THATS UNDERRATED

Underrated Movies

Miss Marple meets la petite blonde.


WHAT: Swimming Pool

WHY: Swimming Pool is a 2003 thriller by French director Francois Ozon. The movie stars Charlotte Rampling (some may remember her from Woody Allen's Stardust Memories or most recently as Dr. Evelyn Vogel on Dexter) and Ludivine Sagnier as Sarah Morton and Julie respectively. The interplay between the two actors (Ozon has worked with both multiple times) is enthralling and carries the twisty mystery to its stunning conclusion. 

The film revolves around a crime novelist named Sarah Morton who created the successful Inspector Dorwell series. Sarah is experiencing a case of writer's block and has become disenchanted with the whole creative process. She meets with her boss John Bosload (the wonderful Charles Dance who has a knack for playing authoritative figures) and accuses him of abandoning her for new up and coming writers. John reassures her and suggests that she relax at his villa near Lacoste (southeastern France), thinking the respite will invigorate her and lead to some new material. With nothing to lose, Sarah takes him up on his offer. Initially, this proves to be just the thing Sarah needed as she is able to regain her focus. However, things soon get turned upside down when an unexpected guest arrives, her boss' daughter, a petite blonde troublemaker named Julie. 

The parallels  between Charlotte Rampling and the character she plays, Sarah Morton, are startling. These parallels allow Rampling to give one of the most real and honest portrayals of a character I have ever seen. Sarah is an English author who has a knowledge of the French language; Rampling was born in England and went to school in Versailles. Sarah is an older woman who walks with an air of dignity and commands respect; Rampling has been acting for decades and has had a brilliant career acting alongside legends such as Max von Sydow, Paul Newman, and the recently deceased Peter O'Toole. Sarah is burned out with the whole Inspector Dorwell series and is looking for some outside inspiration, or her muse if you will; Rampling in her own life admitted she had reached a sort of funk in her career, something she was able to come out of by working on this film with a director she respected for his creative energy.
Rampling chose the name Sarah as a tribute to her sister who died tragically in 1966. The incident weighed heavily on her and it was not something she seemed comfortable discussing at length. In a case of of life imitating art, Rampling began to open up about the incident around the time Swimming Pool was released (much like her character Sarah was able to come out of her own comfort zone). In a 2003 interview with The Guardian she describes her sister, "Sarah was prettier, more glamorous, I was a bit more ordinary, Her chaperone, really." Fast forward about forty years later, and Rampling is anything but ordinary. The word "remarkable" describes her much more accurately. 

Julie (which sounds even sexier when pronounced in French as Zhoolee) on the other hand is the stereotypical sexually liberated French tart. She spends her days tanning around the swimming pool and her nights partying and shacking up with every Tom, Dick, and Harry (or is that Francois, Bertrand, and Jacques?), including Franck who looks like a lost member of Three Dog Night. Julie is resentful of her father since she feels he abandoned her and only uses their house as a vacation home. As a result she tends to act out, and the serious English woman becomes a perfect target for her. She likes to push Sarah's buttons and has a talent for getting under her skin. Julie is young, beautiful, and the desire of men of all ages. Even the loyal groundskeeper Marcel can't help to steal a few glances here and there. Sagnier is truly bewitching as Julie. She arrives on screen like a tempest and never loses any of her potency as we are swept up in her storm. She is the perfect contrast to the controlled and pent up emotions of Sarah.

The film works so well precisely because of the differences between the two women. The two clash immediately, as soon as Julie arrives in fact. Sarah sees Julie as an invader who is infringing on her newly found tranquility, despite the fact that Julie's father owns the house. She is curt and cold towards Julie which leads to an immediate tension between the two. This tension quickly develops into a full on rivalry. The irascible Sarah has a habit of cutting Julie off whenever she starts to inundate her with a barrage of questions. Her go to excuse always seems to be that she really must be getting back to her work. At one point Julie replies back, "I'll leave you alone Miss Marple" (which made me laugh incessantly since I can remember vividly those old PBS commercials for the Poirot and Miss Marple double features). An intriguing game of cat and mouse commences between the two of them. Julie taunts Sarah by making a lot of noise during her late night encounters. Sarah takes a more passive aggressive approach by sneaking some of Julie's food, and writing about her in her notes. Julie responds by snooping through Sarah's papers. They eventually lash out at each other with a great exchange. "I pity your mother. Well I imagine having a daughter who comes home with a different man every night must be difficult for a mother." To which Julie replies, "You are just a frustrated English woman who writes about dirty things but never does them." It is clear at this point exactly what they have been thinking of each other. Julie places a particular emphasis on Sarah's tendency to act out her fantasies through her books. This becomes quite ironic when Julie utters the following line (during a time when she needs Sarah most), "Why should I believe you, because you write about murders in your books?"

Sarah not only lives her life through the events she writes about, she also lives vicariously through Julie. She spies on her during her trysts, and daydreams about her constantly, almost bordering on obsession. She seems transfixed by Julie's utter lack of restraint, her free-spirited nature. I got the sense Sarah was enamored by the freedom Julie possessed, and was less interested in Julie being some sort of vessel by which she recaptured some of her own youth (the obsession of the great Jessica Lange on American Horror Story: Coven). Julie was fearless and impulsive as opposed to the steady and calculated Sarah. Sarah was writing the same tired Dorwell crime novel and yearned to do something new. She was afraid to take that big leap of faith until Julie became her muse.

There is also a bit of a mystery going on in the film as well. Mix in a controversial ending (one of those endings where you might say, "What did I just see?", yes it takes a bit of processing) and you've got plenty of ingredients for a really interesting film. But what does it all mean? Well, as I like to say about movies and songs, "Whatever you like." It is all about self-interpretation. I saw the film as an allegory of the artistic process of creation such as how stories are created, how artists become inspired, etc. The movie was a fascinating look into what it takes to be a successful artist and only reinforced the idea that it helps to be a little bit "out there" (a bird of a different feather) when it comes to creating truly unique and memorable art.

Swimming Pool unfolds like any good story should, introducing us to its characters and slowly immersing us in their world. Charlotte Rampling and Ludivigne Sagnier are spellbinding and draw us deeper and deeper into the mystery that is Swimming Pool.

CHECK THIS OUT: Swimming Pool on DVD 

Article by CJ Ramirez

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                        HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!!                 
There is a house in the woods devoid of all joy
They call it the House of The Devil
And It's been the ruin of many a poor girl and boy
And things inside only emanate evil.

WHAT: The House of the Devil

WHY: The House of the Devil is an ambitious 2009 horror film directed by Ti West. The film turned out to be quite refreshing during a time when the genre was saturated with endless sequels and remakes (and still is to some degree). It relies more on atmosphere and tension than copious amounts of gore and succeeds in creating one creepy story elevated by Tom Noonan's excellent performance. Director Ti West uses a number of techniques to recreate the look and feel of a 1970s or 1980s horror flick and you wouldn't be alone if you swore the film was made decades ago.

The story of The House of the Devil revolves around a college student named Samantha Hughes. Samantha has recently purchased a new apartment because her roommate is literally screwing her out of entering her own dorm room. Samantha needs to find a way to pay for said apartment so she answers a want ad for a babysitting job. The guy who placed the ad is Mr. Ulman, a peculiar man, living with his wife and mother in the middle of nowhere in a big creepy house. He confesses to Samantha that the job really was to babysit his mother and a reluctant Samantha tries to get out of it, claiming that she has no elder care experience. Ulman flashes some dead presidents at her and she eventually accepts (a girls gotta pay her rent). She is instructed by Mr. Ulman to basically stay in the house and just sit there. His mama is upstairs but she will not need you to take care of her as she is very independent. She is also very private, and she never goes outside her door, and never makes a sound, and never...scary, no? What was even more eerie was what happened the first time I saw the movie. After the movie finished I decided to continue plowing through my Veronica Mars season 2 DVD. Strangely enough, the end of the episode "My Mother, the Fiend" was almost an exact replica of the ending (the very ending, when the credits are rolling) of The House of the Devil.

Director Ti West uses a number of techniques to make the film look and feel as if it came right out of the late 1970s or early 1980s. The opening credits use those big block letters common to films of that era. Quentin Tarantino does this in his opening title sequences as well, such as in Django. Samantha is fully equipped with a giant Sony Walkman which would have been consistent with the period. The soundtrack is accurate as well including the songs One of our Submarines by Thomas Dolby, and One Thing Leads to Another by The Fixx. Samantha's feathered hair is similarly styled to Farrah Fawcett's hair in the 1970s. Dee Wallace of The Howling, and several other 1980s horror flicks, plays the landlady to which Samantha is indebted. You can just tell that there was a great amount of effort put into making the film as accurate as possible so that it properly reflected the period in which it was set.

The House of the Devil was shot deliberately using 16mm film (the 16mm refers to the width of the film). 16mm was developed by Eastman Kodak (which always reminds me of "Deep, deep like the mind of Minolta" for some reason) and was developed as a cheaper alternative to 35mm film. It was originally intended to be used in educational videos and some student 
projects. It later became popular in lower budget films as a cost saving measure. Director Ti West uses it to recapture a certain older horror film look present in many 1970s films including The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Last House on the Left (although those prints were altered using 35mm blow-up). The use of 16mm was ingenious and helped to create a remarkable atmosphere, as if the viewer had stepped into a time machine. If I was watching the movie without knowing it was made in 2009 I would swear I was watching something from the 1970s or early 1980s as the film has a similar look. That is not to say the film looks grainy. On the contrary, the film is able to recreate a classic look while also maintaining crisp visuals.

Another technique West uses is that of the infamous "Based on true events" label, used in many films particularly in the 1970s. The Amityville Horror was based on true events (the Defeo murders) while the Texas Chainsaw Massacre merely claimed it was, although you can make the case it was based on Ed Gein "maitre d' at Canal Bar". The opening credits of The House of the Devil says,"The following is based on true unexplained events..." This would have absolutely frightened me as a child, now it serves as a clever nod to other classic horror movies that employed a similar technique.
I remember as a kid seeing commercials for the movie "Fire in the Sky" and being absolutely terrified. The movie was about aliens/UFO's. Good heavens! The commercial said, "Based on true events." Aliens have to be real! They can't lie on movie commercials! Similarly, every Wednesday night when I was laying in bed (before school the next day) I could hear my mother and grandmother watching Unsolved Mysteries. I remembered host Robert Stack saying something like, "These are re-enactments of real events!" Most of these "real events" had to do with alien abductions, people who vanished into thin air, or mysterious deaths. Horrifying. Don't even get me started on that creepy Unsolved Mysteries theme song which is still etched into my brain even after all these years. Needless to say, it was difficult to fall asleep on Wednesdays. Now, I love TV shows like that such as The X-Files, the 48 Hours Mystery on CBS, and Dateline: Mystery on NBC. Go figure. The late (never understood that term, wouldn't "early" be more appropriate?) comedian Mitch Hedberg had a great line about this, " I like when they say a movie is inspired by a true story, because that's weird; it means the movie is not a true story, it was just inspired by a true story. Like, hey Mitch, did you hear the story about that lady who drove her children into the river and they all drowned? Yes I did, and it inspired me to write a movie about a gorilla!"

