Saturday, November 21, 2009

What's Next Out of the Grave...

Finally! Some time to blog...Currently the MovieGhoul is juggling projects and in the middle of writing multiple posts before publishing. Expect a barrage of new material some time in the near future. As for now, here's a taste of what's to come...

New Sherlock Holmes film by Guy Ritchie. Holmes the Action Hero!

James Cameron's 'Avatar'-Planet of the blue smurfs meets Pocahantas meets Aliens. Umm...Looks pretty?
'Pirate Radio'-Looks a little appealing, but the critics did not like very much. Anyone seen it?

There is a lot coming out. It’s just…will any of it be good? There’s ‘Prince of Persia’, Disney’s next ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ attempt, ‘Green Zone’ with Matt Damon and directed by Paul Greengrass,  Mel Gibson going crazy in a movie called ‘Edge of Darkness,’ George Clooney is a fox and an emotionless airline passenger this film season, and no, I didn’t hear about the Morgans.

>phew<

Monday, November 2, 2009

MovieGhoul Feature: What Makes a Thrilling Chiller?

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What is it about the chilly isolated atmosphere of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ or the tantalizing schemes of a killer in films like ‘Zodiac’ or ‘Psycho’ that keeps the audience coming back for more? Is it the violence? Is it the sense of helplessness radiated by the characters and their predicaments? Could it be the soundtrack of the film reaching a horrifyingly spontaneous crescendo? Is it time to stop proposing rhetorical questions?

Yes it is, in fact. It’s an amalgamation of all these things---factors that snowball into prime examples of cinematic art. For is it not the thriller that keeps the audience in the mindset of the film, in the demented mental landscape of the psychopathic killer or the slowly deteriorating psyche of the main character? Thrilling films keep the audience engaged and primed for suspense, as opposed to comedic light-hearted films that have short laughs and are somewhat devoid of thought (not that they lack substance, these films are good for other things). Some films can try to thrill---possibly ‘Eagle Eye’ or the disastrous remake of ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’---and yet they adhere to the modern sense of the word’s definition, which is definitely altered from that of subtle, introspective engagement that inhibits original plot.

But what makes a chilling thriller, beyond the explosive chase scenes and relentless gore fests? Perhaps films that stray from conventional thought and break away from recycling of formulaic plot structure like the countless remakes stagnating among today’s box office hit-or-miss mentality.

Jack Nicholson’s father figure in ‘The Shining’ gradually transitions from a parental role model into the silhouette of a murderous nightmare creeping around the corridor. Stanley Kubrick captures this degradation effectively with several things, namely atmosphere---i.e. the aforementioned isolated environment that ripens the mind for psychopathic duality--- and expressionism that becomes sufficiently exhibited by the actor. At this point the audience feels a strange, adverse attraction to the character and his tumultuous psychopathic journey as he wanders aimlessly through the hallways of the hotel that personifies his complacently vacant state of mind.

Notice the high strings and accentuated movements at the start of the scene, followed by conspicuous silence as Nicholson holds an untimely conversation with his unstable conscience.

Films like ‘The Shining’ succeed in keeping the audience sympathized with the trappings of its plot and the implications of insanity, proposing the questions-“Is this what it’s like to be insane?” and “Wouldn’t that be freaky to truly experience this, whether as the victim or the antagonist (whom, I guess you may imply, is also a victim of sorts)?”

On the other hand, ‘Psycho’ (1960) is innovative in terms of cinematography. Hitchcock, infamously known as the “Master of Suspense” (perhaps more aptly described as the advantageous and cinematic “Lord of Subtlety”), utilizes the camera to indirectly exhibit character emotion. By inducing every little nuance of everyday routine, he can twist awkward silence or ambient background noise into the soundtrack of your hypothetical doom: a feat best attained in his infamous shower sequence.

