Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Synopsis: Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2527336/?ref_=ttqt_qt_tt

Who chose it: Both of us

Why we chose it: Obvious reasons.


Brent’s Review:

And now we come upon a movie we’ve been waiting two years to see: “Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi”. Before jumping into the main review, let me just get a few spoiler-free praises out of the way. 1) This film has Mark Hamill’s best performance as Luke, 2) it has the most beautiful shot since “Star Wars” when Luke stared into the double sunset on Tattooine, and 3) it has the most satisfying climax of any Star Wars film. However, it’s hard to discuss this film without moving quickly into heavy spoilers. If you’re remotely interested I would encourage you to see it now and read this later.

Fans are split on this film. This split seems to be in two camps: Star Wars purists who object to Rian Johnson’s treatment of the material and those who don’t much care about the integrity of the Star Wars universe. For myself, I don’t necessarily care about the integrity of the Star Wars universe, but I have some opinions about what should and shouldn’t be in a Star Wars film. I’m critical of some things “The Last Jedi” included, but nothing I can’t forgive in a well-made film.

“The Force Awakens” ended with a myriad of questions, but the two notable questions that seemed to be on everyone’s mind were 1) what will Luke do with the lightsaber and 2) who are Rey’s parents? “The Last Jedi” answers these two questions with plot foils and even plays one for laughs. I’ve read a dozen reviews that all skewer Johnson for his choice to have Luke discard the lightsaber, but I thought that was both brilliant and makes sense for his character. The latter spoiler – that Rey’s parents aren’t even significant enough to have names – was a great foil to the criticisms that Star Wars was retreading familiar territory with another lineage reveal.

And it is here where we find the point of this film. Luke refuses (initially) to teach Rey in the ways of the Force because “it is time for the Jedi to end.” “The Last Jedi” promises to be the last traditional Star Wars film. Midway through the movie, Master Yoda (in his ghostly visage) burns down the Jedi tree. After this, the film embarks on an expectations-subverting third act in which Emperor Snoke is quickly killed, Rey’s parents are confirmed to be nobodies, and the climax is only a diversion for the rebels to escape.

I thought each of these choices were brilliant because of the way they promise to lead us into new territory. Critics of “Force Awakens” chirped that Starkiller Base was just another Death Star (they were right), but the response to “The Last Jedi” makes me wonder if those same fans are upset with the way expectations were challenged in this film. Either way, I never thought killing the past of Star Wars would be so satisfying. I couldn’t be happier with what Rian Johnson has done with this franchise in this chapter.

Leah’s Review:

“The Last Jedi”, the eighth installment in the Star Wars franchise, had a lot to live up to. Its predecessor, “The Force Awakens”, met many fans’ expectations by presenting an exciting new story with plenty of nostalgic references. But “The Last Jedi” had the pressure of not only being just as satisfying, but also raising the bar.

The film has been met with more varied reactions than any other Star Wars film. Many viewers praised it, but it’s also received criticism from die-hard fans. For my review, I will focus on what I loved about this film. Warning: Spoilers ahead!

It has substance. I love the other Star Wars films (prequels not included), but they are pure adventure movies with clean-cut messages about good and evil. “The Last Jedi” actually introduces some complicated concepts that give the story more depth. Maybe good and evil isn’t so black-and-white after all.

The women are badasses. The treatment of women’s’ characters in the Star Wars franchise has been disappointing. Leia was definitely a strong character in the originals, but she didn’t get much screen time or character development and basically became eye candy (gold bikini anyone?). And I won’t even get started on Padmé. We get to see a stronger female character in Rey in “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi”, more screen time from Leia (who is not only strong in the Force, but a damn good general), and new characters Rose Tico and Admiral Holdo. Each of these women are strong-willed, intelligent, and play vital parts in keeping the Resistance alive.

Mark Hamill. I’ll admit- I never thought Hamill was great actor. Some of his scenes in the original Star Wars films are downright cringe-worthy. But it’s clear that he’s grown as an actor. In “The Last Jedi”, Hamill gives the best performance of his career and is easily one of highlights of the film.

Rey’s parents are nobodies. At first, this revelation was as much of a letdown for me as it was for the fans who criticized this plot twist. Many speculated that Rey was the daughter of Han Solo or even Luke. We want Rey’s parents to be someone– but they’re not. What’s brilliant about this? It defies our expectations (Much like we were shocked to discover that Luke’s father was Darth Vader). It also introduces the idea that the Force can be inside anyone- regardless of where they came from.

