What was the last movie you saw at the theaters?

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Slumdog Millionaire........I thoroughly enjoyed it. The two hours just flew by and I wanted more. 5/5
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Sunshine Cleaning
Christine Jeffs, 2009

Pleasant if too easy concoction of amusingly dysfunctional family dynamics, upbeat melancholy and an oddball profession that isn't terribly memorable and not at all surprising, but it is well acted and charming enough for its modest ambitions. Rising superstar-to-be and two-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams (Doubt, Junebug, Enchanted) is Rose Lorkowski, a young woman in her early thirties, unmarried with a grade school aged son, and realizing her life hasn't turned out at all like she imagined. She has a job as a cleaning woman which is just enough to support her and the boy, and she's carrying on an extra-marital affair with her high school sweetheart (Steve Zahn) who is a cop but has no intention of leaving his family for her. Rose's younger sister, Norah (Emily Blunt), is even more lost and can barely hold a job as a waitress, living with their Dad (Alan Arkin). One night at a crime scene after overhearing how much the specialized cleaning crew that sanitizes an area after a violent death is paid, Zahn suggests she go into business for herself scrubbing blood and brains after the police have left. Rose does so, with Norah in tow as her partner, and together they quickly learn the ropes of biohazard disposal.

Amy Adams is an extremely likable screen presence, as always, and plays both the desperation and the dogged hopefulness of this kindhearted loser with equal depth and reality, and makes the character more alive than the material in the script should have let her. The English-born Blunt who made her mark in The Devil Wears Prada a couple years ago continues to raise her profile and shines playing the sister with the darker edges. Arkin is of course reliable and instantly likable playing a very familiar role and young Jason Spevack as the oddball kid manages to be weird without becoming too cutesy or sitcomy. There's a good supporting cast to aid them including Zahn as the handsome cad, Mary Lynn Rajskub as a young woman Blunt's Norah tries to befriend under false pretenses, the venerable Paul Dooley playing a used car salesman calling to mind his greatest role in Breaking Away (1979), and Clifton Collins Jr. (Capote, Traffic) understated and charming as a sympathetic cleaning supply dealer. Director Christine Jeffs (Sylvia) keeps it moving along going from the Little Miss Sunshine playbook, even using one of the same words in the title and its Oscar-winning co-star, but it never quite clicks either as a winning comedy or a moving drama, leaving a rather standard if likable dramady.

GRADE: C+
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Two Thousand Maniacs!
Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1964

To quote the guest speaker who introduced this film, Two Thousand Maniacs! contains "bad acting, blood and banjos". An apt description for this, a film by "godfather of gore" Herschell Gordon Lewis. Problem is, he failed to include that this film was really bad.

The plot's a very typical horror one - a handful of travellers are lured into a seemingly ordinary Southern town that is celebrating its centennial. The mayor and citizens claim that bringing citizens from the North (which, funnily enough, all the travellers are) to town is a tradition rooted in the town's history. Why this is gets revealed soon enough - the Southerners plan on killing the Northern characters as a means of retribution against Union soldiers that destroyed their town a hundred years prior.

The feeling I got from watching Two Thousand Maniacs! is that I honestly didn't like it. The entire Southern setting (complete with the aforementioned banjos and the majority of the cast sporting Southern accents strong enough to cause grievous bodily harm) was amusing at first, but as it wore on it quite simply got very irritating. Even though, as with virtually every other film I've seen (and will see) as part of this program, it was quite simply laughable, even the laughs weren't enough to save it (half the time it felt forced, as if I felt like the only way I could get through some horrendous acting and boring scenes was to try and laugh hard.) The gore seemed like it should've been the film's saving grace, and while I reckon it probably was, said scenes were still rather few and far between while the film wasted time on developing its plot.

Still, I reckon there's got to be some logic behind this film being chosen for a "history of horror" style - considering the context of the film, it manages to handle many of the same plot dynamics and thematic content that have been used by horror films for decades afterwards (especially The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which was playing in a double bill with Two Thousand Maniacs!, but I opted not to go again), so I guess you've got to give it that. Unfortunately, however, that doesn't really do much to save this trashy-by-anyone's-standards film, and of course while I wasn't really expecting it to be some sort of shining classic, I was still rather underwhelmed.

GRADE: D+
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Don't judge...

Fired Up! My wife wanted to see it!! I think the best part was when I was stuck at the concession stand for about 15 minutes waiting to refill my drink.
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Watchmen.

