Category Archives: Film Review

Black Christmas: A Review By Nate Hill

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Before John Carpenter’s Halloween, there was Black Christmas, and no it’s not a Tyler Perry holiday special. It’s a slick little slasher set in a 1970’s sorority house during Christmas break, when many of the girls have gone home. Suddenly mysterious phone calls start to plague the ones still there, and one by one a murderous, unseen prowler starts to murder them. The phone calls themselves aren’t overly threatening, but instead sound like the nonsensical babbling of someone who is a couple reindeer short of a sleigh, making them all the scarier. I remember watching this years ago and being far more creeped out at the phone calls rather than the actual murders. That is a perfect example of using atmosphere to get under your audience’s skin rather than straight up gore, and a testament to the fright films of the 70’s and 80’s, which really seemed to have all the atmosphere vs. gore dials in the right positions. This positively drips with tension and ambience. The silences in between screams are almost deafening in their vacuous anticipation of terror to come, and strange as it sounds, there’s actually a nice Christmas-y feeling in places where the fear hasn’t yet struck, despite it being a horror movie. Olivia Hussey plays Jess, the main target of the killer with appropriate wide eyed intensity, Margot Kidder is briefly seen as the house mother, and horror regular John Saxon shows up as a suspicious Police Chief as well. I’d say this one achieves a state of suspense and atmosphere that can step up to the same plate as Halloween any day, it’s just a little overlooked I suppose. The house they are in is the perfect setting, a sprawling Yuletide manor of creaky hallways, desolated basements, dark, dingy attic space and an uneasy thrum of awaiting gloom that gives the words Silent Night a new meaning. The poor girls just never know when a shrill telephone ring will slice through the eerie corridors, forcing them to answer it and hear an unnerving voice warble out “It’s me, Billy” on the other end. 
PS: avoid the remake at all costs. It takes everything that was creepy and restrained about this classic and turns it into a disgusting nightmare.

In Defense of the STAR WARS Prequels

Dear Simon Pegg, The Hollywood Reporter and everyone else who goes out of their way to degrade and dismiss the STAR WARS prequels.

You’re not a real STAR WARS fan.

If you can’t accept the STAR WARS prequels for what they are, flaws and all, STAR WARS does not mean nearly as much to you as you pretend it does.

If you love the original trilogy, that’s great. But don’t act like STAR WARS is important to you. And if that’s you, please do us all a favor and own it. The constant shaming of George Lucas, and the STAR WARS prequels has become this relentless and bandwagon circle jerk that those of us who love, embrace, and accept all of the STAR WARS cinematic universe have to endure and hits us in a very deep and personal place.

I, as anyone who loves the prequels can fully admit, they have flaws, some of the films have deeper flaws than others, and they are not as good as the original trilogy, but the bottom line is, they are STAR WARS films and they are fantastic. There are a couple of fallback arguments any prequel shamer will telegraphically always pivot to. Jar Jar Binks, the “overuse” of CGI, Hayden Christensen, Jake Lloyd, and poor dialogue.

All of those pivot points have their merits, I can fully admit it. Look, I used to be somewhat dismissive of the prequels too, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that my appreciation and love of the prequels grew from the Cartoon Network/Netflix show STAR WARS THE CLONE WARS, and from different video games, novels, comic books and merchandising that flushed out more of the rich story that lies within the prequels.

The “overuse” of CGI in the prequels is the one pivot point that drives me absolutely crazy.

First of all, the CGI in the prequels is absolutely pristine and looks better, to this day, than most CGI induced films that have come out since. The use of CGI and moving to the digital format completely changed the film industry, for better or worse. The “overuse” of CGI is a poor pivot point for prequel bashers, due to the fact of not nearly as much CGI was used as they think. George Lucas used a lot of practical effects and built a lot of sets for the prequels. You know how I know that? Because I educated myself by watching the supplements on the STAR WARS blu ray suite, read articles with Lucas, Rick McCallum (the producer of the prequels), and others from Industrial Light and Magic.

