The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist

The eerie glow on the silhouette of The Exorcist

 

“The LORD said to Satan, ‘ Where have you come from?’

Satan answered the LORD, ‘From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.'”

– Job 1: 7 (NIV version)

Satan has been depicted countless times in the media that it seems we sometimes might forget how horrible he really is. Whether the demon is or isn’t Satan (the name is supposed to be Pazuzu, who, according to IMDB, is a demon from Assyrian and Babylonian Mythology), the demon does come out as saying he is the devil, and his actions more than make up for it.

This, of course, is just one of many reasons why people consider The Exorcist one of the scariest movies ever made. There have been at least four sequels and countless other films dealing on the subject of exorcism. I have not seen them, but even if I did, I doubt I (or anyone) would think they could even begin to compare to the one that truly started it all.

Based on the book by William Peter Blatty, that was based on (rather loosely) true events, the movie tells the all too well-known story of Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair, who recieved so many death threats after the movie was released she needed body guards for six months). Living with her mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn), she gradually is possessed by an evil spirit. We also see the story of Father Karras (Jason Miller), who is recovering from the loss of his mother, and questioning his faith. There are other characters, including Lt. Kinderman (the infallible Lee J. Cobb), Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), and the horrific voice of the spirit, played perfectly by Mercedes McCambridge.

While all the performances are brilliant (Burstyn, Miller, and Blair would all be nominated for an Oscar), the true star is director William Friedkin. Without him this movie would not be known as it is today. Like all great horror movies, he still gives us just enough hope when we feel it is all gone. He also gives us more than our fair share of images that haunt us long after the movie ends.

The movie did win two Oscars. The first was for Blatty’s screenplay, but it is the second one I want to focus on, Best Sound (the winners were Robert Knudson and Christopher Newman). Much of the dialogue is rather soft, but not so with the sounds one hears; the moving of furniture, a knock at the door, heavy breathing, terrifying growling, needles in the skin, breaking glass, water splashing, scampering across the floor, etc. Never before have I seen a movie when I am clutching on to the volume remote.

Parents, do I really need to say it? Don’t let any child watch this movie. High School and above.

I will say this though: if you have a child (again, who is in High School) who is acting like no movie has ever really scared them, then make your choice as to when they can see The Exorcist. I have never met anyone who was not afraid of this movie, and I am confident I never will.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

 

 

The Shining (1980)

The Shining

Danny (Danny Lloyd) comes across the creepiest cinema twins in history.

“A big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside.”

This is how author Stephen King has described the Stanley Kubrick film version of The Shining. Of course, not all movies based off of movies will make the author happy (like P.L. Travers, who strongly disliked the Disney version of her literary character Mary Poppins).  Still, this review is coming from someone who has not (as of now) read the original material. I saw the film first around the age of twelve, not knowing it was based on a book. From that perspective, I found it terrifying.

The story is rather well-known: Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a former teacher who takes his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd), in his only screen performance) to the Overlook Hotel to be the caretakers for five months. A (somewhat) recovering alcoholic, Jack is determined to being secluded in order to help finish his writing. He is so optimistic he does not seem to mind that one of the former caretakers butchered his family before killing himself, or that the hotel was built on an indian burial ground.

The other element being brought to the stay at the Hotel is the peculiar Danny, who has the ability to “shine” (see the future, and read the minds of others who can do the same). The only other we see who can do this is the Hotel’s cook, Hallorann, (Scatman Crothers). It is he who informs Danny (as well as us) nothing good resides from room 237 (more on that later).

There is one thing that King does say positive about the movie, and that is the visual appeal. This is no real surprise, as the movie was directed by film icon Stanley Kubrick (known to be as much a perfectionist as anyone behind the camera). If you were to choose any shot from The Shining and say it was your “choice”, it would be hard to argue regardless of what it was. Whether it is Jack in the doorway shouting his famous “Heeere’s Johnny!”, any visuals of the hedge maze, the long unblinking stare of Jack, the red bathroom, the elevator full of blood, or the hallway showing the creepiest twins in film history.

