Monday, March 14, 2016

Escape from New York (1981)

Running Time: 99 minutes
Directed By: John Carpenter
Written By: John Carpenter, Nick Castle
Main Cast: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Donald Pleasence, Ernest Borgnine, Isaac Hayes
Click here to view the trailer


Note: The whole "what I knew going in and why I chose it" thing didn't work for me last week, so again I'll be fooling with the review format here and there to try and find a nice fit. Ultimately, all the reviews will probably end up staying the same as they've always been...

Welcome back again this week, as I've taken to post dating the reviews so that you guys get some fresh content more frequently. This was actually written on March 4, but you won't actually be reading it until March 14. Just trying to spread things out a bit.

Being a huge fan of the original Halloween, They Live and, to a milder degree, Assault on Precinct 13, I always have an interest in any John Carpenter films I haven't seen. So when it came time to put together the 2016 Blind Spot list, it was a toss up between this and Big Trouble in Little China, as I knew both would be fine candidates. Both are films that I've always wanted to see & never got around to and both are films that your average film Joe should have under the belt.

The film is set in the future (1997, to be exact), in a world where the crime rate has risen over 400% from normal. In this future, Manhattan Island has been turned into the country's lone maximum security prison, a giant wall built around the island, so even if someone does make it across the East River, they still can't get out. There are no guards inside the wall - just every prisoner for him or herself. When Air Force One is hijacked by terrorists, the POTUS (Pleasence) takes to the escape pod, activating it and flying off to what he thinks will be safety. Not so fast, Mr. President! It turns out the pod manages to land inside the walls of Manhattan Island a.k.a. prison. When a team of men, headed up by Agent Hauk (Van Cleef), goes inside to retrieve the President, they're greeted by an unusual prisoner who produces the Commander-In-Cheif's ring finger (ring still intact) and tells the team to exit within thirty seconds or the PREZ "gets it". With no other alternative, Hauk recruits newly incarcerated Snake Pliskken (Russell) to penetrate the wall and safely retrieve the President. If he does so, he'll be pardoned of all his past wrongdoing and given a free ride out of New York. However, just in case he decides to take the opportunity to escape the clasp of justice, he is implanted with two tiny explosives, inside the arteries in his neck, which will explode if Pliskken doesn't make his time limit. Oh yeah - Snake only has twenty-two hours and change to get the POTUS, as the leader of the free world must appear at a summit that will end at that time, or else the United States could be on the brink of war. *heavy sigh of relief* That was a mouthful and really all I've given you is the setup and really none of the stuff that happens to Snake once inside the wall.


Sure, the film is super action packed and has MORE than enough material to satisfactorily fill out it's ninety-nine minute running time. However, it's also set in the future - something that almost always turns me off when it comes to movie plots. I don't know what it is: Maybe it's because I already live past the future that most of these older films are referring to and really, not much has changed in regards to flying cars, all silver wardrobe and alien overlords - therefore deeming the films quite unrealistic. Seriously though, I guess my imagination just craps out on me when it comes to thinking and discussing futuristic societies and situations.

One things for sure, you really can't sneeze at the cast. You've got Kurt Russell, who is always solid. Sure, we're not overrun with stellar Kurt Russell movies or anything, but the guy is solid and anyway, this isn't really the type of film that calls for stellar performances. He's fine for the role and plays the badass well. You've also got Lee Van Cleef, Donald Pleasence and Harry Dean Stanton in there, not to mention the big breasted Adrieene Barbeau and the scary as hell Ox Baker. It's quite the fun house collaboration of actors and I'm pretty sure Carpenter wouldn't have it any other way. In fact, the wild, over the top personalities that the cast provides, fits right in with the whole futuristic, "all of New York is a prison" motif.

To be honest, I wasn't super thrilled with the ending. Did the President really have to be corrupt? Didn't we already have enough plot and subplots to follow along with, without making the President a heel? Couldn't we just be presented with the simplest of ideas - the President just inadvertently landed himself in a prison where there are no guards...GO! I felt like everything was just too muddled with the talk of the summit and then all of the stuff with the cassette tape and then finally, the big reveal that the President is a somewhat crooked and being taught an ultimate lesson by Pliskken. Okay - so maybe I'm making too big a deal out of all that. Maybe I should just relax, sit back and enjoy the fun that is Escape from New York. But the thing is, is that I just didn't like it AS MUCH as I thought I was going to and I really feel the need to nitpick and try to get to the reason why. It was a fine film, don't get me wrong and an audience of less picky movie goers, who haven't seen Escape from New York, are probably going to come out of it with a new front runner for favorite film. It's the type of film one can obsess over and go all fanboy on and hey, I really don't blame any fanboy who puts this at the center of their fandom. Ultimately, I've grown into too picky a film watcher and that's my own problem. I LIKED IT, but I had a hunch going in that I was going to like it more...

RATING: 6.5/10  Not bad, but I was hoping it'd crack the '8' marker and give me another favorite John Carpenter movie. Oh well...there's always Ghosts of Mars...

March 4, 2016  11:14pm

Monday, March 7, 2016

1010. Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Running Time: 134 minutes
Directed By: William Wyler
Written By: Arthur Wimperis, George Froeschel, James Hilton, Claudine West, from the novel by Jan Struther
Main Cast: Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Teresa Wright, Richard Ney, Dame May Whitty
Click here to view the trailer

Note: So since this is both a former/future BOOK movie AND my very first Blind Spot review, I'm going to be tinkering with the review format just a little, as I'm looking to try a shorter style review for the Blind Spot movies.



