mystery

Top Ten Christopher Nolan Films

If you’ve viewed Christopher Nolan’s IMDb page over 50 times, like me, then you’d know that Dunkirk is his tenth feature-length film.  This means no one has been able to make a proper Top Ten list.  Many of you will think I’m crazy for pre-writing a top ten list in anticipation for a new release (I started this thing last month).  To them I say, “Since I’m not making any money off of this, I might as well have fun.”  Anyways, today I am going to rank each respective film from one of the-hands down-best directors of the millennium.

Rules/Notes:

  • There will not be a synopsis for most of these films.
  • There will be no spoilers in this list.
  • This list is determined by: 80% overall quality and 20% my opinion.
  • Please watch every one of Nolan’s films so he never stops making movies.

No more delays, let’s begin.

 

#10 – The Dark Knight Rises (Grade – C)

Let’s start out this fanboyish countdown by saying that I really don’t like this movie!  Bear in mind, Mr. Nolan is incapable of producing anything resembling garbage, and the effort is clearly on screen.  The action sequences are well-choreographed, the scope of the movie is huge, and the music added so much emotion to every scene.  That said, the performances are awkward, it has more plotholes than The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and the social commentary was akin to a pretentious high schooler’s first social studies essay.  Some believe The Dark Knight was never meant to be a trilogy, and when you compare The Dark Night to its sequel, you can see the difference in quality.  Still, the action is jaw-droppingly cool, so it’s not a complete waste of time.

 

#9 – Following (Grade – B)

One year after releasing his short film Doodlebug (which is worth checking out), Nolan wrote, directed, produced, shot, and edited his first film, Following; about a writer who follows random strangers around to gain inspiration (until one of his targets, a criminal, shows the man his operation).   While many have said there’s nothing special about this movie (considering what the director would go on to make much better stuff), but Nolan unlocked his inner Robert Rodriguez by doing most of the work himself.   Might I say, the end result is very pleasing.  The black and white film allows for some interesting camerawork, and the pacing, while slow, builds to one stellar ending.  This low-budget gem has made it into the Criterion Collection for a reason, and is a must-see for fans of the genre.

 

#8 – The Prestige (Grade – B+)

In late 2014, a very young, and even more naive, Erick was about to do his weekly routine of ironing clothes while watching a movie.  Obviously, my attention would be more concentrated on the scalding-hot piece of metal near my fingers, so I’d typically watch something that didn’t demand much attention.  As it turned out, The Prestige was a bad choice.  After the first 2 minutes, I knew this movie was going to require the audience’s complete cooperation.  Figuring the black slacks could wait, I sat down and restarted the film.  Two mind-bending hours later, and my understanding of cinema as a whole was changed.  At that moment, Christopher Nolan became one of my favorite filmmakers.  Now that I’m older, and have studied the art form for a while, I can properly appreciate the work.  This movie does so many things right, like casting David Bowie as Nikola Tesla, treating the audience (and the subject matter) with maturity and intelligence, having Michael Caine say the word “prestige,” there’s a lot to be found with this movie.  It’s an excellent period piece drama/thriller that will require a few trips to the Internet in order to fully understand what the heck that ending was.

 

#7 – Dunkirk (Grade-A-)

I just saw this war film a few hours ago; and I will have the full review out on Sunday.  For now, it is a fine example of passionate filmmaking and attention-to-detail.  Nolan uses a very traditional approach to this one, and it pays off for the most part.  The performances felt real, the narrative is respectful (if not a bit sanitized), and the suspenseful scenes are rattling.

 

#6 – Batman Begins (Grade-A-)

In preparation for this list, I watched a butt-ton of videos on Christopher Nolan.  One video in particular puts my writing skills to shame, and ironically, it was an essay about Batman BeginsStrange.  Well, better to try and fail than regret not taking the chance.  Batman Begins is a masterpiece of storytelling, and revived the superhero genre by treating its source material in a mature fashion.  This movie features some of the best exposition any screenwriter could ever ask for, and it all balances out with moments of action, complex characters, fine performances, and an engrossing tone.  It’s one of the three pre-2010 superhero flicks that started the superhero craze, and it shouldn’t be missed.

 

#5 – Insomnia (Grade-A-)

Did you know that this is the only Nolan-directed movie that he didn’t write?  Did you also know it’s a hallmark of subtly, suspense, cinematography, and acting?  Insomnia is one of those purposefully quiet productions that-while major critical hits-typically bomb at the box office (like Take Shelter or Donnie Darko).  In keeping with that genre, Insomnia is a feast for cinephiles.  The plot is simple, two detectives are sent to Alaska to search for the man who killed a 16-year-old girl.  What unravels is Nolan at his most ruthless (by the way, this film’s rated R).  First off, my gosh, the acting is fantastic.  This has to be one of Al Pacino’s most sympathetic roles of his career.  He struggles to find this killer while also dealing with his own personal issues, Hilary Swank is supportive, but also very intelligent, and Robin Williams…this is one of his most authentic performances.  There is little to no humor in his character, but what he brings to the table is one of the most impressive breakaway performances in history.  His dialogue is limited, but every second of it is incredible.  Forgive me if this all sounds rather vague, I am nowhere near the level of intelligence that this movie is on, so it’s difficult to explain how well it’s made.  Despite this, it is one heck of a film for anyone looking for underrated classics.

 

#4 – Memento (Grade-A)

“Okay, so what am I doing? Oh, I’m chasing this guy. No, he’s chasing me.”  There are so many brilliant moments in this brilliant movie.  Memento catapulted Nolan into critical acclaim much similar to M. Night Shyamalan with The Sixth Sense.  Meaning they both did something narratively that audiences had either never experienced, or weren’t expecting.  In the case of Memento, the story is told backwards.  This movie was unbelievably risky, as it easily could have alienated viewers, but pushing the boundaries of storytelling is one of Nolan’s best skills, and this psychological thriller is a fine example.  As far as second features go, this one feels like it was made by an archaic master rather than a newcomer because the quality of the filmmaking is top-notch.  Not only is Wally Pfister’s camerawork oozing with atmosphere, the constantly uncertain tone keeps you on the edge of your seat as the story unravels.  Speaking of amazing things, Leonard Shelby is one of the coolest protagonists in film history.  Guy Pearce is at his best in this film, his character design is like something out of a comic book, and his motivations make him a very sympathetic hero.  It’s one of the most original movies you’ll ever watch, and the mere idea of remaking it is asinine.

