Friday, October 29, 2010

Free Halloween Movies!

It's almost Halloween, which means it's the perfect time to watch some scary movies! What? You don't have any scary movies? Well, that's okay. If you're reading this, chances are you can watch a whole bunch of classic horror movies for free! There are a lot of old movies which are free to watch and available in the public domain, and a lot of them can be found to download for your own private use on the Internet Archive. What? You thought only bad old movies were in the public domain? Well think again! Here are five of my favorite movies that you can download right now for free from the Internet Archive.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

This is probably the most notorious and best example of an excellent film that is free to watch from the public domain. Night of the Living Dead is one of the most popular zombie flicks of all time, and it's a perfect movie to watch around Halloween. Download it here

Nosferatu (1922)

This immortal classic Vampire flick is also free to watch. Check out what real vampires look like in one of the films that started it all almost 90 years ago. Warning: Vampires portrayed in this film do not sparkle in the sunlight. Download it here.

The Last Man on Earth (1964)

It's I am Legend before either Will Smith or Charlton Heston got their hands on it. This is the story as told from the perspective of Vincent Price! Another classic available for free in the public domain, and even though it isn't great, it is a pretty good and cheesy horror flick. Download it here.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

Perhaps the most famous flick that Ed Wood ever created, although for the worst reasons. This is the most cornball horror flick I can think of. Everything about it is cheap and stupid, and that's what makes it so awesome. If you need a good laugh this Halloween, you can always count on this gem. Download it here.

White Zombie (1932)

This is yet another Zombie classic. It's also the movie that gave the popular band headed by Rob Zombie its namesake. Get a taste of horror history and check this flick out for free. Download it here.

This select choice of horror films only touches the surface of what is available to watch and download for free from the public domain. If you take some time just to search the Internet Archive, I'm sure you'll discover more than a few gems that I haven't even mentioned here. If you're hard up for some horror but you don't have any money, let public domain become your best friend! Check out what's available and start watching excellent free movies today!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Top Ten Halloween Movies

Welcome to the list of my Top Ten Favorite Halloween Movies. As you'll no doubt deduce from the word “favorite,” this means that the movies on the list are not judged based on quality or theme, but rather based on what I personally prefer to watch every Halloween. I do prefer to watch movies themed after the spirit of the holiday, but a lot of movies like that just aren't any good to begin with. As such, while most of the movies on the list will be themed after the season, some will just be horror that I like to watch around Halloween. With that in mind, lets jump right in with number ten on the list.

10. Jeepers Creepers

Now I know a lot of you are going to wonder why I would choose this movie, but to be honest I just like to watch it around Halloween. I consider Jeepers Creepers to be a highly underrated movie with a lot going for it. You've got a movie monster which borrows from just about every known movie monster under the sun, and as such he appropriately survives by “borrowing” body parts from others. The storyline is just unique enough to be interesting, and there are plenty of “stand off” style scenes which give the film a very creepy, almost western feel. I liked the second film as well, but it was nowhere near as good as the first. Is it corny? Hell yeah. Is the acting suspect? Sometimes. Is it scary? Well, just enough to keep me happy.

9. Nightmare Before Christmas

If you'd have talked to me a little earlier in my life, you might have found this higher on my list. Sadly, this modern classic just doesn't stand the test of time for me. When I first saw it as a kid, I wasn't that impressed. Upon watching it a second and third time, I slowly grew to love and appreciate the movie a lot more. Now I feel like I've seen it so many times that the plot, the music, and the characters start to wear on my nerves fairly easily. I still tend to watch it around the Halloween season, but something tells me that tradition won't last forever. Give it a few years and it probably won't even make the list. Nightmare Before Christmas is certainly a charming and entertaining film to watch, but if you've seen too much of it you'll just grow tired of it. I'm sure there are fans out there crying foul while reading this, but while you can force me to respect the film, you can't make me enjoy it over and over again ad nauseum.

8. Spaced Invaders

I'm sure some of you don't even know about this movie, and others don't remember it at all. This movie never was very popular, and although it has a small following, not that many people really liked it. For the life of me, I can't understand why. I know it's corny, stupid, and childish, but it's also funny as hell. The movie pokes fun at several well established sci-fi/horror themes of its era, and also manages to weave a somewhat interesting story. Spaced Invaders is about a group of Martians who come down to earth after hearing the perennial classic retelling of The War of the Worlds via radio broadcast on Halloween night, mistaking the broadcast for a distress signal from their comrades. They end up crash landing in a barn on the outskirts of a small town, and instead of being discovered immediately, most of the townspeople end up mistaking them for trick or treaters in costume. I won't spoil the incredibly nonsensical middle and end of the film, but suffice it to say that it's good cheesy fun with a lot of memorable voice acting. After a synopsis like that, you can't tell me that you aren't at least interested in checking this one out.

