Category Archives: Favorite

“Alien” Movie Review

Whoever said that you should only be allowed to watch “scary movies” in October? This film (and its sequel) are perfectly enjoyable to watch around the summer time. After all, what could possibly be more worthy of the summer movie season than small aliens bursting violently out of the chest? The inaugural picture of this sci-fi horror franchise was released in the United States on May 25th, 1979, coming to the U.K. 3 months later. Although critics were slow to acknowledge its brilliance, the film made back over 10 times its $9 million budget worldwide. Over the years, it has spawned a franchise consisting of 7 more movies, in-depth novels, crossover comics, and numerous video games, some better than others. Directed by Ridley Scott, his second full-length feature, the screenplay was conceived by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett while working on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s doomed production of Dune. Many, many drafts later, and with the help of producer Walter Hill, the gears actually started turning. It was only after the monumental success of Star Wars that 20th Century Fox agreed to finance the science-fiction film, a dangerous genre in those days. Set in the early 22nd century, the story follows the crew of the Nostromo, a commercial spaceship transporting 20 million tons of ore back to Earth. Under assignment from the intergalactic company Weyland-Yutani, they land on a planetoid called LV-426. Unbeknownst to them, a mysterious and highly aggressive extraterrestrial creature sneaks onto their ship as they make the return journey. As the creature stalks and takes out members of the crew one by one, the survivors, led by warrant officer Ellen Ripley, must find a way to beat what is seemingly the perfect organism. Let’s make something abundantly clear here before going on: Alien is a horror film. You can be snobby about it and put it away in any other Blockbuster aisle that you want, but at its bleak core, Ridley Scott has made a horror movie through and through. This is one of many things that distinguish it from its sequel (Which you’ll absolutely see a review of later this month) and very little beats watching it in the middle of the night all on your own. It took a little bit for me to fully appreciate it, though. On my first watch, I felt a bit cold from the overwhelming atmosphere that seemingly clouded the emotional involvement. But now, having rewatched it as part of my New Year’s Resolution, I have finally seen its brilliance. Something that really struck me on this rewatch was the deliberate pacing the director moves the film along at. With an opening scene that slowly establishes the setup with just the slightest amount of on-screen exposition, we learn everything needed to be known about the mission. Scott is wise not to rush to the survival horror aspects of the film, instead carefully building up the world and motivations for the characters. Interestingly, the creature itself doesn’t really show up or take full form until at least halfway or maybe even two-thirds of the way through the movie. But much like Jurassic Park 14 years later, it does a really great job at sucking viewers in and engrossing them in a place where no one can hear you scream. One reason to get so invested is thanks to the capable ensemble cast. Sigourney Weaver’s storied career was launched thanks to this franchise and for good reason. One of the most powerful female characters ever written for the big screen, watching her pretty much act as the only one aboard who is following orders is enticing, even if we don’t know much about her backstory. Interestingly, she isn’t even made the main character until around the time the creature finally shows up. We really get to know and get attached to her crew members before then. Tom Skerritt as the cowby-esque captain, Veronica Cartwright as a particularly emotional engineer, the late Harry Dean Stanton and John Hurt as minor but vital members of the crew, Yaphet Kotto as a muscleman, and Ian Holm as corporate overseer Ash. While Ash arguably gets more screentime than anyone else, (And for good reason) you can’t help but care about everyone onboard and fear for their lives. Meanwhile, on a purely technical scale, it’s hard not to see the impact this film had on the sci-fi genre in the years to come. Cinematographer Derek Vanlint wisely chooses to expose shadows and dark corridors for our heroes to go down, tracking their every move with steady shots. The slow move-ins and unexpected pans or tilts only increase the amount of dread that each frame is filled with. It is combined with the editing work of Terry Rawlings, Peter Weatherley, and David Crowther that adds up the intensity. Comprised almost like a wound-up guitar string, the movements and cuts work perfectly together to build up the dread and terror. A fine decision, as anything with a whip-fast pacing, could have put the story in danger of no longer being scary. But the big star here is the late, great art designer H.R. Giger. He brings his signature style of ghastly, gothic, and darkly sexual work and design to the eponymous creature as well as many other environments. Never before had a planetoid surface or a derelict spaceship looked so terrifying yet intriguing at the same time. There’s also something just immediately disturbing just by looking at the alien and thinking of all of the things it could do to someone. The famous chestbursting scene is one of the most unsettling momenbts in the history of cinema, thanks in large part to Giger’s practical handiwork. And the best part? None of the cast members were told what was going to happen when it was filmed; their reactions on-screen are real. Nearly 40 years onwards, and Ridley Scott’s breakthrough feature hasn’t lost an ounce of its horrifying touch. Not only did it set a standard for his own career buit also for sci-fi and horror in general. Alien is a frightening, suspense-filled classic of atmospheric terror. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, this has inspired an entire generation of film lovers and filmmakers and it’s not hard to see why. You’ll get a very warm feeling in your chest as you watch it, but it’s not becuase some monster is about to burst out. It’s because you’ll be so petrified by what’s happening that no one will be able to hear you scream.