Tom Noonan plays the role of Mr. Ulman in The House of the Devil. To say that Mr. Ulman is creepy would be a gross understatement. This was an appropriate bit of casting as Mr. Noonan has a knack for playing extremely disturbing characters. Noonan played "The Tooth Fairy" Francis Dolarhyde in 1986's Manhunter. Manhunter was the first film appearance of Dr. Hannibal Lecter and was remade in 2002 as The Silence of the Lambs prequel Red Dragon. I saw Noonan most recently on NBC's The Blacklist as "The Stewmaker", fugitive number 161 (the whole fugitive of the week stuff was really reminiscent of Nikita's "The Dirty Thirty" storyline). "The Stewmaker" was an intriguing mix of mad scientist like John Noble on Fringe and a fixer like Liev Schreiber on Ray Donovan, disposing of bodies and evidence in horrific ways. As Mr. Ulman, Noonan comes off as an erratic old man. Despite his calm demeanor and nearly hushed whisper of a voice, something just reads as off kilter. This is evident when he is trying to convince Samantha to stay. He raises his voice and abruptly gets up out of his chair which startles Samantha. Mr. Ulman also seems quite forgetful as he tells Samantha at least three times, within the span of about ten minutes, that the number for the pizza is on the refrigerator. One of the creepiest moments was when he initially meets Samantha and her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig). He immediately starts babbling about the impending eclipse. Megan asks him, "Are you a teacher or something?" To which he replies, "No, not exactly." He continues talking about the great view of the eclipse which prompts Megan to ask, "Are you an astronomer?" To which he again replies, "No, not exactly." He NEVER answers the question directly. Bizarre.

Jocelin Donahue plays the role of Samantha. First off, she looks like a cross between a young Margot Kidder and Jessica Harper in Suspiria. Second, Samantha makes a great protagonist in this film. Half the time you are rooting for the killer in these type of movies as the protagonists are just so detestable. This is certainly not the case with Samantha. Samantha is cute, sweet, and has a certain charm to her. Sure, she makes all of the mistakes made in horror movies ("Don't open this door, don't check out the basement, don't see this film alone, don't don't don't...") but she is just so darn nice you tend to give her a pass. Samantha is just a regular girl trying to make ends meet and there is something refreshing about that. Lena Dunham, the creator and star of HBO's Girls even has a brief role in the film as the voice of a 911 operator, and played a barista in Ti West's The Innkeepers as well.

The main criticism that the movie receives is that it is very slow. I wouldn't characterize the movie as slow, I would describe it more as deliberately paced. Sure, things start out as a stroll but it just makes things more impactful when things ramp up to a full on sprint. I found the characters themselves to be interesting (The Ulmans, Samantha, Samantha's friend Megan) so I didn't need something popping out at me at every turn to keep me entertained. If you don't like the characters you are probably not going to like the film anyway, so saying it is slow is just reiterating your distaste for the film. There is one scene in particular that was incredibly well shot which played off of this stroll to sprint dynamic. Without spoiling it, the mood is so calm and matter of fact throughout the scene and then BOOM! something big happens and it hits you like a bullet to the head. The House of the Devil is a different kind of movie, relying more on atmosphere than gore, but it is still incredibly menacing especially when you find out what is really going on. Ti West also directed 2011's The Innkeepers which received some of the same criticisms. It is a similar type of movie where it is all about immersing yourself in the sinister atmosphere. I did enjoy it overall, although I feel The House of the Devil accomplished the whole immersion thing to a much greater degree. 

The House of the Devil is a great atmospheric horror film brilliantly recreating the look and feel of many 1970s and 1980s horror films. Ti West should be commended for creating something new by adapting the old. He has a great knowledge of horror history and his film stands along the old classics as a true asset to the genre.

CHECK THIS OUT: The House of the Devil on DVD and Blu-Ray

Article by CJ Ramirez


Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolves?

WHAT: Dog Soldiers

WHY: Dog Soldiers is a 2002 horror comedy from director Neil Marshall (Centurion, The Descent). Marshall is able to finesse the delicate balance of comedy and horror while also creating a film that pays tribute to some of the genre classics that came before it. In doing so, he has made an exceptional addition to the horror movie canon.

The film stars Kevin McKidd, Sean Pertwee, and Liam Cunningham as soldiers of various rank. McKidd plays the role of Private Cooper. He begins the movie training to be a soldier in the elite squad led by Captain Ryan (Liam Cunningham). Private Cooper fails his training mission by refusing to acquiesce to Captain Ryan's cruel methods. Cooper is reassigned to another squad and now serves under Sergeant Harry G. Wells (HG Wells, get it?) played by Sean Pertwee. Sergeant Wells, Private Cooper, and a few other soldiers are deployed into the Scottish Highlands for a training exercise and stumble upon Captain Ryan who is spouting nonsense and nursing an injury. The soldiers wonder why he would be out there in the first place, but before they can examine that thought a little further they are attacked by werewolves! Survival horror goodness ensues.

The tone of the movie is similar to that of The Evil Dead series or Shaun of the Dead. There will be moments you will be laughing out loud and there will be moments of real tension and gore. Marshall is able to balance the two masterfully which is not always an easy thing to do. Despite the fact that the soldiers are in a dire situation they are never at a loss for a great wisecrack. He gives each character a distinct personality and we are able to connect with them before the majority of them are inevitably eviscerated. Speaking of Shaun of the Dead, Simon Pegg was offered a role in Dog Soldiers but allegedly turned it down at director Edgar Wright's behest because Wright wanted Pegg's horror debut to be in his film Shaun of the Dead. 

Marshall is able to craft his own interesting story while simultaneously paying homage to the horror movies he admired during his youth. The movie in a way acts as a sort of love letter to the horror films that cultivated his desire to become a director. As a result, there are numerous references to genre classics throughout the film. One of the soldiers in the movie is named Bruce Campbell after the inimitable star of The Evil Dead movies. There is also a scene where the severed paw of one of the werewolves gets stuck to the shoulder of one of the soldiers, a visual reference to Ash's possessed hand from Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn. "That's right, who's laughing now." CGI was specifically avoided when rendering the werewolves which resulted in classic looking werewolves such as those in The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, complete with bright yellow eyes and blood soaked claws. A combination of animatronics and body suits brought them to life in impressive fashion. One of the songs played during Dog Soldiers is Clair De Lune (which roughly means moonlight). Similarly, An American Werewolf in London had a soundtrack almost entirely of songs with moon in the title such as Van Morrison's Moondance. The Evil Dead franchise combined plenty of scares with plenty of laughs and this film is certainly not lacking in either of those two categories.

The exaggerated look of the werewolves had me chuckling. Watching these giant headed wolves scampering toward their prey was funny in and of itself. The exaggerated physics also had me laughing as well. There was a scene where a wolf literally flew out a window which reminded me of Django, where a shot from a small revolver could launch a person across a room. There is also a running gag where one of the soldiers is so preoccupied with the soccer scores despite an imminent werewolf assault. The film also tinkers with some of the tropes of war movies as well. The soldiers treat the werewolves as if they were just another opponent on the battlefield. They make strategic war plans in an effort to gain advantage in the ensuing skirmishes with the werewolf army. They mention at one point that the werewolves will be back for another strike and are not wise to the fact that the soldiers are running low on ammo. Yeah, ammo tends to be scarce in these kinds of films which leads to an uproarious scene where one soldier uses a hammer on the giant paws of a werewolf as if he were playing some sort of twisted version of Whac-A-Mole.

The soldiers themselves are hilarious as well. Sergeant Wells continues barking orders to his men even after he suffers a vicious wound. Guts, crazy glue...you get the idea. Wells just shakes it off and continues yelling at his squad as if it never happened. Spoon, played by Darren Morfitt, has to be the most fearless (reckless) and funniest soldier of the bunch. If the rumors of Simon Pegg being offered a role are true, that role would have to be Spoon. There are so many great Spoon moments that had me in stitches. At one point he goads a werewolf into a boxing match complete with The Rock-Esque "Just Bring It." He also distracts a group of the walking lycanthropes while waving a flare and shouting, "Come and have a go if you think your hard enough." Ah, that lovable Spoon flair. That is not to say everything is a bunch of laughs. There is gore galore including booby trap impalings, severed limbs, and innards becoming outards. There is also a surprising attention to detail in the film as well. I was thinking at one point, "How are we going to know which one is the big bad alpha wolf?" Would he have a  tuft of white hair on his head like Stripe, the head gremlin in Gremlins? Well, the director had the same thought as well. Big bad alpha has a sword protruding through his chest and it doesn't seem to slow him down one bit. 

There are some great performances in this as well especially from Sean Pertwee and Liam Cunningham. Sergeant Wells has quite a bit in common with the eccentric Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now, despite their differences in rank. Pertwee portrays Sergeant Wells as one of those over the top drill sergeants, complete with inspirational speeches to get his troops riled up. "We are now up against live, hostile targets. So, if Little Red Riding Hood should show up with a bazooka and a bad attitude, I expect you to chin the bitch." He also has the constitution of an ox. Even when he is injured he shrugs off the damage and refuses to pass on the opportunity to get his soldiers in line. When his wounds are being dressed he gets quite drunk and starts spouting nonsense, which leaves Private Cooper no choice but to knock him out cold. Pertwee has many shining moments throughout the film as Sergeant Wells. His best moment is when he sits around the campfire with the soldiers and recounts the haunting story of Eddie Oswald, an unfortunate soldier who strikes a Faustian bargain with Old Nick. To call it a great scene is an understatement. Marshall keeps the in joke of Eddie Oswald going in his next film The Descent, as one of the characters discovers an old helmet inscribed with the name Oswald. 

