Sunday, November 27, 2011

Genre #5 - Fantasy

I am not working at a good rate - I've been doing the thrillers since September. I really need to pick up the pace, and I think I can with fantasy - almost all of the movies are on the Netflix instant queue. I bet I can finish this genre in just a couple of days.

I absolutely had to watch the fantasy movies next - Why, you ask? Because this list has...Christmas movies on it. And I cannot watch Christmas movies in a season that is not Christmas. That's wrong. So I'm watching the fantasy movies - I should be a good list - besides the Christmas movies, it also has a silent movie in it (Ooooo...) and a musical. Sounds exciting, doesn't it?

I can only hope that I get through this genre pretty fast - only about a year left, and nine genres to go.

Thrillers - A Debriefing

The American Film Institute's Top Ten American Thrillers

*My Interpretation*

#10 - Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) - I love Indiana Jones - It's iconic, it's got wonderful atmosphere, it's fun and globe trotting and has great fight scenes and the best hat ever. Part of the fun of Indy though is that big chunks of it are very silly - which is fun, but does not a great movie make. It's really great entertainment, but only pretty good movie. B +. I've decided I'm going to start grading the movies in this post, to give it a more definite, determined feel. We'll see how it works out.

#9 - Rosemary's Baby (1968) - Rosemary's Baby is so slow - the whole movie is really just a woman being pregnant, which is boring - and suffers from bizarre 60's special effects like turning the whole screen red and making everything blury. Why did you do that, 60's? It does have some good imagery though - the raw meat, the wardrobe - and the premise is pretty scary. C +

#8 - The French Connection (1971) - This movie is probably more boring than Reds. Reds. I honestly don't think anything happened in this movie. I'm not even sure what it was about. I remembeer the DVD menue, but that's about it. D -

#7 - The Birds (1963) - This was probably the scariest movie of the whole set. Even though the actual bird attacks are pretty outdated and not that scary, the lead-up to them and the suspense is great. I didn't mention it in the post, but I absolutely love the scene when all the crows gather on the playground - it is one of the creepiest I've ever seen in a movie. I watched it four times. And now I always keep my eye on the birds. A -

#6 - Alien (1979)- I watched Alien way back in Science Fiction - good movie, not as scary as I thought it would be, nice special effects. A -

So the grading system doesn't work - They're all good movies, or they wouldn't be on the list, and the grades and up too close together to be interesting. Ah well, I'll think up another ranking method for the next genre.

#5 - The Silence of the Lambs (1991) - This is a great movie. It's disturbing and Amnthiny Hopkins is so, so good in it. He's really the reason it stands out - It's a very good movie on it's own, but Hannibal Lector makes it stand out.

#4 - North By Northwest (1959) - I really liked this movie - Cary Grant is great, the train motif is very nice, the crop duster scene is iconic for a reason - but it's not as mind-bogglingly amazing as the other Hitchcock movies I've seen. It's pretty wonderfully bizarre, though.

#3 - The Exorcist (1973) - Not nearly as scary as I thought it would be, which is sad. The special effects are pretty outdated and not a lot happens in it. It's boring and not scary - Not something that I look for in a movie.

#2 - Jaws (1975) - There are a lot of 70's movies on this list, aren't there? I really liked Jaws, even though the two halves are really different and the shark isn't that good. The suspense and the mood is really kept up the whole time, and the way they use the shark is really great. The "You're going to need a bigger boat" scene is really one of the best movie moments ever.

#1 - Psycho (1960) - This is a great, great movie. The acting's great, the imagery is great, the music is great. It was shocking and violent and scary when it was made, and it still is. This movie was way ahead of it's time, and people still don't make movies like it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thriller #1 - Psycho (1960)

So the story about Psycho is that everyone was classifying Alfred Hitchcock's movies as horror movies, but he thought they were mysteries. So Alfred Hitchcock says to the world, he says "World, I'll show you what horror really is!" And he made Psycho. And it is terrifying. It's psychological and suspenseful and a violent, sexual slasher movie. It has strong themes about duality and control and a bird motif that I don't really understand but has something to do with preservation and freedom. It is terrific. I really liked Psycho. I especially like how easy it is to italicize, because it's only one word, but that's irrelevant.

So Psycho is about a woman who decides to steal some money from her boss and run away to start a new life. She stops at a motel, has a conversation with the nice owner who's only a little creepy, and then gets killed. This was ground-breaking at the time: You didn't kill your star halfway through the movie in 1960 - or now, actually.

Psycho was shocking and violent and scary because it's a random murder out of nowhere in the middle of nowhere. It's a terrifying movie - I hate serial killers: They are my least favorite things. I do not like serial killer movies. And in this movie it is not even the scariest part. I accidentally ruined the end of it for myself months ago, and I seriously lost sleep over just the summary. The ending is so disturbing to me. I cannot imagine watching this movie not knowing how it ends - That would be awful.

The shower scene I had seen before, obviously, so that wasn't that bad. The other murder made me jump, though - I just comes out of nowhere - like all of the murders. I heard they had to shoot the shower scene something like 24 times. It looks really good, and it's no wonder it's such an iconic scene. The fact that it takes place in a shower is just weird and common enough to make it memorable and of course the music is great and terrifying. Bernard Herrmann wrote the music for this movie, and it's awesome - You've heard it. whether you've seen the movie or not. Fun fact - Bernard Herrmann also wrote one of the other most recognizable pieces of music in the Western world - The Twilight Zone Theme. Now you know.

So I was expecting Norman Bates to be really creepy, and he's not really. For most of the movie he isn't really creepy at all (Although he does have his moments), and I that just makes the end even worse. Anthony Perkins is really terrific - I've actually seen him in something before - In Evening Primrose, a musical about a tribe of people who live in a department store. I don't know, it was weird. But he was very good in it.

I liked the whole movie - it was creepy and unsettling and impeccably well made and I was entertained by the whole thing. The music was great, and the Alfred Hitchcock cameo was really hard to find - I had to go back and everything. It was definitely the best movie in this set.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thriller #2 - Jaws (1975)

Jaws is pretty awesome. It's another Stephen Spielberg movie (One of his firsts, actually) and it's about a shark. The shark is not named Jaws, no matter what anyone tries to tell you. The shark doesn't have a name. Because it's a shark. So this unnamed shark is attacking the beaches of Amity Island, a vacation town, which isn't really that weird, and later is specifically and repeatedly targeting a group of tree people in the middle of the ocean, which apparently is unusual, sharks not really having the brain power for that. Learn something new everyday, don't you. So the town sheriff and a marine biologist and...this one fisherman...go out into the ocean to hunt the shark - they're the aforementioned three people. The biologist is Richard Dreyfuss who is, I'm sure I don't need to tell you, awesome.

Jaws has grown on me since I first saw it. It's a very slow movie and the second act is very different than the first, and that threw me off at first, but looking back on it, I think I really like it. There were a couple of moments that really actually scared me, and the suspense was really good, and the characters are really great. I actually couldn't understand the grizzled old fisherman most of the time, which sort of made the plot a little hard to follow, but I think I did alright. There's this big scene near the end where he has a huge monologue, and I'm not really sure what it was about - something about sharks and trauma and Illinois - I don't know. But it's cool, I think it was only thematically important, not a big plot device.

I mentioned that the first act is way different than the second act, and it is. The first half of the movie is on the beach and a disaster movie with loads of characters and ethical questions, and the second half is three guys in the middle of the ocean with a mysterious force of evil. It's weird. It's like watching two very closely related movies, and I did not like it at first. However, I do think that it works. The more psychological part is much better as the ending, and the beginning established the horror and the threat of the shark. It's a good balance.

Now, I have heard a lot about how horrendously bad the shark is in this movie. A lot. It's really the only thing I knew about the movie before I watched it - The shark sucks. After all of the hype about it, I was expecting like a sock puppet or something, but the shark is not that bad. I mean, it is awful, yes. Bad shark puppet, that is. It really does not lot bad at all underwater in the dark for short periods of time, which is how they usually shoot it. It doesn't ruin the movie and it gives the impression that the shark is huge and terrifying. It does its job.

So to recap: Jaws: Good movie, now that I think about it. Richard Dreyfuss is awesome. Robert Shaw I can't understand. Roy Sheider is also awesome, even thought I didn't mention him earlier. I really enjoy the way he dramatically takes off his glasses. The shark is not as bad as people say it is. Now you know. It's definitely a classic for a reason, unlike The French Connection, which I cannot imagine anyone liking.

