Warrior | Film Review

Almost everything about “Warrior” makes me want to hate it. First of all, seeing a film about two brothers who fight UFC, have an extremely troubled childhood separately, and finally become matched up against each other in the biggest MMA fight of all time didn’t excite me at all. However, despite innumerable recycled fight-movie cliches, “Warrior” tells a real story constructed with timeless and believable characters. It comes so scarily close to a self-parody that you can’t fathom why each predictable component is so compelling. I guess it’s the same reason the Super Bowl is watched every year. It’s simply made anew.

Nick Nolte delivers a scathing performance as the disowned alcoholic father and ex-trainer who’s making his way through the 12 steps with his estranged sons. Tom Hardy is continuing to make his presence known, fitting the profile of one of his most highly anticipated characters to come, playing Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises.” Australian TV star Joel Edgerton pleasantly surprises as the underdog brother and father/physics teacher who’s just trying to pay the mortgage after struggling to finance his daughter’s heart surgery.

It’s all set up in such an obvious and heartbreaking way, but somehow “Warrior” grows into an emotional juggernaut, holding the audience’s breath hostage during every last bout in the cage. This film forces you to respect the real dangers of MMA, and offers a front row seat to the pain.

Beneath all these layered characters, it never becomes extremely clear whose side we should find ourselves on; each player carries a tragic burden that only seems manageable with that five million-dollar championship purse. Then suddenly, as if by some cliche-busting miracle, the audience shifts focus from a climax fueled by victory to one founded on compassion and true forgiveness. This gut-wrenching spectacle comes to a close leaving everyone involved visibly exhausted, albeit palpably exhilarated.

Review by Dylan Bliss

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Hollywood’s Problem with Portraying Racists

When I say the word “Nazi,” I assume only one word comes to mind. Evil. A similar feeling, though maybe not as strong, may come to mind when I say the word “segregation.” While Hollywood always likes to deal with these two subjects, two recent films dealing with these issues have troubled me. They are ‘The Debt’ and ‘The Help.’

Both films are, at the very least, entertaining and each stars very talented, independent, strong,  female protagonists,(it’s nice to see that finally happening) but both are intellectually shallow in their approach to their respective subject matter.

‘The Help’ deals with 1960s segregation in Jackson, Mississippi, a very racist community(to this day) while ‘The Debt’ deals with the aftermath of the Holocaust and its effect on Israel. In both of these films the people are on the wrong side, that is too say, the racists and the Nazis are portrayed as pure evil.

This is the approach Hollywood has always taken on this subject, and in their defense, it’s hard to look at it any other way. How could someone believe that they are better based on their race?

However, it is important to remember that these people are human beings, people who were not that different from you or me. People who, for the most part, probably weren’t pure evil. Look at the films from Germany in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, these people were as artistic, as human as anyone on earth. Even the Nazi propaganda film “Triumph of the Will” is still revered today, not because of its message, but because of its extreme artistic merit.

In the south it wasn’t just the mean people or the “bad guys” who were racist, everyone was. Yes, racism is an evil thing that, for the most part, isn’t accepted in this day and age but it was in the 1960s and nearly all white people were to some degree racist. That’s why it took so long, and took so much fighting, for racism to end, because it was institutionalized into their thinking .

It’s extremely difficult to look at these people as humans like you or me (especially in the case of the Nazis) but it is important that we remember that they were human or what’s to stop it from happening again?

By Greg Bright

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Attack the Block | Film Review

“Attack the Block” joins a gang of South-London ruffians on a rather busy night for the British youth. As the boys attempt to mug a woman, a visitor rockets down from the sky and into a nearby car. With regard to not spoiling the relatively basic plot, it’s needless to say the boys dig themselves far deeper than they planned and find themselves at the center of an invasion of “big alien gorilla, wolf mothafuckas” - all seemingly intent on tearing this motley crew of British badasses with a bedtime limb from limb.