“Come play with us Danny.”

Chills.

Parents, it should come as absolutely no surprise that this film is not for kids. Besides the obvious creepy scenes and swearing, there is one main scene of nudity that does take place in room 237 (as well as some nude pictures, and a brief scene in a bed room that is far more creepy than sexual). In other words, unless you have the most mature middle schooler, High School and above.

Perhaps if I do read the original book, I will be able to see more of what King dislikes about the movie (he did not approve of the casting of Nicholson or Duvall). The movie came out with mixed reviews, so much so that it got two Razzie nominations: Duvall for worst actress and (believe it or not) Kubrick for worst director (you read it right). Time, of course, is always the best judge of movies, and The Shining still stands as one of the best horror films. It has layers that can keep being peeled away (the ending is for sure going to raise questions upon every viewing) and you still are not sure what to expect. Anytime a movie does that, it is something special.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

ET

The image speaks for itself…

There is a scene in E.T. when Mike (Robert MacNaughton) is describing the relationship between his younger brother Elliot (Henry Thomas) and the alien to a grown-up.

Mike: He communicates through Elliot.

Grown-up: Elliot thinks it’s thoughts?

Mike: No. Elliot feels his feelings.

The idea of feeling of feelings is what makes Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece so endearing. A good director knows how to read the minds of the audience, but a great director knows the feelings of the audience as well. In the case of E.T., the main audience is not just children, but the child in all of us.

Another key feature of the film is how Spielberg films from a point of view. Nearly every scene is filmed from the point of view of E.T. or Elliot (and sometimes his siblings). The only adults we really actually see in the film is the mother (Dee Wallace) and (for the second half) Keys (Peter Coyote). We never really see anything from their point of view. There are a few exceptions. We do see Keys looking for E.T. after his family has left him on earth. We also get that wonderful comic scene of how the mother thinks she hears a noise from Elliot’s closet, and actually does “see” E.T. hidden in the stuffed animals.

It truly baffles me whenever I meet someone who does not like this film, but I am beside myself when it is someone who has never even seen the film. The story is still well-known to them though. Elliot is the middle child (always the unsung hero is the middle child) of Mary, a single mom of three (the other is a young Drew Barrymore as Gertie). As a middle child myself, it was impossible for me not to relate to Elliot. My parents also were separated, I wished to always hang out with my older brother’s friends, and I had a younger sibling who I thought got more attention than I did. In short, life was hard to a degree.

Enter E.T., who is as shocked to meet a human as Elliot is meeting an alien (though the best reaction comes from Gertie). All of the scenes with Elliot prove that Henry Thomas gives perhaps the best (if not the most famous) performance by a young male actor in film history (his audition tape was equally compelling). It is a little bit of a shame though, because it does overshadow the fine work given by his siblings. MacNaughton does start off as the wise scheming older brother, but is still kind-hearted and more understanding (especially at the end). It is also a credit to show Barrymore (who has had acting in her family bloodline for generations) as a little girl who is far smarter than the others give her credit for.

Along with the comic moments, the movie clearly has movies of suspense. The “chase” scene is heart pounding to anyone, regardless of age or knowledge of the outcome. No small part of this is due to the other star of this film (and nearly every Spielberg film), legendary composer John Williams. Like every movie he has composed, E.T. would be a totally different (and really not at all brilliant) film without John Williams.

Then comes the moment, as the suspense becomes utmost relief and wonder. You know the scene, you know the moment. I don’t need to explain how it is etched in our minds and hearts and souls for eternity.

Parents, if you have not let your kids see this movie yet, I don’t know what you are waiting for. I would say any age. Yes, there are scary moments, but it is a movie where being scared is okay. Yes, some of the adults seem like villains, but they really aren’t actual villains. There is also some swearing.