My opinion can be found elsewhere.



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The Exorcist
William Friedkin, 1973

After choosing to miss out on last night's screening of Night of the Living Dead, I opted to redeem myself somewhat by giving a second chance to a film I'd never really felt too strongly about before - the notorious tale of demonic possession that is William Fredkin's The Exorcist.

As per usual, here's a quick summary for anyone who doesn't know the plot - preteen girl Regan (Linda Blair) starts behaving more and more strangely every day, with her bizarre outbursts becoming angry, destructive and reeking of the paranormal. Her distraught mother (Ellen Burstyn) tries everything from modern medicine to psychiatry before finally turning to the church to perform an exorcism to rid Regan of the demon within. Drafted into the task is Father Karras (Jason Miller), a Jesuit priest with his own troubles.

I've only watched The Exorcist once before now, on a glitchy DVD of the 2000 re-released version (which was also the same version I saw tonight). It's become clear that watching the film on a small television does no real justice to just how shocking it can be at points. Granted, it took at least a third of the film to win me over - prior to that, I still remained rather unimpressed by it (because obviously the seriously intense parts hadn't started and it was still working on developing the characters - most of the other films I've watched as part of this program haven't invested that much time and effort into developing the first act). However, once it started picking up and the trouble started growing, then it truly got gripping.

I've noticed that the past few horror films I've watched all tend towards different styles of scare tactics. I should give credit to The Exorcist for maintaining a totally different approach to scares to the others. Even if it isn't quite as instantly tense or thrilling (as, say, certain scenes in most of the other films were), it still manages to be unsettling, and I've got to give it credit for that. Want to know how unsettling? This example's rather personal, but here goes - The Exorcist marks the first of the horror films I've seen where I never laughed. Not even the slightest giggle. Despite the admittedly ridiculous demonic behaviour (such as green vomit, random swearing, rotating heads, etc) and some of the more questionable acting moments that had others in the theatre laughing, the film never made me laugh. I don't think that makes it scary by default, but it's still something that these effects don't seem laughable to me. There were no jumps or even too much suspense - about the most the film really disturbed me was when I watched one of the scenes where Regan was getting extensive medical treatment (don't really want to go into it, although I think you should be able to guess the one if you know the film.) I literally couldn't stop cringing.

Also, not sure who here has seen this in theatres, but it's recommended. Reading up on this film, I found it won an Oscar for its sound effects, and I couldn't help nodding my head and agreeing. Watching this in a theatre with surround sound is just damned incredible. Despite moments where it really just seemed to be overbearing noise, more often than not it sounded very effective, maintaining impressive balance. That (along with the notable lack of music for much of the film, especially its climatic moments) was an interesting choice and it certainly did help this film along.

So my opinion of the film improved quite a bit. I actually learned to appreciate the film from all sides a bit more, and I'd recommend it to others, although be sure to have it loud. Love it or hate it, it's the only way to truly experience The Exorcist.

GRADE: B




WATCHMEN
2008, Zack Snyder

I don't know how to review it without comparing it to the graphic novel, but basically the book is a genre-shifting masterpiece and the movie definitely is not. The visual spectacle has been replicated and brought to the screen as has most of the basic plot, and it benefits by mostly terrific casting especially Crudup, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson and the perfect Jackie Earle Haley. But Malin Akerman is barely a passable actress as eye-candy in formulaic comedies (The Heartbreak Kid re-make, 27 Dresses) and she proves how incredibly limited she is here. To accommodate the criteria of cramming it into less than three hours of movie too much of the texture and scope had to be excised in favor of the violence and sex parts. The darkness is there, but without more of the depth the satirical political aspects come off as pretty hollow and even unintentionally laughable. In many ways I don't think Snyder and company really adapted it to the medium of film as they were so busy being reverential to the imagery of the book that they didn't find enough ways to make it of the source material but also let it be its own film. In many ways I think James McTeigue's V for Vendetta was more successful in the changes it made than Watchmen is in its mostly slavishly adherence to the bits they highlighted.

But for those who could give a crap about the comics and are going in cold just to see Watchmen as a movie experience, I suppose it'll be visually overwhelming, darker and more brutal than you might guess, and a theatrical experience that you'll remember whether or not you get all of what is going on or care at all about any of the characters. It's a spectacle, to be sure, but I don't think it's much more than that. Certainly better than the visual-only exercise of 300, but considering the source material not as much as it should have been.