Thriller #3 - The Exorcist (1973)

I have to say, I was disappointed by The Exorcist. It was supposed to be scary. It was supposed to be one of the best horror movies ever made. I was terrified of this movie. And it was not scary. It was often very disturbing, it was sometimes kind of creepy, but as a whole it is not scary. I mean look at the poster: "The Scariest Movie of All Time," please. This movie is roughly as scary as Ghostbusters. I'm not really sure why, either. The concept is really scary and disturbing - especially since it was so random - and it's executed well and most of the special effects don't look so bad - The head spinning has really aged, though, and the movie probably would be a lot scarier without all the vomiting. Regan looks really scary, it's psychological and the acting's good and the music is really terrifying, but for some reason it just does not add up into a scary movie. It wasn't a bad movie, but without the scariness, it was just kind of slow. Nothing about this movie was really terrific - It had a good atmosphere, I suppose. Very blue. Priest was good. Good actor, that Jason Miller.

I sort of have a hard time following this movie too, actually. I read online that there's something about the demon getting revenge on the priest and this all has to do with the dig that the movie starts with - the movie starts with an archaeological dig, I don't know why - but I didn't get any of that while I was watching it. Apparently there's some sort of Captain Howdy face too, but I just didn't see that, either. The movie is undoubtedly good, but I just wasn't that impressed by it. The Exorcist was just okay. The Birds, for example, was better.

And you know what - It's called The Exorcist, but that guy is only in the movie for like fifteen minutes, and then he dies. What's up with that, movie?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Thriller #4 - North By Northwest (1959)

North By Northwest is another Hitchcock, this time with Cary Grant and a different icy blonde, Eva Marie Saint. In case you're not in the know, this is the movie where Cary Grant gets chased by a crop duster - I'm sure you've seen that scene before. Watching that part was kind of surreal - Here was this thirty seconds of film that was so familiar to me because I'd just seen it so many times, right in the middle of this movie I'd never seen before. It made me think a lot of how much of an impact movies have on our culture - I'd never seen this movie and yet this one little section of film has been in my life for years and years. And then I sort of lost that train of thought and continued watching the movie, but for a second I was really on the verge of an epiphany about mass culture and the effect of fiction on our lives. It was pretty intense.

North By Northwest confuses me a little bit - I follow the characters and the overall plot, but I'm confused by the storyline. Cary Grant's character whose name I can't remember is suddenly being mistaken for a spy in an unnamed government agency, is blamed for the death of a man, and is forced to go on the lam - Which only rhymed by accident, by the way. I get all that. What I'm confused about is what Cary Grant is trying to do the whole movie, other than avoid being killed. I think he's trying to find the spy he's being mistaken for, but I'm just not quite sure.

I did like North By Northwest - It was a fun movie and it had a really cool, 50's spy atmosphere. Hitchcock, I've noticed, is really great at atmosphere. Cary Grant was good, of course, and Eva Marie Saint was really cool and icy and elegant. I liked the whole movie and I thought it was cool because they announced the Michigan railroad line in the train station. There was a really big train motif in this movie. I liked North By Northwest, but I wasn't quite as wowed by it as I have been by other Hitchcock movies.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Thriller #5 - The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Thriller #6 was Alien, which I've already watched back in Science Fiction, so the next movie was The Silence of the Lambs. This is definitely the most disturbing movie I've seen so far. It's about serial killers and you see all kinds of corpses and mutilation and it is very creepy. I thought it was going to be scary, though. I thought it was really going to stick with me and keep me up at night and pop into my head in the dark, like that creepy dog-guy in The Shinning, but it didn't. It was definitely very creepy while I was watching it, but that's about it. I thought I was going to have trouble with the movies in this genre, and I haven't so far. I'm a little disappointed, really.

So, The Silence of the Lambs: Clarice Starling, a trainee FBI agent, is trying to catch a serial killer, Buffalo Bill. The FBI decides that the best way to do this is to send her to Hannibal Lecter, a cannibal who's already in prison, and ask him to help. And that works, which just goes to show what I know about crime investigation, because it is not the route I would have taken.

Silence of the Lambs is, justifiably, really well-known for Hannibal Lector. Even though the rest of the movie is good, Hannibal Lector is what makes it really stand out - Sort of like the end of The Usual Suspects. Hannibal Lector is a serial killer and he's always going around just knowing things about people and making hissing noises, but he's also very refined and cultured and elegant. Part of what's so creepy about him is that he's not nearly as creepy as he really should be. He's a serial killer, and they have you sort of rooting for him! That's pretty intense. Hannibal Lecter is really what you come away from this movie remembering, even above the guy making a suit out of skin.

Hannibal is Anthony Hopkins, and he's really good. I've only seen him in one other movie before - Othello, as Othello, which seems like a bizarre casting choice to me, but whatever - and he's way better in this one. He won an Oscar for it, even though he was only on screen for 24 minutes. The Silence of the Lambs is actually the last movie to win all five major Oscars - Actor, Actress, Director, Screenplay and Picture - and is the only horror movie to ever win Best Picture. Jodie Foster is Clarice, and she was terrific, but I've seen her in a lot of stuff, and she's always good. Someone tried to kill Ronald Reagan for her, you know.

This movie is actually also famous for, of all things, treating the animals they used really well. All of the moths they used had there own little homes and costumes and not a single moth was hurt. There actually is a real moth with a skull on its back, the Death's-Head Hawk Moth. It looks like this:

It's disgustingly gigantic. The moth on the poster, however, is not that type of moth - The skull is actually a Salvador Dali painting of seven naked women made to look like a skull. And now you know.

I liked The Silence of the Lambs, even though it was disappointedly un-scary. Again. The acting and the story is really good, and it's got a lot of good imagery. And, that hissing thing that Hannibal Lector does? Anthony Hopkins just threw it in, and the whole crew liked it so much that it made it into the movie, even though they were all convinced that it wouldn't. If you watch that part, you'll notice that there's a nice long pause between "Chianti" and "Hisshisshiss," so it could be cut out easily. Fun Fact.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Thriller #7 - The Birds (1963)

So The Birds is an Alfred Hitchcock movie about all of the birds attacking people. Why? We don't know! It makes for a very bizarre movie. It's actually really creepy - You'd think that a movie about birds attacking people would be horrifying and hilarious, but it's not. It's just horrifying. It's not so much the bird attacks that are scary - because of the old technology they are a little bit amusing, and the phone booth scene is distracting because the set is obviously larger than a real phone booth (Gasp! It's a phone booth that's bigger on the inside! Of course a time machine would protect her from seagulls!). But the other scenes - The birds flocking and hitting doors and sitting around watching people - those are really creepy. Shockingly, this Alfred Hitchcock film is very suspenseful.

The Birds doesn't have any music in it - just a carefully composed set of sound effects - which really helps the atmosphere, I think. It makes it seem more realistic - That's what makes most of the movie so scary, actually. Birds won't just start attacking people, but they could. And what would we do? There are all kinds of birds out there - It would be the Bird Apocalypse! That's really scary!

The movie stars Tippi Hendron and Rod Taylor, who I think looks just like Cary Grant even though nobody else sees it, and they're very good. Alfred Hitchcock is in it at the very beginning, and apparently owns poodles, which makes sense, really. I really liked The Birds. It was really pretty scary, and it was well-done, and I've been watching the birds for signs of conspiracy ever since, so it was obviously effective. The acting is sort of outdated though, so seems kind of stiff, and it really needs to be restored. There are all sorts of little blips in the film and the color is really uneven from one scene to another. But boy is it scary.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thriller #8 - The French Connection (1971)

So you know how police work seems really boring because a lot of it is just sitting around waiting for something to happen? Well The French Connection is a lot like actual police work. It's about these policemen, Doyle and Charnier (Doyle is Gene Hackman, by the way), who are trying to catch a guy they strongly suspect is smuggling cocaine, and the man who's selling it to him - A french guy: The french connection, one might say.

That's really it.

Something about this movie makes it really hard to connect to - Maybe it's because you can't really understand anyone, maybe it's because the storyline is kind of vague - but I just did not ever feel engrossed in the movie. When I watch the other movies, I usually feel like a part of them, even if I don't really like them. This movie, though: It was like the movie was just playing in the room I was sitting. I get more invested in Mythbusters than I did with this movie. There have definitely been other movies like this - Reds, All Quiet on the Western Front, most of The Third Man - but that doesn't make this movie any better.

It did have its good points, though. It was very 70's, which was kind of fun. I was slightly disappointed by the 70's that I got, though - the DVD menu plays this funky 70's cop show music, and there was nothing like that in the actual movie. There's a pretty good car chase with a train, but that was really the only interesting thing that happened the whole movie. It's a shame - it had looked promising. I probably won't ever revisit The French Connection.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Thriller #9 - Rosemary's Baby (1969)

Rosemary's Baby was, once again, disappointingly un-scary. It started off pretty promising - In the beginning, they're considering a new apartment, and at the end of a little hallway, there's a big old heavy dresser. And there's a closet behind it. And the apartment is empty last person who lived there died. But they still buy the apartment! So that was really creepy. There were a couple of other moments like that, but largely it was very un-terrifying. I guess I'll have to wait for The Exorcist.