Interestingly, the dated effects can make the scene feel somewhat comedic---though the contemporary audience should pick up on the intended effect. The key element here is soundtrack: even today people still utilize this theme to embody something they perceive as spontaneously scary or sarcastically obscene. Whether or not the character was actually being stabbed (a testament to the advancement of visual effects at that time) is something for another post. Remember, at another cultural time and place, this stuff was considered pretty scary! 

One memorable resonance from last summer’s cinematic orgasm that was Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ remains to be the Joker’s theatrical entrance onto the dimly lit production stage and his confrontation with Gotham’s miscellaneous assortment of thugs. Watch again, if you must…or if you’ve been living in a cavern for the last few years…

As a result of modern technology and methods of filmmaking, directors and the people they orchestrate can easily achieve the means to establish the ideal atmosphere for the intended tone of any scene. The popular mentality nowadays for the ideal screenplay writer is summarily “What makes my script a good, high budget explosion of euphoria that will reel in the broadest demographic of audience?'” Instead of making an elaborate entrance, Heath Ledger’s Joker walks jovially into the fray and turns a simple impromptu “magic trick” into a perfect cinematic moment. The screenplay mechanically reads: THE PENCIL is gone. JOKER bows.

Simplicity is crucially effective here. Ledger sufficiently captures this and transfers it onscreen to relay simplicity into one of the most enjoyable moments in film. On top of this, steady close-ups of the Joker’s face forces the audience to scrutinize his anarchical complexion and his unpredictable tendencies within subtle expression: the perfect method to convey a persona of a character without a (dental) plan.

These elements conglomerate into the ideal thriller, the genre that entices audiences and filmmakers alike to revisit the pathos of a sadistic antagonist---or even protagonist, depending on how you look at it. The thriller will never stop persisting to chill the engaged viewer into theoretical reflection by movie’s end: an effect arguably better achieved via sheer subtlety. Without the thriller, films would probably not be taken very seriously---because the thriller has the potential to be a psychological evaluation, a violation of mental bounds, an ambitious upheaval of conventional filmmaking.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bits o’ Brains: Films With Thrills and Chills

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With the guise of Halloween lurking around the corner, it would seem that the time would be appropriate to feature short, deliberate reviews of films that effectively instill thrills and chills in the spirit of the season.

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‘Sleepy Hollow’ (1999)

Heads will roll. Tim Burton's interpretation of John Irving's 'Legend of Sleepy Hollow' is not only gothic and stylish but also quippy and wittily written. The violence is not exuberant but instead well-deserved and at times quite comedic with a dark sense of atmosphere. Perhaps one area of improvement that Burton could have fleshed out was the troubling past of Ichabod Crane and his murderous father. Otherwise, 'Sleepy Hollow' is a fantastical piece of haunting escapism that elaborates on the gruesome folktale of the Headless Horseman with a bewitching twist.

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‘Silence of the Lambs’ (1991)

Exceptionally psychotic and sinfully intriguing, Silence of the Lambs exhibits the intense acting talents of Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster in a film that attests to the existence of insatiable stalkers and nightmares. This movie is a fresh sigh of relief in contrast to modern day horror films that showcase gratuitous gore and empty suspense. Silence of the Lambs breaks the bounds of its genre, causing the viewer to question one's own sanity.

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‘Zodiac’ (2007)

About as psychopathic as 'Silence of the Lambs', but you get that sinking feeling and your stomach does somersaults when you fit yourself into Jake Gylenhaal's predicaments, especially during the gut-wrenching basement scene. That in itself is the most enticing aspect of 'Zodiac': that the story was just as real, just as psychotic when it happened---and the film captures that time period perfectly. David Fincher (‘Fight Club’, ‘Panic Room’) does a marvelous job of keeping the film both character-driven and wrought with breathtaking suspense throughout. If you have not yet viewed 'Zodiac', it would be time well spent, though it may be an extended period of time due to its length, to get down and find some way to sit through this masterpiece.

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Look out for zombie Forest Whitaker!

