Pacific Rim. Go see it right now!

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Originality is a quality that has been severely lacking the majority of studio releases. It’s a complaint known far and wide by consumers. It feels like everything I get excited to see during the summer months is either a re-make, re-boot or sequel. In the rare occasion that we’re dealing with something that hasn’t been on screen before, it’s almost certain it’s based off another work of fiction. The reason for this is because it’s safe. Studios understand that with bran recognition you’ve at least got a head start on a marketing campaign. Everyone knew what Transformers were before Michael Bay made the extravagantly expensive mediocrity storm that made up the franchise. Thanks to consumer recognition and consumer lust for big screen explosions, he is continuing to make Transformer films that become less and less interesting. I bring up Transformers because the movie I went into the theater expecting Pacific Rim to be similar to it, at least in it’s fight scenes. I have more respect and confidence in Guillermo del Toro, the director of the film, than I have in Michael Bay. If it had been any other director I would have been tempted to wait until DVD. To put it simply, Pacific Rim was the most fun I’ve had in theaters this year, if not the past decade. It was an original story with a superb creative force behind it.

 

The Kaiju, monstrous alien like creatures (think Godzilla like monsters) that enter from a portal at the bottom of the Pacific ocean. To combat their attacks, humanity builds their own monsters. Jaegers are massive fighting robots that are piloted by a pair of soldiers, one controlling the left side, one controlling the right. This works for the first few years of the Kaiju war, however, forces are spread thin as the Kaiju become bigger and stronger. In a last ditch effort to win the war, a group of resistance fighters scrounge up the remaining Jaegers and prepare for a final assault. This is basically giant robots fighting giant aliens. And with all it’s purposeful cliche’s and winks and nods at the monster genre, Pacific Rim is one of a kind.

 

Guillermo del Toro is well known for his visual effects, and watching this movie will tell you exactly why. The creatures that ascend from the depths to destroy humanity are interesting, different and absolutely stunning to look at. They’re obviously organic and their maneuvers when fighting only add to the realism of the absurdity unfolding on screen. Likewise, the Jaegers are completely awesome, del Toro allows himself the freedom of a kid in a candy shop with an unlimited amount of money. But it isn’t just the completely and insanely awesome fighting that makes the movie great, if it was only about that it would be a really cool movie that you could forget about the day after watching it. Instead of cheapening out on the audience and giving us mediocre characters and plot, we’re given characters that we can sympathize with, their emotions run deep enough for us to make a connection with the. Oddly enough, part of the reason we’re capable of making an emotional connection with them on screen is because the two pilots must connect on a neurological and emotional level in order to control the Jaegers. We develop an emotional bond at the same speed that the other characters do with each other. The story is one that’s been told before, but arguably not as clear and not as cheer worthy.

 

 

The cast allows us to read further than the surface of what’s going on within the scope of the film. The movie shows broken fighters striving for survival while the actors relay the emotional and physical toll of the war that’s primarily taken place off screen. Sure, sometimes the people can come off as bit more animated than perhaps would happen in real life, but this movie is essentially the best live action anime film to ever come out. It’s beautifully written and produced to the point that I was grinning from ear to ear during most fight scenes. The score flowed excellently with the onscreen action, action that was intricate in it’s movements and choreography ( if you consider CGI fights choreographed) and ripe with the emotion behind each battle. Guillermo del Toro knows his craft. He knows how to get an audience excited, appealing to the 14 year old inside the audience while never compromising the quality of the story and dialogue.

 

Go see Pacific Rim. Seriously. We don’t get many original pieces of fiction anymore, at least in film on a large scale, and especially not at this caliber. And if you’re thinking about waiting for DVD or blu-ray, don’t. This is one you’re going to want to watch in theaters as loud as possible. It will absorb you into the story and the fights like few other films can. It’s loud, intelligent and an absolute blast. The one thing it is not, at the time of my writing this, is doing fantastic at the box office. Which is a shame, this is what the movies were made for, pure escapism with loud and exciting circumstances of heroism and characters we care about in a scenario and setting that utilizes the giant screen and loud sound systems in the darkened, air conditioned theater. If I can’t convince you, maybe give Ryan Partlow a chance to do so over at his blog.

