Saturday, December 26, 2015

Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens (2015) review



    The Force Awakens is a film worth the hype built for it. The thrilling action keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, almost making up for the ambiguous backseat given to more specific detail of story. The film is in no way bad, but lacking, if not even separate from, the same spirit of the previous original Star Wars films. The Force Awakens feels more like its own film than an addition to the franchise, recapturing as much of the previous magic as it could through sly references and familiar faces.

PLOT: Without going into too much detail, the plot and story revolve around the First Order (a. k. a. The Empire) searching for BB-8, a droid with the map to the hiding place of legendary hero and Jedi Luke Skywalker. The Resistance (a. k. a. The Rebel Alliance) is the only group of opposition aside from the modern new hope, a scavenger named Ren (Daisy Ridley) and a rebel stormtrooper nicknamed Fin (John Boyega). However, with a new hope comes a new evil: a power-hungry Sith named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), whose primarily in charge of the new First Order. This is as far as I'll go to prevent spoilers for the desperate fans. The plot's actual story was well intended, but not very well thought out. I was left with so many questions as so many aspects of background development were missing. The audience, like in most Hollywood action films, is dropped in a situation they know nothing about and are expected to pick out the main characters and guess their motives and backstories. The audience is delivered with little character development and explanation, even with the opening credits recapping past events. No one knows or seems to want to explain why things have become the way they are. However, if one neglects the finer details of the story-line and focuses more on the plot's execution (a. k. a. the action and comedy), one will have a more thrilling time indeed. The plot's execution is stellar, with nail-biting action keeping the audience awake and ready for anything and clever references to the previous films keeping the nostalgic viewers laughing. Though lacking in a developing story, the plot finds its saving grace in its enthralling action and well-spread references.

ACTING: The performances in this film are pretty stellar. One aspect where there is little room to be picky in is the casting and performances. The newer lead roles of Daisy Ridley as the intelligent scavenger, Rey, John Boyega as rebel stormtrooper, Fin, and Adam Driver as the evil Sith, Kylo Ren are excellent. Each puts a piece of his or her own self into the role, which is clearly evident by the real, quirky, natural, and serious dispositions of the film's characters. Other shining members of the new cast were Andy Serkis as First Order Supreme Leader Snoke, Oscar Isaac as rebel pilot, Po Dameron, and Domhnall Gleeson as the First Order's chief-in-command, General Hux. Each of these actors portrayed their new roles just as excellently as the main characters. Another positive thing about the cast is the cameos of some of the classic cast, including (SPOILER WARNING) Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa, Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, and a very brief Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker. The old cast feels like a sight for sore eyes, knitting themselves snug into the story just as if they never left, especially Ford and Fisher, who seem just as playful and loving as in the original trilogy.

SCORE: The score is just as memorable and classic as in the original films, done by none other that the great composer, John Williams. Williams, being a veteran of the Star Wars franchise, weaves a score so perfectly preserved and high-energy that even the most skeptic fans tilt their ear to the sound and smile.

EFFECTS: The special effects are definitely well done. One thing I appreciate about this film in relation to other action and sci-fi films of its time is not strictly using computer graphics for all its visual effects. Aside from the explosions, space fights, and wild creatures, most effects are done with make-up and costume design. The more intelligent aliens look real and just as tangible as they did in the days of the original trilogy. In attempting to preserve the classic film feeling, the directors did right with the special effects.

OTHER CONTENT: The Force Awakens is all a casual film-goer could ask for: nonstop action, clever references, and enough tragedy in the story to drive it. However, this film isn't a hundred percent what the true Star Wars fans could ask for. We have plenty of action, wit, and hype, but it falls not only in the story as I mentioned earlier, but in its structure and intent. The Force Awakens is so caught up in the Hollywood hype that it follows its typical formula: a thrill ride of action with little droplets of story leaking through so the watcher actually comprehends what's going on. The film tries so hard to reconnect with the past movie magic of the original trilogy that it almost falls flat in trying. In fact, the film feels like its own separate entity. In trying to reconnect with sentimentalists of the franchise's magic, the film's makers and writers distance the film so that it feels more different than even the prequels. There are many familiar faces and clever references in the film, but it almost feels self-satirizing, as if this weren't another chapter to the famous franchise but its own spin-off. Even in the film's imagery, showing the classic craft and characters old and dust-covered just symbolizes how this is an entirely new entity. Now don't judge me wrong, the film is nowhere near bad. To increase the emphasis on this point, I'm going to repeat again THE FILM IS NOWHERE NEAR BAD. The driving action, new additions, and clever references are still a breath of fresh air into a franchise once dead. The film isn't all the true Star Wars fan could want, but its just enough for us to be satisfied in our complex fandom. Who really knows though? This could just be the A New Hope to another Empire Strikes Back, which would clarify all we need to know in grave detail.

     Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens is definitely worth the hype, but nothing too much more than that. If one goes for nail-biting action, clever references to the old films, and a simply nostalgic breath of life into the series, one would be greatly satisfied. However, for the picky Star Wars fan, this seems like a tad over subpar to the movie magic in the original trilogy. The character development and inner story is greatly lacking, leaving several questions of why and how and losing them in the monotonous formula for a blockbuster Hollywood film. The new Star Wars is not bad at all. In fact, it's super stellar. The force is with this one, though it is but a padawan, having much to learn.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

It's a Wonderful Life (1946) review


     More than just a charming holiday classic, It's A Wonderful Life teaches one of the most valuable lessons of life in a distinct, warm way, making it likable for everyone. There's enough feel-good moments to satisfy the casual moviegoer and enough dark moments of realism to satisfy the analytical critic. Perfectly-done performances and solid direction make the film as truly wonderful and effective as it wants to be. 

PLOT: George Bailey (James Stewart) has had a major impact in his friend's and family's lives though he doesn't realize it. From saving his little brother's life and a drugstore manager's job to managing the money and housing of several locals including his family, George has left a major impact on the town in which he lives. In fact, his family business, the Bailey Building and Loan is the only one with enough honor to run independently from greedy businessman, Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore). However, George has a a bad day on Christmas Eve when his Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) loses his business' money for the bank examiner and gets the business in trouble with the law. George, after lashing out on his family and getting in a fight at the bar, debates throwing himself off a bridge, prompting his guardian angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), to travel to Earth to save him. After the two begin talking, George says he wishes he would've never been born, which Clarence makes a reality to prove to George that he's had a major impact on his society. Now, George must navigate this alternate world and realize his worth under the guidance of his angel, Clarence, yearning to earn his wings through this task. The plot is very well done with just enough charm and with to balance out. There's an ample balance of everything in this film. There's enough moments of uplifting Christmas charm to match the moments of serious reality when George debates his existence. The film proves to be just as much a holiday film as a basic fundamental lesson for a good life. 

ACTING: The performances in this film are very excellent for their time. James Stewart steals the show as the main character, George Bailey. Stewart plays the role as natural as if he were living it, making it as iconic as it is fitting. Other great performances came from Lionel Barrymore as greedy Mr. Potter, Thomas Mitchell as forgetful Uncle Billy, Henry Travers as Clarence the angel, and especially Donna Reed as George's wife, Mary. The two had a very visible chemistry in the film, setting the standard for cinematic romance with memorable dialogue and charm, as well. 

SCORE: The memorable score done by obscure, foreign composer Dimitri Tiomkin, is quite warm and elegant, like that of most cinema in its time. However, the film does bear a fairly memorable end scene with a simple rendition of "Auld Lang Syne". 

OTHER CONTENT: During this time, this film was probably peaceful message to everyone, giving off the Christmas spirit most had yearned for. It's A Wonderful Life is just what it wishes to be: wonderful. Even though it gets dark at times, it finishes with a feel-good feeling outdoing any other Christmas film to come. The film is its own Christmas Carol, molding the dark to make the light, which is what the holiday feeling is anyhow: being light in times of dark. 

     It's A Wonderful Life is a must-see holiday film for audiences of all ages. There's enough Christmas charm for the sentimentalists, enough dark seriousness for the more critical, and enough meaning for the skeptics. The film presents a perfect balance of all cinematic elements, letting it become just as effective a stand-alone film as a Christmas film, which is what is truly wonderful in the end. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) review [Revisited]


     One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a fantastic film by itself with brilliant performances, script, and film-making. However, in comparison to its source material, it falls a tad flat and unreliable, We lose so many key elements of the theme in the onscreen transition, but gain clarification for the more underlying ones.

PLOT: Randall P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is transferred from a prison work farm to a mental institution after the authorities determine him potentially insane. The asylum, led by the all-powerful Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), takes McMurphy in for an observation period in which he decides to attempt to turn everything upside down and take over. From day one in the asylum, McMurphy tries to manipulate the patients and get under the Nurse's skin. McMurphy tries to prove his insanity, by doing things such as imagining the World Series and teaching the deaf Chief Bromden (Will Sampson) to play basketball. From here on, it's a straight battle between McMurphy and the Nurse as well as between thought control and mental liberation. The plot, just as in the novel, is excellently crafted and well-thought out. The film adds its own twists on a few things, neglecting ones from the book, but nevertheless clarifying a few things the audience may have missed in reading the novel.

ACTING: All of the performances in this film are brilliant and well-worthy of their recognition. The great Jack Nicholson acts in what may be his best role in comparison to The Shining in the eighties. Through his portrayal, the audience is led to believe that no one could have done it any better. Nobody could have been as loud, proud and insane in such a way as he was in this film. Louise Fletcher also did a fantastic job, responding to Nicholson's character accurately as possible. She probably fits the novel's portrayal of her more accurately than Nicholson as McMurphy. Other key performances in this film would include early roles from acting legends Christopher Lloyd as tough-guy Taber and Danny DeVito as the disconnected Martini. Other great performances include Scatman Crothers as nurse's aide Turkle, Syndey Lassick as anxious Charlie Cheswick, William Redfield as the wise Mr. Harding, Will Sampson as Chief Bromden, and (introducing) Brad Dourif as Billy Bibbit. This film for the most part felt like a huge character study with all of these personalities poured into a huge melting pot for the audience to kind of take in and study. Learning how each character reacts is probably the best part of the film.