‘28 Days Later’ (2003)

'28 Days Later' redefines it's genre in both tone and concept, unique as a Zombie film and still does not stray from thematic element. You find yourself actually caring for the characters themselves instead of the scope of the infection and the science fiction plot, yet you can still manage to enjoy the jumps and thrills of a genuine horror film. The zombie genre takes a turn for the anarchic as ghouls start to be quick on their feet and rush the main characters in a fervent frenzy---heightening the thematic tension as a composer would build his finest crescendo, to elaborate with some slightly lighter imagery. Danny Boyle does a marvelous job with the eerie and the ideological. Don't hesitate to view this film.

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‘Red Eye’ (2005)

Though ‘Red Eye’ maintains dramatic purpose, the film’s hectic pace seems almost comical. The performances of Cilian Murphy and Rachel McAdams are indeed top notch; however, the pathos behind the killer’s motivation had the potential to be more extensively fleshed out. By the film’s climax, I almost expected the soundtrack to burst into the euphoric hustle and bustle of ‘Yakety Sax,’ and the ending came in as one of the most ridiculously authored and abhorrently clich├ęd conclusions that a movie of its campy genre could have. Red Eye can’t satisfy, unless one is easily thrilled by mediocre plotlines or predictable character archetypes.

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‘No Country for Old Men’ (2007)

Dark, twisted, and heavily thematic: 'No Country for Old Men' thrills on a demented level. Watching Javier Bardem blow out keyholes and heads with his lumbering oxygen tank across the countryside is definitely enough to make this film a psychotic thriller. While the conclusion is indeed somewhat open-ended, the Coen brothers successfully implement an unforgettable series of choreographic techniques that dare the average moviegoer to evaluate the boundaries of which this film left behind in tatters.
Genre-breaking and thematically interpretive. Give this film a try and see what you come away with.

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‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999)

Purely Shyamalan at his best. A film that effectively balances character with psychological thrill to create the perfect blend of scares and cares. An excellent performance by Bruce Willis is reinforced with the chillingly genuine talent of Haley Joel Osment, an end result that left me looking over my shoulder for a good period of time. For those of you familiar with the show 'Robot Chicken', Shyamalan lives up to his catchphrase with the tumultuous plot of this film, an apt summation that is hopefully vague enough to keep the ending at its own discretion: "What a twist!"

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What are some thrillers and/or chillers that you have seen recently? Feel free to leave a comment below and let your undead groans be heard! Keep your eyes open for more ghoul-icious reviews and movie buzz before October wanes down to its final days.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

MovieGhoul Trailer Spotlight-'Where the Wild Things Are'

This is indeed a tad belated; though it feels that this film deserves some sort of recognition for releasing over the past week. Spike Jonze's rendition of Maurice Sendak's classic bestselling children's book 'Where the Wild Things Are' chronicles a young boy's childhood metaphorically reflected by the land of the Wild Things. Check out the trailer above.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

'Citizen' Crashes and Splatters, Though Remains a Pedestrian

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In last year's notable, high-flying and menacing summer blockbuster 'The Dark Knight', Heath Ledger's notorious Joker sat calmly behind "Gordon's cage" as the rest of the world fell apart from his carefully planned and ironically anarchic orchestration of choas---a confliction of morals playing against the character's ideals that contributed significantly to the theatrical ingenuity of the film. Nolan, once again, did it right. He was able to give the Batman franchise justice by instilling a sense of intense realism into the tone of the films.

It is not strange that another film---one that tries but utterly fails to do the same---has a realistic setting, but cannot viably or purposefully attain a sense of direction.

In F. Gary Gray's 'Law Abiding Citizen,' Gerard Butler plays Clyde Shelton, a man who helplessly witnesses the murder of his wife and child and, we must note, conveniently happens to be an inventor with an off-screen influence. When the men responsible get off easy, Shelton desperately adopts the perception concerning judicial law as a broken manipulative system. Ten years later, Butler's character comes back with deadly experience and vengeance into the court room scene to try to bring down the system on top of his lawyer, played stoically by Jamie Foxx. The two characters dubiously face off on-screen, verbally sparring and physically lashing until the ending credits: Butler with his explosively disruptive gadgets and Foxx with his subtle, albeit determined, political nuances.