So Rosemary's Baby is about a woman who's pregnant with the Antichrist. You know that. I know that. Everyone knows that. This makes the end kind of anticlimactic. You already know how it's going to end, so it seems very unexciting. The whole movie is kind of slow. I did like it, but it didn't do anything for me, really. I did like the introduction of the creepy enthusiastic neighbors. They were old-timey and friendly in a really unsettling way.

Good image there. I also liked the part when she was craving the rare meat - that was done well, subtle, but made its point. And hey, fun fact - the apartment building where they shot the movie is the same building where John Lennon was shot. So, not fun really, I guess.

On the whole, I really liked the way the movie looked, I thought it was a good movie overall, the pacing is a little slow, and it's really too...60's weird. Really, really, surreal.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An Interlude

So, to keep you all posted, there are 457 days until December 21, 2021. That comes out to about 65 weeks. I still have to watch 86 movies. That means that I have to watch two movies a week for 21 weeks, which is about five months. I am behind. I am also concerned. But hey, I still have one more summer. What I really have to do is buckle down and blog and watch and absorb this art and culture, darn it, because I have a deadline to meet. If I don't finish this project than I will never see these movies, because the world will have ended. And I can't die without seeing Citizen Cane. That would be terrible. So bear with me, Internet: I will succeed.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Thrillers #10 - Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark is, of course, the first Indiana Jones movie. The whole Indiana Jones trilogy is based on the adventure serials from the 30s and 40s, which is why the Nazis are the villains, and they have a really cool retro, adventure-y feel. They have a very good mood - There's a very specific feeling and aesthetic I get when I think of Indiana Jones - It's very brown, and trumpet-y. The main theme is, in fact, fantastic and basically all trumpets (I think - they're definitely brass instruments), and that really fits the whole feel of the movies. The first one is really the only one that can be considered anything near a good movie, Sean Connery notwithstanding, but it's very good. I enjoy it immensely, and I had actually sort of forgotten about it - I haven't seen Raiders of the Lost Ark in years - and I'm glad I rediscovered it.

What I think is probably the coolest part of Raiders of the Lost Ark, beyond just the fact that it's pure awesome, is how iconic it is. It has the whip, and the snakes, and the big rolling ball, and the music (You know: Da-Da-Da-DA, Da-Da-Daaaaa, etc.) and the fedora. The fedora is actually genius, when you think about it: Not only does it create a distinction between Dr. Jones and Indiana, it also makes the character really recognizable. From a distance, in crowds, in silhouette - It doesn't matter. You look at that:

And you know immediately that it's Indiana Jones. Everyone does, which is awesome. This is a really a common trait in the movies that end up on these lists. Chances are, if it sticks in the so many people's minds like that, it's probably worth being iconic. Or, alternatively, it's really spectacularly bad - But this is not the case here.

The second thing that I like about Indiana Jones isn't that significant, but I really like the way he wears glasses. I was thinking that he only wears them when he's teaching, sort of like Clark Kent, but watching the movie, I noticed that he put them on all the time, whenever he has to read things. For some reason that was really cool to me.

I really like Indiana Jones - It's so adventurous and I really like that 30s-40s aesthetic it has, and I like Harrison Ford, and I like the action. Usually I don't like action in movies - It's pretty boring to me - but I was really entertained by the fights in this movie. They're very well-choreographed, for one thing, and with the guns and the whips and the swords they come off as varied and interesting. I actually think they're really cool - It's a big difference from Terminator 2.

So, to me, Indiana Jones and Star Wars really go hand in hand. It must be the people: George Lucas, Harrison Ford, John Williams, Ben Burtt, all them. They also both have a ride in Disney World. But they're also very similar movies to me: They're both just fun and adventurous, and they awake the adventurous, globe-trotting child in us all. Raiders of the Lost Ark has great fights, an awesome protagonist, fantastic settings, and is, in fact, very thrilling. And I know that I'm not the only one out there was wants to be Indiana Jones.

NOTE: No matter how hard I looked, I could not find out whether I should italicise the names of series, like Indiana Jones. I eventually decided that I should, because it is a sort of title. I apologise if I have erred.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Genre #4 - Thrillers

Because the Thrillers list is in a different format that the other genres, the American Film Institute doesn't actually have a definition for what they consider "thrillers." So I went to, and they definite it as "A suspenseful, sensational story or film," which makes sense. There are quite a few new Alfred Hitchcock movies in this list, a couple of movies I haven't seen before, and a few that I've seen many times over. It should be pretty entertaining.

I will admit, though: I'm kind of afraid of some of these movie. Well, one: The Exorcist. I am terrified of this movie. But I'm going to struggle through it, my friends. Because this is culture. And that's important to me, and the whole point of the project, really. I'm trying to watch movies that I wouldn't normally watch. That's why I'm making myself suffer through the Sports Movies. So I'll watch it in the middle of the day, then.

The only problem is that I'll have "Thriller" stuck in my head for the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mystery - A Debriefing

*The American Film Institute’s Top Ten American Mysteries*

My Interpretation

#10 - The Usual Suspects: The Usual Suspects is good for most of the movie, but the last fifteen minutes or so are what makes it great. That ending fills my heart with joy and triumph.

#9 - Dial M For Murder: I definitely liked how everything in this movie was introduced early on - the movie never once ad to explain itself - but Dial M For Murder pales in comparison to the other Hitchcock movies. It just doesn't quite have the same spark.

#8 - Blue Velvet: Blue Velvet was, to me, occasionally needlessly violent, and not really all the interesting to me, but was pretty good, I guess. I just wasn't captured by this movie: I don't think I even really want to watch it again.

#7 - North By Northwest: I watch North By Northwest in Thrillers.

#6 - The Maltese Falcon: I really liked The Maltese Falcon. It has a really great cast, what with Humphry Bogart and Peter Lorre, it's classic film noir, and it's really fun to me. Awesome movie, I liked it a lot.

#5 - The Third Man: A lot like The Usual Suspects, most of The Third Man isn't that impressive - except for the ten minutes that Orson Welles is in. Those ten minutes are some of the best ten minutes of the entire list. I cannot wait until I see Orson Welles in something else.

#4 - Laura: You know, I had totally forgotten about Laura. It was a nice movie, definitely, but it hasn't stuck with me, obviously. It had a good twist, though, and Vincent Price before he started taking roles in horror "movie," and without a mustache.

#3 - Rear Window: Rear Window was my favorite movie of the set. The mystery is fantastic and the characters are great, and you really get to know the secondary characters. The ending is very happy and peaceful and the movie is very self-contained. It's terrific.

#2 - Chinatown: Chinatown definitely stood out for me as a good movie, but it wasn't really a movie I liked. I didn't dislike it either, though. I thought that Jack Nicholson was great and I liked the way it used old film noir tropes, and I thought it had really good imagery, with the desert, and the nose-bandage. It definitely feels a lot grittier and darker than a lot of the older movies, even the Hitchcocks.

#1 - Vertigo: Vertigo is absolutely the best movie of the set. It's unsettling and disturbing, it has a twist that comes out of nowhere, but still fits with the rest of plot, and everyone in it is fantastic. One of the reasons people actually like this movie so much is that it's supposed to be really personal for Alfred Hitchcock - Apparently he was very controlling in his relationships. I thought it was fantastic, and it's really stuck with me.

Mystery #1 - Vertigo (1958)

Vertigo is a lot different than I expected it to be. It's an Alfred Hitchcock movie, with Jimmy Stewart's and Kim Novak. Jimmy Stewart plays the retired detective John Ferguson, whose nickname is Scottie, for some reason. He's retired because he suffers from severe acrophobia and vertigo. One of Scottie's old buddies comes to him and hires him to trail his wife, Kim Novak, named Madeline (Or is she?), whom he thinks is possessed. So Scottie does. And Madeline wonders around the city, and it appears that she's possessed by one of her relatives who committed suicide. And then Madeline committed suicide. And then it gets weird. That there is only half the movie.

Vertigo is really fantastic. It's one of those movie that you sort of have to watch twice, and I wish I had, but I already sealed the Netflix envelope. Alas. The mood of Vertigo is really strong. It's a very creepy and very disturbing movie. I look back on this movie and the main impression I have of it is very unsettling and disquieting. I look back on it, and I just feel sort of gross. The whole movie just adds up to exactly what it should be. I just love it. I think I'm really a fan of Alfred Hitchcock movies.