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“You Were Never Really Here” Movie Review

Never underestimate a film’s trailer when it stars Joaquin Phoenix. No matter how cool it looked it could have never prepared me for actually watching this film, just like you won’t be ready. Lynne Ramsay’s neo-noir crime thriller first premiered in the Official Competition at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Despite the fact that it was still a work in progress, it received an 8-minute standing ovation plus awards for Best Screenplay (Shared with The Killing of a Sacred Deer) and Best Actor. Strangely enough, Amazon Studios chose to skip awards season and instead released the film limited on April 6th, 2018. Thus far, aided by strong critical reviews, it has grossed over $3.4 million at the box office, becoming the director’s most commercially successful film to date. After dropping out of Gavin O’Connor’s Jane Got a Gun, Ramsay decided to lay low for a while until she came upon the source material. It is also her first full-length narrative feature in 7 years, her last one being the controversial We Need to Talk About Kevin. Based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Ames, Phoenix stars as Joe, a traumatized Gulf War veteran and former FBI agent now working as a contract killer. One day, New York state senator Albert Votto approaches him and begs Joe to save his teenage daughter Nina from prostitution. While Joe accepts it as a regular job, he uncovers a vast conspiracy web more complex and disturbing than he could have ever imagined. Just by giving that synopsis, the average reader might cast this film aside as yet another derivative crime thriller starring a big name actor. But if anyone has ever watched a film by Lynne Ramsay, then you should know that her films are not so easily pigeonholed. I have been looking forward to this movie ever since it premiered last year. Why Amazon Studios chose to forego a potential awards season run for the lead actor in the fall season and instead release in the spring is still something I’m trying to figure out. But please don’t let the familiar premise and all the “artsy-fartsy” festival buzz deter you; You Were Never Really Here is one of the finest crime thrillers I’ve seen in quite a while. And perhaps that has to do with its subversive take on a harsh topic such as child exploitation. Rather than create a semi-Romantic film that ironically glamorizes the profession of hitmen, Ramsay wisely makes the viewers observers. It’s arguably with this clinical, objective technique that she is able to fully explore the subject matter without fear of exploiting it. Imagine the most European arthouse version of Taken crossed with Martian Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, and that’s about where the tone and style are at. But it never feels self-indulgent or overly obsessed with itself. It is able to find a beautiful balance between empathy for the characters and dispassion in the brutal violence. Joaquin Phoenix is an incredible method actor but, without a doubt, Joe is his best role to date. Imbuing an immense amount of humanity and confusion into the performance, we see just enough of his deeply troubling past to understand his motives and when Votto asks him if really is violent he replies, “I can be.” I will honestly be shocked if he isn’t at least considered for Best Actor this year, even if the film missed out last year. Opposite him is the young Ekaterina Samsonov as Nina Votto, who does a lot without speaking a lot of dialogue. While she sometimes feels more like a symbol than an actual character, hers is truly a breakout role since we can see so much pain and loss of innocence in her small eyes. The two of them are also supported by character actors like Alex Manette as the upset senator wanting his daughter back, John Doman as the hardened handler for Joe’s work, Judith Roberts as Joe’s helpless mother, Alessandro Nivola as the Governor with mysterious ties to the case, and Frank Pandro as a concerned middle man. They’re all great in their own way, but never even come close to Phoenix’s work. As for the filmmaking aspects of it all, Lynne Ramsay shows complete control with her own voice in nearly every department. Shot by underrated British cameraman Thomas Townend, the cinematography captures a seedy griminess to the story rarely found in New York-set cinema. There’s a constant contrast between steady, distant full shots of the scenes and close-ups where the actor might be looking directly into the camera. Not a single frame goes wasted or feels unnecessary, which gives us an opportunity to get to know the characters better without so much exposition. Also, frequent Werner Herzog collaborator knows exactly when to move between these haunting shots. There are a number of smash cuts between either the past, the present, or possible scenarios. This, along with the impressionistic and wholesome sound design, immerse the audience in a narrative that feels fractured, much like Joe’s state of mind. While his work has included both Paul Thomas Anderson and the band Radiohead, multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood has assembled his best work to date for the score. A highly dynamic soundtrack, the man often trades staccato strings and percussion with pieces on a dark-toned synthesizer. His side-job as a computer programmer and infrequent use of diegetic background noises in tracks helps to create a New York City that, much like Daniel Lopatin’s work on Good Time, feels so alien. There’s a beautiful scene near the climax of the film that combines all of the above mentioned techniques with an amazing piece composed by Greenwood. The mix of electric melodies and distant sounds create an emotional connection without trying to manipulate audiences. That being said, I feel like not a lot of people are going to watch this movie. The subject matter, and the manner in which the film deals with it, are so heavy that most mainstream audiences probably won’t even want to try it. Above all, it’s a sad film; these institutions do exist around the world and some of the most powerful men or women condone it. And while some of the characters here are truly despicable, the director rejects the want for them to get a real satisfying closure. Because of this, some may leave the theater wanting more in a bad way. However, I just grew to appreciate her restraint in this approach. You Were Never Really Here is a powerful sucker punch of intense brutality and emotions. One of the absolute best films of the year, I was totally riveted and glued to my seat for all 90 minutes of its runtime. It flies by, which for some may be a relief with its difficult and bold subject matter. This could be the future of action thrillers.

