Friday, March 30, 2012

The Dreamers (1993)

Title: The Dreamers (2003)

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Cast: Michael Pitt, Eva Green, Louis Garrel


Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers is a film filled with nostalgia for the late 60’s, a time of chaos and anarchy. The time was 1968, and France was undergoing all kinds of revolutions. The workers were angry, the students were angry, people wanted to earn more, work less. Students wanted education to be more affordable. And film buffs wanted to watch their movies! That’s right; this was also a cultural revolution! You see the government decided they needed to close down theaters because films, as I’m sure most film buffs and critics understand, is a powerful medium with which to transmit ideas, almost too powerful in some peoples eyes. Film transmits ideas faster than anything, faster then reading a book or a pamphlet. In other words: film would make the masses think; a dangerous thing in the eyes of any form of government. People getting smart? People expressing themselves? Artists, cinephiles and poets gathering? Talking politics? Not a good idea! So the French government decided to close down a major theater called ‘Cinematheque Francais’; this was an action that was met by uproar from the film buff community, which at the time was growing strong.

I found this so interesting because actually, a similar situation occurred in my country a couple of years ago. There was this theater in San Juan (the capital of Puerto Rico) called ‘Filmoteca Nacional de Puerto Rico’ and it was this small theater with two screens with room for little more than 150 people per screen. These screens where used by local indie filmmakers (such as myself) to play their independent films in. The place was thriving, people where coming to see the movies they made themselves. It was a theater for the people and by the people. Money was being made, I know I made a bit. But making money was beside the point, what I was loving about the place was that people were coming to see my movies! And enjoying them! Other indie filmmakers were doing the same and so, a local underground film movement was being born. The government got a whiff of it and what happens? They shut down the place for no reason whatsoever. Supposedly, the air conditioning system couldn’t be fixed. Which of course was total bull, what they did was shut down a venue where people were expressing themselves through film. The real problem was that most of the films being made were anti-government!

The Dreamers takes place under similar circumstances, but on a much more violent scale. Film buffs where angry! Filmmakers went out on the street and protested against their voices being muted. What happened during 1968 in France was a real cultural revolution! Of course this revolution was way bigger then censoring filmmakers, but it’s a small example of the repression that was going on in the country. And people don’t like to be repressed; we all enjoy our freedoms don’t we? So this is where The Dreamers begins, right smack in the middle of all this chaos. Matthew, is the naive and kind of innocent American teenager who goes to France to study; he's a a true film buff, and so he ends up meeting Isabelle and Theo two French revolutionary film buffs themselves. That day when they first meet, they immediately hit it off! They talk about movies, take strolls down Paris and that very night become inseparable friends. One thing leads to another and Theo and Isabella end up inviting Matthew to move in with them. A love triangle ensues.

Sex was a huge part of the revolution back in those days, same as it was in the United States. It’s as if having crazy sexual exploits was something that no one could take away from them so they were going to do it. In a way, it was the ultimate revolution. Matthew says it at one point, he mentions that violence is something that the police does; it’s not what they do. What they do is kiss and make out, as much as they can. And so, The Dreamers got the dreaded NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America because of its explicit nudity and sexual situations; in other words, everybody goes full frontal on this one. If you can’t take that sort of thing, then don’t bother because this film is very graphic in this department, the camera gets right in there, right in the middle of things. Characters walk around naked in their apartment through a large part of the film. The three main characters reject what’s happening in their country and instead choose to lock themselves in their apartment and make out day and night. So anyways, I’m European at heart, so nudity in a film is really not a big thing for me, in fact, it kind of natural, as Sigmund Freud used to say we are all sexual creatures and well, sex is a part of life, there’s no point in denying it. Yet the film does address the fact that certain sexual behaviors are wrong. Theo and Isabelle are too close for comfort and Matthew points it out to them. The threesome uses their sexual adventures to ignore the realities of the harsh world, but what the film tries to tell us is that there’s no point in denying these realities, sooner or later they come crashing into our lives. 

The film also functions as a huge love letter to cinema, and I say ‘cinema’ because that’s how films are referred to in France. No one says “movie”, its either ‘cinema’ or ‘films’. Bertolucci constantly quotes other filmmakers in this film; in fact, he quotes Godard quite a lot. But Bertolucci doesn’t excuse himself for this; he says he is quoting Godard and there’s nothing wrong with that because Godard himself quoted other filmmakers and writers himself on his films. So this is a film about film; the three main characters are true film buffs in the best sense of the word. They go to the theater regularly, they analyze films, and they have discussions on who is funnier Buster Keaton or Charles Chaplin? They quote films, reenact films; they even play games where you have to guess which film the quote is from. I loved this about The Dreamers because I get them, because I myself love film as much as these crazy dudes, and I, like them, also went through my own revolution. Funny how similar the revolution portrayed on this film was to the one that occurred here in Puerto Rico in 2010 and in many parts of the world for that matter.

Same as the characters on The Dreamers, when cops were hitting students and spraying pepper spray on their faces for no good reason,  we asked ourselves the very same questions that Matthew, Theo and Isabelle ask themselves. If we care so much about the repression; then why aren’t we out there? Should we take up Molotov bombs and attack? Should we, should we, should we? Will a revolt change anything? Or will the powers that be get their way anyways in the end? It seems this scenario has been played to death across time. The documentary images that Bertolucci includes in the film of cops hitting students and protesters are so similar to those I saw and lived through a few years ago in my own country, that it almost feels uncanny. Same as in France of 1968, the revolution fizzled away, yet the people where victorious in some respects, the revolution wasn’t a total loss. The ‘Cinematheque Francais’ opened it’s doors yet again, and film buffs got to watch their films once again. The Dreamers is a revolutionary film in every sense of the word, cultural, social and sexual. Bertolucci made a beautiful, shocking yet poignant film. Very relevant to our times even though it takes place in 1968.