Vertigo is famous for two things: The dream sequence, and the camera effect. The dream sequence is really terrific. It's stylized enough that it doesn't look that dated yet, and it's really creepy, and it really feels like a nightmare. The camera effect is an effect designed to convey the sensation of vertigo. It's this very unsettling effect where they move the camera toward the view, but zoom out. The frame stays the same, but the perspective changes. It works really well. Even though that's not what vertigo looks like, it's definitely exactly what it feels like, which is awesome.

Vertigo is definitely the best mystery, which is awesome. I liked it a lot and I want to watch it again. I'm definitely looking forward to when I get to watch another Alfred Hitchcock movie.

Mystery #2 - Chinatown (1974)

Chinatown is very dark movie. It is film noir at its noir-est. It’s actually neo-noir, because it’s from the seventies, but it’s a lot darker even then The Third Man. It’s a Jack Nicholson movie – He’s a detective, and he’s investigating the disappearance of water in California. There's a theme running through the whole movie that Chinatown, which is where everyone used to work, is a place of lawlessness and brutalness and no rules. It's a bad place. The whole point of the movie is that everywhere is Chinatown. The world is Chinatown. "Forget it, audience," says the movie. "It's Chinatown." It is very dark.

Chinatown is undoubtedly a good movie. It takes common old film noir elements, and it subverts them, and plays on the audience's expectations, and use them to create a movie that is even more twisted and depressing than film noir usually is. I mean, this movie leaves The Third Man in the dust on the darkness scale, even without Orson Welles. Chinatown does have Jack Nicholson, though, and I've said that before, and I will say it again: There is no one scarier than Jack Nicholson. And he's terrific in this movie - this is before he started doing that sneer-y thing, so he looks totally different than usual.

I was definitely entertained while watching the movie, but it hasn't really stuck with me. When I think back at it, I like the mood, but I almost never think about it. I think of a lot of the other movies I've watched almost constantly. Chinatown just hasn't made an impression on me. Good imagery, though - The nose-bandage will really stick with me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mystery #3 - Rear Window (1954)

Rear Window is another Alfred Hitchcock movie, starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. In it, Jimmy Stewart is laid up with a broken leg, and has started spying on his neighbors out of the rear window of his apartment. Part of the movie is about his neighbors - their lives, hopes and dreams, their loves, et cetera. The other part is about a particular neighbor who Jimmy Stewart thinks has murdered his wife. That's the mystery. So Jimmy Stewart spends all of his time watching this neighbor through his binoculars or, because he's a photographer, a long-focus lens. That's actually really practical - we did that to the White House when we were in Washington D.C. - Did you know they have a bee hive? Grace Kelly is his fiancée, and she also thinks that the neighbor's a murderer, and they're trying to convince a detective buddy that Jimmy Stewart has that it's true.

I really like Rear Window - It's probably my favorite mystery so far. The actual murder is definitely the main plot, but it also has more to it. The neighbors that Jimmy Stewart are just terrifically crafted characters, even though you never see them talk, and you really care for them - but in a sort of detached, distant way, which is the point - that's how Jimmy Stewart feels about them.

The problem with having really big-name stars in movies is that I usually don't actually both to learn the name of the character, because they're so obviously that actor. I almost can't associate them with a separate character. Especially since Jimmy Stewart always plays very similar characters - Nice, but in a gruff, scary way. Well, I say always, but truth be told, I've only ever seen two Jimmy Stewart movies: This, and It's a Wonderful Life (Good movie). Two data points isn't a pattern, but so far that seems to be the general Jimmy Stewart persona. Which is cool - I really like it in this movie, and in It's a Wonderful Life. But that's why Jimmy Stewart's character is Jimmy Stewart in my head, and not Jeff.

I liked Grace Kelly a lot better in this movie than I did in Dial M for Murder. Admittedly, she didn't really have much of a character to play in that movie. This character is much better - she feels more like a person than a victim. I also liked the other female character of the movie - Stella, Jimmy Stewart’s nurse, played by Thelma Ritter, who disapproves of his spying on his neighbors. She's great. Which reminds me: Did you know that Lawrence of Arabia is the longest movie to not have a single woman in a speaking role in it? Yeah, true story. But that is not true of this movie – It is, for one thing, much shorter than Lawrence of Arabia.

Again, two data points don't make a pattern, but things are looking good for Alfred Hitchcock. Each of the Hitchcock movies I've seen have been like exquisitely crafted soufflés of cinema. I just love how much care goes into these movies and how every detail is looked at and thought of and fixed even before the movie is filmed, and how you can tell in the finished product. The Alfred Hitchcock cameo in this movie reflects that, because he’s shown winding a clock, symbolizing his control of the whole operation. Some may call Hitchcock’s insane attention to detail obsession, but I call that a healthy dose of perfectionism and I fully support it. I say micromanage on, Alfred Hitchcock. Micromanage on. Because, of course, if anyone can micromanage from beyond the grave, it’s Alfred Hitchcock.

This movie is just a wonderful example of cinema. It’s a terrific movie because it’s really an unusal story and an unusual way of making a movie. I love how self-contained it feels – At the time, it was one of the largest sets ever built on a sound stage – and I love how you experienced the same thing as the characters – You get close to the neighbors, but stay total strangers at the same time, and you doubt that that man is a murder until more evidence is offered up and it just feels very suspenseful and important. When you’re watching this movie, it is really important. This movie does exactly what it wants to do, and that makes me really happy. I love to see things that are well-done. Except in steak. I prefer that rare.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mystery #4 - Laura (1944)

Internet, do you know what this is? That's right: It's a Whodunit. It's not that I don't like the other movies that aren't Whodunits, but for me, the Whodunit is the pinnacle of all the sub-genres of mystery. I like learning the answer as the characters do, and gathering clues and guessing. It's like a movie and a game, all in one. And Laura is definitely a Whodunit. It's also yet another film noir film, although it's not nearly as cynical as the other one's have been. It starts with a murder, and the whole movie goes through the investigation until the murder is solved. There is a twist in the middle, and the twist is bizarrely similar to the one in The Third Man, although unfortunately it doesn't bring Orson Welles into the movie. Vincent Price is in the movie though, which I didn't even notice until about halfway through because his character isn't creepy at all and he isn't wearing a mustache.

Laura, of the title, is the murder victim (Or is she?) and Vincent Price and some other guy are her suitors, and Dana Andrews is the detective investigating the case - he falls in love with Laura through the investigation, too, so we have a sort of love square. It's actually really hard to guess who the murder is in this movie. I had suspected everyone at one point or another, but I never had a really certain guess. I was thrown off until the very end.

This movie isn't really special like most of the other one's are. Most of them have a dramatic twist, or founded a genre, or are controversial, or have Orson Welles in them or something like that, but Laura is just really good, I guess. It just stands out for itself. I've noticed that most of the movies on this list are from the forties and fifties, and very few are modern. I guess that's because it's not really a genre people use any more. That, or people don't know how to do it anymore.

Laura is a good movie, and I liked it. I don't know I'm going to particularly remember it though. It was very good, but really nothing particularly special. I'm going to remember The Maltese Falcon better, for example. I was really happy to finally see a classic Whodunit, though.

Mystery #5 - The Third Man (1950)

The Third Man is another film noir movie, which means it was very cynical and depressing, which is always nice. However, because of the way the sound is recorded, and because everyone has a weird accent and everyone's German, I found it really hard to understand the dialogue in this movie. It was therefore really hard for me to follow the storyline of the movie, so I felt really disconnected from the movie. I didn't absorb the themes or the characters or the moral dilemmas or anything. It was just another slightly-muffled film noir movie, although it did have a really cool-looking Ferris wheel toward the end, which was great visually, and another image at the end that really stuck with me, with trees and a car and a girl walking. It looked really great. But that was about it.

Other than those things, and the balloon salesman, there really was only one thing about this movie that I feel will stick with me. Orson Welles is in this movie. He's only in it for...maybe ten minutes, but he is a scene-stealer, I tell you. I knew that Orson Welles was supposed to be a really good actor, but I'd never seen him in anything before this, and I didn't know what he looked like. He has top billing on the Netflix instant menu, so I had figured that he was the main character. The guy who actually plays the main character, Joseph Cotten, isn't really all that impressive, and I was really confused. "Is that Orson Welles?" I said to myself. "Well he doesn't seem all that special at all." And then, probably an hour into the movie, the actual Orson Welles showed up, and the minute he started talking I knew - That is Orson Welles. He was amazing. For me, he made this a good movie. All of his lines were good and meaningful and well-delivered, and I could actually understand him, and I almost knew what the movie was about for ten minutes. It was like some crazy, life-changing acting-viewing experience.

