Friday, October 31, 2014

The horror films produced by Universal in the 1930s left an indelible mark on the history of popular American film. Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy and others remain in the cultural zeitgeist to this day and are chiefly responsible for helping Universal become one of the largest movie studios in the world.

Although monster films existed before the 1930s (with Murneau's Nosferatu being released in 1922), the genre made great strides in popularity following 1931's Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi in his most famous role. Universal followed that film up with Frankenstein, an adaptation of a story that had been around since the 1820s. Both films achieved great success at the box office, and their characters became part of our culture. Lugosi, The Wolf Man star Lon Chaney, and Frankenstein star Boris Karloff became some of the most famous actors of the day.

Universal's success with monster movies over the next couple of decades positioned the studio as one of the titans of the industry. Although the studio had been around since the days of silent film, and in fact came to prominence with several pre-Jazz Singer hits, it was the horror hits of the early 1930's that allowed the studio to branch out into other genres. The studio's success with horror continued with Creature from the Black Lagoon, whose titular monster is considered one of the class Universal Monsters.

Universal horror films changed the path of popular American film greatly, as they set the standard for all horror films to follow. Several classic films of later decades have sprung out of the tradition set by these films; one of the funniest movies of all time, Young Frankenstein, is entirely built around the tropes of the Universal films.



Two years ago, the AV Club published a guide to Universal monster films, which comes in handy every Halloween: http://www.avclub.com/article/a-guide-to-the-universal-studios-monster-movies-19-87883.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Michael Myers is Always Watching

Every year the closer we get to Halloween, the more excited I get. The reason being is that I get to watch all the horribly made scary Halloween themed movies out there. Growing up in my family, this was a tradition. When I was younger I mainly watch ABC's 13 nights of Halloween, as well as Disney's corny Halloween movies. I'd have to say one of my most watched movie series were the Halloweentown series on Disney Channel. They were the best, unfortunately the fourth installment had a new actress playing the main lead, Marnie Piper. Although they were good, corny Halloween movies, they were not my favorite.
My favorite Halloween film series would have to be Halloween produced by John Carpenter. Say hello to the big and scary Michael Myers in 1978.
The first film made it's debut in 1978 starring Jamie Lee Curtis, followed by seven installments, and two remakes. The first film opens up with 6 year old Michael stabbing his sister. Since the age of six he has been committed to an insane aslyum for life. Fifteen years later he breaks out and starts to stalk local high school student, Laurie Strode. Over the course of the film the main story focuses on Laurie and her fear of being stalked. The other story of the film focuses on Michael's psychiatrist and his pursuit to find Michael. On the final night in the movie, Laurie is babysitting one of the kids in her neighborhood, Tommy Doyle. Laurie's best friend is also babysitting across the street. We see Michael lurking in the neighborhood, and eventually he kills Laurie's best friend, Annie. He then kills Laurie's other friend, Lynda. Finally Michael makes it into the house Laurie is in. After her stabbing Michael in the chest multiple times, he somehow still lives and keeps attacking her, finally his psychiatrist comes in shooting him, making him fall off the two story balcony. When Laurie and the psychiatrist look over the balcony, Michael is missing. 
Now don't get me wrong, these movies are some of my favorites, the best to watch around the Halloween season. However there are some things that I have notice, and tick me off a little. For starters, why can't Michael ever die? We see him get stabbed multiple times, he has gotten shot too many times to count, and at one point his full body catches on fire. I wish the story would establish, is he some kind of monster who can't die? Because he is simply human, which I'm assuming he is being that he was six years old and grew up like any other child, that is not humanely possible. No human can get stabbed in the chest, neck, back, shot, set on fire, and be completely okay without medical care.
Another thing that bothered me is that they never really established a solid reason for Michael originally killing his sister. And after they have have the psychiatrist describe his time with Michael, his diagnoses is: "He's purely evil." I'm sorry I do not buy it. The reason is not strong enough. There must be some kind of explanation. For example does he have some kind of mental illness? They state that he's simply insane, but how did he become insane? Another thing I questioned was, does he have some vendetta against people? Why did he start stalking Laurie? What significance did Laurie have to Michael? Did he just pick the first person he saw? 