7. Halloween III: Season of the Witch

To be honest, I finally saw this movie for the first time recently in the last few years, but I can already tell it's going to be a perennial favorite. I don't know if you can tell from the list so far, but I tend to prefer the really cheesy stuff for Halloween. Even though this movie has nothing to do with the Halloween franchise, it's actually kind of cool. It really should just be called “Season of the Witch”, but even that doesn't really make much sense out of the plot. Essentially, the movie follows the attempts of two people trying to stop a big corporation from killing children on Halloween. I'd explain it further, but then you'd miss out on the cheesy goodness. If you haven't seen this movie and you don't mind watching bad movies for the cheese factor, you really should give it a try. Even though I find myself laughing at the ridiculousness of the plot and acting, I still like what they were trying to do with the movie. Obviously they failed, but that doesn't mean it isn't entertaining.
6. Trick 'r Treat

Yes, I know the movie just recently came out, but let's be honest: This is going to be a Halloween classic for years to come. With a sequel already in the works and a format that could lead to dozens more, this is pretty much the embodiment of what I look for in a movie for Halloween. Taking a page out of films like Creepshow and shows like Tales from the Crypt, Trick 'r Treat is an episodic movie featuring four separate, yet interwoven stories. All of these creepy tales take place in one small town (as most horror films do) on Halloween Night under the watchful gaze of Sam, who always seems to be involved somehow. Who is Sam? Well, you get more information about that at the end of the film, but you could consider him the living embodiment of Halloween in a way. This movie is cheesy as hell, and although it's violent, it isn't necessarily scary. With Trick 'r Treat you're getting more of a nostalgia trip than a scary story, as the elements that make up the foundation of the film all hearken back to a day and age when Halloween meant something more and cheesy horror movies were well crafted. Nowadays if a horror movie is bad, it's just flat out bad and not even enjoyable. With Trick 'r Treat you get a return to the “so bad it's good” days, and the Halloween theme makes it perfect for the season.

5. Evil Dead

I doubt anyone needs me to fill them in on this one. If you don't know what Evil Dead is, just stop reading now. You've at least seen this advertised and sold on many different formats in every capacity imaginable. Nowadays it's simply impossible to get away with being completely ignorant to the brilliance of this cheesefest. This is the movie that put director Sam Raimi on the map. With its over the top portrayal of zombies and a plot that disregards all established clichés, Evil Dead goes for the throat keeps you laughing on the edge of your seat. What I find most memorable and enjoyable about this movie after all these years is just how disgusting the practical effects look even now. These zombies don't just look dead, they look like fuckin' hell. While the series became much more campy with Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, this is the one I enjoy watching the most for Halloween. It's got all the good and proper Halloween feel to it with a secluded setting and monsters that only come out at night. What I like the most about this movie is that the surviving character isn't even originally intended to be a main character, he's just a guy that came along for the trip. While this happens a lot nowadays, Ash really was one of the first heroes of the horror genre to go from being “that guy” to being a total badass. Definitely a good one for Halloween!

4. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Based on Washington Irving's legendary tale, this Disney short has become a classic. I remember seeing this on television when I was younger and having the feeling that my imagination was running wild. Obviously this is a classic tale, and in particular it is a very American tale, so I'm sure that in other countries it might not be as big of a deal. Personally, I couldn't imagine Halloween without it. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is the embodiment of everything that I expect from a proper Halloween movie. As I've grown older and wiser, I can better appreciate those aspects of the animated short that are truly fantastic. For instance, what strikes me now more than ever is that Ichabod is portrayed in a very cartoony manner, but The Headless Horseman is very tightly drawn and detailed in comparison. This isn't exactly new for Disney, as this was their animation style for several decades. In fact, in many respects you can still see this animation style in some of their work today, as well. However, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was produced in 1949, right smack dab in the middle of their golden era of animation. As such, it is memorable not just because it is a faithful adaptation of Irving's story, but because it is in the classic animation style of Disney. I know that technically it isn't a movie, but I really don't care. The short does in about 30 minutes what most films fail to do in two hours. You just have to give it the proper respect for that.

3. Halloween

Well, obviously. Halloween is the major influence for the majority of independent horror films nowadays. John Carpenter proved that you could take a simple concept and a shoestring budget and, through the process of making the project your own, you could create something special. I don't know an aspiring filmmaker or film buff who doesn't look up to Carpenter in some way. Obviously he isn't nearly as influential now as he was when he was in his prime, but his prime alone will make him influential for years to come. With Halloween you get a movie that doesn't have a definitive conclusion, and in a way you could say that this was the over arching theme of the entire series. I'm going to assume that by now you know I'm not talking about the remakes, because I could give a crap less about how well they are done, they just can't compare to the simple and extremely effective direction of the film that started it all. One could say that in a way this film launched a movement that to this day continues to thrive in one aspect or another. With all of that in mind, how can you deny that this is one of the most obvious choices for a Halloween themed movie? Of course it ranks in the top 3. It's fuckin' Halloween.