Let's get this out if the way: the film is not bad. But thematically, it simply does not delve much into character. Given that there is intense emotion and dedicated drive in Butler's character, his plotting was never captured on-screen and his explosive climaxes occurred much too fast and numerously to adhere to a sane ideal. His influence was never aptly described, though vaguely by one of his accomplices: "If Shelton wants you dead, you're dead." Fair enough.

Then there is Jamie Foxx, who is a fantastic actor in films such as 'Ray' and 'Collateral', yet cannot shed much emotion in this role as a lawyer. Perhaps that's a verification in itself: what emotions do lawyers have? Though a human should show human emotion: his friends are dying all around him and if my memory serves correctly he does not shed much of a tear in this film. Foxx is an apt professional, but it would have been somewhat intriguing to see how another actor would have played the part if not in the same manner.

'Law Abiding Citizen' has some great and carefully choreographed scenes, particularly one that oozes with dark humor and violent wit (if anyone knows the one involving a certain judge and a cell phone...). The plot, while ambiguous, takes its interesting twists and turns and F. Gary Gray certainly knows how to utilize a camera. The thematic purpose of the film, while jumbled, effectively questions the stances of 'good people' and 'bad people'. But 'Citizen' does not contribute much of anything to its judiciously vengeful genre. In this respect, the film is no 'Dark Knight', though it thematically tries to be.

Go into this film with low expectations, perhaps. You will certainly come out with more than you expected. Just try to avoid having to give an extensive explanation of the plot.


'Law Abiding Citizen'-

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thrills and Chills: 'Memento' (2001)



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It is interesting how 'Memento' plays extensively off of irony: How could a film trailing a forgetful protagonist pose as such an unforgettable venture for the audience? Only Christopher Nolan, even before his Caped Crusader extravaganzas, had the potential to attain this filmmaking feat.

'Memento' threads multiple plotlines into one coherent, yet insufferably conglomerated, case of troubled amnesia for Leonard Shelby (aptly played by Guy Pearce) who tirelessly hounds the men responsible for the death of his wife. Throughout his misadventures, Shelby recollects miscellaneous plot checkpoints by gradually stumbling upon self-inflicted clues or sifting through photographs with scrawled notes resembling scattered bread crumbs in a forest of potential leads. He chooses to reside in a beat-down hotel, which serves uncannily as a reflection of the character's unstable state of mind. The supporting characters utilize him, tempt him, anger him, and play sadistically off of his "condition" and radical emotions. By the film's conclusion, perceptions of these characters will fluctuate tempestuously as the tangled plot tree branches out to its twigs.

Nolan pulls off what countless other filmmakers like to pull off in movies such as these: some extent of perceptive and emotional manipulation---and he does it effectively. Nolan plays off of your pity with Carrie-Anne Moss's character---at first one will extend sympathies to her helpless predicament, but (without spoiling much, hopefully) after another revealing encounter with her, the observant mind will come away with respite for her malicious attitudes. In some way, Nolan tinkers with notions of prejudice and inferential supposition. One moment, a portrayal will be relative and low-key; while at the next, it would become erratic and suddenly psychotic. What is also crucial to this film's tone concerns the sequence of events by which Nolan chose to organize his plot. Interestingly, it thematically reflects the mental instability of Pearce's character as he stutters and retracts his perceptions, flashing inconsistently---yet ironically purposeful---through numerous chunks of his retrospective memory. That alteration of perception insidiously keeps the audience on its toes.

While 'Memento' is not the most chilling, it can be the most thrilling...and its definitely unforgettable.