Liam Cunningham's Captain Ryan is a stark contrast to Sergeant Wells. Cunningham portrays Captain Ryan as being a soldier with a mean streak who also has an air of mystery about him. I have always been a big fan of Liam Cunningham's. He never seems to get much screen time yet he is always able to somehow make a lasting impression (the movie Hunger is a prime example). His role in Dog Soldiers is quite different than any role I have seen him play. Captain Ryan is a dastardly human being who always seems to have a biting remark ready to patronize the other soldiers. From the moment we meet him at the beginning of the film we dislike his cruel methods. Despite his shortcomings we are mesmerized by how much of a master manipulator he is. He always seems to be two steps ahead of everybody. It is a phenomenal performance where Cunningham is able to give off a certain coolness despite having to be so deplorable. A sense of distrust between Captain Ryan and Private Cooper pervades the film. Cooper has not forgotten their history, when he was trying to become a part of Ryan's squad. Captain Ryan's verbal clashes with Private Cooper are great throughout the film and is a showcase of two wonderful talents. Liam Cunningham's performance is the embodiment of the very essence of the film. He is frightfully amusing.
 

Dog Soldiers is a stellar homage to horror classics such as The Evil Dead, The Howling, and An American Werewolf in London. Neil Marshall has done the genre proud. Fans of horror comedies such as The Evil Dead and Shaun of the Dead should check this movie out as well as those just looking for a bloody good time.

CHECK THIS OUT: Dog Soldiers on DVD and Blu-Ray

Article by CJ Ramirez



Wizards and virgin sacrifices, and dragons! Oh, my!


WHAT: Dragonslayer 

WHY: Dragonslayer is a 1981 fantasy film directed by Matthew Robbins. The film was a co-production between Disney and Paramount although one would be hard pressed to find the Disney in it due to its dark tone and mature subject matter. Peter MacNicol (Janosz from Ghostbusters II) portrays, in his first film role, a wizard's apprentice who has the unenviable task of slaying a dragon. The movie immerses us in a magical world with a dragon so lifelike that the actors get second billing.

The plot of Dragonslayer is actually based on the ancient story of Saint George and the Dragon. As the legend states, there was a foul dragon running amok and terrorizing a kingdom. In order to placate the beast, the citizenry initially offered up animals as sacrifices. The dragon was unimpressed as his tastes had shifted more towards that of the human variety. The king decided to satiate the dragon's taste for flesh by creating a Hunger Games-esque lottery. The unlucky soul that was chosen at random had the unfortunate honor of becoming instant dragon feed. One day when Lady Justice finally decided to peek beneath her blindfold, the king's own daughter was chosen in the lottery. Needless to say, the king was distraught and offered up all the riches in the land to anyone brave (or foolish) enough to save his daughter from certain doom. Enter George, who braved the dragon with his magical lance and rescued the fair damsel. Immediate sainthood was achieved. No waiting period, no tribunals, instant sainthood. That is apparently the prize for slaying a dragon.

Dragonslayer has quite the similar plot. The kingdom of Urland is harrowed by a vicious and relentless dragon. King Cassiodorus has instated a lottery for all female virgins of Urland (except his daughter the princess) and whoever is chosen gets chained to a post and becomes the dragon's latest plaything. The villagers, in particular a youth named Valerian, are sick and tired of this and seek out help from the wizened wizard Ulrich of Craggenmoor (the great Ralph Richardson). Knowing that he himself is too old and the journey will be a long one, Ulrich entrusts the mission to his apprentice Galen Bradwarden (Peter MacNicol). Galen is accompanied by Valerian and Ulrich's loyal servant Hodge (Sydney Bromley who played the gnome scientist Engywook in The Neverending Story). Galen eventually traps the dragon by creating a rockslide but it is only a temporary solution and only serves to further enrage the beast after its extrication. King Cassiodorus has another lottery, some drama ensues, and Galen decides to take the fight directly to the dragon's lair.

The dragon's lair is an impressive structure. It is full of crags and bogs and appears to be located deep within the core of the earth. The special effects team does a great job of bringing it alive with rivers of fire and other impressive visuals. They do a tremendous job throughout the film and glowing amulets and sparkling magic lances are just part of the enchantment. Another impressive scene is when Galen creates a rockslide to entrap the beast far beneath the surface. It looks authentic and is a real visual feast. The special effects in the movie are rather impressive but none are more impressive than the dragon itself Vermithrax Pejorative.

The rendering of the dragon was so important to the film that an entirely new filming technique had to be developed. George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic (who also did the monsters in Willow) devised a variation on Ray Harryhausen's (Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts) stop motion animation. Here they used a technique which would be dubbed go motion animation. With stop motion a clay (typically) model was moved ever so slightly into different poses. The figure would be filmed between poses while it was static. This gave the illusion of continuous movement of the clay figure. Go motion follows a similar process but instead of filming the object between poses, it is filmed while it is actually moving. This allowed for more seamless movement on camera. The technique was a success and allowed Industrial Light & Magic to create the greatest dragon ever committed to film. Today the process is obsolete since the use of CGI (computer generated images) is the predominant technique, although that can look too cartoonish or photoshoppy at times.

The true star of the movie is the dragon Vermithrax Pejorative (best name ever). Industrial Light & Magic was able to create a living and breathing beast imbued with personality from head to tail. Vermithrax was such an awesome dragon that a special lance had to be created to combat it (a lance so special in its own right that it had a name as well, Sicarius Dracorum which means Dragonslayer). The dragon looks impressive in every way possible. The first thing we notice is its immense size. In one scene we see it practically playing with its dinner, when it taunts a young virgin trying to escape. She can't escape because the dragon literally is everywhere. The dragon is so big that no matter where she turns one of its limbs is always there. The dragon surrounds her with its impressive tail and slams it into the ground, almost cleaving the earth in two. Its body is covered in massive plate-like scales as impenetrable as diamond. The beast zones in on its victim with razor sharp claws ready to shred her to pieces. We only see the dragon in small glimpses and the anticipation of the full reveal adds to the excitement. When the dragon is finally revealed it is quite the impressive specimen. It is a fully realized beast that not only looks authentic, but conveys emotions as well. The dragon mourns its young, after they are slain, and we can see the agony on its face as it nudges their lifeless bodies with its head and wails. The dragon even proves just how formidable it is when it kills Ian McDiarmid (in a minor role as Brother Jacobus) who played Emperor Palpatine (the really bad dude from the original Star Wars movies that shot out the purple lightning bolts) by burning him to a crisp! Toasty!

As if the dragon was not enough of an obstacle for the heroes, the king also sends his right-hand man Tyrian to hound them throughout the film. Tyrian was a confusing character because we really do not get a sense of why he is so cranky. At first it seems that he is just another soldier following all of the king's orders. In stark contrast, later he basically tells the king to shove it since "my first duty is loyalty to the kingdom" (I've heard that one before). Afterwards, he still decides to go after the heroes anyway. Perhaps he was fine with the dragon eating female virgins since his own life would not be imperiled, perhaps he felt inciting the dragon would make it attack the village putting his own life at risk. His motivations still remain muddled.

Dragonslayer is an enjoyable fantasy film which is much darker than most films associated with Disney due mostly to dragons eating virgins (although this may have been the plot of Disney's Fantasia as well...too difficult to tell). Dragonslayer is worth the price of admission alone just to see Industrial Light & Magic's creation of the greatest dragon ever committed to film in the imposing Vermithrax Pejorative.

CHECK THIS OUT: Dragonslayer on DVD 

Article by CJ Ramirez


            "Is that a raincoat?"                                 "Yes it is!"                                          ???????!!!!!!!!!!

WHAT: American Psycho

WHY: American Psycho is a 2000 black comedy and social satire directed by Mary Harron. The polarizing film was based on the 1991 Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name. The movie portrays life during the 1980's era of excess in a thrilling fashion, with the utmost panache. Its commentary on materialism, greed, and superficiality not only describes the decade of the 80's, it also serves as a timely allegory of our current society.  

The movie stars Christian Bale as investment banker Patrick Bateman who works at the prestigious firm Pierce & Pierce. Bateman lives in a luxurious New York apartment, wears expensive tailored suits, and eats at fancy restaurants. Bateman does all of these things to fit in with the other employees at his job. Bateman really is an empty shell on the inside, devoid of emotions and meaningful thoughts. Practically everything he does or says he mimics from somewhere else. In one scene he chases a prostitute while wielding a chainsaw, shortly after watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre during his daily workout routine. He gives in depth monologues on Whitney Huston, Huey Lewis & The News and Genesis as if he were reading directly from an encyclopedia. While ordering dinner, Bateman describes the dishes in such great detail since he has memorized them straight from the Zagat Survey. "There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of an abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory".

Christian Bale was not originally slated to play the role of Patrick Bateman and a number of big name actors have been attached to the role at one point or another. This included Johnny Depp (and they wanted to do the film in black and white), Leonardo DiCaprio, Jared Leto (who plays Paul Allen in the film), Edward Norton, and Brad Pitt. I just cannot see anyone but Bale playing the role as impressive as that list is. He just gives a one of a kind performance and embodies who Patrick Bateman is. He is able to give off this exterior air of confidence while being completely empty on the inside. His tone, body language, facial expressions, and dry sense of humor, all allow him to bring the character to life with all of its nuances. Bale who played Bateman would later go on to play Batman, and he would have made an interesting choice to play The Joker as well based off of his performance in American Psycho. In particular, the scene where he calls his lawyer. His expression is priceless when he says, "I had to kill a lot of people" and he delivers the line with such maniacal glee. I doubt they would ever have him play both Batman and The Joker but if they ever resurrected the character of The Joker I would love to see that.  

Bateman's friends (McDermott, Bryce, Van Patten) and colleagues are interchangeable automatons. Like Bateman they all wear the same expensive suits, own similar apartments, and eat at the same restaurants. The idea of getting reservations at the best restaurants comes up several times in the film especially in regard to the zenith of fine dining known as Dorsia. Getting a reservation at Dorsia is the ultimate sign of status along with having the fanciest business card. Van Patten literally at one point utters the line, "I'm not really hungry, I just need to have reservations somewhere". There is a remarkable scene where Bateman and his friends are whipping out their business cards in fancy cases and debating who has the best coloring, font, and watermark. All of the cards say Vice-President as the job title. 

There are numerous cases of mistaken identity in the film since everyone dresses the same, looks the same, and they all run in the same social circles. Paul Allen mistakes McDermott for Baxter and Patrick Bateman for Marcus Halberstram since they both have a "penchant for Valentino suits and Oliver Peoples glasses". Bateman's lawyer mistakes him for Davis, another worker at Pierce & Pierce who undoubtedly looks and acts just like Bateman. There are several times throughout the film where celebrities like Donald Trump are thought to have been spotted out on the town only to discover that it wasn't them. In the opening scene of the film McDermott thinks he spots an employee Reed Robinson and Bryce tells him that he is incorrect since that is Paul Allen. Bateman corrects him by saying that that is not Paul Allen since he is on the other side of the room. As we make our way to the other side of the room we see that Bateman was incorrect as well as the camera focuses on someone who is clearly not Paul Allen.