Literally knew nothing going into Mrs. Miniver. I had an inkling that it was a Best Picture winner, but I wasn't even 100% sure on that fact. Giving a perusal to the other contenders that year, I've personally only seen three of the ten noms; this one, The Magnificent Ambersons and Yankee Doodle Dandy - the latter of which I'd have to give the coup. However, despite knowing literally nothing about Mrs. Miniver prior to my viewing, I had always heard of the film and it was one of the ones that I was always shocked didn't make it into my edition of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book. And after watching it yesterday, this seemed to me like just the thing that would've been up THE BOOK'S alley. And yes, a few years ago when they completely revamped THE BOOK, this one was finally included.

It was pretty much chosen because 1) I'd heard about it so much, in passing, but had never seen even a sliver of it and 2) at this point, any Best Picture winner that has escaped my eyes has to be considered a blind spot, right?


The film revolves around the Miniver family (imagine that), headed up by Mrs. Miniver (Garson), along with her husband, Clem (Pidgeon). They're a fun couple, at times playful - who have raised one son, Vincent (Ney) into a fine young man and are in the process of raising two more kids - 1 boy, 1 girl. The family has surpassed the middle class and live comfortably, thanks to Clem's efforts as a successful architect. However, when World War II breaks out, even the upper class aren't exempt from the wrath of warfare. The film follows the Miniver clan as they face the struggles that living in a war torn country present - watching their beloved "Vin" go off to battle and spending sleepless nights in a shelter, while bombings and air raids sound like the end of the world outside. There's also this whole subplot about a rose - which is also named the "Mrs. Miniver"...


I realize it was a different time and this was probably just the sort of film that got the Academy drooling back in the early forties, but DAMN, this was kind of a chore to get through. To be fair, I started out liking it. Greer Garson was quite the looker and the chemistry that she and Walter Pidgeon had was just so fun - reminding me of the great, playful chemistry that Myrna Loy had with William Powell. The whole movie starts out with Mrs. Miniver buying an expensive hat behind her husband's back, afraid to finally tell him that she's made the purchase. Meanwhile, Mr. Miniver, wants to bring up the subject of buying a new car, afraid to do so as well and not yet knowing that his wife has already made a large purchase. It's all so fun and a fine way to get me at least interested in the couple. Albeit, that interest didn't really last long, as we're soon thrown into the throes of WWII and we've plenty discussed my dislike for war films or even anything resembling a war film. Add to that the fact that the film was very OF it's time (which it kinda' had to be I guess, to really give us a taste of the time), and I just couldn't get into this, whatsoever.

I will say though that the film made me realize what an impact World War II had on literally EVERYBODY who was living at the time, especially those living in Europe where the battle was being waged. It also made me realize why there's probably so many films on the subject, as artists have a tendency to create based on what has worn on them emotionally and CLEARLY, WWII wore down a lot of artists (filmmaker's and novelists, I'm talking about here) emotionally. Be it the Holocaust and the massacre of millions of Jews or simply a family who had to spend a few unforgettable nights in a bomb shelter, while their babies bawled their eyes out and they wondered if they'd ever see the light of day again. Speaking of that, I'd have to call that particular scene the best of the film - a scene where Garson and Pidgeon's characters' hear bombs going off outside and try to mask their fear by discussing Alice in Wonderland - played masterfully by both actor and actress. Despite my dislike for the movie, I'll still admit that there are a handful of perfectly acted, perfectly executed scenes - including one where a German soldier holds Mrs. Miniver at gunpoint and another where Dame May Whitty's Lady Beldon forfeits the rose competition. Unfortunately, all of these wonderful scenes are interlaced with quite the boring affair and again, it's a war movie, which for the life of me, I just can't get lost in. My imagination just clams up on me when I'm presented with war material and no matter how hard I try, 95% of the time, I'm unenthused.

RATING: 4/10  I'll consider the discovery of Greer Garson as the one big takeaway of this film and everything else is just very rough to get through. Unless you're a list hound (like me) and don't care about seeing all of the Best Picture winners, then give this a pass.

February 29, 2016  4:33pm

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

2016 Blind Spot Series

Because I didn't already have enough irons in the fire...I present - the 2016 BLIND SPOT SERIES!

And yes, grabbing an image from a movie, opening it in PAINT and putting some text on it is the extent of my banner making abilities. And I realize it doesn't make sense that the banner features Rear Window - a movie I've seen a dozen times - but Jimmy Stewart is intently watching something there, just as I intend to intently watch all of my Blind Spot selections.

If you're a fan of movie blogs, then there's a good change you already know what the "Blind Spot Series" is, but for those of you who only read this movie blog (I both pity and thank you), here's how it works.

First things first, twelve films are chosen. Twelve films that I've NEVER seen (a.k.a. my blind spots). Once the twelve film list is created, I pick one each month to watch and subsequently review here on the blog. That's about it...To my understanding, the trick is to pick twelve films that are relevant/popular/famous/infamous/classic. You're trying to fill in the gaps in the gaps of your cinematic viewing holes. The whole idea is that by keeping the number to twelve and only committing to one review per month, it's quite the easily attainable goal and something I won't likely peter out on.

I would feel like a plagiarist if I went any further and didn't mention the mastermind behind this whole idea (because, believe me folks - yours truly isn't smart enough to come up with such a brilliant idea). The man's name is Ryan McNeil and he operates a website called The Matinee. 2016 will be his fifth year partaking in the blind spot series and countless other bloggers have followed suit. You can check out The Matinee by clicking here and please do.

