Tagged Cinematography

James White: Burden, Childishness, Disease, and Love Everlasting

James White. 2015. Directed & Written by Josh Mond.
Starring Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Scott Mescudi, Ron Livingston, Makenzie Leigh, David Call, David Cale, Benjamin Brass, Lori Burch, Scott Cohen, Adriana DeGirolami, Jeanette Dilone, David Harris, Rosemary Howard, & Sue Jean Kim. BorderLine Films/Relic Pictures.
Rated R. 85 minutes.
Drama

★★★★
POSTER
Producer Josh Mond has been behind a few really excellent films such as Martha Marcy May MarleneAfterschool, and others, as well as the upcoming Christine (not a Carpenter remake). His first feature film, James White, is a little flawed, but overall an honest, raw look at the life of a New York City Millenial stuck in a brutal situation between trying to reign in his own childish behaviour and taking care of his very sick mother, all after the death of his father. In a day and age where many young people are starting to deal with the death of parents, just as every generation has before them, this is certainly a film with huge impact.
Often the battle against cancer is portrayed in an almost romanticized way. Many movies will show the devoted individuals caring for their sick loved ones as unabashed caregivers, noble, nearly saint-like. Instead of the cliched, emotionally manipulative picture many mainstream Hollywood movies paint, James White is the portrait of a young man, imperfect and stubborn, whose life is upended. He becomes caretaker to his mother while also trying to discern his own place in the world. Along the way we watch his destructive self unfolding in the emotional massacre of his life. There are portions of this film that are genuinely sweet and beautiful. Still, the ugly side of love in a time of disease is on display to make sure the honest truth never slips from our memory.
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The center of this film, above its gritty real life feel, are the two major performances from Cynthia Nixon and Christopher Abbott. I mean, honestly, this doesn’t have to be your cup of tea. Although, if it doesn’t move you there may be parts of your insides made of concrete. Immediately we’re drawn into the reality of this story because of cinematographer Mátyás Erdély (Son of SaulMiss Bala), his natural feeling lens hooks the eye. We’re able to drop into the perspective of the main character James because the camera follows closely behind him, near him, hovering over his shoulders constantly. So once we’re put in that position, Abbott’s talent further pierces us. He is enigmatic, and at the same time upfront. He’s enigmatic because there are things he’s not saying, leaving below the surface, as the drinking problem and everything else, his bravado, masks what’s truly going on. Simultaneously, the camera lets him be upfront because we see his darkest moments. And under all that machismo, there’s a sensitive part which eventually breaks through those barriers. Abbott is able to give us all the aspects of James that makes him interesting. They’re not always easy to watch, nor are they enjoyable. Sometimes you want to smack him and scream into his entitled face. But always, always he is able to command your attention with a brave, truthful performance.
Added to Abbott is the fantastic(ally underrated) Nixon. Her performance is even more exceptional, simply because of the condition she portrays. Her character, Gail, is often difficult, though loving, and many other opposites. Because the disease is ravaging her. It’s the way she shows us the disease which is powerful. It will stop you, freeze your eyes to the screen. One in particular sees her unable to speak, as she says later her brain couldn’t get the words to her mouth, and that moment between her and James is extraordinarily gripping. You’ll almost want to hold your breath.
Ultimately, the two performances together, the relationship between James and his mother, this is what drives the film. I love the look and feel of it all, but these are what makes the whole thing worth it. The threat of cancer and disease is something we all know, and if not yet then someday soon. It touches everybody. To examine the issues – such as how a child might end up having to totally care for a sick parent in an event like James experiences – can really turn heartbreaking. And no doubt, James White both character and film will break your heart to pieces.
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A major aspect of why this movie is intense lies in the decision to look at how a young man out of the Millenial Generation is forced to cope with a parent dying. There are so many dumb think-pieces in the media these days, so many ridiculous opinions about the younger generations today, that we’re often forced into believing there are no serious issues at stake for Millenials – and so you know, I just barely fall into this category being born in 1985. With an intensely emotional screenplay by director-writer Mond, this movie allows us a window into a microcosm of that generation. Left with one parent, whose time is numbered due to cancer, James is confronted with trying to make dreams into reality. He’s a struggling young man that wants to be a writer, though circumstances in his life throw him into complete chaos. In an already bad economy, being a writer is a tough life decision; one I know all too well personally, being a writer (I don’t only write reviews). With his father gone, his mother on the way out, he’s almost got a limited amount of time to construct his life. And with so much time spent being there for his mother, he’s had no time to concentrate on getting himself better, he has neglected his best interests. While there’s a noble aspect to that, he is left with a gaping abyss ahead of him, and with no one there to help guide him.
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This is a film about cancer, the effects it brings down upon those caring for a sick loved one. It also comes at a time where people in their twenties can relate. Because even as the older generations start to die out (Gail here is not particularly old though) and make way in a sense for the younger ones, there is an element of loss, aside from personal loss, because now we are the ones left to guide the way forward, to steer the future. And like in the case of James, not everyone is ready for the burden.
Absolutely a 4-star experience, from the cinematography and its hyperreal atmosphere, to the directing and the screenplay from Josh Mond. Hopefully Mond will go on to do more directing, apart from his great track record as producer. He is talented, and the personal nature of his writing shines through, even if things are grim, uncertain throughout. James White is difficult but necessary cinema in many ways. Aside from its raw look at something which affects us all, this film really speaks to a passing of the torch, willingly or not, from parents to children. And the torch will pass, no matter if its ugly, or if it passes silently in bed during the night.

The Redemptive Horror of Son of Saul

Son of Saul. 2015. Directed by László Nemes. Screenplay by Nemes & Clara Royer.
Starring Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn, Todd Charmont, Sándor Zsótér, Uwe Lauer, Christian Harting, Amitai Kedar, & Kamil Dobrowolski. Laokoon Filmgroup/Hungarian National Film Fund.
Rated 14A. 107 minutes.
Drama/Thriller/War

★★★★★
POSTER Stories of the Holocaust and WWII are a dime a dozen. Some of them are exploitative, such as Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. Then there’s the exploitation films using the Nazis and their crimes in an exciting, dare I say fun way, like Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Also can’t forget classic Holocaust-centered films Schindler’s List and Life is Beautiful. My personal favourite is The Night Porter, which examines leftover emotions and disturbing feelings from the last few years of the Second World War.
But along comes Son of Saul. It takes a close, personal perspective and drags us alongside, witnessing the dark horrors of the concentration camps. This is one film that uses both subtlety and graphic depictions of its subject to wow the viewer. Director László Nemes brings us inside the world of the Sonderkommandos – prisoners in the German death camps made to work, often burning the corpses of their people after extermination, and other such macabre duties. Having read lots about WWII, specifically what happened in the camps, to see a film bring these events to life is emotional, gripping, and thoroughly savage. However, savage with importance. Without exploiting the experiences of those imprisoned under Nazi rule, Son of Saul manages to craft itself into a powerful drama that tows us through a road of horror to get to its conclusion.
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During the fall of 1944, Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig), a Hungarian Jew, is imprisoned in a German Nazi concentration camp – the infamous Auschwitz. He works as a Sonderkommando; his task is burning the dead Jews exterminated in the gas chambers. Except one day he finds the body of a boy who was meant to go for an autopsy, and takes him for his son after discovering him still breathing. He convinces the prison doctor not to do it, then decides to try burying his supposed son, also hoping to find a rabbi so they can perform a proper Jewish burial. Meanwhile, Abraham (Levente Molnár) hopes to get a rebellion going against the SS guards. Another fellow, Biedermann (Urs Rechn), proposes they photograph all the horrors of the camps and smuggle the pictures out.
But the body of the boy keeps calling for Saul’s attention, and to make up for his own past Saul continues on his mission to give the boy the burial he deserves instead of relegating him to the mass graves and the body burnings. At the same time, Saul has to make sure he can manage to survive until the terror is over.
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Immediately, one thing that’s incredibly noticeable is the almost first-person perspective we get through Saul. Over his shoulder, the camera allows us to hover around Saul’s head, to gain a look into his world, his emotions. Cinematographer Mátyás Erdély – whose excellent work can also be seen in 2011’s Miss Bala and his latest in the recent James White – immerses us into the experience of Saul, always keep us on his periphery, only ever briefly allowing small moments outside of his headspace. And so, for a highly personal, almost private story, the cinematography engages us in Saul’s emotional point of view, rarely ever relenting. This helps us feel as if we’re sitting in the midst of the camps. And though anyone outside of the Jewish people who experienced all those atrocities will never ever be able to fully comprehend the mindset, the resonance of this film’s visual style is capable of drawing out those tough, tender, raw emotions.
Furthermore, everything is very dark, almost completely lit by natural light. So the shadows and the sunset and the darkened corners of rooms, hallways, the concrete chambers of Auschwitz, they’re all rich and beautifully captured. Everything looks honest and real. Coupled with that, the fact there’s no score throughout and the images are punctuated by the sounds of voices, the noise of work and machinery, the breathing of Saul and those around him, it adds something perfectly human to the drama and the horror swirling about the camp. Some say without a score films can feel empty. I agree, only on certain accounts. Son of Saul works with no score because there’s no preying on the emotions here. The film speaks solely to the personal human drama, it doesn’t try to play with your feelings and accentuate emotional moments with strings or piano music, or whatever. Rather, the filmmakers continue to immerse us in the world of Saul because without score we’re forced to stick to the images, to the movement of our central character and his actions. Everything becomes like life, playing out right in front of our eyes as naturally as can be while simultaneously looking rich and vibrant.
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The juxtaposition of all the different things the Jewish prisoners went through is stunning. For instance, while there’s no shortage of dead corpses, piles of them at times, some of the most disturbing bits are actually less explicit. In one scene, Saul is in a doctor’s office, but finds himself interrupted by a bunch of SS guards. One of them starts to mock Saul, then breaks into a big routine on Jewish song and dance. What’s most disturbing, apart from everyone enjoying Saul being humiliated, is how the ring leader of the mocking grabs Saul, pushing him around the room, shaking him, treating him like some might treat an animal. So even with all the little graphic moments included throughout, a few of the more chilling scenes come from these subtle, quieter moments where we’re able to see how childish the heart of racism is – paralleled with all the brutality that becomes part of it, too. Similarly, the whole idea that Saul sees some beauty left in life, wanting to bury the boy and get a rabbi for him is parallel against the fact he’s ignoring a chance at escape, he’s risking his life further than he has to in order to both honour a child in death, as well as make up for his own past faults. The whole film is filled with great juxtapositions such as these, part of why there are many lingering emotions after the credits roll.
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A flawless 5-star experience. At times you’ll want to look away, but don’t. We can never turn our face from atrocity, no matter how brutal and tough to watch. This is not a film that relishes in torture or delights in any of the horror through which it frames the plot. No, Son of Saul shows us the Holocaust in all its grimness, never allowing for an overly emotional experience. It’s more of a trying one. But rightfully so. No film about such an event should ever be easy to sit through. At the same time, Nemes uses his beautiful approach to filmmaking for a purpose, and draws us through a terrifying time in 20th century history. He allows us to experience the world of Saul, to feel and see and hear its morbidity. Most of all, Son of Saul shows us a character and story not often put on film, which takes us deeper, further into the Jewish experience of the Holocaust. More so it brings up questions of morality, humanity, daring to explore some of the scariest darkness among human kind while pushing forward a semi-redemptive theme underneath all the terror. A truly fascinating, impressive bit of cinema.