Joe Cornish (Shaun of the Dead), writes and directs this uniquely contemporary take on an the alien movie blueprint, blended with elements of elder cult films like ‘The Warriors.’ Through Cornish’s witty scripts, these characters (specifically lead John Boyega) leap off the page and into a somewhat believable world of alien invasions. Transforming the audience from skeptics into believers who cheer on a rag-tag band of lowly London hoodlums as they elevate themselves from scum to heroes.

I’m somewhat reluctant to call this an “alien movie,” because in this age of film with most extraterrestrial flicks being described as Spielberg-ian and lacking in variety, it’s hard to find an alien movie that can appease all the critics. So Cornish goes simpler, he focuses of the heart - his characters. There’s no way audiences could ever care about these kids; entitled brats who curse authority but listen to their mums, weed-addled Discovery Channel junkies, and snot-nosed punks with nothing but super-soakers and dumb ideas, if Cornish hadn’t let you care about them; root for them, even.

Armed with fireworks, scooters and whatever pointy thing was around at the time, Cornish’s delinquents take on the strangest adversary London’s ever faced (the big alien gorilla, wolf mothafuckas, in case you forgot.) “Attack the Block” is a well put together alien-movie-on-a-budget, and retains all the charm of that “B movie” mentality, with A+ execution. Regardless to the seemingly niche audience it seems geared towards, “Attack The Block” has a big heart and wide appeal that will certainly blossom on DVD once it gets in the right hands; it’s one of the finest films of the year.

Review by Mitch McCann

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DC vs. MARVEL | Comic Books on the Big Screen

Part I - MARVELizing the Movie Industry

With all the buzz going around about each successive superhero film that’s produced, and the announcement of the final Batman installment ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and its newly released teaser at the forefront of the summer madness, what some seem to have forgotten (and what others can’t help but await) is that MARVEL isn’t the only major comic book company out there, and Walt Disney’s purchase of MARVEL has exhibited any and all lag time between MARVEL flicks. With ‘Captain America’ being released just enough time after ‘Thor’ and after all talk of ‘Green Lantern’ has receded (with ‘X-Men: First Class’ splitting the time between them.)

While I openly admit my bias towards the DC Universe, I believe they have been quite lucky to have found independent groups of people who have carried their mantel. The independent Superman and Batman movies of recent years have all been relatively successful and enough to keep fans of the heroes interested. But as of late MARVEL’s (or perhaps Disney’s?) express control over its work has led each and every MARVEL character to have a certain…blueprint they all follow. The discovery, the flighty love interest, tiresome dialogue and plot, reproduced and redone with the same overall aesthetic to each picture. This “MARVEL-izing” of these characters (which ‘Green Lantern’ also seemed to succumb to) has led every modern MARVEL film - sharing in those very common themes, aesthetics and story arcs - to become more of a process than an art.

Believe me, I only criticize because I am a fan of the medium. There’s nothing I’d love more than to see each of these characters squeezed for every bit of story and character development they’re worth, but the major studios are cranking these movies out like they’re going out of style (because in their mind, they are.) Instead of emotional roller coasters of plot development and human interest, MARVEL’s characters are being shown for their cute back stories, love interests, and daddy issues, but as Christopher Nolan’s ‘Batman’ reboot has shown, these characters can offer more vulnerable sides. Maybe even hint at the darker side of heroism, making them easily malleable and largely character-driven pieces. And though these studios seem fine with devoting multiple sequels to these characters, (‘Thor 2’ and ‘Iron Man 3’ are both slated for 2013 release dates, despite being preceded by the ‘Avengers’ sum total) what they don’t seem game on is investing something in these characters other than money.

Part II - Seeing Green

This summer either seems like the most opportune or least opportune moment to break down the MARVEL vs. DC debate, largely because with this summer came the formal announcements of much more than we had originally thought, with Reynolds likely getting two more shots (or maybe just one now: http://avc.lu/m3vAWz) at developing a watchable Hal Jordan, and it becoming clear that DC will likely follow the ever-approaching ‘Avengers’ flick with a ‘Justice League’ counterpart following announcements of Flash, Aquaman, and of course Zack Snyder’s ‘Man of Steel’ (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0770828/)

Although DC has yet to announce any official plans to corral their family and produce a ‘Justice League’ equivalent, with ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ receiving standing ovations for just a teaser trailer at ‘Harry Potter’ screenings last weekend, and the aforementioned announcements and support for ‘Green Lantern’ (with the sequels being in the wings even before the movie premiered) it is becoming ever-clearer that the ‘Justice League,’ if treated carefully and with a little bit of luck, might just rob MARVEL of all its thunder.