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Let’s Do It: My Favorite Movies #60-51

Alright then. After a tumultuous period of academics and life plans, I now find myself with some unusual amounts of spare time on my hands. Don’t know about the rest of you guys, but I find this a most wondrous opportunity to crank out another batch of ten movies as we proceed closer and closer.

#60: “Schindler’s List” (1993)

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We start off with a film that, while great, wouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind on many “favorites” lists. For some reason, though, I frequently find myself drawn to Schindler’s List time and again, particularly when my faith in humanity needs a little shakeup. With the exception of the end, Spielberg offers almost no room for Romanticism here in an extremely personal film about a former Nazi who decided to do good for the Jewish people during the Holocaust. And considering recent events in the United States, I can really only think of one thing: Screw Nazis.

#59: “Titanic” (1997)

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Eff all y’all, this movie is amazing. I don’t think a lot of people will fully understand the genius of James Cameron until long after he is gone. More than just a doomed romance, Titanic is a visceral exploration of what of humans do when confronted with their inevitable death. In fact, that big pivot is perhaps what makes it such an emotional and captivating film to watch, despite its three-hour runtime. And of course, I cried. A handful of times, actually.

#58: “Interstellar” (2014)

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If for nothing else, I admire Christopher Nolan for having the balls to actually go through with this movie. In an era where we are literally surrounded by superhero franchises and IP recognition in the studio system, he and his brother Jonathan set about crafting an original sci-fi space epic. It was always bound to probably be divisive, but I honestly love every second of Interstellar. Hans Zimmer’s ethereal musical score is one I regularly listen to for when I’m studying or working. The visuals prove that A) IMAX tickets are actually worth it every once in a while and B) Practical effects are almost always preferable to CGI. This is the kind of movie that makes me wish that N.A.S.A. would have the funding to go explore the cosmos once more.

#57: “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)

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How can you possibly argue with a classic? The main reason why The Wizard of Oz isn’t any higher on my Top 100 is that, from a perspective on both dialogue and storytelling, it has noticeably aged. And yes, it does take considerable artistic license from L. Frank Baum’ original book. But all of the beautiful Technicolor visuals and costumes still look amazing today. In fact, I’d argue that it’s the most important American film in history, but probably not the best one.

#56: “Vertigo” (1956)

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Gotta love some Alfred Hitchcock shenanigans every now and then. The late English auteur made so many masterpieces in his lifetime that saying he’s the most influential director in all of cinema isn’t so far fetched. In fact, depending on what time of year it is, I might actually tell you that my favorite of his was North By Northwest or Psycho or maybe even Rear Window. But it’s unlikely I’ll ever change my mind about how much of an unprecedented experience it was for watching Vertigo for the first time. I felt so warm from the anxiety and tension and spent weeks thinking about it afterward.

#55: “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (2002)

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And we start with what is, in my most humble opinion, the greatest and most awe-inspiring film trilogy ever conceived. We’ll get to the other two entries later on in this Top 100, but one shouldn’t forget to admire the second installment. The image above is from one of my favorite scenes in cinema. I’ve seen all of these epics enough times to put it on in the background while I’m doing something mundane, but I literally drop everything when it comes to the jaw-dropping Battle for Helm’s Deep. What really impresses me is how well The Two Towers flows through without a real end or beginning to the story; it’s a literal midway point.