 

Troll 2

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There are a number of films that are culturally considered the worst of all time.There will never be a definite answer as to which worst film is actually reigning champion. Most list Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space and Manos: The Hands of Fate (Check Shmee for a review of that one) among the top two. Vying for a spot, despite the strong protests of director Claudio Fragasso, is the abominably terrible Troll II. The film is unique in that it’s not actually that bad in terms of being the worst. Undoubtedly, the worst film ever made is probably one made by a group of middle schoolers who have been given a video camera with no instructions on what to do with it. However, in terms of narrative fiction that misses it’s mark entirely, few can contend with this hilariously misunderstood piece of horror history.

 

Troll II is obviously a sequel, however I have never had the privilege to see it’s predecessor. A quick IMDB search shows me a few main differences between the two movies, namely that the first film actually had a troll in it. Instead of trolls, the monstrosities that prey upon the innocent in this film are a group of Goblins who lure a vacationing family to the rural town of Nilbog (a town whose name read backwards is Goblin… they’re tricky little devils!). The young boy that the story centers around sees the ghost of his grandfather, who warns him about the goblins and all their ways. The entire movie is pretty much a fight for survival. The goblins, naturally, want to eat the humans. The catch is that all the goblins are vegetarians; every last one of them. They won’t eat the humans unless they can first transform them into vegetable/human hybrids by way of slipping them a magical potion.

 

countless films have attempted to use stupidity for comic affect, but to no avail. Sometimes, you have to genuinely try to make a decent movie and fail on all levels to achieve comedic gold this pure . I imagine there are writers of sitcoms, film and short stories that try their whole life to come up with a piece of work that is as funny as this movie is but fall short. Everything about Troll II isn’t just bad, but it’s the type of bad that makes you wonder how anyone involved with making this film could have kept a strait face. A poor acting choice in an otherwise good film will make you groan, this however has an entire cast of actors that seem to be pulled straight out of their day jobs (which was kind of the case) at the local grocery store and were told “no, we don’t have time to practice, we have a picture to shoot!” while the lines were fed from off screen. The soundtrack is fantastically terrible, the dialogue is hilarious, and the special effects add to the visual comedy of the would-be horror film. The acting was about as stale as three year old crackers you forgot about in the back of the pantry. most characters are completely devoid of believable emotion, with the exception of the Druid Queen, who pretty much compensates for everyone else by overacting worse than Shatner on a late night talk show. The cherry on top, however, is the situational comedy that each character finds themselves in. Claudio Fragasso created what he intended to be a horror masterpiece, what he created instead was perhaps one of the greatest unintentional comedies ever made.

Tim Burton’s Biography of the Worst Director of all Time: Ed Wood

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It is, unsurprisingly, very easy to be bad at something. Really, anyone can be bad at anything, if they put their mind to it; however it’s something else entirely to be the worst. To be universally recognized as the worst of anything takes something truly special. In Ed Wood Johnny Depp portrays the titular director/writer/actor and his unique experience in dealing with Hollywood and all it’s various forms of monsters. Wood’s cinematic atrocities stemmed from a passion for the craft that he strives to be recognized in. And recognized he certainly was, only it was in ways that he never intended.

 

Ed Wood chronicles the career of Edward D Wood Jr. His meager beginnings as a stage director morphs into a screen debut when he befriends aging horror actor Bela Lugosi and they begin to make pictures together. With a smidgen of star power on his side, Wood continues to take his motley crew through a series of backyard special effects fueled adventures as he discovers and refines his all engrossing passion. The lengths and determination behind Wood are incredible. Single takes, no filming permits and replacing deceased actors mid feature are just a few of the faux pas that he commits. All Edward Wood wanted to do was to make movies, and make them he did, his rapid fire pace when shooting scenes jumps to the screen through Johnny Depp’s charisma. Wood’s motley crew of Hollywood misfits and has-beens become increasingly entertaining through the duration of the film. Cardboard effects bizarre story lines and angora sweaters power the madness of Ed Wood.