Despite the fact that Ryan was the mastermind, I have two other bloggers to mention for inspiring me to take the Blind Spot Series challenge. First, there's Brittani over at Rambling Film, who's Blind Spot reviews I've been reading for the past couple years. It's always been a premise that has intrigued me and since this blog needs more front page feature reviews, I've finally been intrigued enough to take part myself. Thank you to Brittani for the inspiration. I also need to thank Donald over at Cue Marks, who is making 2016 his inaugural year for the Blind Spot Series as well. If you haven't yet checked out Donald's blog, please do yourself a favor and do so. He has a lot of really exciting things going on over there - not only the Blind Spot Series, but two other features: The Great Directors and Three Great Movies. You can check out Brittani's latest Blind Spot review here and Donald's here.

Now then...for my list.

Keep in mind that for the past six years I've been working on finishing the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, to ultimate success last October. Therefore, finding twelve essential, classic, popular films that I've yet to see was a bit tricky. However, once I got one idea, I got a second and before I knew it, a list of twelve was put together. I'm not sure how CLASSIC these are, but they're all films that I've heard SOMETHING famous about at one time or another and all ones that I should have probably seen by now. Without further ado...

1. Superman: The Movie (1978 - Richard Donner)
2. Mrs. Miniver (1942 - William Wyler)
3. True Grit (1969 - Henry Hathaway)
4. Wall Street (1987 - Oliver Stone)
5. Frozen (2013 - Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee)
6. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961 - Stanley Kramer)
7. The Goonies (1985 - Richard Donner)
8. The Karate Kid (1984 - John G. Avildsen)
9. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984 - Steven Spielberg)
10. Escape from New York (1981 - John Carpenter)
11. The Blues Brothers (1980 - John Landis)
12. Harvey (1950 - Henry Koster)

I should note that I have NEVER, EVER seen any of the previous twelve films from beginning to end. Yes, I have seen bits & pieces of Wall Street, Superman, The Karate Kid and Harvey, but I've NEVER seen them all the way through. I'll let the rest of my list speak for itself. I really felt like I should have seen all twelve of these by now, as I've heard things about a lot of them and i really feel like all twelve of them would illicit gaped mouths if I were to say I'd never seen them.

Now remember, I'm to pick one film each calendar month and review it for the blog. So if you're keeping track at home, you'll note that I'm already two months behind. Therefore, in the month of March you'll get three Blind Spot reviews while I play a bit of catch up. After that, I'll stick to the one per month schedule strictly, so as not to burn out.

Thank you once again to Ryan, Brittani and Donald for their continued inspiration. I look forward to this project.

March 2, 2016  4:08pm

Monday, February 22, 2016

1009. Cache/Hidden (2005)

Running Time: 117 minutes
Directed By: Michael Haneke
Written By: Michael Haneke
Main Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice Benichou, Walid Afkir, Lester Makedonsky
Click here to view the trailer


Watched this like a week and a half ago and am just now getting around to writing up the review. It's all good though, as I've seen Cache twice in the past twelve months - seeing it for the much anticipated first time last February and seeing it again last week, as part of the horror film list I've been working on. What's that you say? A horror film list? Yep. Check it out here.

The opening credits roll over top of a single shot of the home of the Laurent residence. We're not sure what to make of it yet - after all, it's simply the opening credits. However, the credits eventually stop rolling and voices emerge - the voices of Georges Laurent (Auteuil) and his wife, Anne (Binoche). They're watching a videotape - which contains the same shot that we're seeing; the exterior shot of the Laurent residence. We learn quick that someone has filmed the front of the Laurent house and left the videotape on the their front porch. Nothing fancy - just someone simply saying, "I'm watching you". It certainly startles the Laurent's - who keep their son Pierrot (Makedonsky) in the dark about the eerie video cassettes. A few days later - another videotape, more of the same. Then later, yet another videotape - this one being delivered wrapped in paper. On the paper? A drawing of a stick figure face, throwing up blood. This jogs Georges' memory and he begins to have nightmares about a young boy his family nearly adopted when he himself was just a boy - a boy named Majid. The story goes that Majid's parents, who worked for Georges' parents, were killed in the Paris Massacre of '61, which saw hundreds of Algerians lose their lives in the streets of France's capital city. Georges' parents, feeling sorry for the now orphaned boy and an obligation to their loyal, former workers, decide to adopt the boy. This, naturally, sends Georges into a fit of jealousy, who sabotages Majid's adoption. It dawns on Georges that the one sending the tapes is clearly Majid, who after all these years if finally ready to take revenge on Georges for depriving him of a proper upbringing. However, things get a little more complicated - primarily for us, the viewer - when Georges confronts a now adult Majid. Let's just say that a few watches couldn't hurt...


When I watched Cache the first time (January 30, 2015, to be exact), I took to Letterboxd to let some thoughts pour out of me. just to get something down on paper so that when I mentally revisited Haneke's 2005 film, I'd have a point of reference. After re-reading it tonight, it's clearly the ramblings of a confused, angry movie goer. Angry because I've been blunt before about my hatred for unresolved films. Leaving the audience to fill in the blanks for you is, in my opinion, just another way of saying, "I couldn't come up with and/or come up with a way to film a proper ending - so we'll leave it open ended. I'll call myself artsy for doing so and you get to decide what happens to the characters, so I don't have to". Someone sitting around a campfire, telling tales, wouldn't all of a sudden stop when it got near the end and say, "okay, you figure out the rest". However, I'm kind of poised to just give Cache a pass. The damn film is so mysterious and so intriguing that just flat out telling us the answers at the end, would somehow be going against the whole aura of the film - the aura being one of deep, dark, secretive mystery. With a film like this, there are no clear cut answers and some of the creepiness of the movie lies in the fact that there may not be a clear suspect.