This is not your mom’s Star Wars movie.“The Last Jedi” takes its own advice: “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.” The film retains much of the Star Wars nostalgia, but without the tropes and predictability that “The Force Awakens” was guilty of. The story is different and masterfully told. Risks were taken and they paid off in a big way.

I loved this movie. It was brilliant, fresh, and felt like Star Wars without being copy-and-paste. My advice? Watch it with an open mind and watch it twice.


Up next: Another Wes Anderson film is on deck- “The Royal Tenenbaums”. Which Leah thought was very fitting for Christmas time until she learned that this was not the same thing as Tannenbaums.

Peace out, kids. 

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There Will Be Blood (2007)

Synopsis: A story of family, religion, hatred, oil and madness, focusing on a turn-of-the-century prospector in the early days of the business.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0469494/?ref_=ttfc_fc_tt

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: This is one of my favorite movies and I’ve been trying for a couple of years to get Leah to see it, to no avail. So I decided to think up this whole calendar thing as a ploy to get her to finally watch it; success!


Brent’s Review:

Daniel Plainview is a rotten excuse for a human being. If you think that sounds harsh, consider that this would either at best be taken by him as a compliment or he wouldn’t actually care what I said. Singularly focused on expanding his oil drilling company, Plainview will do or say literally anything to get ahead.

“I have a competition in me,” he confides to his long lost brother. “I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people… I want to earn enough money I can get away from everyone.”

Paul Thomas Anderson’s career began with a duo of hits: Boogie Nights and then Magnolia, which appeared earlier on our film calendar. After the very underrated Punch-Drunk Love, PTA delivered his magnum opus in There Will Be Blood. Loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s novel “Oil!”, this film centers on the Plainview character from the first to last frames.

To whom does Plainview belong? Daniel Day-Lewis, my favorite leading actor. Day-Lewis is my favorite leading actor because of this performance, which is the most masterful leading performance I can summon not only because of its ability to use silence and gestures to communicate an inner torment that cannot be explained, but also because of the high-wire act the character must perform in order to make the movie work. If Day-Lewis slips just but once, the film begins to fall apart. He doesn’t, it doesn’t, and it was worthy of his second Academy Award win.

The ensemble delivers noteworthy performances, no one taking away from the overall acting quality of the film. Paul Dano in particular shines in the dual roles of Paul and Eli Sunday, the latter of which becomes Plainview’s nemesis throughout the film.

There Will Be Blood is an epic that plays itself like a tight drama. The narrative springs forward with urgency, but the film’s pace lingers. The film is beautifully photographed (earning its other Oscar win), but the beauty in the frame is often of great menace: burning oil derricks, or perhaps spillers of the titular blood. Even Day-Lewis’ performance as the despicable Plainview presents his character in contrast with his charisma. These competing elements create a great unease for the audience, pulling us forward and backward, in and out. The film’s climax would be flat if not for these elements, but their presence in the film makes the payoff a delight of film.

While filming, There Will Be Blood neighbored the production of No Country For Old Men and actually forced a delayed in their filming while testing some pyrotechnics. The latter film won Best Picture, the former a clear runner-up in my opinion. I prefer There Will Be Blood, personally, but I recognize that it’s merely a result of my personal preference. It was unfortunately timing to release them in the same year because they’re both modern classics. Both should be seen, but There Will Be Blood should be seen with more haste.

It’s available for free streaming on Amazon Prime. Watch it.

 

Leah’s Review:

From the first few seconds of its haunting soundtrack, “There Will Be Blood” captures the attention of the viewer and does not relinquish its hold until the very last scene. It certainly captured my attention- in a way that few movies have. I was completely spellbound throughout the entirety of the story despite its plot revolving around a horrible man who does horrible things.

“There Will Be Blood” plays very much like a stage play. It was, in fact, inspired by an Upton Sinclair novel called “Oil!”. Complimented beautifully by Robert Elswit’s stunning cinematography and Jonny Greenwood’s (who also happens to be a member of Radiohead- undoubtedly another reason Brent loves this film so much) interesting and intense soundtrack- the film is an absolute masterpiece in every way that a movie can be.