Maybe I'm just being picky, but these little things do count for something. They help people understand the story more. But then again, the average viewer is probably just going to see this movie to get scared and see the gory scenes. Where as a film student like myself, I'm questioning the small details, the details that someone else might find insignificant. 
Anyway, I do love these film series, they are a great choice to watch for the Halloween season. Some other great picks are IT, with Pennywise the clown, Nightmare on Elm Street, and even Friday the 13th. All of these movies will definitely scare you, or atleast make you nervous when you go to sleep later that night. Happy Halloween


OK, How'd They Do It?

The band OK Go is known to have some crazy music videos that really go above and beyond but in their latest video the band goes even further. The video directed by Morihiro Harano starts in a studio as the members of the band ride these little machines called UNI-CUB's. We dolly out of the studio and into the streets surrounded by bright and colorful buildings and out of nowhere the camera flies up into the air. The camera was attached to a drone that was then attached to a dolly and the camera continues to soar into the air.




Below the members are joined by dancers with umbrellas and the camera shoots back down. It locks back into place on the dolly and continues rolling down the street. And just like that the camera goes up again, but this time it doesn't come back down. The band is joined with now hundreds of dancers and we keep flying up and up. The crowd shapes forms with their umbrellas even spell out words as the camera flies over a half a mile into the air. To think how long it took to block the whole shot and to then get the choreography down perfectly is mind boggling. Check out the video below! 


OK Go - I Won't Let You Down - Official Video

'Tis the Season to be Scary

Happy Halloween, everyone! Once again, we are nearing the end of what many film lovers affectionately call "Horror month." A time for catching up on genre classics both old and new, the month often provides a number of opportunities for adventurous viewing. Schoolwork has limited my movie intake this year, but I was able to land a handful of fun ones including The Evil Dead and Hellraiser (which is more bloody and gross than fun, but you know what I mean). While I'm in the festive mood, I'll take this week's blog post as an opportunity to share my thoughts on a few of the best chillers, screamers and blood-curdlers out there. We all know the reputation of such films as Psycho, The Shining, Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so there's no use in trying to add to their legend. Instead, I'll be presenting some of the lesser-known greats that deserve to stand toe-to-toe with the more established masterworks.
First up is Herk Harvey's low budget tale of ghoulish dread, Carnival of Souls. Independently made and released in 1962 to muted reception, the film follows the lone survivor of an auto accident that claimed the lives her friends. Spurred by a spontaneous road race with a car full of like-aged boys, her vehicle veers off a bridge and into a river. Our protagonist emerges remarkably unharmed and attempts to move on with her life, taking a job as a church organist in a small town in Utah. Strange occurrences begin to take place, as she has visions of a ghostly pale man everywhere she goes. Meanwhile, an abandoned carnival on the edge of town starts to emit a bizarrely enticing energy to the young woman. She knows not what the creepy place holds, but she can't help but be drawn to it, repeatedly visiting, perhaps one time too many. The film plays like an 84 minute episode of the Twilight Zone and goes down easy, devoid of any pretensions or big philosophical messages. It's twisty, atmospheric and terribly enigmatic all the way through. Endlessly eerie and creatively macabre, it's a splendid little gem of 60's b-horror and I highly recommend it. Also...
...get ready to have this guy haunt your dreams.
Now onto another 60's treasure, Hour of the Wolf. In 1968, Ingmar Bergman made a horror film and it was every bit as amazing as one could imagine. An artist and his pregnant wife vacation on a remote island where they discover they are not alone. A gaggle of wealthy socialites live nearby in a monstrous mansion. They know of the artist's work and invite him to a dinner party, where they proceed to playfully insult him. But this isn't the end of the story. During his time on the island, the artist begins to mentally breakdown, experiencing surreal encounters and reliving painful memories. It all culminates in a final 20 minutes that is absolutely terrifying. Here is a taste of what I'm talking about (trust me, this spoils nothing):
Coupling disturbing imagery with Bergman's trademark existential angst, the film is both frightening and fascinating- a rare mix. I want to study it just as much as I want to turn away from its horrific sequences. It isn't Bergman's finest hour (In my opinion, that would be Persona), but it is brilliant nonetheless.
Last but certainly not least is one of my favorite films of all time: Kwaidan. Masaki Kobayashi's masterfully-paced film is an anthology covering four stories based on tales from Japanese folklore. The horror is mostly subtle in this one, so while it might not be as "scary" as the other two films mentioned, its storytelling ability is the strongest. Because it is difficult to talk about the film as a whole without highlighting each section, here are some brief summaries (with screenshots, of course!).
THE BLACK HAIR - A poor swordsman abandons his wife despite her pleas to attain greater social status with a woman of a wealthy family. He is sick of the impoverished existence and seeks a higher quality of life at the risk of losing the one solid relationship he has. Higher social status is indeed attained, but the swordsman's mind often drifts back to his wife, especially since the woman he married has revealed herself to be cold and unloving. He decides to return home, but will his wife still be there and can things ever go back to the way they were? A great opening tale with a startling final trick that effectively sets the tone for the rest of the film.
THE WOMAN OF THE SNOW - A woodcutter has a ghostly encounter with a lethal spirit one stormy winter night and makes a pact with it: The woman promises to spare his life if he agrees to never tell a soul about what he witnessed that evening. The man takes the agreement and time passes. Spring comes and then summer. He marries a lovely woman who is new to the area and all seems well, but he cannot shake the memories of that fateful night and begins to question if it really happened and if he should go ahead and tell his sweetheart about it. I'll leave it there, because it gets very interesting after that. Though it's hard to choose, this might be my favorite of the four. It unravels slowly, like a campfire yarn and next to the tale that follows it, the segment contains some of the film's most striking compositions.

