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Monday, October 29, 2012

My 20 Favorite Movies for Halloween

20 - The Sixth Sense -
M. Night Shyamalan’s third film is easily his magnum opus, a film so simple yet so powerful that it has regularly been held up among the greatest films of all time.  Everyone tried to argue that they figured the ending out, and they all were liars.  I had a few guesses but the surprise ending here was so out of nowhere that the hints to the ending made throughout the film did not even seem like hints until the end.  The film also launched the short but lucrative A-list run for its star Haley Joel Osmont, who remained consistently good though many of his later vehicles sort of felt weak as a whole.  

19 - Seven
This is the film that really got me into the modern thriller.  I never cared for horror movies or thrillers when I was younger, I was more of an action and comedy person, but Seven taught me that the horror film can be a cerebral good time and helped me to break down the wall of pretension that I had put up for myself.  I still love Seven to this day, as I do pretty much all of David Fincher’s films.  This is one of the strongest crime thrillers of all time and I feel it is at least almost as good as Vertigo and the Third Man based on the mystery and inventiveness of the story.  The ending is a real kicker too, it feels like it all built to this one big climax.  I also like how the entire film is dark and grungy until the end where the field is bright and open.  It is a nice little piece of symbolism, as though we’re forced to see the world through John Doe’s eyes.

18 - Misery
This is one freaking disturbing movie.  To me, Misery, like Seven, is much scarier than A Nightmare on Elm street because it seems real, like it can happen.  I still love Nightmare more, just because it is such a great story told in such a clever way, but Misery just hits me in an interesting way.  It’s almost hard to explain.  However, when Annie breaks Paul’s ankles with that hammer, you know he’s trapped.  You feel his pain.  It is so chill-inducing and so perfectly done that it feels too real at times.  

17 - Zombieland
This is a fun movie that uses gore well, but is more of a comedy than a horror film.  Zombieland is a great pick for people trying to get into zombie flicks because, while it is not the best, it is one of the most accessible.  The gore effects here are superb and the performances by all involved are damn good.  If you want a little laugh to go with your gore, this is a great choice.

16 - The Silence of the Lambs
This Oscar-winning thriller gave us one of the greatest movie villains of all time, Hannibal Lecter.  The character is not the principal villain of the story, that would be the killer Buffalo Bill, but he is so terrifying, so evil and so intelligent that he just instills you with a unique style of fear.  His creepy persona is just so perfectly performed by Anthony Hopkins that it stays with you long after the movie is over.  Heightening this fear is Jodie Foster’s character Clarice Starling, whose own terror is visible and only amplifies the effect of Hopkins’ performance.

15 - Rosemary’s Baby
Roman Polanski’s thriller about a woman who is pregnant with the spawn of Satan is probably one of the most captivating horror classics of all time.  The film is filled with these birth pains (so-to-speak) that just build and relax, coming closer and closer until the very end. The climax is one of the creepiest scenes ever put to film in my opinion.  With all of the tennants standing around a room at the end of which is a carriage holding a terrifyingly-deformed baby.  This movie is one hell of a creep fest from start to finish.

14 - Ringu
The Japanese original Ringu towers above the over-produced mess that was the American remake in just about every way.  It is scarier, it is smarter, it is better-acted and better-directed.  Ringu is moody, the special effects are great and the story is a lot better than it really has to be for this type of movie.  Good on you Japan for teaching us how to make a good horror movie, yet will still manage to screw it up here in the U.S. almost ever time.

13 - 28 Days Later
From one end of the world to another, we go from Japan to the UK for 28 Days Later, one of the best “zombie” movies pretty much ever made.  28 Days later is a stunning thriller from Danny Boyle, the Oscar-winning director of Slumdog Millionaire.  The story follows a man named Jim, played by the very-adept Cillian Murphy, who wakes up after a coma to find his home city completely abandoned. That is, until he falls under attack by hordes of “zombies” piled on top of eachother in a church.  But these aren’t the lumbering, slow “zombies” we’re used to.  No!  This things are sprinters and they are ready to eat your face!   In 28 Days later, mankind becomes infected with what is known as the Rage Virus, which throws its victims into a state of uncontrollable violence.  Along the way our hero meets up with a group of survivors fighting a resistance against the lost souls.  This is a really good one people.