Rating: 5 out of 5 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The 400 Blows (1959)

Title: The 400 Blows (1959)

Director: Francois Truffaut

Cast: Jean Pier Leaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Remy


In real life Francois Truffaut, the French director behind The 400 Blows and one of the finest French directors whoever lived, was always a rebel.  He displayed his rebellious tendencies from a very young age, which is probably why the main character in The 400 Blows -a 14 year old kid by the name of Antoine Doinel- is a rebel through and through. He doesn’t like going to school, he considers it a waste of time though he himself is obviously an intelligent young man, he smokes, he steals, he cuts class, in short, not necessarily what we’d call a model citizen. The title of the film refers to a French expression which means 'to live the wild life', so right there we can see what kind of a character we're going to be meeting in this film. The character of Antoine Doinel is a reflection of Truffaut’s own childhood, which makes The 400 Blows a very personal film for Truffaut. This is probably why the film rings so true, so real. When you see The 400 Blows you feel as though you are that little boy, because he talks and behaves the way a real 14 year old kid would. This genuine quality, this truthfulness, this sincerity is what makes this, Truffaut’s first full length feature film such a wonderful and endearing experience.

Truffaut’s rebellious nature continued on all through out his life, I was watching Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers (2003) the other night (a fine film I will be reviewing in the next couple of days) and in it, we meet three characters, Matthew the American who arrives in France as a student, and his new French friends Theo and Isabelle. All three of them meet outside a theater because they are all film buffs. But it just so happens that the French government is closing down movie theaters because the government recognizes the power of film and considers it a threat. Film makes the young generation think and that isn’t a good thing in the eyes of the government. So in The Dreamers these characters find themselves in the middle of a cultural revolution, and guess who is right there in the middle of the revolution amongst all the other filmmakers and poets? Fighting for the right to watch films? That’s right, one Francois Truffaut!  Bertolucci even includes real documentary footage of these events in the film, where we see Truffaut amongst other famous film directors of the time protesting against the oppression! I mention this just as a way to show what a revolutionary Truffaut was. Along with other filmmakers of his day like say Jean Luc Godard, Truffaut used his films to express his points of views and express what he felt was wrong with the world he lived in.

Francois Truffaut

With The 400 Blows Truffaut wanted to achieve various things, amongst them he wanted to capture what it meant to be a rebellious little trouble maker back in those days. We meet Antoine in the classroom as he passes pornographic material to his classmates, unfortunately, he is the one caught with the material in class. Antoine is a fascinating character because he is a child and usually, children are so truthful with what they say, usually they aren’t prejudiced, they simple say and do what they truly feel. In Antoine Doinel’s case, he wants to turn his back on the world the way it is. He can’t stand school yet  he actually enjoys reading a good book, he is miles ahead of his class, way ahead of what they are teaching him in school, which speaks a lot about the school system which in my opinion doesn’t really prepare children that well for what’s really awaiting them out there in the world. Antoine educates himself! Antoine is a character that gives his back to the things he considers a waste of time, he would much rather be out there in the world getting a job. He’d rather have a day of enjoyment with his best bud in the city, going to arcades and getting on wild rides in the fair, enjoying life.

I enjoyed that about this movie. It doesn’t portray Antoine as a perfect character with 100% admirable traits. Antoine is actually far from that, he is imperfect; he steals and lies through his teeth, which is the way a lot of 14 year old kids are. Antoine isn’t the picture perfect ‘Leave it to Beaver’ type of kid, nope. He smokes cigarettes and cuts class. He runs away from home and lies to his parents. This is an honest portrayal of what a kid at that age is, mischievous and curious to the max. The film also shows us the road that mischievous behavior can lead us to, as Antoine ends getting a taste of the long arm of the law.  In this way, the film plays around with similar themes to the ones explored in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), where we see a young man go through the whole process of getting caught by the police and going to jail. So it’s the kind of film that explores the realities of the way young kids are treated when they commit a crime in France during the 50’s.

This film exhibits many of the traits that distinguish the New Wave Movement, in fact if I’m not mistaken it’s actually one of the films, if not THE film that started the whole thing. As a result, the film was shot in the streets of France, and using little to no sets. I must say, the photography of the city of France in this film is really beautiful. This is something I enjoy about New Wave films and those films of the Italian Neo Realism, they show us the way countries and people where back in those days because they’d shoot these films in real locations. Keeping true to the traits of the New Wave Truffaut experiments with new ways of telling a story through film, one scene actually includes an interview to Antoine done to him by a psychologist in which he reveals the reasons for his rebelliousness. In reality, these scenes were actually the screen test done to the young actor, in which Truffaut was the interviewer. Truffaut simply switched his voice with that of the psychologist; the footage comes off as truthful, performance wise it feels like real life. Jean Pierre Leaud, the young actor who plays Antoine does a fantastic job in this film; he comes off as completely likable; so self reliant at such a young age. He went on to become one of the best French actors, actually, Truffaut and Leaud made three more films with the Antoine character, in each film we see Antoine at a different moment of his life, an amazing idea I might add.

A Night Out in the City with Mom and Dad!

The film explores family dynamics during trying difficult times. How does earning little money affect the middle class/poor family; those that struggle? In the film, Antoines family lives in a small, cramped apartment. The mother is portrayed as coming home, tired, in bad humor. In contrast, the father comes home with great humor, very jovial, I enjoyed the relationship between father and son, they come off as friends. In this way it was similar to the kind of relationship displayed in The Bicycle Thieves (1948), which is also a film about a father and a son who give themselves emotional support during trying times. A memorable scene in The 400 Blows has the family simply going out for a night in the big city, it's a very beautiful scene where we see the family simply enjoying each others company, laughing and being silly with each other. It brought to mind going out with my family in similar situations. And ultimately, that’s what works so well about The 400 Blows; it will make you remember when you were that age and the situations and worries you had back then. Truffaut effectively captured what it feels like to be 14 years old with great detail, my hats off to this master filmmaker for making such an endearing and special film. The 400 Blows is certainly one of the finest films ever made. 