The scene where Bateman meets up with Paul Allen at the apartment (played by Jared Leto) is my favorite scene in the film for the sheer lunacy of it all and its great use of a raincoat. Bateman goes on to discuss Huey Lewis & The News as if he is reading right from a Rolling Stone Magazine review. He states, "I think their undisputed masterpiece is Hip to Be Square, a song so catchy most people probably don't listen to the lyrics but they should, because it's not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it's also a personal statement about the band itself." He later disavows ever owning their music when questioned by Detective Kimball, a brilliantly understated Willem Dafoe, as he declares, "Huey's too black sounding for me". It sounds so absurd, and the absurdity is elevated by Christian Bale's fantastic delivery. Interestingly, Paul Allen (Paul Owen in the novel) is a real person (the co-founder of Microsoft along with Bill Gates) although the director was unaware of this fact at the time.

In addition to Whitney Houston, Huey Lewis & The News, and Genesis, the soundtrack includes numerous other 80's hits from Katrina and the Waves (Walking on Sunshine), New Order (True Faith), and Robert Palmer (Simply Irresistible) which helps create an authentic 80's experience. The movie also contains numerous other 80's tropes in addition to the music that are just so spot on. The tailored suits and slicked back hair of Pierce & Pierce employees are right out of the movie Wall Street. There is even a hilarious reference to The Cosby Show as Bateman tells Detective Kimball that he has to leave because he has a lunch meeting with Cliff Huxtable!

With regard to excuses, Patrick Bateman has to have the best excuse ever which he uses on three separate occasions in the film. There is a tense scene where Bateman goes to strangle his colleague Luis Carruthers in the bathroom while wearing a pair of stylish black gloves. Carruthers turns around and hilariously kisses his black gloves and professes his love for Bateman, erroneously thinking that he was coming on to him. Bateman is scrambling for an egress and offers the excuse "I've got to return some video tapes". He also utters the line right after he breaks up with his girlfriend Evelyn (best breakup ever- Evelyn: "But your friends are my friends and my friends are your friends. I don't think it would work. Patrick: I know that your friends are my friends, and uh...I thought about that, you can have 'em"). The third instance he uses his famous excuse during his second encounter with Detective Kimball.

Interestingly enough, the book American Psycho was not the first appearance of the character of Patrick Bateman. Bateman first appeared in Ellis' other novel The Rules of Attraction which was also subsequently made into a movie. The movie stars James Van Der Beek as Sean Bateman, the younger brother of Patrick. His signature line of "rock n roll", was echoed by Patrick Bateman at the end of American Psycho when he is pressed by his colleagues as to why he is so giddy, "I'm just a happy camper. Rockin' and a rollin'." There was a direct to video sequel to American Psycho where Patrick Bateman was shown ever so briefly. I am ashamed to admit that I have seen American Psycho 2 and continue to do penance on a bi-monthly basis to pay for this transgression. Curiosity got the best of me. Patrick Bateman will be seen again however, as they are making a musical of this. Yes, they are making an American Psycho musical and I am not quite sure how to take that though there is always that morbid curiosity thing. 

American Psycho's influence can be seen in many other movies and TV shows but perhaps none more apparent than the TV series Dexter. The fantastic opening credits are reminiscent of American Psycho. We see an egg being sliced open and the contents spilling out as if it were a body bleeding out, coffee beans being ground as if they were bones being smashed up and a close-up of dental floss so taut it appears to be a garrote. In the title sequence of American Psycho the camera shows a crimson liquid spanning the white background. We initially take this as being blood until the camera zooms out and we realize it was only rich red sauces being poured onto extravagant dinner plates. Things appear far more sinister than they are, a technique that is prevalent throughout the film. Heck, even Dexter's voiceovers are reminiscent of Patrick Bateman's. One of my favorite Dexter voiceovers, which perfectly summarizes what the show is about, is "My sister puts up a front so people won't know how vulnerable she really is. Me?, I put up a front so people will know how vulnerable I am not." The show makes its love of American Psycho quite clear with an amusing homage in season one episode six entitled Return to Sender. Dexter is purchasing animal tranquilizers (obviously because that is what they do at Miami Metro Police Department) and he uses the alias of Dr. Patrick Bateman in the computer. When he sees his alias in the registry he declares via voiceover, "There I am Dr Patrick Bateman, so wholesome, so inconspicuous."

There are a number of interesting deleted scenes on the Blu-Ray and DVD, none of which can top the scene entitled "Never date a Vassar girl". The adage of "Never Date a Vassar girl" is grossly untrue as they are mostly harmless and quite pleasant. In case anyone is wondering, it is NOT an all girls school anymore. Not since 1969. Director Mary Harron's sister is in the film and plays the bartender to which Bateman says that he wants to stab and play around with her blood. All of these minutiae pale in comparison to the controversial ending. Were all of the murders in Bateman's head? Were all those people really killed? Part of the enjoyment of this movie is arriving at your own conclusions and then, with the utmost fervor, convincing your friends why you are right and they are wrong. There really is evidence for two different scenarios.

Scenario 1: Bateman did not kill anyone and it was all in his head.

Evidence: His secretary Jean (the wonderful Chloe Sevigny) finds a notebook with sketches that depict horrific images of gruesome deaths. These are the manifestation of the imagined murders that were in Bateman's head. The bodies at the apartment are no longer hanging in the closet when Bateman goes back there. The house is in impeccable condition, it is now for sale as if nothing ever happened. Bateman's lawyer tells him that he had dinner with Paul Allen in London and he is indeed alive.

Conclusion: Bateman's final line that "this confession has meant nothing" speaks to the fact that he confessed murders he never committed. No one believed him anyway.

Scenario 2: Bateman did commit the murders.

Evidence: Jean finds the notebook containing sketches of the actual murders. In the epitome of greed, the real estate agents have painted over all of the blood and disposed of the bodies because the selling price was just too good to pass up. In another case of mistaken identity his lawyer mistakes Bateman for another Pierce & Pierce employee named Davis. He scoffs at his confession claiming that he saw Paul Allen but he is really just mistaking Paul for another employee as well.

Conclusion: In the ultimate irony, Bateman wants to be caught yet "there is no catharsis" since his "confession has meant nothing". Once again the indistinguishable yuppie automatons have been mistaken for one another.

Director Mary Harron has discussed what actually happened (or didn't happen) but it's way more fun to arrive at your own conclusions first.


While the ending of the film is hotly debated, what we do know for certain is that both writer Bret Easton Ellis and director Mary Harron are fully aware of the sheer absurdity of some of the posturing and overt displays of wealth that are a part of our society. American Psycho is able to give a discourse on these excesses in the most thrilling way possible. It is a social commentary masquerading as a dark comedy masquerading as a horror thriller. Much like the chameleon Patrick Bateman, it is all of these things and none of these things all at once.

CHECK THIS OUT: American Psycho on DVD and Blu-ray

Article by CJ Ramirez
"Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends"

WHAT: 25th Hour

WHY: 25th Hour is a 2002 drama directed by Spike Lee. It is based on the novel The 25th Hour which was written by David Benioff. Benioff also adapted the screenplay for the movie and is best known for being the showrunner of HBO's Game of Thrones. The movie stars Edward Norton as convicted drug dealer Monty Brogan (a role which was originally going to be played by Tobey Maguire, after he acquired the rights to the book, before he scored the lead in Sam Raimi's Spider-man films) who spends his last day of freedom reconnecting with old friends, family, and inadvertently finding out exactly which one of his friends ratted him out to the police. 

The movie is set in New York City in the aftermath of 9/11. Lee made the decision to include footage of Ground Zero at a time where many directors were attempting to avoid the subject altogether and edit out the elephant in the room. Lee has always been fond of New York much like Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese and it had been the setting of many of his previous films. He was not just going to ignore that the mood of his cherished city had dramatically shifted. To him, New York City acts as a living and breathing character in his movies and 25th Hour is no exception. A mesmerizing Terence Blanchard score keeps a somber and reverent mood throughout the film. We see several  beautiful shots while Monty is walking through the city that capture its life and vibrance. At other times we are shown a city devastated by tragedy that is still on the mend. Monty loves New York City but seemingly has a bit of a love-hate relationship with it. The city is a flawed character, much like all of the other characters in the movie, yet it is able to maintain its own special charm and character. 

Edward Norton does a fantastic job as convicted drug dealer Monty Brogan. His next great performance would be as scene stealing leper King Baldwin IV in 2005's Kingdom of Heaven (I still can't believe it was Edward Norton under that mask, I had no idea until finding out years later and I would have sworn it was Marlon Brando if he hadn't died a year earlier). We get a glimpse into the character of Monty Brogan very early on when he rescues an abused dog that was left to die on the streets. Monty takes the dog in and gives him the name of Doyle. Doyle really is the only one he places full trust in and ironically Doyle's first move is to bite the man who saved his life. I always saw Doyle as being a reflection of Monty's situation. Monty is not a bad guy per se. He made some bad choices starting with his decision to deal drugs when he was in high school, which subsequently got him expelled. Monty wants to help his father keep ownership of his bar and sees drug dealing as an easy way out. Monty is surrounded by friends that have their own demons yet Monty is terrified that they will judge him for his transgressions. Doyle is really his Linus van Pelt blue security blanket because Doyle loves him unconditionally and won't judge him hypocritically like some of the other characters in the film.

Speaking of flawed characters, the inimitable Brian Cox plays Monty's father James Brogan. Mr. Brogan is a former firefighter whose life spiraled out of control when his wife passed away and he turns to alcohol for solace. He regrets the foolish decisions his clever son has made and deflects his own guilt by saying "you could've done anything you wanted, doctor, lawyer" yet Monty reminds him that he accepted money from his son "no questions asked" when he was being pressured to repay some of his debts. Mr. Brogan loves his son absolutely and feels incredibly guilty for not being a better father to him. Rosario Dawson plays Monty's girlfriend Naturelle Riviera (who strangely enough was called Naturelle Rosario in the novel). Even though she knows Monty is dealing she turns a blind eye as she has become accustomed to a certain lifestyle that the money and status afford them. Naturelle and Monty are having serious communication issues since he suspects she was the one who turned him in, which was put into his head by his Ukrainian gangster friend Kostya Novotny played by Tony Siragusa. Siragusa, who won a Superbowl with the Baltimore Ravens, was quite a revelation as Kostya and would later go on to play a recurring role on The Sopranos. Kostya was the king of butchering American idioms such as "funny you should say that" and incorrectly referred to Murphy's Law as Doyle's Law hence the name of Monty's dog. He provides a great deal of levity to the film as a rather inept gangster. The two most flawed characters besides Monty are his closest friends Francis Xavier Slaughtery and Jacob Elinsky.