12 - Wait Until Dark
Wait Until Dark is one of those movies that requires you to really put yourself in the character’s shoes.  A group of thugs, led by a terrifying Alan Arkin, follow a missing stash of drugs to the apartment of an innocent blind woman named Susy, played by the almost-always unmatched Audrey Hepburn.  There are scenes where she is moving about her house, completely unaware of her silent intruders, but as the movie continues, and she realizes she is not alone and the terror in her performance is unforgettable.  

11 - Shaun of the Dead -
This is the ultimate zombie/comedy.  I love this movie because it follows the zombie tropes that work, casts aside many that don’t, and features characters we can see ourselves hanging out with.  I also like how it implements some real human situations, like when Shaun’s mother is bitten.  It feels like Edgar Wright wanted to really tell a story with a humorous angle, rather than going for a straight spoof.  This, to me, makes for better comedy.  

10 - Army of Darkness
Army of Darkness is great fun.  One of my favorite films of the 90’s, Army of Darkness concludes the Evil Dead trilogy with Ash transported back to medieval times to unwittingly get dragged into a prophecy and a fight against an evil army of the damned.  This movie is a blast, mixing gore, slick practical effects and some very well-done slapstick to make for one hell of a good time.  I also adore the stop motion animation used for many of the scenes because this movie was released on the cusp of the rise of CGI, just before that crappy medium came in and made just about every movie ugly.  Yeah!  I said it!

09 - Night of the Living Dead -
The zombie classic that started it all, George A. Romero’s independently-filmed horror masterpiece is one of the most influential films ever made.  It sparked the indie-horror movement and it gave life to the zombie genre.  It is still, to this day, the standard by which all zombie films are judged and it remains one of the all-time greats.  It also stands out for its use of a black protagonist, something that was quite rare at the time.  

08 - An American Werewolf in London
Between this and The Howling (released a few months before) it can be difficult for some to really settle on which film from 1981 gave new life to the werewolf movie, but for me, with all of The Howling’s credibility, I just cannot bring myself to enjoy it as much as John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London.  The movie is funny, the effects by Star Wars legend Rick Baker are some of the best I have ever seen in a werewolf flick, the story is much more relatable, and the lead just comes off as more sympathetic.  Also, there is that completely epic transformation scene.  Yeah.. You know the one I’m talking about!  They tried to make it “awesome” in 1997 with An American Werewolf in Paris but they laced it with crappy CGI and just made the whole thing look dumb.

07 - The Shining
Prepare to hate me film snobs, but this is the only Stanley Kubrick movie I like.  Yep, it’s true.  I am so sorry.  He just does not appeal to my tastes.  That said, this amazingly creepy and well-made chiller about a caretaker and his family trapped in a haunted hotel alone during a winter storm remains one of my favorite films of all time.  As the father falls deeper and deeper into madness we are forced to wonder if he is possessed by the spirit of a man who slayed his family years earlier, or if he was already predisposed to violence induced by alcohol.  Is he evil, or stir crazy?  The haunting moments in the film are dreamlike and terrifying as we are never really sure what is real as we near the end of the movie.  The strangeness that abounds in the Overlook Hotel stays with you thanks to the great use of atmosphere and a legendary performance by the great Jack Nicholson.

06 - Audition -
This story of a lonely man who holds a fake audition for a new better half that becomes enamoured with the WRONG woman is so freaking disturbing that I’ve only seen it once, more than a decade ago, and it stuck with me and impacted me as though I’ve seen it a hundred times.  I love the look of this film.  It’s so sterile, so fluorescent, until we begin spending time with Asami, whose apartment is warm and welcoming.  It is a masterful use of visual symbolism by the epically-talented Takashi Miike.  What has made Audition an enduring and notable thriller through the years is the notorious torture scene.  The last few minutes of the film is focused on this beautiful girls complete phsyical undoing of our protagonist.  It is terrifying, graphic and disturbing as hell.  This movie is not for everybody, but if you can stomache it, it is one of the best of the best.