The point is, Orson Welles is very good, and he makes this movie awesome. Without him, it's just another film noir movie with a Ferris wheel. I didn't even give a summary of this movie - that's how much Orson Welles takes up The Third Man.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mystery #6 - The Maltese Falcon (1941)

North By Northwest was mystery number seven, and that movie ranks higher in the Thrillers list, so I'll watch that latter. The Maltese Falcon is the first film noir movie ever, unless you count M, and is the first Hard Boiled Detective movie. It's the first movie I've ever seen with Humphrey Bogart in it, and as it turns out, he's pretty awesome. Peter Lorre is also in this movie, and Internet: I love Peter Lorre. He's great - probably one of my favorite actors from the Golden Age. He's a small creepy Eastern European man and he almost always plays the character he plays in The Maltese Falcon - A somewhat sympathetic and ineffectual, yet still creepy, villain. He's awesome.

The Maltese Falcon is a Sam Spade movie - Sam Spade is the film noir protagonist. Is he a good guy? Is he a jerk? We don't know! He's very unflappable though - nothing phases Sam Spade. This movie is just such a classic movie. I'd never even seen it before, and it was still so familiar. It's been parodied so often and it launched a whole genre, and it's obviously a very influential movie. It was really cool to watch it. The Maltese Falcon is just a fun movie. I really enjoyed watching it. Everyone had trench coats and fedoras, and Sam Spade had an awesome secretary and he uses slang that I can't really understand but it's okay because it sounds cool. I'd totally gladly watch this again. It was cool.

I'm still not totally sure exactly what this movie is about, mostly because of the slang, but I do know that this little team of criminals is trying to get hold of this fancy, expensive bird statue (The Maltese Falcon) and Sam Spade is aiding them and thwarting them at the same time and his partners dead. It's very confusing - I'm still not sure if I've exactly sorted everything else, but it doesn't really matter because I enjoyed it regardless. This is just a fun movie. It's just awesome. It's definitely my favorite movie so far, even though it still wasn't a Whodunnit.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mystery #8 - Blue Velvet (1986)

Blue Velvet is David Lynch movie mostly about the dark, violent underbelly of idyllic small-town America, and frustratingly, is still not a traditional mystery. I'm not even sure what the mystery might be in this movie, although admittedly that might be because I was cross stitching for big chunks of it. There's really not much for the audience to figure out, and there aren't any answers, anyway. This isn't really a major failing for the film or anything, but I was kind of hoping for it. Ah well.

Blue Velvet is about a small town youth named Jeffery Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan, by the way), which unfortunately only reminds me of the town in Footloose, who gets mixed up in amateur detective work when he finds an ear in a field and is plunged into the violent and sexual world of the criminal underworld. Isabella Rossellini is also in it. Blue Velvet reminds me a lot of A Clockwork Orange. Both of the movies are extremely violent and sexual, and both of them use music that doesn't match the actions of the movie - A Clockwork Orange uses classical, and Blue Velvet uses 50's, crooner-style music. The similarities really end there, I guess, but they're still pretty strong to me. Blue Velvet seems a lot more polished and cleaner than A Clockwork Orange does, but the sex and violence in A Clockwork Orange seems less, I don't know, gratuitous. A Clockwork Orange seems to be actually trying to say something about sex and violence, while Blue Velvet just seems to be violent. And sex-filled. It's not that I have any inherent problem with these elements being in fiction, but I feel like there should be some sort of use for them. When I compare the two movies, Blue Velvet just comes up short. It doesn't raise any moral questions, it doesn't make you think, it's not depressing in an artsy way. A Clockwork Orange does all of these things, and I think that makes it a better movie.

I guess the point is that I didn't really like Blue Velvet. It was alright - I didn't really dislike it, either - but when I think of the other two movies that I've watched in this genre, I can come with specific reasons I liked them. The ending of The Usual Suspects was so well-presented that it filled my heart with joy and triumph all the way through the credits, and everything in Dial M For Murder was so cleverly presented beforehand that the movie didn't have to explain itself. I really can't think of anything in Blue Velvet that I specifically thought was good, though. I can't think of a reason for it to be a good movie. So, if I were the American Film Institute, and of course I'm not, so that makes a difference, but if I were, I would have put Blue Velvet below both The Usual Suspects and Dial M For Murder.

I have high hopes for the next movie though - Chances are very high that it will be an actual mystery.

Mystery #9 - Dial M For Murder (1954)

Dial M For Murder is my first ever Alfred Hitchcock movie (Who was, as I'm sure I don't need to point out, a knight), unless you count the original The Man Who Knew Too Much, which I don't because I really wasn't paying much attention to it. So far, things seem to be boding well for the master of horror and suspense, because I really liked this movie. I was entertained through the whole thing, it was well-done, all of the actors were really good. It's not even supposed to be one of the better Hitchcock movies out there. It was not, though, actually very mysterious at all. It was a mystery in the sense that it was about solving a crime, as the American Film Institute defines it, but it was not a mystery in the sense that the audience doesn't know anything.

You see, Dial M For Murder is about a man who plans to murder his wife by blackmailing someone else to do it for him. He helps out the murder by getting his wife out of bed by calling their apartment, which is where the title comes from. We learn all of this in the first half hour or so of the movie, so their really isn't much mystery for the audience. I was hoping for some good old-fashioned Who Dunnits, but out of the movies I've watched so far I haven't got one. The Usual Suspects wasn't really even about solving a crime so much, either. The movie doesn't want you to think too hard about who Kaiser Soze might be, and therefore the culprit is. There simply isn't that much mystery in Dial M for Murder, despite it being labeled as such. Sure, people solve a mystery, but not the audience, which I've always thought was essential in a mystery.

But that's beside the point. I did really like Dial M for Murder. What's crazy about this movie is that every single element that ever becomes even slightly important in the plot has been introduced earlier. The movie never has to explain itself because we've already seen what's happened, which is terrific. I haven't seen a movie like that before. It's so neat and put together and knows exactly what it's doing all of the time. I read on that Alfred Hitchcock meticulously planned every element of his movies for months before they were filmed, and often became depressed during filming because it was comparatively boring. I don't have any trouble believing this. Everything in this movie is there from the beginning, and nothing comes out of nowhere. It's absolutely fantastic.

Grace Kelly is the wife in this movie, and she seems...nice. I don't really know anything about Grace Kelly, other than the fact that she was supposed to be very elegant and married into the royal family of Monaco, and this is the first time I've ever seen her in a movie. I was hoping it would be more exciting than it was, since she's such a big movie star, but she didn't really stand out anymore than the rest of the cast. The guy who played the murder, Ray Milland, was very good - He was very menacing and sophisticated and charming at the same time, qualities I personally always look for in a murder - and John Williams, not the composer, I assume, was a competent police officer, which is always a comfort. Police are very often useless in fiction, and I don't like that. It's scary. And of course Alfred Hitchcock was in it. I think that one of the things I'll enjoy the most about watching Hitchcock movies is looking for Hitchcock himself. I already knew where he was in this one - it's a pretty famous example - but I'm ready for the hunt in future movies. I'm actually very excited about it.

And speaking of future movies, here's to one of them actually being mysterious in the future. And as for endings, I've decided not to spoil them, but anything happening in the first half of the movie is fair game.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mystery #10 - The Usual Suspects (1995)

The Usual Suspects is a Bryan Singer movie about five thieves and con men who are all brought together into a lineup, and then start planning big crimes together. Most of the movie is Kevin Spacey's character, Verbal Kint, who is one of the criminals, telling the story of the crime that the police are actually investigating. Some sort of large boat has been stolen from and blown up by them, and Special Agent David Kujan is pretty sure he knows what happened, and wants Kevin Spacey to admit it. There's also some sort of criminal mastermind phantom guy called Keyser Soze, who's behind the five criminals committing the crime in the first place. It's a really cool movie - very nineties, though, so it kind of felt like I was watching it on TV, even though I wasn't.

The Usual Suspects is really famous for having a crazy twist ending. And it does. It's very Murder of Roger Ackroyd. The thing is, though, I knew that there was a twist ending when I started watching it. Because I was expecting it, it was really easy to figure out what the twist was, and I did about halfway through. All you have to do is think of the most shocking possible ending. The movie is also spoiled for you if you speak Turkish, but that's beside the point. If I went into this movie not expecting the ending though, I would have been really surprised. Even though I knew what the ending was going to be, it was still really cool when they revealed it. The way they did it was just awesome. The best part of this movie is easily the end, surprising or not. The rest of the movie is fine, but the end is great.

