Archive for the ‘ Movies ’ Category

Review: The Monster (1925)

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The Monster isn’t a film that belongs to its star Lon Cheney in the way  his appearances in The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, or London After Midnight do. But while his role in as Dr. Ziska gets pushed into the shadows of this bizarre horror-comedy, Roland West’s film made a distinct mark on cinematic history.

Widely considered to be the first “mad scientist” movie and the first “old dark house” movie, The Monster delivers a bizarre look at the thin line between what makes us laugh and what makes us scream. The deep shadows, horrific make-up, and maze of set pieces clash with the light and dopey characters. West sets up his hero as a man hilariously unfit for the situation he finds himself in, a scenario viewers would find again and again throughout the years since the film.

The plot of The Monster resembles another film released only one year earlier, Buster Keaton’s Sherlock, Jr. Aspiring detective Johnny Goodlittle investigates the disappearance of John Bowman. The trail leads him to an abandoned sanitarium, where he meets Dr. Ziska, a former patient who, along with his merry band of freaks, has overrun the asylum.

Roland West splits the difference between comedy and horror by creating some beautifully creepy castle designs and expressionistic lighting and a very weightless plot. Retreading the some of the same ground as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, West’s film relies less heavily on a dream-like expressionsof horror. West’s designs, including the intricate passages, dungeons, and laboratories, are ahead of their time, and would later be appropriated by Vincent Price for his haunted house movies.

His use of camp and horror, however, would be later perfected by Abbott and Costello. By placing an unlikely hero at the center of the film, West parodies his genre at its inception. Goodlittle’s inexperience gifts him an absent mindedness that allows him to solve the case, but not without fumbling his way through the set first. The Monster, for all of its goofiness, might as well have been the world’s first Scooby-Doo episode.

Despite being regulated to the background, Lon Chaney’s Dr. Ziska has a presence that permeates throughout the film. His hand lay firmly in each of the sinister plans for his house guests orders about a some particularly ghoulish minions. Rigo, Caliban, and the unfortunately-named Daffy Dan seep into the background of the scenes, allowing Ziska to lure his guests into his web.

Lon Chaney, however, really doesn’t get the most screen time nor is his character the most interesting. Yet while Johnny Arthur’s Johnny Goodlittle played up the laughs, Chaney’s Ziska really does aim for scares. Less made-up than in his more famous pictures, Chaney’s ability to slap a malevolent smile on his face and stalk his victims never ceases to keep up the creepy side of the film.

The Monster, despite being the birthplace of the old dark house, the mad scientist, and the horror comedy still feels inessential. Neither particularly scary nor funny, the film struggles to balance the two throughout. By the time the film reaches its climax, reality becomes so heightened it seemingly detaches from the horror world entirely. The Monster never  establishes a consistent tone for either, West’s ability to create a frightful tone for the film does win over in a few, select spots.

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Peter Lorre: The Aggressive Mimicry of His Defining Roles

Great villains have the ability to attract and destroy. Like predators in the wild, these characters trick their prey  by posing as something familiar, harmless, or friendly. It’s a form of aggressive mimicry. These monsters of reality and fiction hunt without the world knowing it, a quality Peter Lorre brings to his performances, ensnaring the audience with unpredictable characters. The dangerous and unassuming  Lorre made the most bizarre and terrifying characters unbelievably magnetic.

Lorre’s career has been defined by several iconic roles: the first being in Fritz Lang’s 1931 masterpiece, M. And while his face remains confined to the film’s conclusion, his presence in the film is undeniable. Mostly heard offscreen enchanting children with a wholesome whistle, Lorre remains in the shadows for much of the film’s runtime. The once banal act of whistling shifts the atmosphere. The killer approaches and dread takes over.