The Limits of Friendship: Raw Realism in NASTY BABY

A gay couple & their close friend decide on having a baby together. All their plans are derailed when a momentary act of frustration boils over into something unimaginably worse.

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Pan’s Labyrinth and the Dark Fantasy of Guillermo del Toro

Pan’s Labyrinth. 2006. Directed & Written by Guillermo del Toro.
Starring Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Doug Jones, Ariadna Gil, Álex Angulo, Manolo Solo, César Vea, and Roger Casamajor. Estudios Picasso/Tequila Gang/Esperanto Filmoj/Sententia Entertainment/Telecinco/OMM. Rated 14A. 118 minutes.
Drama/Fantasy/War

★★★★★
pans_labyrinth_ver3Guillermo del Toro has one of the most consistently fascinating minds in film today. Ever since I saw his feature film debut Cronos – a unique take on vampire mythology – I knew he’d go on to do a lot more great work. Even the 1997 Mimic was fun, though marred by studio interference and the fact del Toro’s father was kidnapped during that time. He went on to do another fascinatingly original type of ghost story with The Devil’s Backbone in 2001, which really came back to his exciting from the first feature. Afterwards, he added a good entry to the Blade franchise with its second installment and then did a funny, engaging adaptation of the Hellboy comic in 2004.
Pan’s Labyrinth is most certainly one of del Toro’s best works to date. It is highly original, while at the same time having its roots in old folklore, fairy tales and fantastical stories such as Alice in Wonderland. Even further, there is a darkness which is present in other fantasy storytelling but becomes pronounced through del Toro as a writer and as director. Perhaps the best part of this film is how he so elegantly weaves dark fantasy through the real life drama at the heart of the story, creating a perfect hybrid between the main character’s reality and her dreamworld.
pans-labyrinth-movie-2006During 1944, the post-Spanish Civil War phase has begun. Although there are rebel troops still fighting in the mountainside against the Falangist army troops.  Captain Vidal (Sergi López) orders his wife Carmen (Ariadna Gil) and stepdaughter Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) brought to live in a country mill within the forest. At first, Ofelia finds it hard to deal with her new life as the daughter of Vidal, whose fascist tendencies do not stop at his soldiers; rather his family is just as much a part of his rule as anything or anyone else.
Once a strange faun draws Ofelia into the labyrinth in the courtyard of the mill, she discovers a whole other magical world existing right under the surface of reality. When the faun tells Ofelia she is actually Princess Moanna, she is given several tasks to complete before the next full moon, which leads her into the other world adjacent to our own. However, it may not be enough for her to escape the hardships of the tragic reality in which she finds herself living with Vidal.

It’s no wonder Pan’s Labyrinth won Academy Awards – three of them. There is such an incredibly craftsmanship about the entire film. Certainly when you look at all the individual aspects, it’s hard to imagine anybody hating this film; sure, you can not be totally into it, but I’ll be damned to hell if you can’t admire this movie for all its efforts.
First, there’s the impeccable cinematography of Guillermo Navarro. Anyone who has read my blog before knows I’m a fan of Navarro. I knew him from his work with del Toro first and foremost. Though, when he directed a couple episodes of NBC’s Hannibal I was truly impressed – those episodes were titled “Coquilles“, “Trou Normand“, and “Rôti“. He captures the light and the dark in equal measures, the latter coming out beautifully in terms of shadow particularly. I think, above all, he and del Toro have very similar sensibilities, which helps in this case because though the story is awesome what I love most is the film’s look. What I imagine is that del Toro and Navarro, as director and cinematographer respectively, came together to find the visual presence of the film; effectively forming a dual director of photography. While del Toro no doubt had an entire aesthetic in mind, I can tell Navarro’s touch lands heavily on Pan’s Labyrinth because of watching his own directing on Hannibal, as well as in the two episodes of Narcos he helmed.
Almost better than the cinematography itself is the film’s intensely detailed art direction. From the look of the old mill, to the forest locations and the darkly fantastical settings inside the labyrinth with the Pale Man and Pan, there are too many different places where the art direction is on the level of a masterpiece. There’s such an effortless feel to the way del Toro and his team take us back to the mid-1940s in Spain. All the while, you know this movie took a ton of work to complete, it’s actually mind boggling at times when I think of it. Every location you see in Pan’s Labyrinth looks like it’s been pulled straight from a picture.
1354132431_pan_s.labyrinth.2006.1080p.bluray.x264.dts.rus-eng1 pans-labyrinth 1280x720-GR6To make it all the more magical, the makeup in this film is just downright jaw dropping. The pinnacle, of course, has to be Vidal’s knife wound through the cheek. Absolutely raw and looks so natural! Its look is something out of a horror film and I found the makeup had a super visceral effect. I’m not normally a cringing sort – I watch a ridiculous amount of horror – however, the part when Vidal patches himself up, sewing the wound, then drinks a shot of liquor: it got me. But in the right sort of way. This part is only one amazing instance of excellent makeup work. Pan and the other creatures have such an innovative design about them, it’s some of the better makeup effects in fantasy over the past 20 years. Hands down. Without all these elements together, the fantasy of Pan’s Labyrinth wouldn’t juxtapose well enough with the reality-based drama in its script. The look – in cinematography, design and direction – is perfectly dark and simultaneously vibrant. Add to that the painstakingly created makeup/effects and del Toro’s genius comes alive – although he wrote the script and obviously came up with a massive amount of stuff to throw into its story, as evidenced by the plentiful notes and sketches he creates over the course of every production, such a vision does require an entire team able/willing to go the extra mile to make this what it was meant to be.
9aef86b7f0c4b873ed069faf13d1d342There’s no argument on my part, Guillermo del Toro has several masterpieces under his belt and Pan’s Labyrinth is no exception: a 5 star film, from start to finish. The screenplay itself is enough to warrant a full rating. With all the different and various elements of this film coming together, working in favour of one another, del Toro’s dark fairy tale is something you might imagine coming out of the great literature from history. Honestly, I truly believe if del Toro had written this as a novel it would’ve been just as well received and perhaps could’ve gone on to rank among some of the big works of fantasy in the literary world. That being said I’m glad he chose to make this as a film. The visual qualities added to the masterful storytelling of del Toro made this into one of the great fantasy epics that will ever be in cinematic history. If I’m alive 50 years from now I’ll still be raving, and hopefully my eyesight will have lasted me until then; hell, even if I’m blind I’ll still ask someone to throw this on so I can listen to its beautiful music, all the sweet sounding Spanish words and the overall magical sound design. If you’ve not seen this one, please, do yourself a huge favour and take this in soon. It’s a pleasure of a movie even with its bits of creepiness and tragedy.
* As of writing, this title is available on Canadian Netflix.*

Cooties: It’s Okay to Kill the Children

Cooties. 2015. Directed by Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell & Ian Brennan.
Starring Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer, Leigh Whannell, Nasim Pedrad, Ian Brennan, Jorge Garcia, Cooper Roth, Miles Elliot, Morgan Lily, Sunny May Allison, and Armani Jackson. Glacier Films/SpectreVision.
Rated R. 88 minutes.
Action/Comedy/Horror