 

Tim Burton directed this film, and while his signature visual style is ever present, it doesn’t make it any less attractive to look at. Few people choose to film entirely in black and white, but it was a decision that certainly worked in favor of the film as a whole. Burton, like wood, sees his movie as a big picture, he maintains complete control of the feature and all it’s overarching components. Unlike wood, he is careful to pay attention to the small details as well. Choosing the perfect cast, he matches them with great costumes and set designs that are just as terrible as an Ed Wood biographical film should be. Martin Landau plays Bela Lugosi, he matches the facial expressions and dialogue of the legendary actor excellently, while at the same time delivering a performance that is entirely his own.

 

This is the “follow your heart” message that Disney has been pumping out for years, however where Disney assures you you’ll be good at whatever you aspire to, Ed Wood lets you know that you may just be terrible at it. Burton seems to use this not as a discouraging tactic, but rather as a way to speak the message of the film, which is to do what makes you happy, and pursue it with all you’ve got. Whether that’s a message you can get behind or not, it doesn’t detract from the entertainment or visual value of the film. Burton presents us with a movie that is far different from the majority of his filmography, it is far slower, taking it’s time to allow the themes, characters and emotions to stew and sink in. This is an oft overlooked piece that deserves far more recognition than most of Burton’s recent works. However, his demographic tends to be teens with a slightly darker side, and this may not appeal to them. Burton chose to make a film he wanted to make, and thanks to that we have Ed Wood.

Vampires, Vampires Everywhere: Fright Night and Daybreakers Double Feature

 

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I don’t use the word “trounced” nearly as often as I should, so here goes. The base of vampire lore has been trounced by watered down literary and cinematic iterations of the iconic monsters. It was a process that’s happened over decades and reached it’s peak with the abysmal Twilight series. I understand the desire to use the, purely evil, monsters as sympathetic and mysterious protagonists, it was a concept that was original back in the day but has since become an increasingly common theme. I consider Dracula (the novel) my personal home base on how I view vampires and what rules they should follow (again, it’s a completely personal base, I understand people have complete creative license to display them however they want.) There is something entirely appealing to me in going “back to basics” when a particular genre or device has strayed so far from it’s origins. That’s why I would like to talk about two such movies in recent cinematic history that go back to basics and show that it works extremely well when done correctly. One is a drama the other is comedy, and both are, naturally, horrors.

 

      Fright Night is a 2011 remake of a 1980s horror comedy. The film centers around a high school student in Nevada who comes the conclusion that his new neighbor (Colin Farrell) not only has everything to do with the murders being committed in his community, but that he’s a full fledged vampire to boot. Naturally no one believes him, so he implores the help of Las Vegas magician, Peter Vincent (The 10th Doctor himself; David Tennant), whose entire show centers on him killing vampires (the stage kind, not the real kind). The film boasts an incredibly well cast array of actors to portray their respective roles. In particular Farrell plays a great quintessential vampire, he brings in the seductive nature that has been a real winner for screen vampires over the years, but must abide by all the old rules, including not being able to enter homes without being invited. Tennant also brings his magnificent charm to the film as a grittier, jaded and more crass version of the titular Doctor that he successfully brought back into the lime-lite.

 

Switching gears to Daybreakers, we’re treated to a much darker, almost noir film about vampirism being a disease that, with few exceptions, the entire world has succumbed to. The plague, rather than being a curse, is viewed as the key to eternal youth. Those that become infected become vampires in every sense of the word. They can’t go into the sunlight, they have no reflection and they have an insatiable lust for human blood. Ethan Hawke plays Edward Dalton, one of the few Vampires that regrets his transformation. He works tirelessly to create a synthetic form of blood in order to sustain the population. The world’s supply of human blood is dwindling, with a deficiency of the crucial food source, the populace slowly starts to mutate into horrific monsters with no self control. Those that haven’t been infected find themselves hunted and put into farms where their blood is humanely harvested. The film becomes a race to find a cure when Dalton meets up with a group of rebels led by a man that claims to have been infected but accidentally cured himself.