But of course predicaments such as these will always come down to the matter of money, and fortunately for fans of the Dark Knight, Man of Steel, and the Fastest Man Alive (among others whose titles don’t quite flow as well) Warner Bros. largest nest egg just ended, leaving them with quite a hefty payout and hungry for a new franchise to sink their teeth into. Making the end of a generation of Potter fans the beginning of a much larger, pre-existing generation of superhero fans. I can’t say I’m too broken up about the loss of Harry Potter if it means I’ll finally get to see my favorite icons of all time, ‘The Flash’ and maybe even ‘Green Arrow’ (fingers crossed) hit the silver screen as a result. The only question is now that the money is theoretically there… Do we have the man power and the talent that is necessary, and deserving, of such a task?

Part III - Casting Call

With the entirety of the ‘Avengers’ heroes and villains already cast and released, it’s hard not to speculate who might play their Detective Comic rivals, and such speculation often only results in rampant trolling, but remaining in the realm of the hypothetical, and all too wishful, it is a conversation that must be had. And if the fans can’t agree on who best to play Lois Lane, then how will we be able to band against the Executive-types when the sell the role to the hottest brunette they can find?

For a Justice League super-flick to be anywhere close to successful (or AS successful as ‘The Avengers’ WILL be) big names are key and the best place to start would be the one they already have. The return of Christian Bale as Batman would carry some consistency over into DC’s flagship movie, like Robert Downey Jr.’s ‘Ironman’ - while hopefully avoiding any and all similarities to MARVEL’s ‘Incredible Hulk’ gaffe(s.)

Barring another weight loss fiasco from Bale, I’m sure Warner Bros. can fork over enough cash to meet his quote, and with Ryan Reynold’s and ‘Man of Steel’’s Henry Cavill (Zack Snyder can come, too), we’ve got ourselves one hell of a start on a solid Justice League. Speculation on who will play the remaining few (Aquaman, The Flash, Wonder Woman, the villains, etc.) has given Screen Rant-ers and fanboys much to do since that final scene from Ed Norton’s ‘Hulk’ suggested this might not have to be a “one superhero at a time”, “remake after remake” horrible cycle anymore. All systems are go, and the signs as to where DC might head in the near future are starting to become clearer.

Fans can likely expect two things from DC and Warner Bros. if both want a successful venture, first and foremost is big names. ‘Iron Man’ wouldn’t have been much without Downey Jr. in the lead, and neither will Flash or Aquaman (since we’ll all go see Wonder Woman for the outfit.) A recognizable face is a smarter investment in developing a strong movie than die-hard fans would care to admit. ‘Iron Man’ certainly isn’t any one of our “go-to” superheroes, and without fresh-faced Robert Downey Jr. amidst a whirlwind comeback at its helm, the film would have been anywhere near as well-received (Jon Favreau should be kissing his feet.) In the end, having an actor (or actress…or both) on your poster will put the butts in the seats and will convince produce to fork over the cash necessary to churn out the top notch special effects and pretty backdrops that are now required of our audience-pleasing blockbusters. The kind of effects and backdrops nowhere near accessible to a picture-perfect underground leading man with an indie-cred laden dream team behind the camera.

Some talk of which Flash will be portrayed (yes, people. There’s more than one Flash) and who will be the lucky gent to play him have been all the rage among the Fastest Man Alive’s fan base for years. Names like Scott Speedman, for his looks and action background and even Neil Patrick Harris, likely for his current popularity and sharp wit akin to that of Wally West (although it is rumored the ‘Flash’ film[s] will likely take the Barry Allen-era approach.) And with Aquaman more than likely being the final of the main Justice League cast films, the underwater hero has yet to stir much interest.