Let's say, hypothetically, that videotapes of the same sort as Cache, start showing up on your doorstep, tomorrow morning. 1) You'd be freaked out, I'm sure and 2) You'd start theorizing.about who was leaving them. Maybe it was no one important at all? Maybe it was just some random guy with too much time on his hands, who picked a random address out of a hat and said "BINGO, let's mess with someone's head". Sure, that solution really doesn't work here, because you have to factor in the drawings that accompanied some of the tapes. But maybe the drawings were random too and the only conclusions Georges could draw was that they had come from someone whom 1) he saw bleeding from the mouth once and whom 2) he saw decapitate a chicken once. Perhaps the perpetrator was someone hired by Georges' mother. Perhaps Mrs. Laurent got wind of the lies that her son told about little Majid and decided that, as she lay on what was probably her death bed, she'd get one over on her son for telling lies to her. Far fetched, sure - but for all we know, that's the answer.

If you read Roger Ebert's review of the film, he basically flat out says that the answer is that the sender of the tapes is Majid's son and Pierrot working together. Pierrot placing the camera at his home and Majid's son placing the camera at HIS home. But for me, that answer is just too easy and doesn't provide the sort of "knock your socks off" answer that I'd want out of this movie. After watching the movie last year, I theorized that maybe the perpetrator was Georges himself, suffering from split personality disorder and subconsciously forcing himself to deal with the guilt he's always felt over the whole Majid affair. Again, this is a very far fetched solution - but again, it's possible. Another solution I came up with last year was that maybe the perpetrator was Pierre - the best friend of the Laurent's, who clearly had a thing for Anne - a "thing" that Pierrot was clearly in the know about.

Thus ends the guessing game portion of the review...

Otherwise, I really loved this film. Damn, was that a nice house or what? From the wall of books, to the nifty little bread basket - the Laurent home has to be one of my favorite houses in all of cinema. Except, I could never live there because of the whole - someone filmed it and thus, made it creepy. Cast is great too, as Binoche always turns in at least a good performance and while I've never seen Auteuil before, I really dug him here. The character development is also something to behold, as we're not only dealing with the videotape storyline, we're also dealing with the rocky marriage of Georges and Anne, played to perfection by the two leads, all the whole in the midst of this big mystery. There's not just the one facet, but the one, two punch, as we're given something to sink our teeth into, while we're waiting for the next videotape to be delivered.

The poster compares the film to a Hitchcock movie, but I disagree and would have to put Cache into a class of it's own. Never was Hitchcock THIS secretive about his motives, never did he explore voyeurism to such a personal degree and never did he tackle a rocky relationship the way Haneke explores the trust issue between the Laurent couple. While I'm sure Haneke was inspired by Hitch, he certainly is adding his own flavor to the mix. In conclusion, this is one film where I agree with the device not to give us complete, clear cut answers. It just wouldn't be doing it's own plot justice if it spilled all the beans. I'm pretty sure it was Haneke's endgame to make a movie that people could turn over in their heads, try to figure out and beat their brains out over, all the while making something that didn't wholly not make sense. While we're never given the answer, we're given plenty of options on what the answer could be and one REALLY good idea of what the answer probably IS. Big thumbs up for Cache, one that I can see myself enjoying for years to come and cementing Haneke as a favorite director of mine.

RATING: 8.5/10  Some of you may remember that Cache managed to make it into my personal favorites list last June, thus immortalizing it on the walls of my own personal movie theater.

February 22, 2016  10:27pm

Thursday, February 18, 2016

1008. The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Running Time: 96 minutes
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Written By: Sidney Gilliat, Frank Launder, from the story The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White
Main Cast: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Dame May Whitty, Paul Lukas, Cecil Parker
Click here to view the trailer

Note: If you've yet to check out the "TSZDT" and "Criterion" links here on the blog, you're missing out! Okay, so I haven't updated the "Criterion" page in a couple weeks, but I'm actively working on the "They Shoot Zombies, Don't They" list, so everyone who was clamoring for me to tackle another list, got their wish. This is a list that I'm having a blast with so far, as me and my wife are doing it together, which makes it all the more fun. Anyway, check 'em out. Now then...


I actually started writing this review earlier this morning, then decided that I just wasn't in the mood to do a review and called it quits. Now, tonight, I'm taking my second crack at it. No matter how hard I try to tell myself that I'm "done writing reviews", something always keeps me coming back - probably a desire to see my blog be complete. Anyway, I watched The Lady Vanishes about a week and a half ago, not realizing it was in another edition of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book. After a few days I DID realize it and it's taken me this long to get around to it. Also I've just discovered two new channels on cable: Laff TV and Antenna TV, both of which air old sitcoms, so I'm writing this in between glancing over my shoulder to catch glimpses at a Night Court rerun. Bear with me...