 

#3 – The Dark Knight (Grade-A)

Oh, stop crying just because the second best superhero movie of all time is #3.  If it were not for the last 10 minutes (the Joker should have died, and Batman didn’t have to take the fall for everything), it would be higher  Also, don’t be upset because Unbreakable is better than The Dark Knight.  We all know why this movie’s awesome.  Heath Ledger is the best Joker of all time, it was nominated for more Oscars than any other movie about grown men in goofy costumes, the practical effects drop jaws, and the script is packed with more smart commentary than a season of early Simpsons.  On a filmmaking scale, you could study ever frame for 5 minutes and get enough out of it to write a film report.  The Dark Knight proved that superhero movies could be dark, better than their predecessor, and make bank (over $1 billion to be precise) all at the same time.

 

#2 – Interstellar (Grade-A)

Ever noticed that this guy has a talent for titles?  Even though I’ve given this movie its own-somewhat crappy-review and talked extensively about it in the Study Scores list, I could go on forever with this one because it makes me so happy!  Oh, there are problems, but this movie requires faith from the audience to stick with it for the 3-hour runtime.  Those who do are greatly rewarded.  Many people think this was the point where Nolan ignored common sense and just wrote whatever complex nonsense came into his mind.  Whew!  That was difficult to type in and of itself.  Forgive me audience (and any future employers who may see this), but these complaints are pure balderdash!  The amount of research I put into this movie rivals that of college essay finals!  One of the factoids I came across explained that Nolan did his dang research about space, black holes, and other sciency things I can’t pronounce before writing a movie where Ron Woodroof saves humanity.  Guy’s, he knows what he’s doing.  Even if (which is a pretty big “if”) the story doesn’t grab you, the visuals definitely will.  Interstellar features some of the most impressive CGI and sets of our time.  It also features one of Hans Zimmer’s best scores.  I won’t deny, there is a bit of filler, but what’s excellent (like the action scenes) is truly magnificent.  When people talk about spiritual successors in film, Interstellar is the true sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 

#1 – Inception (Grade-A+)

“I try to be all about story.” – The greatest storyteller in Hollywood today

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this movie (nothing of any consequence that is).  Every single thing about it works so well!  The effects (both practical and CGI) are convincing, the action sequences are creative and exciting, the actors have charisma, the ideas are interesting, the plot is original, the emotional element is strong, the music is intense, and it should have won Best Original Screenplay!!!!  Pardon me… I just can’t stand the Academy some times.  For someone to tell me they didn’t enjoy this monument, leaves me in a state of bewilderment.  Sure, everyone loves The Dark Knight, but Inception is the perfect summer blockbuster.  Action sequences that actually entertain, characters that you like, and a script that doesn’t treat you like a statistic.  I’m greatly inspired by this movie if you couldn’t tell.  It’s actually my favorite movie of all time, and for good reason.  Nolan knows where the movie starts and ends, and once the story (which he was apparently working on since Memento in ten years earlier) is perfected, the rest runs like clockwork.  You could watch this movie countless times and learn something new each time.

 

Ahhh, now that was fun!  Whether or not you like Nolan’s approach to filmmaking, you cannot deny that he has consistently delivered high-quality stuff.  The guy simply hasn’t made a bad movie, and I don’t think he ever will.  Now that being said, I’m going to go to bed, have an awesome dream inspired by Inception, and watch a lot of movies tomorrow!  Goodnight and thank you for your time.

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My Thoughts On: “Get Out”

Well, this one’s been a long time coming.  I don’t think anyone lost sleep over my lack of a review, so let’s skip the apology and get right down to it.

The marketing for this movie was bloody brilliant!  I could never tell if it was pure horror, satirical comedy, or both.  They interest you without spoiling anything, and it sets the tone perfectly.  Honestly, the trailers are some of the best in modern cinema, and the film itself doesn’t disappoint, even if there are a few issues.

What I don’t like boils down to two minor problems, but have a great impact on the movie as a whole.  First, the pacing.  Get Out is not a traditional horror film; it is a slow-building, suspenseful mystery with excellent attention to character.  However, there are a few scenes that drag on, and the runtime should have been cut down a bit.  Secondly, the commentary.  I’m getting tired of seeing “thought-provoking” in Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus sections.  It’s an easy way to say, “this movie talked about racial issues” no context necessary.  In reality, the “commentary” in this movie is pretty obvious (some of the dialogue spells out what the message is).  Get Out is at its best when it is subverting clichés and being unpredictable.

Despite my overly analytical mind’s efforts to predict what would happen next, I was never right.  The only predictable thing about this movie is that you know something is wrong, but the incredible storytelling keeps you guessing in dreadful anticipation.  The humor is just as competent.  Unlike in Keanu (also written by Jordan Peele), the jokes vary in setup and punchline.  You’ll be cringing in one scene, laughing in the next (the supporting cast is stellar!), and then you’ll be shocked by what the first two scenes built up to.  Trust me, this is one satisfying movie!

This is hard to say, but Get Out is better than The Visit, one of my favorite movies of 2015.  Both films are horror/comedies about someone going to see family in a very suspicious setting.  Not only is the script very spontaneous, but the humor is much better as well.  Basically, this movie deserves 90% of the overwhelmingly positive response it has received.  Allow me to add to that response by giving it Guy’s Guru Grade of an A-.

“Inferno” Review, Books vs. Movies, and The Robert Langdon Series

Prepare to be ripped apart you pathetic excuses for adaptations!  Back in February of 2016, I watched The Da Vinci Code on Netflix for no particular reason.  By the time it was over, my “Confusion-o-Meter” was off the charts.  I knew it was an adaptation (one with some interesting ideas), so I got my hands on the original novel by Dan Brown and gave it a shot.  Wow.  I couldn’t put that book down!  Interesting characters, great suspense, and a spiritual setting unlike any I’ve seen in a novel (the epilogue still gives me the chills).  What followed was a marathon of reading both the books in the series and watching their film adaptations.  I wanted to write this thing when the Inferno movie was released in theaters last year, but I hadn’t finished the book, and Ron Howard was NOT going to ruin another one of these incredible endings for me!  I finally got a copy and watched it… oh my gosh.  Had I seen it in time, this pile of cinematic waste would rank pretty dang high on my Top Ten Worst Movies of 2016 list.

Anyway, today we are doing something special.  In addition to reviewing Inferno, I’m going to throw my twenty-two cents (inflation) into the hat on the “books vs. movies” debate, as well as Dan Brown’s controversial books.  It’s gonna be awhile, so strap in and grab your popcorn because this is going to be a very emotional experience.

Inferno is directed by Ron Howard and written by David Koepp.  Stars-Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, and Irfan Khan.  Premise-After waking up in a hospital, with amnesia, in Italy, Professor Robert Langdon must elude a secret service agency whilst trying to recall what he was doing before he lost his memory.  All he knows is that whatever he was doing was worth a billionaire’s suicide, a strangely curious doctor’s assistance, and the lives of billions.