Rating: 5 out of 5

Running away from the world, until he can run no more! 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Title: Daughters of Darkness (1971)

Director: Harry Kumel

Cast: Delphine Seyrig, John Karlen, Danielle Ouimet, Andrea Rau


A while back I collaborated with a couple of bloggers on an article called 16 Unusual Vampire Movies where we came up with a list of vampire films that break the norm of what we’ve come to expect from a vampire film. Many interesting films where mentioned on that article, amongst them Daughters of Darkness which I’ve only recently had the pleasure of watching, and I say “pleasure” because I really enjoyed this film! I wasn’t expecting to, but damn it, I loved it!

Daughters of Darkness tells the tale of a recently married couple who end up staying in a deserted hotel for a couple of days. Unbeknownst to them, a vampire vixen by the name of Elizabeth Bathory checks into the hotel as well; yup, that’s right, that Elizabeth Bathory; the countess who bathed in the blood of her young female victimes so she could retain her youth forever. Some reports say she killed about 650 young girls, though when she was convicted, she was only charged for 80 deaths. Her similarities with the famous ‘Vlad the Impaler’ led to her being named ‘The Blood Countess’ and even ‘Countess Dracula’. In reality she probably only killed these young girls out of pure sadistic pleasure, but you know how legends go, and so it wasn’t long before people started to say that she bathed in the blood of her female victims, and eventually that she drank it as well.

In Daughters of Darkness Bathory is portrayed as a vampire, though not in the traditional way. We never see fangs, they don’t melt in the sunlight and they don’t sparkle when the moonlight hits them. No, the vampires in Daughters of Darkness are too ‘chic’ for that sort of thing. These vampire vixens worry more about how they’re going look and what they are going to wear before they indulge in their bloodlust. I liked that about this movie, these vampires ladies really play it cool. In a way they are closer to the way Count Dracula would behave in the old Hammer Dracula movies. You know, really polite, really pleasant, then when you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security “whamo!” they attack! This Elizabeth Bathory as played by actress Delphine Seyrig, starts out like a pleasant lady, kind of sexy, kind of charming with her sultry whisper of a voice, but after a while she’ll really get under your skin! Delphine Seyrig really steals the show on this film as the countess; she’ll charm the hell out of you before you know it.

So yeah, this movie might bring to mind those old Hammer films with its premise. You see, the film starts out the same way a lot of Hammer vampire films would start out; with a couple arriving at a lonely destination and having to stay the night in a strange and mysterious place. In this case, instead of Dracula’s Castle, the couple stays in this gigantic lonely hotel called ‘The Grand Hotel des Thermes’ which to me was reminiscent of the lonely hotel in Kubrick’s The Shinning (1980). I liked the fact that it seems like the couple has this gigantic hotel all to themselves, not another soul in sight except for the two vampire ladies that roam the hallways, oh and let’s not forget the one concierge who seems to take care of everything in the hotel. So the film has this great feeling of isolation, which in my book always helps a horror film.

Upon its original release Daughters of Darkness was described by one reviewer as an “Artistic Vampire Film” and I have to say that this is an accurate description for the film. This isn’t a film concerned with shock or gore, though it does have its fare share of  blood and violence; it is not this films prime concern. They way I saw it, Harry Kumel, the films director, was going for a deliberately quiet film, one that would little by little get to you. This is a film where most of the characters talk in whispers and low tones, no one raises their voices. The vampire ladies are polite and dress in these beautiful garments through out the whole film. This is the kind of film in which the main villain is constantly changing her attire, because she’s ultra ‘chic’ that way. Even the look of the film suggests a cold, quiet night. Lot’s of cold blues in the exteriors, while the interiors are yellow and deceptively warm. Yes my friends, this is a film with lots of ambiance. Not surprisingly, most of the film takes place during the night. Speaking of the films look, the colors really jump off of the screen! The blues and the reds dominate as much as in any Mario Bava film. This is a beautiful horror film to look at.

Hammer explored the story of Elizabeth Bathory in their Countess Dracula (1971), though to be honest Daughters of Darkness does it in a far more interesting and sensual manner; I personally found Hammers Countess Dracula to be an extremely boring affair where with Daughters of Darkness I was glued to the screen even though the film is of a colloquial nature. If you want to check out a Hammer film that was similar to Daughter of Darkness, yet slightly more of a b-horror film in nature then check out The Vampire Lovers  (1970) , one of the more enjoyable Hammer films and a bit more sleazy then Daughters of Darkness which as it turns out is an art house vampire film. Yes, characters do talk a lot in Daughters of Darkness, but the film more then compensates with the over all mood of the film and the themes that it explores. In the film, Stefan, the husband is portrayed as a ‘cold’ man who tells his wife he doesn’t love her even though they’ve just recently married. He is abusive with his wife, he has a morbid interest with the dead and he is easily seduced by the Countess. This is a film that puts the vows of marriage to the test. Are marital vows strong enough to stop you from being seduced? Lesbianism is also explored, but in a subdued manner, it is not graphic or in your face. This is a sensual film, but not in an graphic or cheap manner. 

For all intents and purposes, this should have ended up being a sleazy b-movie about lesbian vampires falling in love with their victims, but instead its this artsy, lush, sensuous vampire film. Director Harry Kumel put a lot of effort in evoking a certain tone to the film, there’s a quiet, sensual, yet dangerous aura to Daughters of Darkness. The film is beautiful to the eyes, but the characters can suddenly turn twisted and dangerous and drain you of all your blood. I guess the best way to describe this film is that it’s a fine mix between a trashy sex flick, and classy looking horror film, and there’s not a lot of those around which makes Daughters of Darkness a rather unique film in my book.