I'd seen The Lady Vanishes a couple of times prior to seeing it last Tuesday morning and to be perfectly frank right off the bat, it's never been my favorite Hitchcock. The film begins with an avalanche that has blocked the railway line, stranding a bevy of would be passengers at a tiny, cozy, out of the way inn, where they're forced to spend the night while the track is cleared. Our main character is Iris Henderson (Lockwood), a well-to-do English tourist who, on her first night as an inn guest, complains to the manager about the loud music emanating from the room of musician Gilbert Redman (Redgrave). When the manager tells him to hush up, he takes it upon himself to politely harass Miss Henderson, until she finally agrees to let him play his tunes. There's also two cricket enthusiasts who desperately want to get back to England so that they can see the last days of the Cricket championships. The following morning, as passengers are preparing to board the train, now that the railway line has been cleared, a planter "falls" from a second story balcony, crashing into the head of Miss Henderson and nearly concussing her. Despite the suggestions of a friend to not board the train and instead see a doctor, Iris Henderson decides to board and is put into the care of Miss Froy, who promises to look after her. The two make fast friends, swapping stories over a cup of tea in the dining car, before getting back to their quarters, which they're sharing with others. After falling asleep, Miss Henderson awakes to find that Miss Froy has disappeared and when she starts asking questions, it seems that no one remembers ever seeing a Miss Froy. In fact, the only one that actually does believe her (although he too doesn't remember a Miss Froy aboard the train) is the man she made quick enemies out of the night before - Gilbert Redman. A doctor who is riding the train back to England, writes Miss Henderson's visions of a woman named Miss Froy off as a mere side effect of her being hit in the head.



Since returning to the blog, post-1001, I've tried my best to make the very few reviews I've written be good ones. I've put a lot of time and effort into the six reviews between #1001 and now, but I have a feeling my streak stops here. I just don't have a lot of insightful, intelligent things to say about The Lady Vanishes. It's not a bad movie, by any means. However, it's not a very great one either - and, in fact, by Hitch's standards, it definitely falls into the lower echelon in his catalog of films.

The film DID have me in the beginning, setting up a pretty brilliant little plot, that makes you hope the pay off is worthy of the original idea and that it won't leave you disappointed. I wouldn't go so far as to say I was disappointed, but the movie definitely took some turns that I'd rather it hadn't taken. For starters, I wish Hitchcock had left us more in the dark. For a little while longer, anyway, make us think that, "perhaps, Miss Henderson is simply imagining Miss Froy"...have her keep throwing out possible clues and have them keeping getting shot down by the other passengers as mere coincidence. That's not how it transpires, however. Instead, we pretty much know right away that Margaret Lockwood's character is of sane mind and that indeed, she wasn't just imagining a Miss Froy. By the end, they're throwing out words like "spy" and "espionage" and I'm sort of allergic to those words and genres when it comes to movies, with very few exceptions.

Another thing that's always irked me about classic films is the fact that man and woman seem to fall in love too quickly and without much reason. Here, Lockwood and Redgrave's Henderson and Redman, respectively, go from bitter enemies at the inn to close friends aboard the train, to lovers by film's end, without any explanation of why on Earth they'd actually want to be together. I guess back in the old days, complete strangers just got together and got married and it was all a big "hurrah". That's just something that's always sort of irked me about classics, and I wanted to get the gripe down on paper.

In conclusion, you could do a lot worse when looking for a Hitchcock movie ("Spellbound" and "Notorious" come to mind), but you could also do a LOT better (a dozen or more movies come to mind), which makes it hard to give The Lady Vanishes anything even resembling a glowing review. The film is something straight out of an Agatha Christie novel, but then also adds a splash of something resembling an Ian Fleming story, only fifteen years before Fleming would be a success. It's a murdery, mystery, clue driven film, that, by film's end, adds in a dash or two of spy and espionage stuff. My eyelids are getting  very heavy, so I ask that you bear with me, while I close this off early.

RATING: 6.5/10  If you want good Hitch, try out Rear Window, Dial M for Murder, Psycho, Vertigo, The Man Who Knew.....nevermind, there's a lot of better stuff, find it if you haven't already.

February 18, 2016  10:45pm

Saturday, February 6, 2016

SINS OF OMISSION - Entries #22 - #34

I used to have this whole, neat, little paragraph detailing exactly what a "Sin of Omission" is, but it's not really 100% accurate anymore, so I'll just wing it. Let me try to explain this, so as not to over confuse anyone - as the new premise of this blog is a bit muddled, if I do say so myself.

I've discussed in detail, in the past, my desire to turn this blog's mission into something completely different. What was once a blog dedicated solely to chronicling my progress through the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book, is now a blog about many things. However, the primary goal of this blog, as it exists today, is for me to chronicle and record my progress as I attempt to create my own 1,000 Movies You Must See Before You Die (because 1,001 is stupid). With me so far?

From here on out, every single film I watch is a candidate to get into my personal list. Whether my wife adds Footloose to her Netflix queue and begs me to watch it with her or I watch a movie that was nominated for Best Picture last year - anything and everything is fair game. After every 100 films that I watch, I sit down in front of that list of 100 and try to pick out the cream of the crop. My self imposed "rules" state that I can pick no more than 15 films and I try my best to pick at least 10. That's basically where we stand at this point...

So a few weeks ago I finished up another bout of 100 films and I've been taking my time getting here to present the official list. But, no worries - as the time has come to unveil my next set of selections into my personal greatest films list. This time around I'm entering 13 films for preservation on my list. Thirteen films that should have been in the 1001... book and it's a SIN that they weren't included. Read on...


Entry #22
Dial M for Murder (1954 - Alfred Hitchcock)  10/10

Chosen because I'll never, ever forget the first time I saw Dial M for Murder. It was actually during my first attempt at tackling a list. My wife and I had just moved into our new apartment - newlyweds out on their own for the first time. We decided to give the IMDB Top 250 list a shot and thus, picked a particular day and printed the list as it stood on that day. Dial M... was #240-something. We went the local library (which, at the time, was a treasure trove of movies (I'm talking Blockbuster on steroids). One Sunday night, we sat down to check it out. My hopes were probably high, as I'd already been an established Hitchcock fan. What I didn't know was that I was about to view what would soon become my all-time favorite Hitchcock film (bold statement). The film finished and neither of us could stop gushing about it. It was eleven o'clock at night (maybe even closer to midnight), but we were still buzzing, so we decided to take a ride to the library and drop off the tape, just so we could keep talking about it. Twenty minutes, we were pulled over by a cop car, for having an expired registration (oopsies). I've seen Dial M for Murder several times since that hot August night in the summer of '07 and every time I do, I remember that story, that night my wife and I cuddled on the couch to watch Ray Milland plot the murder of Grace Kelly and when that failed, to plot the her conviction. It's just such a perfect movie for me. Not only do they get you to root for the murderer in the first half (just to see if he can pull this off), but then in Act II, they somehow make you do a complete 360 and root for the detective (played to utter perfection by John Williams). An all-time favorite of mine and one of the ones I really, REALLY shame THE BOOK for leaving out.