The other thing fans can expect from the DC, Warner Bros. combination, is that these franchises tend to stay in-house, and aside from Reynolds’ pre-arranged venture over to MARVEL to play Deadpool, we’ve likely already met our new leading men 9and woman) and can certainly expect crossovers from DC imprints of the past. With that knowledge, I’d consider the newly buff Tom Hardy (“Bane” - Dark Knight Rises) for a darker, sly portrayal of the King of Atlantis, but with my luck it’ll fall to ‘Watchmen’s Patrick Wilson and we’ll all continue disregarding him as a leotard who talks to fish. And speaking of ‘Watchmen’ crossovers, Billy Crudup is a prime candidate to reprise his alien-esque kinetic charms as the Martian Manhunter.

As for the rest of the cast, Wonder Woman will likely go to whoever is most attractive to Warner Bros. at the time, but on the other side of the moral compass, Hugo Weaving still impresses from V for Vendetta, (also a DC imprint) he and Jackie Earle Haley (“Rorschach” in Watchmen) could make a strong pair of villains (and Jeffrey Dean Morgan will probably be in there somewhere.) I had my hopes set on Mark Strong as Lex Luthor after seeing him in ‘Sherlock Holmes’, but unfortunately he seems to be trapped in what will likely be the weakest of DC’s legs as Sinestro in ‘Green Lantern’ Hopefully this offers some opportunity for him to return in the penultimate film.

Without these films, and the several other incarnations of these films stretching back decades, comic books might still be the stuff of fantastical adolescents. Now with the billions of dollars already made and the potential billions still out there, these once personal, private escapes into an alternate reality are now available for all to see and buy in the bargain bins at your local Wal-mart. I’m not arguing that these movies are cheapening the comic book experience (that’s for another time) but at the rate at which these movies are being produced (and reproduced) it’s hard not to think these titans of industry have little more than money on their minds and the ends are beginning to reflect the means. How else can you justify filming a Spiderman reboot three years after the last one closed up shop? Andrew Garfield isn’t that good. 

Horrible Bosses | Film Review

Amidst what seems like the age of re-recycled plots, it has become more or less tolerable when you stumble upon yet another film about being friends with benefits, or buddy cops, or not knowing whether or not this is the Final Destination or not. Hollywood has grown comfortable, and shows little sign of moving.

Though on the surface Horrible Bosses is just another example of these recycled plots, through its trio of fantastic leading men - It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s Charlie Day, Saturday Night Live’s Jason Sudekis and of course Jason Bateman - Horrible Bosses turns from a wishy-washy summer “B-movie” into a vehicle driven only by the comedic talents of the three gentleman (with some occasional assistance from Jamie Foxx.)

Much to the demise of the film, the trailers and the press generated around the movie spoiled a large number of the jokes in the film: the cocaine incident (to which Charlie Day is no stranger) the scotch, along with a large portion of Jennifer Aniston’s part in the flick (sex sells, right?) There were just enough fresh, non-trailer bits and unexpected raunchiness (partly from Sudekis, but mostly from a dickish Kevin Spacey and an uninhibited Aniston) to keep everything afloat.

Despite having firm comedy pros for counterparts, it was Charlie Day’s over-the-top, neurotic, wildcard approach and way too high pitched voice that stole the show once again. His coked-out rendition of “That’s Not My Name” and absurd suffering under Aniston’s torment absolutely robs the other performers of every scene he’s in. With Sudekis bouncing between bits I can only assume didn’t make it into Hall Pass, and Bateman sticking to his square, strait-laced roots the movie was Day’s from beginning to end. That’s not to say the others didn’t have their moments, because all of them (including the bosses) earned their screen time.

Outside of the performances, Horrible Bosses doesn’t give much, its presentation is status quo, which is about all I can say for much of the film. Lucky for audiences, the director (and from the looks of it, the screenwriters) seemed complacent to the these adept funny men improv and free-verse this movie into something watchable.