Besides the end though, he rest of the movie was good, but not as impressive. Which brings me to an important issue. Should I reveal the endings of the mysteries? I mean, a mystery is no good if you already know the ending. If people want to go and watch these movies, they'll be ruined for them. You can see my dilemma. I'll have to consider it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Genre #3 - Mystery

The American Film Institute defines "mystery" as "a genre that revolves around the solution of a crime." I'd never thought of mystery as specific to crime, but now that I really think about it, I can't think of anything that I would consider mystery that doesn't have crime in it. A couple of Sherlock Holmes stories, I guess, but that's about it. Sherlock Holmes never appears on the list, though - they're not really good movies, to be honest. There is, hoverer, no less than four Hitchcock movies, some film noir, and a hard boiled detective movie (In fact, the hard-boiled detective movie.)

I'm actually very excited about the mysteries - I haven't seen any of them, and I haven't even heard of half of them (The half that aren't Hitchcock movies). This means that I don't know the endings of any of them, so hopefully I'll be surprised by all of them. After all, the best part of a mystery is the ending.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Science Fiction - A Debriefing

*The American Film Institutes's Top Ten American Science Fiction Movies*

My Interpretation

#10 - Back to the Future: This movie is just fun. I really enjoy watching it. Back to the Future is a classic, and even though it's not really traditionally artsy, I'm glad that it got onto the list. We can always use a good time travel story.

#9 - Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Even though it has campy dialogue and the ending doesn't really make any sense, this movie still has a really cool, really memorable concept that really freaks people out, and is really enjoyable to watch.

#8 - Terminator 2: Judgment Day: I liked this movie more than I expected - I'm not usually a fan of action, and this is definitely an action movie. It's a really good action movie though, and has terrific, groundbreaking special effects, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is awesome.

#7 - Alien: Alien was not as scary as I thought it would be, which was disappointing, but I can see how it scares people. Alien really lets all of the tension build up, and it does it well, and I bet it's terrifying if you don't go into it knowing what to expect.

#6 - Blade Runner: Blade Runner was probably my favorite new movie I saw on the list. It looks amazing, Harrison Ford is in it, the storyline is good, it looks really, really cool. I just really enjoyed this movie, and want to watch it again.

#5 - The Day the Earth Stood Still: A classic 50's science fiction movie and really fun, but I don't actually think it's a better movie than Alien or Blade Runner. Or Terminator 2, for that matter. It hasn't really aged well and its message is delivered pretty heavy-handedly, and doesn't actually make sense when you think about it - Keep peace or die? Still enjoyable to watch, though, and probably really needed in 1951.

#4 - A Clockwork Orange: I still haven't figured out if I like this movie or not. Is it too weird? Just weird enough? I do know that it uses music very effectively and gets its message across well, and definitely sticks with you.

#3 - E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial: I know that it's heartwarming and adorable, but I just think that E.T. is boring, and that Elliot is annoying. It's definitely a family classic though, so make of that what you will.

#2 - Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope: Star Wars is just such an iconic part of culture, and everyone knows what it is. It's a good movie and is really fun to watch and is an important part of American film. Everyone is familiar with Star Wars.

#1 - 2001: A Space Odyssey: I wish that I could buy a version of this movie that only had the part with HAL in it, but since I can't, I'll just have to never watch it again for as long as I live. It's a very good and very artsy movie, yes, but it's also confusing and mind-numbingly boring. Just slow-movie machinery after slow-moving machinery. Still not as boring as Reds, though.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Science Fiction #1 - 2001: A Space Odessey (1968)

Oh how I hate this movie. Well, that's not true. Hate is a strong word. There are lots of parts of this movie that I do like - I'm personally a fan of HAL 9000 - but there are also lots of parts of this movie that I'm...less than fond of. I'm sure it's technically a good movie, but that does not make it anymore mind-numbingly boring or intentionally incomprehensible. You're not supposed to understand this movie. Arthur C. Clark once said that if anyone completely understood the movie, the filmmakers hadn't done their job right. Apparently, some people enjoy that sort of thing. I do not understand this. Some people will tell you that the movie really isn't that hard to understand: It's clearly about evolution and how emotionless humanity is and spiritual enlightenment, and in fact is more enjoyable because you can't fully understand it. These people are liars. I don't get this movie. To me, this movie is the cinematic equivalent of modern art. Lots of people like modern art and think it's great and progressive but I do not like modern art - I don't get it. Not all modern art, obviously, but a whole lot of it. I'm just not a fan, and to me this movie is sort the same thing.

One my main problems with this movie is the fact that it is just so slow. I'm sure that real spaceships do move slowly, but that does not mean that I want to watch it. I swear that two thirds of this movie is just slow-moving machinery. The special effects are very good, yes, but I don't want to look at them for that long of a time period. A real spaceship probably does take twenty minutes to get from one side of the moon to the other, but in this movie we have to watch all twenty minutes of that - I'm pretty sure there's some exaggeration there, but the thing is, I'm not quite sure. It might have actually been twenty minutes. Even when we're not watching slow moving machinery it's still slow - we're watching monkeys or scientists making small talk or a business meeting or sleeping astronauts. This movie is definitely very slowly paced. So very slowly.

The movie's a Stanley Kubrick movie (Who, as you may recall, I'm still not sure if I like or not), so it's very weird. A lot of the weirdness I don't mind at all - HAL and the monkeys are fine , and even the monoliths I'm really fine with, (Except for the noise that they make - It's this horrible buzzing, squeaking noise coupled with tuneless, random moaning - Here's a video link for your reference, you'll get a good sense of it if you start about two minutes in - I swear that's the the sound they play over the loudspeakers in Hell.) but I cannot tolerate the colorful Jupiter landing thing. It happens very near the end of the movie, and it really is just colorful lights coming at you, or splotches of color on black, or the ocean in different colors - very screen-saver-esque. This is already weird and not very entertaining and dated now, but to top it off, this scene goes on for, I am not kidding, eleven minutes. Eleven minutes of this:

It's like your DVD player went to sleep and you're just watching the screen saver. Why do people like this movie? I actually know though - People like this movie because of HAL. And I don't blame them - I love HAL, HAL is amazing. HAL is really one of the most terrifying villains I have ever seen in a movie (It should be noted that I don't watch a lot of horror movies.) He's unfeeling and calm and detached and creepy as all get out - His voice is Douglas Rain, who has never done anything else, but has a cool name and is just terrific as HAL. The part where HAL kills the astronaut through the pod, and the camera sudden zooms in on the eye of HAL on the pod is just terrific. I love that part - It's probably my favorite part in the movie. Even though HAL is just a light and a voice, he's still a character, and that light can really emote.

That light shouldn't be as creepy as it really is. And even though HAL is evil, he's also scared and confused (HAL is far more emotional than any of the human characters in the movie - Which is the point. I think.) You kind of feel bad for him, especially near the end. HAL is sympathetic and terrifying. Like Peter Lorre. Unfortunately, HAL is only in about an hour of the movie - the other hour and twenty minutes is filled mostly with, yes, slow-moving machinery. Shame.

Besides HAL, though, I came out of this movie with two ideas. A.) While people talk about this movie a lot - What the monoliths are, why HAL breaks down, what the lights mean - No one ever talks about how much the space pods look like koala heads.

I don't know what other people see when they look at this, but I can only see a koala. B.) Hey!

That guy has grey eyes! That's cool! I didn't even know that people could have grey eyes...You can tell how engaged I was in this movie. I know I should like this movie - Smart people like this movie, movie people like this movie. But I'm just not that into it. I just don't enjoy watching it. I do like HAL. I do like "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (That's the music - you know: da...Da...DA...DAHDAH, dumdum dumdum dumdum...), but the thing is: I don't like this movie.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Science Fiction #2 - Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)

Well what could I possibly say about Star Wars? It's Star Wars! I don't think there's a single person alive in the western world who hasn't heard of Star Wars. It's such an iconic movie with such iconic characters and a lot of people were practically raised on Star Wars. I'm pretty sure that Star Wars is how I learned the first six Roman numerals. So many parts of these movies have become totally ingrained into modern culture: Darth Vader, Yoda, light sabers, the Wookie noise, R2D2 - the list goes on and on. I could probably come up with a huge list of things from Star Wars that are universally recognizable. Even if you don't know what they're called, you still recognize them. Like these things:

What are they called? I don't know! Have I seen them before? I certainly have! Everyone is at least vaguely familiar with Star Wars - It's like a very recent Shakespeare. The movie can easily get on the list on sheer iconocity alone. They have really impacted our culture in a way that not a lot of fiction does. People love Star Wars, and even people who don't can't get away from it. I am totally following its inclusion on the list of the best American science fiction films ever made.