This is going to be a spoiler-filled hybrid review, but I am going to avoid spoiling the books as much as possible because you should read them regardless of how badly the movies basterdize them.  That said, they changed the second half of Inferno so much that you’d swear they adapted a different book!  The very first scene is only the beginning of the torrent of crappyness we are about to be subjected to.  Billionaire geneticist Bertrand Zobrist (Foster) is being chased through the city of Florence, Italy (in a very poorly shot chase scene).  When he is cornered atop a tower, Zobrist intentionally falls off to his death.  We then cut to Langdon in a hospital where he is experiencing migraines and memory flashes.  Doctor Sienna Brooks (Jones) informs him that he was shot in the head and left with amnesia from the bullet (which grazed his skull).  After an assassin shows up (obviously for Robert) and shoots a supervising doctor, Brooks helps Langdon escape the hospital.

This brings me to my first of far too many issues with Inferno; Robert Langdon is a freaking moron!  Never once does he question why a seemingly random doctor keeps helping him on his quest to find out why he’s being hunted.  I can buy her taking him out of harm’s way, but she takes him to her apartment, gives him some clothes (that fit too perfectly), and when he produces a biotube from his bag she helps him decipher it.  At some point, any human with half a wit would ask, “Why the heck are you joining me on this quest across Europe to find a secret cave?  Especially when I’m being pursued by secret service agents, and my only lead is a map of Dante’s Inferno (the first third of poet Dante Alighieri’s ‘The Divine Comedy’)?”  In case you’re wondering, amnesia doesn’t take away the ability to ask basic questions.

Robert Langdon may not be a superhero, or a historical revolutionary, but he is one of my favorite literary protagonists.  I’m not saying anything groundbreaking when I say that Brown’s novels demand quite a lot of suspension of disbelief, as well as faith and focus.  There are MAAAAANY people who dislike these stories because of their “impossible premises.”  Either that or easily enraged immature audiences who claim these books are “anti-religious propaganda” or that all seculars/atheists are idiots.  Both of these arguments are ridiculous and invalidated by Langdon alone.  He is a Harvard symbology professor with an incredibly likable personality.  As you would expect, he’s a bit of a skeptic.  Not against the idea of religion, but his intellectual mind doesn’t “allow” him to believe in such things (if you want to hear some mind-blowing debate on science vs. God, read Angels & Demons).  A quote from Langdon himself, “Faith is a gift that I have yet to receive.”  It is Langdon’s down-to-earth views that make him an excellent character to follow on these, admittedly improbable, adventures.  He’s kinda like Dan Fogler in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, only Langdon is brought along because he can decipher cryptic clues and, well, he is the central hero.  The books are worth reading purely for this well-written character.

Back to Inferno, we get some *ahem* “disturbing” imagery that is taken right out of Dante’s Map of Hell.  Only problem is, they CGI’d the heck out of it, and the result looks horrible!  If the crazy editing wasn’t annoying enough, we get at least a dozen mini-flashbacks from Langdon’s fragmented memory.  Half of those flashbacks contain these ugly looking effects that come right the heck out of nowhere.  Despite how bad What Dreams May Come is; at the very least they nailed the set design and visuals.  Inferno looks cheap as heck.  I considered going through as much of the story as possible, but then I realized that most of it was pure exposition.  That’s another problem; this movie treats its audience like children.  In addition to dialogue that only exists to explain the plot, there are a few instances where text on the screen will be spoken by a character. As if to say, “We [the filmmakers] don’t think you have the brain capacity to read, or recall information.  Have a nice day, and thanks for your money, we’ll use it to fund the remake of To Kill a Mockingbird starring Dwayne Johnson.”  While I would be satisfied with giving this film two “birds,” I’d like to point out that these novels are not for younger audiences.  If the religious and historical themes aren’t enough, we also have issues like international terrorism, insanity, and mass genocide in the plot!  In addition, this movie was directed by the guy who made: Parenthood, Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon, and A Beautiful Mind (which won him two Oscars!).  Each of these dealt with adult themes and complex issues with grace and maturity, you’d think he could use some of the ol’ talent with a series that he apparently loves.  The final nail in the proverbial coffin would be the writer, David Koepp who penned: Snake Eyes, Spider-Man, Mission: Impossible, Premium Rush, and Jurassic Park!  You’d think he could craft an entertaining thriller!

If you were wondering why they didn’t adapt The Lost Symbol book before Inferno, then ask Ron Howard who replied with, “We didn’t know how to make something that would really feel fresh and exciting, on a cinematic level for audiences.”  I don’t buy that.  You guys adapted the first two, why was The Lost Symbol so difficult?  Also, you’re one of Hollywood’s most famous/best actors-turned-directors.  Your movies have collectively grossed over 3.3 billion dollars, and you beat Peter Jackson, Robert Altman, Ridley Scott, and David Lynch for Best Director.  I’m pretty sure you can take on a historical thriller set in Washington D.C.  Barring that, we all know the real reason why they skipped The Lost Symbol, it wasn’t as big of a success as the previous two books.  There is no amount of well-researched rhetoric that can convince me that the producers weren’t drooling over the sales of The Da Vinci Code in theaters (as it was #1 in the box office opening weekend and made over $700 million worldwide).  What I am saying is, Howard, you’re better than this.

Inferno reeks of laziness.  I don’t know how they managed to convolute the plot even more than they did with The Da Vinci Code.  That movie’s biggest problem was how boring it was.  Angels & Demons’ biggest problem was how forgettable it was.  Inferno’s biggest problem is EVERYTHING.  Ron Howard’s only Razzie nomination was for The Da Vinci Code (in all seriousness, the lackluster direction led to most of the issues), but the amount of failure present in Inferno rivals that of Miracles from Heaven.  If you want a perfect example, Langdon’s amnesia is wildly inconsistent.  In two separate scenes, Langdon states that he cannot remember his middle name, and what coffee is (it is explicitly stated that his memory is short-term, those two things should not be affected).  All this does is embarrass Tom Hanks, who has to spend most of the movie with this ridiculous expression on his face (and needs to fire his agent).  The performances can’t save this picture either.  Hanks is stumbling his way through every scene (at least they got rid of his stupid haircut from the first two films), Foster doesn’t have enough screentime to shine, and Jones is atrocious!  Again, Howard’s direction was probably a hindrance on the set rather than a help because these actors are not trying.