HOICHI, THE EARLESS - A blind musician named Hoichi is visited by the ghost of a samurai and invited to play for a sinister group of spirits. His skill in playing the biwa is considerable and he humbly accepts the offer, not knowing the exact nature of his audience. He goes night after night and once his priest friends catch on to what has been happening and realize the danger of the situation, they devise a clever plan to help Hoichi go undetected by the spirits that will hopefully drive them away for good. Of course, things don't go quite as planned. The longest story of the group and the most complex, "Hoichi" is probably the most popular section of Kwaidan (And for good reason!)
IN A CUP OF TEA - A writer sees a face in his cup of tea. He dumps and refills the cup several times only to find the face sporting the same bizarre smirk each time. Upset by this encounter, he finds himself being confronted by a trio of supernaturally-endowed assassins later that night. It's probably the most cursory of the four stories, but still entertainingly executed and impeccably crafted.

The most expensive production in Japan's cinematic history at the time of release, Kwaidan is grandly envisioned and thoroughly chilling in each of its four conclusions (as well as in the conclusion of its framing story, which took me completely off guard). I've taken up too much blog-space already with this film, so I figure I should end it there. If you're looking for expansive, eerie and beautifully shot horror, look no further than this film. It is truly one of the best of the genre.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tumblr and How it is Ruining Movies


The first time my friend showed me her Tumblr, went like this:

Me: Oh I love Audrey Hepburn!
Her: Me to!
Me: What’s your favorite movie she’s in?
Her: Oh I’ve never seen any of her movies.
Me: Oh…so why did you put all of these pictures on your blog?
Her: Because they’re cool…
Me: Well you should watch this movie it’s really good.
Her: Yeah I don’t really like watching things in black in white.
Me: Then why do you post about them in your blog?!?!


It was a very frustrating experience and when I looked at my other friend’s blogs I found the same things. Gifs and pictures from movies that they didn’t know and had no intention of watching. It made me angry at first and then I just felt sad, because they are going to miss out on so many amazing films.

