Monday, October 29, 2012

My Top Ten Halloween Movies

People like reading lists, right? I mean, they have websites dedicated to lists, so FINE! Here's my attempt at a top ten list! Since it is Halloween and all, I'm going to do a top ten list of my favorite Halloween type movies. I was considering calling it my top ten favorite scary movies, but there were too many that were funny movies that just happened to be about ghosts or zombies. Go figure! So, I have changed it to Halloween, because I love being vague. Enjoy!

10. Shadow of the Vampire

I am a sucker for movies about making movies. They just appeal to me. So it would make sense that Shadow of the Vampire would be my kind of movie. I didn't hear about this movie until last year, but it's been out since 2000. Chances are that you haven't heard about it either, since it kind of flew under everyone's radar only making $11 million in theaters. The plot centers around the making of the silent movie, Nosferatu. Anyone familiar with Nosferatu knows that it was just a ripoff of Dracula since they couldn't get the rights at that time. Anyway, John Malkovich's character, the director of said film, wants his production to be as close as possible to the real thing, so much so that he finds a real vampire to play Nosferatu's vampire, Count Orlok. I won't go anymore into the movie, but just know that it is definitely worth a watch, if only for Willem Dafoe's magnificent recreation of Nosferatu's Count Orlok. 

9. Beetlejuice

If I remember correctly, I watched the TV show version of Beetlejuice many times before I finally saw the movie version. I'll just say that the dynamic was a little bit different. Nevertheless, I love this movie. It definitely has that Tim Burton flair. The plot revolves around a recently deceased couple who are having trouble with the people that have moved into their old house. They unwittingly unleash the devious "bio-exorcist" Betelguese (that's how is name is actually spelled, like the star. The movie title is the phonetic spelling.) on the new owners and chaos ensues. The highlight of the movie is Betelguese, played by Micheal "I'm Batman" Keaton. Keaton literally has a little less than 18 minutes on screen, but believe me when I say that he utilizes every minute of it. It's a twisted comedy from the mind of Tim Burton, and one of his better films. 

8. Halloween

Halloween in my mind is the slasher film. It's not the first slasher film, but it's probably one of the more well known ones. People who have seen other slasher movies, especially newer ones, and then watch this for the first time may find it a little predictable and cliche, but that's because every slasher film has copied this movie. The movie follows Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode, a high school babysitter, who, along with her friends, are terrorized by a speechless and seemingly indestructible killer named Micheal Myers. This confused me at first when I was a child, since there was the scary Micheal Myers, and the funny one from SNL. This is another movie that I didn't watch until a few years ago when it randomly came on TV during October. This is a classic slasher film that hits all the right notes. It just feels real, and it does a great job of building up the suspense as the movie goes on. Random fun fact about this movie: the Micheal Myers mask is just a William Shatner mask that had the hair removed and the whole thing spray painted white. 

7. 28 Days Later

Just another zombie movie? I think not. Danny Boyle decided to turn the zombie genre on its head by making the zombies a little bit different from the ones that people were used to seeing. Instead of radioactivity from a space probe like in Night of the Living Dead, or a mysterious gas like Return of the Living Dead, the zombies in this movie are made from a virus called "Rage." Oh, and these zombies aren't slow like the ones you may be used to seeing, they are fast as hell. The beginning is probably the best part of this movie. Just watching Cillian Murphy's Jim walk around an abandoned London makes me shiver. The mood is perfect. I don't know how else to put it. I don't know what else to say about the movie, except that I like the first half a bit better than the second. Don't get me wrong, its a great film, but some parts in the second act just seem out of place. 