The one on the list A New Hope, which, for those of you not well-versed in Star Wars, is the fourth one that's really the first one, or the first one that's really the fourth one, depending on how you look at it. This one introduces Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Princess Leia, Han Solo and host of other familiar Star Wars things. Not, tragically, Yoda though. He doesn't appear until the second one that's really the fifth one. Fun fact about Yoda: The guy who plays Yoda also plays Miss Piggy. It's Frank Oz. You can hear it if you listen. Obi-Wan Kenobi is played by Alec Guinness, who we last saw back in Lawrence of Arabia. His career has certainly changed, hasn't it? The movie is directed and written by George Lucas.

Star Wars is well-know for being a really good example of the Hero's Journey. The Hero's Journey is a classic plot pattern that occurs everywhere - I've seen a Discovery Channel special on it, so I know a lot about this subject. You can find the Hero's Journey in ancient mythology, modern cinema, fairy tales, literature, basically where ever you look. Even though the elements that make up the Hero's Journey are really very spesicific, they occur again and again and again. Most fiction that involves any sort of fantasy of sci fi element will turn out to be a Hero's Journey. Basically a Hero's Journey is when our normal main character is chosen for some sort of task, enters the unknown world, discovers themselves an is reborn, and then comes back to the known world. Here's a handy diagram of it - I got it from Wikipedia:

A lot of fiction is a Hero's Journey. Harry Potter is one. So is Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Oz, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Finding Nemo, King Arthur. You see it all the time, but Star Wars is a really classic example of it - it was modelled specifically after the patten, probably so it looks a lot like some kind of old fable. Star Wars does this a lot - You see a lot of mixing old and new together with Star Wars. And while Star Wars is definitely science fiction, it also has huge streaks of fantasy in it, what with all of its fantastic aliens and its traditional storyline and its frequent rural settings. It's like a twist on the old stories that you used to see all the time. It's fairy tales in space.

Despite being mainstream and geeky and kind of cheesy and makes a lot of money, it does have genuine artistic merit. It subverts an old plot by putting it into a totally new setting, it takes place in a ton of varied and elaborate settings, it features incredibly memorable characters, even just side characters, it creates a totally new universe, has had an incredible lasting impact on modern culture, has music and even just sounds that stick with people (Ben Burtt is the sound guy in these movies, and he's the one who created the sound of the light sabers, R2D2, and Darth Vader's breathing, some of the most recognizable sounds in cinema. He's also responsible for the crack of Indiana Jones' whip and is the voice of Wall-e. The music is done by John Williams, who beside this has done the scores for Harry Potter, Jaws, E.T., Indiana Jones, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Olympics, Schindler's List, NBC Nightly News, Obama's inagaraution, Superman, the Dreamworks logo, and so many more). It really is a good movie. And Harrison Ford is in it, which is awesome. Who doesn't like Harrison Ford?

Science Fiction #3 - E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

I'm really surprised that E.T. is so high on the list. I mean, it's definitely an iconic film, and it was really a new type of movie at the time, and it's heartwarming, I guess, and the special effects are good, but....number three? It's not bad at all, but it's really boring and cheesy and the kid's really annoying and I had to check how much was left every ten minutes. But regardless of all that, it is a classic family film, and Drew Barrymore is adorable, and it does have a fantastic, memorable score. I can see its merit, definitely.

E.T. is a Stephen Spielberg movie about a kid named Elliot who finds an abandoned alien they name E.T., which is kind of like naming a dog puppy but whatever, and befriends it. It's all very heartwarming and charming. For some reason, I really strongly associate this movie with Poltergeist, and I don't know why. I think I once saw a special about special effects that talked about both movies. Or maybe it's just because all of these early eighties movies tend to run together.


E.T. is another one of Stephen Spielberg's major blockbusters, like Jaws and Indiana Jones, but family friendly and adorable. This is actually the third Stephen Spielberg movie we've encountered so far: He directed Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List. He also was the executive producer of Back to the Future, and I don't exactly know what that actually means, but it sounds really important to me. So I'm definitely not going to contest that everything Stephen Spielberg touches turns to awesome, and he definitely should be represented on the list, but E.T.? I mean, E.T.'s alright, but...Elliot is so annoying and it's so boring. It's okay, I guess.

E.T. does have fantastic music - it's composed by the great John Williams, so that's expected (He's been nominated for 45 Oscars). I actually didn't even realize how recognizable the music was until I was watching the movie, but I totally know this music! The special effects are also very good. E.T. almost always looks really real, and the flying on the bicycles look really terrific, too. I'm really not sure how they did it! Look at that:

That's very impressive! So in those respects it's a very good movie, and I can see how people like it. I'm just not that into it really. But Drew Barrymore is really adorable.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Science Fiction #4 - A Clockwork Orange (1971)

A Clockwork Orange is a Stanley Kubrick movie - one of the big ones, actually. For me when I think of Stanley Kubrick, I think of The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and then this movie. Admittedly, those are the only Stanley Kubrick movies I've ever see, but still. Stanley Kubrick is just really...Kubrick-y. You can always tell when you're watching a Stanley Kubrick movie, at least based on my somewhat limited experience. This movie is definitely a Kubrick movie. It's got weird camera angles, music that doesn't match what's going on, bright colors, that thing where people glare from under their eyebrows.

Like that. The thing about Stanley Kubrick is that I'm not sure that I actually like him. He's weird and innovative and everything, but I'm not sure whether or not I think he's too weird. I feel about the same way about this specific movie. It was definitely very bizarre, but was it too bizarre for me, or did I like it? I'm just not sure.

A Clockwork Orange takes place in some sort of futuristic dystopian Britain where teens roam the streets causing havoc. One such teen is the main character Alex Delarge, played by Malcolm McDowell, a murder/rapist/gang leader. Alex is just going along inflicting mayhem until about roughly a third into the movie, when he's arrested. In prison he's offered the chance to go free if he participates in some sort of treatment to make him a good person. He takes it, and through a combination of drugs, movies, and this thing:

Alex developes a sort of Pavlovian reaction thing to sex and violence. He becomes violently ill any time he encouners either of them. He also becomes sick whenever he hears Beethoven's ninth symphony, which is a shame because Alew loves Beethoven. Now that Alex is released into the world, he has to deal with the torment of his former friends and enemies, now that he can't defend himself. No where in the movie does it indicate why it should be called A Clockwork Orange.

The movie covers a lot of things. Violence, the issue of choice and humanity, totalitarianism, things like that. The movie's very satirical and definitely has its steak of dark comedy, and is very, very strange and very, very disturbing. I'm pretty sure I didn't even see the real version - Just the R rated one. The music in the movie is almost always classical music (Except for "Singing in the Rain," but we're not going to talk about that ever.) which is appropriate and completely inappropriate at the same time - Classical music is supposed to be a beautiful thing, and the scenes it's played over are definitely not beautiful. It's very jarring, which is exactly what it's supposed to be. The visuals in the movie are really ugly - bright colors and patterns and things, all next to each other - I'm sure it's intentional, but that doesn't make it any less ugly. It is the seventies, I guess.

Four little notes I have about this movie. Just interesting little tidbits: 1. Do you know who is in this movie? David Prowse! He's the guy in the Darth Vader suit! This is before that ! Look at hat, that minor character went on to be the body of one of the most iconic villains in American film. He looks surprisingly nonthreatening, although he is huge.

He's the guy in the glasses. 2. I don't know why anyone would choose to wear fake eyelashes all evening. I know for a fact that your eyes start watering like crazy after just a few hours. 3. I cannot understand anyone in this movie - Everyone is British. It is frustrating. 4. Malcolm McDowell is very good in this movie - he's creepy and crazy and disturbing and everything - but he has really, really blue eyes. It's weird. It almost doesn't even look right. I mean, look at that:

I'm watching this movie and I keep getting distracted by them. Do they always look like that? Is it the lighting? Did they do something post production? How come nobody else notices? To people notice on the street? Do they look like that now? I don't know! It's strange.

A Clockwork Orange is definitely a good movie, but I'm not sure if I actually ,like it. It's just really weird. I'd have to watch it again, and I'm just not sure I want to. It's very disturbing.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Science Fiction #5 - The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

This right here is a classic science fiction movie. It's a 1951 Robert Wise film that is simply made to be watched in a drive-in movie theater. It has fake-looking robots (It's true), and weird science fiction-y sounding music - the kind that goes oooo-eeeeeey-ooooo-ey, you know what I'm talking about - and a nice anti-war message told through aliens. It's a quintessential science fiction cinematic event. It's quite a perfect summer movie, so I'm glad I watched it now, it really went with the mood of the season.