The film centers on Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day-Lewis), an oil man who will do anything (and I mean anything) to be rich and successful in his field. Of course, Daniel encounters many obstacles including the physical dangers of oil rigging, complicated family dynamics, religion, and jealous competitors. “There Will Be Blood” is not exactly a fast-paced story (there’s not even any spoken dialogue until fourteen minutes in), but it is a captivating one.

Of course, the centerpiece of this film is Daniel Day-Lewis. I’m ashamed to admit that the only film I had ever seen Day-Lewis in before this was one of his more recent and acclaimed movies, 2012’s “Lincoln” (I’m sure once Brent finds this out, he’ll divorce me). Day-Lewis is known for being a method actor and completely disappearing into the characters he plays. This role is no different. There is no Day-Lewis. There is only Daniel Plainview.

Day-Lewis gives a thoroughly incredible performance in this film, but I also must mention the impressive acting of Paul Dano. Aside from this film, Dano is probably most famous for his portrayal of Dwayne from 2006’s “Little Miss Sunshine”- in which he gives a very different but just as memorable performance as Eli Sunday in “There Will Be Blood”. Dano is an underrated actor; behind a seemingly quiet facade, he’s a powerful and intense performer.

There are so many things I could talk about with “There Will Be Blood”, but something that I found interesting about it is that Daniel Plainview gets what he wants in the end. He states his intentions mid-way through the film: “I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people… I want to earn enough money I can get away from everyone.” As we watch, we realize that Daniel is more a villain than the protagonist of the film- and we don’t expect him to succeed. But he gets everything he desired to have. Even after pushing everything and everyone away from him, after every terrible thing he’s done- he wins. There will be no justice in this story. There will only be blood.

This film is a knockout. See it.


Up next: We bought our tickets to see Star Wars tonight, so… let the countdown begin!

Peace out, kids.

The Conversation (1974)

Synopsis: A paranoid, secretive surveillance expert has a crisis of conscience when he suspects that a couple, on whom he is spying, will be murdered.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071360/

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: I’d been interested in this film for some time since it was directed by the man who made “The Godfather” and co-stars John Cazale, who doesn’t have a bad film on his IMDB credit page. I thought this challenge would be as good a time as any to check it out.


Leah’s Review:

I’m not sure what our obsession with surveillance films is (maybe that says something about us), but “The Conversation” was the third and final film of this genre on our watch list. With “Cache” and “The Lives of Others” being as good as they were- I had high hopes for this 1974 flick starring Gene Hackman (and even featuring a baby-faced pre-Star Wars Harrison Ford!).

“The Conversation” is definitely the most subtle of the three films. Much like “The Lives of Others” it focuses on the surveiller, Harry Caul (Hackman). Like Wiesler, Caul lives a lonely and secretive life. He is one of the best phone-tappers in the country (it’s alluded to that he even did a job for the Attorney General), and he takes his job seriously.

After learning that the couple he is currently spying on could be in danger of being murdered- Caul becomes conflicted on whether or not he should get involved (another similarity to “The Lives of Others”). One of Caul’s past jobs resulted in the murder of two individuals and it’s clear he was never able to quite shake that. Hackman’s performance is definitely the highlight of this film as he disappears into the paranoid, obsessive, and sensitive character that is Harry Caul.

I found “The Conversation” to be slow and not as engaging as the other films of the same genre. The exception to this being the last 15 minutes in which a significant twist is revealed. It’s not that the movie wasn’t good, I just found myself not very engaged. This surprised me considering the director and writer was Francis Ford Coppola who has made a plethora of masterpiece films. So maybe there’s something to this film that I didn’t quite “get” or appreciate.

All in all, I thought “The Conversation” was an okay film. I wouldn’t encourage or discourage anyone from watching it- I probably won’t feel the need to watch it again.

Brent’s Review:

Paranoia is powerful. It can make you see things that aren’t really there, hear things unsaid, or become convinced of things that have no basis in reality. Enter “The Conversation.”

“The Conversation” is Francis Ford Coppola’s passion project and Gene Hackman’s favorite films of his own (according to IMDB trivia), so this film is clearly underrated – and it is good.

This film follows Harry Caul (Hackman), who is a freelance surveillance expert. He is very secretive and isolated; he doesn’t care why the people who use his services are interested in their targets, he only cares about getting high quality recordings. This is all true, that is, until he has a questionable interaction with an associate’s assistant (Harrison Ford) that leads him to suspect ill intent for his most recent targets. Upon actually listening to the content of his tapes, he suspects they are targets of murder.