2. The 'Burbs

I just know I'm going to get some strange responses to this one. The Burbs? At number TWO? Well, keep in mind that this is my list of my personal favorites to watch around Halloween. I know it doesn't take place on Halloween, and it isn't in any way centered around Halloween, but it's just a great movie. The 'Burbs spoofs pretty much every classic horror cliché in the book and manages to pull off a rather creepy feel to it as well. The first time I actually watched this was in black and white on a 13 inch TV at my friend's house when I was a kid. I know that's going to sound weird, because the movie was never in black and white and it wasn't really intended to be, but I swear that this was my fondest memory of the movie. Every time I watch it I remember bringing my VCR over to his house and hooking it up to that tiny little B&W and just going at it with as many movies as we could rent. Keeping that in mind, consider that this movie rips on the classic horror films of the B&W age, and as a result I think it actually does look better in B&W. Because of the creepy feel and the homage to the classics, The 'Burbs is a movie I always find myself watching at this time of year. I couldn't tell you exactly why, all I know is that I like it, and it's one of my Halloween favorites.

...and now for my number one movie to watch for Halloween....

1. Poltergeist

This has got to be my favorite horror movie of all time. I realize it's more of a modern classic, but it manages to maintain its ability to scare the shit out of me every time I watch it. I don't run away in terror, but I do still find myself breathless before some of the creepier scenes. In particular the scene when the mother falls into the unfinished pool that's filled with rotting corpses has always left me extremely unsettled. I never understood why until I read a bit more into the making of the movie. Apparently they used real corpses in that scene, and from what I understand they didn't even tell the actress about that. When I found out about that I was just blown away. No wonder they looked so authentic, they fuckin' WERE authentic. It seems like a lot of movies today and even some in the 80's attempted to copy the success of Poltergeist in a way, because you end up seeing a lot of the same tricks that started with Poltergeist in other horror films concerning ghosts. For instance, in Ghostbusters we see Dana Barrett's food start to come to life in front of her, much like what happened to one of the paranormal investigators in Poltergeist. In Paranormal Activity 2 we see a baby being dragged up the side of a crib, just as in Poltergeist the mother is dragged up the side of the wall. For pete's sake, there's even an entire episode of Family Guy devoted to the film. To my knowledge they only did that for one other movie, and they've managed to turn that into a successful franchise. Of course, Poltergeist is no Star Wars, as you could hardly call the sequels a worthy addition to the legacy of the first film. The point is, this is a classic for a reason. I watch this movie every year around Halloween without fail, and it is the only horror movie that still manages to scare me. As such, Poltergeist is my number one Halloween movie.

Thanks for reading my Top 10. I hope you enjoyed it, but if you didn't, let me know in the comments. Let me know what your favorite Halloween movies are as well, because who knows? Maybe I'll come back next year and revise this puppy. Or maybe I'll just make a viewers choice? Either way, I'm always up for suggestions, and I love a good discussion about movies! If you haven't heard of one of the titles on this list, do yourself a favor and check it out. They're all good movies for different reasons, and they're all perfect for the Halloween season. Whatever you do, make sure to be safe and have lots of fun. Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Double Header: Night of the Hunter and Poltergeist II

For my first Double Header, I'll be going the horror/thriller route since Halloween is right around the corner. I'm actually surprised at how many people haven't made this connection before. One of the films so blatantly pays tribute to the other that you'd have to be blind to miss the similarities. Unfortunately, a lot of people missed out on this first film and never really got a chance to check it out. It's not as if it has ever been in heavy syndication on television, nor does anyone even bother to mention it, but it really does deserve some props for keeping old traditions alive and beginning new traditions as well. With that in mind, lets start off the Double Header with Night of the Hunter.

Night of the Hunter

Night of the Hunter is a classic thriller starring Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters. Mitchum is perhaps best known for his role in the original Cape Fear, but to me he'll always be the reverend in Night of the Hunter. So what makes a reverend so scary? Well, he's not really a reverend, of course. Harry Powell is a criminal, and while he plays a man of the lord in the film, as the story progresses we begin to see just how crazy this guy really is. Most of the time you'll be struggling to figure out whether he really believes half the shit he says, and the rest of the time he's trying to kill someone. There are even scenes in the film which depict Harry all alone, and he's talking to the sky as if God was there telling him to kill all the sinners. There's no way around it, this is without a doubt one of the creepiest films I have ever seen.

One of the things that makes the film so creepy is the style used throughout. Night of the Hunter came out in 1955, and to be honest it didn't really follow a similar style to anything else that was released at the time. Instead, director Charles Laughton decided to use film elements which had long since been left by the wayside. Through the use of German Expressionism he turns the very setting of the film into a haunted house, where nothing makes any sense and the viewer is constantly in a state of confusion. I don't mean to make it sound like an acid trip, but suffice to say that in the world of the film, many of the settings are exaggerated. This is much akin to what was done with German expressionism in the early 1920's, which is why the film often gets compared to said movement. 

Take the screenshot above for instance. In this shot we see both the highly exaggerated height of the ceiling and the carefully chosen low lighting from the window. While the low lighting might be confused for Noir elements, it really is a tribute to particular expressionist films of the past. Personally, I like to believe that Noir borrowed from expressionism and this is exactly the kind of result you could expect from that. For further example, check out the clip below which shows us the first time that the children have any kind of experience with the villain. In the clip the boy stands up and sees the silhouette of the reverend coming through the window. The kid is supposed to be on the second floor, and there is no way that this silhouette could possibly be recreated from such dimensions.