Look, the prequels needed CGI. General Grievous, Yoda, the Senate Chamber, all the Clones needed Temuera Morrison’s face, the MagnaGuards, the epic space battle above Coruscant in EPISODE III, an 80 year old Christopher Lee fighting, and the plethora of exotic planets HAD to use CGI.

What, are all of those going to be miniatures? Or puppets? Puppet Yoda in the original trilogy is amazing. Love it. I don’t even think he’s a puppet. Remember puppet Yoda in EPISODE 1? It was AWFUL. Because in the prequels, Yoda servers a far different and bigger purpose, he’s a warrior, a general in the Clone army. He has to actually fight, and we get to see why Yoda is the most powerful Jedi.

General Grievous, the general of the Separatist army, the cyborg Jedi killer who fights with four lightsabers. Would it have been better if there was a man in a ridiculous suit with arms controlled by puppeteers?

Should there have been a massive scouting effort for people who looked identical and have the same physique of Temuera Morrison? Or prosthetic face molds?

If you’re so hung up on the “overuse” of CGI, you surely must RAGE when you watch a Zack Snyder, Christopher Nolan, Michael Bay, or a Steven Spielberg film, and surely you must HATE any and all of the Marvel/DC films, right?  Oh, and those LORD OF THE RINGS films, Peter Jackson is an idiot, he should have made those films without CGI.  Same goes for GAME OF THRONES.  Man, WATCHMEN should have used nothing but practical effects. INTERSTELLAR?  Don’t even get me started.

Yeah, do ANY of that without an abundance of CGI.

Hayden Christensen. Yes he’s miscast, but stop acting like he’s the first actor to miscast in a film ever.

Poor dialogue? Valid point. Lawrence Kasdan must have been busy.

Jake Lloyd? Anakin Skywalker wasn’t born as Darth Vader. He wasn’t born evil. He’s a kid playing a kid.

Jar Jar Binks? Jesus Christ. Get over it. The best part about Jar Jar is that Lucas owns the hatred of that character, and uses Jar Jar to make the move in the Republic Senate to give Supreme Chancellor Palpatine complete and total control at the height of the Galactic Civil War.

There are so many shining moments in the prequels.

We get to see the beautiful and vibrant universe pre Empire, before the dilapidation and worn universe we’re used to seeing in the original trilogy.

Liam Neeson.

Liam Neeson.

Liam Neeson.

Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine/Sidious. Easily one of the best acted roles in the entire saga.

Ewan McGregor is absolutely terrific as the younger Obi-Wan.

The Duel of the Fates battle between Qui Gon, Obi and Maul is one of the best lightsaber battles in the entire saga, if not the best. And it is accompanied by a magnificent John Williams track.

The Republic Senate scenes are masterfully created and designed, and perfectly sets up a principle understanding of how and why Palpatine becomes the Emperor of the Empire.

Christopher Lee is incredible. One of my favorite characters in the entire universe.  The dissention of Yoda training Dooku, Dooku training Qui Gon, Qui Gon training Obi and Obi training Anakin makes so much sense, how and why Anakin is who he is.

The full-out Jedi and Clones vs Geonosians and Battle Droids in the climax of EPISODE 2 is terrific. That’s a moment a lot of us have been waiting for, a full out Jedi battle.

We get to see the Jedi Council in action, see the plethora of Jedi, as opposed to the three we see in the original trilogy.

EPIC saber battles, as I mentioned before with the Duel of the Fates, but we also watch Yoda battle his former student, Dooku – watch him go toe to toe with Palpatine himself, watch Palpatine take down four Jedi, and see the brutal and heartbreaking final battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan.

I could continue, but I won’t. I’m sure a lot of the points I’ve made will go over a lot of the prequel basher’s heads because they don’t catch the references. Because they’re not STAR WARS fans. Bottom line, get off your high horse and shut the fuck up about “George Lucas ruined my childhood” or that the “prequels don’t matter”. The worst part about all of this, is that George Lucas has admittedly been shamed for making any more films. This guy is bigger than STAR WARS, he’s responsible for AMERICAN GRAFFITI and THX 1138 which is one of the best science fiction films ever made.