The rest of this review will have spoilers not about the content of the film, but the form. If this interests you at all, see “The Conversation” before reading on.

“The Conversation” has a plot that lends itself to a typical mystery set up, but it eschews the temptation to become a Hitchcockian suspense thriller and instead offers a slow burn that works as a dramatic character study until the film’s climax reveals that you’ve been watching a psychological horror film all along. It’s a shocking left-turn into madness.

The trick about shocking twists is that they can’t betray what has come before. For instance, you can’t establish a clear set of rules in a Shyamalan film and then break them in the twist. The parameters of the film’s universe must be wide enough to hold both the reasonable explanation and the truth. “The Conversation” doesn’t cheat its way into a twist ending merely for shock – everything makes sense for the character and the plot.

That said, I want to be rather direct. The film is good, but not great. The lack of a neat ending with a bow on it may frustrate some and the pace of the film is, indeed, slow. About thirty minutes of run-time could’ve been trimmed had they paced a few scenes better. However, it was Hackman’s subtle performance that drew me into this world of madness and kept me there long enough for the pay off.

Released in 1974, the film was actually written prior to the publicity of Watergate. Interestingly, the film uses the same audio surveillance equipment that Nixon’s crew used to spy on political opponents. That coincidence aside, I’m sure this film resonated with Cold War-era paranoia surrounding surveillance. Surveillance doesn’t scare me today – I laugh at obvious instances of data mining most of the time. However, I can appreciate these fears in their context even without owning them for myself.

Despite not sharing these fears, I will admit that the film’s final shot – intentionally panning the camera like a surveillance camera – did resonate with me. That’s wonderful film-making.


Up next: Paul Thomas Anderson’s magnum opus “There Will Be Blood.” Brent has seen it; Brent is looking forward to seeing it again.

Peace out, kids. 

The Hurt Locker (2008)

Synopsis: During the Iraq War, a Sergeant recently assigned to an army bomb squad is put at odds with his squad mates due to his maverick way of handling his work.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0887912/ 

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: I’d been intrigued by this movie since its release in 2008, especially since it won Best Picture and was about the Iraq War. My viewing was well past overdue.


Brent’s Review:

“The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.”

This quote, which belongs to Chris Hedges, serves as the title card for this film. Our film’s protagonist is Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) and, yes, for him war is a drug. James is a bomb tech and team leader for a small outfit during the Iraq War during the height of the insurgency. Rubble litters the streets, suicide bombers could lurk around every corner, and eyes are everywhere. Anything could have a bomb in it. Anything can kill you. For James, bomb defusal is a high like no other. He’s a hotshot and doesn’t play nice with others.

I want to turn first to commend Mark Boal’s screenplay, which is fascinating. We don’t get any cheap tricks in this film. There are no false alarms. Everything is real. Every bomb James comes across could kill him and anyone in a pretty size-able radius. The first scene sets up the stakes of the film perfectly and succeeds in punctuating the tone of the film with three distinct characteristics. Spoilers ahead.

First, the opening sequence is a perfect blend of suspense and tension as it burns slowly enough to introduce all of the main characters at play in the film: the bombs, the crew trying to neutralize them, and the bombers who are likely lurking amongst the interested crowd of onlookers.

Second, the bomb tech, played by Guy Pearce, dies. Pearce is a recognizable actor; that the film would not hesitate to kill him after 10 minutes of screen time shows that no one is safe.

Finally, there are several beautiful shots in the opening sequence in which the film changes from its documentary-style grainy picture to beautiful slow-motion shots in high definition. This choice was made by the director, Kathryn Bigelow, whose Best Director academy award was well-earned in what is easily one of the best directed film’s I have ever seen. Everything about this film’s direction is near-perfect. “The Hurt Locker” is worth watching for this reason alone.

In his review of this film, Roger Ebert called James’ desire to return to combat a recognition that he’s the best person to do work that is sorely needed. I disagree. I think he returns because he doesn’t know who he is outside of combat. James rarely speaks unless he’s in the field; his most talkative scene in the barracks features a good deal of physical fighting with his squad and a lengthy dialogue about the high of dodging death. This is not a man serving his country; he’s serving the only thing he loves. He can’t even find happiness playing with his son after his tour ends, so he enlists in another year of duty.