Tumblr is a world in which people can express themselves through other people’s expressions and I think its ruining movies. So many of my friends will post pictures from classic films and instead of thinking: “Wow this is a cool picture I should find out what this is and watch it” they think: “Wow this is cool, people are going to think I’m so cool and watch such cool movies”.  I think this  is what is keeping so many young people from diving into film: they can get all of this attention for liking interesting films without actually having to put in any energy. That’s not what films are for and that’s not what they are about.


What if this was all you ever saw of "Breathless"? What would you think it was?
Films are not a way to seem cool and unique, they are works of enormous effort that make huge statements, and they should be appreciated as such. This is the mentality a lot of young people have today. It is all about image, not actual knowledge or experience.

What is most upsetting is that many of these people would love these films if they only took the time to immerse themselves in them. But when gifs and pictures are enough, there is no need to actually sit through a whole movie. This technology is made to share ideas and images of things that people love but instead it is allowing people to only care how films makes them appear not how films may influence their lives.

Who knows if Marilyn Monroe even said this? Does anyone on Tumblr care? NO!
After I talked to my friend at great length about this she decided she would only post about things she had seen and that if she saw something she liked she would research it and watch it and as a result she has become really immersed in a lot of films and directors and has come to really love and appreciate film.  I only hope other people can do the same, and we can have a lot more film lovers in the world.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Quentin Tarantino and Digital Filmmaking

Quentin Tarantino and Digital Filmmaking
Quentin Tarantino is one of the most well-known and respected Hollywood filmmakers of our time. His series of popular movies have built him an empire of stylized filmmaking with a loyal and massive fan base. Tarantino is a director, producer, screenwriter, and actor. He has received two golden globe awards as well as two academy awards. His films such as "Reservoir Dogs," which is still considered by masses to be the best independent film released in the United States, exemplify his gunnies. Tarantino’s films are a collage of popular American and foreign cinematic styles.
Tarantino has recently made public his contempt and distaste for the industry shifting from the conventional film to the more pragmatic and cost efficient digital medium of filming. Tarantino believes shooting 35mm film is the heart of cinema. The filmmaker has stated that, “ … the cinema I knew is dead.” Although Tarantino agrees that digital filmmaking allows knew beginner, low budget filmmakers to make their own projects and has rapidly increased the quantity of content being released. But the issue there that he can’t seem to comprehend is why professional filmmakers are shooting on digital. The filmmaker continues to stating the experience of 35mm films is completely different and much more aesthetically pleasing than digital.  
Tarantino’s little optimism has lead him to believe that this is possibly just a, “woozy romantic period for the film industry.”

MacGuffin

“The main thing I’ve learned over the years is that the MacGuffin is nothing. I’m convinced of this, but I find it very difficult to prove it to others.” –Alfred Hitchcock

Other wise known as McGuffin or maguffin, a MacGuffin is a plot device that is usually given little or no narrative explanation. It can be in the form of a goal, desired object, or other kind of motivator, and can be either a person, object or place. Sometimes, you might not even notice what the MacGuffin is in a film, but it's always there, and it's the driving force behind the main character's actions in a film.
Alfred Hitchcock is famous for using this term throughout his films.

MacGuffin use in Hitchcock films

Vertigo: Carlotta Valdes' character never appears in the film, and her death isn't important at all to the audience. However, because she is apparently possessing Madeleie Elster, it starts the case for Scottie to investigate and drives the entire film's plot. Some also have noted that the necklace or Scottie's vertigo is also a MacGuffin.
The 39 Steps: Mr. Memory's memorization of plans for an airplane engine. 
Rear Window: the "murder" committed by Lars Thorwald.
Notorious: the uranium ore that is in all the vintage wine bottles.
The Birds: the reason why the birds are attacking everyone.
Psycho: the $40,000 in the envelope. 