Francis Xavier Slaughtery is played by Barry Pepper. He is a bond trader on Wall Street and has been friends with Monty since they were little kids. Frank is the epitome of a Gordon Gekko wannabe with his fancy suits and greased back hair. Frank comes off as a bit of a prick who really doesn't care about other people and is seemingly only driven by money and all the status that comes with it. However, he does not come off as the sleaziest trader at his job (a small victory), oh no, that title is held by Marcuse even though he was only onscreen for about two minutes. Marcuse is played by Aaron Stanford who deserves mention because he plays Seymour Birkhoff (Shadow Walker!) on Nikita and that instantly puts him in every hall of fame in existence and makes him worth mentioning every time, well at least to me anyway. Frank fits in quite nicely with all of the other shysters at his firm. He is particularly critical of Monty being a drug dealer. He also happens to be the worst wingman in the history of the world. He mentions to his friend Jacob Elinsky that he (Frank) is in the 99th percentile when it comes to the pool of bachelors that are available to women. He says that Jacob is only in the 62nd percentile because he does not make as much money as him and also his breath stinks. Frank then proceeds to introduce Jacob to a bartender later on when they go to a club shortly after he had just belittled him! The whole 99th percentile speech is quite amusing and was actually taken from screenwriter Benioff's own personal life. As the story goes, he was hanging out at a pub with friends and the next day one of his friends told him that he (Benioff) was going on and on about how he was only in the 62nd percentile. Benioff has no recollection of any of this conversation but he found it amusing nonetheless.

Jacob Elinsky is played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Jacob is a high school teacher and is also a good friend of Monty's. Like Frank, he has his own problems to deal with. Jacob is infatuated with his student Mary D'annunzio who is played by Anna Paquin (before she became the object of affection for every supernatural being on True Blood). Mary confronts Mr. Elinsky about a poor grade she received and seems to be the only student that acknowledges his existence. They later meet at a club where Monty's going away party is being held and she is eager to get inside because seventeen year old prodigy DJ Dusk is performing. In one of the funniest scenes she asks him if he is a fan of DJ Dusk and to sound cool, he says that he is "but I like his earlier stuff better" (HA! Like when he was five?????). They eventually get into the club and the free flowing champagne does not help their intense situation.

Many of the characters in the film have glaring character flaws or make poor decisions but none more evident than Monty's closest friends Frank and Jacob. Is Monty any less of a person because he dealt drugs? Do some of the choices they made make them just as culpable as Monty in their own lives? I used to think the movie was about hypocrisy and judging others before taking a long look at ourselves, in particular the hypocrisy of Monty's best friends Frank and Jacob. They clearly have done some deplorable things themselves and I thought they were portrayed as being flawed on purpose so we could see that they were hypocrites for judging Monty as a drug dealer. Frank does judge Monty and calls him a drug dealer who deserves what he is getting but there really isn't much judgment coming from Jacob. He just seems to be genuinely bummed that his pal is going away for seven years. Upon several repeat viewings I am now convinced that the movie really is about the choices we make and the consequences that follow. The infamous "mirror  scene" cemented this conclusion as did a very subtle thing I never noticed before.

The "mirror scene" involves Monty Brogan unleashing a furious tirade against all of new York City while staring at himself in the mirror. Nobody is safe in his rant including Korean grocers, Pakistani cab drivers, and Bensonhurst Italians. Monty goes on to tear apart race, religion and creed with reckless abandon. He blames them for polluting the city he loves and scapegoats them for his own troubles. However, at the end of the scene Monty realizes that he is the one that made the choice to deal drugs and curses himself for being so careless and irresponsible. It is at this moment that Monty takes full responsibility for his actions. It was he who decided to sell the drugs and it will be he who goes to prison for seven years as a result. The "mirror scene" was the most powerful scene in the movie and shows that many times our prejudices are just a way for us to deflect disappointment stemming from our own bad decisions.

I was surprised to find out that the "mirror scene" was not Spike Lee's creation but was in fact already in David Benioff's book. Anyone who has seen Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing will be familiar with the scene where Mookie (Spike Lee) and Pino (John Turturro) argue over race and the ensuing race montage that follows. The "mirror scene" in 25th Hour is quite reminiscent of this scene and if I was a betting man I would say that Spike Lee added it to the movie himself which was not the case. I am curious if Benioff had seen Do The Right Thing and if his "mirror scene" was inspired by it. According to Benioff, Disney wanted to cut the scene or at least tone it down significantly but both Lee and Benioff insisted it stay. Interestingly enough, in the book Monty also calls out New York Knicks players for costing the team a championship with their poor performance. I suspect this would have been a tough sell to Spike Lee since he was personally friends with many of the players, and that aspect was indeed scrapped.

There are two scenes that seem minor at first glance but upon further examination they help support the conclusion that the film is in fact about choices and their consequences. At the beginning of the film Monty is sitting on a bench at a park and is approached by a regular customer who is looking to score another fix. This regular is a disheveled man with scratch marks covering his face. Monty tells him that he got pinched by the cops and is no longer dealing. The man persists until Monty raises his tone and shoos the man away. I always thought the scene existed solely to drive home the fact that Monty had been caught and was no longer a drug dealer. During the flashback where Monty first meets his girlfriend Naturelle, we briefly see him talking to a well dressed man in a business suit about drugs. This well dressed man was the same junkie who we saw earlier begging Monty for one last fix. It's very easy to miss but it really solidifies the fact that our choices can have dire consequences. This once seemingly successful businessman now appears to be a hopeless addict because he made the unwise decision to buy drugs from Monty.

David Benioff is quite skilled at adapting books into screenplays. He does an amazing job of it nearly every week on Game of Thrones. It's kind of funny that he had to hand his characters over to Spike Lee and trust that he would be true to them. Benioff mentions that many of them looked nothing like they did in the books. However, he gives Lee immense credit for remaining true to the spirit of the characters in the books and he was very pleased how they turned out. Benioff is now doing that very same thing to George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones characters. I wonder how he feels about that pronounced shift. Was he nervous that Spike Lee would totally change his characters and not be true to his books? Were there several things he wanted changed in the movie? I'd be curious to hear how he feels now that he is on the other side of the fence. Does he feel he needs to keep close to the Game of Thrones books? Does he now get annoyed by George R.R. Martin wanting to make changes? It seems this might not be that much of an issue because, like Spike Lee, he is known for being able to capture the spirit of the characters in the books even though some of them look extremely different in appearance.

Benioff had written two other novels before 25th Hour and both were rejected because they were apparently not focused enough. He wrote 25th Hour because he wanted to make a more focused story. He mentioned that he wanted a twenty-four hour period where the stakes were high and the walls were closing in on the characters. Benioff excels in this area which makes him perfect for Game of Thrones where no character is safe at any moment and one slip up can end in death or worse (yes, there are fates worse than death on Game of Thrones!). Benioff also blurs the line between good and bad as there are mostly gray characters in his book. Sure, Monty has made bad choices but he really isn't a bad guy. Game of Thrones does the same by allowing us to understand motivations of characters no matter how heinous their actions are and sometimes characters who we once hated evolve and we start to root for them. I was always curious as to what it would take for Benioff to conclude someone was a true 100% unredeemable villain and I gained some insight by listening to the screenwriter commentary on the DVD. At one point Benioff mentions "it's not like he murdered babies and danced on their ashes", duly noted. I feel like once we see this happen on Game Of Thrones we will know that
that is the character we should be most afraid of. Benioff's wonderful screenplay was ripe material that seemed tailor-made for Spike Lee. Benioff's own father was even an extra in the movie and turns his head as the ravishing Naturelle walks into the bar. 

The ending of the movie is brilliantly shot. It has a different tone than the rest of the film and seems dreamlike in nature. We see a glimpse of the life that Monty Brogan will have if he instructs his father to get off the bridge and head west instead of going to jail.  Monty is shown living in a small town and working as a bartender, a job that pays cash and allows him to maintain his anonymity. He is able to start a new life and raise a family away from all of the problems of his past. Brian Cox narrates the entire scene, his voice is so strong and commanding yet somehow soothing at the same time. There is some ambiguity in the book as to whether Monty chooses to get off the highway and escape to a new life. The movie makes it very clear of his decision but I don't want to spoil that here for those who have not seen the movie. 

25th Hour was an outstanding collaboration between Spike Lee and David Benioff. Lee was able to masterfully bring Benioff's multifaceted characters to life without losing their essence. A very strong cast helps to weave a fascinating tale about choices and consequences. The movie is not just a cautionary tale, it is much more than that. It is also a compelling story about family, friendship, and loyalty. 

CHECK THIS OUT: 25th Hour on DVD 

Article by CJ Ramirez


WHAT: Love and Death

WHY: Love and Death is a 1975 comedy directed by Woody Allen. The movie stars (you guessed it) Woody Allen and his frequent partner in crime, Diane Keaton. Allen plays Boris Grushenko, a coward living during the time of the Napoleonic Wars who is literally dragged to the battlefield by his family. Keaton plays Sonja, a friend and love interest of Boris who is always ready to engage him in a philosophical discussion. The film focuses on early 19th century Russia during the Napoleonic invasion and parodies several Russian works of literature including those by Dostoevsky and Tolstoy (Ah, school summer reading lists). Love and Death is one of Woody Allen's funniest movies and is another great pairing between he and Diane Keaton.

In fact, Diane Keaton has been in seven movies directed by Woody Allen which does not include Play It Again, Sam (grossly underrated in its own right). While the Broadway play was indeed written by Allen, the movie was directed by Herbert Ross. They collaborated in Annie Hall, Sleeper, Love and Death, Interiors, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Manhattan, and Radio Days. That is quite an impressive run of films together. Johnny Depp has surpassed that by being in eight Tim Burton films (a count which includes his voice work in Corpse Bride) but surprisingly Keaton was not even Woody Allen's biggest collaborator. Mia Farrow has appeared in thirteen Woody Allen films which must be some sort of record. Astonishingly enough, that is not even close to being a record. John Ford holds this distinction as he directed John Wayne in twenty one films. Diane Keaton is a delight and has such great comedic timing that it is easy to see why she was cast in so many Woody Allen films. 

