I love movies. I have loved movies all my life. I grew up on them. When I was eight years old, I managed to convince myself I would make movies when I grew up. Now I am in the process of getting a degree in Film Studies. I write about film more than ever before, partly because I have to for my classes, mostly because I enjoy it, because I have something to write about. Sometimes it helps me understand the film better; sometimes it helps me understand myself better.
I created this blog as a place to showcase my work, and also as an incentive to keep writing reviews, analyses, and essays over breaks, when there’s no one here to grade me.
I have tried many times, and failed, to explain in a coherent manner why it is that I love films. Here is my best—and most coherent—guess.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

World War Z (2013)

Sorry, Sam, but snakes don’t cut it anymore. Marc Forster’s got motherfuckin’ zombies on this motherfuckin’ plane, in the ultimate revenge fantasy of economy class on a harrowing Jerusalem-Cardiff flight. These dead don’t walk; they run, necks outstretched, with cloudy eyes staring but unseeing, clicking their teeth like hungry, rabid rodents. Blind, ravenous, guided by sound and attracted to loud noises, the creatures move in terrifying swarms that pour down city streets like flooding rivers, take down flaming helicopters, crawl ant-like up walls, and scramble over barricades. And they’re awesome.

World War Z is a surprisingly entertaining, fitfully exciting extravaganza that’s more substantive than the usual summer fare. Forster’s big-scaled zombiepocalypse is imaginative and intelligent, gripping and grown-up, filled with small details and quiet, simple moments as much as spectacular set pieces of terror and mayhem that are cleverly conceived and sleekly crafted. An expertly paced globe-trotting mystery, the film owes more to medical thrillers like The Andromeda Strain, Outbreak, or Contagion than it does to George Romero’s seminal works and other zombie films, with the exception perhaps of Danny Boyle’s near-masterpiece 28 Days Later. Tension, suggestion, and silence, interrupted by creaking doors, crunching glass, even a soda can rolling across a cafeteria floor, can be a lot more effective than rotting flesh, leaking pustules, and gore.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Casablanca (1942) Analysis

The classic wartime romantic melodrama Casablanca has been tested by time and passes with flying colors. An accidental success of the studio system assembly line, it carries as much weight today, if not more, as it did in 1942. Its poignant and stirring love story is timeless and eternal. The rich and smoky atmosphere and chiaroscuro lighting, the lush black and white cinematography, and main themes of loss, honor, self-sacrifice and redemption in a chaotic world perfectly reflected the dark and pessimistic WWII social climate, and are still perfect seventy years later.

Rick Blaine’s (the unimitable Humphrey Bogart) tough, cynical, and efficient exterior is an imperfect armor, barely covering the core of sentiment and idealism. His ultimate sacrifice in the service of something greater than himself is instantly appealing. He becomes a true romantic hero worthy of the other characters’ and the audience’s admiration. The emotional effect on viewers warming in the glow of Rick’s gallant heroism is the thought that perhaps we too could achieve greatness through great sacrifice. The film’s ending is not happy, but it is hopeful. True love does not conquer all. It does, however, elevate its characters to higher levels of humanity. And this stands at the core of Casablanca, distinguishing it from the majority of noir films that chronicle the dark side of human nature, basking in their own deep shadows of gloom and disenchantment. The movie dares to rise above the dark atmosphere of the war years, demonstrating that nobility and honor are still alive and well, and run a café in the unoccupied French province of Morocco.

***This is a short analysis of the film. It contains spoilers.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

After Earth (2013)

This father-son sci-fi wilderness adventure starring real-life father and son Will and Jaden Smith is nothing more than an overlong and overly sadistic obstacle course, both for its main character and the viewer. As the teenager hero of After Earth makes his way though dangerous territory, leaping from safe spot to safe spot, the movie leaps from lazy cliché to lazy cliché and listless life lesson to listless life lesson beat by predictable beat.

In the film’s exposition-heavy prologue we find out humankind now wears a lot of white unitards and moved to distant Nova Prime a thousand years ago because of Earth’s manmade downfall, elucidated through a stock montage of floods, fires, riots and explosions. The natives of our new home planet, none the happiest to be colonized however, have engineered super alien beasts known as Ursas—they are not bearlike, in case you were wondering—that are almost blind, but can track, hunt, and kill by smelling human pheromones—“they literally smell fear,” the voiceover helpfully explains. What I’ve just described—and so, so, so much more—could have easily been expanded into a full-length feature. Director M. Night Shyamalan squeezes it into about five minutes, and packs everything full of superficial details, justifications, and rationalizations that are both unnecessary and unimpressive.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Hangover Part III (2013)

Anyone who’s seen the trailers and promos for the last—fingers crossed—installment of The Hangover franchise knows that, among other instances of senseless animal cruelty, Todd Phillips’ Part III features giraffe decapitation by highway underpass. I couldn’t make this up if I wanted to. It’s not very funny, and completely tangential to the plot, but then a lot of things are. The problem is it takes place in the first five minutes, and the movie tries really really hard to top it for the remaining hour and a half. It fails.

There are some movies that should stand alone; sequels, prequels, remakes, and spin-offs can only harm their reputation. The first Hangover is one of these movies.  Perhaps the funniest and most entertaining film of 2009, it was an uproariously hilarious lowbrow achievement of raunch, profanity, and political incorrectness, and a modernized, twisted return to a simpler, gentler age (circa 1980) when bros and boobs ruled the comedic screen. Part II made the mistake of trying to outdo it, but, although inferior to its predecessor and patently unoriginal, replicating every situation of the first with mechanical obligation, it was still a good time. Part III tries to top both movies. Combined. Losing the expected, exciting backtracking structure—and any sort of boozing and hangovers, debauchery and fun, for that matter—this Hangover does away with the comedy almost entirely, replacing laughs with the half-parodied, predictable conventions of a bad, exposition-heavy B-movie caper played chronologically and completely soberly.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Mud (2013)

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it,” Norman Maclean writes in the last lines of his autobiographical meditation on family, faith, and fly fishing, A River Runs Through It: “The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” I couldn’t help but think of these words as I watched Jeff Nichol’s Mud, a down in the delta coming of age story that takes place in the wide mythic space where the Mississippi opens up and the horizon stretches boldly to infinity, expanding to encompass the whole world. On that threshold, reality and illusion, the past and the future, the sky and the river become one, and all things merge, pregnant with promise and hope.

But the unstill Southern waters Nichols wades in are as murky and dangerous as the past of the movie’s title character, a tattooed, broken-toothed bayou noir hero who cares about honor and justice more than he’d like to admit. With a graceful, unhurried rhythm and a rustic regional temperament, the movie reaches the patience and picturesque pastoral sights of a Terrence Malick film. Unlike Malick, however, the director of Mud places his characters firmly within their setting but also above it, offering subtleties and surprises in the way of suspense, humor, and a climax that would put many an action film to shame.