★★★★
2490326_bigOfficially out now on iTunes, Cooties was announced a little over two years ago. I remember seeing the premise alone and thinking this would be, at the very least, a bit of a good laugh. Admittedly, I’m not actually huge on horror-comedies. Funny that I love comedy and I am way in love with horror, yet the combination of both isn’t something that immediately appeals to me.
That being said, there are definitely instances of horror-comedy I’ve loved. Like Shaun of the Dead, which is almost the pinnacle to me of the sub-genre. There’s also Dead Alive, Gremlins, pieces of An American Werewolf in London are definitely full of comedy, Return of the Living Dead, House (a favourite of mine), and many more.
Cooties isn’t perfect, but it’s one of the best horror-comedy films to come out in awhile. There are lots of good laughs, solidly executed horror, and a pretty excellent script. This movie never takes itself too seriously; not to a fault, but enough to make it feel genuine. Some good performances help the whole film succeed, even in its slower moments. Rainn Wilson, of whom I’m not a fan, actually is pretty awesome. Not just him: Elijah Wood is great, Alison Pill cracked me up almost constantly, Nasim Pedrad played such an amazingly satirical character and proves she’s a real good comedian, and even the other much smaller roles had me in stitches.
But it’s the horror I love – the sweet, sweet horror.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.25.24 PMThe opening sequence of the film is pretty spooky, as well as nasty. Like churn your stomach nasty. Tainted nuggets… need I say more?
After this opener, Cooties shifts into comedy/dark comedy mode for a little portion. Which works extremely well. From a screenplay by Ian Brennan and Leigh Whannell, the comedy is genuine. It’s not awkward comedy, as some might expect seeing Rainn Wilson, however, it isn’t at all. There are some hilarious moments, especially from Elijah Wood whose character has a boyish charm while carrying the weight of the adult world on his shoulders; a writer trying hard to be whats he wants, stuck teaching when he’d rather be writing a novel as he says he is.
Still, things get intense fairly quick once the horror rears its fierce head. What I love is that the movie is only an hour and a half, not even, so the plot kicks in and runs wild without enough preamble to numb you. For a horror-comedy, this is an efficient technique and certainly made me enjoy Cooties even more than I might normally enjoy other movies in the sub-genre.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.26.17 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.26.35 PMKiller kid movies always freak me out. Something about the innocence of children combined with evil – and in this case an illness/virus – really just gets to me, in an awfully heavy way.
The kids in Cooties are creepy. Plain and simple. One of the first intense scenes is when Wade Johnson (Rainn Wilson) finds himself trapped on the basketball court, surrounded by a bunch of the kids; they’re hissing, snarling, growls and blood and pus come out of them.
Something I enjoy about the killer kid sub-genre is how it subverts how we feel about children. You don’t feel any fear from them. When you see a kid, as an adult, there’s nothing threatening about them. Even when it comes to really messed up kids who might talk a good tough game, worst comes to worst you can pick a kid up and throw them if necessary. However, when the evil aspect comes into play – in film – there’s something in that subversion, something about how the children suddenly become threatening, which unsettles me at the core. It’s the innocence coming back into play, in a very sinister sense.
Even more so, Cooties pits school teachers against the kids they’re meant to be teaching, caring for, moulding into responsible young adults. There’s something even more wrenching about seeing these educators forced to kill the ones they’ve protected so long, similar to zombie films where we see parents have to kill their children or children forced to kill their parents. Something about this whole idea eats away at me. And even though there’s plenty of comedy peppered in throughout, I think there’s an absolutely relentless sense of dread happening from start to finish which never ever lets go.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.26.47 PMWhat I enjoy so much about this movie is the fact it balances so well the aspects of horror and comedy. This is the strength of any solid horror-comedy, if they can find a balance somehow that ultimately works equally on both fronts. What I found worked, for me, is that Cooties teeters back and forth between riotous moments and nasty horror. I mean, there’s a genuine dose of R-rated horror here a lot of other filmmakers would be too afraid to include in their own films.
When Johnson (Wilson) kills the first kid with a fire extinguisher, I knew it was coming but there’s still an effective scare in that moment. Particularly I love the makeup special effects, the blood spray all over Johnson and the wall behind him, speckled red dots everywhere. A true horror scene. Often times there’s a comedic aspect to kills in horror-comedy; this is not one of those kills. In the midst of the comedy comes a brutal, vicious scene. Not only that, the weight is evident on the character of Wade Johnson, as he sorts of loses his fun loving attitude afterwards and takes a bit of time alone.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.27.03 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.28.00 PMThe cinematography all around is pretty awesome. There’s a genuine atmosphere from start to finish, which sort of evolves from section to section. Lyle Vincent is the one responsible for the camerawork here – he also did 2012’s Devoured, a decent little indie horror with some teeth, and also the downright fantastic A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (you can see a marquee poster for this movie at around the 1 hour 17 minute mark, or a little after, as the survivors pass a theatre). So knowing those two pieces – liking the latter more than the former – it’s no surprise Vincent is able to give Cooties an interesting look and feel. At the start, even in the creepy/nauseating opening sequence, there’s this real bright, shiny type of aesthetic happening – this leads through a bit to when the darkness comes into play. Following the “turn” of the children, a more gritty yet still colourful scheme begins. The vividness of colour persists, only darker now, along with the shadowy halls of the school, lit here and there with neon Exit signs, and the dull, sickly makeup of the kids, bloody and diseased looking. Tons of great visual stuff happening in terms of how the cinematography is both bright and gritty.
Also, there’s a rocking score from Kreng (Pepijn Caudron) – lots of cool electronic stuff happening. Unlike many modern horror movies trying to evoke a retro 1980s style soundtrack, I found this goes for the electronic sound while not necessarily trying to riff off the ’80s particularly. It might have that type of vibe, but for me it’s not the typical modern horror score. Helps the different aspects of Cooties become more intense, along with Vincent’s cinematography, whether it be the action-horror scenes near the end or the plain creepy horror moments throughout. A great horror score, definitely a bit different than some of the other stuff as of late from the indie horror scene.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.28.24 PMI have to mention one of my favourite scenes. It’s very close to the end, so without spoiling anything, the group of teachers trying to fend off all the infected/zombie children wander into a sort of McDonalds PlayPlace type of building. They find the PlayPlace itself, a massive jungle gym full of infected kids, frothing at the mouth, hissing and screaming, laughing like maniacs. The part I love is the lead-up, where first the group comes inside and the dark closes everything in, the flashlights give us enough to see bright party decorations, half eaten cake and nuggets; there’s this eerie quality to the scene I found incredible. Then when the lights go up, a neon multicoloured disco light ball turns, there’s this WHOA second where you can’t get over how wildly creepy the scene has become.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.28.47 PMWith a decent ending, that doesn’t try to wrap things up cleanly and to a precise point, I think Cooties overall gets a 4 out of 5 star rating. I loved the excellent mix of horror (good dose of blood/gore) and comedy. Plenty of good laughs, but horror wins out above anything else. There’s a lot of great intense kid-centric horror. This doesn’t shy away from showing any kids infected, bleeding, or straight up being killed. Though it isn’t malicious in the sense of useless violence. Mostly, as I said before, the subversion of the roles of the teachers in this film really makes things interesting, and horrific at various times for both the audience and the characters.
This is out now via iTunes, so get a copy! Maybe not everyone will love it like I did, but as someone not often drawn into horror-comedies, I’d at least suggest you give it a try.

Beauty in the Breakdown: Alex Ross Perry’s Perfectly Uncomfortable Queen of Earth