His famous method has also inspired other films to use this method in their films. Some examples are:
Pulp Fiction: the briefcase
Avatar: the mineral unobtainium
Mission: Impossible III: the rabbit's foot
Casablanca: the letters of transit
Citizen Kane: the rosebud



Friday, October 24, 2014

Music and John Hughes

Film and popular music are tied together inextricably, from the films of the 1940s that featured the singing stars of the day through Reservoir Dogs and up to Guardians of the Galaxy. Several of the most iconic uses of popular music in film come courtesy of John Hughes, a filmmaker who I admire.


The example that I'm sure many will remember is the parade scene from Ferris Bueller's Day Off, which features both Wayne Newton's recording of "Danke Schoen" and the Beatles' covering the Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout". The scene stands out as a great example of using popular music to develop a character: Ferris' larger-than-life performance situates him as the guy that everyone wants to be. We understand the kind of bombastic person that he is.


Another example comes from Pretty in Pink, where Jon Cryer's character enters a record shop and dances to Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness", in order to impress Molly Ringwald's character.


The most iconic use of music in Hughes' filmography comes at the end of The Breakfast Club, which features Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)". It's possible that no song and film are as tied together as these two. 

That show you like is going to come back in style



With the recent announcement that, after 25 years, the beloved, and bazar, David Lynch TV series, Twin peaks will return I thought it was only appropriate to post about the show. The cult show which ran for only two seasons and revolved around the murder of a young high school girl, Laura Palmer, and the mysterious story behind the magic of the town Twin Peaks. The show is going to pick up where it left off on ShoTime. The show was canceled because of its gradual decline in ratings, however in the years since it went off the air it gained a cult following. Other television shows began to barrow from the innovative shows format, including Lost, and perhaps most obviously The Killing, the Simpsons spoofed it, and the cast was reunited in an episode of Psych. However Twin Peaks strongly affected the music industry as well.
Many bands have been inspired by the strange show. The title of Sky Ferreira’s album Night Time, My Time, is a quote taken from the shows main character Laura Plamer.  El-P DJ Shaddow, and Mout Eefie all use parts of the shows dialogue in their work. Perhaps the most wildly known use of the show in music is by the British band Bastille, they have a song called Laura Plamer. There is also a band called “Twin Peaks”.
But why did all these musical artists find inspiration in the show? First of all the show was like nothing else on TV at that time. It was terrifying, filled with jump scares, and twisted plot lines that left you up at night. It was however also very funny, and paced with witty and quirky humor. This, I think drew the artists to the show. With so many boring or cliché shows out there it makes sense that the music industry would be drawn to one that totally broke the mold.
I think the artists were also drawn to the main character of the show, who we rarely see alive. Laura Plamer, quite like the show, she counterattacks cauterization. She is seen by her parents and the perfect Homecoming queen seen at the end of most episodes, wile she is really a cocaine abuser, slept around, and depreciated her fiends behind their backs.
Finally I think the music industry was drawn to Twin Peaks because of the music in the show. From the iconic opening song, to the music the little man dances too in the red room, the music is as strange and intriguing as the show itself. It is, in my opinion one of the best sored TV shows.   


The Avengers: Age of Ultron Trailer is out and I'm gonna talk about it


Hey friends. So, a few days ago a bootlegged version of the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer leaked. It spread around really fast and a lot of people saw it, so Marvel ended up releasing the trailer officially in HD- even though it was not supposed to be released until next Tuesday during the Agents of Shield episode on ABC.

Basically it was the best day ever for Lindsay, comic book movie nerd. If you haven't seen it yet, please watch it because it looks awesome.


So there's a lot of interesting things about this trailer.

First of all, this film looks much darker than the previous Avenger's film. (And really any other Marvel film's in this franchisee). This is an interesting direction for Marvel to go in, as they are generally loved for their "upbeat and fun" comic book films (Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man, etc), while DC usually tends to go on the darker side (Dark Knight, Man of Steel, etc.). This is not to say that none of the Marvel films deal with darker themes, but overall the tone of most of their movies is fun and lighthearted.

But, it has seemed that since the release of the first Avengers film, Marvel has been progressively getting darker. Iron Man 3 was similar in tone to The Avengers, but the squeal to Thor was literally titled Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Solider which came out last April was certainly their darkest and most serious film to date. So it is not a complete surprise to see this new Avengers film going to that darker place, but when in comparison to the first film this squeal looks especially gritty.