#54: “The Truman Show” (1998)

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One of the signs of truly great sci-fi satire is when you can honestly take the film’s concept and apply it to multiple different sociopolitical fields. In the case of The Truman Show, a wholly original and beautiful film, it has reached topics such as politics, media consumption, and even religion. It all works, from Andrew Niccol’s fantastic screenplay to Peter Weir’s direction to Jim Carrey’s career-best performance. At its basic core, though, we have a really dark and emotional story about the world’s obsession with celebrity and one man’s search for happiness and freedom.

#53: “Drive” (2011)

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I’m in awe of this film. It might seem like a stereotypical action-packed, Fast and Furious ripoff, but Drive is a whole lot more. The visuals, Cliff Martinez’s score, Ryan Gosling’s nameless antihero. Sure, its artistic flourishes are sure to send some people scratching their heads or even rolling their eyes. But for me, watching this hypnotic crime thriller for the first time was a real experience. Proof that action thrillers don’t have to all have a number pinned to them in order to attempt to stand out. And “A Real Hero” by College and Electric Youth is possibly one of the best song uses for any modern motion picture.

#52: “Annihilation” (2018)

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It may have only been released in the last few months, but Annihilation has stayed with me ever since leaving the theater. What Alex Garland did here with just the backbone of VanDerMeer’s novel is something that only comes once a blue moon in science-fiction and actually challenged its audience to think. Paramount handing off the international reigns to Netflix is about the dumbest thing they could have done from a viewer’s perspective. To me, they should have gone full steam ahead with this and not looked back, seeing Garland for the wizard that he is. I just pray that more people will watch this movie now and in the future; we can’t have yet another Blade Runner 2049 or Edge of Tomorrow on our hands again.

#51: “Jaws” (1975)

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I had already love Jaws the first few times I had seen it, but watching it at a Movie-on-the-Water event hosted by the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema enhanced my love for it even more. Most people might just remember that the shark looks really fake, but that’s beside the point. 43 years on since it began the modern blockbuster, and this film hasn’t aged a day. And it likely never will. That’s the beauty of Steven Spielberg back when he was in his prime; while his pictures always had groundbreaking visuals he never forgot to accompany them with compelling characters and stories.

Let’s Do It: My Favorite Movies #70-61

Another batch of ten, another step closer to my absolute top picks of all time.

#70: “Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (2014)

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There’s always bound to be some backlash against any film that wins Best Picture, with arguments positing that it was “overrated” or not deserving of the award. While we could debate about that topic, I see Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) as a film worthy of that top honor. Yes, Emmanuel Lubezki’s technique of manipulating the whole picture to look like one continuous shot is cool and Michael Keaton is amazing as a caricature of himself. But the most impressive aspect, to me anyway, is how Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu managed to craft a compelling mouthpiece for the argument of theater vs. cinema without taking one side. I have rarely hated myself for laughing at some seriously dark moments.

#69: “The Martian” (2015)

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Ridley Scott can usually be hit-and-miss, but he’s almost always at his best when working with science-fiction. His adaptation of Andy Weir’s The Martian proves as much, which expertly balances legitimate stakes with unexpectedly hilarious dialogue. Matt Damon turns in one of his best performances as an incredibly smart and likable guy stuck in a situation where he has to science the shit out of it to stay alive. Think Cast Away meets the urgency of Apollo 13. Not to mention that it has a genuinely positive message about humanity’s need to help one another, which feels all the more pertinent in a time where tragedies feel all too frequent on daily news.

#68: “Inside Out” (2015)

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Yet another swashbuckling entry from Pixar, Inside Out is important for a couple different reasons. For one, it reaffirmed many people’s faith in Pixar creating original, highly entertaining animated films- including me. But it also came at a perfect time in my life when I needed to get my emotions out and, in some ways, I was not wanting to grow up just yet. Pete Docter perfectly and gorgeously visualizes these feelings.

#67: “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006)

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This is hands down, my all-time favorite foreign language film. I just love how Guillermo Del Toro is aware of how fairytales are generally supposed to work and then deliberately defies all of these rules. It is a dark, thoughtful, terrifically original fantasy film that proves that even a film with subtitles can still grab a hold of English-speaking audiences. Visually stunning and terrifying both in its human and fantasy characters, nothing is held back here. Hopefully, this teaches studios that you don’t have to pick up the most obscure dimestore paperback to create something truly great from the genre.