GRADE: B-

*and in the midnight screening I actually felt old. I don't usually notice and certainly don't obsess on such things, but sitting there surrounded by a nearly sold-out audience of which the vast majority were not even born when the comics debuted...I felt old. I was sixteen when I started anxiously and wonderously grabbing up each new issue of Watchmen, which dovetailed with the release of Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns from earlier in the year and being the first comics I read that really went beyond simplistic superhero mags into true literature. I didn't feel this old when seeing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull even though most of that midnight audience wasn't born when Last Crusade debuted much less Raiders. Oh, well.

And get the HELL off of my lawn.



A system of cells interlinked
About what I expected from you, Holden. I figured you would be pretty demanding about how this film was translated over from the book, and I also feel there is just no way to cram all that content into a film, no matter what the length.

Still, I get the idea you weren't completely let down (ala Superman Returns), and I take that as a token of encouragement that I will have a good time watching the film. I read somewhere that Snyder wanted to ramp up the violence in his version in an attempt to stun people the way they were stunned when they first read:

WARNING: "Watchmen" spoilers below
The scene in the first issue in which Rorschach broke the guy's finger while interrogating him.


At the time, this was an act that was beyond the pale for a comic protagonist, and people were shocked. In today's culture, that would barely phase people, so I take he wanted to attempt to inspire that sort of shock in his audience, in regards to Rorschach, by blasting the violence meter up to 11.

I guess it didn't go over so well...
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HALLOWEEN
John Carpenter, 1978

I mentioned earlier this week that I considered The Thing to be John Carpenter's best film, although I was due for a re-watch of his other "best film" - the shoestring-budget slasher film Halloween. Here's my re-watch.

The film begins with a teenage girl being murdered by her six-year-old brother on Halloween night. The boy, Michael Myers, is locked away in a mental institution until he escapes years later, also on Halloween. He returns to his hometown in order to go on a rampage, opting to focus on a trio of teenagers.

Given the fact that, like plenty of infamous horrors that preceded it, Halloween was made on a very small budget, it still looks relatively smooth compared to the rough guerrilla feel of, say, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Carpenter put some serious effort into making the film look good, including spending half the film's budget on high-quality cameras. And of course, it shows. The film would've seemed far weaker without the widescreen look, and Michael's odd appearances at the very edge of the frame. I pity anyone who ends up watching a pan-and-scanned version for that does no justice whatsoever to Halloween. Despite the 30-year-old print's sketchy quality, the film's still pretty damned shocking, thanks in no small part to Michael's unpredictable appearances and disapperances, accentuated by strong stings courtesy of Carpenter's trademark synthesiser-riddled score.

GRADE: B



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Videodrome
David Cronenberg, 1983

I seriously doubt I'll ever be able to call myself a fan of the works of David Cronenberg with a straight face. His works have a habit of leaving most people (myself included) cold, which I guess is his style. Prior to watching Videodrome in full for the first time (I'd caught most of it of cable once, but didn't consider it a proper viewing), I'd say the closest I came to liking Cronenberg was with his head-popping psychic thriller Scanners (the others were his two recent collaborations with Viggo Mortensen, both of which I was highly unimpressed with - sue me). After sitting through a theatrical viewing of Videodrome, I think I'll be vaguely predictable and call this my "favourite".

Videodrome stars James Woods as Max, an unscrupulous television executive who discovers a mindlessly violent program (the titular Videodrome) via a pirate satellite dish. He initially intends to air it on his network for profit, but a variety of complications make him realise that what he is dealing is something far bigger and more dangerous than cheap entertainment.

I'm a bit of a sucker for films that, for want of a better word, screw with reality. Videodrome does that amply - it constantly blurs the lines of not only reality and fantasy, but also fantasy and fantasy. It achieves this through some grotesque yet fascinating special effects - it's always interesting to watch pre-CGI horror films if only for the sake of how inventive they tend to be. The various different effects are shocking and stunning in both their impact and in their creation, and serve the plot well as Max slowly starts going insane as a result of exposure to Videodrome.

I do reckon Videodrome is a rather good film (at least, a lot better than I initially gave it credit for) - it's got some great effects, a surprisingly twisty mind-f*** of a plot, and it's surprisingly watchable in spite of my slight aversion to Cronenberg. Not sure if it's changed my mind about him totally - we'll just see how it goes after next week when I check out The Fly.

