Category Archives: review-movie

Review: Candyman (1992)

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As a child nothing scared me more than “Bloody Mary.” I was only in elementary school when I heard the tale, and the “true stories” of the awful bloody things that happened to their second-cousins-brother’s friend (you know what I’m talking about) , and I promised myself I would never play the game. Even now as an adult, I respect that oath out of the fear of what could happen. After watching Bernard Rose’s supernatural-slasher, Candyman, I have one more name to add to the list of names never to utter in front of any mirror.

The story follows a pair of graduate students, Helen (Virginia Madsen) and Bernie (Kasi Lemmons) as they write their thesis on urban myths. As luck would have it, the Cabrini-Green housing project near them , has experienced a death, supposedly at the hands of the urban myth, Candyman. A murder and a community believing in that the murder was caused by a spirit? That sounds like the perfect location for students writing about urban myths and Helen quickly springs into action learning all about Candyman. Like Mary, he can be summoned by anyone who chants his name 5 times in front of a mirror. Upon being summoned he will brutally eviscerate the one who dared to summon him. Helen, being a firm non-believer, treats the rumor as a myth and proceeds through with the ritual. What follows is a tightly knit tale about gender, race, gentrification, and the mystical nature of belief.

What helps the story work is how real it feels. The community at Cabrini-Green aren’t caricatures of our worst fears of what the “hood” is. They’re heterogeneous and breathe life into a community that gets demonized, not only in the movie, but in real life as well. The shocking reality of social imbalances set in, and the way that characters react and approach different situations highlights those fears. When the cleaning ladies talk about how Ruthie Jean called the police twice about someone coming for her she gets ignored. It’s palpable and reveals just how warped the system has become. Violence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in a community when they’re arbitrarily relegated to the periphery for no other reason than their skin color.

Furthermore, the juxtaposition of Helen, a young white women, and Bernie, a young black women going into a black community was magnificent. They respond to different scenarios in ways to highlight not only character differences, but also social differences. When they enter the downtrodden community, Helen’s primary concern is finding information about the myth, while Bernie scared for her life. The whole way their first interaction plays out during this act only amplifies the way their positions change the way they think about themselves and what can/cannot happen to them. This becomes even more interesting when Helen goes through multiple revelations that complicate her relation to both the community and the legend of Candyman.

Speaking of Helen, Virginia’s performance is nuanced and emotionally resounding. The long reaction shots on her eyes help convey the depth of her emotional state. She goes from confident, to resourceful, to mystified, to paranoid, and so on. At no point do any of these shifts feel out of place or odd. They all feel authentic and make emotional beats in the story feel that much more poignant. After doing some background reading, I appreciated the extra effort she put in. For certain scenes, she actually let herself get hypnotized so that she would look dazed and mystified. Although, after witnessing Tony Todd’s performance as Candyman, and hearing his authoritative but hypnotic voice, I could see how someone could be entranced by him. But make no mistake, he is sinister.

The film is also shot well. The use of long pan transition shots makes the dread feel like it’s moving along. But the most interesting thing the movie does is insert stills constantly. Iconic images from the movie appear at key moments. They don’t feel intrusive, but are provocative and help foreshadow the meaning and metaphysical positions of key characters.

Rating

TLDR: Candyman, is a well-woven tale that analyzes multiple pressing social issues without ever feeling preachy or patronizing. It’s provocative and aesthetically haunting.

Final Rating: 10/10. Anyone who wants to experience a beautiful commentary on social positions/issues while also being scary, in a more visceral way should watch this movie. It’s a masterpiece.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: 28 Days Later

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Zombies- check.
Misanthropy- check.
Examination of alienation – check.
Awesome music – double check.

Danny Boyle’s science-fiction zombie film, 28 Days Later, checks off all the necessities of a great movie, adds on a great deal of nuance and criticism, and wraps all of that in a beautifully shot and scored piece. The story follows Jim (Cilian Murphy) as he wakes up 28 days after a terrifying “rage” virus has spread and destroyed most of England. He eventually meets up with and forms a rag-tag team with other survivors as they struggle to find a way out of the living hell they find themselves in.