Allen and Keaton have some of the best on screen chemistry of...anyone! Two years prior to Love and Death they were in the ridiculously funny (or perhaps extremely funny despite being so ridiculous) Sleeper together. Two years later they would team up again for the seminal Annie Hall. They have done some great work together and crafted some of the most iconic scenes ever committed to film.  In Annie Hall they seemed to communicate on an almost psychic level and their comfort with each other could not be more apparent. Love and Death is no exception as they seemingly feed off each other and become each others exclamation point. Their synergy is evident in one of my favorite scenes in the movie in which t
hey are posing as Don Francisco of Spain and his sister in a plot to assassinate Napoleon. Like a parrot, Boris and Sonja keep repeating what Napoleon and each other are saying while bowing in a hysterical manner. "You must be Don Francisco's sister"  "No, you must be Don Francisco's sister". It is cleverly done and comes off as the ultimate tribute to the Marx Brothers.

There is also quite a bit of physical comedy in the movie reminiscent of Buster Keaton. In particular, Boris goes to knock out the Don with a bottle and each time he misses, he keeps hitting Sonja in the face. Diane Keaton just sells all of this so perfectly and I can't help but roll on the floor laughing each time I see it. There are some incredibly funny physical gags during the battle scenes as well when Boris is sword fighting with another officer. Speaking of Buster Keaton, Diane Keaton apparently chose the last name Keaton (her mother's maiden name) because another actress was already using the name Diane Hall (Keaton's birth name). Coincidentally, Michael Keaton (no relation) was born Michael Douglas and chose the last name Keaton because he was a huge fan of Buster Keaton. He wasn't going to enter Hollywood with the name Michael Douglas since it was already being used by some other guy. You may have heard of him, he is kind of a big deal. People know him. He is very important. He has many leather-bound books and his apartment smells of rich mahogany (Ah, the ever quotable Ron Burgundy from Anchorman).

I particularly enjoyed the scene in Love and Death where famous old sayings are being bandied back and forth. It is probably because of my grandmother who just loved to say these things over and over again until they were permanently embedded in my brain. "Word has it the Don is en route to visit Napoleon" "Word travels fast" "Not as fast as good news"  "No news is good news" "Here today gone tomorrow" "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink" "Your turn". I could just imagine George Carlin rattling these sayings off in rapid succession during one of his stand up routines and that just puts a smile on my face.

Another uproariously funny scene (hard to choose, apparently) reminded me of the film Amadeus. Ambitious composer Antonio Salieri is jealous of Mozart and wants nothing but to surpass his fame and popularity. In one scene he exclaims that his name will be remembered throughout history. In Love and Death, an ambitious soldier plotting against Napoleon utters, "Then I'll sail to Austria and form an alliance with the crown, not the king just the crown. They call me mad, but one day, when the history of France is written, they will mark my name well... Sidney Applebaum." As Bugs Bunny said in Space Jam, "Nope, never heard of him".

Woody Allen loves to use dream sequences in his films and Love and Death has a pretty good one. At one point Boris dreams of numerous coffins standing upright on the battlefield. All of a sudden the coffins open up, immaculately dressed waiters exit from each one and they proceed to all dance around merrily in unison. However, Allen's funniest dream sequence was in his film Bananas. In the strangest case of road rage ever, a group of monks get into a fight as they try to parallel park a crucifix and another set of monks steal their parking space. The sheer absurdity never fails to make me burst out laughing.

Allen has a knack for casting very minor roles with lesser known actors that are able to imbue their parts with the right amount of verve and create memorable scenes. Tony Jay (the voice of Necromancer Mortanius in Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain- who knew!) plays dead soldier Vladimir Maximovitch who gives Boris detailed instructions on how to return his engagement ring back to the jeweler so he can get his deposit back, and implores him to get a receipt "for tax purposes". Jessica Harper, who was also in Allen's Stardust Memories and played the lead ballerina in Dario Argento's horror masterpiece Suspiria, also shares in the shenanigans. She plays Sonja's cousin Natasha and her "who is sleeping with who" speech culminating in "the firm of Mishkin and Mishkin is sleeping with the firm of Taskov and Taskov" is a highlight of the film. She also keeps the running joke of "wheat" going strong with her vacuous stare into the camera and monotone delivery of the line "wheat".

Love and Death had a larger budget than any of Allen's previous films and it definitely showed. The movie was filmed in both France and Hungary and the locations facilitate an authentic representation of 19th century Russia. The setting is a stark contrast to Woody Allen's beloved New York City which plays the setting in about 95% of his films (a rough estimate off the top of my head, surely Midnight in Paris was set in France and I seem to remember Everyone Says I Love You not being set in New York as well). A rousing soundtrack by Prokofiev also helps to set the appropriate mood. The film looks visually impressive for the time with crisp countrysides and wheat... lots of wheat...fields of wheat...a tremendous amount of wheat. What was particularly impressive about the film was some of the battle scenes which looked large in scale and even had some special effects to boot, again a product of the expanded budget. This is a Woody Allen comedy after all, but it was nice to see he paid just as much attention to making other aspects of the film as impressive as possible.

Woody Allen once described Love and Death as being his favorite film, saying that, "Even Annie Hall, which gave me real success, Oscars and everything, isn't as dear to me". After over 45 years of making films, Allen has generated quite an impressive catalogue . I think it is safe to say that you could ask ten people what their favorite Woody Allen movie is and you may get ten different answers. Love and Death tends to get overshadowed by the juggernaut that is Annie Hall, but to dismiss this film would be a mistake. Love and Death is not only one of Allen's funniest films but one of the funniest comedies of all time.

CHECK THIS OUT: Love and Death on DVD 

Article by CJ Ramirez



WHAT: The Devil's Double

WHY: The Devil's Double is a 2011 film directed by Lee Tamahori. It is loosely based on the controversial biography of Latif Yahia who was a soldier in Iraq and classmate of Saddam Hussein's eldest son Uday. The movie tells the story of how Latif was recruited by Uday to pose as his body double shortly after the inception of the First Persian Gulf War. It is a fascinating film buoyed by the fantastic performance of Dominic Cooper in a dual role as Latif Yahia and Uday Hussein.

There are numerous scenes in the movie in which both Latif and Uday are on screen simultaneously. The editing team did a great job of making these scenes look seamless. Everything looks extremely smooth and we would never know that camera tricks were afoot. The editing team did a wonderful job of making everything feel as real as possible which would have been undermined by cheesy special effects. The only scene where there was a slight glitch was when Uday was going crazy at a party and waving around his signature golden gun (which is fitting since director Tamahori also directed the twentieth James Bond film Die Another Day). There is a split second when Latif is standing alongside him and things look a bit computer generated. It is a very minor thing which is a testament to the great job that was done with the effects. 

When Latif is first presented to Uday he is taken aback by the lavish lifestyle that he lives. Latif was a former soldier and was definitely not used to this kind of opulence. Uday has a style all his own which includes his expensive sunglasses, fancy cigars, tailored suits, and exotic sports cars. Latif is also given all of these accessories to make people believe he is Uday. The physical stuff is a little bit trickier as there is about a 3 centimeter height difference between the two. No problem, as Latif is outfitted with shoes that contain lifts inside. What of Uday's signature gap in his teeth? No problem, we have an app for that as well! Latif is fitted for a mouth guard that he wears over his teeth complete with signature gap. Part of the fun of the movie is witnessing the physical transformation of Latif to look like Uday. It was a fascinating process in which they attempted to create the perfect replicant. However, merely looking like Uday was not enough.  

Latif also had to live the rockstar lifestyle that Uday was accustomed to. This was mainly accomplished by having Latif shadow Uday about town at the many nightclubs and parties that he frequented in order to pick up women in addition to his girlfriend Sarrab. Latif looks quite uncomfortable at these events in comparison to Uday. Uday is really at home here acting like a crazy drunk while Dead or Alive's You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) blares over the speakers. He is quite the celebrity when he goes out which may be due to his crazy personality or the fear he instills in people. It was all part of the learning process for Latif which was pretty gradual. The hardest part for him to capture was the accent, inflection and overall energy of Uday.

The rally in Basra is when Latif really masters his impression of Uday. Latif delivers an impassioned speech cursing the enemies of Iraq. He captures Uday's manic style, often screaming his barbs to the crowd, and he channels the inner anger that is a big part of who Uday is. He  becomes so good at being Uday that twice assassins try to kill him thinking that he in fact is Uday. The movie shows Latif gradually becoming more comfortable with mimicking Uday's appearance and mannerisms but constantly struggling with the senseless violence and murder that surrounds him, something he is never able to be comfortable with because he is not that kind of man.

Uday is a cruel thug, a coldblooded murderer who kills with delight. He is quite fond of torture and Latif is absolutely repulsed by a video he is shown of some of Uday's torture playthings. His prurient interests include snatching schoolgirls from the street and getting them drunk before forcing himself on them. In one very powerful scene he rapes a bride on her wedding day which was cruelly reminiscent of Braveheart's edict of primae noctis. As the film progressed it seemed that the more Latif looked physically like Uday and the more he was able to master his temperament, the more he became repulsed by the ugliness inside Uday. Latif is particularly rattled by the rape and eventually all of the horrible things Uday is doing become too much for him to condone. He refuses to do Uday's bidding even though it places his family in danger.
 
Family is a recurring theme throughout the movie. Uday has a very callous father which contributed to him becoming a violent maniac. After Uday winds up in the hospital after overdosing, his father Saddam visits him and administers some tough love. He slaps his barely conscious son and then attempts to castrate him but stops at the doctors behest since, "the bleeding will kill him". On the other hand, Latif comes from a very loving family. In contrast to Saddam, Latif's father is warm and loving towards his son. He is also willing to do anything to protect Latif even if it means placing himself in danger. He gives his son the best advice ever when he tells him "You will do as I tell you or you are no longer my son". 

The relationship between Latif and Uday is the real crux of the film. Uday clearly has some kind of an obsession with his doppelganger Latif. Although they look identical, after a few alterations to Latif, they are two very different people at their core. Latif pretty much comes off as the polar opposite of Uday. The film really asks the question of "Why is Uday so fascinated with Latif?" and there are a number of possible answers. Is Latif the man Uday would have become if he had a proper upbringing and a loving family? When Uday has Latif  whipped for his disobedience is it symbolic of Uday whipping himself as a sort of penance for all of the heinous crimes he has committed? At one point in the film Uday says "I love you Latif" which garners a response of "You love Uday" suggesting that he was so obsessed with himself that he loved having another Uday around. I got the sense that Uday saw Latif as some sort of manifestation of his conscience. Uday was so far down the path of depravity that he could no longer control his sadistic urges. Latif in a sense provided counsel that Uday could never have concocted in his own contaminated mind.