Entry #23
Mary and Max (2009 - Adam Elliot)  8/10

I suppose I chose Mary and Max because it was unlike anything I'd ever seen before. I'd once gone onto the IMDB message boards and put up a post asking for people to recommend movies to me that were animated, but weren't necessarily for children. What I got was a lot of suggestions to watch Japanese anime, which wasn't exactly what I had in mind. I'm intrigued by the idea of using animation (or in the case of Mary and Max, claymation) to tell about things other than talking fish and inanimate objects falling in love. In Mary and Max we're told the story of lifelong pen pals, who come from two very different backgrounds, but find that their personalities are more similar than they originally thought. I rarely cry at movies, but this one almost had me turning on the water works by the end.

Entry #24
Frances Ha (2012 - Noah Baumbach)  8/10

I was on a short Noah Baumbach kick in 2015, seeing both Frances Ha and The Squid and the Whale for the first time and absolutely LOVING both. The kick kept on rolling until I saw While We're Young and, Naomi Watts aside, was turned off.

Anyway, The Squid and the Whale didn't make it into the fold of this list, but Frances Ha does and I think it all has to do with Greta Gerwig, who I was mad about for weeks after seeing this. Can't really point to one thing that made me choose Frances Ha, other than the fact that it was just something that was up my alley. I really dug the black & white photography and the story - where not a lot happens, but somehow I was still transfixed to the screen - mostly due to the aforementioned Gerwig.

Entry #25
Creep (2014 - Patrick Brice)  8.5/10

Fucking "found footage" films, man - they get me every time. What is it about these amateur looking movies that always have me absolutely mesmerized and wanting more & more. In "Creep", we're presented the story of a regular Joe (they're always regular Joe's) who answers a Craigslist ad to come to a man's home and film a day in his life. It turns out the man, Josef, has cancer and is requesting the services of a vidographer, to document his final days, as his wife is pregnant and he wants to leave behind a memento for his unborn child. Things get weird early when Josef strips naked and has the videographer, Aaron, film him while he gives his imaginary, unborn baby a bath.

Screw the haters - I love this shit. Feed me all of your found footage Hollywood, for I will digest it with a smile. If I have a guilty pleasure in cinema, it's definitely these. I honestly don't think I've seen one that I haven't liked. The "creep" of the title is played by Mark Duplass, who, in my opinion, is brilliant in portraying his titular personality. This is one of those movies that had me immediately going to to see what the general consensus was. Turns out it wasn't great, but if you ask me, all of the plot holes & "doesn't make sense" arguments are unjustified. Within the context of this film, everything makes sense for the most part and it really is a true to it's title, in that it will creep you out

Entry #26
Deathtrap (1982 - Sidney Lumet)  8/10

Why I chose this movie:

1) Michael Caine
2) It reminded me of Sleuth
3) I had a blast watching it

'nuff said...

Entry #27
Wild (2014 - Jean-Marc Vallee)  8/10

I originally rated this a '7.5', but I'm upping it now, because in retrospect it belongs in that upper echelon of rating. This was, for my money, the Best Picture of 2014 - without too much question (although I'd say Whiplash has a claim to that nod too). The greatness of the film begins with the absolutely INSANE editing, which was brilliant and ends with the stellar acting job from someone who I used to underrate - Reese Witherspoon. If you watch an adapted screenplay and afterwards find yourself online searching to see where you can get your hands on the source material, that's always a good sign.

Entry #28
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008 - Kurt Kuenne)  10/10

Heartbreaking. That's the word that best describes this fantastic and very personal documentary from Kurt Kuenne, which tells the story of the murder of Andrew Bagby. This had been floating around my Netflix streaming queue for months and on my IMDB watch list for YEARS, before I got around to seeing it last fall. As I expected, it was blow away. Much like "Wild", this was one of the best edited films I saw throughout all of 2015 and as Orson Welles' said of "Make Way for Tomorrow", it could make a stone cry. Great, great stuff.

Entry #29
They Live (1988 - John Carpenter)  8/10

Another one of those famous "film's my brother showed me" - I first saw They Live when I was a youngster. Having grown up being spoon fed on professional wrestling, seeing They Live was a no brainer, since the film's star was none other than "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. I LOVED this when I was a kid, even more so for the plot, than the sheer appearance of one of my wrestling heroes. My brother and I used to sit in front of the TV with smiles as big as the Grand Canyon on our faces, watching Piper and Keith David beat the crap out of each other, all for the sake of one wanting the other to put on a pair of shades. I mostly chose this for nostalgia purposes, as I'll fully admit it features terrible acting from an otherwise brilliant "Rowdy" Roddy. Still though, I could watch this anytime and that's just the kind of thing I'm looking for when it comes to my personal list.