Leah’s Review:

I always get nervous when watching war-films. Especially films depicting more recent American conflicts. Many such films often glorify war and the military and are pretty biased in their portrayals. “The Hurt Locker” takes place in 2004 during the Iraq war- so I was expecting much of these same traits. But I had also heard good things about the film (its 6 Oscar wins, for instance), and I think Jeremy Renner (who plays the lead role) is a talented and incredibly underrated actor- so I decided it was worth a shot.

I was not disappointed. “The Hurt Locker” is a riveting film which take a realistic look at not only the very real dangers of war but the effects it has on the people involved in it. It chooses to focus on a team of specialists whose job it is to find and disarm bombs in Baghdad. This was not a military function I was even aware of- so I found it extremely fascinating and it was a very different kind of perspective to show in a war film (instead of, for instance, more direct violent human conflict).

What I appreciated about “The Hurt Locker” is how realistically it portrays the effects of war to the human psyche. After the death of his commander, Specialist Eldridge struggles with depression and symptoms of PTSD (it is insinuated that he could have stopped his commander’s death if he had not hesitated to shoot the bomber)- these effects are seen on Eldridge throughout the film as he struggles to act in dangerous situations. Sergeant Sanborn fears his death will be insignificant to anyone back home. After his tour, Sergeant James returns home and tries to find some kind of “normal” with his wife and child- but soon returns to Iraq for another tour. For him, war has become an addiction and one that he does not know how to live life without. The characters in this film not only have to figure out how to work together, but how to work through what they’re going through as individuals- often drawing strength from each other in order to accomplish this. Most war films tend to focus on glorification of violence and “good guys” annihilating the “bad guys”. “The Hurt Locker” instead takes a more inward and complex approach.

In addition to having a well-told story the film features some fantastic cinematography and editing. I have to commend Kathryn Bigelow (let’s hear it for female directors!) on her flawless direction. “The Hurt Locker” deserved every bit of praise it received. It’s an engaging film that’s character development is as every bit as exciting as its action. It’s not a happy film, but it’s a powerful one that should be seen.


Up next: Our third (and final) surveillance film — “The Conversation”. Keep your ears and eyes peeled for our review.
Peace out, kids.

Snowpiercer (2013)

Synopsis: Set in a future where a failed climate-change experiment kills all life on the planet except for a lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system emerges.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1706620/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1 

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: I’ve heard good things about Snowpiercer, despite not being really interested in it when it first came to Netflix. The strong supporting cast (John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris) drew me in enough to give this film a try.


Brent’s Review:

“Snowpiercer” is Bong Joon Ho’s adaptation of the sci-fi graphic novel “Le Transperceneige”, which I am unfamiliar with but understand it has quite a loyal following. Featuring a star-studded cast led by Chris Evans with strong supporting turns by John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, and Ed Harris, “Snowpiercer” is simultaneously an achievement and, unfortunately, mostly bland.

First, the achievement. The film takes place in a ludicrous reality. Facing the pressures of global warming, humankind launches a chemical into the air to bring the Earth’s temperature to livable levels (because science, I guess). The problem: they overshoot the mark and freeze the world. Oh no! Only one man, Wiford (Ed Harris), has the foresight to see and plan for this contingency. His response is to build a world-spanning railroad system and set a mega-train holding about a thousand people on it to circle the globe endlessly.

The train is segregated, the bulk of the people living in poverty at the tail and less-and-less people the further you go to the front. There are also mechanisms of propaganda in place and population control the lower-class populations, but it’s all done very well in the narrative. There are a lot of moving parts going in different directions with this story and Bong Joon Ho handles them all rather deftly to suspend the audiences’ incredulity without dropping or ignoring a plot thread. This is a feat worth celebrating.

Unfortunately, the film tends toward being very bland. While the action sequences are impressive and visually striking, the framing and editing of the action is very disorienting and makes it difficult to get a clear picture of where the protagonists are in the midst of the skirmishes. It must be difficult to block action sequences in a way that isn’t disorienting in these narrow train cars, but this is an area severely hemmed in by the premise.