After the somewhat shocking experience, the kids just go right to bed, which doesn't make much sense to the viewer with both the music and the look that the children have on their face. This is disorienting, to say the least, but here is where the parallels between the two films in our Double Header become noticeable. Many filmmakers sought to pay tribute or borrow from this classic film, one of the more popular being Spike Lee. In his film Do the Right Thing he shows a character re-enacting a scene taken directly from Night of the Hunter, as we can see below.

However, Do the Right Thing is not exactly a horror film, so it isn't part of the Double Header. Instead we're going to focus on a film you wouldn't think of associating with Night of the Hunter at first, but I'm sure the comparison will be absolutely clear by the end. With that said, lets get to our second movie, which is a sequel of one of the more popular horror flicks of all time: Poltergeist II.

Poltergeist II

Confused already? Well, don't be. If you haven't seen this sequel, I can't really blame you. It wasn't exactly a well received film, and time has all but forgotten it. Poltergeist is still a relatively popular film by comparison, but this sequel just didn't get any love. To be honest, the story isn't exactly brilliant, and you probably wouldn't like the direction they took with the movie if you really loved the first film. I was a huge fan of the first, and I only picked up the sequels because I got them both for five bucks on one disc. However, after watching the sequel again, I noticed something very familiar in one of the main characters. Would you believe it? This film also features a creepy reverend, and he wears much the same garb as the one in Night of the Hunter. Quite a coincidence, don't you think? Well, watch the clip below and let me know if anything strikes you as particularly similar to the clips you've already seen of Night of the Hunter.

So we've got the creepy old reverend walking along outside the house singing a hymn in an extremely disturbing way, much like the reverend does in that scene of Night of the Hunter. You can't tell me this was just a coincidence. I'm sure the filmmakers knew what they were doing, and the mile long yard is the ultimate proof. What better way to pay homage to Night of the Hunter than to present some very expressionist dimensions by making their front yard appear to be way bigger than it probably should be. Our clue into this fact is the houses in the background, which all appear to have normal sized lawns and nothing out of the ordinary. All of a sudden we have a huge ballpark in front of their particular house? Come on. This is clearly a nod to the style used in Night of the Hunter. With the similarity in dress, manner, and style, even though he isn't singing the same song, the parallels are extremely clear.

I know, I was surprised too. The last thing I expected from a poorly received sequel of a horror classic was a nod to one of the most unique horror/suspense films of the 1950's. This scene is extremely well done, and in watching the film a second time it actually serves to add more depth and integrity to the film. If you didn't like it before, watch it again with these similarities in mind. I never thought I'd be suggesting that anyone should check out the Poltergeist sequels, but combined with the newfound artistic integrity and the uncanny history behind the films, I have to suggest that you check out Poltergeist II. I'm sure if you watch these two movies back-to-back as a double header, you'll have much the same experience I did, and you'll have a hell of a ride checking out how the style of past horror films mixes with the style of more recent films in the genre. With Halloween right around the corner, this is a perfect duo to watch as it will give you a bit of film history and hopefully quite a few chills as well.

Poltergeist II is available on DVD as a double feature with Poltergeist III for a pretty low price. As I said before, it was never very well received, so it's probably going to be pretty cheap to get your hands on. As for Night of the Hunter, there is one DVD version available right now, and a Blu-ray being brought out by Criterion which is slated for release on November 16th. Sadly, if you want to check it out before Halloween, you might have to buy the previous DVD release or just rent it if you can. I'm sure most of you would rather wait for the deluxe Criterion release, and you can go here and pre-order it right now if you wish. Thanks for checking out my first Double Header. Please let me know if you liked it, or if you want me to do more. I'm going to be doing more Double Headers in the future, but if it is well received I might be convinced to do a few more than what I had originally planned. Stay tuned for future Double Headers, and keep your eyes peeled next week for my Top 10 Favorite Halloween Movies!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Jackass 3D and Waiting for Superman reviews, Double Headers coming this week

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Well, it sure was an interesting experience to write a review for Jackass 3D one day and a review for Waiting for Superman the next. However, the experience of seeing the two films back-to-back was much more unusual. I literally went from watching one of the most intelligent documentaries of the past decade to watching Jackass. Suffice it to say that while it's not the worst double header you could choose, it isn't exactly the best one either. In my opinion, a double feature should be two movies that have something in common with one another. I guess you could argue that the fact that these two movies were so radically different makes them work together in some awkward way. Personally, I'd rather have a double feature with much more substance to it.

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That is why later this week I plan to unveil my next project here on Cinemafangeeque: Double Headers. Since Halloween is right around the corner, I figured now was as good a time as any to start the series because I have a rather good match up for Horror/Suspense fans. My idea for the Double Headers series is to present my case for watching two films back-to-back. In some cases it may just be the genre that the films are in, but in other cases I will be comparing something as small and seemingly insignificant as the character development. My intent is to suggest Double Headers that you might not have considered before, and in so doing help you to think about film in a different way. While I doubt I'll be doing these as often as once a week, it's not out of the realm of possibility to expect one per month.