Dominic Cooper must be commended for his performance as both Latif Yahia and Uday Hussein. It is hard enough giving one dynamic performance in a movie but he is able to command the screen with two powerhouse performances. I really appreciated how he was able to give both roles their own identity. Even though Latif and Uday look the same there are subtle differences that Cooper delineates through his body language and facial expressions. Whether it is the way he arches his eyebrows as Uday or Latif's stoic demeanor, we can always tell who is who. Cooper gives two fantastic performances that should have garnered more Oscar attention.

In addition to Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier (who was so brilliant in Swimming Pool) is in the movie as well. She plays Uday's number one girl (which must be quite the honor being that there are hundreds of other women Uday has had) Sarrab. Although Latif is afforded every amenity of Uday's, the one thing he is forbidden to touch is one of Uday's girls which just makes him even more intrigued by Sarrab. There are some other notable people in this such as Amrita Acharia (Irri on Game of Thrones) who plays a schoolgirl that unfortunately catches the eye of Uday. Two other people appear in "Where's Waldo" roles and I am pretty sure you win some kind of a prize if you spot them. The granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin, Oona Chaplin (Yes, Robb Stark's wife on Game of Thrones) and the real life Latif Yahia are somewhere in this film.

The movie is also surprisingly funny despite the gravity of the subject matter. Uday is a psychopath who is so over the top, in a Scarface sort of way, that it is hard not to laugh at some of his mercurial decisions and idiosyncrasies. There is an extremely funny little moment where Saddam Hussein and his own double are playing none other than doubles tennis. The fact that women can tell the difference between the two based on who is more well endowed is also quite humorous. It is not all laughs of course. News coverage clips of the escalating tension between the Middle East and the US are effectively interspersed throughout the film which helps us keep everything in the proper historical context. 

The Devil's Double is an entertaining movie with one of the best performances ever committed to film. The story never ceases to be interesting regardless of whether or not the actual events are entirely accurate. Dominic Cooper portrays both Latif Yahia and Uday Hussein with expert depth and his performance is not to be missed.

CHECK THIS OUT: The Devil's Double on DVD and Blu-ray

Article by CJ Ramirez



WHAT: Phenomena

WHY: Ah, Phenomena. No, not that John Travolta movie Phenomenon where he has telekinetic powers. Phenomena is a 1985 horror film from Italian Master of Horror Dario Argento. It is the story of a gifted girl who gets involved in solving a string of murders that have been taking place near a boarding school in Switzerland. Donald Pleasance (great as usual) from the Halloween franchise plays entomologist John McGregor. Daria Nicolodi gives a brilliant performance as Frau Bruckner, head of the academy for girls. She was the real life lover of Dario Argento and they are the parents of actress Asia Argento (Now if Dario and Daria had named their daughter Dariu that would have been a real laugh!). The lead role is played by Jennifer Connelly. This was her first starring role, in only her second movie, following her debut in the epic Once Upon A Time in America.

As a child I had a huge crush on Jennifer Connelly. She was the older girl, with raven hair and green eyes. I was smitten! My sister made me watch the movie Labyrinth an insane amount of times and Ms. Connelly was quite cute. It is a good thing I didn't see Phenomena when i was a kid because cute Ms. Connelly is actually quite a creepy little girl in this one. Jennifer Connelly plays the role of Jennifer Corvino (I always get a kick out of director's casting actors as characters that have the same first name), the precocious daughter of American actor Paul Corvino. Jennifer is sent to a Swiss boarding school around the time that a maniac is murdering young girls. She fails to fit in at her school because she sleepwalks and has visions of the murders. As if this didn't make her creepy enough, she also talks to the animals like Dr. Dolittle. As she says so herself about the insects, "I love you, I love you all, i love all of you". She is teased relentlessly by her classmates and feels isolated, something that echoed the director's own childhood. Jennifer eventually befriends the entomologist John Mcgregor and uses his guidance, and the help of animals as well, in order to solve who is killing the young girls in the Swiss countryside.

The opening sequence of the film is extremely intense and captures our attention immediately. We quickly find out that the recurring dream all people have where they miss the school bus can have deadly ramifications. A young tourist (played by Fiore Argento, eldest daughter of  director Dario Argento and half-sister of actress Asia Argento) misses the bus and ends up seeking help at a strange house nearby. What happens next is pure Argento at his finest. We see the camera switch to a room in the house where something is chained to the wall. As the girl explores the house we see the chains keep rattling until they break free from the wall. The "thing that shall not be named" begins to chase the girl through the house and eventually across the countryside. The chase scene which also involves a giant pair of scissors is quite thrilling and eventually ends up with the young girl's head smashing through a glass window . The glass shatters into a million perfect pieces and is captured brilliantly in slow motion. Although the scene is quite brutal there is also a sense of artistic beauty going on as well such as the way her head falls perfectly through the glass, or the way blood spurts out like a crimson geyser as she is stabbed by the scissors. Argento has a knack for making some of the most horrendous events in his films look akin to a beautiful painting and this artist favors the color of deep red. He is quite a skilled director with innumerable tricks at his disposal.

One of his most famous trademarks involves his deliberate camera techniques. Argento loves to take camera angles that keep the viewers off-balance. He will pan the camera to give the effect of quick movements usually when a character is in a desperate situation. He will also zoom out in wide shots so we can see the environment as a whole, often focusing on a creepy house or something similar. Argento loves to focus on seemingly minute objects in the environment which add to the eeriness and often times serve as clues to where the story is headed. Perhaps his most famous technique is his use of point of view filming by which he gives a first person view of the killer in all of his films. He forces us to see things from the eyes of the killer so the experience of the gruesome killings becomes even more personal and meaningful. Apparently, when we see the gloves of the killer in all of his films those are Dario's hands under the gloves, thus putting himself directly in the role of the killer and the experience becomes quite powerful for him as well. 

Dario's films all have "killer" soundtracks and Phenomena is no exception. Dario frequently enlists the help of the band Goblin and they provide the soundtracks for almost all of his films. Their style is hard rock with booming drums and heavy electric guitar. They do a tremendous job of creating very haunting tracks that establish the mood throughout his films. For Phenomena, Argento enlisted the help of some of the most famous rock musicians to complement the tracks that Goblin did. Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones, Iron Maiden, and Motorhead provide significant contributions to the musical score. Their tracks are quite frenzied and perfectly capture the sense of dread and chaos throughout the film. In addition to having a great soundtrack, Phenomena has also seeped into other areas of pop culture.

Phenomena was the inspiration for the game Clock Tower according to its producers. Clock Tower was released in Japan on the SNES in 1995 but unfortunately it was never released in the US. There was a Clock Tower released in the US in 1996 but that is actually Clock Tower 2 in Japan (confusing, I know!). The main protagonist in the game Jennifer Simpson bears a striking resemblance to Jennifer Connelly (Certainly by no accident Jenifer is also the name of a Dario Argento directed episode of Showtime's Masters of Horror TV series), and the identity of the killer is the same as in the movie Phenomena. There was to be a movie based on the Clock Tower video game series (hmm...a movie based on a video game based on a movie) but in an eerie twist the director, David R. Ellis of Snakes on a Plane fame, died suddenly under "mysterious circumstances". It was not the only eerie Dario related happening but we will save those other stories for another day.

One story I will share now is that I actually missed out on an opportunity to meet Jennifer Connelly. Every year I would go with my sister and a bunch of our friends to hang out and spend a weekend in a cabin in Vermont. After we arrived there one year we needed to go into the town and buy some groceries at the local supermarket. My sister and two of our friends volunteered to go get the groceries while I opted to stay at the house with the rest of our friends. Well, my sister ended up seeing Jennifer Connelly shopping at that very same supermarket. My sister was a huge fan of hers and is definitely not the least bit shy but she was so star-struck that she did not approach her. When they arrived back from their little excursion they told us the story. I was so jealous of her experience and wish I had decided to go although I doubt I would have mustered the courage to say anything as well.

Phenomena is a great horror film with some excellent performances from Jennifer Connelly, Donald Pleasance, and Daria Nicolodi. Do yourself a favor and track this movie down if you have not already seen it. An edited version known as Creepers was also released but it is not recommended since many crucial scenes were cut out and it becomes hard to follow. Pick up a copy of Phenomena and by the end you too will be rooting for a simian, a creepy little girl, and the world's smartest fly.

CHECK THIS OUT: Phenomena on DVD 

Article by CJ Ramirez





WHAT: Clash of the Titans (1981)

WHY: Clash of the Titans is a fantasy action film directed by Desmond Davis. The film stars a young Harry Hamlin as the Greek hero Perseus who is tasked with protecting humanity against the whims of the gods. Perseus undergoes an epic journey fraught with peril in order to save the city of of Joppa and Princess Andromeda.

The story of Clash of the Titans centers around Perseus who is the son of the god Zeus and a human Danae. Perseus and his mother are exiled from their home by King Acrisius and end up on the island of Seriphos. Perseus grows up to adulthood and would have lived a simple life in obscurity if not for the meddling of the gods. Through a series of 
machinations the gods transport Perseus to an amphitheater in Joppa where the poet Ammon, played by Burgess Meredith, tells him of a curse placed on Princess Andromeda. Ammon realizes that Perseus is special and coaxes him to pursue his destiny and save the city of Joppa.
 Since he is a demigod, he is the only one who can foil the plans set in place by the gods.

There are many well-known actors playing the role of gods in the film. Laurence Olivier plays the king of the gods Zeus, Ursula Andress plays the goddess of beauty and love Aphrodite, Maggie Smith plays sea goddess Thetis and the great Pat Roach, who played General Kael in Willow, has a brief cameo as Hephaestus the god of the smith. The representation of these gods is very consistent with how they are portrayed in classic Greek mythology. Zeus as the king of the gods and husband with a wandering eye, Aphrodite as a beautiful woman, and Hephaestus as the forger of all things metallic. The movie does a good job of being consistent with the overall characters and stories from Greek mythology while also making changes that don't detract from these legends.

One such change is the character of Calibos who is not found in the ancient Greek tale of Perseus. In the film Calibos is the son of the goddess Thetis and is betrothed to the beautiful princess Andromeda played by Judi Bowker. Calibos angers Zeus by hunting his herd of flying horses and is punished by being transformed into a hideous beast. He resembles a satyr with his horns, cloven feet and tail. He is an impressive looking creation like many of the other beasts in the film. Calibos serves as the main antagonist for Perseus and tries to stop him on his quest to save Andromeda and the city of Joppa.