Queen of Earth. 2015. Directed & Written by Alex Ross Perry.
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, Patrick Fugit, Kentucker Audley, Keith Poulson, and Kate Lyn Sheil. Washington Square Films.
Unrated. 90 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★★
queen_of_earth_ver2_xlgOpening with such a tightly framed shot of Elisabeth Moss’ Catherine, Alex Ross Perry completely submerges us immediately into her world. Not to mention she’s in an absolute state of disarray and her temper is flaring, her makeup smeared and running. There are plenty of tight close-ups on Catherine moving on through the film, but it’s this almost shocking, jarring opener of her face, in our face, vulnerable and weeping, angry, emotional, which sets the tone of the film. Furthermore, I love how Perry has the title card come up in a hot pink colouring, as it sort of gives things an interesting little twist – as if everything’s fine on top, the pink like the makeup, yet underneath things are wrecked. A nice start to an oddly beautiful film.
From there, Queen of Earth descends into a spiral of broken friendship, jealousy, treacherous relationships, and a general atmosphere of dread and madness. For a movie that isn’t horror, it’s awfully scary. A lot of filmgoers seem to see this is as partly a comedy, though, for the life of me I cannot figure that one out. There’s nothing funny to me here. Not even in the darkly comic sense, which is the type of comedy I personally love most. Mostly this is full of terrifying reality, perched upon two vastly different but equally impressive performances from Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston. Above all else Perry crafted an excellent and classic style thriller out of a mess of emotions and psychological torment.
10293697.0A big problem I have is that I see so many people online bashing this movie because, supposedly, nothing happens. First of all, it troubles me how many of these same people also admitted they’d pirated it. So right away, I honestly have no regard for that opinion; you stole it, didn’t enjoy it, well fuck off. Honestly, if you can’t shell out a couple bucks to watch a movie online as opposed to going to theatre, which yes is damn expensive these days, well why should I care what your opinion is? It’s the same as if you start to heed the opinions of people who don’t actually pay to go to art galleries but rather they look at Polaroids of the artwork and then critique it. Regardless of what you thought about this film, a lot of people worked on it, just as you work at your job, and then people go ahead and pirate that hard work, giving nothing back, what does that say? It’s sad, whatever it says.
Secondly, I have to say that it’s fine if you don’t dig this type of film – the quiet, slow burning style that’s more focused on dialogue and character than action, whether big or small. Queen of Earth is more like a play, as we’re focused mainly on two characters – a couple others sort of in the wings in smaller supporting roles – and the bulk of the plot takes place in a single claustrophobic type of location. That’s part of what I love, as those who say “nothing happens” are SO WRONG. You really think nothing at all happens? Maybe you didn’t listen to all the fascinating dialogue between Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston, or did you miss all the palpable tension going on during scenes with Moss and Patrick Fugit? I don’t know. Might do well with seeing the film again. Because for me, a ton happens in this movie and the plot pops right out of the frame, grips ahold of your neck, and refuses to let go until the very last shot. A movie doesn’t have to have a ton of action – by action, I don’t solely mean car crashes and explosions, I mean action as in big sequences – and I think Alex Ross Perry knows that, more than well. I’ve not actually seen any of his other films, but now I’m determined to go back and watch them. They’re surely not all like this, as there’s a genuine air of old school psychological thriller throughout Queen of Earth, but it’s obvious in this one film alone he knows how to focus in on character, as well as relationships between characters, and how to draw out the tension in normal, everyday type situations; so much of that happens here from beginning to end.
IMG_1976I’ll get to Elisabeth Moss and her performance as Catherine afterwards. I’d like to talk about Virginia to begin; the character wonderfully played by Katherine Waterston. While clearly, painfully obvious that Catherine has some deep issues, it seems to me certain filmgoers are ignoring altogether how damaged Virginia is in her own right. Starting out early on, within the first 15 minutes, there’s a flashback scene between Virginia and Catherine, the latter with her saccharinely sweet boyfriend James (Kentucker Audley) around – they talk about codependency, needing the other person in a relationship and what would happen if there was a breakup, et cetera. This is very telling. What we come to see is that not only does Catherine seem to be highly codependent
One way we can see the already glaringly obvious parallel in the situations of Catherine and Virginia is the boyfriends. Though the Kentucker Audley and Patrick Fugit characters are vastly different, the obviousness lies in the women themselves. They’re like a figurative tennis match, each of them batting the ball with equal force, mirroring the charge of the other. For instance, at the beginning we see James (Audley) calling Virginia ‘Ginny’, which she continually says is what close friends call her and advises him not to; not long after, James again calls her Ginny, she once more chastises him for it. A year later, once the situations have been reversed, Rich (Fugit) does the exact same thing to Catherine that James did – he calls her ‘Kay’, over and over despite the fact she tells him not to. What’s most interesting is that it’s not something initiated by either of the women, it’s something springing organically from these people, as if Catherine and Virginia are somehow willing it out of the universe.
Or is it? I also wonder if Virginia provoked Rich into taunting Catherine with the ‘Kay’ nickname in retaliation for how she perceived her friend to have treated her that year before. Because something strikes me as highly childish about Virginia. Each of these women are somewhat spoiled in terms of money – both of them have/had parents you’d most likely classify as rich – and so I think they’ve got their individual tendencies. But what’s telling in terms of why I think Virginia is especially childish is a scene where she and her boyfriend Rich (Fugit) are laughing in their room – when Catherine comes up quietly towards the door, Virginia won’t look at her and Rich goes to the door, without a word, closing it in Catherine’s face. Virginia and Rich giggle behind the door like two children, as Catherine stands for a moment outside, hurt, confused, then walks away. I thought this moment spoke VOLUMES in regards to Virginia particularly.
Because essentially, we’re seeing a back and forth duel between these two, supposedly, best friends who wound one another like a violently psychological and emotionally unstable game of tag. Instead of standing together, they fall harder and harder apart as the scant 90 minute runtime of Queen of Earth rolls on. This relationship is what sets up so much of the incredible tension within. Bottom line it comes down to the fact these two women are more interested in boosting their own egos than helping each other, neither wanting to be the bigger person and instead tearing their friend apart even worse at the seams.
IMG_1974 IMG_1973 IMG_1975Not only is the perpetually depressed and anxious character of Catherine written well by Perry, the way in which Elisabeth Moss inhabits the character is out of this world. I’m not a fan of Mad Men. However, after I saw Moss in Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake, I became really impressed with her abilities as an actor. She has this very quiet and subtle presence about her, yet there are scenes where she has the ability to take hold of everything near, hauling the scenes down around her and just scorching the earth; I mean this, if it’s not clear, in a hugely positive way. I’ll say it: my top favourite performance of 2015. There is no doubt about it. Starting at the first frame, closed in tight on her weepy, angry face, I was utterly taken with Moss and her portrayal of Catherine. There’s a feeling going into this film you might be expecting something big, loud, brash, yet she surprises by keeping things low-key. Still, there is always a gripping sense of tone when she’s onscreen, whether she is being emotionally intense or quiet and withdrawn. I do love Waterston in this movie. There’s simply an undeniably awesome quality to Moss and her performance, throughout every last scene; not once did I find myself watching her and wanting more, or feeling there ought to be less, rather I continually felt impressed with everything she did.
IMG_1977The score from Keegan DeWitt lays just beneath the surface, like a thin layer of skin beneath the outer edges. At times the pieces are genuinely unsettling, others it’s like a swell is happening and at any moment things might burst, shattering the world in Queen of Earth to pieces. Most of all, the music fits so well in every scene of the film. For me, it’s DeWitt who adds so much of the uneasiness and terrible feeling inherent in the atmosphere of the film, he gives the screenplay and Perry’s direction a dream-like and also nightmarish quality. It’s amazing, really. Even in one scene as Virginia is out running, faded into a scene of Catherine generally not taking care of herself (eating crackers/chips and drinking pop in the morning), there’s a haunting piece with a flute riff on top of some electronic style sounds which sucks you into a weird state and kind of sticks to your skin a while. Great, great score. I think my favourite bits are the extremely foreboding pieces – you’ll know which ones – full of the horns and low woodwinds, then undercut with these deep and growling electronic rumbles.
Music and cinematography can go together hand in hand as lovers if the work is done correctly. Queen of Earth has that with DeWitt’s compositions pairing together with the camerawork of Sean Price Williams. One thing I love in terms of Williams’ cinematography here is how the close-ups really pull the viewer directly into this world. In particular, there’s a great scene with Catherine and Virginia where they’re recounting past relationships, bad ones, and there’s this great profile-like set of shots of the two talking, listening; reminds me very much of an Ingmar Bergman film at times, honestly. These perfect shots, peppered everywhere throughout the film, make the emotional and psychological weight of the screenplay resonate long and wide. Without such gorgeous looking visuals, I don’t think the film would have near as much depth, so I’m glad the look of the movie fits so well with the screenplay and its themes.
IMG_1979One of the 5 star films of 2015 and one of my favourites. It’s hard to talk about Queen of Earth without giving away the ending, even though some will still bark “nothing happens”. To them I say, go watch something else. Lots happens, it’s just not full of big sequences where a ton of characters are jumping about, each spewing expository dialogue to further the story. Instead, Alex Ross Perry’s latest film is a deeply unnerving and raw snapshot of the nervous breakdown of one woman, as well as the breakdown of a long relationship between two old friends, accompanied by an astounding score composed by Keegan DeWitt and the lush visuals of Sean Price Williams.
If you’re not into slowly paced pieces of film with all its focus centred on character and emotionality, then I suggest to not even bother. Really. Because if not, you’re only going to find yourself bored. However, if you can handle a slower pace for 90 minutes, and you’re able to sit through the brutish reality of two friends falling to pieces, one far worse than the other, then this is for you! It can get tough to watch at times if you let the plot and story sink into you, but the rewards are well worth the effort. This film brought me back to some of Bergman’s work, even one of my favourite movies of all time Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, and yet it’s a completely separate and unique masterpiece all on its own.
The ending has stuck with me. Even the entire final half hour is UNBELIEVABLE and at times intensely creepy, as well; that whole party sequence calls back to Polanski in a way which left me jaw dropped for a second or two. The last two shots, switching between an astounded Virginia and a scarily ecstatic, laughing Catherine, they’ve still not washed off me. I watched Queen of Earth, after picking it up through iTunes, twice in the matter of about 12 hours. Each time I was floored beyond belief and those final moments will not find their way out of my head.

WHIPLASH: Two Jazz-Hands Up

Whiplash. 2014. Directed & Written by Damien Chazelle.
Starring Miles Teller, J.K Simmons, and Paul Reiser.
Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 107 minutes.
Drama/Music

★★★★★WHIP_INTL_1Sht_Lk2_LYRDI think one of the most incredible things about Whiplash is the fact it captures the blood, sweat, and tears which go into the making of a true musician so accurately that it’s almost a little scary. In fact, with J.K Simmons’ performance this really becomes a frighteningly accurate portrayal of the beating heart of music. While most people only see the surface of musicians, Damien Chazelle opens up the doors and shows the world what it’s like behind them. Now, not all musicians go through such strenuous training – many famous rockstars would have you believe they’ve run the gamut, however, the studied musicians who have trained for years and years, who have literally bled and spent hours grinding themselves into dust just for that extra bit of practice to get ahead, they are the true masters. I’m not discounting what famous bands, et cetera, are doing (there are absolutely famous musicians who’ve gone the hard road of classical training) – I only mean that the real tough and uniquely talented individuals are those who went through the trenches.

Whiplash tells the story of a young drummer named Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) who attends a very prestigious music school. There, he comes face to face with a fearsome, well-respected professor, Terence Fletcher (J.K Simmons). The two butt heads. Andrew wishes to be one of the greats. While Fletcher initially seems to give him a positive response, soon Andrew finds himself at the mercy of a merciless maniac consumed by only one thing – perfect music. Continuously the two clash to more and more unexpected results.
Whiplash-4091.cr2One of the most obvious things that impresses most people about the film is Miles Teller. Firstly, it’s incredible to know he played the drums. I mean, if you pay attention to the film for more than ten minutes you’ll obviously realize it’s him – very hard to hide anything the way Chazelle shot the film. But it’s still mind blowing. There are some really tough scenes in here. I can imagine some of the blood, and no doubt every last drop of the sweat, were all Teller; one hundred percent of the way. This is a performance where an actor really dives in. Not only pulling off a complex emotional character, but additionally playing the music of the film. Apparently, Teller has played drums since the age of 15, and took more intense lessons to prepare for the role. It shows.
He also certainly did a great job while not on the drums. His performance reflected a lot of what I’ve personally seen in musicians over the years. Myself, I’d never strived to be anything more than a decent musician who could play for fun. I grew up with an aunt and uncle who both have their Master’s Degree in music – both of whom taught me, in one form or another, over the years. I planned piano and trumpet for a long time, fairly well I might add, but not at a truly competitive level other than music festivals throughout grade school. I mention this because I’ve come across a lot of people such as Andrew Neiman while coming up. They are determined. Some times to a fault. However, I’ve always been fascinated with their determination. Trying not to ruin anything, I think it’s the finale which really brought me around to believing Teller did a fabulous job. You really see the determination, the pain, the anguish of Andrew in these moments. The ending is really beautiful. Overall, and for the character of Andrew himself.
whiplash3The other undeniable aspect of Whiplash and what makes it so good is, of course, the always fascinating J.K Simmons. In him, the character of Terence Fletcher really comes alive and jumps out of the screen. I know he played this role in the short Chazelle did before getting the funding for the feature, so that certainly was good for Simmons as an actor; being able to live with a character more than just a small period of time while filming. Either way, I’m sure he could have pulled this off. He has a great knack for playing hard ass characters, however, I think this goes beyond that – Fletcher is a cruel, relentless savage who stops at nothing to secure the best performance possible from every musician under his eye. Again, while Andrew is a very real character to me, so is the character of Fletcher. I’ve known people who could really push the envelope, as far as what is or isn’t acceptable to say to a person in regards to conductors. Even my own uncle who has been conducting, writing, teaching musicians for several decades now – this coming from both his nephew and a former student – could be an asshole. This wasn’t because being an asshole got him any further. It was always in service of the overall performance. Not only him, but other band teachers I had in grade school were also intense. I’ve seen and heard some fairly foul stuff from these guys over the years. One of them actually smacked me on the top of my head lightly with a trumpet mouthpiece – if you’ve ever held one, you know it doesn’t take much to leave a nice goose egg on the top of a teenager’s skull. All that in mind, Simmons really pulled off a spectacularly villainous role. He’s probably one of the best film villains of the last decade, and this is purely a dramatic film about music. So, I really think the praise is deserved, as much as any other great performance from 2014 – if not more. A great actor who deserves the most recognition possible.