#66: “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” (1968)

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Movies like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly make me wish that Sergio Leone had made more films in his lifetime. Better than anyone else in the business of spaghetti westerns, or westerns in general for that matter, he understands the importance of visual storytelling and character intros. I’m not even going to attempt to argue what’s the greatest western of all time. It just seems redundant, especially thanks to the glorious final Mexican standoff that’s sure to remain in the history books. Plus, is there really anything better than Ennio Morricone’s legendary score?

#65: “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” (1983)

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Spoiler Alert: This will definitely not be the last entry in the Star Wars Saga that you find on this Top 100. While Return of the Jedi is admittedly my least favorite of the Original Trilogy, there’s still plenty that I love about it. In fact, if my memory serves correctly, this one was actually the first live-action movie that I ever watched. In that sense, it always plays to the little kid in me on every single rewatch, even if the Ewoks get in the way occasionally. But hey, the epic Battle of Endor more than makes up for that.

#64: “Hugo” (2011)

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The movie that wants to be a loving ode to early cinema from 2011 that should have won Best Picture in The Artist‘s place. Martin Scorsese flexes his knowledge as not only a brilliant filmmaker but also an eclectic film historian for this Brian Selznick adaptation. It’s truly rare in this day and age for live-action family films to actually be appealing to both parents and children at the same time. But Scorsese brings Hugo to passionate life with wonderful visuals and an all-in cast. I can still remember after watching it for the first time, I actually researched a lot of the silent films referenced in it, just so I could learn more about the history of cinema.

#63: “Inglourious Basterds” (2009)

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Is there any tradition in cinema or pop culture more American than killin’ some Nazis? While I wait for an answer, I can describe my love for Quentin Tarantino’s 6th feature film. Surprisingly, Inglourious Basterds is probably one of the director’s tamest and most grounded pictures to date. But it also shows his understanding of the power of language, with his signature dialogue being given to us in no less than 3 other spoken tongues than English. Plus, Christoph Waltz is positively despicable and terrifying as the Jew Hunter, perhaps one of Tarantino’s best characters. With his new film coming out next year, I eagerly await to see his stylized take on Hollywood whereas this one dealt with European cinema in a distinctly obscure way.

#62: “Apocalypse Now” (1979)

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Vietnam was a troubling time for both the American military and public, and the late 1970’s saw a wash of films try to capture that. But nothing even came close to Apocalypse Now, a loose adaptation of Heart of Darkness that trades in any notion of romance for stark realism. It’s hallucinatory and befuddling, constantly blurring the line between civilization and savagery. Sanity and madness. With both a haunting opening and ending, Frances Ford Coppola immerses us in the thick jungles of ‘Nam while refusing to lose sight of humanity. Very few antagonists are as menacing as Colonel Kurtz, and the scariest part might be that he’s actually right.

#61: “12 Years a Slave” (2013)

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Rarely will you ever watch an American film that approaches a harsh topic with such horror and sophistication as 12 Years a Slave. Rather than lecturing the audience on how terrible slavery was in the 1840’s, Steve McQueen makes us observers to the disturbing true story of Solomon Northup. There were moments I wanted to look away, but neither McQueen nor the brilliant Chiwetel Ejiofor would allow it. Easy to watch? Hell no. In fact, it’s clinical direction could be infuriating to some people. But the more I’ve thought about it since first watching it, the more I’ve come to appreciate the restraint. And at the end of it all, we see a man who keeps the hope of wanting to live, even in a degrading and shameful part of our national history.