In keeping with being unfaithful to the source material, literally NONE of the characters are the same as they are in the novel.  I’d use that old critic saying, “I know it’s an adaptation, obviously some things have to be changed” but that is both obvious and kinda giving the filmmakers an excuse to change something that’s already perfect.  I will admit that these particular books would be difficult to adapt to the big screen, but that’s why you have to try.  Especially if these are not studio mandated projects as Howard claims.  The movie has no concept of logic or pacing.  It’s even more difficult to get pacing right in books because everyone reads at their own pace as opposed to everyone watching the same screen in real time.  While the adaptations of Angels & Demons and Inferno are mercifully fast-paced, they cut out the best things in each book.  With Angels & Demons, they took away all the great humor and character moments, neutered the villain, and brushed over the incredible religious/political/scientific/cultural commentary.  In the case of Inferno, it barely resembles the novel.  Let’s get back to the movie.

After completely cutting out one of the most suspenseful scenes in the book and replacing it with, “Hey look, there’s the way out,” Langdon and Brooks learn what is going on.  To sum it up: Zobrist was a transhumanist, someone who believes that humans can evolve through the use of technology, who’s strongest belief was that the human race will destroy itself if overpopulation continues to inflate.  After being ignored by the world’s top scientific minds (and most of the public), Zobrist went into hiding through the use of an organization called The Consortium.   After committing suicide, he left cryptic clues as to where his genetically created “inferno” (that he states will solve the humanity problem for good) is located.  Yes, we have yet another bad guy who hates humans and whose master plan is to kill a bunch of ’em (you may recall this unique-but-tired plot in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or Kingsman: The Secret Service).  This isn’t the movie’s fault-just like the fact that it’s an amnesia storyline-the book used these clichés first.  Despite that, the movie made some major deviations from the character arcs.  The climax particularly is beyond infuriating, especially to someone who loves the novels.

You see, Sienna Brooks was apparently Zobrist’s lover, and she has been leading Robert on the whole trip so she could ensure his device will be undisturbed.  She betrays him back in Italy and he is captured by his pursuers.  These enemies turn out to be an organization (that I’m not going to spoil) that denounced Zobrist’s overpopulation concerns.  They quickly explain why they were after him, and what is at stake.  An hour of exposition later, they fly to Istanbul where Zobrist’s “inferno” is going to be released, the Basilica Cistern specifically, which would make a great breeding ground for a deadly plague. After a horribly choreographed fight scene involving Irfan Khan (director of The Consortium), 2 random stuntmen henchmen, and Felicity Jones phoning it in (which is hilarious because her character is a thespian in the book), Brooks pulls the pin on a grenade in an attempt to rupture the bag that “inferno” is contained in.  She kills herself in the process and fails to release the plague.  Oh boy, time to go on a rant!

First of all, Sienna does not kill herself in the book, nor is “inferno” a plague.  Of all the characters in the movie, she was the one they changed the most.  In the book, she is: calculated, sympathetic, extremely resourceful, quick-thinking, blonde, and a great character.  In the film, she’s: a brunette, doesn’t contribute much, and everything interesting about her was completely written-out.  Considering that 2016 was the year of the feminist agenda, I’m amazed that so little fuss was made over the butchering of Sienna Brooks’ character.  It could have something to do with the pitiful $34 million it made domestically, but still.  Inferno isn’t the best book in the series, but it has the best female protagonist out of them.  Pretty much all the intelligence and maturity from the book was replaced with cheap thrills and action movie clichés that is the intellectual equivalent to junk food for the mind.  When you read the climax of the novel, it will leave you speechless.  It’s so monumental that it will take a few minutes for your mind to process it.  Ok, I can’t take any more, let’s wrap this up.

Typically, when one reviews an adaptation, they cannot compare it to the original source material.  An adaptation can be reviewed by someone who has seen the original, and someone who has not seen the original.  The only difference is opinion.  I wanted to write this because these great literary works have been thoroughly ruined 3 times too many.  The only thing that remained decent in all three films is Hans Zimmer’s music (for reference, listen to the buildup in this, the intensity of this, and the mystery of this) which provided me with a much needed reminder that even the worst films can contain a diamond in the rough.  When all is over and done with, the sacred novels are still here, and still awesome.  But for now, Inferno gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an F.

This was the first of many projects I have planned for 2017.  Yep, the fun/experimentation didn’t stop with Brian De Palma Month, we have many more to go.  Comment and tell me what you thought of this post.  Or say nothing and let me pretend that I did a good job.  Thank you.

The Robert Langdon Series Ranked

Angels & Demons (2000 Novel)-A+

A perfect mix of action, science, historical art, religious commentary, character, humor, and pacing make this book one of the best I have ever read.  It remains timeless/relevant to this day, and I recommend that everyone should read it.  Also, the villains in Angels & Demons are frighteningly effective.

The Da Vinci Code (2003 Novel)-A-

It’s more subtle (i.e. slower and more detailed) than Angels & Demons, but still thrilling and creative.

The Da Vinci Code (2006 Film)-D

This movie is ungodly boring!  The (seemingly perfect) cast is wasted, the screenplay is lifeless, and it’s shot like garbage.

Angels & Demons (2009 Film)-C-

The only reason this movie is better than the predecessor is the faster pace.  Otherwise, the villains are underdeveloped, the suspense is weak, and the commentary is ground-level easy.

The Lost Symbol (2009 Novel)-B-

Removing the religious elements from this one lowered the stakes/interest, but on its own, The Lost Symbol is a decent mystery that takes full advantage of the setting, (and a shocking twist).

Inferno (2013 Novel)-A-

The amnesia cliché and pre-established formula hold it back, but the urgency, art references, and amazing ending make it more than just a simple action thriller.

Inferno (2016 Film)-F

Did you not read the review?

“A Cure for Wellness” Review

Oh boy, it’s time to talk about arthouse films.  Since I never got around to reviewing The Lobster or Swiss Army Man, it looks like A Cure for Wellness is going to be the first “different” movie that I’ve reviewed.  This movie is definitely one of my most anticipated releases of 2017, and a film from Gore Verbinski is almost always a treat.  Let’s get to it.

A Cure for Wellness is directed by Gore Verbinski and written by Justin Haythe and Gore Verbinski.  Stars-Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth, Jason Isaacs, and Harry Groener.   Premise-An American businessman (DeHaan) is sent to the Swiss Alps to find his CEO (Groener) who left suddenly after leaving a note stating that he was looking for “the cure,” that can only be found at a mysterious facility in the mountains.

Mr. Verbinski has established himself to be a versatile director.  From unique comedies like Mousehunt and The Weather Man, to the terrifying Ringu remake (The Ring), to the incredibly successful Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, to the Best Animated Feature-winning Rango; his films have left their mark on cinema.  However, one of his biggest criticisms is making movies that think they’re “bigger” than they actually are.  For example, the Pirates sequels tried to be grandiose and stupendous, even though audiences love the first because of its lighthearted action.  Another would be Rango, which was filled with morals and social commentary (although I think the story is sublime) despite being an animated Disney film.  Try as I have to counteract that argument, it has never been more prevalent than with A Cure for Wellness, that cannot (for the life of itself), figure out what it wants to say.  I opened by mentioning arthouse films because this movie makes the tiresome trek across that genre’s many possibilities and somehow came out with incoherence and pretention.