GRADE: B



The Shining
Stanley Kubrick, 1980

Sigh, don't you just hate it when you watch a film you thought you loved and then you feel like it doesn't live up to the hype you've given it in your mind? I felt that way a lot when I watched The Shining today. Maybe it was the poor quality of the print (which would be going on 30 years old if I remember correctly) with its scratches and saturation of pink due to loss of pigmentation, but yeah, I don't really feel like The Shining is as great a horror as I have in the past.

This isn't to malign it as a film - unlike Cronenberg, I've actually warmed to Kubrick's distinctly detached filmmaking style, and his work in The Shining is actually reasonably good. The camerawork is noticeably flowing - consider the opening helicopter footage or the various sleek Steadicam shots that follow characters around the corners and hallways of the Overlook. The score may be discordant and relying on atmospheric noise or piercing jolts more often than not, but it works in a strange way. Even the random editing and irregular pacing of the film, while distracting at times, serves to create the uneasy mood that I reckon Kubrick was aiming for, rather than more conventional scares (which there are still quite a few of).

I guess it's because I've seen it quite a few times and it's starting to have less effect on me, even in a theatre. I suppose there is amusement to be gained from watching Jack Nicholson's delightfully crazed performance, and when things start becoming more and more crazy throughout the second half, it's all you can do to watch. While I may not think as highly of The Shining as I used to (I would've given it an A- after my last viewing), it's still a reasonably good film from a cinematic genius.

GRADE: B



Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
You need to watch Cronenberg's The Fly. That one isn't going to be at the festival, is it? I'm going to rent that one and show it to Sarah very soon. I don't see how The Fly won't remain my fave Cronenberg film, and I'd imagine it would become yours too.
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I saw the movie Defiance, which was about the Bielsky brothers, who were Holocaust survivors, and fought tooth and nail to survive, with a whole other bunch of Holocaust survivors. Good film, worth seeing. I also read the book on which it was based, which was somewhat better than the movie, but I enjoyed both the book and the movie Defiance very, very much.
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You need to watch Cronenberg's The Fly. That one isn't going to be at the festival, is it? I'm going to rent that one and show it to Sarah very soon. I don't see how The Fly won't remain my fave Cronenberg film, and I'd imagine it would become yours too.
Yeah, it is at the festival, hence why I'm not going to get around to seeing it until next week.



I ain't gettin' in no fryer!
The Shining
Stanley Kubrick, 1980
Just watched this the other day as well. Saw Watchmen Friday.

Grade for The Shining: B; Grade for Watchmen: A-



Heheh, I saw The Fly at the IFC /NY on Friday.

Going to see Videodrome in a couple of weeks.

I agree, the Fly is better than Videodrome, but what about Dead Ringers?



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I haven't seen Dead Ringers yet. I've only seen Videodrome, Scanners, A History of Violence and Eastern Promises.



Whilst The Fly is a very effective slice of 'body horror' it's also one of the most sickening films I've ever seen. The climactic scenes are just too disgusting for my tastes, which is saying something considering how I love gory creature features. The Fly has all the excess of Stuart Gordon's From Beyond, but with that sickly under-your-skin vibe that puts so many people off Cronenberg's movies. It's the purest example of his 'Body Horror' sub-genre and definitley one of the best horror films of the 1980's (it really does encapsulate the decade) even if it's a film I don't particularly like.

I'm in a minority because I really like Cronenberg's earlier exploitation flicks Shivers aka They Came From Within and Rabid which stars porn actress Marilyn Chambers. I think you'd probably enjoy those films in more of a disposable comic book fashion, especially if you like Carpenter and Romero. I also think The Brood is extremely underrated -- Samantha Eggar is sensational in that film -- very very frightening disturbing stuff, certainly more frightening than The Fly. I'd also second Lines's recommendation of Dead Ringers which actually plays around with the 'dual conciousness/single body/ mind' ideas that Cronenberg touched on in Scanners (and all his early films really). Dead Ringers is worth seeing for Jeremy Irons alone who gives two brilliantly nuanced performances, it's a minor masterpiece. Ha, as you can probably tell I'm a huge Cronenberg fan



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Now I really want to see The Fly.

Also, in regards to Cronenberg's other works, The Brood and Shivers are also playing as part of this horror program - however, I've missed The Brood (it was on the same night as Halloween, and it's like they say, better the devil you know etc.) and Shivers isn't particularly high on my priorities list, although depending on whether or not I'm working on the day it's on, we'll see.