Review by Mitch McCann

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Transformers 3 | Film Review

There really is no film director in the world like Michael Bay. I don’t necessarily mean that as a positive or negative statement, it’s just that there is no director who understands action elements so well, I would say one of the finest, yet has no idea how to make a movie around them. And his latest film is exactly the same way. In fact, I may go so far as too call it his best film to date.

Now, don’t take that last statement as an endorsement of the film, more like the only positive thing I have to say about it. The film, much like the second one, is a jumbled mess more concerned with being cool, then being coherent. After some overdone attempts to blend historical events with its fictional story, the film starts us off with a long shot of our new leading ladies (barely) clothed ass.  An exploitation of the female body we’ve all come to accept from Bay. 

All of this should have been things I expected but my issue is that Bay promised this film was different. That he was concerned with the story and wanted to make a better film. Now I wasn’t expecting some Terrence Malick masterpiece like The Tree of Life but I was expecting it to be a better movie then, say, Transformers 2. And he promised it would be, but, of course, it wasn’t. 

I see no reason to review any more of this film other than to say why would you waste your money on this film when you can see all the action scenes in the trailers that are all over the internet and most of them in HD! And if you want to see woman wearing hardly any clothes, God made search engines for a reason people.

Review by Greg Bright

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Wide Angle Lens: Vol 7 | The Summer of (Anti-)Feminism

Let me start out this entry by apologizing for using the word feminism. I don’t like the word, to me it’s become just an excuse for woman with outrageous liberal views to just call everyone who doesn’t agree with them misogynistic. Now don’t get me wrong, women do NOT have equal rights and it’s bullshit but I think the people who actively talk about and refer to themselves as “feminists” aren’t helping the issue at all. 

The first time I heard that word used this summer was, of course, with Bridesmaids. How else could a reviewer trying to sound intelligent talk about a movie where the funniest moment involves an overweight woman shitting in a sink? You can just throw that word out around and poof, you’re an intellectual!

A couple of weeks later I stumbled upon a new website entitled “HelloGiggles.” The “about” section claims the site is for “smart, creative, and independent females,” so, of course, as a dumb male I perused it. It really is, and I don’t think I’m saying anything cynical or mean here, just a stereotypical female-oriented site all the way down to the gay man recaping whatever fucking version of real housewives we happen to be on right now. While the site obviously was not interesting to me, I did find one  underlying theme for the whole website that I also found in the ladies of Bridesmaids, desperation. Desperate to be loved, desperate to be cute, desperate to be the ultimate chic. 

Just a couple of days ago I saw a trailer for Zooey Deschanel’s (who happens to be one of the creators of Hello Giggles) new show “The New Girl.” Talk about desperate, my only reaction was, what the hell is this? I felt like Zooey was basically begging me on her hands and knees to like her. What happened? Isn’t this exactly what Ally McBeal was doing that made everyone hate that show? How is this suddenly okay?

One of the other creators of the “Hello Giggles” website, Sophia Rossi, recently tweeted this: “Watching the TLC show Freak Eaters, where the girl is addicted to maple syrup & all I keep thinking is “wow, she has a husband & kids.”

That doesn’t sound, smart, creative or independent to me, that just sounds desperate. I know that we live in a world where woman are judged much more harshly than men, and as I said earlier, it’s bullshit but the answer is not to try and be the ultimate female, how about you just try and be you. I know that sounds lame, but women do not need Zooey Deschanel and Sophia Rossi desperately acting cute to help them through their problems. 

I’m sure “Hello Giggles” was created with the best of intentions and Bridesmaids is one of my favorite films of the year so far but I honestly think these images of desperate females are not helping anyone, instead they are glorifying the belief that a woman can’t truly be happy until she has a husband or serious boyfriend. Is this the image we want young girls growing up with?  

