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Films We’ve Watched: Valhalla Rising (2009)

28 May

“The whole movie was almost thought of as, ‘God, wouldn’t it be great to do one of those movies that you would show in the ’70’s at midnight?’ You know, a drug film, not where you take drugs and watch the movie, but where the movie becomes the drug.”

This is how director Nicolas Winding Refn described the conception of his 2009 film Valhalla Rising.  Telling the story of a mute Viking warrior named One Eye, Valhalla Rising is a brutal and poetic film that left me thinking for days after I watched it.  I considered what I had just experienced, the violence, the peaceful shots of the beautiful landscape, the religious aspects, and I was left feeling fulfilled.  That’s not something I would normally say after watching a movie.  Typically, I use descriptives like “awesome” and “visually stunning” and (if I’m being honest about my overuse of superlatives) “one of the best movies I’ve recently seen”.  And while I have been fulfilled by a film before (I think that’s one thing good art is supposed to do on some level), I can’t remember the last time I finished a movie and my initial reaction was one of fulfillment.  It was pretty great.

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Films We’ve Watched: Evil Dead (2013)

24 May

The Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, and Army of Darkness form one of the greatest trilogies of all time. They encapsulate a certain 80s zaniness, the bizarre and the baroque, full of blood and guts and, yes, sometimes real horror, but driven along with a wry wit all their own. With Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, you kind of know what you’re getting into. They’re technically horror movies, it’s true, but horror movies in the same sense that Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and Cabin in the Woods are horror movies. All have the same wink-wink nudge-nudge that lend the films a quality beyond your typical genre fair. They are gory, but it’s cartoonish gore, which fits in perfectly with the subversive, comedic tone they all have. I say subversive because without a doubt they all work as horror movies, but horror movies that go beyond the norm and bring genuinely fresh ideas to the table.

It has been 32 years since the original movie, and everything else under the sun has been rebooted or remade. We’ve had Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street, and now somebody has decided it was time for Evil Dead to rise again. The same trifecta of Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, and Robert Tapert, who went into the woods with $90,000 in their pockets and emerged with the first Evil Dead have grown up and now share a producer credit, while newcomer Fede Alvarez is given directing duties this time around.

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Films We’ve Watched: Iron Man 3

2 May

Following two successful Iron Man films and an almost universally applauded Avengers movie is no easy task, and there are few in Hollywood who could realistically handle the challenge. This project was riddled with potential landmines and missteps. After three major films, and a few minor appearances, the Iron Man character approaches overexposure, and might have easily slipped into tired, rehashed superhero drudgery.

However, the relentlessly witty combination of one of Hollywood’s most clever, one-liner laced writer/directors (Shane Black) and its fastest talking, most frenetically-paced actor makes for one of the sharpest scripts in years. The result is nothing less than a screen full of exploding awesome-bombs, and one of the most over-the-top action sequences ever to end a movie. We’re left with what is arguably the best solo Iron Man movie to date.

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Films We’ve Watched: Spring Breakers

10 Apr

“I feel like I’ve just gone through two nights of drinking, and this was the collective hangover.” That’s how my roommate described Harmony Korine’s new film, Spring Breakers. Perhaps you know it? It has had, after all, a marketing campaign that I would describe as omnipresent, or perhaps ubiquitous. And it does star Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, and Ashley Benson, not to mention James Franco. The first three, known for their television work and family friendly image, aren’t the kind of people you expect to find in a feature film, let alone one as dark as this. Indeed, much like Michael Haneke’s film Amour earlier this year, I find myself thinking that Spring Breakers is an excellent movie, just maybe not one I can recommend to anybody else.

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Films We’ve Watched: Caesar Must Die (2012)

7 Feb

One of the chief drawbacks of fame and recognition amongst artists of any stripe is the implicit fact that being a part of the mainstream social consciousness opens up your hard fought creative work to interpretation by people who have no business being anywhere near it. It’s what allowed Miley Cyrus to cover “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, what has enabled Michael Bay to foul up one (potentially two) great childhood cartoon franchises, and it has produced more than a few painfully formulaic film renditions of the works of the immortal William Shakespeare.

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Films We’ve Watched: The Sting (1973)

6 Feb

I recently enjoyed one of the myriad worthwhile and under-attended Alamo Drafthouse events, wherein a particular film (often pre-1980) is celebrated for its cinematic renown. These events tend to center around a theme which loosely ties the series together. This particular series is titled “Man Crush” and contains a collection of films which commemorate the men of the silver screen who have captured the admiration of male and female alike. As Paul Newman and Robert Redford more or less defined that genre, The Sting was a perfect and natural selection for this month’s screening.

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Films We’ve Watched: Life of Pi

15 Jan

Editor’s Note:  Though no outright spoilers, there is some discussion on the end of the film.  If you have yet to see it or read the book, be forewarned.

I remember the first time I read Life of Pi. I think I was in the sixth grade, and as you can imagine much of that novel’s magic was lost on me. And then I had to read it again in seventh grade. And then again the following year. And far from gaining more from each successive reading and from each English class I was forced to discuss it in, I began to despise Yann Martel’s novel. Indeed, it’s entirely possible I read it again my freshman year in high school and have simply scrubbed the memory away. It was hard to appreciate why teachers kept insisting on reading it. That is where my distaste originated at least. What made this book special, that year after year such emphasis was put on it? And now, nine years since I first cracked open its azure cover, and after watching Ang Lee’s new adaptation, I think I finally get it.

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