Whether you watch the original theatrical version, the updated version (with updated special effects and two added scenes), it is clear a movie is a classic if the only bad thing about it is the video game (which I thankfully never got to play).

E.T. is just flawless entertainment for anyone.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind (1977)

Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind

The imagery speaks for itself…

The main thing I remember from my first viewing of Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind as a child was that I could start playing the five notes as I started Concert Band around the age of eleven. Imagine my disappointment when, after finally revisiting the movie years later, I have been playing the notes the wrong way! Oh well…

Two years after Jaws brought Steven Spielberg into the limelight, he unleashed one of the most wonder oozing films of all time. Sci-Fi films can go one of two ways: They can go the way of action and adventure (as was the case with another 1977 classic, Star Wars), or they can show how we feel about the wonders of the universe. CEOT3K falls in the latter category.

The film does not entirely focus on a main character so much as the emotions the characters (and we in real life) feel when we see anything we don’t understand, yet are still yearning to learn more. It is clear that many things are happening and catching the attention of many people. One of them is Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), an electrician who notices something one night that he can’t explain, but will not let go by, even if his wife (Teri Garr) wants nothing to do with it. He also meets Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon), a single mother trying to look out for her son Barry (Cary Guffey).

While all actors give convincing performances (Dillon was nominated for an Oscar, and Guffey is a scene stealer), the movie belongs to the people behind the camera. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (who won the film’s only Oscar), supplies each frame with the imagery and color that give each one a life of its own. As is the case with every movie he has composed, John Williams brings life to the soul and backbone of the picture. Finally, it is Spielberg who keeps us somewhat fearful until, at just the right moment, he changes our fear to awe.

Parents, there is very little here that will be bad for a kid. Some swearing, but nothing horrible. The PG rating is justified.

 

I have a friend of mine, Jimmy, who is not a big fan of “old” movies, since it is sometimes hard to feel nostalgic for movies of the past. My response to him is that while there are many movies of the past that are forgettable but (to a degree) gives the viewer a feeling of nostalgia, there are a select few that are downright timeless. They exceed the time they were made in, and speak to anyone with a pulse, regardless of the year they were born in. There is no doubt in my mind that Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind is a pure and timeless classic.

Note: I do now know how to play the five notes. G A F F (an octave lower) and C.

Overall: Five Stars *****

 

Bringing up Baby (1938)

Bringing up baby.jpg

Hepburn and Grant have more shenanigans to deal with than just the leopard…

Nearly eight decades after it was released, Howard Hawk’s Bringing Up Baby is still as fresh and hilarious and romantic and chaotic as it was when it was released. Parents, if you want to introduce your kids to classic Hollywood at an early age, here is a perfect candidate (and to get them to meet two of the biggest stars the movies has ever had).

In a nutshell, the film stars Cary Grant as David, a paleontologist who is hoping to get an offer of a million dollars for his museum. The problem is, he keeps running into the ever happy-go-lucky Susan, played by Katharine Hepburn. She has inherited a leopard named Baby from her brother in Africa. The situations in this movie are too complicated to explain in words, let alone worthless to try, since they are better to be experienced.

Grant performs effortlessly as David, who is undoubtably the cautious type. Still, it is clearly Hepburn who steals the spotlight (as she did in almost every single one of her movies). Her performance is dazzling. You wonder why it is she is not frightened (most of the time) of the awkward situations she gets into (my favorite is when she is thrown into jail). Perhaps the best answer would be that the role is so like Hepburn in real life that very little acting was required, if any at all.

Parents, there is really nothing to worry about at all for the kids (despite one character saying they went “gay all of a sudden”, but it is mainly played for laughs). Any age is fine with this movie.

I admit some of the parts did confuse me a bit, but they were far outweighed by my laughter, which occurred a lot.