Rating: 4 out of 5  

Friday, March 23, 2012

Dream A Little Dream: Memorable Dream Sequences On Film (Part I)

Dream sequences are an interesting tool in the world of filmmaking, they can serve various purposes. In a film, a dream can show us a characters fears, worries or goals. Usually they’ll show us what a character fears the most, what he is fighting against. When used properly a dream can even develop part of the films story, take us further down the main characters thought process and journey. I personally love dream sequences in films because they explore the strange and mysterious world of dreams, which can be a pretty wild place to visit don’t you think? The human mind is one of the most mysterious things about life and so when films explore it, I indulge.

Hitchcocks Spellbound (1945) has a dream sequence entirely designed by the famous surrealist painter Salvador Dahli

Films that truly dive into the dream world are a special lot for me because usually dream sequences will get wild and nonsensical, just like real dreams. Some directors are known for really exploring dream logic, amongst them Terry Gilliam, David Lynch and Michel Gondry so you’ll see a lot of their films on these articles. I hope you guys enjoy them and don’t forget to check out part two where I dive even deeper into dream land! For now, dream on my friends; and enjoy the following article, hope you have a fun time reading it and revisiting some of these amazing films centered on dreams. 

Title: 8 ½ (1963)

Synopsis: 8 ½ is the story of Guido Anselmi, a film director who’s having a hell of a time trying to decide what his next film is going to be about. The studio wants him to make a commercial science fiction film (going as far as constructing the sets) but he wants to make his own film, dealing with themes and subject matter he cares about. He cares not for reality, but for the dream worlds he conjures up in his mind, often times Guido will just drift off and immerse himself into his dreams. A huge part of this film is composed of dreams, Guido goes in and out of them, escaping from reality. In the middle of all the madness, Guido has to juggle the women in his life; he’s reaching a crossroads where he has to finally settle for ‘the one’. 

Stand Out Dream Sequence: When Guido is in the middle of a traffic jam, he drifts off into a dream where he leaves the traffic jam behind and suddenly finds himself flying through the skies, only to be pulled down by his producer as he is floating above a beach. The best dream sequence in the film has Guido confronting all  of the women in his life in the same room, trying to control them with a whip, as if they were wild horses!

 Title: American Beauty (1999)

Director: Sam Mendes

Synopsis: Lester Burnham is a man who has had it with his ho-hum, same-o same-o life. He wants to feel alive again! What is he to do in order to escape the redundant life style he has fallen into? He quits his day job, smokes weed with his teenage neighbor (who sells it to him) and pumps iron so he can look good naked again that’s what! This film analyzes the American family with a microscope; what happens when marriage looses its steam? When parents have lost all connection with their children? Or when parents physically abuse them? The film also takes an interesting look at mid-life crisis through the eyes of Lester Burnham, a character masterfully played by the one and only Kevin Spacey.  

Stand Out Dream Sequence: Lester has sexual fantasies with his daughters teenage girl friend, so every time he escapes into these fantasies he imagines the teenage girl bathing in thousands of red flowers.

Dream Talk:  “It’s hard to stay mad when there is so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once and my heart is about to burst, and then I remember to relax and stop trying to hold on to it; and then it just flows through me like rain, and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for my stupid little life”

Title: The Science of Sleep (2006)

Director: Michel Gondry

Synopsis: Stephan is a graphic artist whose just gotten a new job designing magazine covers. He’s trying to cope with reality as best as he can, but it gets extremely difficult for him when his dreams and his real life keep getting all mixed up. Half of the time Stephan doesn’t know if he’s sleeping or if he’s awake! Things get even more complicated when he falls for his next door neighbor, Stephanie. Can Stephanie understand and live with Stephan the eternal dreamer? 

Stand Out Dream Sequence: In his dreams Stephan is the boss of the company he works for. So, people talk to him as if he was God! Everyone at the office bows down to him and asks for his approval to everything. As we hear the song ‘Instinct Blues’ by the White Stripes, Stephan constructs a city made out of cardboard with the wave of his hands.

Dream Talk:  “Tonight I’ll show you how dreams are prepared. People think it’s a simple and easy process, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. As you can see, a very delicate combination of complex ingredients is the key. First, we put in some random thoughts, then we add a little bit of reminiscences of the day, mixed with some memories from the past. ”

Title: Take Shelter (2011)

Director: Jeff Nichols

Synopsis: Curtis is your every day regular Joe. He’s got a beautiful wife and lovely daughter. He lives in a beautiful home with them, and apparently everything is running fine. That is until Curtis begins having these dreadful nightmares about a coming storm! Are these nightmares premonitions of horrible events to come? Is Curtis going crazy? Or are his dreams trying to tell him something? This film blew me away because of the way it analyzes how the growing problems in the world affect the working class regular Joe. The film has a dreadful, ominous vibe going for it and an amazing message, highly recommend checking this one out.

Stand Out Dream Sequence: Curtis walks through a lonely street holding his daughter in his arms when suddenly he sees this school of birds forming strange shapes in the sky, seconds later the birds come rushing towards him and his daughter passing by them at lightning fast speed! Then for no apparent reason, the birds start falling from the sky, dead on the floor.

Dream Talk:  “Sleep well in your beds, because if this thing comes true, there aint going to be anymore! You think I’m crazy? Listen up! There’s a storm coming like nothing you’ve ever seen and not one of you is prepared for it! ”

Title: Brazil (1985)

Director: Terry Gilliam

Synopsis: Sam Lowry is a man that feels the weight of ‘the system’ on his shoulders. He works on a boring repetitive job, lives in a small cramped up apartment and lives a life bogged down by bureaucracy and laws; his only escape? His dreams! In his dreams he is a warrior who sprouts wings, wears shinny armor, wields a sword, saves damsels in distress and fights giant samurais! Back in the real world he has to deal with the pressure his mother puts on him to be successful and move up the social ladder. He’s also secretly (and madly) in love with a rebel; will he ever consummate his love? Or will this worlds anti sex laws not allow it? Basically, Brazil is Gilliam mixing two of his favorite sources of inspiration: George Orwell’s 1984 and Federico Fellini’s 8 ½, one look at this film and it should be quite obvious. It’s no surprise that this films original title was going to be ‘1984 ½’! Basically, this is the most purely Gilliam film of all if you ask me. His hate for all things bureaucratic and systematic is clearly evident here. Brazil’s also got a bit of Don Quixote in it; in his dreams Sam fights giant creatures while trying to save the love of his life.  This film is arguably Gilliam’s masterpiece, but he’s done so many great films, I always find it difficult to choose a favorite.