I knew I was in for a cinematic treat just based off of the parallels in the opening scene of the movie, and the opening scene on Jim. We start off looking at a monkey, tied up to a series of wires, being forced to take in violent awful media. When Jim wakes up, he’s also covered in wires on a hospital bed causing an immediate association between him and the primate. It beautifully foreshadows his journey as he’s forced to view and deal with gruesome and morbid scenes of violence. It also raises one of the films main thematic questions- what is humanity and how is it different than animality? Based on this opening scene it might be that humans and animals aren’t so different after all. The feeling never really goes away and the film constantly plays with it.

Every camera shot has a purpose in this movie and I was constantly kept off balance by their variation in use. The use of a gritty realistic recording makes the setting feel grounded and haunting. A darker color scheme is used for most of the film so when lighter ones are front and center, it feels intentional. It serves as a visual and thematic pallet cleanser, which for the most part, keeps the movie fresh and invites deeper answers to the questions being posited.

The frequent use of angled shots highlight the upturned nature of the world around them. Any semblance of the social order that they know of is gone. There are a lot of wide open shots that make the characters feel puny in comparison. They feel like ants- showcasing not only our groups’ alienation, but also questioning the general place of humanity in relation to the planet at large. The quick panicked shots when the zombies come in is also jarring and was frightening each time it was used. The zombies being as fast as they were only made the effects more pronounced.

Speaking of that, I love how fast the zombies were. They’re aggressive killing machines and present a real sense of urgency. The film ensures we know of that by having an incredibly tense and shocking zombie/reaction scene out of nowhere, highlighting the absurdity of it- a mistake at any point, even a small one could be deadly. Even a small speck of blood end our protagonists, so every zombie encounter becomes even worse- we’re constantly on the lookout for blood and cadavers because those present as much of a threat as the zombies themselves.

Because the zombies were so threatening I expected them to be the highlight of the film, driving the main source of tension. But the film spends a large chunk of time developing our group. They really do feel like a family, and some of the character moments in the second act are well realized. They help flesh out the characters without feeling out of place with what we’ve learned about everyone earlier.

John Murphy’s sound makes all of the above elements even better than they would be otherwise. He uses music to precisely accentuate the emotional undercurrent of the scene. The music is never just there for the sake of being there. For example, during one scene in the first act, a soft song plays in the background as the characters explore a certain area, but upon the discovery of a deceased couple, the music cuts out. Instead, the audience is left with silence- highlighting the somber and tragic nature of the scene, before the song comes back in- snapping us, and the character who discovered the scene back to real life. Furthermore, “In the House, In a Heartbeat”, is one of the the best horror/theme tracks I’ve ever heard and its use in the third act was chilling.

The ending of the movie feels rushed and thematically inconsistent, even if I personally thought it was a pleasant change of pace from what I expected. Certain character arcs feel like they come out of left field, but are still beautiful symbolically and thematically. The issue is that after setting up a series of expectations that would allow for the rushed characterization to feel symbolically meaningful, the film directly sidesteps what it just did in favor of something else. The end result, is a surprising ending that a lot of people might find unsatisfying. Personally, I liked it and I’ll get into that in the spoiler section, but I’m definitely going to look at the alternative endings to see if they change my view of the movie at all.

Rating

TLDR: 28 Days Later, is a rich and tense zombie film that’ll have you asking questions about the depraved extents we go to survive. Thought it falters in the ending, it is tense and filled with a sense of isolation that lasts until the very last scene.

Final Rating: 9.5/10. This is the scariest zombie movie I’ve seen. Watch if you enjoy tense and well-paced action scenes, examinations/criticisms of anthropocentrism, or want to watch a beautifully shot and scored work of art.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Black Swan

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Let go. Maintain control. The two impulses seem diametrically opposed to one another. Letting go implies a sense of giving in to drive and impulse, but maintaining control is always portrayed as a denial of the same. Perfection is the balance between two and Darren Aronofsky’s psychological-thriller, Black Swan, follows Nina (Natalie Portman) as she attempts to find that balance in her upcoming ballet performance in Swan Lake.

The first shot of the movie is phenomenal and sets up both the surreal and phantasmic nature of movie , but also places Nina’s life squarely in the context of Swan Lake. She is the white swan- placed in the position of the pure and innocent. Incredibly fragile. It’s the first thing we see her thinking about- her ability to perform in the piece is something that is constitutive of her and her sense of being.