The first one is probably going to be a bit of a head scratcher for most readers, but I promise I'll make my choices as clear as I possibly can. Having seen these two back-to-back myself, it really is interesting to compare and contrast both films based on the very little that they have in common. Lets just say that one film clearly borrows from the style and significance of another in an extremely original and effectively creepy way. I'm sure most of you will enjoy the Double Headers, but if they aren't your thing you shouldn't worry; it's not like that's all I'm going to do here on Cinemafangeeque. I'm also planning top ten lists of some of my favorite movies, and I have an idea for a Halloween themed list that I might do next week. Keep on the lookout for that one!

Other than that, there's not much else to say right now. If the Double Headers go over well enough, I might just make them into a video series if I ever get the time to make some videos. The problem with doing videos right now is that my computer is on its last legs and almost every attempt I have made at shooting something in the last month has met with a systemic crash of some kind. Trust me, it isn't that I don't enjoy making videos, nor is it for lack of actually trying, it's just that my computer is a piece of crap. That being said, it's not as if I am in a hurry to make a lot of videos either. With the way that Youtube has been treating me I've been moving some of my videos to, and my videos don't get nearly as much attention there.

To add to that pile of problems is the fact that I'm more of a writer anyways. I don't know if any of you have watched some of my videos, but a common theme among most of them is my inability to form coherent thoughts. When I'm writing, it's much easier for me to express myself in any and every way I could possibly imagine. While I ramble on just as much here as I do in my videos, here you'll notice that you can actually understand what I'm trying to say. Consider also that I'm currently majoring in English and writing reviews for a website, which should say something about my aspirations for the future. As much as I love making videos and immersing myself in the process of the very art of film that I love so much, I'd much rather write about the subject than to perform it. Why? I'm just better at writing, and I'd rather have film be my hobby than my profession.

With that in mind, I hope you'll keep coming back to check out what's new on Cinemafangeeque. Hopefully this will be a much more comfortable and less frustrating place for me to practice my craft and express myself without limitation. Whatever I choose to post, you can be sure that it will be film related and close to my heart. Thanks for reading, and please check out my reviews on Jackass 3D and Waiting for Superman if you haven't already. I enjoyed both films
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immensely for different reasons, and I go into detail in both reviews to explain why. For my next review I'm planning to take a look at the recent cult classic Brick, directed by Rian Johnson and starring a bevy of former child actors. I absolutely adore this film, so you can expect a damn good review of it. Check out the trailer below if you're unfamiliar with the title. Be back in a few days!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Secret of Kells Review

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Hey guys, I recently posted a review for The Secret of Kells on Movie Cynics. This is one of those movies that is so good and so original that I just can't sing its praises nearly enough. If you haven't heard of The Secret of Kells, I don't blame you. This is an independently created animated film, and as such it hasn't had the same audience as a film of this stature would normally receive. However, if any film deserves your attention, it is most definitely this one.

The Secret of Kells is about a little boy who has lived his entire life walled up in his village and has been forbidden to leave. When a stranger arrives in town, the boy is immediately stricken with him as he discovers that the stranger is actually a man of some fame among the villagers. After the man finds his muse in the boy, he asks him to leave the village and enter the forest to look for a certain kind of berry that will produce the ink necessary to write in a most famous and precious book to the people. While this "precious book" will obviously sound familiar to anyone who has any experience with any religion, it isn't exactly the same kind of book. In fact, if you've ever heard of the PC game Myst or read the book series that it is based on, you might be surprised to find out how similar the books are in nature.

The book spoken of and referred to in the story of The Secret of Kells is said to have almost magical, mystical powers. Upon seeing some of the design that is used in the book, it is easy to see that the use of ornate and intricate detail is a most important factor in crafting and creating the pages of the book. This stood out to me, because these two factors are also found in the books of Myst, which are said to be so well written that users can literally open a book and be transported to another world simply by placing their hand on its pages. While it's obviously more likely that Myst borrowed heavily from the legend that this movie is based on, it was striking to see such parallels in the story.

The Secret of Kells is heavily based on Celtic legend, and the references to vikings are many and numerous throughout the film. It was interesting to note that the personages of vikings never take on any more detail than broad chested shadows with horns on their heads, making them look like demons. I'm sure that from the perspective of a young boy who has heard only ghostly stories about their existence, this is exactly what these evil beings are. This is one of the many reasons that the film works so well. On top of being told from the perspective of a young boy whose worldview is extremely limited, the animation design is very limited as well. No, this isn't because they didn't have the money, it is a stylistic choice which only further draws the viewer in.

I'd love to go into detail about the artistic design of the film, but to be honest I already covered it quite extensively in my review. If you want to know more about The Secret of Kells, I implore you to check that out, and get your hands on the movie any way you can. I was surprised and delighted to discover recently that the film is now available for free via Netflix Instant Watch, and in HD no less. Do yourself a favor and make this the next animated film you watch. It really is an absolutely fantastic film with only minimal flaws which do not detract in any way from the overall enjoyment of it. The Secret of Kells is a wonder to behold, and you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Is Dr. Horrible Really Horrible?