Stand Out Dream Sequence: Sam hates the big corporation he works for and the proverbial system that he lives under. So when he dreams, he sees his boss as a giant samurai whom he proceeds to fight with his sword.

Dream Talk: Sam doesn’t talk much in his dreams; he takes action!  

Title: An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Director: John Landis

Synopsis: A couple of buddies go to England for a backpacking adventure, too bad for them they get lost in the moors, where a Werewolf roams! Things get worse when one of them gets brutally slaughtered by the werewolf, while the other one gets away with a nasty scratch. Unfortunately, getting scratched by a werewolf means you’ll turn into a werewolf yourself come next full moon! John Landis directs what is quite possibly the best werewolf film ever made. The make up effects by Rick Baker is nothing short of amazing. Also: this was the film that influenced Michael Jackson to do his thriller video; so much so that he got John Landis to direct.

Stand Out Dream Sequence:  This film is filled with various stand out dream sequences because when David gets scratched by the werewolf, he begins to have these vivid and horrifying nightmares! For example, one nightmare has his whole family shot by a gang of machine gun totting mutant Nazis! Another stand out dream sequence has David running wild through the woods, following a reindeer. The chase ends with David viciously eating the deer!

Title: The Big Lebowsky  (1998)

Directors: The Coen Brothers

Synopsis: Some gangsters (actually nihilists to be more accurate) confuse ‘The Dude’ with somebody else and end up peeing on his rug, the on that tied the room together. And so begins The Dude’s journey to get his rug back. But that’s really besides the point, the rug is really just a starting point, an excuse for what turns into a very funny trip down the dudes life. The dude is the quintessential laid back dude who doesn’t give a rats ass. He aint going to worry about your wars, or your crazy ass world, he’s here to smoke some ganja, chill the hell out, drink a white Russian or two, and roll some balls at the bowling alley.   

Stand Out Dream Sequence: The Dude gets knocked on the head by the crazy nihilists and so he ends up dreaming up this surreal bowling sequence where he is surrounded by beautiful babes who look like Barbarian Warriors of some kind…and he dances with them in this huge musical number!

Title: The Cell (2000)

Director: Tarsem Singh

Synopsis: Catherine Deane is a dream therapist who helps people with psychological problems by going into their minds and sorting things out. She basically goes into your dreams and talks to you in your subconscious. Her biggest challenge has just fallen into her lap: the police has caught a serial killer, he is unconscious and only he knows where his last victim is held. Now, Catherine must try and connect with the killer unconscious mind to try and decipher where his last victim is before the victim dies! Will Catherine stand the serial killers warped mind? Will it prove to be too dark a place for her to visit?   

Stand Out Dream Sequence: When Catherine goes into the killers mind, one of the first things she encounters is a horse. She analyzes it for a couple of seconds before a group of crystal slabs fall from above and segment the horse into various pieces, the crystal slabs allow us to see the horses internal organs!  As she goes deeper into this dark world, she finally encounters the killer…who sees himself as a God Emperor, sitting on a throne!

Dream Talk: “My world…my rules”

Title: Dune (1984)

Director: David Lynch  

Synopsis: Dune is the story of Paul Atreides, the sole heir to the Atreides throne. He is young, impetuous and about to learn what it is to become a man, to awaken from the slumber. The Royal Atreides family has just inherited the privilege of administering the planet of Arrakis, commonly referred to as ‘Dune’, the planet in which the most precious substance in the galaxy is created: the spice. Problem is that the planet is filled with many enemies to the Emperor of the Universe, namely, the elusive Fremen who live hiding in the dangerous dessert. On top of this, many plot against the Atreides family and seek to destroy them. Will The Atreides successfully transfer their empire to Arrakis? How long will the Fremen stand the oppressive nature of the Emperors rule? Will Paul stand up and lead them into the rebellion? The first and last time that Lynch directed a science fiction film, and an epic of this magnitude, some hate it, some love it, I adore it!

Stand Out Dream Sequence: This film is composed of many dream sequences because ‘the spice’ when taken, will put you in a trance like state where you dream and hallucinate. And Paul constantly takes the spice to see these visions. In one dream sequence Paul dreams he has learned how to control the giant worms of Arrakis! He dreams that water will finally fall on the planet! 

Dream Talk: “Father! The Sleeper has awakened!”

Title: Eraserhead (1977)

Director: David Lynch

Synopsis: This was Lynch’s first film ever; it took him six years to film it! He filmed it while in film school! And it’s one of the films that started the whole midnight show craze of the 70’s! It will also be one of the weirdest movies you will ever see in your whole freaking life. Guaranteed! Eraserhead tells the story of Henry, a young man who’s gotten his girlfriend pregnant! The family wants to meet him and she wants to move in with him. But are they in love? Do they love their offspring which just so happens to be a mutated baby of sorts that appears to be sick? Is Henry ready for the responsibilities of fatherhood? Or does he want to erase the whole thing from his mind and pretend it never happened? Weirdest part about this movie is that even scenes that aren’t dream sequences feel like dream sequences!

Stand Out Dream Sequence: One scene has Henry entering some sort of pencil factory. One of the workers drills the contents of Henry’s brain and turns it into the eraser on top of a pencil. Symbolisms anyone?  Another stand out dream sequence shows us a girl with inflated cheeks, singing a song on a stage as she steps over giant sperm that fall from above.

