Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Singin' in the Rain" an overrated piece of bubble gum fare

TITLE: "Singin' in the Rain"
DIRECTOR: Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen
STARS: Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds
EDITOR: Adrienne Fazan
AWARDS: Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Nomination, Oscar), Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (Nomincation, Oscar)
RUN TIME: 103 min.

With the advent of "talkies," silent film stars Don Lockwood (Kelly), and Lena Lamont (Jean Hagen) are all but washed up. That is, until Don has the genius idea of making their current flop picture into a musical. The only problem, Lena can't sing, or speak clearly. That's when Don't love interest, Kathy Selden (Reynolds) steps in, and helps in a creative fashion.

"Singin' in the Rain" has gone down in history as one of the great musicals, and films, of all time. This is evidenced in popular culture. Gene Kelly is still a surprisingly popular actor, with this piece being, arguably, his most famous. It was nominated for two Oscars, and has been preserved in the Library of Congress. It also holds a rare 100% on, meaning that all critics who have submitted reviews for the film, have been positive.

Of note, is Gene Kelly's performance in the titular sequence. Filmed over 3 days, Kelly had a fever of 103 degrees at the time. His hard worker mentality came off strong on Reynolds, as he told her quite honestly that he did not care for her as a dancer. Reynolds went on to take lessons from Fred Astaire, and finished the film (what would be one of her most famous), surprising even Kelly himself.

Going into this film, this writer was not excited, and was not presented with anything to change that bias. Musicals can be somewhat awkward, and overlong, and this is no exception. The songs are great. The dance numbers are beautiful (if dated). That is not enough to hold down an entire film though. Awkward performances by all involved, and a story structure that seemed rushed together bog down this film.

It seemed that the song and dance numbers were written, and a story was accommodated around them. This writer found the thinly veiled story to not be enough, and the fact that the songs didn't even fit into the narrative didn't help.

Obviously, this is a movie for musical fans. Anyone who likes musicals should see this. Anyone who doesn't, should not feel bad for skipping it. While not necessarily a bad film, it certainly is not a good one.

MY IMDb RATING:  6 out of 10

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Day of the Dead" an under-appreciated genre masterpiece.

TITLE: "Day of the Dead"
DIRECTOR: George A. Romero
STARS: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joe Pilato
EDITOR: Pasquale Buba
AWARDS: Best Make-Up (Saturn Award)
BOX OFFICE: $34,000,000 (Worldwide)
RUN TIME: 102 min.
RATING: Unrated

An underground military base struggles to find a working dichotomy between the Captain in command, and the scientists his men are charged with protecting. Perhaps it would be easier if the men knew what exactly the crazed doctor in charge was doing with all the dead bodies, and reanimated corpses in his possession?

"Day of the Dead" is the final installment in George A. Romero's original zombie trilogy (the trilogy was expanded in the 2000's with three more entries). While it flopped in its initial box office run, its international gross helped it to become a monstrously successful entry into the series.

This marked the second time that Tom Savini won a Saturn award for his make-up achievements (the first being for its predecessor). This film's zombie effects marked an increase in the use of special applications and gore effects. Real animal parts were used to fill "cadavers" that were seen ripped apart on screen.

While this film is somewhat mixed critically, it received many positive reviews, and has gained a cult audience that stands behind its status as a benchmark in the series, as well as the genre. Romero has cited this to be his favorite in the series. And who really needs to argue with the director?!

This film has also spawned many cultural references, from bands (Gorillaz, Panzer AG, Ministry, The Misfits), and other films ("Resident Evil" franchise, "28 Days Later").

This film is this writer's favorite zombie film. The reasons are many.

Romero established the zombie (or ghoul) genre as one that could focus on social satire as much as gore and horror. This movie is mind-numbingly scary at points, that's for sure. The bulk of it resides in a satire of the classic military/science debate. Which is more important in dangerous times? It also deals with issues of sexism, and class systems. That's a lot for one film to take on. This one does it seamlessly, and with taste.

It is a hard film to watch for the weak stomached, but is worth it. If you are to watch only one zombie movie ever, this should be it. It might even convince you to see more. If you can't handle too much violence and gore (though not in a sickly, torture-porn sort of way), this may not be your cup-of-tea.

MY IMDb RATING:  8 out of 10

And, at the risk of too much self promotion, here is a link to my newest horror short film (don't forget to vote by clicking the yellow box above the video player!):
T is for Teddy

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Planet of the Apes" a genre defining piece of history

TITLE: "Planet of the Apes"
DIRECTOR: Franklin J. Schaffner
STARS: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter
EDITOR: Hugh S. Fowler
AWARDS: Honorary Oscar for outstanding make-up achievement
BOX OFFICE: $32,600,000 (US)
RUN TIME: 112 min.