As was to be expected, I have received many comments and complaints regarding my negative review of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Many of the comments have been in the "how dare you" range, but some of them have been very good questions which have brought up very important issues that I did not have a chance to go into with my review. Readers have to understand that I am constrained by the format of the site that I am writing for, and as such a typical review on Movie Cynics runs between 1,000-1,300 words. Had I been as in depth as was required of me to accurately and faithfully represent each side of every argument for and against the show, the review might have run 2,000-2,500 words or more, and that just wasn't going to work. As such, I've decided to address some of the more pertinent comments here on my blog, so as to further attempt to explain myself.

kyutokai writes:

"Also, the main point (IMO) of this MOVIE (not web show. NOT. WEB. SHOW.) is to challenge and parody established cliches."

While it is your prerogative to view this show as a film, I feel that to do so is to ignore the very build and construction of the work. You see, a director does not film a movie the same way they are going to film a television show. Even if the episodes are all connected and add up to one result, they are still shot and designed to be shown in episodic format, and as such they are subject to the constraints of that format. This has a profound effect on the way that the story is told, and in the case of Dr. Horrible, it effects how quickly the story is told in each episode. Being that the show adds up to a total of only 42 minutes, a fact that I have no doubt Joss Whedon understood, it forces the filmmaker to cut information that may or may not be important and to rush the plot and the narrative as much as possible.

That is not the way that a feature length film is shot, and it is not the way in which a plot or narrative unfolds in said style of film. As such, it would be pointless to argue that Dr. Horrible is a movie, because it really is chained to its formatting much more deeply than you might understand. Part of the reason the show works as well as it does is because it is a web show, and it delivers a fairly hefty package in a very short run time. So please, stop calling it a movie. This isn't a movie. It is, always has been, and always will be a web show.

kyutokai writes:

" The lyrics are INTENTIONALLY cheesy and poorly written as a way to lampoon the cheesy lyrics found in most musicals aimed at this demographic (E.G. High School Musical)."

I've always been more attracted to the Mel Brooks school of thinking when it comes to parody. In my opinion, it isn't a parody unless it directly reflects the subject that it parodies. You can't be original with parody, it's just an unwritten rule of the form. In being original, you break away from the subject of parody and create your own monster. While that monster may very well be based on the subject you intended to parody, it ceases to be a parody the second it becomes it's own sentient creation. In other words, if this is intended to lampoon films like High School Musical, why doesn't it take place in a high school? Why isn't it a feature length film? Why isn't it focused on the supposed lives of teenagers? No, this is a musical about a guy named Billy who wants to become a respected Villain, and his internal conflicts between his desire for companionship and his desire for respect.

Planet Bierwagen writes:

"The film is NOT about “Dr. Horrible” the story is about Billy who wants desperately to BE accepted by society and The Evil League of Evil as “Dr. Horrible”. This is why the scenes in the laundromat work so well… because there he is just poor Billy, talking to Penny, the girl of his dreams."

While I disagree as to the reasons why the laundromat scenes work so well, I think you're absolutely correct about the overarching point of the show. At this point I'd again like to point out that I am constrained by the format of the website I am writing for, and as such I can't possibly tackle every single solitary idea that may strike the viewer's fancy. I write to a wide audience, both attempting to entertain and to express my opinions of a film or a TV/web show while explaining my reasons behind those opinions. Because I write to a large audience, I have to try and speak in a less formal language than I might use here or elsewhere, so of course some of my commentary is going to sound rather harsh. However, my over-all score is intended to be the sum of the excellence of the subject I am writing about subtracted of its errors.

I gave Dr. Horrible a 5/10, which in my mind's eye is "middle of the road" territory and reflects neither a negative nor a positive view of the show. Think of it as a 2.5/5 if you must, but understand that in my opinion a 5 out of 10 is still an easily watchable and enjoyable piece of entertainment. I in no way meant to infer with my score or the harshness of my words that this show is entirely without merit; that simply isn't the case. This whole situation just reminds me of my review of Disney's Prince of Persia. Due to its technical success I was compelled to give it a 4/10, but if my opinion were the only thing I had considered in that review I probably would have given it a much lower score. It's easy to make up some bullshit and declare it to be a detractor of something you loathe, but instead of doing that I decided to be fair and acknowledge those things that were handled well in the film. I feel as if I did the same for Dr. Horrible, and as such I just have to wonder why it has received such negative attention.

I guess it just comes with the territory. You never can be sure when something you write will enrage your readers or not, regardless of the steps you take to avoid such issues.

Planet Bierwagen writes:

"Don’t forget that in the story she refers to be fired “many times” which leads me to believe at one time she too was homeless – which is now the cause she’s chosen to spend her life fixing. That’s MORE character development in a few minutes than you get in some 3 hour films."

Just because some 3 hour films suck doesn't mean that the plot of Dr. Horrible is any better. While I will freely admit it is impressive to see such development handled in such a short time frame, I have to question whether or not that is necessarily a good thing. Throwing important plot devices at your viewers like a random snowball isn't exactly the most tactful of decisions to be made. This is most likely a fault of the formatting of the show, and not of the creators. With such a short time frame to work with, I can only imagine that some of the more important plot devices must be thrown in rather quickly and hastily. Being that there was no guarantee of any future beyond the one story being told in the show, the creators no doubt worked with what they had and did what they could to make it work. Sadly, I feel as if the show would have worked much better had it been split into two seasons rather than one group of short webisodes.

