Archive for December, 2012

My Top 20 Films Of 2012

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on December 29, 2012 by bookofdread

I love these types of lists, so here you go. Last year I made a top 15 and the last five were maybes. This year I intend on revisiting all 20 of these films plenty!

20. The Grey – Joe Carnahan

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Liam Neeson breaks your heart as he rages against the dying of the light. This film is nearly flawless, and the only reason in ranks so low for me is that viewing it is so draining I can’t really do it that often. That being said, Neeson and Carnahan team up for the best movie ever based on a tale Jack London never wrote.

19. Frankenweenie – Tim Burton

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Tim Burton makes his best and funniest film since Mars Attacks! I never would have thought that this would be the film to end is streak of bland but it rules in ways only a film made by Tim Burton can.

18. The Dark Knight Rises – Christopher Nolan

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A subversive pop-fantasy and an essay on class warfare, TDKR is a brilliant thought bomb exploded into the mass consciousness. While it never reaches the manic highs of The Dark Knight, Nolan effortlessly, (mostly), ties off his trilogy with grace and style.

17.Skyfall – Sam Mendes

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The most beautiful film of the year is also a riveting spy thriller loaded with amorality and intrigue. It’s just hard boiled enough to be Frank Miller’s 007 Returns.

16. Combat Girls – David Wnendt

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Combat Girls is a fierce drama about rich characters. Alina Levshin is a marvel.

15. Chronicle – Josh Trank

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Dane Dehaan is unchained. This film is fucking awesome.

14. Here Comes The Devil – Adrian Garcia Bogliano

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Second only to The Cabin in The Woods, Here comes the Devil is nearly the best horror film of the year. The plot kept me guessing till the end, and indulged many of the sicker corners of my mind while performing a high-wire act concerning the morality of the players. A classic.

13. Argo – Ben Affleck

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Cool and confident, Argo twists the plot until your wits are what Affleck wrings out. Thrilling.

12. The Raid – Gareth Evans

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One of the best action films ever made. The audible moans and cheers heard during screenings of this film made it a true audience experience, an adrenaline rush that pushes you for the entire runtime.

11. Life Of Pi – Ang Lee

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Ang Lee’s film is a surreal tone poem that makes bar raising use of the language of 3D cinema.

10. Antiviral – Brandon Cronenberg

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Bold, uncompromising and twisted, Antiviral is that type of cutting edge science fiction that sends you out of the theater afraid of the world as it mutates before you. Antiviral is a chilling debut from a stellar talent.

9. Cloud Atlas – Andy and Lana Wachoski and Tom Tykwer

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This is one of the most engaging films ever made. It’s a miracle it works, but if you let it, it does.

8. Killer Joe – William Friedkin

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The master’s teeth are sharp as ever. Friedkin delivers a sick knife to the gut that goes in so nice.

7. The Avengers – Joss Whedon

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I wanted to see this film since I was about four years old and watching it made me feel as though I was getting to see it as four year old, and that’s some kind of magic.

6. The Cabin In The Woods – Drew Goddard

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The common thread among horror films is now The Cabin In The Woods. In the pantheon of greatest horror comedies of all time, there are only three films: Ghostbusters, Sean Of The Dead, and now The Cabin In The Woods.

5. Moonrise Kingdom

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Avengers made me feel like a kid, Moonrise Kingdom made me angry I’d ever grown up. I bawled like child through the most romantic film of the year.

4. Cosmopolis – David Cronenberg

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Not subtle but prodding, Cronenberg preaches his weird message to whoever wants to listen. Too often it tends to be risk-taking cineastes, but if casting Robert Pattinson only got a few regular folks into his weird ass movie, it was worth it.

3. John Dies At The End – Don Coscarelli

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They Live for the new age. See it and hope they have the balls to make a sequel.

2. Django Unchained

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While Cronenberg preaches to the choir, Tarantino is out, front and center, crafting subversive blockbusters for the world to feast upon. Django Unchained is crafted on a level of such supreme sophistication, that film scholars will puzzle over it’s juxtaposition of American white cowboy myth and blaxploitation replacement symbols. DU not only changes the way we view slavery but the way we view the way slavery has thus far been depicted in film.

1. Holy Motors – Leos Carax

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Expect the unexpected from this surreal masterpiece. Carax crafts what could end up the best film of the decade, possibly one of the best films of all time? A slippery creature Holy Motors is, never revealing itself completely, it swims in and out of your mind, meaning everything at once.

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Life Of Pi – Ang Lee – 2012

Posted in 2010's with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2012 by bookofdread

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Here’s the deal. A story once told already exists. You can’t take it back. There are no takebacks in storytelling. My absolute favorite film writer hated Life Of Pi because he feels that the perception shift at the end of the tale undermines the story, except, you can’t take it back. I already saw the story and just because you said something else at the end doesn’t mean I didn’t hear the story. And what a story it is!