The very first thing I have to acknowledge is the style of this film.  It looks spectacular.  Verbinski has a great eye for framing a shot (check out Mousehunt for some really cool camerawork).  A Cure for Wellness is a picturesque film, and you can see some of this beauty on the official website.  The set design and color-correction give it a very eerie tone, one that effectively brings chills at times.  The score is equally entrancing, adding atmosphere at very precise moments.  On a visual level, it can’t be beat, but that is sadly the most impressive thing about A Cure for Wellness.

The movie actually starts out pretty strong.  We get some intriguing visual foreshadowing and insightful social commentary (the only commentary in the movie that makes sense).  You’ll quickly realize that A Cure for Wellness decides to spend most of its time getting high rather than making sense.  After some exposition (including DeHaan’s character motivation), he makes the trip to the treatment center.  The first act does a great job of creeping you out while setting up the rest of the story.  But you’ll quickly realize that the movie is a downward spiral after the “car scene.”  The pacing is slower than a Smart Fortwo, and instead of explaining what is going on, Verbinski decides to show you his “artistic vision.”  Yes, the movie looks incredible, but it (being a pretentious arthouse film) throws a bunch of disturbing/confusing imagery at you.  Some of these visuals are creative, and some will wreck your suspension of disbelief.  While I’m at it, let’s talk about the torture scenes!  Remember that disgusting “turkey baster” thing in Don’t Breathe?  Imagine four of those scenes in one movie, which go on for five minutes each, are even nastier, and go all the way with their detail.  I overacted with my reaction to Don’t Breathe; after all, they didn’t go all the way with what was going to happen.  I can name at least two movies (The Human Centipede and A Serbian Film) that are more shocking than A Cure for Wellness.  That said, there are numerous things in this movie that will trigger many.  Animal abuse, extensive gore, and lots of naked old people.  My philosophy is, “If it has a point, go for it.”  Most of the disturbing imagery we see after the boring first half is unexplained and has little story impact.  I’d like there to be a reason behind making me vomit.

The actual narrative is even less impressive by comparison.  There are a whole lot of genre clichés (you could see half of them in the trailers), the continuity is abysmal, and I left the theater asking, “What the heck was the point of all that?”  Usually, you can tell that an artsy-fartsy movie wants to say something.  In the case of A Cure for Wellness, I have no idea what they were going for.  The actors (especially DeHaan) are trying their best, but the script is harder to decipher than The Da Vinci Code!  This brings me to my last point; A Cure for Wellness would make an excellent videogame.  I mean it.  A first-person horror survival set in a mysterious health facility with a dark past.  The philosophy, odd characters, and brutality would work better in a game than a 150 minute film.   Imagine Outlast combined with Silent Hill; now that would be awesome!

I will say that I’m glad this movie was made, for all of its mistakes; more “different” films need to be mass released.  Despite all of its flaws, there is a thought-provoking psychological thriller hidden in the shadows.  The movie already has a Lilliputian cult following, and inspiration is much more powerful than entertainment, which the movie failed to provide.  A Cure for Wellness gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C-.

Brian De Palma Month: “Dressed to Kill” (FINALE)

The purpose of this series was for me to analyze the movies of one of the most influential directors of the New Hollywood Generation (which Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and John Carpenter are also a part of), and for you to enjoy my findings.  What sparked this idea was Dressed to Kill, an erotic thriller that delivers a disturbingly tense experience.  I watched this movie on Christmas Day on a whim.  I had my bowl of Chinese chicken wings, relaxed into the plush chair, and hit “Play.”  What followed was some of the best filmmaking I have ever come across in an independent production.  The Untouchables might be my favorite movie from him, Mission: Impossible might be his highest-grossing picture, and Scarface (1983) might be his most iconic work, but I firmly believe Dressed to Kill is the best thing in his resume.   I’ve been aching to write this since I reviewed Snake Eyes, so let’s get ‘er goin’!

Dressed to Kill is written and directed by Brian De Palma.  Stars-Michael Caine, Nancy Allen, Angie Dickson, Keith Gordon, and Dennis Franz.  Premise-A call girl (Allen) is hunted by a mysterious blond woman after watching her murder a patient of psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliot (Caine).  Quick Disclaimer: I can’t go into too much detail because this screenplay is a mystery that could easily be spoiled.

When people think “Brian De Palma,” Dressed to Kill is one of the first responses they get.  No other movie from him is as stylistically pleasing, violent, or as tense as Dressed to Kill.  In fact, this extraordinary example of visual storytelling is in the Criterion Collection (one of three De Palma films to do this).

Don’t let those undeserved Razzie nominations (Worst Director, Worst Actor-Caine, and Worst Actress-Allen) give you the wrong impression of this film.  Dressed to Kill is a wild ride with no way off, and the actors are fully committed to their characters.  Michael Caine is excellent as Dr. Elliot.  He has to figure out why his patient was murdered and still remains intriguingly professional (as the movie goes on, he gets much better), Angie Dickson (playing a sexually frustrated housewife/mother) is incredibly authentic, and Allen (who was De Palma’s wife at the time) is a very likable protagonist.  There are scenes where she is being harassed, chased, interrogated, and psychologically examined.  She works well in pretty much every scenario (even the one where she has to seduce someone).  The supporting cast is just as entertaining (Keith Gordon’s career was greatly helped by this movie); Dennis Franz somehow made the “disbelieving cop with a Chicagoan accent” funny.

One of the biggest complaints naysayers of this particular director bring up is his use of brutal violence.  Advocates of the former should refer to this enlightening video.  I cannot stress how stylistically intense this movie is.  It does bare more than one resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (of which Brian De Palma was greatly inspired), and that could have easily resulted in a cheap rip-off.  The writing of Dressed to Kill not only knows what was effective, but why it was effective.  Through a combination of De Palma’s signature split-screens, tracking shots, and Dutch angles, a chilling score from Pino Donaggio (which rivals that of Ennio Morricone’s The Thing soundtrack), and thrilling sequences (most notably the subway chase and museum scene) make Dressed to Kill practically a spiritual successor to the works of Hitchcock.  This movie is never boring.  The mystery has many layers to it and the character interactions can leave you more informed or more confused.  Either way, the psychological terror is palpable.  I had other plans that night, but I could not take my eyes off the screen, I simply had to see what would happen.