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda. Doesn't change what was done. Generally the term "snowball" in a story refers to a ball of snow that rolls down a hill getting bigger and bigger, reflective of the way that one event in a story can lead to several others. However, in Dr. Horrible I have to say the snowball was picked up and thrown in the face of the viewer, having no chance to attain much of any added meaning beyond the stinging wet pile of ice that is now all over the viewer's face.

Planet Bierwagen writes:

"No slapstick? What about “Moist” y’know… Dr. H’s “moisture buddy”? The montage of Dr. Horrible getting his ass handed to him by Hammer. The “Bad Horse chorus”? And so many other sight gags: the groupie chorus, Hammer dripping with cheesiness every second he’s on the screen, the death ray, the freeze ray, the liquidized gold…"

I guess some of that is slapstick, but a lot of it I would just consider visual gags. I am referring more to slapstick in the sense of physical humor, not visual. The fact that the head villain is a horse is absolutely hilarious, and was one of my favorite things about the show. I loved that Dr. Horrible's best friend is "Moist," but how much of a part does that really play in the plot or the narrative? This was my biggest issue with the show -- none of the truly humorous and creative stuff was of any real importance to the show as a whole, except to further elucidate the main characters, often in the most meaningless of ways. I'm sorry, but I just didn't see anything particularly fantastic about Dr. Horrible, and I must stick by what I said in my review.

In my eyes, a 5/10 doesn't encourage the reader to completely ignore the show, and as it was pointed out again by Mr. Bierwagen, the show is fairly easy to get your hands on. You can either watch it for free on sites like Hulu, or Instant Watch on Netflix, or pay the ten bucks and check it out on DVD/Blu-ray. It wasn't my intention to completely deter people from checking the show out, and I believe my review entirely reflects that point of view. Both in closing and in my synopsis I suggested to readers that they should rent this before they buy it, which is not a statement of abject hatred towards the show, but rather one of at least a modicum of respect.

I can only hope that from now on readers will consider that I'm not completely lambasting Dr. Horrible or Joss Whedon in my review, and I do give it at least enough of a chance to recommend that readers check it out in one form or another. Thanks for your comments, your consideration, and your time.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Last of the Mohicans Blu-ray Review

In finding my voice with my reviews, I quickly discovered that I wanted to be as faithful to my audience as possible. This means that if there's something wrong with a movie, or in this case if there's something wrong with the quality of the film on its respective media format, I intend to let the reader know about it. I'm not going to be overly focused on giving studios what they want, and if I'm reviewing a Blu-ray or DVD, I'm not going to be entirely focused on the film itself either. In my opinion, what matters most in a review of a film on a high definition format like Blu-ray is how it looks. If the film is accurately represented in high definition and looks spectacular, as in the case of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I'm going to let you know. Conversely, if it looks like total shit I'm going to let you know that, as well.

Sadly, in the case of The Last of the Mohicans, I had to give a somewhat negative review. On one hand Fox did give me a free review copy of the film, but on the other hand it's a pile of donkey shit. I would be pissed at myself if I didn't accurately and intelligently explain exactly what was wrong with the transfer. I see so many Blu-ray reviewers online giving a false impression of a transfer, and that makes me sick. As such, I'm resolved to represent the reality of the situation rather than to make something sound a lot better than it is. If a Blu-ray looks like shit because it's been DNR'd or EE'd to death, I'm going to let you know about it. Good transfer or bad, you'll get nothing but the absolute truth from me.

I know for a fact that Michael Mann knows how to properly use black levels in his films, so the fact that the Blu-ray of The Last of the Mohicans is so dark probably isn't his fault. So what went wrong with this one? No doubt they probably just mailed this one in, spent a few days working on the transfer and called it a day. That is unfortunate because the film really is very good, and it deserves much more respect than it was given with this transfer. Some scenes, particularly from the middle to the end of the film, are absolutely beautiful and use little to no DNR. The final battle in particular is a sight to behold, as it takes place on a cliff face and every minute detail of the rock and the trees far in the background is beautifully visible in high definition. Still, getting one scene right isn't exactly impressive when they should have gotten them all right.

If Paramount, one of the most notorious studios for bad Blu-ray transfers, can properly handle a film like Braveheart and make it look ten times better than it has ever looked before, why can't Fox do the same for The Last of the Mohicans? There is simply no excuse for this kind of trash. If you love the movie, you might want to pick up the Blu-ray just for the scenes that are well done. However, if you're not particularly crazy about paying $15 for a lackluster high def transfer, you might just want to skip it and pick up the DVD. Either way, the film truly is a classic in my opinion, and it is much more faithful to the social realities of the time period that it deals with than similarly themed films. If you've never seen it, give it a chance one way or another. If you want more information, please check out Movie Cynics for my full review of the Blu-ray.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Invasion of the Body Snatchers Blu-ray Review

Hey guys, I recently posted a review for the new Invasion of the Body Snatchers Blu-ray on Movie Cynics. I felt like gushing further about this particular Blu-ray, because it's pretty fucking awesome. MGM has become known for their lazy ass high def transfers, so I can't blame people for being wary of picking up either this or Return of the Living Dead. While Return looks a little less than perfect, Invasion of the Body Snatchers represents a brand new day for MGM. Considering the company is close to calling it quits and liquidating, it's surprising to see something this significant come from their catalog. I'm telling you, if you haven't heard the news yet, this is without a doubt the BEST Blu that MGM has yet put out.