Entry #30
Panic Room (2002 - David Fincher)  8/10

I've flip flopped back & forth over this one throughout the years, but when I saw David Fincher's fifth film this past January, I was head over heels, as I sat in awe of suspense that would make Hitchcock proud. The plot is juicy, the acting fine (I've rarely, if ever, seen Jodie Foster better) and the general atmosphere of the film all combine to make for a movie that both casual movie goers and film snobs alike should be able to agree on. This marks the third David Fincher film on my personal list - Fight Club and Se7en being the previous two selections.

Entry #31
Pauline at the Beach (1983 - Eric Rohmer)  8/10

Chosen because, on a tough day, it helped me to forget about my problems - if only for a little while. Sure, it was a minor problem. I mean, all I had to do was go to work. But on this particular work day, it was to be the busiest day of the year - Black Friday. While that may be a joyous, money saving day for the consumers of the world, for a retailer, it's a nightmare. I wasn't due to start until 11:00am, so when I awoke just before 9:00, I had some time to kill. With my wife already off to work to cook for the nursing home residents on Thanksgiving morning, I popped Rohmer's 1983 feature into my DVD player and for a little bit, I forgot about the stampede of customers that would soon come rushing toward me in hopes of saving a few bucks. With forty or so minutes remaining, I intentionally stopped the movie, vowing to finish it when I got off that night - so that I'd have SOMETHING to look forward to that day. Thank you Mr. Rohmer for helping me to forget something I was dreading and thank you for giving me something to look forward to. This is what the movies is all about.

Entry #32
Man on Wire (2008 - James Marsh)  8/10

I saw Zemeckis' The Walk last month, but this is "where it's at" if you want the story of Philippe Petit's daring 1974 high wire walk between the two World Trade Center towers. This was the most fictionalized account I've ever seen a documentary give. I'm not saying that they stretched the truth or anything. I'm just saying that Man on Wire takes full advantage of splicing dramatizations with actual, archival footage and then mixing in some talking head interviews over everything, in another brilliantly put together documentary that rightfully took home the Best Documentary Feature Oscar at the 2009 ceremony. Also the film features Michael Nyman's Fish Beach, a song that I'm such a sucker for in movies. Every movie should feature at least a snippet of Fish Beach.

Entry #33
The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975 - Melvin Frank)  8/10

Chosen because I freakin' love Jack Lemmon and adding another one of his films to my personal list just seemed like the right thing to do. Together with the marvelous Anne Bancroft, the two are knocking zingers over the outfield wall left & right, as the features them, together, in heavy dialogue scenes, where their back & forth is comparable to Roddick and Sharapova batting a tennis ball to and fro across a net. Wow - one sentence, two sports references. Sometimes Impressive. Anyway, if you've never seen this gem from the mind of Neil Simon (I fell in love with that guy in 2015), then track it down - which won't be easy since the DVD is out of print. I suggest TCM - that's where I found it.

Entry #34
Shame (2011 - Steve McQueen)  8/10

Last, but not necessarily least (although being LEAST in this group, wouldn't be a bad thing), is Shame - Steve McQueen's second feature and the film he made just two years prior to the Academy Award winning "12 Years a Slave". Since my fingers are getting a little tired of clickity-clacking on the keys, I'll let the review I wrote last November speak for Entry #34, if you don't mind...

From a technical standpoint, there isn't a lot wrong with Shame. Fassbender is fast becoming a favorite actor of mine, prompting me to add Hunger to my Netflix queue immediately and peruse his filmography to find other gems that have promise. The films main score by Harry Escott is powerful and fits in, calling to mind a desperate man, clutched by something almost demon-like. It calls to mind a group of friends who see a friend drowning, yet just can't save him - except Brandon is a loner, with no real friends, and that makes it even more dire. The main theme (titled "Brandon") makes me feel like there should have been a scene with Brandon just screaming into the heavens, it's that kind of powerful music where you just feel like the pains of the characters need to be exercised to accompany it. Keep your eyes peeled for key scenes, including a beautiful tracking shot of Brandon taking a jog at night, while blaring classical music and another of Carey Mulligan belting out the saddest version of New York, New York you'll ever hear.


Well, thar she blows - my latest selection of films chosen for "preservation" on my personal 1,000 favorite films list. I hope you enjoyed perusing more of my thoughts and I hope you agree with at least some of my selections. Feel free to drop me a comment and tell me what I got right and what I didn't. Which of my selections you detest and which ones were chosen perfectly. It should be noted that about twenty other REALLY good movies were passed on during the selection process this go around. In the last seven months, I watched some doozies. This is partly why I changed my selection criteria so that, if I so chose, I could pick more than ten film, but absolutely no more than fifteen. One might wonder why I am putting such harsh rules on my own self. It's because I only want the cream of the cinematic crop and I intend to watch as many movies as I can possibly watch and scour the world for my absolute fav's. Films like Fruitvale Station, Chaplin's The Circus, Steve Jobs, Two Days, One Night, I Love You to Death, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Memories of Murder, Inside Out and A Tale of Springtime were all examples of fabulous movie making, that I just didn't have a place for. I hope you enjoyed the previous article and I'll be back with another one just like it, in the coming months.

Want some links? Wanna save my entire 1,000 list (which as of today, sits at just 333 films) on some popular websites? You got it!