“2001: A Space Odyssey” Movie Review

Oh boy. It’s that time, ladies and gentlemen. This moment is one I’ve dreaded ever since starting my Blog on WordPress. The so-called “Sacred Cow” conversation of cinema simply cannot be avoided any further. And what better way to embrace it than in its 50th(!) anniversary? Stanley Kubrick’s epic science-fiction drama was originally released in the United States on April 3rd, 1968. While it turned out to be extremely profitable with a box office take of $190 million against a budget of $10.5 million, critics and audiences were entirely split on what to make of the film. While Roger Ebert hailed it as one of the greatest films of our time, others like Pauline Kael threw words such as “pretentious” and “boring” at it. Today, the consensus has generally fallen over to the positive side of reception. Co-written by the acclaimed sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke, the movie was written in tandem with his titular novel. Kubrick was supposedly less interested in the book itself and instead drew from 6 other short stories by Clarke for inspiration. This is a commonality in his oeuvre,  as he really just wanted to explore the concept of extraterrestrial life and our relationship with the stars. The plot is very hard to explain without delving into speculation. On a literal level, the setting is the year 2001 where human beings have mastered both artificial intelligence and space travel. (Note: None of this came to life) After a mysterious black monolith is discovered buried on the Moon, two astronauts, Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole, are tasked with tracing its origins all the way to Jupiter. They are assisted by HAL 9000, the world’s most advanced computer, and unexpectedly embark on a journey concerning evolution and what it means to be human. I think. As said before, even trying to discuss this film is bound to be controversial. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, “Sacred Cow” is an idiom usually referring to a piece of art that is held above criticism, sometimes to a ridiculously unreasonable level. There are many people who will likely murder me if I even dare to say anything negative about the film. In fact, I’m going to put something forth that may anger them even more- I’ve been somewhat lukewarm to most of Kubrick’s features. While I do “get” a lot of things he’s trying to say and absolutely understand his importance to cinema, most of his pictures are ones that I respect and appreciate more than I actually love. There are two exceptions to that rule, and the best one is 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the boldest films ever put on the silver screen. This is not going to be a review in which I try to analyze every frame of this movie trying to search for the hidden meaning. There are already plenty of essays, dissertations, and YouTube videos covering that area. Rather, I just wanted to break down the fact that this movie is so beloved for that exact reason. A whole lot of movies, whether they be effects-heavy blockbusters or ambitious indies, almost always try to relay information to the audience and leave little breathing room. It’s certainly common among today’s cinema but also prevalent in several films from years ago. The beauty about someone like Stanley Kubrick is that while his narratives are well-told and satisfying, it’s the themes that make him a true auteur. There are only a handful of living filmmakers that can reach that level of profundity and ambiguity. One thing a lot of people don’t really talk about when reviewing this film is the acting. Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood both do fine work in the roles of human doctors, Bowman and Poole. While the film is famously minimal on dialogue, the two of them are able to deliver the technobabble with a surprising sense of naturalism. But both of them are outdone by Douglas Rain, the voice of HAL 9000. Even with such a monotone voice, this robot is able to convey more emotion than either of his human colleagues during the entirety of their cosmic journey. Late in the plot, when he decides to defend himself against deactivation, he menacingly tells his creator, “I’m sorry, Dave; I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Aside from them, Daniel Richter is also notable as the chief of the man-apes in a surprisingly haunting prologue. Using nothing but a suit, primate vocal sounds, and a large bone at his disposal, he leaves a lasting impression for the remainder of the film. Meanwhile, on a purely technical scale, 2001: A Space Odyssey is an unprecedented achievement even now. Geoffrey Unsworth’s cinematography does some incredible shots of both the African landscape in the prologue and of space itself. Kubrick’s signature tracking shots and static wides are all present here, and looks especially impressive if you can see it on 70 mm film. What’s really impressive is how scientifically accurate much of the film is, especially the scene set on a lunar base. The director spent months consulting with NASA to ensure that everything would be plausible, including his use of silence and slow movement in space travel. The sets and costume designs are all entirely practical, built with hands and shot with pure celluloid. Compare the effects, spaceships, and costumes with any sci-fi movie going into the early 2000’s- it really holds up. In fact, a lot of CGI fluff we’re getting today pales in comparison. Similar to most of Kubrick’s other works, this is not a film meant for everyone. While several film fans will be completely immersed in the glorious spectacle of it all, just as many will proclaim it to be the most boring motion picture of all time. There are no concrete answers to everything on-screen and moves at an unusually slow pace. Plus, it contains one of the most ambiguous, head-scratching, straight-up WTF endings in the history of cinema- even to this day. I totally get why I lot of people don’t like this movie, and it actually took a rewatch for me to truly appreciate it. But for those with the patience to go on the journey, those who will dare to keep an open mind to all that comes forth, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a peerless cinematic embodiment of sheer visual poetry. Every science-fiction film in the last 50 years has been influenced by it in one way or another. And hopefully, it will do so for at least 50 more.