6. Psycho

From this point on, you can basically lump all these movies together, because they are all basically perfect in my book. They are all different kinds of scary stories though. Psycho is under the old classic category. But I also find it the scariest out of all the entries. Everything about this Hitchcock tale is extremely terrifying to me. An out of the way motel, a strange motel manager, tons of taxidermy on the walls, a mysteriously absent mother. I won't spoil anything here, unlike in my Psycho review. You should already know the shower scene, and if you don't, then you must be living under a rock. Actually, you are fortunate for not seeing it, because after I saw it for the first time I basically had to have my bathroom on lock-down in order to feel safe inside a shower. If you want an older horror movie for the Halloween season, this is the perfect choice. Suspense, mystery, and murder!

5. Shaun of the Dead

This "Zom-Com" can be watched any time of the year, but why not during the Halloween season. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play best friends trying to survive in a zombie apocalypse. It parodies all the Romero zombie movies, even in the title which is an obvious homage to Romero's Dawn of the Dead. This was my first Pegg/Frost film and it is in my opinion the best one. It's a funny movie that knows when to throw in a bit of heart, but also when to throw in a literal heart. Just because its a comedy doesn't mean its not gory. It's a zombie pic! What do you expect!? If you want something for the season, but want to laugh, look no further than this British comedy classic. 

4. Ghostbusters

Yeah, yeah, another comedy. I was torn which to put at 4, and which to put at 5, but Ghostbusters is too much of a classic. This movie will never not be funny to me. This is another one that you can watch anytime and it's good. It fits the season because of the whole ghost thing, but it's truly a comedy for all seasons. You all know the plot: Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Ackroyd, and Ernie Hudson are the Ghostbusters, and they do just that. This is probably Bill Murray's funniest movie, but I'm sure someone will argue with me on that. As funny as the movie is, it still has some legitimately scary parts. I was super scared of the ghost librarian as a child. And I'm sure I had nightmares about the beast versions of the Gatekeeper and the Keymaster. I could go on and on about this movie, so I'll just stop here and offer this movie up as another alternative to any truly scary movie for Halloween. 

3. Alien

Alien is a masterpiece. It freaks me out every time I watch it, and I love it. The whole movie is so claustrophobic and suspenseful that it makes me antsy. They are literally trapped on this ship in the middle of space with a hostile alien. Alien movies aren't typically thought of as Halloween type movies, but I would say that this movie is just as worthy as any movie. There's a killer, it's in a secluded area, people get picked off one-by-one. Sounds like a classic slasher-like movie, minus the slash. Like Halloween, Alien's protagonist is a woman, played by Sigourney Weaver. It's refreshing to see a female lead in a horror movie, especially one that kicks so much ass. Well, not as much in this movie as in the sequels, but she does her fair share. One of the greatest horror movies of all time, and one of the best movies period. 

2. The Thing

Another John Carpenter film, the other being Halloween, this dealt with scientists in the Antarctic. That's not so scary, right? Oh, I forgot to mention the part about the extraterrestrial parasite that assimilates other organisms and is in turn able to imitate them. That's right, these researchers are stuck at a ice station with an alien that can look like any one of them. As you can imagine, this causes mass paranoia among the group and things escalate quickly. The movie is actually a remake of the 1951 film The Thing from Another World, which is the movie everyone is watching in Halloween. This is one of my favorite scary movies because it's premise is just that good. Who can you trust? The alien could be anybody. The suspense is unbearable. I love it, though. I'll warn you though, this is kind of an intense movie. Lots of gore, mutations, and scary images, so if you aren't into those things, I would go for a lighter Halloween movie. 