Dream Talk: “In heaven, everything is fine, you’ve got your good things and I got mine”

Title: Nightmare on Elm Street Series (1984-2010)

Directors: Various

Synopsis: You know the drill boys and girls, Freddy Krueger visits you in your dreams. If he kills you in your dreams you die in real life! Freddy was a pedophile who was murdered by the parents of the kids he abused. Moments before he dies, demons offer him the power of controlling dreams, which he in turn uses to psychologically and physically torture those that killed him. I’ve always loved these movies because they were a showcase for gooey, slimy, gory make up effects. Every death on these films was a special moment where we would get to see some sort of crazy dream come true.

Stand Out Dream Sequence: This film is filled with many cool dream sequences, in fact, I could go on and do one of these posts entirely about the cool death sequences in Nightmare on Elm Street films, but instead I’ll just mention three of my favorite ones. The first is always the best…that sequence where a girl gets her stomach slit by Freddy’s claws and then her body starts spinning in the air around the room while dripping her blood all over the walls and the bed, now that’s a memorable dream sequence! Another favorite is when Freddy turns into a giant worm and starts eating Patricia Arquette! And finally my all time favorite is the one in A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors where Freddy rips this kids veins out of his arms and legs and uses them  like the strings on a puppet, effectively puppeteering the poor teenager to his death. Memorable in deed!

Dream Talk:  “Those are ancient dream demons. Supposedly they roam the dreams of the living until the find the most evil, twisted human being imaginable. Then they give him the power to cross the line and turn our nightmares into reality”

Title: Jacobs Ladder (1990)

Director: Adrian Lyne

Synopsis: Jacob is a man living between two worlds. In one world he sees demons haunting him at every corner, in the other he lives a semi-normal life with his hot girlfriend. Is he seeing demons? Is he traveling between two dimensions? Is he going crazy? Just what are these nightmarish visions he keeps having? Adrian Lyne is an awesome director; to me he is one of the greats. His films always have this beautiful look to them no matter what the subject matter is. Even the hellish nightmare that is Jacob’s Ladder has a beauty to it within its dark demonic visions. Highly recommend this head trip of a movie, it is dark and twisted. It will mess with your head and it will take you down the deepest, darkest corners of insanity. Highly recommend you take the trip.

Stand Out Dream Sequence: One scene has Jacob being rolled into an asylum. The place is dark and dirty and filled with looneys left and right. Deformed people look at him from the shadows, demonic figures seem to creep and crawl from the darkness as he screams “I’m not crazy!”

Dream Talk:  “If you’re frightened of dying, and your holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. If you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth”

Title: Trainspotting (1996)

Director: Danny Boyle

Synopsis: Trainspotting is all about a group of heroin junkies trying to survive in the middle of the insanity they call their lives. I mean, some feel like they can manage a ‘normal’ life within their drug addiction, while others are completely out of control. Will they ever choose the quintessential good life? Or will they stay stuck in the dark sleep of Kahli? 

Stand Out Dream Sequence: One scene has everybody super high on heroin, and incredulous as it may sound one of these junkies is actually a mother! Her baby is comfortably sleeping in it’s bed while momma gets high on heroin. Well at one point, while everybody is high on their drug trip they see the baby crawling through the walls of the house! Another stand out dream sequence has the main character drop a pill in a very disgusting looking toilet. He needs the pill so badly that he starts to search for the pill in the middle of the shit filled toilet; he goes so deep that he ends up entirely going into the toilet and swimming in a dark endless void.

Dream Talk:  “Heroin makes you constipated. The heroin from my last hit was fading, and the suppositories had yet to melt”

Title: The Fly (1986)

Director: David Cronenberg  

Synopsis: In this remake of The Fly we meet a scientist called Seth Brundle. His mission? To successfully manage to teleport a human being from one place to another! His research and investigations are getting the attention of the science crowd and so, it isn’t long before he has a writer following him around trying to get an interview from him. When he finally agrees to let the writer in (the writer is played by a very luscious looking Geena Davis) he also ends up having an affair with her. Problems begin when Brundle decides to test his teleporting machine on himself! Will the experiment succeed? Or will it have terrifying side effects on him?  This film is quintessential Cronenberg, it plays with his favorite themes of sex and violence and also, it’s a remake that tops the original in my opinion.

Stand Out Dream Sequence: Brundle becomes one with a fly that manages to sneak into the teleportation pod with him, the computer merges him with the fly! Now he is half human, half fly! After this, he impregnates Geena Davis and she becomes worried that she might end up having a little fly-baby. Her worries manifest in the form of this horrible nightmare she has where she gives birth to a giant larva! Gross me out!  

Dream Talk:  “I don’t want tests, tests can’t guarantee anything. The baby could start out normal, and then become...I want an abortion! I’ll do it myself if I have to!”

Title: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2006)

Director: Michel Gondry

Synopsis: Michel Gondry is a director known for exploring the dream world which is why it doesn’t surprise that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is basically one long dream sequence! You see, Joel Barish is a man looking to erase an ex-lover from his mind and in order to achieve this he goes to a company called Lacuna Inc. which promises they can erase any unwanted memory from your brain circuits. When the scientists from Lacuna Inc. start meddling with Joel’s memories and dreams, we get to see the whole trip. Joel starts running through his life memories, and after a while he isn’t entirely sure if he wants them erased! Will he get his darling Clementine erased from his mind forever? Or will they learn to accept each other for who they really are, warts and all?    

Stand Out Dream Sequence: At one moment as the scientists from Lacuna Inc. begin to explore Joel’s memories they venture into his childhood and so we end up seeing Joel as a little kid, hiding from his mom underneath the kitchen table, and taking a bath on the kitchen sink. It’s a pretty funny moment. Jim Carrey is fantastic in those scenes where he acts like a child, it’s a testament to this comedians  acting abilities.