My issues with the movie are extremely few.  There is a dream sequence (a la Carrie) that was unnecessary, but it was cool to watch so I’ll give it a pass.  Also, there is a twist of sorts.  Some people can probably predict it, but you’re talking to the guy who couldn’t guess the twist of The Visit or The Village, so take it how you will.  Dressed to Kill is an experience.  It is nothing more than a stylish thriller, but it does its job so dang well.

If you have taken anything from this little series of mine, it’s that I thoroughly love this artist’s work and I have a great amount of respect for what he has accomplished.  Yes, he made bad movies (any director who’s been working for over 50 years would), but those mistakes are overshadowed by a mountain of entertaining, influential, suspenseful, star-powered, iconic pieces of cinema.  There were so many other fine options I had for this series: the powerfully acted Carlito’s Way, the “filmmaker’s film” Blow Out, the dramatic Casualties of War, De Palma’s breakout film Sisters, and so many more.  When asked in an interview if he was proud of his career, De Palma replied, “To be in my age and to be still making movies, absolutely.”  Dressed to Kill gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A.

De Palma, if you are reading this, thank you so much for reshaping the industry, and inspiring this lover of film.

Brian De Palma Month: “Passion”

As this series nears its end, I had to choose only two more movies to review for it.  Obviously the final one will be the movie that inspired me to do this series, and the second one should be De Palma’s latest film.  After a quick scroll through his IMDb page, I found that film.

Passion is directed by Brian De Palma and written by Brian De Palma and Natalie Carter.  Stars-Noomi Rapace, Rachael McAdams, Karoline Herfurth, and Paul Anderson.  Premise-Based on the 2010 film, Love Crime (which I haven’t seen), Passion follows a sales associate (McAdams) and her assistant (Rapace).  When her boss steals her idea, what follows is a very confusing path of lies, backstabbing, and murder.

No, the main reason I wanted to review this movie is not to watch Rapace and McAdams make out (believe it or not, that was a major aspect of this movie’s marketing).  The sad thing is that many would consider that to be the best thing about this movie.  I wanted to review Passion (God knows why they named it that) because De Palma is directing a new movie.  This guy has been persisting for decades, and I wanted to see how much better or worse his career became over time.  As I said in the Mission to Mars review, he never recovered after that bomb.

The very first shot implicitly tells us the overall feeling of the film: unexplained and confusing.  With some directors (John Carpenter, Stanley Kubrick, Brian De Palma, etc.) they make better movies if they also write the script.  Unfortunately, the screenplay of this movie is beyond incoherent.  In the first scene, we see the two main characters with absolutely no introduction for 5 minutes.  Only after some painfully obvious exposition do we learn who they are.  The plot gets more and more convoluted bloated complicated as it goes on, but unlike that of Inception, Shutter Island, or 2001: A Space Odyssey, this movie goes for the Sucker Punch route (needlessly bloated).  The characters are extremely bland (their dialogue is even worse), there are 5+ underdeveloped subplots, and the last 10 minutes (while kinda tense) have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie.

This movie was not produced by any major companies.  According to Wikipedia, they had a $25 million budget, and this is why we don’t trust Wikipedia.  This movie does not deliver on the production quality.  It could be that I recently reviewed The Untouchables (a movie with impeccable production design) for this series, but Passion has all the stylistic appeal of a no-budget short film.  The worst offender is a horribly shoddy blood effect that happens during one of this movie’s THREE confusing dream sequences.  Batman v Superman (that movie that was nominated for all the Razzies) had better dream sequences because it told me what was a dream and what was real.  Passion never makes it clear what parts of these sequences are real, so when the movie is over, you’re left scratching your head thinking, “Excuse me, what?”

Yes, this was a short review (the movie gave me so little to work with).  De Palma’s style couldn’t salvage this mess, the lackluster performances don’t do the ridiculous plot any favors, and the decent music only reminds me that I could have been watching Dressed to Kill instead.  Passion gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a D.

Brian De Palma Month: “Mission: Impossible” (1996)

Aw heck yeah, Mission: Impossible!  Bet you didn’t know Brian De Palma directed the first entry into this long-lasting film series.  When the mere idea for this adaptation (from producers Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner) was conceived, it was very risky.  The TV show, that I haven’t seen, was loved by many, and no one was asking for a movie version.  Tom Cruise (who was known for movies like Risky Business, Top Gun, and A Few Good Men), was not an action star.  To top it off, David Koepp couldn’t finish the script because he was directing his own film (The Trigger Effect).  Despite all of that, audiences were treated to an action/thriller no one but master of suspense Brian De Palma could have come up with.

Mission Impossible (1996) is directed by Brian De Palma and written by: David Koepp, Steven Zaillian, and Robert Towne.  Stars-Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Béart, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, and Vanessa Redgrave.  Premise-IMF (Impossible Mission Force) agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is accused of killing his team and betraying his agency.  Now he must uncover the real culprit using his wits while being pursued by his own superiors.

Out of all 5 of these movies, the first one is my favorite (followed by Mission: Impossible III and Ghost Protocol).  This thing grossed over $450 million on an $80 million budget and it was the third highest-grossing movie of 1996.  It successfully launched a franchise that outdid James Bond for a while.  “How did it accomplish this?”  You may ask.  I can’t wait to tell you why!

From the opening scene (De Palma is great at those isn’t he?) the movie sets up its tone and pace with an excellent split screen shot of an IMF operation.  You’ll notice that Stephen H. Burum outdoes himself in every scene.  The lighting on Jon Voight in the plane scene, the angles he uses during the restaurant confrontation, and oh gosh, and the vault scene (we’ll get to that later).  De Palma’s psychological style is perfectly reflected with the camerawork, you feel the tension in every scene.  Complementing the action sequences is Danny Elman’s slick score.  Lalo Schifrin composed the remixed theme, and Elman did the rest of the soundtrack.  It’s the type of cool music you’d listen to while doing math.  What, no one else does that?  I do.  It makes me feel like I’m doing some serious hacking.

At the expense of the top notch thrills of Mission: Impossible, it would be unfortunate if the story was utterly confusing.  Actually that is the major criticism of this movie, the screenplay.  I have watched this movie four times in my life (once before I wrote this), and I followed the plot easily each time.  Admittedly there are a few plotholes (refer to Koepp’s incomplete script), but the overall story is solid.  The creators (especially De Palma) really wanted to capture the sense of misdirection the show was known for.  Some people are easily offended when a movie outsmarts them (they would be called the negative critics of Inception), but I love the spy-like secrecy in this movie.  When Hunt’s mission goes awry, we don’t learn what really happened until the very end.  Our knowledge is limited to what Hunt knows, and he’s a great protagonist.  There are very few scenes where he is visibly panicked.  He’s resourceful, calculated, fast, effective, intimidating, intelligent, and Cruise’s likability anchors the coolest cinematic American agent this side of Jason Bourne.