Portman’s performance is haunting and shows the strain and anguish that comes from the pressure to achieve perfection. She feels like a child- diverting her eyes away during conversation, whispering to herself, and crying in fear. Watching her brutal and tense transformation feels that much harder because of how well the anguish is shot and portrayed. Every injury and bruise feels visceral and hard to keep looking at. I could not stop clenching my wrists during certain tense scenes.

Mirrors are utilized with precision. They’ve always been symbolically associated with ourselves. A way of ascertaining our identity- looking into our true selves. Every scene with a mirror in this movie feels like it has a purpose- not just in a superficial “identity is multifaceted” kind of way – but as thought they represent a deep inner conflict between multiple inner selves. They also represent duality which reinforces the divide and conflict between the black and white “swans” Portman must embody.

The movie never spends too much establishing detail- there’s always a suspicion that certain things are afoot- characters are more perverse than they let on. Not focusing on the details does help create the fleeting artistic feeling which accentuates the transformative nature of the movie . Personally I liked how certain things were more open ended, but if you like everything clear cut and laid out for you- this may not be your cup of tea.

However, this does cause a weird sense of lack to develop. Certain subplots are brought up to help accentuate themes, but they don’t get resolved which makes them feel like plot devices as opposed to natural interactions. These inconsistencies also stick out more given the lengths the early portions of the movie take to make the environment “dark”.

Rating

TLDR: Black Swan is a beautiful tale of the price of perfection that will have you questioning what you’re really seeing. There are some slight narrative “forces”, but they don’t detract at all from Portman’s haunting and disturbing performance.

Final Rating: 9.4/10. If you enjoy deep character takes or movies that play with reality vs fantasy this movie should be right up your alley. I felt tense the entire film and was left speechless at the ending.

In lieu of the usual spoiler page, click here, to read my spoiler intensive analysis of the movie.

Review: Cube

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When I was a young child I remember walking into a room at a family friend’s part and watching the first gruesome scene in the movie. The moment was so unexpected and shocking that I ran out of the room and desperately tried to forget this movie. Nearly 15 years later, I have to say I’m happy I ran out of the room that day, because a younger me could never appreciate the philosophical complexity inherent at the heart of Vincenzo Natali’s science-fiction thriller, Cube.

The plot follows a group of randomly plucked strangers who have all mysteriously found themselves in a cube-shaped room. Each wall of the cube has a doorway to a similar shaped room. But from the first scene, the movie assures us that nothing is safe or truly secure. Certain cubes will kill anyone that enters them- so moving always risks possible death. This simple, yet elaborate set-up, constantly keeps every scene tinged with suspense.

From the very first moments, the movie feels tense and disturbing. The screen always feels claustrophobic because of the closed off nature of the set. The special effects on display are amazing and made the early deaths believable. In fact one of them feels like a real “omae wa mo shinderu” moment, and I visibly gasped when I saw it. The dread of knowing that you’re already dead and having to experience – that’s blood-chilling. The best part? This is just the first death of the movie.

What makes the movie work so well is how believable and well fleshed out all the characters are. Most members of the group take actions that seem justified- making them feel competent and REAL. The second act is where a lot of the dialogue happens and the characters become fleshed out and nuanced. Some of them even feel like call outs of tropes of the “roles” each of them fit in the genre. This made me care for them, good or bad, so the more gruesome moments were more resounding.

Philosophically, the movie shines. It felt like an examination into humanity’s attempts at creating patterns and meaning. For example, if I see a pattern like “12312312_” I’d assume that the next number in the chain is a “3” but that’s because I assume the base of the pattern to be “123.” If the base was actually ” 1231231245″ then next number from the above chain would be “4”. As such any attempt at understanding a pattern assumes some kind of context that can help discern them from merely random fluctuations. The movie plays on the characters and the audiences use of this behavior and deliberately creates a sense of doubt over the truthfulness of certain assumptions the group has made.