To quote William Friedken, “STAR WARS is a religious experience.” STAR WARS means so much, to millions and millions of people globally. There are very few things that can match that kind of passion. Without George Lucas, you’d have absolutely nothing to bitch about in the first place.

ROB BOWMAN’S THE X-FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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One of the best transitions ever for a TV show to feature film. Directed with style and smarts by series veteran Rob Bowman. Fantastic widescreen cinematography from underrated shooter Ward Russell (Days of Thunder, The Last Boy Scout), who utilized a rich color palette and took full advantage of the excellent locations chosen for the story. Absolutely loved the Neanderthal Man opening sequence with the first alien encounter – raw, nasty, primal, and scary. Series mastermind Chris Carter took full advantage of the inherently cinematic possibilities with his iconic material, and along with Frank Spotnitz and undoubtedly many others, crafted a fabulous continuation of the central alien mythology plot-line, while beefing everything up visually and thematically. I’ve gone back to this movie for years, not just out of my love for The X-Files in general, but because, on its own, it’s a damn good movie. Fine, some of it is a bit impenetrable to the casual viewer or non-fan, but even in those instances, the gripping set pieces, tremendous production design, and excellent performances should alleviate any concerns.

Bowman throws in nods to various political thrillers from the 70’s, most notably Alan Pakula’s masterpiece The Parallax View, and all throughout, there’s an unnerving vibe present, from the ominous back-room deals with the Syndicate, to the sub-Antarctic government base that forms the absolutely smashing action-oriented finale. All of the regular faces from the TV show are present in the film, while the filmmakers brought in some excellent supporting players like Martin Landau, Armin Mueller Stahl, Blythe Danner, and Terry O’Quin. The opening domestic terrorism bombing sequence is rivetingly staged, while the mid-film action sequence inside the dual domes out in those corn stalks is expertly shot, cut, and directed. And when those bees are released, the scene kicks it up a further notch. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were at their best here as Mulder and Scully, and their “almost-kiss” moment was one of the absolute best moments in the series. Everything about this movie clicked (which you can’t say for the decade later follow up, The X-Files: I Want to Believe), and I am eagerly anticipating the return of the TV series when it drops at the beginning of 2016. I just really hope that the central narrative beats pivot off of the extraterrestrial angle that the show is famous for.

Psychology Of Film Episode 2~Paramedic Fever Dreams: Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out The Dead

Recently myself and a good friend of mine, Mo Barrett, have begun to craft special ‘interactive’ video summaries of some of our favourite darker, more challenging films. This installmeant sees us look at Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out The Dead, a terrific. Option picture which we both have a mutual love for. Please click the link below and enjoy!

Bringing Out The Dead
Created By Mo Barrett and Nate Hill, with thanks to the support of Frank Mengarelli and Nick Clement of Podcasting Them Softly.

TODD HAYNES’ FAR FROM HEAVEN – A MINI REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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An aesthetic and thematic masterpiece for director Todd Haynes, who brilliantly recalls the work of Douglas Sirk with this passionate, exquisitely mounted melodrama. Sterling performances from Dennis Quaid, Julianne Moore, and Dennis Haysbert, with sharp supporting turns from Patricia Clarkson and Viola Davis and James Rebhorn. Ed Lachman’s primary-color-rich cinematography frequently pops the eye, from the bravura opening crane shot, all the way through to the studied camera placement and deliberate pacing, this is an extraordinary evocation of a lost genre, while simultaneously operating as a stirring piece of emotional storytelling. Features a gorgeous and soul-stirring score by Elmer Bernstein. I can’t wait to see the upcoming film Carol, which seems to be some sort of companion piece to Far From Heaven.