'Memento' (2001)-1/2

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Break for Brains: MovieGhoul Announces Thrills and Chills

It surely has been a while since the MovieGhoul has last groaned, but that does not mean we have returned to the grave! When the appropriate time arrives, keep your eyes open for future reviews and posts on some of the following films:

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'Insomnia' (2002)-Starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams in a thematic cop drama. Directed by Christopher Nolan.

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'Red Eye' (2005)-Starring Rachel McAdams and Cilian Murphy in a dizzying whirlwind of a thriller. Directed by Wes Craven.

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'Misery' (1990)-Starring James Caan and Kathy Bates in a harrowing tale of obsession and depression. Directed by Rob Reiner.

This is not a definite list of upcoming reviews, but they are films that have been viewed recently and adhere to a common theme. Feel free to leave comments below on these films or similar movies that follow the same genre of thrills and/or chills.

Stick around, we're not dead yet!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

'Zombieland' is Fresh Flesh

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In retrospect, zombies have come a long way from shambling monstrosity to sprinting rabid devourer. Running zombies became the fad after ’28 Days Later.’ Zombie satire surfaced with the release of ‘Shaun of the Dead,’ while ghoulish action sequences were popularized by Zack Snyder’s hyperactive interpretation of ‘Dawn of the Dead’ in 2004. For more zombie analysis, see my post below on Ghoulish Cinema.

But what is ‘Zombieland’? Where does this new addition to ghoulish cinema fit in the uncanny spectrum of undead storytelling?

The answer is in several places. For one, ‘Zombieland’ is a complex narrative---at least in terms of character---that follows an ungainly protagonist played by Jesse Eisenburg as he traverses across the ravaged and infested countryside. Along the way, he encounters Tallahassee, played by Woody Harrelson: the man with no restraint for “zombie killin’” as long as it meant he would come out on top with a twinkie. The story progresses and more characters come into the fold, creating tense relationships and enough witty dialogue to go around. By the time the credits roll, it is hard not to reflect on where the last hour and twenty minutes went.

‘Zombieland’ successfully combines elements from ‘28 Days Later’ with ‘Shaun of the Dead,’ an accomplishment that makes for more than a decent film. Ruben Fleischer’s directorial debut may well propel him to some degree of stardom: it was surprising to read early positive reviews on a film that seemed to have the dressings of a contemporary comedic attempt. In this respect, ‘Zombieland’ is a pleasant---albeit gory---surprise. Even Zack Snyder gets his slow-mo in all its glory with elements from ‘Dawn of the Dead’ at this movie’s intro, narrated conspicuously by Eisenburg’s character with tips concerning survival in a world filled with rabid undead ghouls.

This film is an amalgam of many things. Like ‘Shaun of the Dead’ was a romantic comedy at its core, somewhere beneath the explosive gut-spattering ‘Zombieland’ was a story threaded with thematic purpose, i.e. the definition of familial bonds. While this purpose is indeed half-hearted, ‘Zombieland’s witty tone maintains the continuity of character while cracking some heads in the process.

And that’s why we love zombie films. Because they are the genre that can pull it off.

'Zombieland'-

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Opening This Week: September 20th-26th (Surrogates find Fame in Hell...and...Pandorum?)

Here's what is happening in theaters this week:

Fame

'Fame': A modern remake of an urban musical that appeals to the 'High School Musical' generation. Critics are recognizing the flaws of this film within the character development, which they claim seems choppy and somewhat unfulfilled.

Surrogates
'Surrogates'-A robotic thriller starring Bruce Willis and based upon a graphic novel: quite a trend in modern cinema next to computer animation. Directed by the fellow that brought the world 'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,' this film is being critiqued on its action sequences and hollow acting performances. Too short on suspense? Feel free to share your thoughts on this film if you have seen it this week.

Pandorum
'Pandorum'-A deep space horror film with Dennis Quaid and produced by the folks that delivered the 'Resident Evil' films. Not to judge prematurely, but this movie looks like a rehash of the same confusing plot twists and cheap thrills that those films consisted of.

I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell
'I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell'- The overall consensus: Critics hope they play this film at cinemas in hell.