I don’t really want to get into all of the possible interpretations, and religious implications of Life Of Pi, because I think that stuff is very specific depending on where you approach the material.  Pi is a Hindu-Christian-Muslim, but his parents are decidedly secular. Yet this very intelligent soul finds meaning in each of these philosophies, they are his comic books, his mysteries, his soulful touch with the infinite.

However, by fate, this boy becomes shipwrecked, in a dingy, with a tiger.

I want to talk for a moment about the tiger. Never once did I view it as a special effect, and very rarely did the tiger behave in such a way that I thought it did not want to eat Pi, ASAP. So, the tiger is freaky scary. The effects wizards in this film not only bring the tiger to life but the sea itself. The sea is much, much more terrifying than the tiger and the scenes of storms at sea had me clenched and worried.

This is not a problem with the film, but a measure of its’ effectiveness. I felt punched around and beaten up with this film. It really was quite tiresome, but isn’t that the point? For the audience to vicariously have an adventure? Lee gives us one hell of a ride in this film, with tone shifts from comedic, to harrowing to some of the most downright psychedelic scenes ever filmed.

The film is absolutely beautiful and every image is burned into your cortex. I dreamed about the damn thing for two nights after I saw it, and certain images continue to drift through my mind. The second storm for example was a moment not dissimilar to Liam Neeson’s plea to the Almighty in The Grey. These existential man vs. nature films never seem popular, but dang, I love ‘em. That we get two of these bad boys in the same year is quite special. I may like The Grey a bit more for story, but in terms of an experiential film, Life Of Pi has it, (and everything else), beat.

Another image I can’t shake is the whale breaching in the luminescent water. While this sequence is beautiful and Pi is as awed by it as the viewer, as a result of that shit, he looses all his rations on his little lifejacket island. It’s simultaneously majestic and tragic. It’s Ang Lee giving us that old one-two punch, underlining an overwhelming beauty with which he sees the world, with a tragic narrative turn. It’s one of Lee’s signatures, and the film world is a better place for it.

I also constantly return to that damn dream sequence. It’s so trippy and psychedelic. There’s one part that begins with a squid and ends up being a cipher to the film. As this one creature explodes into many, we are visually given a glimpse into the truth about Pi and his various identities. From one mind many creatures exist. This not only reflects the duplicity present in Pi’s story about the animals, but also re-enforces a type of monotheistic conclusion. Despite the multitude of creatures spawned, they all came from the one, the narrative reconciliation of multiple religions visualized.

Can you tell I liked the film? See it in 3D. Take your wives, take your children, take your husbands too. 

Zombie – Lucio Fulci – 1979

Posted in 70's with tags , , , , , , , on December 7, 2012 by bookofdread

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Fulci’s Zombi is basically all I want from a film. The horror-adventure hybrid is my favorite type of movie there can be and there are extremely few horror adventure films. This is one of the first, and scribes Dardano Sachetti and Elisa Briganti cook up a fantastic tale that Fulci delivers with gusto.

A man wrapped in a sheet slowly sits up. A bullet is fired through his head. “The boat can leave now. Tell the crew.” With this opening image, Fulci brings us directly into the horror, and gives us a mystery to consider. The “thump-thump-thump-thump’ of the Fabio Frizzi score unfolds and takes us into the tale.

Before long we, and the harbor patrol, see this abandoned ship drifting off of Manhattan. After the boat is boarded, a zombie bites one of the men. The other man shoots the zombie who falls into the harbor. This is a key point in the story though we do not know it yet.

Peter West, a newspaperman, meets Ann Bowles, the daughter of the boats’ missing owner. Before long, paper is paying them to fly to the Caribbean so that Anne can search for her father and Peter can search for a thrilling story! The couple meets another couple and board their boat set for Matul.

In one of the best acted scenes, Dr. Maynard and his wife Paola fight about his research. She claims he’s mad and she’s left alone to drink in fear of zombie attacks. He scoffs at this and slaps her and leaves to his crappy jungle hospital where his obsessive study of these phenomena transpires. Lucas, his assistant tells him villagers are leaving their homes in fear of the rising dead.

So far we have white American’s rushing into remote parts of the earth and being faced with supernatural happenings that terrify even the locals. This device allows western audiences to feel the thrill of adventure and the dynamism of travel as well as granting the viewer a terrifying view of an alien poison. However, it is not the locals making the dead rise, the dead are simply rising. It is ironic that Peter West and Anne Bowles left the city before the epidemic.

Zombie vs. Shark.