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“Amelie” Movie Review

After solving a crime thriller, wallowing in a prison drama, reading a storybook romance, descending into the madness of war, and going back in time in a DeLorean, it’s time to look at a story from across the Atlantic. And no better a place to look for that than in France. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s romantic-comedy was infamously rejected from the Cannes Film Festival in 2001. However, the film found a home in other French-speaking countries in April and August before releasing in America later that year. Despite a relatively limited run, it remains the highest-grossing French film ever to be released in the United States, with a total intake of $174.2 million at the box office worldwide. Nominated for 5 Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay, Jeunet was said to have based the story, at least partially, on an experience from his early life. The titular role had originally been written for English actress Emily Watson, but changed his mind when her French wasn’t strong enough. Audrey Tautou stars as Amelie Poulain, a painfully shy twenty-something waitress at a tiny cafe in Paris. One day she comes home to something unexpected, which she uses for a satisfying good deed. She then spends the rest of the film working to change the lives of those around her for the better, all the while searching for meaning and love. Perhaps it’s the fault of Hollywood, but I’m really not all that familiar with the cinema of France. Sure, the French New Wave is a monumental period of innovation for filmmaking and auteurs like Francois Truffaut, Jacques Demy, and Jean-Luc Godard all deserve to have their works studied in film school. But even so, it has been hard for me to gain access to French cinema outside the confines of Netflix, and I can’t find a single place in the Austin area that sells Criterion Collection DVDs or Blu-Rays. (If you have a suggestion, please comment) After watching 2017’s Raw, I made it a tangible goal to hunt down other films in the language that were available to me. Thank you, Amazon Prime, for allowing me a chance to watch a beautiful movie like Amelie. And no, before you click the exit button because you’re not interested, please hear me out. This movie is totally unlike anything else that came from any period of French cinema. You won’t find any of the graphic (re: gratuitous) sex or violence common in the New Extremity canon. Nor is there any fourth-wall breaking monologue or camera speech drenched in the vérité black-and-white photography of the New Wave. Instead, Jean-Pierre Jeunet crafts an almost fairytale-like romance, dripping with innocence and lightheartedness. Yet there’s still an inimitable panache or style that distinguishes it from anything in America. In other words, it might just be the most perfect and accessible foreign language film of the 21st century. Even though it was written for Emily Watson, it’s seriously hard to imagine any other actress playing the titular role than Audrey Tautou. She perfectly embodies the naive, innocent qualities of Amelie and effortlessly brings a charm to a character that should never work. Portraying the younger version of the character, Flora Guiet is perhaps even cuter than Tautou herself in the opening moments. Together, the two pull off a part that they both seemed born to play. While most of the supporting cast are ones whom Amelie interacts with on a daily basis and are all great, the standout among them is actor-director Mathieu Kasovitz. As quirky as he is intriguingly mysterious, he might just turn out to be the love of Amelie’s life- if either of them can muster up the courage. Speaking of courage, from a technical standpoint, Jean-Pierre Jeunet shows no fear in letting his style flourish all over the screen. With the help of cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, Paris is given a saturation fitted for a fantasy world. He employs just about every technique you can imagine; the sudden zoom-in-or-out, a whip pan, handheld moments. Each one helps to bring out a definite personality in the characters and story. It also helps to bring out bright, beautiful colors, particularly green and red, to identify virtually every single place or person our hero has touched. Combined with Herve Schneid’s editing, Jeunet knows exactly when to execute a moment of comedy. More often than not, the narrator will lament on something serious in an extremely mundane way, which is than punctuated by an abrupt cut to a fourth-wall-breaking character. He maintains complete mastery of dynamic visual storytelling. Meanwhile, multi-instrumentalist Yann Tiersen composes a musical score worthy of the whimsical adventure taking place in the film. The main theme is a piano melody that neither sounds saccharine or sappy but provides a gorgeous backdrop for the action taking place. It’s an ambient yet surprisingly evocative soundtrack that’ll probably get you wanting to learn how to play the piano just so you can figure out this song. In short, it’s the perfect tune for the movie; pleasant, cheerful, and infectiously lovable- much like the protagonist herself. Come a few years, Tiersen may even start getting comparisons to the likes of Frederick Chopin or Johnny Greenwood. There’s honestly nothing really to hate about this movie. It’s the type of movie that pretty much any person, no matter how heartless they may seem, can fall in love with. It provides a complete, perfect bubble of escapism for 2 hours but is still filled with life and devoid of any cynicism. Amelie is an adorable, vibrant, and relatable rom-com for all film fans. It may have just become my new favorite romance film of all time, simply because it is able to visualize heartbreak and renewal without the slightest ounce of emotional manipulation. It may even inspire you to reach out to the people around you and change their lives for the better. We don’t deserve someone so sweet and innocent as Amelie, let alone movies of them- but the world is better for it.