The movie starts with the landing of a spaceship in Washington, D.C. Since this is obviously a reason for some concern, the army surrounds it and waits for something to come out. When an alien does come out, he's carrying some sort of metal thing that pops open suddenly, one of the soldiers panics and shoots the alien (Whose name, by the way, is Klaatu.) A giant robot, Gort, then comes out of the ship and starts shooting at people until everything calms down. The alien is taken to a hospital, and the robot stays where it is. In the hospital Klaatu says that he wants to deliver a message to all of the leaders of the world in one place. This isn't actually possible, because it's 1951 and probably the worst time he could have asked for that, so instead Klaatu escapes from the hospital and goes out into the world to learn about humans. He befriends a small child, learns about the world, meets a scientist, etc. Eventually he decides to gather up all of the world's scientific leaders and deliver his message, and to demonstrate his power, he cuts off all of the power in the world for half an hour. The government take this as a threat and shoots him. His robot brings him back to life and he delivers his message.

Apparently, there is a sort of galactic peace-keeping organization run through robots. If anything at all violent happens, the robots start killing everyone in sight. You know, for peace. Planets are therefore forced to be peaceful, least they get destroyed by robots. Since humanity is on there way to space travel, they have to stop their warring ways or be destroyed in the name of stopping violence. After all of the movie, the message the alien had was basically just a heads up. Huh. The poster doesn't actually have a lot to do with the actual movie, but it does portray the spirit of it quite accurately.

This is a fun movie. It's cheesy and the robot is just a guy in a suit and the message doesn't really make sense (Fight violence with violence?), but that's what makes the movie fun. It's so 50's and awesome. On the other hand, though, it's also iconic, a big step for science fiction, and has a serious message. I can totally see why it made the list although I don't know if I would have put it as high as it is. The 50's science fiction movies are a big subset of the genre. They're like really long Twilight Zone episodes. I enjoyed watching the movie, even though I kind of enjoyed it because it was so wonderfully cheesy. It's a classic.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Science Fiction #6 - Blade Runner (1982)

Science Fiction is generally separated into two sub-categories - "Soft" Science Fiction and "Hard" Science Fiction. The basic difference between the two is that "Soft" Science Fiction is generally more character- and plot-driven, while "Hard" Science Fiction is driven more by the technology and realism, or at the very least plausibility, of the work. More than that though, Science Fiction that is considered "hard" is usually darker, grittier, and more cynical than "Soft" Science Fiction, which is often light and comedic. I'm more often a fan of "Soft" Science Fiction - something about the whole complicated technology/serious plot combination doesn't entertain me well. So I wasn't expecting that I would like Blade Runner, which, while not exactly logically enough top qualify as "Hard" Science Fiction, is definitely more on the hard side than not. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be totally awesome. I shall elaborate.

Blade Runner is a Ridley Scott film, like Alien, that takes place in the now near future (2019), in an over-crowded, industrial, rainy earth, completely uninhabited by animals and nearly uninhabited by humans. It's also very Asian, for whatever reason. Blade Runner is a very early example of Cyberpunk, a genre involving dehumanization and extreme corporate control. Blade Runner is a sort of Science Fiction Dystopia/Hard Boiled Detective combo where Harrison Ford, who in my opinion obviously has not played enough Hard Boiled Detectives, is Rick Deckard, a "Blade Runner," meaning that he hunts and..."retires" rouge androids (Replicants) who are used as slaves off-planet. These replicants are so realistic that it's possible that not even they know that they're a robot (This particular point has created quite a controversy over whether or not Deckard himself is, in fact, a replicant. There's even disagreement about it within the crew - Ridley Scott says he definitely is a replicant, and Harrison Ford says he definitely isn't). After a few years these highly-realistic robots begin developing emotions and blurring the lines between human and machine and causing other similar troubles, and this simply won't do, so after four years the replicants automatically die. So there four replicants hanging around on earth, looking for a way to live longer, and Rick Deckard is searching for them. It's all very exciting.

Blade Runner is based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which I have actually read, although I don't remember it well, because it was years ago. I do remember that the book was much more cerebral than the movie is. The movie does touch on the issue of humanity - What really separates robots than humans?- which doesn't seem like it would be a practical theme, but is, and has robotic animals and all that, but is doesn't really get into it like the book does. The book is much darker the movie, and tightly themed and plotted, by I enjoyed the movie more. I can see why they changed the name - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? would be hard to fit on a marquis - but I don't know why they chose to name it Blade Runner. There is nary a blade in the entire film. There is running, at least. I guess it just sounds cool - good enough reason as any, really.

This movie is visually stunning. It looks awesome. As apposed to Alien, whose special effects were just fine, and Terminator 2, whose effects were innovative but are now outdated, Blade Runner still looks great. To me, anyway. There's a huge crazy city and umbrellas and flying cars and lots and lots of rain. It's fantastic. I could probably just look at this movie and be happy. I love the way this movie looks - it's blocky and gritty and eighties-y which is awesome. The building they use in the climax is actually an existing building in Los Angeles called the Bradbury Building, which is creepy even when it's not dilapidated and abandoned. It's pretty awesome, actually - all sorts of wrote iron and stuff. Quite a lovely building.

Blade Runner was pretty great - I really enjoyed it. I actually have to watch it again - I don't think I followed the whole thing - what, for example, is with the unicorn? For now, however I will have to move on - I'm already a couple of weeks behind, and not quite halfway through science fiction.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Science Fiction #7 - Alien (1979)

So far in our Science Fiction experience we've seen (1) Time Travel, (2) A Paranoia-Inducing Plot Premises, and (3) Robots. We seen to have already covered most of the basic science fiction motifs. We have not, however, seen the very important science fiction concept that is, of course, space.

Ah, space. It's so big and lonely and blackish. Mysterious, even. It is the final frontier, as they say. The thing about space, though, is that you can't actually enter it, because you'll asphyxiate. That means that you're stuck on whatever sort of spaceship you're on until you've reached earth. That's of course the case in Alien, the Ridley Scott horror film, which is where most of the conflict comes from. (This is not, by the way, the movie with the big yellow thing that they use for lifting stuff. You know what I'm talking about. That's Aliens, in plural. I know, I was disappointed too. It is, however, the movie with the most famous tag line ever: In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream. I can't tel you how often I say that.) There's a big terrible alien on the ship that's going to kill everyone, but you can't just leave because the outside is, you know, space.

At the beginning of Alien, our cast is floating around in space in a commercial cargo ship when they hear a single repetitive distress call coming from an empty plant. They decide to go answer it. If there's one thing that Alien has taught me, it is that if I ever find my self in space, I should never, ever answer any distress call, ever. I suppose we can't really blame the characters for not seeing this coming though, because Alien is the first movie of it's kind. You didn't see a lot of science fiction horror movies before. Instead, future fictional characters will have to learn from their mistakes.


They answer the distress call, and what do you know, everyone on the planet's dead. So one of the guys gets an alien stuck to his face and eventually dies after it bursts out of his chest, which I imagine is very effective if you don't know what's coming. This is by this time pretty much impossible because it's such an iconic film scene, and that means it's not as scary as it would have been if it was a surprise. It's a good effect regardless, and you still get the suspense of wonder when it's coming.

This brings me to my next point. Alien is based mainly on suspense and the threat of danger rather than the actual alien, which works really well. It was not, however, as scary as I thought it would be. I don't know if it's because it's outdated, or if it's because I knew it was coming, or what, but I really was not even slightly scared by most of this movie. I was disappointed. Maybe I should have watched it on a bigger screen or something. The end did get sort of suspenseful, when she was in the shuttle, but that was about it. The alien itself looked really good, although there were a couple of shots where it was pretty obvious that it was just a guy in a costume. For the most part it was a really good alien though. The whole head/mouth system is really iconic, and I can see why. It's really disturbing and disgusting, like a good alien should be. I works best when it's in the really dim lighting and you can't really see it, and not because the effects not good. It's just scarier that way.

So my extensive Internet research tells me that I really need to see the sequel to Alien, confusingly named Aliens, with an S. It's supposed to be more of an action movie, directed by James Cameron, and is widely considered to be just as good as the original. Sigourney Weaver, who's first name I can't quite pronounce, still plays the same character, (Ripley, by the way. I don't think I mentioned it earlier. She's quite awesome.) but now she's this awesome action girl. Sounds fun, right? I'm going to watch it on my Netflix instant queue.

The only serious qualm I have with Alien is how seventies the technology looks. Their computers! They're huge! You can't even pick them up! How can people imagine commercial cargo spaceships and an entire alien life cycle and not be able to think up computers that can generate curvy letters? This computer can run a spaceship, but it can't make a proper C! I just don't find that believable.


There were actually robots in Alien, too, which I did not see coming.