Dream Talk: “I loved being bathed on the sink, it’s such a feeling of security”

If you enjoyed this article check out it's sequel: "Dreams Are My Speciality" Memorable Dream Sequences On Film (Part II)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

John Carter (2012)

Title: John Carter (2012)

Director: Andrew Stanton

Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Colins, Willem Defoe, Thomas Haden Church, Samantha Morton


John Carter is one of those films that spent a hell of a time making it to the big screen; yes my friends, this was one of those projects that was lost in development hell for years and years. Different directors took a stab at trying to get a John Carter of Mars film made without any success. The very first attempt at making a feature film out of the Edgar Rice Burroughs stories was way back in 1931 when an animated film actually went into pre-production. Unfortunately, that project never came to be. Had it come to fruition that John Carter animated feature would have been the first full length American animated film ever made, but alas, that glory would go to Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937). Interesting thing is that some 60 years later, it’s Disney who finally got this film made! How did it turn out after all these years of preparation?

It’s obvious that a film of this magnitude was going to need a director skilled in the use of special effects. This film was to be a huge science fiction spectacle with alien beings, and spaceships and monsters. The whole film takes place in an alien world! This wasn’t going to be an easy film to make and whoever was going to helm it had to be someone who knew a thing or two about digital effects. Before John Carter finally arrived at the hands of director Andrew Stanton, the film passed through various directors’ hands, amongst them: Robert Rodriguez, John Favreau, Kerry Conran, and even John McTiernan. I’m sure all of these directors would have made an entirely different and possibly equally entertaining film, but the honor finally fell upon Andrew Stanton, the director behind films like Wall-E (2008), Finding Nemo (2003) and A Bugs Life (1998); which by the way, are all completely computer generated animated films.

It seems that studios are now handing visual effects heavy projects to directors who specialize in computer animation films. For example, last years Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011) was directed by Brad Baird the director behind such animated hits as Ratatouille (2007) and The Incredibles (2004). This idea of giving fx heavy films to directors who’ve specialized in computer animation makes sense when we take in consideration that most modern science fiction or fantasy films are now mostly made up of 75% computer animation. Just look at any modern sci-fi film and you’ll see most of the images on screen are entirely made up in a computer, I guess the Star Wars films are the best example of this. But such is the nature of the beast, and so this is a good idea in my book. The big worry is, will they pay as much attention to the storytelling and making a good/entertaining  film as they will to the visual effects?  How was John Carter?

The film starts out with John Carter, a soldier of the civil war who is magically transported to Mars where he finds himself in the middle of a war between two factions. The planet is being overrun by a despotic race who feeds off of the planet without thinking about the repercussions, this race only thinks about what it can take from the planet, but never about what it can do to protect it. So in comes John Carter who shows his worth to the people of Mars and suddenly finds himself leading the people into a revolution!

The film is visually dazzling; it’s epic in scope. The thing about films like John Carter (which by the way reportedly cost about 250 million dollars to make) is that they don’t come around that often and when they do, we hope to hell that all that money they spent making it was worth it. Ultimately, a film might have cost all those millions, but what we as an audience care about is if it’s a good film or not, if it speaks to us, if we can connect with it, if it entertains. John Carter to me succeeds in all these grounds. We can connect with its themes because yes, we live in a society that feeds off the planet without a care in the world for tomorrow or how our actions will affect future generations. Currently, I personally see humans as a cancer that’s spreading through this planet. All we do is take, take, take. Our society, our system is currently being run on pure greed and selfishness. The question is where will this course of action take us? What I like about films like John Carter is that they address these themes and issues, which means that we as a collective are aware of our behavior; the next step would be to actually do something about it which is what John Carter is all about, making that change happen. The idea being to stop a way of life, so that we can replace it with another that is more effective and positive for everyone; for the humans that live on the planet, and the planet itself. But of course, the powers that be don’t like that. They are making too much money the way things are now , and ultimately that’s all they care about.

The film is actually quite subversive in nature, similar to Disney’s own TRON: Legacy (2010), this is the story of a people who are being governed by selfish, greedy way of government. And same as TRON, this is the story of the beginnings of a revolution, and the birth of a revolutionary leader to lead the people. It’s interesting; this is a theme that’s been popping up in so many films recently. Hell even The Lorax (2012), a children’s film, comments on consumerism and governments that lie and abuse of its people. Obviously this is a subject matter that worries the modern artist, the modern filmmaker who often times fuctions as a siphon for societies worries. Art is a reflection of our collective worries, so it makes sense that these themes keep popping on films, it means these are the things that worry us the most right now and filmmakers are using their clout to speak up about it. I personally love the fact that Disney, such a powerful company is making films that are addressing these themes. Of course, films of this nature are immediately lambasted by conservative groups and lovers of capitalism. The media will immediately say that the film is anti-capitalist and anti-American and communist in nature. Hell, it happened with The Muppets (2011) which by the way, also happens to be a Disney film! So I think it’s safe to say that Disney is all gung-ho about sending out an anti-capitalist message to the masses, Disney after all has always been of a liberal mentality. I know, it’s kind of ironic that such a huge company, which embodies capitalism so perfectly, is putting out films that address these themes, but hey, at least they are using all that money to spread the idea of change. Things need to change, that’s really what John Carter is about.