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“Back to the Future” Movie Review

Time to get back on track with my New Year’s resolution. So how about we continue with a blast from… the future? Okay, that came out wrong. Whatever. This now-classic sci-fi dramedy from director Robert Zemeckis was originally released on July 3rd,, 1985. The film surpassed all expectations and went on to earn over $381 million worldwide along with an ecstatic critical response. Co-written by Zemeckis and producer Bob Gale, the Oscar-nominated screenplay was conceived from Gale’s wondering about how his parents actually met. They initially had a tumultuous experience trying to get major studios to fund the project, which was considered “too tame” for many of them. Thankfully, Steven Spielberg got his production company Amblin Entertainment to back it and through the use of his magical Hollywood powers, it finally saw the light of day. By now, most of you probably know the premise: Marty McFly, a delinquent teenager in 1985, is friends with an oddball scientist named Doc Brown. Brown has recently created a time-traveling machine out of a DMC DeLorean, which goes to any desired point in history once it speeds up to 88 miles per hour. During the night of their first test run, Marty is accidentally sent back 30 years to 1955 and inadvertently breaks up his parents’ first meeting. To save his own existence, he tracks down Doc Brown from 1955 in an attempt to restart the DeLorean to go home… while simultaneously rekindling his parents’ romance. Here, I find myself in a situation similar to that of my review for The Shawshank Redemption. No, I have definitely seen Back to the Future many times prior to my resolution, but it’s essentially the same scenario. It’s extremely hard for me to review it objectively, and I’m almost positive that there’s nothing I can add that hasn’t been said before. But similarly, I just can’t resist the urge to write about it. So yeah, Back to the Future is a classic that is essential, required viewing for all film fans out there. Considering everything that happened during production, though, it’s a miracle we’re talking about it in such high praise. Although Fox is completely distinguished as McFly, a full month’s worth of filming was done with Eric Stoltz in the original role. Then, he was abruptly dropped and the producers had to work around the schedule for the sitcom Family Ties in order for Fox to make it work. (He was the original choice of Zemeckis) Even more baffling than that, though, is that the DeLorean wasn’t even the first design for the time machine. Instead, a regular refrigerator would have been the one converted and an atomic explosion would have been needed to send Marty back home. Who knows what history would have been like if the plot of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had been adapted 20-plus years beforehand? Luckily, we don’t and I’m happier for it. As mentioned before, it’s impossible to imagine anyone playing Marty McFly other than Michael J. Fox. He manages to capture all of the anxieties, charisma, and reactions of a teenager rarely found in most coming-of-age stories… at least when it comes to time travel. Opposite him, Christopher Lloyd is hilarious and buoyant as Doc Brown, helping create one of the most memorable lead duos in cinematic history. He’s somehow able to make some of the most tech-heavy dialogue sound completely normal, informing his young comrade, “If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious shit.” Meanwhile, James Tolkan plays one of the meanest teachers ever to grace the silver screen and Thomas F. Wilson hams it up as Biff Tannen, an iconic bully if ever there was one. The absolute scene-stealer here is Crispin Glover as Marty’s dad George. An eccentric nerd to end all others, the amount of quirkiness and believable traits the actor attributes is uncomfortably realistic. Also realistic in this film is the special effects, a hallmark of almost any Zemeckis picture. The ethereal folks over at Industrial Lights and Magic managed to craft a tight, local-based time travel movie using only 32 VFX shots, which is significantly smaller than most live-action blockbusters released in the modern era. Because of this, virtually every visual effect has aged incredibly well over the years… with a single brief exception. Another trademark of the director are long-take dolly shots, carried out here by cinematographer Dean Cundey. It never feels distracting in the least and adds more personality with some imagery it lingers on. But just as important is the editing job by Arthur Schmidt and Harry Keramidas, who both manage to keep the tension palpable. Relatively early, we see a well-shot scale model that not only delivers necessary exposition but also sets up the final act. And when the climax comes, the way they cut between shots makes my palms sweat and my fingernails shorten every time. Some movies are only as good as their music, and Alan Silvestri’s musical score is one for the ages. With piercing horns that would make John Williams blush and fast-paced percussion, the main theme fits perfectly into the relatively small-scale story even though it sounds as though it belongs in a massive epic. It helps to boost the momentum and remind the audience of Marty’s limited time left in 1955. Some themes you just remember the movie that it’s from, others you can’t possibly imagine the world without. And Silvestri’s work, my readers, falls into the latter category. Even all these years later and after so many re-watches, I really don’t have any problems or complaints about this movie. For all intents and purposes, this has everything that I want when it comes to movies and pure entertainment. Extremely likable characters, fantastic visuals, an unforgettable score, quotable dialogue, a simple yet effective story, and passionate commitment from all parties involved. Back to the Future is a carefully crafted, breathtaking cinematic extravaganza for all ages. I usually hate the old saying, “They don’t make them like this anymore.” But in the case of Robert Zemeckis’ classic film, it’s true; they really don’t. And hopefully, they’ll never remake it.

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