 

Both films have very different tones, despite sharing such a huge central force. Fright Night allows for plenty of gross out and slapstick humor throughout the whole film, while Daybreakers has very little humor; rather it takes a slick and cool approach, every frame is beautiful and futuristic, giving a glimpse into an evil society that is cutting edge on the surface but rotting from within. Fright Night’s take on the genre offers a single threat to the larger community, conversely Daybreakers is just the opposite. The two are easily grouped together being “vampire movies” but their separate approaches to the story is refreshing to see. However the similarities that they do share is what set them apart from most of the vampire drivel that’s cursed the audience lately.

 

In both movies, the idea of vampires is established as an evil that is forced to abide to certain rules that resonate strongly throughout the history of vampiric lore. Sure, Daybreakers allows room for some sympathy among the Vampires, Dalton doesn’t drink human blood and hates what he’s become, but the majority of the populace has completely turned into near amoral monsters. Though Daybreakers is more dramatic and serious, I can respect Fright Night more for it’s strict guidelines for following those rules. Fright Night gives us a purely evil vampire. His demeanor is closer to that of Edward from Twilight but far better in that he uses his natural ability to attract women purely as a method of obtaining a meal, and he uses his smolder as a form of humor instead of trying to impress the audience. He is smooth and calculating in his ability to gain the trust of his neighbors, and he is ruthless when he turns into his monster self.

 

Rarely do you find two films that are simultaneously incredibly different and incredibly similar. Both have managed to rise above the white noise generated by the vampire sub-genre. They stick true to what literally everyone knows about vampires, while each taking their own creative license to make something original, funny, exciting and interesting. Daybreakers proves itself to be a dark and visually impressive dystopian noir with plenty of blood and gore. Fright Night uses cleaver writing and exciting action sequences to provide a tense and hilarious horror comedy. Their respective world building allows the viewer to experience a vastly different array of emotions, which is a large part of why these movies stand out. It’s not that we necessarily needed to have more vampire movies pumped into the over saturated market, it’s that it is refreshing to see them done, not only right, but well.

 

“Hitchcock” and 1 year Giveaway! *CLOSED*

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Alfred Hitchcock’s reign as the master of suspense is, to this day, uncontested. He is an icon to an industry comprised of icons.  The films he created became a standard for which very few have been able to meet, in particular, Psycho stands out as his most gruesome and shocking picture; and it almost wasn’t made. No one was excited about the prospect of funding a film based on the events surrounding the infamous killer Ed Gein. So, he funded it himself. 2012s Hitchcock is the story of the iconic director and his crusade to make the film that no one wanted to watch. The progression of events leading up to the release of Psycho blossoms on screen with suspense, laughter and excellent production value.

Anthony Hopkins plays the titular director along with Helen Mirren who plays his long-suffering wife, Alma Reville. The movie starts just after the release of North by Northwest and Hitchcock is looking for a book on which to base his next picture. Once he settles on the book Psycho he sets himself up for storms of opposition. After convincing his wife that making Psycho is the right move, he begins the production process. There are numerous obstacles both with the production and his personal life that act as the driving force behind the drama of the film. In particular, Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife is what really makes the film compelling.

Alma is constantly putting up with her husband’s vises, namely his wandering eyes, alcohol problem and excessive eating. This drives her to spend more time with her author friend, Whitfield Cook. The film is foremost a love story between Alfred and Alma, albeit a broken love story. The two are incomplete without the other, and are both very broken people. Psycho acts as an allegory for their relationship, without both actively working on it, it is destined to fail, but when they work together it is a piece of true art.