The second thing that felt bland are the emotional moments in the film, which I felt were undercut by the constant tone switching. The film is quite grisly in some areas and quite funny in others. The problem with this is that as an audience I am quickly switching between horrified and laughing, so when it comes to hit the emotional notes I find it difficult to really invest. This is not to say that the scenes where the action finally slows are boring; in contrast, those are the scenes I found most compelling. However, the movie never really achieves the emotional heights it strives toward.

The allegory is clear – the bourgeoisie try to keep the proletariat in check at all costs, all justified with utilitarian philosophy. The film’s ending is bizarre in that the allegory doesn’t tie itself back together neatly and present the message for the audience with a bow on top. I’m curious how others view the ending, particularly its final shot.

All in all, “Snowpiercer” is not a bad film. It’s fine, overall, and worth one watch if you’re into sci-fi or action films.

Leah’s Review:

I had never heard of “Snowpiercer” until I saw it on Brent’s list. But I watched the trailer and was intrigued. I love dystopian future stories and the film featured a number of actors whom I admire. Both Brent and I had heard about the movie being very “underrated” and so I had high hopes for it.

I really wanted to like “Snowpiercer” and there were several parts that I genuinely enjoyed, but overall I was left disappointed and confused. The pacing of the film is all over the place- most of the time seeming too fast for the audience to keep up with it. I really felt lost through much of the story. The movie also can’t seem to decide what it wants to be. Is it a serious drama? Is it an action-flick? Is it a zany comedy? I’m still not sure- but it felt like the film kept jumping from genre to genre without any sort of transition. It was jarring to say the least.

The plot itself, although fantasy, doesn’t really feel plausible- or at least not in a way that can be explained convincingly. And if your dystopian future doesn’t feel at least a little plausible- it completely unravels.

“Snowpiercer” had interesting and even likeable characters- but you never feel like you really get to know them. And as soon as you do, they get killed- leaving very little time for you to feel like you even care about their death. Even when the few remaining characters accomplish their mission, that sense of victory is underwhelming. Because we aren’t that invested in the characters, it’s hard to feel elation for them even after overcoming the odds.

If anything, this movie had really cool cinematography and color palettes that made the setting of the story come alive. The dark, industrial interior of the tail-end of the train gives off a very cold and hopeless feeling. The shots are tight and there is always a feeling of claustrophobia. Contrast this with the bright color palette of the upper-class train cars and passengers, and you’ve got a very bold and memorable look.

“Snowpiecer” was definitely entertaining. I rarely found myself bored throughout the entirety of the movie. It’s also a visually-striking film with some pretty stellar effects and cinematography. But unfortunately, entertainment and visuals are all that it’s got going for it. I’m not in any rush to see it again.


Up next: We’ll be checking out Kathryn Bigelow’s war-thriller “The Hurt Locker”

Peace out, kids.

The Birds (1963)

Synopsis: A wealthy San Francisco socialite pursues a potential boyfriend to a small Northern California town that slowly takes a turn for the bizarre when birds of all kinds suddenly begin to attack people.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056869/

Who chose it: Leah

Why I chose it:It’s a classic Hitchcock film, and Brent had never seen it.


Leah’s Review:

It had been at least a decade since I had last seen Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. In fact, I think it had been longer- because I distinctly remember that when I saw it last, my parents made me close my eyes for one of the more gruesome scenes*. But even as a youngster, the film made an impression on me. It’s one of Hitchcock’s most famous creations, and features his signature style of suspense and innovative film editing.

If you’re not familiar with the film, it begins with a young affluent woman from San Francisco who, after meeting an intriguing man, makes a visit to a remote town to find him. After she arrives however, strange things start to happen- consisting of random and vicious bird attacks that seem to grow worse with every occurrence.

What makes “The Birds” great, like any Hitchcock movie, is the suspense. The first part of the movie is set-up; getting to know the characters and their stories. But because you know something will happen- there’s a constant feeling of dread and anticipation. The first attack takes place 20 minutes in and it’s not even scary- it’s played off as an “odd” occurrence and the characters don’t think twice about it…until more attacks start happening. The suspense/terror is all about the anticipation of when the next attack will take place.

The best scene, hands-down, is when Melanie visits the school to check in on Mitch’s little sister. She waits for the schoolchildren to finish their singing lesson- sitting on a nearby bench outside. In the background, we see a crow fly behind her. Followed by another. And another. And another. Melanie remains oblivious- but as the audience, we are left to grow increasingly terrified- especially with the sound of children singing innocently in the background. When she finally turns around to find the playground completely covered in crows, it’s an utterly petrifying moment.