SCORE: The score was also professionally done by master composer, Jack Nitzsche. The main theme occurring at the beginning and the end of the film is probably one of the most, unique, fitting, and memorable pieces of composition ever made for film. It's truly a beautiful piece, as is the rest of the score by Nitzsche.

OTHER CONTENT: This film can definitely stand on its own without the novel, for the two sources almost feel like very different pieces of artwork when compared. So much is lost in the transition from page-to-film, such as the Chief's all-seeing narration, some of the novel's risky signals of theme, and ample explanation for certain key events in the plot. However, the film gains clarification for irony's role in the source and how each of these crazy characters function under the Nurse's rule. One can clearly see the transition within the patients and how the ones actually committed and not voluntary seem to be the most sane. Both the film and the novel are equally as powerful, but the novel just has so much to offer in substance. The film just makes up for it in form.

     One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is as strong a film as it was a novel. Each has its own set of similarities and differences, but each works with what it sets up excellently. Through every character, word, and shot of this film, we are introduced to a story that means so much more than is revealed. In the transition, one could even say pertaining to both compositions, one flew east and one flew west. But indeed, one definitely flew over the cuckoo's nest.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Office Space (1999) review


     Comedic icon, Mike Judge, makes his directorial debut in Office Space, a workplace satire as true and razor-sharp as his previous animated projects. The movie, though full of great performances and an attention-catching plot, falls at times with Judge's typical hit-and-miss jokes and an overall feeling of underachievement. So much more could have been done with what the audience was provided with.

PLOT: Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) lives a fairly normal life working in an office in the city. Every day has grown to seem the same to Peter, even with the constant reprimands his many bosses give him. One day after being hypnotized by a psychiatrist, Peter has a revelation and realizes that he no longer wants work to rule his life. Peter begins to miss days of work and barely work at all while on the job, but they don't fire him. In fact, in an employee evaluation, they promote him as to "provide him an incentive." Peter doesn't mind this at first until he finds out the big bosses will be laying off his two friends, non-singer Michael Bolton (David Herman) and foreign Samir Nagheenanajar (Ajay Naidu). In rebellion towards the company, the three come up with a clever scheme to unknowingly steal money from company funds. However, things go wrong and the team must figure out how to cover up their tracks. The plot idea is very clever and executed in a sharp and clean-cut way. Everything is done in a smooth and smart way. However, as far as the humor goes, the jokes are hit-and-miss. Director Mike Judge does what he has done in his previous animated shows (Beavis and Butt-Head, King of the Hill), which is making sly satirical jokes that don't always work. The movie, nevertheless, is still an intelligent comedy with some extremely memorable quotes and characters.

ACTING: The performances in this movie were actually really great. Some of the characters portrayed engrave their infamous lines and personalities on the audience in such a memorable way. Rob Livingson, Gary Cole (Lumbergh, Peter's boss), and Stephen Root (Milton, the stapler guy) all play their consecutive roles in an extremely unique, memorable, and funny way. Aside from these poster faces, the rest of the cast did great as well. Jennifer Aniston (Joanna, Peter's girlfriend), Diedrich Bader (Lawrence, Peter's neighbor), and John C. McGinly (Bob Slydell, one of the company's big bosses) also all played stand-out roles in which each's dialogue and characters shine.

SCORE: The soundtrack is mainly made up of rap songs from around the time period, such as "Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta" and "Still" from the Geto Boys as well as other hits from rappers like Ice Cube and Scarface. If one doesn't like rap, the soundtrack won't intrigue that person. However, the soundtrack does have an effect on the movie, making every major scene more ironically hilarious.

OTHER CONTENT: Office Space makes itself known as an intelligent and amazingly memorable, but suffers from both its hit-and-miss humor and the overall feeling that everything starts to rush. After the basic plot and conflict are set up, the action just seems to fall too fast. It takes half the movie to set up the plot and conflict, so the movie overall feels short and underdone or like more could have been done with it. It almost feels like the writers ran out of ideas midway through the movie and just rushed to end it. The movie is still a classic, memorable comedy, but definitely not short of problematic.

     Mike Judge delivers to the audience another sharp comedy with hit-and-miss humor, but in an iconic movie form rather than in another animated series. Office Space is very smart and memorable addition to the list of most-quoted comedies. The movie is very good. However,if  it didn't feel so underdone and laden with the typical hit-and-miss humor, that'd be great.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Rabbit Hole (2010) review


     Rabbit Hole boasts an accurate portrayal of the harshness of reality and a talented set of performers able to get this point across. This film studying the aftermath of child loss is emotionally powerful yet a tad underdeveloped, lacking strong character development and a cogent beginning.