In the end, I really think the best thing for me about Whiplash is the fact I really didn’t know where this film was headed. For a while, I sort of thought this might end up being a really cheesy music movie because of where I thought the plot might go. Luckily, was I ever wrong. Especially in the last third of the film. I really didn’t expect things to take the turns they did. Without spoiling too much, I think Chazelle made some interesting, non-typical choices. In particular, the very end played extremely well. I was expecting the film to end on a certain note, and while it did end in similar fashion to what I imagined, there was a distinct lack of ham. What I mean is, I really thought Chazelle might fall into the trap of lesser films where they go for sentimental conclusions which make me feel forced. I don’t like to feel forced to say “oh that’s nice a happy ending”. Whiplash ends on what I believe is a positive note, but doesn’t jam any sappy finale moments down your throat. It’s actually really intense. I found myself wide-eyed and wondering how things were finally going to clue up. I was impressed once Chazelle finished the film in the way he did, and walked away feeling great.
Whiplash-5547.cr2I can honestly say this is a flawless drama. It’s a 5-star movie about music. There is no doubt. While some might try and say it does no service to music because it seems to say practice can make anyone great, this is absolutely not the case. At one point in the film we see Fletcher’s only moment of weakness: a young musician he moulded, who went on to be a fabulous musician, dies in a car accident. Later in the movie, he explains a few things to Andrew. Fletcher ends up mentioning that even though he tried his best he never really “had a Charlie Parker” – right there and then, even if you know already, you realize this is not about saying practice can make anyone into one of the greats. Even this student Fletcher thought was the best he’d ever produced was not who he deemed to be “a Charlie Parker“. The point is, Fletcher pushed people to go beyond what was expected of them. He never guaranteed anybody greatness – only the opportunity to learn the tools through which greatness might then be attainable. The message isn’t wrong, but certainly will be misinterpreted. You won’t be great just because you practice yet ultimately, no one can be good without practice, and certainly not great – this is the message.

I highly recommend everyone see this film once they get the chance. It’s a great movie about music with incredible performances, lots of jazz, a bit of psychological horror in a few scenes, and always, always tons of heart. I enjoyed this every step of the way, and it defied a lot of the expected moments I anticipated to see.

Cold Prey III is the Birth of Fear

Fritt Vilt III (English title: Cold Prey 3). 2010. Dir. Mikkel Braenne Sandemose. Screenplay by Peder Fuglerud & Lars Gudmestad; story by Martin Sundland.
Starring Ida Marie Bakkerud, Kim S. Falck-Jørgensen, Pål Stokka, Arthur Berning, Sturla Rui, Terje Ranes, and Nils Johnson. T2 Entertainment.
Not Rated. 95 minutes.
Horror

★★★★

I’m in the the tiny little column of people who loved all three of these Fritt Vilt films. One of the best slasher trilogies out there, and it’s certainly one of the best slashers in modern horror. While a lot of horror fans seem to have dismissed these movies, I champion them. If you’ve yet to read my reviews, here are Fritt Vilt and Fritt Vilt II – and certainly if you haven’t watched those yet don’t go into this one. I’m sure most people sensibly would watch the trilogy in order, but just in case, turn back, and make sure you get a look at the lead up. Though this is a prequel film, Fritt Vilt III does rely on some of our knowledge of what came before cinematically in order for us to fully realize the chronology. Even further, it cements these three movies as a really great series with a memorable killer at the center.

Fritt_Vilt_III-1This movie opens in 1976 at the mountain hotel where the original Fritt Vilt was set – we get slightly expository scenes filling in the killer’s background. His mother Sigrid and stepfather Gunnar claim he went missing, which takes us back to the very first film. It’s clear now that when we originally saw the boy running through the snow in Fritt Vilt, he may have been running from someone close to him. Gunnar does not like his wife’s son. He keeps the boy locked away in the basement. Sigrid tries her best to let the boy stay upstairs, claiming he barely gets any sunlight, but Gunnar thinks he is a freak (remember the boy’s significant birthmark across his face – of course that’s no reason to treat anyone, let alone a child, terribly like this..) and wants him kept hidden. Afterwards, we see Gunnar treating the boy worse than a dog. It’s obvious the boy was either trying to run away from home, or Gunnar might’ve been trying to kill him – we never get a full answer, which is better that way, but the strings are there to lead us on. Then, one night after a few days of the boy being missing, he returns to see his mother. The boy proceeds to kill her, as well as Gunnar. He disappears into thin air, it seems, and nobody sees any of them again.
17We also see a subplot concerning a local Sheriff named Einar, involved in the investigation into the disappearance of Sigrid, Gunnar, and the boy. Einar goes to see his brother Jon, who is clearly an outcast and living in a cabin somewhere near the national park around Jotunheimen. There is some sort of rift between them. Einar comes to question Jon about whether or not he’s seen the boy from the hotel; apparently Jon’s cabin is one of the only places between the hotel and civilization. Jon declines to say much, leading his brother to believe he’s not seen the boy. However, once Einar leaves, Jon can be seen holding up a picture of the boy with his mother and stepfather; around the edges are bloody, smudged fingerprints.
vlcsnap-426311Cut to 12 years later. 1988. A group of friends are heading into the national park near Jotunheimen in search of the area, which has apparently been taken off the map, where the hotel lies abandoned in the mountains. Einar is dropping the group off and returning the next afternoon to bring them back out from the park..
On the way, Einar runs across his brother Jon; they have an awkward, one-way conversation, and the sheriff warns his brother, who has a rifle in the back of his truck, there is no hunting within the national park. They head off on their way, and Einar drops the friends in the park. They set out and eventually find the hotel, but it’s filthy and worn down, so a few of the group would rather not stay, and instead opt to find somewhere better to camp. After this decision, they fall prey to the boy, now 12 years older and closer to being a man, who has been roaming the woods for over a decade and honing his dangerous, brutal skills.
7One of the defining things about the entire trilogy is the brutality of the kills. It doesn’t stop at the first sequel – Fritt Vilt III really keeps up the pace in terms of savagery in the slasher’s kills. The very first death in the movie is really great because it sets up part of the themes throughout the whole thing.