1. Evil Dead II

OK, so this was a hard one. Not between this and The Thing, but between this movie and its predecessor, The Evil Dead. I really want to put both of them, because I love them both so much, but there can be only one! The Evil Dead is a low-budget masterpiece that was straight horror. It's got great makeup, gore effects, and camera work. What it doesn't have that II has is comedy, well intentional comedy at least. I heard a ton of laughs at a midnight showing of The Evil Dead last year. I don't know, I just have a harder time recommending the first film to people because it's just so different. The tree part also has a little bit to do with it. II has a bigger budget, better acting, and a bigger role for the greatest B-movie actor of all time, Bruce Campbell. Campbell's Ash was the hero in the first film, but he's kind of a woos. He got stuck under bookcases a lot. In the second film, he has attitude and he's not gonna go down without a fight. The second film literally rewrites the first film in the first ten minutes. So, it's kind of a remake of the first film, but not really. Anyway, Ash is tormented by The Book of the Dead. He plays a tape player of an archaeology professor reciting passages from said book and it unleashes an evil force. This evil possesses his friends and it's up to Ash to banish the evil once and for all. The humor in the movie definitely has a Three Stooges vibe to it. That's the best way to describe it. The movie can be just plain silly sometimes, than the next second, something completely messed up happens. That's Evil Dead II. Funny and messed up. This is another film I could go on and on about but I'll save that for another post. If I had to label this under any specific horror genre, I guess it would have to be the zombie genre. This movie is too hard to define, you'll just have to check it out for yourself. Have a great Halloween!

Friday, October 5, 2012

My Halloween

Anyone that knows me pretty well knows that I love Halloween. Always have, always will. When I was a kid, it wasn't about the candy so much as it was about the experience of it all. Being able to go out one night a year and dress up as something spooky was good enough for me. The candy was just an added bonus. Where did my love of Halloween come from? Well, I don't really remember, but I kind of associate it with my father. My dad has always enjoyed all the spookiness of Halloween too, so I'm sure his enthusiasm just rubbed off on me. My parents always decorated the house for Halloween, with paper cutouts of ghosts, witches, and other assorted spooks. So, I basically grew up around it. It's not just the night of Halloween either, but the whole month of October, and basically anything spooky. I could ride The Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World a million times and not get sick of it. I love scary stories, and every once in a while, a good scary movie. So this is basically just going to be a little walk through of my obsession with Halloween.

The best tradition as a kid always is going out trick-or-treating. Like I said, I loved the candy and everything, but it was the night itself that was exciting for me. What other night could I walk around a strange neighborhood in the dark while being dressed up? No other, because I'm pretty sure you'd get picked up by the cops. There was a certain magic to it. Halloween night is always a special one, and I can't rightly say why at the moment. It's out of the ordinary is all I can say. I could dress up, be something scary like a ghost, or harmless like a clown (I know some of you find clowns terrifying so I'm sorry), and pretend for a while that the neighborhood I was in was inhabited by all these other mystifying creatures that you could see no other time. It was always best when it was not too cold, as my mother would often make me wear a coat over my costume if it was too cold, and not raining. Rain did not make everything spookier, just wetter. The neighborhoods we visited would change from year to year, but we always went to my Great Aunt and Uncle's house in Highland to get some candy and visit. I didn't have that much of a sweet tooth as a child and I still don't. That being said, I still loved having a haul of candy at the end of the night. My parents, like everybody's, stole some of the good stuff, but there were enough goodies left to consider the night a success. The best houses were the ones that gave out actual full sized candy bars. Those were the rich people who just wanted to do something nice for the kids. God bless em'! Another rare treat was a can of pop. That only happened a few times in my childhood, but oh man was it ever awesome. Thanks to that, I could walk around for an extra hour and not feel tired! But for the most part it was fun size candy bars, licorice, hard candy, pennies (I hated this), and popcorn balls. And there was always that one nut-job that gave you a toothbrush. Every neighborhood has to have a dentist. Jerks. I would thank you kindly to let me rot my teeth. The modes for carrying around the loot changed throughout the years, and is oddly specific to my generation. McDonald's came out with these trick-or-treat buckets in the late eighties, early nineties that had a ghost, a witch, and a pumpkin. Man I loved these things, and almost every kid had one. The problem was they were too darn small and you'd fill it up with candy too fast. We used to have to run back to the car to dump out our full pails. As I became older, I had to resort to a pillow case. Not as spooky or fun, but hey, it held a ton of candy.