PLOT: Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) lost their toddler-age son eight months ago in a car crash, and each is learning to cope with it and move on. Becca is fully committed to putting all of this behind her, but Howie is still holding on to the past more than he should. Though the couple goes to a community-led recovery group every week, neither of them seems to truly recover. To cope, Becca starts meeting and making amends with the teenage driver of the car, Jason (Miles Teller), and Howie starts to smoke pot with Gabby (Sandra Oh) from the recovery group in lieu of going to the actual recovery group. As their marriage and life fall apart, Becca and Howie must learn how to get past the sadness and move on. The plot isn't the most complicated but definitely not lacking excellence. The plot is executed in such a way that with every twist and turn, the audience can feel what the character feels. When one breaks down, we feel it too. When something embarrassing happens, we feel just as embarrassed as the characters in the audience. When things finally come back together, we feel just as relieved as Becca and Howie do. Director John Cameron Mitchell does an excellent job in crafting a film full of emotion.

ACTING: The performances in this film are very well done, with Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart stealing the show. Kidman and Eckhart play off each other almost perfectly. Though not the most picturesque couple, the two truly make us believe they were married and in this situation. So much power is expressed through the many memorable scenes just the two of them share. Aside from the main two, Sandra Oh, Miles Teller, and also Dianne Wiest (Becca's mother) and Tammy Blanchard (Beccas sister, Izzy) also did excellent jobs with their parts. Wiest would definitely have to be the the next best after Kidman and Eckhart, putting almost as much emotion into her part as the two leads combined do.

SCORE: The score behind Rabbit Hole is very soft and beautiful. Composer Anton Sanko, who now composes score for modern horror movies (The Possession, Ouija), is presenting what may be his best work yet. Through a a soft-and-simple yet quirky tone, he fits the mood of the film just right.

OTHER CONTENT: Rabbit Hole is overall an intelligent piece of work that leaves a severe emotional impact, but it suffers from a sense of under-development. The film doesn't really have a clear beginning or rising action. In fact, the film feels more like a strict character study than a film at all in some ways. The audience is so focused in on the main characters that they don't notice the fact that the plot seems to drag on until the couple's first fight. It's almost as if the viewer's hit by surprise when the scene comes around. I also believe the film suffers from a lack of backstory; all the audience really knows prior to this situation is that the couple's son is dead. The audience isn't given any information prior to this event but a short home video. I also don't feel like the writer of the screenplay got across the connection between the film's plot and title very well. It's understandable, but the audience doesn't ever know for sure. Maybe the writer crafted all of these flaws within intentionally, but this does not come without a cost.

     Rabbit Hole is a very curious and confusing film. The film packs a punch of painful emotion that everyone is able to feel, but it still feels under-developed. It seems a bit more like an unfinished character study, and it almost works. The performances and direction is truly what leads this film out of the rabbit hole and into the light.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Forrest Gump (1994) review


     Forrest Gump falls nothing short of the classic it wants to be. With an iconic performance by Tom Hanks, a story full of history, and an inspiring message behind it all, this film lives on as one of the most popular of its time and well-deserving of its many Academy Awards.

PLOT: Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) is a simple man from Alabama with a small IQ and a big heart. Since he was little, Forrest had always dealt with problems from bullies to his scoliosis. However, things start to change for Forrest when he meets a young girl named Jenny (Robin Wright) and becomes best friends with her. Their relationship grows strong throughout history and the many events Forrest attends, but both eventually go their own ways. Forrest joins the military where he meets shrimp-enthusiast Bubba (Mykelti Williamson) and harsh Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise), whereas Jenny joins the hippie movement and travels the country freely. Throughout their time apart, each starts to realize how much they care for each other. For the rest of the film, we're guided through Forrest's life and roles in history as he goes with his intuition and realizes he eventually has to stop running. The plot is very well written and executed. All of Forrest's roles in important historical events make this feel both like lesson and a treat for history enthusiasts. Seeing how everything is connected and tied back to the meaning is simply amazing to watch.

ACTING: All of the performances in this film are perfect. Every performer acts to fit his or her character in such an accurate way. I couldn't picture anyone else playing any other character in this film, especially with Tom Hanks in his iconic role of the titular character, Forrest Gump. Tom Hanks almost acts as if he had really been Forrest his whole life. No role could have said any of his iconic lines better. Robin Wright, Mykelti Williamson, and Gary Sinise all played their roles just as excellently. Every performer in this film is fully-deserving of respect after each's consecutive roles in this film.

SCORE: The score for Forrest Gump is just as inspirational and uplifting as the overall film is. Talented composer Alan Silvestri takes the reigns in writing the background score for the film and does so in a simplistically fitting way. The soundtrack is also one of the best soundtracks in film history, with each addition fitting the decade it arose from in the film. From classics like "Hound Dog" from Elvis and "Can't Help Myself" from The Four Tops to classic rock hits like "Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival and "For What It's Worth" by Buffalo Springfield, Forrest Gump's soundtrack feels much like radio station made only for the classic rock generation.

