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

Monday, January 18, 2016

1006. Lost in Translation (2003)

Running Time: 101 minutes
Directed By: Sofia Coppola
Written By: Sofia Coppola
Main Cast: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris, Fumihiro Hayashi
Click here to view the trailer


I've just say here dusting off my keyboard and surrounding desk with a sock from the laundry, trying to figure out just how to start this thing. Truth be told, I really didn't plan on doing any reviews again, this soon. Thing is - I just happened to watch "Lost in Translation" last Monday and shortly thereafter, realized it was a former BOOK movie. I tossed & turned on the issue of whether or not I wanted to keep this blog going and ultimately, I think I do! In reality, I've actually used my own blog a lot lately - mainly to recollect my opinions of certain films and I've realized in the past week or so that it's nice to have a database of reviews under my belt and it's also nice to know that anytime I get the itch, I can add to it and maybe someday, have this gigantic, mass library of reviews & thoughts - a movie diary - which was always my original goal. Anyway...let's move along and see what I can put together on this one. Don't expect Shakespeare, because I'm definitely not in review mode.

The setting is Japan and the main characters are 1) an aging actor, Bob Harris (Murray) and 2) the young wife of a photographer, Charlotte (Johansson). Charlotte's husband is on assignment in Japan, often leaving her for hours on end to entertain herself in the hotel, while he goes on photo shoots with rock bands. Charlotte is experiencing a mild case of insomnia, not to mention a bit of depression, wondering if her choice to get married was a good one. She sits for hours on end, staring out the window - staring at a foreign land where surely no one understands her plight. Meanwhile, Bob Harris is the aforementioned aging actor, in Japan to shoot advertisements and commercials for a brand of whisky. Harris suffers from similar, psychological ailments as Charlotte - insomnia and the wonderment of whether or not his marriage is crumbling. Bob finds temporary solace in the hotel's lounge, knocking back scotch and sucking on stogies, listening to the redheaded lounge singer belt out tunes, while the clanking of glasses and mutter of conversation keep Bob company. One evening Bob and Charlotte meet and quickly realize that they can connect in this foreign land, perhaps help each other fill the silence, keep each other company, give each other advice, become friends, perhaps. The two hang out, Charlotte even introducing Bob to her Japanese friends (the whole reason Charlotte tagged along with her husband, was because the couple actually had a few Japanese friends). The film is ultimately about loneliness and an unlikely friendship that helps to heal that wound.

Let's talk about my recent trips to Philadelphia and how those helped me to, maybe, understand this movie a little better. So anyway, I went to Philadelphia for the very first time in May of last year, despite living in Pennsylvania all my life and the trip to the nation's former capital only being like six hours away. Anyway, when we were there in May, the city felt so different. I loved it, don't get me wrong - but just being there felt very different than being in say - the city of Pittsburgh, a city I've visited multiple times throughout my life. Both are run of the mill big cities, complete with big buildings, lots of people and pizza places that are open later than any pizza place in my dinky, little town. However, I really felt like a stranger in Philly. Just looking out the window one evening, a window that overlooked Citizens Bank Park and Wells Fargo Center, I felt so far away from home, despite really not being THAT far at all. We went back in December and I felt a little better, but still I definitely felt like a stranger in a strange land - a feeling that I neither loved, nor hated. I can say for sure, that had I not been with my wife, I really would've felt out of place, unable to sleep and ready to trek down to the hotel restaurant nightly to try and find a waiting ear. Now then, this is Japan we're talking about - a lot more than hop, skip & a jump away from home and I can only imagine that at that distance, the term "stranger in a strange land" took on a whole new meaning, putting my six hour "odd feeling" to shame. Add to that two personalities that are already troubled - rocky marriages and general gloomy outlooks and you've got the right mix for a movie that makes sense and I think, is easy to identify with.

What exactly was this relationship though? It's definitely a pairing that is rife for examination and dissection. Were their romantic buddings? I'd LIKE to think not and prefer to think of the relationship between Bob and Charlotte as unlikely friends. It's not even a father/daughter type of deal, because the two were clearly striving to be equals, Bob turning his shirt inside out and asking Charlotte to cut the tag out, so that he could look cool hanging out with the youngsters. However, there seemed to be a sense of shame in the Bob character when Charlotte catches him with the redheaded lounger singer. There also seemed to be a bit of awkwardness in their penultimate, goodbye kiss - an awkwardness that might be felt by an older man, who knows this girl is clearly out of his league, yet hanging on to hope that he may still strike something up. I think it was a very well written film, nuff said. When you can pick apart characters and little nuances like that and wonder & wonder & wonder about what exactly was at the root of this relationship - was it father/daughter, was it romantic or was it merely friendly - then it's safe to say that it's this whole new sort of relationship, one invented by Sofia Coppola when she decided to put pen to paper. I'm not even going to go into the whole final scene and "what did he tell her" deal, because it's been analyzed to death. All we need to know, is that they shared a special bond and it wasn't just a "hey, you're here and I'm here, let's hang out" type of deal. The film is the documentation of this bond and years from now, when Bob is dead and Charlotte is old & gray, she'll tell her children of the man she met while in Japan and she'll smile - at least I think so. The ending, was the last special moment, of a group of special moments and hopefully, imaginary, old lady Charlotte will keep what Bob told her to herself and never tell another living soul.

I really need to get a move on and see The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette and whatever other movies young Ms. Coppola has under her belt. Oh boy, I just looked and one of her films is called The Bling Ring - that sounds like straight up garbage, right there. Maybe, I should just quit with Lost in Translation. I will say this, on a totally serious note, with Lost in Translation, Ms. Coppola out did her her father big time, making a movie that bested anything he's done in the last forty years. I mean, seriously, have you seen some of the tripe that Coppola has directed - JACK for God's sake! All kidding aside, however, I agree that this is a "must see" film and really, it should have never been taken out of the pages of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book. In fact, I was all set to say "it should've won the Best Picture the year it was nominated", but I just looked and it had some stiff competition that year - in competition against LOTR: Return of the King (the winner) and Mystic River (a personal favorite). It's good - that's all you need know...

RATING: 9/10  I've become a real hard ass on giving out '10' ratings, but this was darn close. Easily rewatchable, with not only a great script & great direction from Coppola, but super fine performances from Johansson and Murray, the latter of which walks a fine line between dramatist and comedian, and balances it flawlessly.

January 18, 2016  4:38pm

SINS OF OMISSION - Entry #69: Re-Animator (1985)

Running Time: 105 minutes Directed By: Stuart Gordon Written By: Dennis Paoli, William Norris, Stuart Gordon, based on the story Her...