks are a gang of Puerto Rican immigrants while the Jets are white. Eventually, one of the leading members of the Jets, Tony (Richard Beymer),  falls in love with the sister, Maria (Natalie Wood), of the leader of the Sharks. Alongside the gang fights, the two groups also have to deal with local law enforcement. As Maria and Tony’s love blossoms, tensions rise between the gangs and the city.

In general, I’m not a fan of musicals. Even the best of musicals cause me to check my watch often. It’s not that I dislike music, I love music, there’s just something about musicals that drains me. West Side Story is no different, and clocking in around 2 1/2 hours, it was a bear to get through. I had actually never seen it before, but I did know some of the songs from the soundtrack. My wife recently purchased the Blu-Ray and when I told her I had never seen it she practically strapped me to the sofa and peeled off my eyelids to watch it (not really).

While the songs and the message have both stood the test of time, some of the racial elements are quite jarring. Even though racism is a key component of the film’s plot, to hear the Sharks being called “spics” made me cringe. Some of the more eccentric parts of the musical numbers also made me roll my eyes, but I suppose the film is supposed to be mostly camp. Overall, West Side Story is likely essential viewing for all fans of musicals. While I was not taken with it on a whole, I can see the significance and merits of West Side Story.

I give it 3 Saturday Night Live spoofs out of 5.

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The Avengers (5/12/12)

AvengersMovie One Hundred Sixteen

The Avengers is the culmination of several Marvel Comics movies from the past several years, bringing Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk and more together on the big screen.

I think at this point every movie blog I follow has had coverage of The Avengers in some form so this may be a partial retread for most of you.

If you have seen either Iron Man film (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), or to a lesser extent, The Incredible Hulk (played by Mark Ruffalo for The Avengers, but Edward Norton in the original film), then you are likely aware of some of the setup for The Avengers. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), head of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is essentially a heavily funded black ops organization, has recruited some of Earth’s mightiest heroes to locate the Tesseract, an all-powerful cube stolen by Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s brother. The team first has to come together, then has to defeat Loki, who has used the Tesseract to call upon the Chitauri, an alien race that wishes to destroy humanity.

The main draw to The Avengers is the fact that Joss Whedon both wrote and directed it. Whedon is beloved in the nerd community for helming the ill-fated sci-fi drama Firefly as well as Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. Whedon makes the action tight and the script fun, there is obvious love for the material here. I have two fairly big issues with the film on a whole. First, the run time, which clocks in at just under 2 1/2 hours. There is a lot of material packed into that time frame, which leads me to my second gripe…The pacing of the first half of the film. For awhile there I had completely forgotten about the Tesseract and the Chitauri threat because the plot was idling around the Avengers internal conflicts. It’s necessary to the story, but could have really been trimmed of some fat.

Once the second half picks up the film grabbed me and didn’t let me go until the credits rolled. The nerd in me wanted more as soon as it was over but once the thrill of the theatrical experience wore off I was less enthused about the film. That’s not to say it’s bad, I guess all the hype about how great it is propped me up for a bit of disappointment. However, The Avengers is proof that Marvel Comics films can still be a lot of fun without needing to take a dark edge like Nolan’s Batman films to be good or successful. I will say that I look forward to the inevitable Avengers sequel very much.

I give it 4 many faces of Hulk out of 5.

(In case you are wondering, 1) Avengers 2) Incredible Hulk 3) Hulk 4) Incredible Hulk (TV series))

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The Wolf Man [1941] (5/11/12)

The Wolf ManMovie One Hundred Fifteen

The Wolf Man was one of the great early Universal monster movies that not only helped define the horror genre, but became timeless works of cinema.

The Wolf Man is actually the second film in the series, the first being The Werewolf of London, but it was the first successful film for the series and has essentially written most what we think about werewolves to this day. Oddly enough, one thing that is not depicted in the movie (it would be defined the sequel) was the act of the werewolf appearing only during the full moon.

In The Wolf Man, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.), travels home to Wales to meet with his father, Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains), after the death of his brother. He buys a walking stick with the silver head of a wolf on it, and the shopkeeper tells the legend of the man who turns to a wolf. Later, Larry saves a woman being attacked by a werewolf but is bitten in the process. He soon learns the secrets of werewolves as he becomes one himself.

There is a certain mystique and allure of these old monster movies. While I thoroughly enjoyed the 2010 remake of The Wolf Man with Benicio del Toro and Anthony Hopkins, there simply was not the same magical experience while viewing it. The 1941 original Wolf Man is an absolute delight, even in spite of some the less than stellar dialogue. I’m all for remaking films from this era as long as it gains interest in the originals. If you haven’t seen the original Wolf Man yet, it’s a classic that should be seen by all.

I give it 5 wolf’s head walking sticks out of 5.

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Cashback (5/11/12)

CashbackMovie One Hundred Fourteen

Cashback is a stylish indie film out of the UK whose main character cleverly uses the mechanic of stopping time to view the world around him.

Ben (Sean Biggerstaff) is a college student that breaks up with his girlfriend and as a result loses the ability to sleep. He uses his new found time to catch up on some things, draw, and eventually gets a part time job at a supermarket for the night shift. He eventually imagines he can freeze time and begins to manipulate the situations and patrons for his amusement. The female patrons are of particular interest, as Ben poses them and draws them as his own living art subjects. Ben eventually falls for a coworker and the two begin to get acquainted as Ben’s insomnia begins to falter.

It would be easy to call Cashback explicit or perverted, but while there is a lot of nudity, most of it isn’t there for deviancy. I was quite taken with the style that Cashback is shot, narrated and performed. The plot begins to drag a bit near the middle, but considering the film originally started as an 18 minute short that became a full length 102 minute feature, I can be forgiving of that.

Cashback would be easy to recommend to a younger audience, males especially, since they will be most receptive to the material but it would be interesting to have multiple perspectives of the film from varying demographics. Cashback is a good, unique film and while I enjoyed watching it I’m unsure if I would want to watch this again in its entirety. I hope to see more films from the writer/director Sean Ellis in the future, though. I think there is a tremendous promise in his style of filmmaking.

I give it 4 martial arts masters out of 5.

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A Trip to the Moon (5/9/12)

Trip to the MoonMovie One Hundred Thirteen

A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la lune) by the film pioneer Georges Méliès is likely his most famous work, and given a large new audience in the film Hugo.

Historically, the films of Méliès are hugely important to cinema. A Trip to the Moon is regarded as the first science-fiction film, in fact. Méliès was originally a magician who was charmed by film and decided to bridge his two talents into many (531 between 1896 and 1913, according to Wikipedia) films. To call him anything other than a genius would be wrong.

A Trip to the Moon itself is about a group of astronomers that launch a rocket to the moon. After landing in the eye of the man on the moon, they disembark. Soon the group is attacked by aliens. After a struggle, the group leaves the moon and travels back to Earth where they are celebrated. Don’t take my highly abbreviated version, please watch the film yourself if you haven’t already.

It’s worth noting that I watched a recently restored fully hand-tinted color version on Blu-Ray with a soundtrack by Air. While the film has been pieced together from several sources for maximum posterity, it is a bit rough in spots but still a remarkable achievement and a wonder to watch. It is also accompanied by a documentary about the film and the process, which I will write about separately sometime soon. With films like Hugo, technology like Blu-Ray, and the wonders of the Internet, I’m so pleased films like A Trip to the Moon are getting revisited.

I give this 5 man on the moon‘s out of 5.

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