EFFECTS: There aren't many special effects to focus on in Forrest Gump aside from the Vietnam sequences. The explosions are very realistically done with an impressive "wow" factor upon first viewing. Everything done effect wise in the Vietnam sequence is amazing. They aren't the best, but they definitely succeed in the entertainment factor.

OTHER CONTENT: Forrest Gump is truly a film with both a brain and a heart behind it. Through the many inclusions of the simple-minded titular character in history, the film slyly teaches a lesson on how no matter how small someone thinks he or she is, he or she has probably made a huge impact on one's life. Prestigious director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Cast Away, Romancing the Stone) shows his skills in making the film with a clean, unique understanding of  the points he wants to get across. This is also evident from the symbolic focus on the feather, which stands for the ups and downs life can take a person through. Everything in this film, from the screenplay to the specific script is well-crafted and aimed for cogent perfection.

     Forrest Gump is an iconic, memorable film for obvious reasons. There isn't a question about why it became as popular and award-winning as it did. Perfect performances, solid direction, a great soundtrack, and a clear expression of meaning lead this film into a sort of safe zone. Almost everyone enjoys it and can relate to it, critics and the general public alike. I'm not saying people can't hate the film, but if one looks at the big picture, one can't help but to enjoy it. Forrest Gump itself is like a "box of chocolates"; when watching it, you never know what you can get out of it.

Friday, November 6, 2015

American Beauty (1999) review [Revisited]


     American Beauty still remains to be one of the most thoughtful, controversial, and brilliantly executed films of all film history. After multiple views, the inner meaning and surreal approach to conveying this meaning become more cogent and true to real life's dysfunctions. Through the expert performances, intelligent script-writing, and visionary direction by Sam Mendes, American Beauty becomes as overwhelmingly beautiful as it seeks to be.

PLOT: Middle-aged man, Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), is stuck in a rut in life. He's gotten in the same routine of fighting to keep the job he hates, being pushed around by his striving-for-success wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), and being hated by his angst-y teenage daughter, Jane (Thora Birch). Things change when Lester attends a high school basketball game to see Jane cheer and falls for Jane's preppy best friend, Angela (Mena Suvari). Lester vicariously begins to recapture his youth by fantasizing about Angela before starting to physically and mentally change his life. He quits his job, starts smoking pot, starts to work out, and fights against his wife's bossy attitude. Meanwhile, Jane starts to unknowingly fall for the new neighbor, Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley), who has an eye for the beauty in life and loves to film it. Ricky also starts selling pot to Lester against the wishes of Ricky's militaristic father, Colonel Fitts (Chris Cooper), who is led to believe his son performs homosexual acts for cash. Carolyn, during all of this as well, begins to have an affair with a past lover (Peter Gallagher) as to restore her lost backbone. The plot is very bizarre, intricate, and executed professionally. Every event in this film fits together like a piece of a very beautiful, complicated puzzle. Through this execution, it becomes evident how much intelligent development was put into the overall composition of the film. Just a in a well-crafted novel, everything is developed intentionally.

ACTING: The performances in this film are all done excellently and accurately, with the actors matching their roles perfectly. Both Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening deliver iconic and believable performances of a couple who's marriage is quickly falling apart. As both characters grow in the film,  the audience feels that the struggles are as real to the actors as they are in the film. Thora Birch and Wes Bentley also deliver a realistic performance as the angst-y teen and visionary outcast. The two bring a unique approach to the idea of a real teenage couple. All performances in this film are excellent; not one falls short of respect.

SCORE: The score is very unique and quirky by awesome score composer, Thomas Newman. The score only adds to the film's feeling of being surrealistically beautiful. The soundtrack is just as memorable and fitting as the score, adding classic rock poster songs like “The Seeker” and “American Woman” and interesting covers from Annie Lennox (“Don't Let It Bring You Down”) and Elliot Smith (“Because”).

OTHER CONTENT: Everything about this is film is intelligent and beautiful in its own imperfect way. Even with this being his first film, it's clear that director Sam Mendes knew what he was doing in making American Beauty. Through clean, expertly-filmed shots, his vision for this film is shown as well as the meaning. American Beauty serves its purpose as being what it's title declares, an American beauty. We are led through the story of the typical american attitudes in each character, conveyed by the presence of Lester's mid-life crisis and the lifestyles of the dysfunctional families (Burnham and Fitts). The beauty in the world is the imperfections we see, and that's what I perceive Mendes was trying to convey. As said in the script, just as intelligent as the film: ". . . it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life."

     Sam Mendes' first work still feels like just as much a masterpiece as he intended to be when he made it in 1999. American Beauty conveys beautiful America just as real as it can be, with realistic  situations all connected as to prove this common point. Through expert performances, quirky score, intelligent scriptwriting, and visionary direction, this film remains true to at the very least one thing: its imperfect beauty.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

My Favorite Movies for the Halloween Season


Hello, fellow film critics and movie lovers! To celebrate the time of the season, I've decided to discuss some of my favorite movies to watch during the Halloween season. Some may be your typical choices, but others may come off as an obscure or even pleasant surprise. Ranging from stellar horror films to fun-filled goofy movies, here are my favorite films for the Halloween season.