My parents were great not only because they took us trick-or-treating, or that they decorated the house, but also because they taped a bunch of awesome Halloween specials. Every Halloween we would watch these specials, and they were probably the best things ever. You have the classic Garfield's Halloween Adventure. Garfield and Odie go out trick-or-treating, only to run into a bunch of pirate ghosts...or is it ghost pirates? The Real Ghostbusters had an episode called "The Halloween Door" and it dealt with this old dude trying to get rid of Halloween. He went even as far as creating a device that makes Halloween associated things disappear. Geez, someone's a killjoy. Well it turns out that he releases a bunch of demons in the process and the Ghostbusters have to stop them and bring peace back to Halloween night. Fun episode, and it has a lot of little bits of history on Halloween. Everybody watched It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, as it is a classic alongside the Charlie Brown Christmas special. The whole episode is genius, but I love anything that had to do with Snoopy. My all time favorite thing to watch though was Disney's Halloween Treat. It was a TV special that came out in 1982, I believe, and all it was was a bunch of old Disney cartoons that had to do with Halloween. It was all narrated by this jack-o-lantern puppet too, which had this kind of creepy voice. My favorite part of the whole special was the headless horseman chase from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. That story creeps me out, but is still one of my favorite Halloween stories. Oh, and Night on Bald Mountain. So awesome. I'm unusual because I've basically watched those specials every single year. I literally just watched the Ghostbusters one today. It's a stupid tradition, but I love these old videos.

I'm pretty serious about Halloween. I've decorated for it ever since I was old enough, except for this one year back in middle school. I'm not sure what my deal was. I think it was in that transition where I thought Halloween could only be enjoyed by kids, and since I was a little older, I wasn't supposed to like Halloween. I must have gotten over that, because my love for the holiday is going strong! I've even had a Halloween party every single year since the beginning of high school. I like to get the most out of the whole month by trying to watch some scary movies, maybe play a creepy game like Castlevania or Zombies Ate my Nieghbors, and read a few scary stories. I don't think I'll ever recapture the wonder I had as a child during this season, but it's still fun to try and get into the festivities. I see people that put a lot of emphasis on Christmas, and I get it, it's a fun holiday. However, I put as much energy into Halloween. I may not fully decorate my house and the outside, but I like to live the season. Yes, I realize that I am a crazy person, as Halloween is not typically one of the holidays that people go all out for, but that's just who I am. The one thing that I have never been able to do on Halloween is hand out candy. My parents house, and all the previous places I lived in weren't conducive to handing out treats to kids. I don't know why I want to do it so badly, but I think it has to do with just being able to see all the kids in their costumes and seeing how much fun everyone is having on the holiday. Plus it gives my wife and I an excuse for buying tons of candy! Now that we have a house in a subdivision, my dream will finally be realized!

So please enjoy the month, as I always have. Go out and see a scary movie, or watch one at home. Go to a haunted attraction, or a corn maze. Just do something fall related! It's the best season of all, so you might as well go enjoy it at an apple orchard or something! Hope I've given some of you some holiday cheer, or at least brought back some Halloween memories.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Hunger Games Review

This is not one of those reviews where I will tiptoe around key plot points. I will go into every nook and cranny (whatever those are), so if you haven't seen the movie yet, then don't read on. I warned you. So, I wasn't able to go to the midnight premiere of The Hunger Games, but I did make it to a Friday night IMAX show. I honestly didn't think about it being IMAX while I was watching. I think you really have to just go to a regular IMAX theater like at The Henry Ford to get the real "bigger than you would ever need it" feeling. So was it worth the extra couple dollars? Ehhhh. We mostly went for it for the convenient time, not the luxury. Now, before I get to the movie, a little blurb on the previews. I don't know about all of you, but I can't wait for Ridley Scott's Prometheus to come out. The Avengers and MIB:III all look like good summer fun, but I may have to sit out Tim Burton's adaptation of Dark Shadows. It just looks too odd. Which is weird, because I usually really like Burton movies. I've watched the show that it's based off of and it doesn't look anything like it. Oh well. On to the film!