Throughout the film, the characters try to find patterns in the cubes or reasons for the presence of random objects , but because they’ve been placed in a situation where they don’t have any real context, they’re forced to guess on the “bases.” This creates this terrifying philosophical undercurrent the entire movie that helps highlight not only the thoughts and feelings the characters are having, but also remove any and all sense of expectation from the audience. Every time the characters traversed, I felt nervous something was going to happen. This feeling continues till the ending, which is what I loved most about it- based on how you fall on the issue, you can come to a different conclusion over the final fates of the characters.

The problems with the film become more prominent in the third act. Certain character choices don’t make a lot of sense given previous events, and other character changes seem sudden and rushed. There’s also a weird suspension of disbelief that happens regarding some traversal issues that make the movie feel inconsistent in it’s rule-set, but also feels like it could thematically align with some earlier points. It’s not something I hold against the film now, but it is something that others may not like as much.

Rating

TLDR: Cube is an ambitious philosophical thriller through cube shaped hell. It’s fun, though provoking and invites the audience to think along with it until the ending credits play. Some of the character decisions and transformations feel out of place near the end of the movie, but they’re not even close enough to derail the fun here.

Final Rating: 9.2/10. If you enjoy philosophy this is the movie for you. You’ll be sitting there talking about the plot long after the movie ends. Fans of suspense should also give this a go.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Nosferatu

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F.W. Murnau’s vampire piece, Nosferatu, is the first silent film I’ve ever seen and left quite an impression on me. The film, an illegal adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, follows the same basic narrative with some changes in an attempt to avoid litigation. We follow Thomas Hutter( Gustav von Wangeheim), a real estate agent, who treks on to Transylvania, to complete a deal with the infamous, Count Orlok (Max Schreck). What follows is an artistic take on the human response to fear and our attempt to deal with those bumps in the night.

Visual design here is impeccable. The Count looks terrifying with his extended fingernails and shocking facial appearance. He radiates an intimidating sense of dread. His reactions and movements are animalistic- unnatural and evocative. When the camera focuses on Shreck’s face, it’s almost as if the Count is staring straight into the depths of our soul. His portrayal throughout the film is haunting and truly represents a terror unbound.

What makes Orlok so mesmerizing is his symbolic representation. Whenever he’s mentioned or shown , it’s in reference to rats and the plague. He is somehow more than just a vampire- he’s fear itself. The silent nature of the movie only amplifies this. Because the film has no dialogue, the characters are almost forced into a sense of helplessness- they can’t speak to the horror so instead the actors/actresses have to convey the feeling of dread through immaculate reactions. In particular, Greta Shroder’s portrayal of Ellen Hutter is heartfelt and disturbing. Seeing her reaction to the Count emphasizes the immensity of what he actually is.

Lighting is also used well, not only to indicate the passage of time, but to reinforce themes. Night is associated with Orlok- emphasizing our instinctive fear of the dark with the realm of the Nosferatu. Light is primarily associated with Ellen, highlighting her strange relation with the Count and serving as a beautiful example of foreshadowing.

The film should be viewed in mind of what was being attempted. No, it’s not scary in a traditional way. You won’t jump away in fright at Orlok and the acting might seem exaggerated, especially compared to films right now. Personally, some moments felt funnier to me. Having to read read highly stylized font also presented a unique set of challenges (pausing and squinting my eyes). But if you can get past those small hurdles and view the movie as a more abstract take on human emotion and our responses to fear and the unknown, you’ll walk away feeling haunted.

Rating

TLDR: Nosferatu, is a mesmerizing and artistic take on fear and our response to the same. Great set design combined with just the right acting evokes a haunting presence.

Final Rating: 9.5/10. If you like German Expressionism, want to see an artistic and pure take on Dracula, or enjoy vampire movies check this one out. To anyone who enjoys film as an art form, this is definitely something you would appreciate.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Joker

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Todd Phillips’s “comic book” film, Joker , feels less like a comic and more like a serious study of a man’s slow descent into a nihilistic force of violence. The film follows Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix, a man neglected and relegated by society until he finally snaps and embraces his persona as “Joker”.

Phoenix is the star of the show and is magnificent in his portrayal of a relegated pariah who slowly loses all hope. What makes the performance so haunting is the genuine sense of how real it feels. Arthur is constantly hopeful, someone trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps- trying to live the “American Dream.” Joaquin evokes a man, desperately trying to live out some dreams- to get back up in spite of everything. This was necessary, because without it the transformation from Arthur to the Joker would be more villainous and less sympathetic.