Finally, we get to one of the best M.M.M.’s of all time… the vault infiltration sequence.  If you really want to watch this scene, you could find at least five videos of it on YouTube, but all I want to say is how awesome it is!  This is one of the reasons why Mission: Impossible is my favorite out of all five movies, because this scene carries more tension than the rest of the movies put together.  From the use of slow motion, to the lack of music, to the crosscutting editing, to the buildup of the operation, to that heart-stopping moment, this scene is so impressive, only Brian De Palma could have come up with it.  This scene has been copied, parodied, and ripped-off many times (even Ghost Protocol had a clever homage to it).

My few issues with this movie are mostly things that were the result of the limitations of the 90s.  For one, the search engine they use was Netscape, the F/X are really cheap-looking now, and the makeup is obviously fake.  Also, the sound is really stock.  It will be too loud in some scenes, too quiet in others, and occasionally out-of-sync.  Finally, the climax is extremely over-the-top.  Most of this movie’s action sequences were practical, and more focused on wits rather than Michael Bay explosions.  For the sake of not spoiling anything, just know that this finale was too bombastic for a movie this subtle.

Mission: Impossible has become a pop culture and cinematic icon because of its stylistic execution.  It is among one of the best action thrillers of the 90s, and for dang good reason.  Mission: Impossible gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A.

Brian De Palma Month: “Snake Eyes”

Happy New Year my fellow cinephiles!  If you follow the tradition, then you are setting New Year’s Resolutions.  One of my resolutions is, “Create a few review series’ and write other projects.”  The “projects” will come later, but I have something much more fun right now… BRIAN DE PALMA MONTH!  Every week of January, I will review 1 to 2 movies from the “master of macabre.”  I watched one of his movies recently, and it left me with the same feeling I felt when I first watched: Inception, A Clockwork Orange, 1982’s The Thing, and the original Star Wars.  That feeling was: passionate obsession (not the creeper kind).  After watching those movies, I immediately had to research the director/writer, and I couldn’t stop watching their movies.  I have seen (and thoroughly loved) movies from De Palma before watching this specific film, but never once have I talked about them.  Time to change that, starting with Snake Eyes!

Snake Eyes is directed by Brain De Palma and written by Brian De Palma and David Koepp.  Stars-Nicolas Cage, Gary Sinise, Carla Gugino, John Heard, and Stan Shaw.  Premise-Undercover detective Rick Santoro (Cage) is caught in the middle of a murder at a boxing ring involving the United States Department of Defense, and a conspiracy.

Just a disclaimer: there is no way I can review every one of his movies, but I can manage eight or so.  I won’t go into spoiler territory (because I want others to see this master’s movies), but this review will contain high amounts of fanboying.

Anyway, this movie is awesome!  From the very first shot, you know Snake Eyes is going to be a stylized, energetic, well-acted thriller.  By the way, this opening shot is 12 (uninterrupted) minutes long, Nic Cage is gleefully over-the-top throughout it, and it sets up every main character, the tone, and the plot in an unbelievably entertaining way (eat your heart out Scorsese).  This tracking shot opening is in many people’s Top Ten Opening Shots lists, and is well-deserving.  Sadly, this is when most of the negative reviews start.  They claim that the rest of the movie is not nearly as astounding as that first shot.  To some extent, they’re right.  It’s kinda like the “Married Life” sequence from Up.  The rest of the movie is good enough, but that one scene is too impressive for its own good, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the movie sucks.

The most impressive things about this movie are the acting and the cinematography.  Cage is gleefully goofy throughout the film (with a few somber moments here and there to balance it out) as he plays a detective with big aspirations, and a crummy life.  Cages’ energy (and humor) combined with the character’s personality create a very sympathetic/relatable character.  Gary Sinise plays a stiff, but devoted government official, and the banter between him and Cage is classic stuff.  Gugino always has an air of mystery around her.  You don’t know if she can be trusted, or who she is until much later.

When you watch a De Palma film, you know you’re in for a ride.  This movie is surprisingly short (90 minutes), and the plot is always moving.  As the mystery of “who orchestrated this and why?” is unraveled, there are a few twists and devastating reveals.  Unfortunately, that is where the movie falls flat.  The last 10 minutes is extremely flawed.  Can’t say much, but there is more than one inconsistency, and the arc of one of the characters felt incomplete.  But those are minor problems.

Snake Eyes was De Palma’s last 90s movie, it was also the movie that followed up Mission: Impossible (another reason critics didn’t like this one).  Sure, the rest of the movie isn’t as stellar as the opening; sure the story isn’t very “important” or dramatic.  This movie is a perfectly enjoyable, charmingly acted, original, tense thriller.  I’d say it did its job pretty dang well.  Snake Eyes gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A-.

“Blair Witch” Review

In a year where horror sequels manage to be better than the original (The Conjuring 2), John Goodman can simultaneously make you laugh and terrify you (10 Cloverfield Lane), and blind people are the subjects of nightmares (Don’t Breathe); one company will remind us that horror is still the most abused genre of cinema.

Blair Witch is directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett.  Stars-James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott, Corbin Reid, Wes Robinson, and Valorie Curry.  Premise-The brother of Heather (one of the original three students who disappeared) and three of his friends go into the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland to find his sister after watching footage of her last moments.

By now, everyone has admitted that this year has been quite a crappy one for movies.  Obviously it will shock no one when I say that this film is barely worth talking about.  You all know the story, The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999 and, like many classics, it was greeted with poor reviews.  However, it was a major financial hit.  The budget was $60,000 and the worldwide gross was over $245 million!  Want to know why?  At the time, audiences were constantly treated to the exact same thing; bloated action sci-fi flicks with greater focus on F/X than story.  That year brought us The World is Not Enough, The Mummy, The Haunting (the remake), Wild Wild West, and The Phantom Menace.  Hey, I’d be excited to see something different; it’s similar to how I feel about 2016 actually.  Anyway, The Blair Witch Project delivered.  The camerawork was (intentionally) amateur, the actors (cleverly) played themselves, the film had no big budget or corporate backing, and the thing was dang scary!  I don’t give a crap about Paranormal Activity; it was The Blair Witch Project that created the found-footage genre.  The ideas were creative, the pacing was natural, and the third act is simply an icon of horror.  It didn’t take long for companies to attempt to capitalize on the film’s success.  Audiences were unpleasantly greeted with Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 one year later.  That movie is one of the worst sequels of all time and it doesn’t exist, moving on.