For instance, the first death comes as a result of a situation that could easily be an accident anyone might come across in the deep woods where people hunt and poach, if they aren’t careful anyways. Two of the characters slip into a pitfall, most likely created by the sheriff’s brother Jon; one is skewered by a pointed stick in the pit, the other gets out to try and locate help. After she leaves, the other character is left to be found by the killer – as if the fall into the pit wasn’t bad enough, the killer then viciously finishes him off. From there, we see how the killer has grown, gotten very angry, and learned a lot about hunting – mostly just the killing part. This then leads to proof Jon has been helping and sheltering the killer. When the big slasher hauls his prey back to the cabin, Jon also finds the escaped girl and brings her back – he scolds the now grown boy saying these people are “humans… not animals”. It now becomes very clear the killer’s earlier abuse took the heaviest toll possible; his humanity, any empathy or sympathy possible inside him, was taken away from him completely. He can’t distinguish man from all the other animals, or worse, he was abused into believing/knowing man to be the most dangerous animal of all. So, just like Michael Myers’ famous head-tilt in Halloween (when he pins the one teenager up against the wall dead & stands back with his head tilted to the side just like a dog while admiring his work), this scene truly cements the Fritt Vilt killer as an animal of a man.
The kills follow a pattern in that they reflect the killer’s life out in the woods, fending for himself and trying to stay alive. Obviously Jon taught him to hunt in order to survive, eat, et cetera, but because of the boy’s awful home life in his very formative years this training and experience lead to his being a serial killer, and not just an avid, experienced hunter. Instead of all knife-slashings and the like, we’re treated to bow and arrows, rifles, and just downright savagery at times. It’s pretty incredible. We go into slashers looking for this sort of thing – don’t be surprised when you’ve found it.
006-Cold_Prey_3PERkAnother thing I really love about this entry is the fact it takes most of the action from out of the shadowy corridors of the abandoned mountain hotel and the second entry’s dark hospital hallways, and it puts a lot of the scenes in a brighter, more visible landscape. This works well because the first kill itself [the pitfall scene] is shrouded in a lot of darkness. From this scene, things move outwards into the light. There’s something scarier about a slasher film when it can work in the light of day versus needing the shadows to make things tense. When a slasher has many scenes shot in the daytime, it subverts our normal image of the slasher movies we know best, and also catches us off guard – in a good way.
A couple great moments in this regards:
– I really like a few moments where we’re seeing shots of a character intercut with looks through the sight of his rifle. This provides some nice suspense; things become full of tension, as we literally look down the barrel of his gun. What makes these bits really scary is the killer lurks in the forest. Yet it’s completely light out. While the character is holding a gun, waiting for the moment to fire, we still believe the killer will get him – he doesn’t need to the darkness, he can hide in plain sight. It’s unsettling.
– My favourite scene is actually later in the film when Anders and Hedda are near a sort of cave, which sits next to a pool of water. Anders has been shot through the shoulder (when the bow and arrows make an appearance). They’re trying to rest, but the killer can be heard coming in the trees. Instead of running, Hedda hides. When the killer comes and circles Anders, just like an animal would its prey, Hedda comes out and stabs the killer – this doesn’t phase him and he keeps coming. Then Anders smashes his head with a rock. They leave the killer floating face down in the pool of water. This leads to one of my top creepy shots in the whole trilogy – the killer raises up from the water, his head down, his hood up and covering his face – he gasps hard for air making a terrible noise. It really is a great scene, which gives the characters a little win while also showing us just how much longevity the killer has, and how he is damn tough.
1I also can’t forget to the mention the cinematography here is absolutely incredible. The locations here were very well chosen. There are some abnormally beautiful shots in the film, which is very atypical of a slasher (for the most part – there are definitely some great looking visuals in slashers out there). One of my favourite parts about this final installment in the trilogy.
vlcsnap-429110I can’t help but give this third film in the series a 4 out of 5 rating.  There were issues with pacing in the beginning, but about halfway through the movie’s running time things pick up, and it really starts to cook with gas going forward.
A lot of people say the prequel by nature has a tough time keeping suspense up in terms of us wondering who will live or die because we already know, going in, the killer clearly will be around for years and years – the first Fritt Vilt is set probably almost two decades after the events of this film. So we know at the start the killer won’t be stopped. However, the movie gives us a lot of interesting insight into the killer. It helps us fill out the back story instead of leaving him as a masked and nameless slasher. This may work for a lot of movies out there – or maybe it doesn’t work, they just keep getting people to fund their useless sequels. On the other hand, Fritt Vilt creates a really excellent story, and the icing on the big cake that is that story comes with this third installment in the series. Giving us a fuller background on the killer makes the whole trilogy better, in my opinion. Not only that, Fritt Vilt III on its own really has a lot of great themes in it – man as animal, man as hunter, et cetera. The deaths are nasty, the plot is grim, and it really shows us how the killer of the series became what he was in the first Fritt Vilt. This was a great slasher and really did justice to the other films. Sadly, not many appear to agree. I couldn’t care less.
I love this, I watch it often, and I’m confident in putting the whole trilogy up as one of the best horror series’ out there while being at the top of my list when it comes to the greatest slasher trilogies ever made.
Check out the whole trilogy – have some fun!

Fury: The Festering Reality of War

Fury. 2014.  Directed & Written by David Ayer.
Starring Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peňa, Jon Bernthal, and Jim Parrack.
Columbia Pictures.
134 min. Rated R.
Action/Drama/War

★★★★★

David Ayer’s new thriller Fury is by far one of the most brutal and honest films set during the Second World War ever made. Not only does it present the agony of war, it also works as a great character piece.
Brad Pitt leads the cast as Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier, a sergeant who rides aboard the titular tank, Fury. Alongside him are his three most trusted men. However, after one of those men dies the crew is saddled with a fresh young army recruit (Lerman) hauled from desk duty to fight in the second Battalion. The five men continue through Germany together, killing every Nazi they find, and try to hold onto their humanity in the face of war and death.fuThe film looks beautiful and everything feels very real (this also marks the first time an actual Tiger tank has been used on a movie set). Ayer shot with film instead of digitally, which gives Fury a very bleak, grim feeling as the tanks and the troops behind them trek through miles of mud. The way it’s filmed gives an almost nostalgic feel reminiscent of other great war pictures. No doubt there will be more than a few comparisons to the blockbuster Steven Spielberg film, Saving Private Ryan.  Regardless of its predecessors, however, this film holds its own as one of the best World War II films out there.

Fury is not delegated solely to bombs, bullets, and the horrific images of war. Ayer wonderfully crafts the film from its opening with a blurry shot of a figure on horseback. It moves slowly through an area where a fight has recently occurred. Bodies lay everywhere. Ashes and fire are all around. The figure, a German, comes into view riding a pale white horse: one of the Four Horsemen, symbolizing death.  Wardaddy ambushes the man, killing him, and sends the horse on its way. For a moment he has driven death out. Later, we see the white horse again galloping away once more. When the film nears a close you begin to understand Ayer’s use of symbolism.
4Fury is mainly about what war does to those who engage in and are surrounded by it. It is a film about men trying to hold onto their humanity under the most gruelling conditions.  One of the central struggles of the characters is their justification of death as preventing worse deaths for others.  How does a man keep on being human even after holding a gun to another man’s head and pulling the trigger? And what if a man is forced to do that is worse? Ayer explores these dilemmas throughout the film with help of some stellar acting on all parts.
Pitt earns his keep as a continually interesting actor. His portrayal of Wardaddy is fairly subtle and restrained. He looks and acts the part of a haunted war veteran. In solitary moments where the camera sticks on him Pitt conveys a side of war not often seen, as he fights with the emotion inside him trying to escape. The supporting cast is just as top notch. Shia LaBeouf proves capable of playing a quiet character instead of the usual loud cockiness he displays. Joe Bernthal, best known from AMC’s The Walking Dead and Michael Peňa who starred in Ayer’s earlier film End of Watch, are both in fine form playing men who have seen and done too much to simply return to normal after the war is over. However, it is Logan Lerman that really shines. Playing the rookie soldier on the tank crew alongside Pitt, he displays great acting talent, and conveys the terror of many young men drafted and thrust into battle during World War II without ever having so much as fired a gun. Overall the main cast works together to depict the weary strain of war on those who’ve fought.

I cannot recommend Fury enough. The cinematography is something to behold and really captures the grit of World War II’s muddy trenches.  Honestly, for a dark look at war this movie is dripping with gorgeous shots.  I love the camerawork.  Certain shots here were just perfect.  Ayer really set the tone with an overall atmosphere of tension.  There was literal fog often rolling over the war fields, and it help to create the mood: a sense of dread hung over each scene.
There are fairly divided opinions on both Shia LaBeouf and Brad Pitt, and depending on which side you fall it could skew how the movie plays, but I believe they each put in a fantastic performance here. This is a tightly scripted film driven by the emotional force of the actors.
2I’ve seen a review or two saying this movie was “so grim” and other such statements. One reviewer even claimed he felt like he “needed a hug” afterwards. I mean, there are so many things wrong with this way of thought. A movie, unless otherwise specified, is not meant to make you feel warm and fuzzy. Especially not one about the brutal nature of war, and during World War II no less. This is all about the grim picture. This is meant to make you feel unsettled and even a bit terrified, at least for the characters. I can never stand when people feel they have to like a character, or be made to feel good because of a character’s actions or by the plot – whatever. It’s all about whatever the character or plot is intended to do: final cause. This is the purpose of Fury – to unnerve you, displace your feelings and take you out of those comfort zones. Just as it must have felt for any of these men to be drafted and stuffed into a tank together. To be shoved out into the fields of some town in another country, on another continent. To be told you’re going to either live or die – there is no middle ground.
So, in essence, Fury should really make you feel conflicted in certain ways, it should absolutely leave you with a grim feeling, and looking for hugs afterwards. If so, it has absolutely served its final purpose.

There are countless war movies out there. What sets one apart from the pack is its honesty. Ayer pulls no punches about the realities of war from the script to the action sequences. Many war veterans often say that the real heroes never came home; Fury is a cinematic testament to this statement.

The Raid 2: Because Somehow It Gets Better

The Raid 2: Berandal. 2014. Directed & Written by Gareth Evans.
Starring Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Yayan Ruhian, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusodewo, Alex Abbad, Julie Estelle, Ryuhei Matsuda, Kenichi Endo, and Kazuki Kitamura. Entertainment One Films Canada.
Rated 18A. 150 minutes.
Action/Crime/Thriller

★★★★★ (Film)
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)

Even the trailer just absolutely melts my face off. I couldn’t wait for this movie to come out. And boy, was I ever not disappointed in the least. In fact, this is one of those few sequels where it surpasses its predecessor joining the ranks of The Godfather Part IIStar Trek II: The Wrath of KhanStars Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, and The Dark Knight. This addition to what will hopefully be a trilogy is an incredible action film, and most certainly one of the best I’ve ever seen.

The plot of The Raid 2: Berandal begins only a few hours after the previous events of the first film. Now, Rama is forced to go undercover in a ruthless prison to protect his family, as well as infiltrate the criminal organization which stretches even into the police. He must become a mob enforce in order to break through and gain the information needed. This is easier said than done. Once again, Rama has to fight through criminal after criminal to succeed in his objective.
So get ready for an all-out brawl with so much balls you’ll feel the kicks and punches in your gut with every bone smashing scene.

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O
ne of the things I immediately loved about The Raid 2 is that it gives us another chance to engage the character of Rama. In the first film, Evans gave us a look at tough yet nervous rookie, who was navigating a world completely unfamiliar to him. Even more so this time around, Rama is in a dangerous and unpredictable environment. But this time, Rama is also more experienced.
Right off the bat we’re treated to amazing fight choreography just in the first 25 minutes or so. First, we get to see an enclosed space brawl where Rama fights off numerous prisoners, as they kick and punch their way to him. Then, later, Rama must fight for his very life, as a gigantic brawl begins in the prison yard. Arms and legs are broken. Heads are smashed in with fists, rocks, and whatever else these men can grasp their fingers around. Some inmates are kicked to death in the muddy yard by groups of other prisoners. It’s just an absolutely incredible scene.  ‘m not sure how many actual edits are in there, but Evans makes it all look like one long, fierce take just following fight after fight, death after death. It’s one of those powerhouse sequences where it feels unbroken for a nice long time. You see a lot of these types of shots in other films, but action films it’s not exactly commonplace to see these extended takes because that takes a lot of work. Evans, however, pulls out several of these throughout the film.