The sets and costumes in the movie take the viewer back to 1959 in every way. The studio sound stages along with all the props, act as a visual time machine, impressive in it’s attention to detail. The costumes are fantastic in an all encompassing picture of the past, vibrant and conservative. It isn’t showy in it’s nature, but you can’t help but gawk at the authenticity of the film. There is a certain romanticism surrounding mid 20th century period pieces when they are done well; and Hitchcock, true to the director’s nature, sets the standard.

What the film manages to do is give fascinating incite into the creation of the most famous horror movie in history, while giving an excellent dramatic love story with compelling, convicting actors. The film is a testament to the power of love and the difficulties encompassed inside a love story with two broken individuals. The scares are effective, the laughs entertain us, but at the core of Hitchcock is a heartfelt, painful, beautiful love story between two people that were absolutely meant to be together, and meant to display horrific murders on screen to millions of people.

 

*1 GIVEAWAY*

I’ve been writing this little blog for 1 year as of yesterday (4/21). I love to write about movies and I’m excited to keep writing in the coming year. I’m thankful to all of my friends and family that have encouraged me to keep writing, and everyone that takes the time to read my little reviews. So, since I’m celebrating 1 whole year, I’ve decided to give away the best movie of all time (at least according the the latest Sight & Sound list) to one lucky winner. That is to say: I’m giving away Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo on DVD. here are the rules in order to be eligible.

1. “Like” Popcorn and Peril on Facebook if you haven’t already done so.

2. Share this post (or any of my previous posts) on Facebook and let me know that you have done so.

3. Do all of the above before April 28th 4PM PST

That’s it! I’ll announce the winner on Monday, April 29, 2013. The prize can only be shipped within the US.  Good luck and thanks for reading!

Zodiac

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To generate fear has been a practice as old as fiction itself. Fear comes from a number of sources spanning every genre and faucet of life and literature. Individuals fear different things and at different levels. One movie cannot universally frighten the entire audience that it reaches. There are, however, certain movies that do an excellent job of conveying the fear and dire situations of the people portrayed on screen onto an audience; in my experience the most unsettling cases aren’t necessarily the ones that use copious amounts of blood and scare tactics to convey that fear, but it is, rather, the ones that stem from reality. David Fincher directed a film that followed the case of the Zodiac Killer in the 1970s. While it wasn’t a horror movie, though the semi-fictionalized film certainly managed to be an example in atmospheric storytelling. Keeping the facts of the case at the heart of the movie, Fincher allows us to follow along with the progress of the case through the eyes of Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), a reporter who keeps tabs on the story as the police attempt to identify and apprehend the serial killer. And while it omits many horror movie tropes, it manages to chill it’s viewer in ways that a horror movie could only hope to.

 

In the late 1960s and early 1970s a series of murders took place in Northern California. The individual that took responsibility for these murders sent taunting letters and puzzles to the press. These puzzles earned him the nickname that the movie gains it’s title from.  2007s crime drama, Zodiac, utilizes excellent acting and directing to draw the audience into the depths of a story that centers on these actual events that horrified and devastated many people. Fincher handles the reality of the content extremely well; using actual case files as a guideline, he allows the actors to guide both the story and the audience through the events that transpired. Gyllenhaal portrays an eager reporter who becomes more enamored with the case than his own writing. What starts as an interest becomes borderline obsession. Everyone in the cast does an excellent job of portraying each character, the realism in the film is unflinching and manages to keep you watching with bated breath.

 

The tone of this movie is extremely dark. While the murders are shown not in a stylized bloody succession of quick edits with the sound of overly loud screaming. Rather, we’re shown them with a steady shot. This isn’t a horror movie, this actually happened and we’re shown, one murder in particular, as if we were standing maybe 10 feet away. The filmmakers involved, primarily Fincher, don’t want this to be an overly sensationalized horror movie, they want the facts shown and the story to be told in the way that it probably happened. Zodiac differs from other horror and suspense movies in that it allows the viewers extended breaks between murders. The reason for this is because Zodiac isn’t a movie about murders, it’s a movie about trying to find the man behind the horrific acts. The subject matter itself is enough to add it to the “spooky movie” sub-genre, but it’s the effectiveness of the portrayal of content that makes it not only chilling, but absolutely intriguing.