Despite what some might lead you to believe, John Carter is an excellent film. It is an excellent production. Technically speaking, everything in John Carter screams perfection, it screams cutting edge, state of the art. The only real problem with the film is that it feels like way too many other films that came before it. The basic plot feels like a mix between Dune (1984), Various Star Wars films, Avatar (2009) and Dance with Wolves (1990). It’s that story about a guy who suddenly finds himself in the midst of a place he doesn’t belong, but eventually finds his way into the hearts of those whom he was once was an enemy to, and then he leads them to a revolution! I know, been there done that right? But I will say that John Carter does present us with enough new elements and moments to entertain anyways; even though we are treading on familiar territory. But damn, some scenes where so obviously completely swiped from previous films. One moment has John Carter riding on this bike/plane sort of thing which feels like the pod race from Star Wars: Episode I (1999). Honestly I was expecting John Carter to say “now this is pod racing!” Another scene that takes  place in a coliseum, in which Carter fights these giant white gorillas feels like a similar sequence from Star Wars: Episode II (2002). One scene has a princess talking straight at the camera, a scene straight out of David Lynch’s Dune (1984).

So yeah, John Carters only flaw is that it isn’t very original at times; but at other times it completely is. I loved that whole idea that he could jump such lengths! That was a really cool concept. Mars and the society of beings we meet there, that was interesting. I also liked the fact that same as Dune, this was the kind of film that touches upon many aspects of society. John Carter is about religion, politics, society and the way we live. So the positives in my book, out weight the negatives. This is a huge spectacle of a film and it shows. You see all that money up there on the screen, ultimately, I thought it was a very satisfying film and a very well made one, just don’t expect something entirely original. But otherwise? John Carter was a damn good time at the movies, lovers of sci-fi should be happy with this one.

Rating: 4 out of 5     


Monday, March 19, 2012

House by the Cemetery (1981)

Title: House by the Cemetery (1981)

Director: Lucio Fulci

Cast: Catriona McColl, Giovanni Frezza


This is the third and final film of the “Gates of Hell” trilogy, which is composed of City of the Living Dead (1980),  The Beyond (1981) and the film I will be reviewing today House by the Cemetery. The idea behind calling these three films the ‘Gates of Hell Trilogy' is to unite these similarly themed films that deal with magical books that open the Gates to Hell. The books presented to us in these films talk about a doomsday scenario where evil conquers the planet and humanity pays for their sins, not unlike the bible. An interesting fact is that House by the Cemetery has nothing to do with any of that. There are no magical books; there is no gate of hell and the earth isn’t in peril as in the previous two films. I guess symbolically speaking, the family in this film does open the door to hell when they decide to finally go down to the cellar of their new home, unleashing another kind of hell upon themselves, but that’s stretching it. What really unites all these three movies is actress Catriona McColl, who stars in all three of them as the main character.

In House by the Cemetery we meet the Boyle family as they are headed towards their new home in New England. The father, one Dr. Normal Boyle is moving there to continue the research of a colleague of his that used to live there but for some mysterious reason ended up committing suicide. The little boy in the family ‘Bob’ keeps getting these visions that warn him not to go to ‘Oak Mansion’. But of course, nobody listens to the little kid and so the family moves in anyways. Once they get there, they notice one odd thing about the house: the cellar door doesn’t open. For some reason it is absolutely shut down. Nobody pays much mind to this detail; they figure they’ll eventually get to it. No big hurry. Yet the cellar does hold a mystery to it. What is making all those weird noises in the middle of the night?

What House by the Cemetery does right is that it builds up the mystery surrounding the cellar. Just what is down there? If there’s one thing that Fulci did well in his films it’s the way he used ambiance and atmosphere. The house looks appropriately spooky, there are a lot of noises in the night, things move about the shadows, mysterious disembodied eyes peer at you from the velvet darkness. The house does have a cemetery near it, in accordance to the films title, heck we even have a tomb inside of the house! This is all great stuff, and the gore, boy the gore is awesome on this one. There are some truly grizzly deaths on display in House by the Cemetery! The gore is so plentiful and graphic on this one that it was heavily edited on many countries; as a result, there are various cuts of this film out there. The most complete one is the Anchorbay release which includes all of the gory goodness from the original cut of the film.

The problem for me with this movie is that a lot of the things that happen don’t really make sense, or happen simply for shock value, not because they have anything to do with the story whatsoever, this was a common thing in Fulci films. For example, one scene has a giant vampire bat attacking Dr. Boyle! The bat leaps out of the darkness and bites him on the hand. Apparently, these bats have one hell of a bite! When he is unsuccessful in getting the bat to let go of his hand, he gets a pair of scissors and stabs the bat to death, blood splurts everywhere and great, we have a shocking moment! But that’s it. That’s all it is. There’s no story development behind the bat. It tells us nothing! Great moment; but an empty one at that. Yeah, it’s exciting, it’s gory, and you probably won’t forget it, but moments later you are left wondering “why did that happen?” This will go on all the way to the films final frames. 

Another nonsensical scene has a terribly bloody murder committed on the living room floor, lot’s of blood gets spilled all over the place, a bloody carcass is carried all around the living room and kitchen floor leaving streaks of blood all over the house. The next morning, we see the nanny mopping up the blood as if it was nothing. The lady of the house doesn’t notice these buckets of blood spilled on the floor, she simply goes on with her business and makes herself some coffee. What the hell?! Wouldn’t the nanny find all the blood spilled a tad bit suspicious? I mean, suspicious enough to notify her employers? But no, nobody gives a damn, nobody notices. Its little details like these that take you out of the movie, suddenly, your suspension of disbelief is in peril. But this doesn’t surprise me coming from Fulci, many of his films have nonsensical elements about them, sometimes they come off as mysterious and ominous, other times they come off as lazy storytelling.

Ultimately though, the film works. It is not Fulci’s best film, but it certainly is one of his good ones. At times it feels like a haunted house story, a ghost story, and at others it simply feels like a monster movie. What I love the most about Fulci’s horror films is that he really tries his best to freak us out. Nothing might be happening on screen, but the mystery is in the music, the noises, the spooky lighting, the actress suddenly screaming her lungs off out of pure fright. It’s the little buttons that Fulci pushes in our psyche that makes it all work, and ultimately, that’s what I enjoy about a Fulci horror film.    

Rating:  3 ½ out of 5 


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