A really amazing sequence, among many, is the crowded fight in the car. Watching how Evans actually accomplished that entire fight including some very unique and tricky camerawork, it’s just a breath of fresh air in the action world. Not only does Evans care about the fights themselves looking great and natural at the same time, he still pays close attention to the details of the actual camerawork for such fights. I know there are other stylized action films out there. Nevertheless, Evans and his two Raid films really takes the cake on visionary action-thriller filmmakers. Seeing the camera operators passing the camera around through the car, as well as discovering there’s one of them actually dressed as a seat (I never would have guessed that on my own – not in a million years), it is spectacular movie making. There aren’t enough minds like Evans, especially in the action genre.

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Love the role of Uco played by Arifin Putra. He did a great job. It was good to see another strong role in The Raid series aside from the main role of Rama (Uwais). This guy did a nice job with a character who could be typical. In certain respects, he is, quite typical. Yet there’s a savage, brutish nature to the way Putra plays Uco I really enjoyed. I sort of felt bad for him in a way, even though he’s really just a spoiled little psychopath.
Regardless, Putra gave a good performance, which worked well opposite Iko Uwais, who was just as excellent (if not more) in this film as he was in the first. Uwais had more to work with here, as the treacherous waters Rama must wade through become deeper and darker, murkier than before. In particular, there’s a fight later in the film where Rama scalds a man’s face terribly (a man he discovers afterwards is a police officer like himself). Following the fight, Rama is absolutely devastated with what he has become in order to fight criminals – essentially, a criminal himself. Uwais does a terrific job with this role and I felt for his character, which we rightfully should. Then of course his fighting has only gotten better, it seems. Not long after the previous scenes, the aforementioned car fight goes down; it’s one of the more wildly choreographed and executed scenes in the entire movie.

Action films are always better served by good performances (stupid thing to say – any film is served well by a proper performance), so having both Putra and Uwais play their roles with skill only makes things better. When you get good action with fun, interesting characters it isn’t hard to enjoy. The Raid 2 really improved in a lot of ways from the first, as much as it could seeing as how that one was incredible. The main way in which this film is better comes down to the performances. Though there is plenty of action, even more than the first (or at least on a bigger scale than its predecessor), this sequel really gets into the performances more.
There are some really unique characters in here. One in particular sees Yayan Ruhian (who also apparently choreographed bits of this film – not sure exactly how much but that is excellent) back in action; here, he plays a different character than his insane Mad Dog character from The Raid: Redemption.The character he played was weird, which is awesome.  Not only that, he fights a bunch of dudes in the street, while holding a machete, and yet doesn’t actually use it on any of them – not until the final person he fights. This also includes a great blood effect that I cannot get enough of! Evans does a shot of a body sliding down a wall after being ran through with the machete’s blade, except it’s from the rear, and so we get a nice view of the bloody hole from his gut to his back, as it slides down the wall leaving only Ruhian visible through the hole in the wall. Maybe that sounds like a mouthful, but believe me – it is an awesome little, almost throwaway, practical effect. It looks really gnarly, and I totally dug it to the fullest.

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Two other honourable mentions must be noted when it comes to characters: Hammer Girl (seen above in mid-kick assery) & her equally demented sibling Baseball Bat Man. Great additions to the film. Not only was it sort of fun and a kind of homage to less serious/more silly martial arts flicks, it really kicked up the madness of the entire Raid series another notch. In the first movie, we get that real crazy vibe from the machete gang. I was really wondering what Evans would do in this film; if there would be that sort of vibe I got from them.  This is where Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man came in. Their fight with Rama was just absolutely intense. One of those great sequences where you’re actually not sure for a few moments here and there if the hero would come out on top. I like that, when a filmmaker isn’t afraid to tease us a little with the true fear of a character’s death. But of course Rama is the man; I mean, do you really doubt that? This fight is one of the more balls-to-the-wall sequences out of either of the Raid movies, and I couldn’t rewind enough to watch it over and over.
Not to take away too much from the final fight Rama endures – it is a dam fine fight both in the camerawork used and the fight choreography of the actual scene. I just particularly wanted to mention those characters. The last fight, regardless of how much I enjoyed Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man, was near perfection. Incredible, the score really amped things up with a sort of John Carpenter feel to it, and it was just really beautiful and brutal all at once. Plus it comes to a bloody conclusion.
Also, it’s worth mentioning the locations Evans chose to shoot were really interesting to look out, so while there’s great fight choreography and bone crunching hits happening, there’s also a beautiful visual style to the whole film overall in the form of interesting locations, as opposed to a ton of set pieces (I’m not positive whether there were specifically built sets used in this film or not – to me most of the locations look natural). Always a plus for an action film.

As a film, The Raid 2: Berandal is easily a 5 star experience. It stands on its own as a really great crime thriller with extraordinary action sequences and fight choreography. In regards to its status as a sequel, this definitely improves on the first for me – there were no characters here I felt weren’t portrayed well. The acting really did it for me here, and took The Raid series to a higher level. The fight choreography stepped it up, too. The prison yard fight alone is enough to raise this up over the first movie. Put all those things together and you’ve got one hell of an action film. There isn’t the same music as the first, but I think the score here really works for the movie, and the fact it doesn’t sound the same is not a drawback. Yet there was a wonderful use of my favourite artist Nine Inch Nails both in the very last moments of the film and over the credits, as well. Really awesome music from Trent’s work on his Ghosts collection of albums. Excellent experience overall, from action to character to plot to sound. You won’t find too many films, particularly action-thrillers, better than this one.

The Blu ray release, again, is a god damn treasure. Getting a look behind the scenes of these Raid films is a treat for me. Like I said before, the fight in the car and watching it broken down kept me busy forever. Not to mention the entire featurette included called “A Violent Ballet”, which is focused solely on the choreography involved in the production of the film. Of course there’s also some director commentary (really worthwhile to listen – a lot of insight from a great filmmaker), and another featurette about shooting a sequel to the first film. These are all really wonderful extras. Highly suggest checking them out if you pick up this release.
Also thrown in is a four and a half minute deleted sequence entitled “Gang War” – this shows a group of thugs getting ready for what promises to be a massive battle, putting guns and grenades and ammo in bags, marching together down the street, and finally they meet another gang. This climaxes in a ridiculously wild and gory shootout between the gangs. I loved every last second of this. There are some great effects in the 4-minute span of this scene. Although, I can understand why Evans opted not to include this sequence in the finished film, it’s really fun to watch. An action packed deleted scene if there ever was one!
The Blu ray release is beyond worth the purchase. 5 out of 5 star ratings times five. I’ve spent hours watching the extras. The picture itself is worth seeing because it’s as close to seeing it in theatre as you can get. Really great experience. The fight sequences look incredible here. Evans’ work as a director shines when you can watch his film in such gorgeous definition. Recommended to the fullest – go pick this up and you will not be let down in the least by either the film or the Blu ray.

13 Sins: Economy & Morality

13 Sins. 2014. Dir. Daniel Stamm. Screenplay by David Birke & Stamm; based on the original source material 13: Game of Death by Chookiat Sakveerakul & Eakasit Thairatana.
Starring Mark Webber, Devon Graye, Tom Bower, Rutina Wesley, Ron Perlman, and Pruitt Taylor Vince. Entertainment One.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★

The beginning of 13 Sins signifies an entertaining, at times shocking, and wild rollercoaster is about to kick in gear. I love when, right from the get go, a film tells you it’s both appropriate to laugh your guts out, and also be creeped out or horrified – whatever the moment calls for.

We open with an older man who is being introduced at some sort of reception. He proceeds to tell some filthy jokes, and then cuts a woman’s finger off in front of the entire crowd. Everyone panics. People flee to the doors, screaming and trampling like cattle. As he reaches into his pocket while a police officer holds him at gunpoint, he’s shot. However, what he reached for was a cellphone. It promptly goes off with a ringtone of Julius Fučík’s “Thunder and Blazes – Entry of the Gladiators”.640px-13_Sins_poster
Cut to Elliot (Webber) whose life is in shambles. He is about to get married, he already takes care of his disabled brother Michael (Graye), and his elderly, hateful father (Bower) is on the verge of needing to move in with him. Not to mention he is suddenly fired from his job for “lacking balls”, essentially. Then, out of the cold blue, Elliot receives a phone call; his phone goes off with Fučík’s orchestral arrangement, which confuses him. This sets off a contest, starting with the harmless killing and eating of a fly for thousands of dollars, leading him into the dark heart of man. The tasks, 13 to be exact, of the contest go from making a child cry, to dragging a dead corpse into a diner for a cup of coffee, and worse.
Love the plot. Although this is based on 13 Beloved, I like this one better. The horror in this one gets pretty wild. I’ve seen a lot of gore and the like, but there’s something about the thrills in this movie that really work well. Elliot is basically a man in the worst position of life; he faces a grim future of looking after a father he doesn’t exactly get along with, as well as watching his younger disabled brother get sent back to a snake-pit institution where he’ll likely never get any real help or understanding. There’s something about Elliot, as a character, which speaks to a lot of people. Especially today – the economy isn’t exactly perfect. There’s something about Elliot and his desperate need for money, the need making him do all sorts of crazy things, that makes the things he does even more horrifying. Really great adaptation from the original film.