Not only does it look beautiful, but it's freakin' cheap as hell right now. While you don't get a slew of special features, there is enough to keep any fan of the film satiated. At least they made more of an effort than Fox did with Last of the Mohicans, but that is both a rant and a review for another day. Wondering just how cheap it is? TEN BUCKS. $10.49, factory sealed from right this second. You'll find similar prices all over right now, and something tells me it will stay that way until after Halloween. The other horror flick that MGM released on Blu recently was of course Return of the Living Dead, and while it isn't nearly as good a transfer as Invasion, it too is only $10.49 on Amazon.

So why is this such a good deal? I know what you're saying, there are plenty of good Blu-rays for ten bucks, what makes this one so special? Well, it's quite simple: Invasion comes with both the Blu-ray and the DVD. How many Blu's at ten bucks come with the DVD version as well? Exactly. If you haven't quite yet adapted to the high def market yet, this is the perfect kind of Blu-ray to start with. The DVD even features a commentary from director Philip Kaufman that you won't find on the Blu-ray. This means that even if all you want is the Blu-ray, there's good reason to have the DVD lying around as well.

To be honest, at ten bucks this is a fantastic deal. If I had to compare it to a similarly well done transfer from the same era of film, I'd have to say that One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest best reflects how this transfer looks. If you haven't seen the transfer for One Flew Over, you simply must. We're talking about picture quality that makes the film look as if it was shot yesterday. The transfer for One Flew Over was so damn good that it was almost disconcerting to see the now famous actors in the film looking so young and vivid. With Invasion we get a transfer that, while not quite as good as One Flew Over's PQ, will still make you stop and look a little closer. I'll post some screens up here so you can see for yourself just what I mean. If you're not convinced, you can check out screenshots at's review for the film.

Simply put, at this low a price, this quality of Blu-ray and an extra DVD to go with it is the best deal you're going to find. If you're looking to beef up your horror collection before Halloween, or just want to check out how good Invasion looks in high definition for yourself, please check out the link below and pick it up from Amazon!

Reviving Cinemafangeeque

Did I ever tell you where I got the name for Cinemafangeeque? It seems kind of uninspired and stupid, doesn't it? Well, I used to read Fox Trot comics a lot when I was a teenager, and one of Jason's favorite magazines was called "Cinemafangeeque." The name stuck with me over the years because of just how corny it is. Being that I am a huge fan of film and my obsession almost airs of the side of geekdom at times, I felt the name would be prudent. I originally started this blog to try my hand at writing a few news articles related to film, but eventually I just dropped the ball as I had school work and other things on my mind.

Luckily, today I find myself in a much better position to keep this blog going with much more content than before. For the past couple months I have been writing reviews and news for a great website called "Movie Cynics," and as such I have gotten into the habit of posting original content quickly and efficiently. With this kind of work under my belt, I feel it prudent to keep myself in the habit and keep practicing the format of writing for an online audience as much as I possibly can. This is why I have decided to make a return with Cinemafangeeque, as it is a blog which I know I can quickly pick up and run with. So, what can you expect from this blog from now on?

My plans for the future of Cinemafangeeque include a number of different things. First, of course I plan to post links and small descriptions of both reviews and news that I and other reviewers on Movie Cynics have posted. Second, I plan to post a few video reviews that might or might not be directly related to reviews I have written on the site. To get an idea of what those might be like, you can check out the youtube videos at the bottom of the page. While these will be a large focus of the blog, I have to say that at times I have ideas and thoughts which I wish to express, and sadly a professional site such as Movie Cynics is not the place for them. As such, you can expect me to express my true feelings and opinions on films and media formats here on Cinemafangeeque.

While a certain level of my personality seeps through all that I write, I really do try to keep my words and thoughts as professional as possible on the site, so when I have a particular rant or rave to make on a subject I am glad to know that I will now have Cinemafangeeque to turn to. I also plan to post original content such as DVD/Blu-ray deals, Top 5 and Top 10 Lists, and even some film pairings that I plan to call "Movie Night." Movie Night will essentially be a review of two films which have something in common that makes them work together as a Double Feature. The basic idea will be to expose new and different ideas concerning film to my audience by suggesting films that they can sit down and watch as a Double Feature and find similarities which both make the films stand out and add to their significance.

Hopefully my new format will meet with some approval from film fans, but as it stands right now, my only intention is to serve the fans and friends I already have and to serve myself as well. I expect Cinemafangeeque to become both a creative outlet and a source of practice for my writing form. I am first and foremost a writer, so although I enjoy film and the process of making video reviews and the like, my main focus for the future is to improve my writing ability as much as possible while finding my voice and entertaining my readers. If you want to know more about me and get the first scoop on reviews/films/news from me, feel free to follow me on Twitter.

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