There are numerous other fantastic looking creatures throughout the film. A giant vulture serves as Calibos' pet and brings a sleeping Andromeda to him each night. Giant scorpions spring forth from the ground and battle Perseus and his companions. Dioskilos, a two-headed dog that guards the path to Medusa is reminiscent of Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guarded the gate to the Underworld in Greek mythology. The other creatures in the film are direct representations of those in mythological lore. The flying horse Pegasus serves as a companion for Perseus and also as his main mode of transportation. Charon is a skeleton-like ferryman who takes passengers on a boat ride to the Underworld in exchange for gold. The Kraken is an ancient sea-beast that is chained up in the depths of the ocean and is said to be invulnerable to any weapon. Medusa was once a beautiful maiden until she angered the goddess Athena and was turned into a snake-like beast whose glare would turn humans into stone. The three Stygian witches are the three Graeae of Greek mythology who possess an all-seeing eye and tell Perseus that the only thing that can kill the Kraken is the head of Medusa. They utter the line "A Titan against a Titan" referring to Medusa versus the Kraken from which the movie gets its title.

All of these creatures were brought to life by the late special-effects guru Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen perfected the technique of stop motion filming. Stop-motion is a technique by which a model or figure is moved in small increments and photographed repeatedly to give the effect of movement. Harryhausen created numerous models of beasts and wondrous creatures as a basis for this technique. Some of his most famous creations include Mighty Joe Young, the skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts, and Kali in the Golden Voyage of Sinbad. Harryhausen was able to bring these beasts to life in such a realistic manner that they appeared to have their own soul. We can see this recognition when the end credits roll during the end of Clash of the Titans. First we see the actors who played the gods listed, then the actors who played the mortals. The creatures are billed "As themselves". A testament to how lifelike his creations are. Harryhausen was developing a sequel to Clash of the Titans entitled, "Force of the Trojans", however the studio passed supposedly due to the fact that the stop motion technique was no longer cutting edge and had been replaced by George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic special effects group.

In order to battle these mythical creatures Perseus did need some help, and the gods saw fit to outfit him with a number of interesting weapons. Perseus is given a sword, helmet, owl, and shield. The helmet is not just your ordinary helmet. It is a helmet of invisibility which allows Perseus to disappear from sight, very helpful for sneaking a peak at the beautiful princess in her bedchambers. It is invaluable really, since all suitors had to answer a riddle in order to win the hand of the princess or be burned alive. The mechanical owl Bubo was forged by Hephaestus and serves as a guide for Perseus and provides occasional comic relief. The shield has magical properties and allows the gods to communicate with him. It also proves quite indispensable in his clash with Medusa.

The battle with Medusa is one of the most intense battles ever committed to screen. There is no dialogue in the scene and only an eerie silence pervades. As the battle continues we hear an intense soundtrack playing in the background. Perseus and his men face a fierce foe armed with a bow and arrow and a deadly stare allowing her to kill at both long and short ranges. She slithers in the dark slowly stalking her prey in a deadly cat and mouse game. The battle unfolds like a chess game and its finale is brilliant, involving decoys and reflections. I can remember watching this as a kid and my heart was just beating out of my chest. I even believed for some time that if I looked directly at Medusa, I too would turn to stone. Hasn't happened yet. 

In 2010 there was a remake also entitled Clash of the Titans that follows many of the same plot points in the original. I did enjoy the remake overall despite some of the plot changes being for the worse. I still don't get who those desert Djinn were and why they were even in the movie. Also, Perseus really wants nothing to do with Andromeda here and their interactions are characterized as awkward at best. The Medusa fight scene was well done, albeit short, but it was different enough that I didn't have to constantly compare it to the brilliance of the original. It also stars some actors I really like including Pete Postlethwaite, Liam Neeson, Mads Mikkelsen, Liam Cunningham, Rory McCann, Polly Walker, and Kaya Scodelario (in a very minor role). I also watched the 2-D version in the theater upon Roger Ebert's advice and laughed when hearing other moviegoers complain they spent more money to see the 3-D version and basically only one scene was like in 3-D.  The 2012 sequel to the remake (is that where movies are these days, so unoriginal that we have to now make sequels to remakes?) was entitled "Wrath of the Titans" and that one I did not enjoy in any capacity. The story was all over the place and I just did not care one bit for any of the characters. Kratos (from the God of War video games) vs the titans was far more compelling than this.
    
Clash of the Titans is an exciting fantasy action film which fans of Greek mythology will love. Those who are not fans of mythology can still enjoy the fantastic creatures brought to life by Ray Harryhausen and a tale as old as time, a hero taking on an epic journey in order to save a beautiful princess. In the immortal words of Zeus, "Release the Kraken"!

CHECK THESE OUT: Clash of the Titans (1981), Clash of the Titans (2010) on DVD and Blu-Ray

Article by CJ Ramirez




WHAT: Willow

WHY: Willow is the story of a dwarf named Willow Ufgood who is played by Warwick Davis. He sets out on a magical journey, with a ragtag band of misfits, to stop an evil sorceress from destroying the human child foretold by an ancient prophecy. The movie appeals to a wide audience because it can be enjoyed by both children and adults. I first saw the film when I was a child and was immediately captivated by its magic, wondrous monsters, special effects, and underdog story.

Willow is set in a world of enchantment where anything can happen. Magic acorns, love potions, fairies, and the sprite-like creatures known as Brownies were commonplace. This magical world truly captured my attention. Particularly impressive were the astounding creatures. They included trolls, hellhound-like Death Dogs, and a two-headed dragon called an Eborsisk whose name was an amalgamation of the names of late film critics Siskel and Ebert. These beasts were brought to life by George Lucas' special effects team Industrial Light and Magic. Two specific scenes really captured my imagination. At one point Willow has to change the sorceress Fin Raziel into her human form, and she morphs from a goat to an ostrich to a peacock to a turtle to a tiger and then finally to her human form. Also, the Evil Queen Bavmorda changes an entire army into pigs and the transformation from human to pig is breathtaking. These effects were extremely impressive to witness as a child.

At its core, Willow is also a classic underdog story. A dwarf has to overcome insurmountable odds in order to save the world from the threat of evil. As a child, I could relate to Willow. He was small in stature like me, and was out of place living in a world of big people. When Willow meets the swordsman Madmartigan, played by Val Kilmer, they begin to form an almost sibling-like relationship. Madmartigan was like an older brother or cousin to Willow, constantly looking out for his safety, something else a child could relate to.

Since becoming an adult, I have watched the movie numerous times. What I began to realize was just how deep the movie is, and how it follows some classic archetypes.  I enjoyed different characters and different aspects of the movie than I did as I child. 

Willow follows some common hero archetypes, in particular relating to the birth of the special child Elora Danan. The evil Queen Bavmorda is threatened by a prophecy saying Elora will be her downfall. As a result she sends her minions to capture the child so she can send it into oblivion via a special ritual. We can see similar hero origins in the biblical stories of Moses and Jesus, and also in the ancient Greek story of Perseus. These three were all children of prophecy and each had rulers that wanted to end their lives. Moses was threatened by the Pharaoh, Jesus was threatened by King Herod, and Perseus was threatened by King Acrisius. Perseus and Moses also share an extra similarity with Elora Danan in that both were placed in a basket or similar vessel and pushed across a river to safety. It is such a classic story told throughout time and those familiar with the particular events will find the story more relatable.

The odds are also stacked against the heroes. The heroes don't just ride in on a white horse and wipe the floor with the villains. These villains are tough and the heroes don't get through without a few casualties. I always hated movies or shows where the hero would just destroy the villains in about two seconds and never even get so much as a scratch. I fondly remember watching the show Walker Texas Ranger with my grandmother years ago. She was a huge fan and I would periodically humor her by watching along. The Texas Ranger would fight like eight bad guys at a time and they wouldn't land one punch on him, nary a scratch on his whole being. He would just make them look incredibly foolish. Good heroes need good villains in order to bring out the best in them and also give the fans something to root for. Despite not being the main villain in the story, General Kael is one such villain and is also one of my favorite villains of all time.
                
General Kael is played by the late Pat Roach who was also a former professional wrestler. He has had roles in many exciting movies including the first 3 Indiana Jones movies, the James Bond film Never Say Never Again, Clash of the Titans, A Clockwork Orange, Red Sonja, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Kael is an imposing figure and wears the coolest mask in the history of the universe. Even his horse looks menacing as it has two horns and is covered in black armor. General Kael does not just look cool, he is an incredibly fierce warrior. He is ruthless and cuts down his opponents as if they were made of paper. He can also take quite a beating and proves difficult to kill. From the memorable mask to his imposing stature, Kael was someone to be feared and posed a real threat to the heroes.

If Kael is the awesome villain, Madmartigan is the equally awesome hero. Val Kilmer gives a brilliant performance as the self-proclaimed Greatest Swordsman Who Ever Lived. Madmartigan was not your typical hero, he was more of an anti-hero in fact. The unstable swordsman was a selfish brigand who only looked out for himself. Appropriately we first meet him rotting in a cage as punishment for his misdeeds. He, like Kael, is also an insanely cool character. His braid, his impromptu offense and his ability to brandish two swords when he fights Kael make him a force to be reckoned with. As the movie progresses, we find out that he really is not as selfish as we may have thought. He genuinely grows attached to the baby Elora Danan and is willing to risk his own life to protect her. He is not just a great warrior, he is also incredibly charming and extremely funny.

In fact, as an adult I saw him as the funniest person in the movie. When I was a child I found the sprite-like Brownies to be really funny but as I grew up I came to appreciate Madmartigan even more. We can see what kind of a jokester he is very early on in the film. When he can't convince Willow to free him from his cage, he starts to fake cry and he covers his face. However, we can clearly see him peeking through his hands to see if they are buying his chicanery. 
We also get to see Val Kilmer dressed as a woman in a hilarious scene where Madmartigan has to disguise himself to evade pursuers. Perhaps the most amusing scene is when Madmartigan is under the love spell of the Brownies and enters the tent of Sorsha, played by his future wife Joanne Whalley. Madmartigan is so enamored by her that he forgets his mission and proclaims his love for her. He basically calls her the moon of his life and his sun and stars which would make Khal Drogo very proud indeed.  

Despite having a relatable tale as old as time, having an awesome villain, an awesome hero, and being very funny the movie is not without its flaws. The showdown between Fin Raziel and Bavmorda is quite ludicrous and came off as two old hags fighting. When Raziel goes Chuck Liddell on Bavmorda, things get particularly ridiculous. Also, the Brownies can approach Jar Jar Binks level reactions of GET OFF MY SCREEN by older viewers.

Willow remains as one of my all-time favorite movies. It is a movie that both children and adults can truly enjoy. I've even been secretly pining for a sequel all these years, and if Bambi could get a Bambi II after 63 years then you never know. In closing, my feelings about the movie closely resemble something Willow said to Madmartigan, "You Are Great"!

CHECK THESE OUT: Willow on DVD and (finally!) Blu-Ray

Article by CJ Ramirez


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