Some might say “Birds aren’t scary.” But I would argue that this is exactly what makes “The Birds” so terrifying. Something that shouldn’t be threatening at all is suddenly attacking people relentlessly, coming through walls, windows, and chimneys- and for no apparent reason. I can imagine some pretty awful ways to die, but slowly being pecked to death by a never-ending swarm of birds is up there. The movie also never explains why the birds attack. The characters never know exactly when they will attack. We don’t even know if the characters find safety at the end. The unanswered questions are part of this film’s genius.

Technically speaking, “The Birds” holds up pretty well. Although the practical effects are much more convincing than the “digital” effects- which were impressive and groundbreaking at the time of the movie’s release, but don’t look as great by today’s standards.

“The Birds” isn’t my favorite Hitchcock film, but it’s certainly one that left an impression on me and one that’s very different from his others. It’s a classic horror movie that deserves a viewing.

*If you were wondering, it was the scene where Lydia Brenner finds their dead neighbor with his eyes completely pecked out. I think my parents made a smart move.

Brent’s Review:

There are some films in which my preference would be to remain silent and offer no public account of my opinion. This blog forbids that, so I will ask for grace from those who vehemently disagree.

As I entered the viewing, I prepared myself to be terrified! I was nervous at first, but I’ve been warming myself up a bit on the horror front lately and I was hoping to get a heart pounding film. That reputation coupled with my wife’s remarks that there were parts her parents wouldn’t let her see as a child really had me savoring.

OK, OK. I’ve stalled enough. Here’s my opinion: this movie wasn’t that good.

I want to make two comments that are going to run sideways from that assertion. First, I want to contextualize the love for this film. In 1963, I’m sure the effects and the concept were horrifying. They don’t hold up by today’s standards, but they can be forgiven because of the gulf of time that stands between when this film was made and my viewing it today.

Second, I want to flesh out my experience a bit by referencing a perspective Roger Ebert shared in his review of “The Ring” – it’s a film that you hope no one laughs during because the whole facade will unravel. “The Birds” is no different and, reader, I admit to you this: I laughed at the first bird attack and it ruined it.

Hitchcock’s “Psycho” begins with a similar setup in which we explore the normal comings-and-goings of the film’s central characters. In “Psycho”, the horror and suspense is built through unnerving imagery and an alarming conversation. The shower scene is a cathartic release of the tension that was built up before. In “The Birds”, the first bird attack is random and releases no tension because there is no tension built up to that moment.

I grant you: a flock of menacing birds is very photogenic and slightly creepy. But a suspenseful film must go somewhere with that imagery or it becomes a cheap story with no point. And sadly, that’s exactly what happens with “The Birds.”

The major downfall here is that “The Birds” is essentially a B-movie with really high production values. So is “Jaws”. The difference is that a giant menacing shark is scary while a flock of birds is not. The horror punchline is that the birds are ubiquitous and they swarm. Spooky, yes. But I will admit that I’m not scared by close-ups of seagulls pecking at Tippi Hedren’s fingertips.

Lastly, I was very distracted by the now-infamous production stories of the film in which Hitchcock psychologically, emotionally, and sexually abused his lead actress and eventually ruined her career. When the horror is behind the camera, it’s hard to really engage the events on the screen.

This is a rare disappointment both for this movie calendar and from Alfred Hitchcock.


Up next: We’ll be seeing the dystopian futurescape of “Snowpiercer.” It’s been noted as an underrated action thriller – here’s hoping it doesn’t disappoint!

Peace out, kids.

The Third Man (1949)

Synopsis: Pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, Harry Lime.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0041959/

Who chose it: Leah

Why I chose it: I had heard about the film a while back and new it was considered a “classic” with a killer plot twist. I was intrigued. 


Brent’s Review:

Light breaks through cracked window blinds and doorways to illuminate generally dark interiors; smoke rises from every ash tray in sight; our hero is a drunk and he’s in way over his head.

“The Third Man” is vintage film-noir.

Traveling to visit a friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), struggling writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) arrives in Vienna to find that Lime died a couple days earlier, hit by a car while crossing the street with one of his friend. Martins tracks down this friend and asks how it happened: killed instantly. After dragging him to the side of the road, Lime uttered just enough about Martins for the friend to make arrangements to care for him.