05 - Evil Dead 2
Sam Raimi’s crowning achievement is this creepy, claustrophobic sequel to/reimagining of the first film, where everybody really just goes all out with the craziness.  Lots of blood, lots of memorable moments and some great humor.  Bruce Campbell is as badass as ever and every little setpiece flows together seamlessly.  For what essentially ammounts to a bunch of action and scare scenes strewn together, Evil Dead 2 is pretty freaking awesome and one of the best horror films of all time.  

04 - A Nightmare on Elm Street
I love the original Nightmare, and they can tack on all the CGI they want with the remake, but it is not going to make a better movie.  The original remains the best by far, with Robert Englund’s famous Freddy and some stunningly-good special effects.  The atmosphere is slick and the story works. Nightmare is a great film that gave us one of the most legendary screen characters of all time.

03 - Halloween
Let us go from a movie that shoots gallons of blood out of a bed, to a movie that has almost no blood to speak of.  Halloween is the chilling thriller about an escaped mental patient named Michael Meyers on the loose, who terrorizes a young babysitter named Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis).  A doctor, knowing what the killer Meyers is capable of, works with the police to stop him before his body count rises.  John Carpenter gave us a horror classic with this movie.  A film that would spark the “slasher” genre and would bring horror to the forefront as a legitimately and almost-universally-recognized artform.

02 - Jaws
Considered by some to be the greatest thriller ever made, Steven Spielberg's Jaws is a classic.  The theme of man versus nature is universal and easy to understand.  We know that beasts can kill us, and we know that we are not at the top of the food chain.  Jaws follows the sheriff of a small New England town named Brody, who is faced with the threat of a killer shark lurking in the water.  The town council refuses to close the beach due to the impending travel season and the result is the death of a small child.  This prompts Brody to summon the help of a shark expert named Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and a fisherman named Quint (played by film veteran Robert Shaw in the twilight of his career) to find and kill the deadly crature once and for all.  Jaws is a classic.  It is one of the most beloved films of all time and ranks as one of the best monster movies ever made.

01 - Psycho
Now for my favorite.  Alfred Hitchcock is a legend and Psycho is one of my favorite films of his, and certainly my favorite of his that could qualify for this list.  Psycho is a film about a woman who escapes with a large amount of money in tow and hides out in the secluded Bates motel.  It is there where she meets the mild-mannered Norman Bates, a man who claims to live there with his mother, but after the young woman is murdered, her sister, on her trail arrives and begins to unravel the madness of the mind of Norman Bates.  Anthony Perkins’ performance as Bates here is astonishingly good.  He is creepy and twisted in a way that no other character before him has ever been.  The film shocked audiences and for years was called the scariest movie ever made, and it would hold that title until the release of Dario Argento’s Suspiria in the late 70’s.

So that is my list.  It’s not exactly conventional, I know, but I go for entertainment over just about anything else, and these movies entertained the hell out of me.  I still watch most of them every  year around Halloween.  What are your favorite films for Halloween?  Feel free to share them in the comments below.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Film Review - Argo (2012)

Argo (2012; Warner Bros. Pictures)
Historical thrillers are a very difficult genre to be truly successful with.  Some, like All the President’s Men and the Conversation stand out as taught historical work that were timely for their day.  However, what about movies that are giving us an account of events that occurred more than 30 years ago?  How do you make a movie tense and captivating when, it is assumed at least, we already know the outcome?  It is not an easy task, and that is why many political thrillers are long exercises in mediocrity; overproduced, all-star powerhouses with screenplays compiled from some facts but written entirely with creative license.  Argo is not one of these movies.

In fact, I would go so far as to call Ben Affleck’s latest film the best film I’ve seen so far this year.  Now, with other promising titles coming up, like Lincoln and Django Unchained, I would be hard-pressed to make this assertion with any promise that my opinion will not change before December 31st.  However, with a year featuring knockout-good action movies like Looper and the Avengers, it seemed like the more paced, cerebral drama (which is a little more my taste but I love a good fun movie as much as the next guy) may have taken a backseat in 2012.  That is, until Argo.  