 

We are experiencing a huge surge of horror movies that rely on cheap scares and buckets of blood to “scare” an audience. This is unnecessary and ineffective when compared to a well told and well made suspense story (in terms of actually frightening an audience). There is little gore in Zodiac, but what it lacks for in graphic horror it more than makes up for in tone and atmospheric terror. Fincher understands that subtle seasonings of horror can often go a lot further than an overabundance of the same ingredient.

The Case for The “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” Part 1

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I am more than willing to admit that my love for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle franchise comes from a fierce dedication to the cartoons I watched throughout the course of my childhood. I’m willing to admit that I overlook glaringly obvious flaws in the film franchise because of the integral part that the heroes in a half-shell played in my development of appreciation of popular culture. Here’s the thing; for those not initiated with the turtle franchise (including my wife), the idea of four giant mutated turtles learning ninjutsu from a mutated rat-human hybrid to fight crime in New York City is a little hard to swallow. Critically speaking, the films were not well received. Thankfully, the general public received the Turtles much better than the critics would have hoped. We’re now 23 years past the release of the first Turtle movie; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn’t enter into the movie realm blindly. A devout following from both the comic books as well as the children’s cartoon showed that there certainly was a market for the turtles. The first movie pits the turtles against the rise of the foot clans attack on New York City. Shredder is recruiting youths in an effort to create a crime empire in the big apple. As the film progresses the fight becomes more personal, to the point that by the end of the film it’s an all out grudge match between Shredder and the Turtles. April O’Neil and Casey Jones are two human allies to the turtles. O’Neil is a news reporter for a local channel while Casey Jones is a vigilante crime fighter with a major affinity for sports.

The flaws in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles aren’t few. We’re treated to some terrible dialogue including some of the corniest one liners committed to film, a clunky back story, the idea that a Ninja master would stoop to stealing electronics for money, the overall silliness of the movie makes it feel like a live action cartoon. Oh, wait; maybe it’s supposed to be that way. We’re dealing with a concept that is quite literally a live action cartoon. Sure the hockey lines cause you to groan at times, and they’re not always delivered the best. The turtles are juvenile and angsty, but they are teenagers. It’s something you have to chalk up to taste, but if you can get past the eye-roll factor that comes with the concept then you can have an absolute blast.

The set pieces, visuals, cinematography and costumes all seemed to have oozed out of the neon colored cartoon and into the live action film. Not since Dick Tracey have I seen a movie come so close to accurately portraying it’s animated nature into a real world setting. This inaugural Turtles film laid the groundwork for future sequels. It takes itself serious enough to be an a decent action/adventure film, yet remains silly enough to be a kids movie; though many would argue it is far darker than most, mostly due to it’s dedication to the source material from the comic books. The stunts and action sequences in the film are spectacular. This is well before stylized editing saturated the action elements of films, so we find ourselves content to watch a brawl unfold in real time. The thing with the turtles is, they’re in a fairly bulky costume, yet are incredibly agile. The imagination doesn’t need to stretch too far to allow for the believability of martial artist turtles. My friend and fellow blogger Ryan Partlow pointed out an interesting fact about this movie: At the time, it was the highest grossing independent movie ever made.

It’s an odd ball feature that allows for a nostalgic peak into the past. The Turtles themselves have been incredibly prevalent in pop culture, even having a current running cartoon. We are (unfortunately) going to be getting a Michael Bay Turtles movie in the near future as well. If you are uninitiated to the franchise, or haven’t seen this one in years it’s worth watching. certain aspects have not aged well, but as a whole it is still entertaining and, honestly, the most creative gimmick of it’s time. The Turtles have transcended multiple generations, and at this rate will continue to do so.