Is this the best movie for Cary Grant or Katharine Hepburn? Hard to say. They each made a trunk load of classics that will be around as long as movie goers search for them. Still, as stated before, it is one that is perfect to start with if you want to see some of the early days of classic comedy.
Overall: Five Stars *****

La La Land (2016)

LLL d 41-42_6689.NEF

As Sebastian and Mia, Gosling and Stone simply glow…

A little less than a week ago, I finally got to buying four classic films starring the legendary Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers. Those two cinema icons are some of the few I can watch and have all the worries of my life wash away. That feeling came to me a lot while watching the visually glorious La La Land. It manages to balance being loyal to both the old school and the current.

After his highly entertaining movie Whiplash in 2014, director Damien Chazelle is proving he is more than a one trick pony. In a year of many downers across the globe, here is one of the years clear front-runners for best picture, and it is jubilant and energetic and toe tapping fun. The opening number (“Another Day in the Sun”)  is like one we never have seen, and may never again: it takes place in a traffic jam. How many other musicals can say they have a dance number in a traffic jam? That alone is stunning.

Emma Stone has never been better. She stars as Mia, a young wanna be movie star who has been trying and failing at auditions for years, scrapping around working at the coffee shop right next to where they filmed a scene with Bogie and Bergman in Casablanca. Eventually, she meets Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian. He is a die-hard devotee of Jazz, who plays at locals but never gets to have his music heard. Their personalities collide in another number with dancing that had shades of Astaire and Rodgers.

Learning dance numbers can never be easy, and we can see how much rehearsal was put into learning the numbers. One easy way to see this is that each number is, for the most part, shot by Chazelle in long takes. In other words, the actors had little to no room for error.

There are other minor roles, including Oscar Winner J.K. Simmons who proves there really are no small parts. There is also singer John Legend as one of Sebastian’s old friends, proving he has some actual talent beyond the singing world.

Of course, the music is stellar all around. Composer Justin Hurwitz has made a soundtrack (which I bought very shortly after seeing the film) with tunes that leeches happily on your brain and heart for the next couple months, if not the rest of your days.

Parents, it makes me happier than I thought possible to say that this movie is not that bad for young people. The rating is PG-13 rating is for swearing, and that is it (there is one F bomb, and someone gives the finger to another character, but that is it). All the language is no worse than that of a typical middle school lunchroom (minus the dancing). No violence or sexuality of any kind (minus kissing). If your kids are in middle school, they are ok with this film.

Is this really what it is like to work in Hollywood? I can only assume yes. There has to be struggle and strife to get a good start. La La Land makes that clear. It also makes clear that making a musical must be fun. You will get that sense through the whole time you are sitting in the theater…tapping your feet.

It has seldom felt so good to be a fool who dreams.

Overall: Five Stars *****

 

 

Life, Animated (2016)

life-animated

Owen Suskind, the autistic man at the center of “Life, Animated”

Seldom have I been able to find it harder to start talking about a movie. Then again, seldom have I had an emotional response than the one I had when I first saw Life, Animated, clearly one of the best films of the year.

It is a documentary of Owen Suskind. He, along with interviews of his parents and older brother Walt, tells what it is like living with autism. We learn he was diagnosed at age 3, and was virtually quiet most of his childhood. His only time he was social was when he would watch Disney movies with the family.

The movie does not bore us with the facts we could find online about autism, or spend too much time talking to doctors and researchers. We just get a glimpse at the life of an extraordinary mind that (like others on the spectrum) see the world in a totally different way.

I guess there is no way around it: I should mention that I myself am autistic (I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome back in High School).My escape as a kid was movies, and I can still remember the covers of every Disney film we owned (I moved on to more than Disney films. I assume it was to broaden my horizon.) There is a part in this movie where Cornelia (Owen’s mom) says how, while the world changes (believe me, change is very difficult for people with autism), the movies stay the same. I could not have put it better myself.

Parents, there is one awkward reference made in the film by Owen’s older brother Walt. It is about how to get Owen to learn about sex (being that he watches only Disney movies, obviously nothing more happens past the kiss). Aside from that reference, and some occasional swearing, the movie’s ok for Middle School and up.