But wait, wasn’t he killed instantly? Was he alive long enough to speak or did he die in the road?

Martins pulls this thread long enough to unravel the entire sweater – and with great excitement! Carol Reed’s direction is spot on and provides proof that rules in film exist only to be broken. Unlike Roger Christian’s nauseating use of the Dutch tilt shot in “Battlefield Earth”, Reed employs Dutch tilts to show how Martins’ perspective is skewed by the people he interacts with. He sees everything, but something just isn’t quite right.

The editing in this film deserves special commendation. At 1 hour and 45 minutes, the film blitzes you with one new plot development after the next and scenes often cut and begin with little pause for dialogue. Additionally, the sound and music editing are used to great effect in the film, particularly in the final chase sequence.

“The Third Man” features a fairly sizeable (and legendary) spoiler, so consider this a spoiler warning. For me to adequately discuss the rest of the film, this point must be acknowledged.

The key to this film’s success is that I knew the spoiler going in (Harry Lime is alive!), but that plot twist isn’t the central revelation about his character. The primary revelation is that Harry Lime is, indeed, a racketeer and generally an evil man with no moral compass. He cares only for himself and will do anything to better his interests – including indirectly committing infanticide

Welles, again, knocks this performance out of the park. My favorite scene in the film is the lengthy dialogue between Martins and Lime in a Ferris Wheel car. Welles’ natural charisma is perfect for the character, selling the audience on the way in which Martins may have been duped while also nailing the sharp edges of his villainy exquisitely.

I suspect that “The Third Man” is a film that ages like a fine wine and that with each successive viewing the audience will discover more layers and begin to see the pieces of the puzzle more clearly. I am an avid fan of neo-noir films, particularly “Chinatown,” “Se7en,” and “Fargo,” so it’s fun to go through this year and explore the noir genre itself.

“The Third Man” is a real treat – check it out if you haven’t already.”

Leah’s Review:

Some reviews come easily to me. Others I struggle with. “The Third Man” is a movie that I’m sure I didn’t completely “get”. It’s an iconic and classic film noir that has earned praise for its cinematography, mystery-driven plot, and memorable performances. It’s a movie that will keep you in suspense until the very end- even if you’ve had the major plot twist spoiled for you (like I did).

There was really no reason for me to dislike “The Third Man”. But after the movie was done, I felt disappointed. It just didn’t live up to the expectations I had for it. However, I will take some time to mention what I enjoyed about the film.

The best part of “The Third Man” is undoubtedly the cinematography. I’m continually impressed by old films shot in black-and-white that are able to achieve such a stunning look without the use of color- and “The Third Man” is one of the better examples of black-and-white cinematography that I’ve seen. The film does a great job of really making the setting of the story feel alive.

One of my favorite shots was, of course, the reveal of Orson Welles’s Harry Lime. The suspense, the lighting, the surprise, and that iconic expression on Welles’ face when he is “found out” is movie perfection. My other favorite shot was at the very end of the film when protagonist, Holly Martins decides to stay behind and wait for the woman he loves- grief-stricken Anna Schmidt who only has feelings for her now deceased lover, Harry. The shot is a long one- showing Anna walking from a distance down the street as Holly waits for her off to the side. The suspense too, is long, and we wait in anticipation to see what Anna’s reaction will be. When she finally does get to the forefront of the shot and passes Holly by without so much as a glance- it’s a heartbreaking but satisfying conclusion.

So why was I not crazy about this film? I’m not sure. I didn’t find it as engaging as I thought it would, and perhaps I didn’t feel strongly enough for the characters. Orson Welles, who is so charismatic and likeable as an actor, is also thoroughly convincing as a completely off-putting character such as Harry Lime. I wanted to root for him, but I found it impossible. Holly Martins and Anna Schmidt were not strong enough characters (in my opinion) to feel very much for them.

The thing that “The Third Man” is most famous for is its main plot twist- and don’t get me wrong, it’s completely brilliant. But it kind of feels like everything else in the film builds up to that one moment, and then the momentum is completely lost from there. I didn’t dislike the film, but I wouldn’t say it’s a must-see either.


Up next: We’ll be checking out Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. We weren’t able to get this in before Halloween, but mid-November is close enough.

Peace out, kids.