Freaks

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Humanity has shown itself to be an cruel and ugly lot throughout it’s history. A reality has proven to be present in our brief stint on earth, and that is this: humanity is frightened by abnormality.  What we know to be serious medical conditions today were once the basis for the phenomenon behind circus side shows. People were degraded to the level of sub-human beast-like status in order to entertain those willing to pay a price to look at them. It was a cruel practice, one that few “decent” people liked to discuss in 1932, but would be more than willing to pay to see. However, Tod Browning’s, now cult classic,  Freaks attempts to do something that few would acknowledge; show the humanity behind the people being exploited for profit.

Freaks gives us a glimpse into the daily lives of circus side show performers in the early part of the 20th century. The gist of the story is that one of the “normal” women, a trapeze artist by the name of Cleopatra becomes engaged to a dwarf named Hans. Hans is the leader of the circus “freaks”. It quickly becomes apparent that her interest in Hans is based solely on his large fortune. The movie accurately shows the disgusting attitudes that people had towards the performers. Most look upon them with complete disrespect, often times disgust, while others treat them with the dignity they deserve. Due to the fact that this movie features a cast with very real and unusual deformities for it’s cast, the tones is much darker than would be expected for a film of this age. This is mostly due to the fact that it was made before the Motion Picture Production Code which regulated films content. The content of Freaks caused it to be banned in the United Kingdom for over 30 years.

Browning presented a film that not only sent the message that these “Freaks” had very human thoughts and emotions, but he showed them living lives that displayed just that. In one scene we watch as a man with no arms or legs prepares and lights a cigarette for himself. We also see just how horribly these people were treated by not only the general public, but fellow circus performers as well.  The movie disturbed it’s audience, people complained about  having the “monstrosities” shown to them. In their complaints they showed their ignorance and disregard for a powerful movie with an important message. Concerning themselves with the comfort of their own lives rather than the injustice of their prejudices.

Freaks is, of course, much more than a horror movie created simply to scare it’s viewers. It is a story of acceptance, it’s a plea to the public to renounce an unjust biased towards those far less fortunate. A truly beautiful story resides within the public domain, a story about humanity and how ugly the beautiful people can be and how beautiful those that are considered ugly can be.

 

District 9

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What entered the public spectrum under the guise of a generic Science-Fiction action movie in 2009, quickly became one of my favorite films of all time. District 9 is a little South African picture that caused big waves by taking an, all too often, formulaic genre flick and changed the rules of the game. Good fantasy often has roots grounded in reality, morals and social themes. District 9 certainly doesn’t shy away from that model, however the way it shows us those truths and ideas (from the standpoint of most of the North American audience) is entirely unfamiliar. This is Neill Blomkamp’s directorial debut is certainly a powerful one. He manages to work the modern politics and travesties taking place in his home country and show them to the world disguised as an alien flick.

District 9 focuses on a group of alien life forms that have crash landed and sought refuge on earth; specifically Johannesburg, South Africa. The prawn like creatures are corralled into a refugee camp with awful living conditions. Instead of the alien invasion being a threat to humanity, they are left to our mercy. The question is, how is humanity handling their presence? Wikus Van De Merwe is tasked by a, government hired, private organization to inform the residents of the slum known as District 9 that they are being evicted. Wikus is our focal point. We follow him and see the events of the film from his point of view. Considering that he is incredibly unlikeable at the start of the film, this is a bold move. It is, however, a bold move that allows us to experience an incredibly potent character arch.

Wikus is a man that could be representative of anyone. He is a weak man, a bigoted worker who thinks highly of himself and very little for the aliens he is tasked with protecting. The majority of the population really could care less about the rights of the interstellar refugees. The “real world application” is glaringly obvious, they represent real world counterparts seeking asylum, not from other planets, but other countries. In the director’s commentary we learn that the aliens are symbolic for the Nigerian refugees in South Africa. Through the eyes of Wikus we see the sickening consequences of intolerance. When a hatred becomes common place in society it becomes horrifyingly easy to cross moral lines that would otherwise be considered unforgivable. Through the course of the film Wikus is forced to see through the eyes of those he has dedicated his life to persecute (all under the mask of protecting them, of course). Paul Boyne and I discuss this movie far more in depth on our joint endeavor of a blog; Gaffer Macguffin’s Movie House.