Trick'r Treat (2007)

This horror film is the epitome of terror for the Halloween season. The movie tells a tale of one particular Halloween night in which a series of spooky events occur. From a tale of zombie schoolkids coming back from the dead to a virgin werewolf's first night out to kill, this festive film commemorates the holiday very well and remains one of the best horror films in recent years. It's a real treat laden with tricks!

Creepshow (1982)

Metaphorically, it's the precursor for Trick'r Treat. Creepshow started the idea of mini-episodes presented in a pulpy manner. This film, patterned with a talented cast of stars, is as humorous as it is terrifying. With an even balance of camp and stylish horror, this horror classic from George A. Romero and Stephen King suits the season and its creepy tone very well.

When Good Ghouls Go Bad (2001)

Now this one is a surprise to the unsuspecting reader that expects only the true horror and Halloween-themed classic. This obscure family Halloween film stars Christopher Lloyd as the main character's undead grandfather back by means of breaking a curse over the town forcing them to never celebrate Halloween. The movie, though not really scary or clever, is a lot of fun and filled with a ton of positive spirit for the holiday. Halloween is refreshed, restored, and glorified, showing its importance and true meaning with excellent storytelling and dialogue. This is one of my favorite Halloween films for its optimistic look at the holiday, which really does hit home for me.

Ernest Scared Stupid (1991)

To stray away from movies with meaning, I simply enjoy this one for its simplicity. There isn't much of a meaningful purpose behind this movie; it only makes me laugh. I've watched it ever since I was really little, and I still enjoy watching Ernest run around like a babbling idiot (as usual). It's a lot of crazy fun and, though not an expertly made film, is still a Halloween treat.

Halloween (1978)

This one doesn't take too much thinking to figure out. The iconic theme song, thick suspense, and excellent film-making make this film a staple for the holiday and its horror-marathoning fans.

The Evil Dead series (1981 - 1987)

Excluding Army of Darkness, the Evil Dead series lays out a perfect horror scenario and cleans house with a campy, bizarre bloodbath, both terrifying and entertaining the masses. At times, the movies are shot just well enough to induce nightmares, even in their low-budget simplicity. At other times, the dialogue and turn of events just gets so ridiculous that it's downright hilarious. The films feel like a horror funhouse. They're both a thrill and a laugh at the same time!

Boo (2005)

Now, this one is another obscure and subordinate Halloween movie in the eyes of the public. This horror takes place on Halloween when a group of teenagers break into an abandoned mental hospital that's claimed to be haunted. One by one, these teenagers become possessed and start fighting each other and "melting" at death. The movie is in no way the best, but it's still an interesting watch. It's much like an old movie from Sci-Fi; good for low quality expectations.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Firstly, this movie is NOT a Christmas movie! It's clearly a Halloween film. It starts on Halloween with Halloween characters and ends on Halloween. The film from the creative mind of Tim Burton has been known to bend its holiday intentions, but this is my argument. The movie has a memorable soundtrack with realistic themes and precise stop-motion animation. Since the very beginning of my life, this film has been a staple to my Halloween season marathon.

The Corpse Bride (2005)

Subsequently, this film is just as good and fitting for the season. With a gothic feel and haunting film-making, Burton creates another beautiful stop-motion creation. The whole concept of the undead and their world serves as ample evidence of a fun Halloween flick.

R. L. Stine's The Haunting Hour: Don't Think About It (2006)

Probably the most juvenile of the picks on my list, this movie makes the cut for its creepy atmosphere and impressive concept idea. The idea of a horrifying monster that comes to life and comes after you once you think about it is truly creative and a clever premise. With the writer's reigns being held by Goosebumps writer, R. L. Stine, the movie is bound to have an ample amount of scares and awesome plot twists for its target tween age group. I still watch this today for the memories it brings back and for recognition of its truly unique concept.

Hocus Pocus (1993)

You knew, if you've read any Halloween movie list or TV guide, that Hocus Pocus was going to make this list. The Halloween family classic is a notorious pick for all Halloween movie junkies to watch every season. Much like Halloween, this movie doesn't take much discussion to figure out why it's in my top Halloween list.

Well, fellow readers, you have reached the end of my list. Any surprises or was everything nice and predictable? These movies are all close to me for several different reasons whether it be content or childhood memory, and I try to watch them every Halloween season to celebrate. Maybe some of my picks are the same as yours. I hope each and every one of you have a safe, satisfying, and Happy Halloween! Thanks for reading my list!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989) review


   This is perhaps the strangest and weirdest addition to the famous horror franchise. A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child is a mix of hit-and-miss performances, terrible effects, and a weird, overly-cheesy tone. It was as if the filmmakers decided to make a fan film rather than an actual installment.