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The Birds and Attack the Block come to different conclusions about outsiders

Outsiders can generally be found at the center of horror movies. Their presence causes a disturbance that sends the community, whether it’s a summer camp, a small town, an apartment, or a neighborhood block, into flux. The values of the outsider gives the horror something to oppress, and the character a core system of belief to uphold. This can be most easily be pointed out in slasher movies where disruption generally follows “The Last Girl” or the virgin. Because she won’t conform to the standards of her sinful friends, she must uphold her pureness against the monster. In the end, if she can maintain her beliefs, she will survive.

Two movies in particular use the disruption of outsiders to their own advantage, one to punish and the other to politicize. The Birds and Attack the Block were made for and in different eras. The former exists at the dawn of the feminist movement and the sexual revolution, the latter in a world rife with gentrification and racial profiling. But while these movies seem completely different externally, at their core, they pit a social outsider against an invasion, allowing them to be punished or vindicated. Continue reading

Trailer: Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel

In the past five years ago, West Anderson has dropped a number of sizable bombs on kids movies. Moonrise Kingdom and The Fantastic Mr. Fox elevated the genre aesthetically and intellectually by having gorgeous renderings of foxes talk like cool, calm, and collected astronauts. And his latest The Grand Budapest Hotel seem to be no different—though there are more accents.

Armed with another powerhouse cast, Anderson makes what looks like his most stylistically ambitious movie to date. If you’re a fan of intricate and precise framing, the color purple, or being punched in the face, the time to start getting excited is right now.

Trailer: Escape From Tomorrow

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Escape from Tomorrow is a film that seems too strange to be real. Shot guerilla-style while inside of Disney World, writer-director Randy Moore pulls some of the joy and magic out of the park and turns it a hallucinogenic nightmare.

The plot: On vacation with his family, Jim White learns that he has been fired. As to not ruin the vacation, Jim bottles up the stress, which leads to a surreal nervous breakdown at the happiest place on Earth.

The movie is currently getting the crap sewed out of it, as you could expect. Assuming it is released to the public, I’ll be first in line Maniacal Tinker Bell’s, children with black eyes, some dude wearing the Epicot Globe as a helmet—It looks horrifying and perfect.

Check out the trailer below:

 

Movie Review: The World’s End

ImageFinishing up their loose trilogy of films, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost freshen up their winning formula in The World’s End, a buddy movie with apocalyptic alien invaders. With Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, the cornetto boys created a language all their own and made the genre movies they always wanted to see, ones that reflected their own nostalgic nerdy selves.  The World’s End moves some of the furniture and puts a fine cap on what have been some of the funniest movies of the last decade.

20 years after high school, Jerry King (Pegg) aka “The King,” because his last name is King, doesn’t have a whole lot going on. Sure, he’s been in and out of rehab, has a place under at his mom’s and sick Sister’s of Mercy tattoo, but not much has improved since the last day of high school. To rekindle some of life’s fire, he invites his old high school buddies to complete “the golden mile,” a 12-pub crawl through their hometown and the one thing he regrets never finishing as a teenager. Continue reading

200 Words or Less: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

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The Man Who Knew Too Much is Hitchcock’s first crack at this story; he would later remake with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day in 1956. There’s still a lot to like in this one—though, most of that has to do with one creepy performance from Peter Lorre. Having recently escaped the Nazi Germany, Lorre couldn’t even speak English when Hitchcock cast him as this skunk haired deviant. Nevertheless, he turned in a supremely weird performance that both harkens to his child-hunter in M and the future-weirdo Joel Cairo.

The Man Who Knew Too Much follows a family of clay pigeon shooters and wealthy cynics who have their daughter kidnapped after stumbling on a clue in a dead secret agent’s hotel room. To get her back, the girl’s parents must keep their mouth shut long enough for a pack of gang of political activists to, well, I wouldn’t want to spoil it.

This is Hitchcock before he really got rolling. With an early use of his “Accidental Secret Agent” plot, Hitch does what he does best, though, in more primitive form. Still, the twists, laughs, and suspense are all there. And at 75 minutes, it’s definitely worth your time.