While it may be obvious, I feel it should still be noted that not everyone with autism is the same. Those that have it have varying degrees. Nevertheless, if Life, Animated is not the best movie about what it is like living with autism (with the possible exception of Rain Man) , I have yet to see it.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

the-silence-of-the-lambs

Very rarely has dialogue been better than that displayed between Hopkins and Foster…

Murray: “Is it true what they’re sayin’, he’s some kinda vampire?

Starling: “They don’t have a name for what he is”.

A quarter of a century since The Silence of the Lambs was first on the big screen, and there really is still no actual name for who many consider the greatest movie villain of all time. True, you could call Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) a cannibal, but there is far more to him than that. I would argue he may be the smartest (fictional) character in cinema (the only other I would place higher would be HAL 9000.) It is only more spellbinding when you remember he is on-screen for twenty minutes or so.

For those who have not seen the movie, Lecter is not the main character. The main character is Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). As a trainee in the F.B.I., she is sent by her boss Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) to talk to Lecter. The goal: see if Lecter can help in the case of Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), a serial killer currently on the loose. Buffalo Bill is finely played by Levine, but he can’t keep up with Lecter.

The film was one of three films to win the five main Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Lead Actor, Lead Actress, and Screenplay (the others were It Happened One Night from 1934 and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest from 1975).

I offer now how it won each award. The screenplay, written by Ted Tally (based off of the book by Thomas Harris) tells a story that goes far beyond the basic find the bad guy plot thriller. It gets as deep into the psychological field of the mind of a killer as any film. For Director Jonathan Demme, he masterfully balances the time needed we need to see what we need to of Lecter and Starling. It is evident that staying with Starling more than Lecter is actually a better choice than the contrary. As for actor and actress, neither Hopkins or Foster will ever be remembered for anything more than their roles in this film. Foster is one of the best examples of courage in film (you can see her fighting her fear just by looking in her eyes). Hopkins (who said he based his performance off of Katherine Hepburn, Truman Capote, and HAL 9000) could quit acting, and cure cancer, and he would still be remembered more for playing Dr. Hannibal Lecter (just looking at him, you think “Lecter” before “Hopkins”.)

Parents, there is no secret this movie deserves its R rating: High School and above. Obviously, there is a lot of swearing (some F bombs, and the use of the four letter C word that is not crap), dialogue about sexuality (including a disturbing sequence in front of a mirror that almost shows complete male nudity for 5-10 seconds) and a LOT of violence.

Winning the Best Picture Oscar is never easy (there are a lot who did not deserve to win and a lot more that did). To date, The Silence of the Lambs is the only horror flick to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It also had some good competition as well (I have not yet seen Bugsy or The Prince of Tides, but Beauty and the Beast and JFK are still masterpieces in my book). It is clear that The Silence of the Lambs will live on as long as there are fans of horror films (both good and bad).

Ironically, the lambs will never stop screaming.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

 

 

 

Nosferatu (1922)

nosferatu

The shadow of Alfred Hitchcock was not even this creepy…

As a kid, the older a movie was, the more it intrigued me.

I yearn for the days when I thought movies depicted real life, despite how absurd the circumstances. Perhaps it was because I possibly thought that it was documenting the events as they happened. A little bit of that feeling comes to me every now and then, and it does every time I watch the orignal Nosferatu (though I know it is pure fiction).

While I have not seen every vampire flick, I doubt any are as artistic or influential as the original Nosferatu. It is almost a century old, but has survived as the quintisential horror flick about vampires. At the time of its release, it was panned (by Bram Stoker’s widow) for being a rip off of his classic Dracula. Director F.W. Murnau could not get the rights, so they changed the names of the characters.