Webber does a pretty good job with the character of Elliot. He doesn’t immediately just jump into everything; there’s a hesitation to him that feels natural. Though he does dive in after awhile. Around 45 minutes into the film comes a moment where there’s really no turning back whatsoever for Elliot. He is hesitant, however, it doesn’t take a lot at this point. He’s got everything bearing down on him. A meeting with some people from earlier in his life, high school, basically tips him over the edge – that last push. From there, he’s more into the game, and willing to really let go of himself. Webber gave a good performance here, I can’t deny that.
Ron Perlman isn’t in there a whole lot, but fills out that role nicely. As does Tom Bower, who plays the crust old dad to Elliot; I always love this guy, honestly. Devon Graye, as a supporting character, was really awesome. He didn’t make the character of Michael seem ridiculous, as some actors tend to do with portrayals of disabled people; he kept it realistic, and there were times I just really loved his dialogue (especially when he was talking about “making eyes” at some girl from the same institution – great lines and well-delivered!). Everyone in smaller roles, even Pruitt Taylor Vince with his very brief parts, did excellently in rounding out the cast.
13-sinsWhat really drives this are the tasks themselves, though. There is a disturbing quality to it all because, as I said, Elliot is sort of hesitant in the beginning, but soon he just immerses himself in this bad ass side of his personality discovered through the sick gameshow. At first it’s sort of just fun and weird. Eventually, it gets a lot darker, and a lot more intensely personal for Elliot. I mean, as time goes by you sort of expect things to get crazier, yes, but it continually surprised me from moment to moment. I don’t often find myself surprised. Particularly when it comes to horror – there are lots of good films, certainly, just not a lot of surprising ones, I find. This was one of those genuinely surprising films at times. Not always, but when it mattered.
Another aspect of the tasks is the social commentary: the people playing this game do increasingly terrible things all for the sake of money. As the tasks get wilder, more dangerous and sadistic, you think of all the things people in our real world do for money.  This remake really works because it comes at a relevant time when people in North America still struggle with the shit economy we’ve had on our hands for the past 8 or 9 years (not saying it’s anywhere near being the worst situation – clearly there are worse – but this film is definitely specific to North America & arguably mostly America specifically).
Anyways, it’s a really good bit of commentary for a horror-thriller. Also, once you understand the game has been happening for years and years, it goes wider than a specific point in time – it speaks to those who are economically and financially challenged, for whatever reason, who are often pushed into a position where they’ll do anything at all just to get out of the hole in which they’ve found themselves. This movie definitely has some good stuff to say, aside from being a twisted little horror.

The whole backstory of the game itself was pretty interesting. Pruitt Taylor Vince’s character gives us a bit of exposition on the whole process of the game, how far it reaches, how long it’s been going on, and so on. This, I really enjoyed. You could almost have a bunch of these films if they really wanted; you could move backward in time, back to when the game first originated, et cetera. I found that part really awesome, and unsettling. Very cool addition.
13 sins kritika1This film, for me, was a definite 4 out of 5 stars. There were pieces I think they could have edited differently, or altogether cut out, which would have fixed the pacing. There are times it teeters too closely to comedy when it should stain within the horror vein; it could still be horror-comedy, but sometimes there is just a bit too much levity than expected. This doesn’t ruin the film. It’s a really great little horror-thriller, which certainly does the job. The finale impressed me hugely. I did expect there would be some sort of twist – I did not, however, expect the twist we were given. Maybe some suspected it – I’m always suspicious of people who say they always guess endings and such – but me, I was taken aback. It didn’t throw me on the floor or anything, but I was shocked for a minute. Real good suspense near the end. Thoroughly enjoyed how the film closed out.
I’d highly suggest this film for anyone looking to watch a nice little horror-thriller. There are some really great moments of horror, lots of tension and suspense, and a couple nice performances. Specifically, Webber does a really nice job with his character.
You won’t be disappointed if you give it a chance. A lot of fun with a few gasps and shocks thrown in for good form.

Psycho: Alfred Hitchcock & the Birth of the Slasher

Psycho. 1960. Dir.  Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Joseph Stefano; based on the novel by Robert Bloch.
Starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, and John McIntire. Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
Rated PG. 109 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★★ (Film)
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)

For my review of the sequel, Psycho II, click here.
For my review of the third installment in the franchise, Psycho III, click here.

For those who don’t know, Psycho tells the tale of Marion Crane who decides to take off on a whim with $40,000 trusted to her by her boss. While tired on the road, Maron stops off at the Bates Motel to get a room for the night. There, she meets a young man named Norman Bates; he lives up on the hill in the big house next to the motel. Norman seems fine, albeit a bit quirky, so Marion even has a low key supper with him at the motel.
However, Norman isn’t quite fine. See, Norman lives with his mother, just the two of them, and their relationship is, well – a bit odd to say the least. Once Marion goes missing, her sister, lover, and the police start sniffing around, and Norman starts to see a little more traffic at the Bates Motel – much to his dismay.

4714189672_84517b7ab2_o1-450x876This was my first introduction to Alfred Hitchcock. It’s funny – the movie is rated PG, directed by one of the most famous (arguably the most famous) filmmakers of all-time, contains definitely the most famous murder scene ever filmed if not the most famous scene period, and it’s classified as a horror.
In fact, a lot of people would say Psycho is the most influential horror film of all time, giving rise to the modern slasher in some respects (you can’t totally give this film all the credit because other films like Peeping Tom, and much later John Carpenter’s Halloween, really were a large part of that as well).

I just find it amazing how Hitchcock was able to put such a disturbing story on film, including the infamous shower scene (though the scene itself really isn’t graphic especially in terms of modern audiences and how desensitized we all are from not only film but the barrage of insane videos we now see on everything from CNN to YouTube), and yet still keep the rating PG. Of course, the ratings system has changed a little between now and then. It’s still rather amazing.
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The story of Psycho itself is incredible. I continually find it exciting even though I’ve seen it dozens of times, I know how things will play out, and yet viewing after viewing it holds up. I still feel a rush of panic for Norman (even though I clearly shouldn’t – a testament to both Bloch’s novel and Hitchcock’s filmmaking) as he tries to clean up Marion Crane’s room after Mother has had her fun. Just the way Perkins rushes around and frantically tries to cover things up. Just thinking about the time it was written, the time it was set, I love to imagine what it must’ve been like for serial killers pre-media frenzy surrounding people like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Green River Killer, et cetera. Poor Norman was ahead of his time. He didn’t know how these things were supposed to go. Watching him try to navigate the rough terrain of being a killer while still obviously being a fragile boy, almost a man-child, is really good stuff. It’s a disturbing tale, but Norman really does elicit both fear in us, as well as some form of pity; even on the most base of levels. And just the way in which Marion and Norman end up meeting, a real chance moment in time, is brilliant. The first time I saw the film, I was really surprised at how their two storylines converged, and suddenly it all became about Norman. Wonderful storytelling. No wonder Hitchcock was drawn to Bloch’s novel. Stefano really took the novel and turned into something his own, which Hitchcock in turn worked very well with; their picture of Norman Bates, as opposed to Bloch’s, turned the character into a much more sympathetic type person, and this really worked for the film’s plot quite well.

The entire film is one of those truly beautiful collaborative efforts. Everything here comes together to make a perfect movie. The cinematography, the sound, the script – I love it. Hitchcock weaved an intricate film here out of what could’ve been a simple effort from another lesser filmmaker.
For instance, on the Blu ray release from Universal there is a feature which looks at the infamous shower scene how it is presented in the finished film, and also a look at the scene without its music. Right there, it is so perfectly evident Psycho could not have been what it was if it hadn’t used all of its elements together to create the fear, shock, and tension. While the shower scene is still very disturbing without the score over top, there’s something extra that comes along with the score. In the quiet, you can hear Janet Leigh breathing, you hear the water falling from the shower head, all of it. With the score, you watch everything happen while the orchestral score behind the scene pounds out, creepy and loud, reinforcing all the stabs, the gasps, everything. Works so god damn well it’s fiendish.
4021As a film, Psycho is a perfect, flawless work of art. It isn’t hype. This is not a film you hear about all the time, being raved about and drooled over, just because it’s by Alfred Hitchcock, or just because it is considered classic. This is a magnificent piece of work, all around. There is no hype – what you see is what you get. Hitchcock was a master, no doubt. This film, while influential and all that, is just a cracking good piece of movie history. Full stop.

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One of the most famous dissolve shots in the history of film

The Blu ray release from Universal Studios Home Entertainment is one of the better titles sitting on my shelf. It is packed to the brim with extras. Though I don’t care for the Truffaut interview (I think his films are wonderful but his opinions are often divisive in a negative way and, in my humble opinion, sort of bullshit at least when it comes to the original novel Psycho by Bloch), the rest of the features here are just so sweet.
There are the typical Making Of featurettes, however, the major one here goes through everything from the story, how it was adapted and found, et cetera, to pre-production, production, and post – the whole nine yards; it’s a 90-minutes documentary that is totally worth the time to watch. There’s a nice feature about the sound of the film, including how they restored everything for the Blu ray. My favourite, though, is the Shower Scene breakdown I mentioned before – you get to see the scene back-to-back in its finished form with the scene having the score taken out, as well as great little storyboards by Saul Bass. These are absolutely brilliant pieces of extras to include. Fascinating stuff. The commentary is done by Stephen Rebello, author of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of ‘Psycho’.
All in all, this release deserves every single bit of 5 out of 5 stars. There’s no way it deserves any less; it needs more. There are enough features here to keep you long busy after purchasing Psycho. On top of that, the transfer is pristine, and you’ll marvel at how beautiful it looks in glorious black and white.

I recommend every fan of this movie, every Hitchcock fan, go get this Blu ray now, sit down, and love every last single solitary, picturesque moment of it. There is nothing like this film, even today, even when so many other great films are made. Psycho itself is a classic, and always will be. It deserves to be remembered until the end of human existence – it’s one of those films.

Read my review for the second sequel to the original, the underrated Psycho III.