CHRISTOPHER NOLAN’S THE DARK KNIGHT – A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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At this point, there isn’t much left to be said about The Dark Knight. The film grossed almost a billion dollars worldwide and its critical acclaim vaulted its director, Christopher Nolan, into the upper stratosphere of big-budget filmmakers. It’s a masterwork of comic book moviemaking, talking iconic imagery and filtering them through the prism of a Michael Mann crime epic, and featuring a tour de force performance by Heath Ledger as the most sinful of all superhero antagonists, The Joker. While I will always prefer the epic nature of The Dark Knight Rises (flaws and all, it’s my favorite in the Nolan series), there’s something so lean and tough-guy-poetic about The Dark Knight; it really does feel like Heat featuring men in masks. Picking up right where he left off after his excellent franchise re-boot Batman Begins, Nolan essentially made his first effort look like a student film by comparison, and that’s not to knock Begins, because it’s a wonderful piece of entertainment, a movie that reimagined Batman for a modern, more visceral style of storytelling within this particular genre. And what’s particularly awesome, and where the film is better than The Dark Knight Rises, is that The Dark Knight is both epic and intimate; this is a massive crime saga, taking cues from the aforementioned Heat and Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, but never forgetting to stay true to the intense character dynamics that have made this universe of costumed freaks so especially memorable. By placing Batman and all of his cronies and adversaries in a real world setting, no matter how stylized his Gotham City is, Nolan was able to fashion a trilogy of films that felt all the more tangible and immediate, something that not one, single Marvel effort has ever done, with the possible exception of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Batman, again played with gritty determination by Christian Bale, who brought stoic seriousness to his dual performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman, is caught between his own sense of vigilante justice, crossed with deeper psychological issues. In The Dark Knight, the Nolans and David S. Goyer, stacked the deck with his arch nemesis, the Joker, played with such menacing glee by Ledger that you have to just assume that the preparation and performance might have affected his psyche; his posthumous Oscar trophy was indeed fully warranted, and not some nonsense done for sentimentality or good-faced-publicity as some dunderheads have suggested in the past. The plot is multi-layered, convoluted yet not impenetrable, and steeped in crime movie mythology that speaks both to classic film noir and the graphic novel roots that Nolan favored. The Joker is out to bring down Batman, while also trying to put a stranglehold on Gotham’s City’s overall criminal element. From the steely, Mann-esque precision of the film’s opening bank robbery sequence; you get the sense that Ledger’s Joker isn’t a playful clown, but rather, a certifiable psychopath. The way he licks his scarred lips and the way his sinister cackle fills a room with eerie rage are just two of the ways that Ledger left an indelible mark on this classic comic book icon; I wonder if any other actor will be up to the challenge in future installments. Harvey Dent, an excellent Aaron Eckhart, is trying to clean the streets up from city hall, and Jim Gordon, played with low-key integrity by Gary Oldman, is working his way up the police chain of command. Various gangsters figure into the plot and there is a morally complex chain of events that figures into the film’s gripping climax. But the real show is the duel between Batman and the Joker, and it’s here, with two of the comic-world’s most beloved characters, that The Dark Knight really excels.

Nolan, reteaming with his phenomenal cinematographer Wally Pfister, bathed the film in shadows and blacks; this is a dark movie, both in theme and in appearance, but in the end, serving a stylistic and narrative purpose. The tragic nature of Harvey Dent is highlighted in a powerful character arc that exposes the many faces (literal and metaphorical) to the character; Eckhart’s performance was one of his absolute best. And then there’s the film’s major action scene, occurring at the half-way mark, which is a towering triumph of choreography, seamless CGI integration, and old-fashioned movie magic. By the end of this haunting and beautifully crafted piece of explosive entertainment, the viewer can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. The Dark Knight was one of the first superhero films to never feel like a traditional superhero film, and the topical, real-world grounding that Nolan infused into his trilogy has been felt on other, future projects from a variety of other filmmakers. And yet, at the end of 2008, the old farts in the Academy felt like dissing one of the most successful films of all time, which was truly a shame, because the film stands as a genre centerpiece, and a reminder that art within this particular canvass is still attainable even when toys and lunchboxes are being considered; rarely does big-budget, summertime filmmaking become this successful at fusing all of the creative elements together.