Taylor (played, iconically, by Charlton Heston), is an astronaut from 1970's Earth who crash lands on a distant planet in the distant future. After an encounter with humans who behave like animals, he is caught, and his throat injured, by a group of intelligent ape hunters. With his power of speech gone, and his place in society turned upside down, what will Taylor do, and how will he survive on the "Planet of the Apes?"

"Planet of the Apes" is largely considered one of the best films to have ever been made. Cinephiles and critics alike have enjoyed this classic tale over and over again for decades. The film went on to launch four sequels, two television shows, a remake, and a reboot. Its place in film history has been cemented by it's incredible story, the first draft of which was written by Rod Serling, of "Twilight Zone" fame.

Director Franklin J. Schaffner, came on to the project at the request of Charlton Heston. One of his most significant contributions to the film was to set the ape society as a primitive one, instead of the much more expensive idea of having it be a futuristic society with skyscrapers and more advanced technology. This lead into the story-lines of the many sequels, tv shows, comic books, and the remake and reboots that followed the original. A franchise was born, and a financially successful one at that.

The story is a classic, and the ending will forever be regarded as one of the best twists in cinematic history. Some of recent generations say it is obvious, especially knowing that Serling, famous for his twists, wrote it. The critics of the time, and the ones to come, have all stood behind it, with audiences wanting more and more. 32 million dollars was a lot of money in the 1960's!

This is the first perfect score film this writer has reviewed on this blog. Here are the reasons why.

The make up is incredible. It is stand out. It is beautiful. These apes represent an amazing technological advance in make up art within cinema. Actors had to spend up to four hours every day being made up before they could be filmed, and yet they gave some career high performances.

The most incredible part of this film is the story. It differs very much from the source novel, "La planet des singes" by Pierre Boulle, and offers a striking satire of class struggle, and racial tension that audiences in the 1960's may not have been ready for, and audiences since have appreciated. The final moments, after the climactic discoveries on the beach by Taylor and his ape counterparts, will never be forgotten by any viewer.

The cinematography, sound design, and score all add to this incredibly successful (both artistically and financially) film. This writer awarded this film a 10 out of 10 score. That means that everyone should see this film. It is significant, exciting, exhilarating, and incredibly entertaining on every level. Both the casual movie watcher and the hardened cinephile will enjoy this classic.

Also, go see the incredible sequel/reboot "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (2011) this weekend! It follows in the footsteps set by its predecessor, and gives the audience and emotionally charged action thriller. The effects are stand out, and the story pulls no cheap tricks. It is exactly what a summer blockbuster should be. Go out and support quality filmmaking!

MY IMDb RATING:  10 out of 10

Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Mulholland Dr." the mystery is the mystery

TITLE: "Mulholland Dr."
DIRECTOR: David Lynch
STARS: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux
EDITOR: Mary Sweeney
AWARDS: Best Director (Nomination, Oscar)
BOX OFFICE: $20,112,339 (Worldwide)
RUN TIME: 147 min.

"Mulholland Dr." is a tense, mystery/thriller, that revolves around an amnesiac woman, a young wannabe actress, and an established auteur. How do their lives intersect, and who are they really? The answers lie somewhere on Mulholland.

This film is largely considered not only one of David Lynch's finest hours, but also one of the best movies of the century, so far. The film started filming as a television pilot in 1999, but after production was halted, a french studio gave the film an extra $7 million to finish the story. Lynch continued to write the story, and "tied up the loose ends."

The move is widely regarded for its confusing storyline. In typical Lynch fashion, a normal narrative structure is abandoned for a more obstructed view of this very existential story. In the third act, the confusing relationship between the two female leads changes dichotomy entirely, and subtle clues are left to the viewer to be constructed as they wish.

The director has refused to comment on the story, rather leaving it to the viewer to interpret the mystery themselves. This has lead to many critics and popular culture theorists having completely different opinions on what happened in the film, and what it means. The generally accepted theory is that the mystery of the film, is the film itself. While it is in itself a mysterious, neo-noir story, the point of the film is for the viewer to find out what it means on their own.

This was nothing short of an amazing film. Could everyone get through it? Perhaps not, but most cinephiles should at least try. It is beautiful, and any David Lynch fan will recognize his style immediately. Sharp Dutch angles, a skewed profile of society, intermixed dreams and reality, this film has it all. It balances it's strange points perfectly.

The fact that it is hard to solve the mystery is so engrossing throughout the film. This writer was on the edge of their seat for the entire experience. Both female leads gave career altering performances. This anti-love letter to Hollywood is both hopeful and disheartening, safe and scary, enjoyable and deplorable. This is one of the most unique cinematic experiences one can have. Watch this movie as soon as possible.

MY IMDb RATING:  8 out of 10