So, first thing I'm going to say is that I did like this film a lot. It deserves all the praise it has been getting and it stays pretty close to the book. What I'm going to do throughout most of this review is nit-pick, because the movie is that good to where the only thing you can do is point out all of the minor flaws. And yes, I have read all the books, so I'll give my two cents on things they left out or changed. I liked the opening of the movie, it set the stage nicely and allowed the uninitiated to not be completely in the dark about what was going on. I thought Katniss' relationship with Prim was portrayed very well in the pre-reaping, with the director taking liberties with the mockingjay pin to build up the sisterly bond. Did I mind that they totally scrapped Madge? Nah, she wasn't necessary, and I think it was important to emphasize the sister's dedication to each other. The scenes with Gale were OK. I feel like they could of built up that relationship a little bit. I mean, they are supposed to be soul mates and they just seem a little playful in the movie. The whole reaping scene was perfect-o. The beaten down look on everyone's faces, the eerie stillness in the air, and the sense of dread that is all over Prim. Enter Effie, whose cheeriness seems very out of place against the white-washed stage. Elizabeth Banks played Effie very well, to the point where I didn't think about her being Effie, but that the person there was Effie herself. Anyway, the scene that really hit me was when Effie calls out Prim's name. Everyone kind of backs away from her (and Peeta too when his name is called) as if she has an incredibly contagious disease and she looks around as if she isn't really sure if this is a dream or not. Is she just having a recurring dream or has her worst fear been realized? She snaps out of it long enough to tuck in her duck tail and heads towards the stage before Katniss intervenes and blah blah blah. We all saw the part in the previews. Anyway, its sad and we all know it. Good job, movie.

A few things missing from the beginning: The fleeing Avox girl and boy are gone. This is also not a huge loss and I can see why they ditched it. Katniss thinks about the Avox girl a lot in the book, and it would have been hard to translate that to the movie screen. There is also little to no explanation about why they have to put their names in several times or what that gives them. It's said by Katniss very quickly before she leaves, but if I didn't know what was going on, I probably would have missed it.

On the train we finally hear from Peeta and it's right then that I realized that perhaps Josh Hutcherson wasn't the best choice for Peeta. I really didn't like him throughout the movie. Peeta was borderline worthless in the first book, which is why I didn't really like him until a little ways into Catching Fire. Hutcherson just played him as being this dull idiot who meant well. Oh, and he was super whiny. Don't hate on me yet, Team Peeta, as I'm all for him, but he wasn't portrayed well in this film. Someone who was portrayed well was Haymitch. Woody Harrelson is Haymitch, end of discussion. All the capital scenes played out pretty much how I imagined them, with people wearing tons of different colors and all looking like hipsters. Cinna was oddly the only person in the prep team who has a lot of screen time. The others are seen for maybe ten seconds. They'll be along in the next film, trust me. They are too pivotal in the third book to be left out completely. I though Lenny Kravitz did a fine job as Cinna. He played him basically how I thought he'd be in real life.

A few good things about having a movie based on The Hunger Games is that we get to see things through more eyes than one. In the book, we only see things through Katniss' eyes and hear her thoughts. With a movie, we can see scenes with Haymitch, Seneca Crane, and President Snow, even though they are not sharing a scene with Katniss. It was fun to see Haymitch helping his team out by going and talking to sponsors, because in the book it seemed like he wasn't doing anything at all (though he was). The only trade-off is that we do not have Katniss' thoughts. We don't hear her think about her relationship with Gale or her confusion with how she feels for Peeta. We don't hear her thoughts on the Avox girl, or her close studying of Foxface, or her fear that she may have to kill Rue if it comes to it. That's why when it really comes down to it, books are just a bit better than movies. I really felt that I understood Katniss and her struggles in the books. It's harder for me to say the same thing for the movie. I don't know, maybe it's just me.