Furthermore, the laugh he emits due to his “illness” is genuinely haunting. It has a choking sound to it and completely reveals Fleck’s emotional state. Phoenix constantly manipulates and utilizes the laugh with different “intonations” to highlight the undercurrent of the characters state of mind. This helped chronicle Fleck’s progression from down-trodden dreamer to nihilist psychopath.

The humor in the movie is perverse. It never feels right because it comes about through a sense of awkwardness. I kept laughing during my viewing, along with the audience, at scenes that were unsettling, but I couldn’t stop. It’s like the absurdity of Joaquin’s laugh or the unsettling nature of whatever scenario was on the screen necessitated a laugh as a response. There are genuine moments of black humor that don’t rely on perverting the disturbing, but they’re more spread out through out the movie.

The movie is shot beautifully- everything feels gritty and realistic. The usage of different color palettes really helps make certain transformations more mesmerizing, but also help cast doubt on the reality of the situations. In fact, the movie plays a lot with reality and interpretation. Very early on, the film sets up a fantasy sequence of Arthur in a comedy show. It helps inform the audience that Arthur is prone to engage in delusion, but because of the way it’s placed in the narrative with no kind of “announcement” that this was no longer reality, the audience no longer has any expectation that what they’ll see on the screen is real. This tinges the movie with the idea that things might just be hallucinations. The feeling is maintained well until a certain juncture in the movie which feels a bit too heavy handed. It ruined the immersive and unnerving feel the movie had had up till that point.

Thematically the movie falls a bit flatter than I thought it would. The progression of the riot and the protest movement feels rushed and is something I wish was more fleshed out. The themes of class consciousness feel a bit more muddled and become even more confusing given the film’s attempt at cutely including actual Batman characters. Like having Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) in the movie is cool, but he feels like a big bad as opposed to some artistic depiction of the character from the comics- so the feeling doesn’t play out as well.

Rating

TLDR: Joker is a beautiful deep dive into the psyche of a broken and battered man. Phoenix’s performance is mesmerizing and the theme is provocative , even if slightly inconsistent, in the questions its asking.

Final Rating: 9.4/10. Joaquin ‘s performance justifies the price of admission by itself. One of the best movies of 2019. If you can handle some painful scenes, buckle up for one of the wildest rides.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: An American Werewolf in London

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John Landis’s horror-comedy, An American Werewolf in London, follows the tale of two backpackers, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Duance) as they travel through England and are subsequently attacked by a werewolf. The rest of the film that follows tracks the characters and their respective responses to the attack. Though comedic, Landis’s story works better is more often scary and tragic.

A lot of the humor works because it feels so “normal” and nonchalant in the absurd circumstances. Characters reveal serious information in very calm ways, which makes them feel like jokes, but the juxtaposition with the seriousness of the situation creates an unsettling feeling in the scenes that only underpins the horror. The sound choice in the movie also helped amplify this feeling and disjuncture. A lot of the songs were werewolf related and up-beat and positive in contrast to the macabre scenes proceeding the same. Often times I’d be laughing, but then feel dread upon thinking of the actual implication of what’s being said.

Furthermore, the special effects in the movie are phenomenal. Rick Baker’s make up work and practical design work makes the werewolf transformation in this movie the scariest and most spectacular I’ve seen- and the movie has now been out for close to 4 decades. It was refreshing to see real makeup instead of an overabundance of CGI.

The atmosphere of the movie, especially in the third act, feels out of step because the comedic and terrifying elements are hard to balance out. It works for the most part, but some of the more serious aspects of the movie felt less so because of the inconsistent tonal transition. This in turn made the end of the movie feel more abrupt to me, but the more I think about it, the more it makes the ending feel somber.

Rating

TLDR: An American Werewolf in London is funny and tragic. For the most part, the comedic bits serve to highlight and drive home the absurdity and make the tragic nature of the situation more amenable. It comes off unevenly at some points, but the film remains enjoyable and gripping till the end.

Final Rating: 8.7/10. If you enjoy irony, comedic juxtaposition, or enjoy great visual effects design I’d check this flick out. It was surprisingly to the point and emotionally resonant.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!