Argo follows the unbelievable true story that was kept a secret for roughly two decades until Bill Clinton finally declassified the mission so that Americans can take it all in.  The insanity, the brilliance and the narrow success.  The center is an agent named Tony Mendez (Affleck) who specializes in the extraction of citizens from dangerous and volatile scenarios.  His mission: The extraction of the six remaining workers from U.S. Embassy that was overrun by the Iran Contra as anti-American sentiment among the government of Iran it its people was growing by the day.  Tony plans to throw together a fake Canadian film production in hopes of getting into the tumultuous Iran attracting as little suspicion as possible. He arrives in the country alone and must convincingly leave with six additional passengers in tow, hoping to outsmart various government goons along the way.

This is a movie with a nice large cast filled with skilled character actors and rising stars.  Minor roles are filled by the likes of Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, and character actor Zeljko Ivanek (a personal favorite of mine).  Everyone plays their parts distinctly and the strong performances by the talented cast, along with the very funny naturalistic screenplay make this one a winner through and through.  Add to that the amazing use of real tension as the breathtaking scenes of the intrepid heroes attempting to outsmart the bureaucrats and evade violent and angry protesters by pain of death steal the show.

Argo is the kind of movie that deserves to be seen.  I know that next month millions of shallow teens will flock to theaters to see the “finale” to the Twilight “saga” and I just know that Argo’s returns will dwarf in comparison to the fiscal results of the Tween-centric insipid blight on cinema that is Twilight.  This thought makes me lose sleep at night.  Still, I take solace in the knowledge that in roughly twenty years, this movie will likely be remembered, and Twilight will hopefully be long forgotten.

Anyway, see Argo.  See it.  It is a strong film to kick off the holiday film season and a great historical drama that successfully transports us to another time and immerses us in its intrigue with great performances and a brilliant screenplay.  Look for Oscar nods to this movie, people.  It deserves it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

An Update on My Absence and an Announcement!

I haven't posted in a while.  There is a reason for this: I have been sick.  Actually, I've been sick for roughly two-and-a-half or so years now, but for the past few months, even typing on a keyboard has been a painful endeavor, I'm working on this.  Those who did read our countdown of Anime Openings we posted during the summer months may have noticed another name on the publication: Craig.  Say "Hi" Craig!

I essentially added Craig as a contributor, he's a friend of mine and leans to a slightly different area of pop culture than I tend to, this is good because it gives Important Pop Culture a chance to expand its scope.  I'm hoping to work with him with some regularity and you will also likely see some upcoming posts that are entirely his.  Also, I have another major announcement.

Resonant Bytes will focus on music with a slight lean towards music from video games.  Craig and I have, for a while, discussed doing a giant series on game music but I just consider the subject, like much of pop culture, too large for a little series of articles devoted to it.  I'm hoping, with Craig working with me, we will be able to keep a constant stream of posts coming.  Also, if you like something you read on here, share it.  We're looking to get our names out there and (despite some spelling errors I noticed a couple of times :P) I think we are capable of sharing a great deal of insight.

So, why game music?  Honestly, for me anyway, it more or less boils down to the way music impacted me.  Most people develop a music taste around what is popular when they are, say, ten or into their teens.  This would put me smack in the middle of the Grunge Era of Rock and the dawn of Gangsta Rap.  I do like much of the music of the early 90's today but as a kid, I wasn't listening to that.  No, my musical taste developed much, much earlier than my friends and I quickly became a child of the 80's.  Even through high school, when all of my friends listened to Korn and Busta Rhymes, I was still listening to the Talking Heads.  Incidentally, I got into video games very early too, and before I was ever able to beat one of those games, I was enraptured by the music.  Some games, like the Mega Man titles and the literally-stellar soundtrack to Life Force, had music so good that I was actually a fan of the games' soundtracks before I was a fan of the titles those soundtracks belonged to, often hanging out with my friends and listening to the music as they played.

So, there you have it, I'm weird.  I've come to terms with this, and I hope that, through a series of posts on game music and music as a whole, I will be able to help ever so slightly to push game music to full mainstream legitimacy.  It's already headed in that direction, with black tie symphonies devoted to the sounds of Nobuo Uematsu and a number of websites devoted to the archiving and elevation of game music, but I do believe that some of the compositions from some of the games actually rank amongst the greatest music of all time.  Not all of it, but I can think of a few powerful tunes that actually invoke a powerful emotional response in me.  So, if you read this, and you are interested or even merely intrigued, follow us here and keep your eye out because Resonant Bytes is coming soon!