OK, now for the arena. It was just as bloody and violent as I hoped it would be. That makes me sound like a horrible person. What I meant to say is that I'm glad that they didn't sanitize all the violence from the book. It still had kids getting sliced up, beaten, and not to mention eaten. Best deaths go to the male tribute from District 3 who gets his neck snapped by Cato, and my all time favorite death is Clove getting her head bashed in by Thresh. She totally deserved it! I'm glad they kept the scene where she is fighting with the boy for the backpack at the beginning of the arena.
I'm not sure why I like this part so much but it just shows how real the whole thing was, that Katniss was a backpack away from getting a knife in the face in the first minute. The whole thing with Rue is beautiful, if not tragic at the same time. Cato was much more menacing than I thought he was going to be. I saw a picture of the actor before seeing the movie and I thought he wasn't going to pull it off. He just looked...well...not scary. He pulled it off though. But how is he the "main villain" for the movie? Sure he lasted the longest, but he didn't really come close to killing Katniss. Hell, Clove almost killed her twice! She should have been the main villain. Too bad she got cornucopia'd. Yeah, so the whole Peeta-Katniss cave scene: yuck. I didn't like that part in the book either. It was too awkward and honestly cringe worthy. As soon as Peeta started talking about how he should have gone out to her in the rain that one day and given her the bread, I started rolling my eyes. Their relationship was just not believable and Peeta shouldn't have been fooled for a second.

Foxface always intrigued me in the book. She was that tribute that I figured would either help Katniss, or would end up being her foil. It turns out it's neither, but she isn't even mentioned until ten minutes before the credits roll. That was a little odd. The mutts were...well....just big dogs, as I guess it would have been hard to show that they were supposed to represent the dead tributes. I guess if they would of focused more on the tributes eyes and then showed the mutts eyes? Nah, too much work for something that wasn't that important. I honestly didn't like the cornucopia scene at the end. It just wasn't as suspenseful as the book. Instead of Cato running out of the woods being chased by the mutts, he's already on the cornucopia. Then Cato throws both of them around for awhile until Katniss shoots his hand and he's knocked over into a gang of Meh. It was alright, but not exactly what I expected. I kind of wish Peeta had actually done something during the games. Sure he warns Katniss and gets slashed because of it, but the rest of the time he is just kind of there. Katniss killed Marvel, Glimmer, and Cato (kind of, Peeta helped), while Peeta unwittingly killed Foxface. I just never got the feeling that Peeta was ever really protecting Katniss, but that she protected him. Oh, and one last change from the books is that Thresh was killed by the mutts instead of Cato. Fine.

My biggest gripe with this great movie was the very end. Here is the end of the book:

""It was all for the games," he says. "How you acted."
Not all of it,” I say, tightly holding onto my flowers.
“Then how much? No, forget that. I guess the real question is what’s going to be left when we get home?” he says.
“I don’t know. The closer we get to District Twelve, the more confused I get,” I say. He waits, for further explanation, but none’s forthcoming.
“Well, let me know when you work it out,” he says, and the pain in his voice is palpable.""
Heartbreaking, right? It's also a fantastic ending to the book. The movie says somewhat the same thing, but only shorter and lacks any emotion. She says she wants to forget everything, and he says he doesn't. That's it. I didn't like it. It didn't even seemed like he got that she was playing him to keep them alive. So, not the best ending in my book. So, the movie had some disappointing parts, but it had a hell of a lot of good parts to make up for it. Sure they left out some things or didn't explain other things, but it all worked out in the end. Right? What did you think of the film? Better or worse than the book? Me, I say the book was better. The movie was great, but it lacked the satirical edge that the book had, and I felt more invested in Katniss while reading it. I give the film a B+. It's sure to please both fans and outsiders alike!