By Greg Bright
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Tree of Life | Film Review

Legendary director Ingmar Bergman said that a great filmmaker understands that a film is a series of images and that one must spend equal time on each one since no single image trumps another. I have not seen a contemporary film that does this as well as Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, a film that deals with life and death by questioning existence through two completely different stories, one a macro story detailing the creation and (futuristic) destruction of the earth and the other a micro story about the creation and eventual destruction of a Texas family. 

The film has a very loose and non-linear narrative that is somehow able to do everything a strong narrative does without needing a strong narrative. Much of this should be credited to Malick’s incredibly focused directing and pitch-perfect editing.There is very little dialogue in the Texas family story and obviously none in the creation story, instead everything is shown to you in actions and facial expressions, only a strong director and strong actors could pull this off and they do. The three child actors were stunning, I recently reviewed Super 8 and talked about how good those children were, well these blow them out of the water. Each of them were fully developed characters with incredible amounts of depth. 

Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain, who play the father and mother, each could have been stereotypical caricatures of the overly strict dad and caring mother but instead they play parents who are always trying to do the right thing for their children and sometimes fail, but always love them. I have never seen the dad role played quite how Brad Pitt plays him. A man who truly, and deeply loves his children but is unsure of how to show it to them in a world dominated by men trying to be as masculine as humanly possible.

It terms of pure film-making technique the film is truly sublime, if the cinematography (by Emmanuel Lubezki, a career defining job), music (Alexandre Desplat), and editing (by five different people) don’t win the Oscars this year, then the Oscars are wrong. While Inception’s editing changed the blockbuster film forever, The Tree of Life’s editing takes the whole concept of editing and flips it upside down. I imagine that ten years from now people will be talking abut how revolutionary the editing on this film truly was. 

I haven’t even gotten to Terrence Malick, the mastermind behind this magnificent work. Malick has already created multiple masterpieces (The Thin Red Line, Badlands, Days of Heaven) but this is his best film to date. The film is so focused and so personal to him and yet it feels personal to each viewer as well. Not since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey has a film been able to be so personal to so many people who all can (and will) have such different ideas for what the film was trying to be. 

The film is a true cinematic epic, the type of film that demands your attention from beginning to end and at least a couple days after it ends. For the love of everything, go see this film. 

Wide Angle Lens: Vol 6 | Netflix Instant Watch Favorites

Netflix, in my mind, is the greatest thing to happen to the medium of film since the birth of Francois Truffaut. You can instantly watch as many films as you want and, since it’s summer, I know you have more free time to then you know what to do with, so here are 10 films all on Netflix instant watch that I think you should check out:

Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001, Directed by Alfonso Cuaron) - Probably the single greatest film of the 2000s, Cuaron directs a hilarious coming-of-age sex comedy while also layering a theme of death and regret around it. I didn’t think it was possible to merge these two things in one film but Cuaron does it with the grace and beauty of a true artist, just make sure you don’t watch it with your mom.

The 400 Blows (1959, Directed by Francois Truffaut) - Truffaut’s first feature is still the most beautiful film ever made. The type of film that the minute it ends you want to start it right back over and watch it again. Forgive me for the pun, but it will blow you away.

Pulp Fiction (1994, Directed by Quentin Tarantino) - Tarantino is a man who makes movies for the sake of making movies. He loves them, and while every one of his movies is really just an ode to the movies none work better than this film, probably because this is just filmed better than his other movies.

Hannah and Her Sisters (1987, Directed by Woody Allen) - What’s great is everytime one of Woody Allen’s masterpieces gets removed another there’s always another one to take its place. This film, as with his others, is a love story not just between the two people in the film but to love in general, and to New York City and to movies. A wonderful way to spend two hours.

The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001, Directed by The Coen Brothers) -  More of a straight film noir then a neo-noir, this may be the Coens’ most undrerated film. It moves a little slow at first but trust in the story, when it gets where it is going the film is funny, tragic and the cinematography (by the wonderful Roger Deakins) is the best of the 2000s.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, Directed by Steven Spielberg) - I know you have all seen and loved Super 8, which was a straight homage to this and other Spielberg films of the 70s and 80s so why not go back and watch one of them? Also, just watch it because it’s a god damn masterpiece.