I know, I know, “Where’s the actual review?”  This review would not be longer than a “My Thoughts On” if I didn’t talk about why the dang thing even exists.  As you could ascertain from the premise, there is somewhat of a point to sending more idiots into the Maryland Death Woods, but this film suffers from “cash grab sequel-syndrome.”  As the brilliant Randy Meeks from Scream 2 said in regards to horror sequels, “Number one, the body count is always bigger.  Number two, the death scenes are always more elaborate, more blood, more gore.”  Let me tell you, Blair Witch is one of the most by-the-numbers horror sequels since 2000.  Problem is, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT WAS NOT A SLASHER.  It was mostly a “lost in the woods” psychological thriller with very little gore, there was never even a death scene!  It was the pacing and uncertainty as the foundation, and the sounds, stick figures, and rocks that kept your attention.  For a movie as known and influential as The Blair Witch Project, this sequel sure doesn’t do it any justice.

The characters in the original were intentionally not memorable so the audience could picture themselves in their shoes.  Combined with the hand-held camera and “average woods” setting, the realistic feeling was thoroughly convincing.  The characters in Blair Witch feel like objects lined up to be brutally murdered.  In addition, the subplots make no sense.  Another trope of sequels in general is adding a load of subplots to pad out the film (because we all know there is no substance here).  The climax makes especially little sense.  For the sake of those 9 people that want to see this forgettable film, I won’t spoil anything.  Just know that everything the writer set up in the first 40 minutes comes crashing down in the third act.

Is Blair Witch scary?  That is the question.  The answer is no.  It gets tense and even claustrophobic in a few scenes, but most of the scares come from freaking false scares.  Since everything is in hand-held cam, nearly every false scare is just one of the characters popping up behind the person holding the camera.  Guess how fast that becomes annoying.  The biggest issue I have is actually the witch herself.  The first 3 minutes creates a major plothole once you see the climax, and (because this movie lacks any of the subtly of the original) you get to “see” why everything is happening.  By the end of the film, you’d swear you were watching a Slenderman adaptation.

If you want a horror film with originality, actual scares, fine acting, and even has the word “witch” in the title, watch Robert Eggers’ The Witch.  As for Blair Witch, Lionsgate may have been able to secretly make this movie because they knew no one wanted to see it, but this critic has seen worse horror sequels to know that Blair Witch doesn’t even deserve the cyber-paper I used to make this review.  Blair Witch gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C.

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Rashomon Review

Today, I give you my review of Rashomon; a film that has one of the most influential screenplays of all time.  Unsurprisingly, we have another revolutionary Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa.  More research has revealed to me the reason of why Kurosawa films are so influential, the writing.  Many of his films have very original stories that don’t often have conventional narratives.  In Seven Samurai, it was a distinct combination of comedy, drama, love, and treachery which made the story more unique.  In Rashomon, the story is told through multiple perspectives.  I’d say that is a long enough intro, so let’s get down to business.

Rashomon is directed by Akira Kurosawa and written by: Ryûnosuke Akutagawa, Akira Kurosawa, and Shinobu Hashimoto.  Stars-Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Masayuki Mori, and Machiko Kyô.  Premise-Based on the short story, “In a Grove,” Rashomon tells the story of a crime recalled through multiple (and contradictory) testimonies from different people.

Rashomon has contributed so much to the world.  Yes, not just the medium, but culture, certain beliefs, and art in general have learned something from this movie.  I can’t wait to tell you about it!  I’ll go over the objective perfection of Rashomon before dumping some film history on you (although, that will be much more interesting).  As always, Kurosawa’s creative use of the camera (especially when it involves nature) is beautiful, Fumio Hayasaka’s (who also composed Seven Samurai) music never overpowers a scene, but compliments the film as a whole, and the actors performances were emanating with emotional energy.

Did you know that this was the film that made Toshirô Mifune a star?  Or that the production company had little faith in Kurosawa and his story (kinda like Steven Spielberg with Jaws)?  Or that it was this film that brought Western attention to Japanese cinema?  Rashomon launched the professional career of Kurosawa, and influenced the medium with the screenplay’s point-of-view.  The film opens at Rashomon (which is the ruined gate to two ancient Japanese cities) during a rainstorm.  Taking shelter under it are: a confused and frightened woodcutter, a priest (who has almost lost his faith in humanity after hearing the story), and a complete (but shifty) stranger.  This combination of differing characters and viewpoints reinforce the philosophy of why we shouldn’t always trust what someone tells us, even if they seem to be telling the truth.  Rashomon has a bit of Kurosawa’s philosophy woven into this story.

The woodcutter explains that he was walking in a forest when he saw something horrible.  Later on, he was called in to testify, as someone had been murdered in those woods.  There were four other witnesses, each with a different perspective on what happened, although they all claimed to be at the scene when the murder took place.  Because of this, the audience doesn’t know who to trust.  The witnesses’ testimonies are shown through the use of flashbacks.  Keep in mind, the woodcutter is retelling the other witnesses’ testimonies (because he was there) to the priest and the stranger.  If that sentence didn’t remind you of Inception, go watch Inception, and then realize that it was Rashomon that did this type of “layering” storytelling first.  It was this storytelling that would inspire: The Usual Suspects, Memento, Vertigo, and many more.  None of these films ripped-off Rashomon (I know the internet loves to abuse that term), they most likely were looking back on Rashomon’s clever writing and using a trick it invented.

If you watch this movie now, and are under 25 years of age, Rashomon will most likely come across as simple, slightly clichéd, and boring.  I know this because I used to have no appreciation for great cinema, or the interest to do so.  But since you guys are above the societal “movies are just movies, they can’t change the world, nor are they ‘art’” belief, all I have to say is that Rashomon came out in 1950.  Flashbacks in cinema were not as common (or as overused) back then; and just because a movie is in black and white doesn’t automatically make it bad or boring.  Did I mention that the fight choreography and acting are very thrilling?  This movie is an hour and 28 minutes long, not with one moment wasted.  This complicated writing was accomplished in 32 minutes less time than the average film nowadays!  What I’m saying is you should see this movie.

The more I think about it, the story reminds me of a detective case involving multiple witnesses or a Phoenix Wright videogame.  What do I always say?  The writing is the most important part of nearly every project, especially media.  It is because of Rashomon’s unconventional storytelling that so much ground was paved for cinema.  In his review of Rashomon, Roger Ebert said, “Because we see the events in flashbacks, we assume they reflect truth. But all they reflect is a point of view, sometimes lied about.”  That’s what is genius about Rashomon; we never quite know who to trust or what to believe.  I don’t think the power of perception has ever been better utilized in a film’s writing.  When we actually discover what really happened in the forest… my gosh.  The last 10 minutes of this movie are the best part of it.  The ending is optimistic, philosophical, shockingly true, and emotionally powerful.  I don’t want to give too much away; you just have to watch the movie.  Rashomon is one of the greatest landmarks in cinema which stands the test of time, and gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A+.

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