For those of you who don't know much about comic books or the Marvel cinematic universe, you were probably a little confused by Ultron (the scary robot villain quoting Pinocchio). Some quick background, Ultron is a Artificial Intelligence (kind of like Jarvis, from the Iron Man movies) and he is created by Tony Stark (in the comic books he is created by Hank Pym, but that is not important, I'm just adding this detail as not to offend any of my fellow nerds) to help the Avengers protect and improve the earth. However, as his programing evolves he decides that the best way to protect the Earth is to wipe out humanity.

That song that plays during the trailer is in fact "I've Got No Strings" from Pinocchio.


A lot different from the version in the trailer, am I right? Disney did something similar when they released the trailer for Maleficent last year, remaking the classic song "Once Upon a Dream" to sounds more dark and eerie.

He quotes it in reference to the fact that he has evolved past humanity and the humans who created him can no longer control him like a puppet. Marvel was able to so blatantly reference/use disney music because Marvel is actually a property of Disney. I never would have thought to put a music from a children's movie behind a scary robot villain, but it somehow works extremely well. Ultron pretty freaky.

Basically to sum up my thoughts, I think this is an extremely effective trailer and I'm super excited to see where they take this film.

MR. RYAN MURPHY: PROOF THE AUTEUR THEORY IS CORRECT?

Mr. Ryan Murphy has created many shows that have entered the popular culture zeitgeist, many of which are treatments of various groups of outcasts and misfits navigating their ways through the judgements they face. Mr. Murphy's career began in 1999 and continues today, with his production of both movies and television that have achieved both popular and critical acclaim. Mr. Murphy's television resume is as follows....







THESE ARE IN ORDER BY THE DATE OF CREATION












Not only does Mr. Murphy have a long and industrious career in the television industry, he has also made his mark on the feature film industry as well. Those films are as follows....








THESE ARE ALSO IN ORDER OF CREATION






Additionally, Mr. Murphy has a multitude of films that are being developed. Those are....

1) Dirty Tricks, a political comedy.

2) Face, a plastic surgery thriller

3) Need, an erotic thriller

4) In 2014, Murphy was developing a feature film that was based on the life of a reclusive heiress named Huguette Clark, who lived to be 104 and whose will was a subject of much controversy. He is planning to base the adaption on the number one, bestselling book Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune.

5) Mr. Murphy is also developing a remake of the 1976 cult-classic horror film The Town That Dreaded Sundown. It is set to be directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. 

However, I don't want you to think that this week's blog post is just going to be a biography of Mr. Murphy's work, you can go to wikipedia for that, but rather I want to use his body of work to discuss the auteur theory and how, although his work seems disjunct and not unified by a common thread, in fact, it is unified by its celebration of the underdog and the outcast. 

According the Encyclopedia Britannica, the auteur theory is a theory that was first put forward by French New Wave film magazine Cashiers du Cinema. This theory advocates that the director is the author of his films and that across that director's body of work there will specific characteristics or stylistic choice that can be observed across it. With that definition of an auteur, I would like to submit that Mr. Murphy is an auteur because there are both stylistic and characteristics that are shared across his body of work. One characteristic that is shared across all of Mr. Murphy's work is that he uses the same actors across a multitude of different project. For example, in American Horror Story, the actor Sarah Paulson has played different characters across all the seasons, in the first season she was a medium. in the second season she was a lesbian reporter, in the third season she was a witch, and now in the fourth season she is playing a conjoined twin. Mr. Murphy is not the first director who is known for using the same actors across his films, as another of example of this practice includes Spike Lee. Another thing that points to Mr. Murphy as an auteur is the subject matter that is treated across all of his work. In all of the titles that are presented above, exposure is given to people that are typically on the fringes of either society or the social ladder. With this through line in his work I believe that therefore it is appropriate to refer to Mr. Murphy as a true auteur.