Raging Bull (1980, Directed by Martin Scorsese) - Scorsese’s masterpiece continues to age with the grace of a true classic. De Niro’s performance continues to amaze me everytime I see it.

Ikiru (1952, Directed by Akira Kurosawa) - I know many prefer Seven Samurai and Rashomon (both great films that are on Netflix Instant) but Ikiru is Kurosawa’s true masterpiece. Featuring the greatest every-man character in the history of cinema (the title character Ikiru), the film deals with death and loneliness with more humanity then any film I’ve ever seen. 

Please Give (2010, Directed by Nicole Holofcener) - Last year’s greatest film is finally on Netflix Instant! The film a true comedy and also a true drama dealing with a woman whose guilty conscience about having the luck and fortune to live in a upper Manhattan apartment is enough to make her feel bad but not enough to make her do anything about it. It’s about selfish people dealing with being selfish people, the type of film that for some people, may hit a little to close to home.  It really is the ultimate American film.

Dial M for Murder (1954, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock) -Dial M for Murder is one of Hitchcock’s lesser films so, of course, it’s a masterpiece. Instead of watching a recent horror movie, why not stay home and watch the Master of Suspense do what he does best?

Written by Greg Bright

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Super 8 - Meek’s Cutoff | Double Feature Film Review

Nothing but mystery has surrounded J.J. Abram’s Super 8 since it was announced over a year ago. All that was told was that it would be an homage to Spielberg’s films from the 70s and 80s, but really that should have given it away. It was going to deal with kids and aliens. Then the first trailer appeared and everyone wondered what the monster would be, Obviously it was going to be a huge alien, that probably wasn’t going to be very nice, but Abrams lives off the mystery of his films and, hey, as long as the film turns out as well as Super 8, the guy can market his films however he damn well pleases.

Super 8 tells the story of a an alien that is being transported via train, when it crashes in a small town as a group of children film a movie. The monster is evil, or at least all the grown-ups think so, but just like the Spielberg’s films it’s paying homage to, the children are the only ones able to comprehend that an alien who is snatching up innocent townsfolk really isn’t that bad. I’m really trying to not be cynical but the plot is extremely cheesy (it even involves a recently deceased parent) and it makes it all the more amazing that Abrams was able to keep the film serious and thrilling, yet light and fun. Really the best job of doing it since Spielberg’s E.T. 

Like Spielberg, Abrams doesn’t use children just as a cop out to manipulate the sentimental feelings of the audience instead he uses there lack of ambition and innocence as a way of telling the story, allowing the choices that the children make and the way they look at the world shape the way the story progresses. The children themselves are actually actors, not just kids being cute for the sake of them being cute. The stand out is, without a doubt, Elle Fanning. Like she did in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, she seems to just radiate off the screen. It’s just a pure joy watching her act. The film is suspenseful from beginning to end and even though you know none of the children are going to die or even get remotely hurt, watching them in these dangerous settings will keep you on the edge of your seat. And the action scenes seem to play with the story, there is no “action scene” per se, instead the action goes along as the story does, instead of interrupting it. This definitely isn’t a Michael Bay film.

Super 8 is a terrifically put together movie for the sake of being a perfectly put together movie. No irony, no cynicism, just a movie for the aesthetic pleasure of watching it. Do you know how rare that is these days?

Meek’s Cutoff, from director Kelly Reichardt, is many things at one time. It is a journey film, a film about the foils of man, a suspense thriller, the issue of gender, but yet the entire plotline can be summed up in one sentence: A group of settlers travel the Oregon Trail looking for water. Just like Reichardt’s last film, Wendy and Lucy, she is able to tell a very minimal story and allow the tensions of her characters drive the story. The cinematography beautifully captures the openness of the western trail and translates that into the isolation and tension these travelers feel.  Reichardt is a filmmaker who realizes that all aspects of filmmaking, editing, cinematography, acting, etc. are all useless if they aren’t doing something essential for the story being told.  This enables her to pack so much into such a simple story. A terrific film from a masterful director.