PLOT: Alice (Lisa Wilcox) has been living her life peacefully with a loving boyfriend, Dan (Danny Hassel), and also has a baby on the way. Until recently, notorious nightmare-killer, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) had been destroyed and cut off from the real world. However, Krueger eventually finds a new way, using her baby's dreams to access the real world and kill more teenagers. Even worse, Krueger is "feeding" these souls to Alice's baby in the womb, brainwashing him to be Krueger's apprentice. Krueger has a more obvious weak spot this time, as he's afraid of his mother, Sister Amanda Krueger (Beatrice Boepple), who appears in the nightmares as well. Sister Krueger wants to capture her son back and keep him from killing anyone else. Somehow, Alice has to get Krueger away from her kid and quite possibly in the hands of Sister Krueger. The plot in itself is preposterous and executed in an illegible, illogical (at least in terms of the series) way. I'm starting to think the series should have ended with the previous installment. Because of this execution, nothing can even be taken seriously, for one would just laugh and queston how any of this makes any sense at all.

ACTING: The performances in this strange installment were mainly hit-and-miss, with Englund and Wilcox being the lead performances. They both did decent job, but in truth, all performances were rather messed up due to an awkward, unfunny script. Most people laughed at Krueger's cheesy kill jokes in the previous movies; however, the script is so bad in this addition that Krueger's lines couldn't even inspire a chuckle. A couple of other performances were decent, including Nick Mele as Dennis Johnson and Danny Hassel as Dan. They weren't exceptional, but definitely tolerable.

SCORE: The score in this one is way over-dramatic and unnecessary. It makes the movie feel like it's taking itself way too serious.

EFFECTS: The special effects in this movie, for the most part, were complete garbage. Everything looked goofy, fake, and just plain embarrassing for any horror movie in general to have. The only effects that were fairly decent would be the few claymation and digital effects. They were cool, but buried beneath the stinking heap of effects preceded by them. If you laugh at anything in this movie, laugh at how bad the effects are.

OTHER CONTENT: Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child is just a strange, unnecessary installment to a franchise that would have been better left alone. Everything feels weird, preposterous, and exhausted, as no variety is added to the franchise. If Krueger even fails to satisfy, the movie shouldn't have existed. The only emotions one could leave this movie with are embarrassment and confusion, for that's what this attempt at a horror movie is: a confusing embarrassment.

   A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child should not exist. There was no reason to make the movie except the possibility of making money off of trash. Terrible script, goofy special effects, and a preposterous plot pull this movie down to the bottom of the barrel. I suggest if anyone's a Freddy fan, skip this installment. None of it is even necessary.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) review


   In almost every major horror franchise or series there's a singular film within that certain series that is neither really bad nor really good. For the Freddy films, A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master fits this description. The movie's performances and overall quality falls, but not too far, as Freddy's nightmares are more fun-to-watch than they've been thus far. The scare factor isn't totally lost, but it is barely there as compared to the previous films that were actually good.

PLOT: Taking place several years after the last movie, Kristen (Tuesday Knight), now released from the mental facility, has been having reoccurring nightmares where she finds herself in Freddy's house, but with no signs of life. Kristen still pulls her old friends, Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) and Joey (Rodney Eastman), who are also out of the institution, into her dreams. They begin the get annoyed with this and try to reassure her that Freddy's dead for good. However, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is resurrected and begins to appear in the Elm Street teens dreams. Freddy has grown more powerful than ever, killing the original Elm Street kids. However, before she passes, Kristen makes a friend from class named Alice (Lisa Wilcox), whom she pulls into her dream and gives her "dream powers" to after Freddy kills her. Now, when Alice dreams of Freddy, she pulls a classmate in by accident and gains the skill of whatever that person was good at when Freddy kills them. Alice alone is the only person who can stop Freddy from taking the lives of the innocent teens on Elm Street. The plot is very well thought out, but relatively flat. After the old Elm Street kids are killed (which is early on in the movie), not much changes. In fact, the plot is forgotten and rushed into a kind of way where there's a nightmare/kill every ten minutes. The movie is mainly made up of kills with a premise but nothing else. The plot is trashed for stylistic killing.

ACTING: The performances in the movie aren't the best but aren't the worst either. Englund, Sagoes, and Eastman come back to reprise their roles, which they do fine job of. In this addition, Freddy is seen more throughout the movie and more of his character is shown, displaying for the audience how clever and sadistic Krueger can be. Switching out Patrica Arquette for Tuesday Knight was an overall bad choice, for she didn't give off the same effect as Arquette in the role. However, she wasn't the worst person they could've chosen.The only newer performance that was worth any significance was Lisa Wilcox as Alice. She was definitely a good person to give the lead role to, as she didn't show it any dishonor or cruelty. None of the other performances are really good or worth remembering. The rest of the cast just played their roles and fairly flatly.

SCORE: The score in this addition is creepier and more prevalent, led by lesser-known Craig Safan, who went on to score more movies. This nightmare also, like its predecessor, had a few original songs. However, they weren't as good or memorable as those in Nightmare 3.