Thankfully, the film survives, and teaches us that being a vampire is not something one would aspire to be. We know th e rules of being a vampire: they die in sunlight, they can’t get near garlic or a cross, they drink blood, etc. Yet in this film, being a vampire is not the equivalent of being a hunky guy with his shirt off (as of this writing, I have not seen any of the Twilight films, nor desire to). Being a vampire is more of a disease, and if you don’t believe me, look into the eyes of Count Orlok (with an immortal performance by Max Schreck).

The story is relatively simple: Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) is sent off to Transylvania to talk to Orlok about buying a house opposite him and his wife Ellen (Greta Schroeder). When Orlok returns, all goes horribly haywire.

You may be wondering if a movie over ninety years old can still be scary. Probably not as much as it was when first released. Yet there are still some creepy moments. There is one scene in particular where the Count sees a picture of Ellen and comments “Your wife has a beautiful neck!”.

I don’t care how old the movie is, or whatever the circumstances maybe. When a dude says your wife has a beautiful neck, get yourself (and your wife) as far away as possible from that person. It is beyond creepy.

Parents, the movie is probably ok for kids seven and up. I mean, the movie is a vampire movie, but keep in mind it is from the 1920s. There is hardly any blood (there are some swears, but not any big ones.)

All in all, like a vampire, this film will live on (even in sunlight). The artistry is revolutionary, the music sublime (it reminded me of when I first truly discovered zombies playing the original Resident Evil game at nine years old), and the overall effect spot on terrifying.

Nosferatu is a film to quench any film lover’s thirst for movies.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

adventures of robin hood

Errol Flynn is still the definitive Robin Hood.

For the life of me, I still find it hard to believe that the original choice for Robin Hood was James Cagney. While he was undoubtably talented and remains one of Hollywood’s greatest legendary stars, The Adventures of Robin Hood would have been a totally different movie. Fortunately, he walked out, and in stepped the pinnacle of swashbucklers, Errol Flynn.

While I have not seen all of the films based off of the mythical archer, I still say this film is the best. True, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves  (1991) did at least have a great villain played by Alan Rickman (which almost overshadowed the horrible accent by Kevin Costner in the title role), the Disney film from 1973 is still very underrated, and I have heard ok things about the 2010 film with Russel Crowe. Still, no one could have brought the swashbuckling charm like Flynn did back in the day (besides, who else could enter the castle by beating up the guards with a deer carcass? Exactly.)

The story is virtually known to everyone: Robin Hood (Flynn) is an outlaw after King Richard (Ian Hunter) is out on his crusade and his brother Prince John (Claude Rains, one of the best supporting actors of the golden age) is put in charge. His taxation of the people knows no bounds. Helped by Sir Guy of Gisboure (Basil Rathbone, of course), only Robin Hood (and the merry men) of Sherwood stand in their way.

In the scene where Robin Hood enters with the deer to the dining hall, Flynn’s charisma is on full display. He owns the entire room, carrying for no one in the room. That is, of course, until he meets Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland, who, at the time of this review, is still alive at the ripe age of 100). That they fall for each other goes without question.

Most film buffs (myself included) agree that the best year in movies was 1939, giving us such films as Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, both landmarks in progressing color films. The Adventures of Robin Hood was made a year earlier and in Technicolor. It is truly a glorious film to behold even before you consider the story. The colors of the film jump out at you as much as the action on-screen.

Parents, this film is ok for any kid who can sit through a movie. There is action, some characters die, but there is no blood. It might also be a bit educational in a way: you get to see a film where the actors are actually doing the action themselves.

Originally, a sequel was going to be planned, but World War Two occurred, and by the end, the actors were no longer members at Warner Brothers. The only true problem with the film is that I wanted more. Directed by Michael Curtiz (who would later go on to do classics like Yankee Doodle Dandy and Casablanca), it truly is too short of a film. When it comes to great action, wonderful visuals, stellar performances, and grand storytelling, The Adventures of Robin Hood is a bullseye every time you watch it.

As the man himself might say, “Fluently”.

Overall: Five Stars *****