The movie offers plenty of weighty material for discussion, but it is also an extremely exciting Sci-Fi. Wikus joins forces with Christopher Johnson, one of the aliens who is attempting to fix a ship to get back home. During their stint together we’re given unique action sequences with cool alien technology. The us of special effects to show the alien technology and fighting tactics is just as dirty and realistic as the humans forces, allowing us to see just how messy a slum war can be. District 9 is, by all means, a slum; it is a near concentration camp environment where gangs rule and the aliens are third class citizens.

The horrors contained in this movie are fantastical in their depiction against extra terrestrial life forms, however replace the aliens with humans and we see something far too familiar in human history. Blomkamp mixes awesome Sci-Fi storytelling with creative and exiting action sequences matched with relevant moral applications. It’s much more than “this is right and that’s wrong” rather it shows a reality with uncomfortable truths hidden behind CGI.

“ParaNorman” Should Have Won Best Animated Feature

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I liked Brave, the 2012 Pixar film starring an adventurous and independent Scottish princess. I enjoyed it, it was beautiful and entertaining; it was not, however, the best animated movie of the year. Despite what “The Academy” says, I was not as impressed as they were with the movie. Pixar has done some truly great films in the past, some of them deserving the coveted Best Picture award and yet losing to a live action film.  Brave was not their best work, it was slightly generic and borderline formulaic. If my say had meant anything and I was given a chance to vote for the award for Best Animated Feature of 2012, my vote would have undoubtedly gone to ParaNorman. I wrote briefly about ParaNorman here. The movie was far less generic, it was new, fresh and exciting. There were aspects of the film that I had never seen in an animated movie, they took creative risks that ultimately paid off for the betterment of the story. Unfortunately it didn’t get near the amount of the attention that other animated features did.

In ParaNorman we’re introduced to a little boy, Norman, who is the only one capable of seeing and communicating with the dead. Needless to say, he is an outcast with very few friends. Even his parents think there is something wrong with him. The gist of the movie comes from Norman being commissioned by his, estranged, crazy uncle (voiced by John Goodman)  to prevent the release of a curse on their tiny town. Things get really bad when a group of zombies rise from the grave and head strait  for the heart of the town. This is one of the few zombie movies for children I have seen (to be honest, the only other one I can think of at the moment is a Scooby-Doo VHS). ParaNorman is a horror movie for children. Not a slasher movie, but a well thought out horror film, it deals with real situations and fears that kids may have in a supernaturally theatrical way. Norman must deal with bullies, being different and the pain that comes with holding on to anger. It’s a my-first-zombie movie with a powerful message about forgiveness. Also, it’s pretty hilarious. Many nods and winks to horror movie fans and plenty of slapstick humor widen the range of audience appeal.

The unique visuals associated with stop motion animation is in full force. The movements of the characters and the somewhat jerky nature of the atmosphere of the film’s reality certainly adds to the supernatural tone that ParaNorman strives for. The color scheme offers some truly stunning scenes, often times transcending the expectations of a film in it’s genre. Every visual aspect of the movie worked in it’s favor, convincing me that this would not have been as good a film had it been traditional animation, computer animation or live action. Scrounging up a stellar voice cast also added to the experience. Each voice was quirky yet not over the top and matched perfectly to the individual character.

It’s a strange type of movie to impress the importance of acceptance and forgiveness to the audience, but as the movie winds down it becomes apparent that that is exactly what the whole film is about. The most prominent of the messages presented in this film is a warning against holding on to anger, even if someone has done something truly horrible to you. In a sea of revenge centric action movies, it was refreshing to see this truth played out in such an unexpected movie. Hate is an addictive poison, one that once we allow ourselves to get caught up in, becomes increasingly hard to give up.