EFFECTS: The special effects are pretty well done overall in this Freddy movie. The effects aren't the very best, but they definitely are quite remarkable. A gruesome roach transformation, a soul-sucking kiss, and even a peek inside of Freddy's collection of souls make this movie feel like an underrated special effects marvel. Though reeking of B-movie madness, the effects do their job well.

OTHER CONTENT: A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master is neither a dramatic fall or triumphant rise from its predecessor. In fact, you could say this one was made strictly to entertain without completely sucking it up. This idea is evident in adding more scenes with Krueger and speeding up the kill frequency. The movie does feel like it was made in a hurry, but it doesn't deter it from being any less entertaining. The blood flows freely and the audience is left to laugh at or uncomfortably watch Freddy's many antics and stylish kills. This one was purely made for entertainment and giving the general audience what they want: more Fred and more violence.

   A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master is truly an underrated B-movie as compared to the series; it's actually entertaining but nothing to take seriously in any way, form, or fashion. The performances and plot (or lack thereof) failed, but the entertaining antics of Krueger and his stylized torture is enough to numb a horror fan's mind and entertain the masses.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) review


   Indeed an improvement from its predecessor but not topping the first, A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors revives the franchise from the death it was previously put in. Improved performances, cooler special effects, and an even balance between hilarity and terror earn this addition respect within the franchise.

PLOT: Once again on Elm Street, infamous nightmare serial killer, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), is terrorizing the teens that reside in the area. He tricks young, misunderstood teen, Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) into slitting her wrists resulting in her admission to the local youth  mental hospital. Within the institution, she meets several problematic teens with the same common problem as her: Freddy Krueger coming to kill in their dreams. The problem has hopes to be remedied, though, when older Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) becomes the secretary at the hospital and ways to help remedy the teens worries with their nightmares. However, Freddy seems to be getting more and more powerful as he takes the lives from the last of these Elm Street children. He gets harder to beat, and harder to try and conquer as the chief staff in the hospital disagree with Nancy and allied Dr. Neil Gordon's (Craig Wasson) methods in helping the tormented teenagers. The plot is very interesting and well executed. Putting Krueger in a mental hospital with a bunch of teenagers is similar to letting a hungry Rottweiler in a house full of cats. It's brutal and entertaining to watch, but expected. The many twists and turns of this plot, also, are very effective and very well done. The story is very much alive in this Nightmare.

ACTING: The performances in this Freddy film are very much improved than in its predecessor. Veteran actors Robert Englund and Heather Langenkamp reprise their roles as Freddy Krueger and Nancy Thompson with a certain chemistry. The two characters approach as age-old enemies though we feel these two have been each others age-old foil, for they both possess similar qualities but are very much the opposite. Langenkamp has even improved from the last one, establishing a character outside of the intense segments. The rest of the performances are excellently done, especially those of Patrica Arquette as Kristen, Ken Sagoes as haunted teen Kincaid, Jennifer Rubin as former junkie Taryn, Bradley Gregg as sleepwalking Phillip, Ira Heiden as paraplegic Will, Laurence Fishburne as orderly Max, and special appearances by John Saxon as Mr. Thompson and Zsa Zsa Gabor as herself. The cast here, though some are young, are very well played. Everyone plays their respective parts as though they had been that character their whole life.

SCORE: The score is very well done and as familiar as the first Freddy score. This soundtrack is different, however, with the addition of two songs ("Into the Fire", "Dream Warriors") by hair metal band Dokken. "Dream Warriors" lives to be a memorable track still, especially around this season.

EFFECTS: The special effects in this one are miles better than its predecessor. The effects are still used for a cheesy type of appeal, but this time they don't look as cheap or crudely made. From the Freddy-snake to Philip's puppet walk to each individual characters death scene (for those who do die), the effects are noticeably better but still used to get a kind of cheesy, B-movie effect.

OTHER CONTENT: The third Nightmare is miles better than its attempt at a predecessor. The story is thicker, along with the performances, and the balance of funny and scary is yet again in place. However, this one just feels funnier than the first, as the kills get increasingly more specific and ridiculous. However, this is not bad. We find ourselves laughing at Freddy, as if he were a clown performing for our entertainment. It is in this Nightmare movie where Freddy starts to feel like less of a serial killer and more of a stylish murderer. Freddy entertains and thrills, inspiring a few devious chuckles from the horror-loving audience it intends to please. Nightmare 3 is definitely a true horror at heart, however. Though Freddy comes out as funny, he still thrills us in this film, as we still think inside of how gruesome each way would be to die.

   Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is definitely the revival of a long-lost franchise. Everything has improved tremendously, from the cast's performance to the special effects. The balance of scare and fun factor is successfully brought back, showing its fun face more often than it ever has. Freddy Krueger is an entertainer for his devoted audience, but a tremor for all of those who take his kills seriously. With a more developed story as well, this flick rises to an enjoyable Freddy feast.