In what is perhaps the most iconic horror scene in all of film, a zombie fights a shark on the ocean floor of this film. The scene is thrilling and impossible but the main point, (besides being the coolest thing ever), is the depiction of the zombie walking across the ocean floor. If this zombie can cross the sea by foot, then the zombie shot off the boat in the NY harbor can surely walk to shore and ascend. Beyond that, the dead harbor employee shows signs of resurrection at the hospital. Who knows when exactly the zombies got to Manhattan, or if the boat was even the start of the infection? If the dead can walk the bottom of the sea, they would get there eventually.

We return to Paola showering in the beach house. Fulci borrows this familiar location from Psycho, the ultimate visualization of an individual literally being caught with their pants down. A zombie enters the house and smashes through a door, killing Paola by gouging her eye on giant splinter made from the smashed door. After that zombie vs. shark stuff, Fulci has to keep upping the ante, and this scene really delivers the gory goods.

The Americans boat is fucked so they stop on Matul, and Maynard answers their distress flare. Before long Maynard sends the Americans in his jeep to check on his wife, convinced that the zombies are approaching this side of the island. The clip of the plot is so exemplary, that virtually every scene both raises stakes and adds characterization to the members of our party.

From here on out the film is a zombie lovers dream with many, many scenes of gore and rising lumbering zombies. There is a huge finale in the church/hospital with many flaming zombies and gunshots. Fulci stages all of this pandemonium expertly and this scene thrills with each viewing!  Everyone dies except Peter and Anne who narrowly escape. As they tune their boat radio to the first clear frequency they learn that the world has been overrun.

Fulci has his zombies marching into Manhattan. The end is here. See, horror-adventure is possible. Let’s have our cake and eat it too!

Argo – Ben Affleck – 2012

Posted in 2010's with tags , , , , , , , on December 5, 2012 by bookofdread

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Ben Affleck’s Argo is nothing short of a classic. The film bleeds cinema with its’ taut structure, crisp pace and nail-biting suspense. The language of cinema has evolved until this type of editing and storytelling is as cutting-edge as it gets. Affleck and his editors have us in the palm of their hand. The film is fun and funny and intense and dark. What a feat to have your cake and eat it too. It juggles these tones without ever sacrificing characterization for artifice and you never feel as though you know what is going to happen, even though you do.

I’d like to point out that maybe George Lucas’ prequels could have benefited from a structure like this, even though we know Anakin ends up Vader, the entire proceedings could have been a devastating argument for him almost not becoming Vader, and only being crushed into it by inevitability. Instead we get a plot telegraphed so obviously it might as well have been a third grader nailing a kickball down the third base line. I digress.

Argo concerns CIA man Tony Mendez, who concerns himself with getting some employees of the stormed US embassy out of Tehran. His plan involves creating a fictional, Hollywood production, a sci-fi film titled Argo. In order to sell this lie, he goes to LA and basically goes through the motions of producing a film with makeup man John Goodman and producer Alan Arkin. These two and the Hollywood side of the plot are quite funny and Arkin is especially funny and heart-felt, for a Hollywood producer type.

The Tehran stuff is so scary and suspenseful I could barely stand it. Hitchcock would be proud. The film is basically like watching the Christians walk around the lions den with raw meat around their neck while the Lions sniff and paw and gape wide their jaws, but somehow, (Grace?, The CIA?), they are not eaten. They escape the den, but boy is it harrowing.

Affleck is affable as Mendez, and his serious yet humane demeanor is key in leading a squad of civilians through what is essentially a military rescue. Only the bad guys have guns and they don’t. All they have is Argo.

The civilians are good. These people aren’t stars and they each give great performances, every one feeling not only authentic but in fact I feel like I know proxy versions of these characters in my real life. It could be any of us.

The film climaxes and knocks it’s best theme home when the most cowardly of the civilians, and the one who speaks Farsi must convince the airport guards to let them board the plane. There are no subtitles, but the man shows these armed guards storyboards and flies his hand around like a spaceship and we get that he’s telling them, we’re going to come and make Arab Star Wars for you guys and you’re going to love it. The non-actors playing the guards are enchanted by the idea of Arab Star Wars, and who wouldn’t be.

During this scene Affleck throws the kitchen sink at the crew, and we feel like the other shoe will drop any minute. There are simply too many factors for them all to go right. He wrings unbearable tension out of this scene. You know in Indiana Jones films where he leaves his hat under a closing, stone door, and we cut from him to the door again and again, and you’re like, “Way too much time has past! He’ll lose his arm reaching in there!”, that’s basically the last half hour of Argo. It’s amazing.

I have to say, if I was Iranian, I might take offense to the film, its’ portrayal of Muslims and of the period in general is nightmarish, but it offers a few examples of very humane Muslims as well such as the Canadian Ambassadors housekeeper, the head of the Tehran Film Commission and even the soldiers at the end, enchanted by the fact that storytelling and fantasy might come to life in their land.

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