February 6, 2016  10:24pm

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

1007. Paranormal Activity (2007)

Running Time: 86 minutes
Directed By: Oren Peli
Written By: Oren Peli
Main Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs, Amber Armstrong, Ashley Palmer
Click here to view the trailer

Note: So this past weekend, the first major snowstorm of 2016 plowed through my area and luckily my wife and I had the weekend off and had already planned to spend it indoors, vegging on horror flicks. The snowstorm only added to the coziness of the whole situation, making our bed & blankets seem all the more inviting. Anyway, my wife and I did some perusing and came across a list titled, "They Shoot Zombies, Don't They" - a horror movie list that aims to capitalize on the popularity of "They Shoot Pictures, Don't They". The list ranks the 1,000 greatest scary movies of all-time and my wife and I have decided to VERY SLOWLY work our way down the line, from 1K to 1. In addition to that, I've (also VERY SLOWLY) have begun my own project of tackling all the films in the Criterion Collection. Not sure how either of these projects will turn out in the long run. It is very possible that one or both of them could be given up without a moment's notice. For now, however, I'm pretty committed to both lists and plan to add separate pages to the blog to track my progress. I WILL NOT be doing full length reviews for anything, instead tracking my progress very similarly to the way I track my progress through the 1001 Albums You Must Listen to Before You Die list. Now then...


I LOVE found footage films, plain & simple. If I had to pick one guilty pleasure genre, that would have to be the one. I guess I can admit that they're really not usually films of high quality, but then again, I'm sort of blinded to their badness usually, as I just can't get enough of them. Let's delve into the plot of what is probably the second most famous found footage films of them all (behind "Blair Witch") - Paranormal Activity.

Your leads are Katie (Featherston) and Micah (Sloat), a boyfriend & girlfriend, who have recently moved into together and reside in San Diego, CA. When strange, yet minor, things begin happening in the house, it is Micah's idea to get a video camera and set it up in the bedroom, to try and capture some of the noises that their house has been making. We're talking very minor things at this point - creaky doors, falling picture frames, etc. The film really gets underway by showing us the first night's videotape - where more minor things happen. Tapping noises coming from the hallway, outside the couple's bedroom, added with more creaky door. Everything is kept pretty light at this point, Micah always joking about the phenomena and Katie mostly just annoyed at this point, rather than frightened. The couple later call in a medium to try and expel whatever ghosts may be hiding in the home and following the medium's visit, it is his professional opinion that not a ghost, but rather a demon is terrorizing the young couple and that this is not his area of expertise. He suggests a colleague and makes an alarmingly quick exit, wanting nothing to do with getting on a demon's bad side. The camera continues to get set up and strange noises get louder, doors do more than creak - they visibly move on their own, without being touched by human hands and often the couple wake in fright, in the wee hours of the night. We continue to go back and forth between the voyeuristic videos of the nighttime and the effects that the goings on have on the couple in the light of day. The relationship becomes more and more strained, as Micah argues to protect his home by his own set of rules, while Katie wants nothing more than to expel the demon, without upsetting it.


I really think that these found footage films appeal to my interest in voyeurism. I promise I'm not a peeping tom, but when it comes to cinema, I definitely have some sort of off fascination with voyeuristic pictures. There's something about seeing something that we're not supposed to be seeing that is appealing to me. It's almost taboo, I suppose. The public was never meant to see the events that took place on Micah's video camera, but within the confines of the film - one thing lead to another and the tapes were made public. I also tend to love compelling films that employ non-actors. I've always been a big fan of the film Open Water, a movie that uses two primary actors to tell a very minimalist story. Paranormal Activity reminded me of Open Water - in that it took a young couple and plunged them into peril. The couple also just looked and sounded like a real couple. They had a typical home, typical arguments - they just felt very real to me. And so, when the paranormal begins to take place, it will hit close to home with anyone who's ever had a live in mate, I think.

I guess, if I had to nitpick about anything, I'd have toned down the ending a bit - or maybe even have come up with something entirely different. My whole theory behind what makes The Blair Witch Project so good, was that nothing scary is ever SHOWN. Anything scary that comes out of Blair Witch, is completely manifested in our own imaginations, the idea of being alone in the woods at night, the idea of strange noises that can't be identified, the idea of strange phenomena that can't be recognized. However, there's not a ghoul or spook anywhere near that film - hence the praise. However, in Paranormal Activity, it's sort of the opposite. The film is more blatant in it's intentions to scare us and makes us use our imaginations less. We see physical sings that SOMETHING is clearly amiss and in the end, when Katie is dragged kicking & screaming through her own house, imagination becomes null & void. The whole possession thing is probably a bit too much too, but then again, I guess that was always the end game. Either they expelled the demon or it won and I guess the only way an invisible entity finally wins, is by taking over the body that it's been terrorizing. I would have liked for everything to be a bit more subtle. Perhaps even end with the Katie being dragged down the hallway, followed by her screaming & crying and calling for Micah and just end like that. I think that would, at least, promote a little bit of imaginary use. In voyeurism (which is exactly what found footage is), it is imperative that we ask questions. I've used the example before of looking in a stranger's window. If I were to go outside right now, find the first lit up house and put my nose to their windows, surely I'd have a hundred questions. Keep us asking questions, keep everything very mysterious. People who are supposed to be acting natural, in their own homes, shouldn't have to constantly be explaining their motives.

How much of a dick was Micah though, am I right?! If I'm Katie's boyfriend, I'm being less of an asshole and I'm dialing up the demonologist as soon as the medium recommends him. I'm not messing around with baby powder, videotapes or Ouija boards, I'm just chilling and letting the one who's obviously been dealing with this kinda' stuff since she was a little kid (Katie) tell me how it's gonna' be. The character frustrated me very badly, at times, which is a compliment to the film.

RATING: 8/10  During our horror weekend, we also watched three of the five sequels. The second one is almost as good, IMO, but not as good and they get progressively worse, with Paranormal Activity 4 falling around the '4.5/10' range.

January 26, 2016  12:05am