"Water Lilies" A Controversial French Teen Drama

Water Lilies
1/30/2010

This is an amazingly fearless movie that tackles issues no Hollywood studio would touch. “Water Lilies” is a French film that deals with the lives of three distinct teen female characters and their very real struggles. Set in the world of synchronized swimming, director Celine Sciamma takes you on a disturbingly honest depiction of the lives of modern teenage girls.

The sport of synchronized swimming is very similar to the internal struggles of each of the girls, with all of the furious action and kicking occurring just under the surface. Marie is a fifteen year old tom boyish girl that tends to keep to herself. She is short and is envious of the older more developed girls. She is best friends with the second main girl Anna. She is overweight and often resorts to childish behavior. She fears growing up and being alone. Then there is Floriane the hottest girl in school and captain of the swim team. All of these characters share many of the same problems and deal with them in very different ways. When Marie sees Floriane perform at a school swim meet she quickly becomes enamored with her. Her grace, beauty and popularity make most all the girls in school envious. Marie makes a deal with her so she can watch the team practice. In return Marie has to be the reason for Floriane to leave the house at night to hook up with random boys. Floriane seems to have everything under control and lives a perfect life, but we find out that can’t be further from the truth. Her beauty makes her feel like an outsider, as she sticks out in a crowed. Other girls are jealous and mean to her, as she is looked upon as the school slut.

No matter who we are or how we look everybody has body image issues and this is further compounded by the popular media. Television, movies, and magazine mold young minds into thinking what is normal and what is acceptable. Anna and Floriane like the same guy, Fran├žois. There a few scenes between Marie and Floriane that will make certain audiences extremely uncomfortable. That has developed a sort of controversy between groups of people. Some think that the film is nothing but a cheap exploitation of teen sex. Maybe there would be more of a basis for an argument if the film was made by a man, but it wasn’t. Director Celine Sciamma looks to takes great care and sensitivity to the actors and the story. This film is not for everyone but you will get hooked by the likable true to life characters.

"Sleepaway Camp" A Fun 80s Horror Shocker!

Sleepaway Camp
1/26/2010


After Friday the 13th redefined the horror genre in 1980, it set off a load of imitator’s. Sleepaway Camp was made in 1983 and is the best of these. Sleepaway has also spawned several sequels with varying degrees of quality. The story is quite simple; it involves a mysterious killer in a summer camp (Camp Arawak). Unlike the “Friday” movies these kids are only 12 year olds and probably could not be made in today’s prudish, politically correct society.

Camp Arawak is very reminiscent of real 80’s summer camps. The kids are free of parental supervision and totally unrestrained to do whatever they want. The counselors are young twenty something’s who really do care for the kids and take their jobs somewhat seriously. Our main character is a painfully shy and withdrawn girl named Angela. He dad and sister died in a boating accident when she was little. One summer her crazy aunt Martha sends her and her cousin Ricky to Camp Arawak. Being an outsider Angela is mercilessly teased and picked on by the other girls, especially the popular girl Judy. Ricky and the boys all have crushes on Judy, mainly because she has boobs. The story takes an honest and true to life perspective of what it’s to be a twelve year old boy. Ricky does his best to protect his cousin from her tormenters but he has his own agenda. Angela eventually becomes friends with Paul, a nice kid who really wants to be her friend and maybe more. The supporting characters from the other kids to the counselors are all very 80’s and are very “New York”. The hair, the fashions, and some of the dialogue is quite laughable but also very endearing. It is very honest about what really goes on at summer camps, except with the murders.

As people start dying off in pretty creative ways, the suspects start to mount up and the camp owner wants to keep the news private. But when the murders continue and people start freaking out they all go into survival mode. There is a mega shock ending on par with The Sixth Sense that really made this movie a horror hit. On of the reasons this movie was so good is that the characters act like real people and we really care about them as the viewer. This is something that the horror genre has lost in recent years. Surprisingly there was little to no blood in Sleepaway which is also another testament to its unique appeal.

"Evil Dead" Sam Raimi's Brilliant Debut Filmt!

Evil Dead
1/16/2010

This was Sam Raimi’s first feature film and has since achieved epic cult status. There have been two sequels made, Evil Dead 2 & Army of Darkness. While Evil Dead 4 has been rumored for years, the release of “Drag Me to Hell”, Raimi’s triumphant return to the horror genre, prospects are looking good for another “Dead” sequel.

Sam Raimi met his leading man and constant collaborator Bruce Campbell in high school and both also went to Michigan State University. In the late 1970’s Sam and Bruce put together a short film called “Within the Woods” which got them the funding they needed for a feature. Evil Dead was made in the early 80’s on a budget of $350,000, and is still one of the most loved cult horror films ever made. It seems to get even better with repeated viewings.

It is the story of five friends spending a weekend in cabin to relax and party. In the deep dark basement they find a tape recorder, a book, and a ceremonial dagger. Upon playing the tape (which is a translation of the book) they inadvertently unleash an evil force that will eventually crash their weekend. The cabin was once owned by a professor of archaeology and the book is the Necronomicon or “Book of the Dead” it is bound in human flesh and written in blood. One by one the characters get inhabited by the evil force and turned in to hideous demons. As the tape says the only way to kill them is “total body dismemberment.” Raimi is a huge Three Stooges fan and this can be seen in many of his movies. Known for his slap stick style of comedic horror and gore, his movies are truly original.

The acting is quite over the top, but that’s part of its charm. The make up effects are pretty creative and effective for the budget that had to work with. The camera work and shot selection is innovative and well done. This is a film that stands the test of time and will be enjoyed for generations to come.

"The Virgin Spring" Bergman at his Best!

The Virgin Spring
AKA Jungfrukallan
1/10/2010

Swedish director Ingmar Bergman is regarded as on the great film directors of all time. He was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, while also fathering 9 children. He died in 2007 at the ripe old age of 89, but has left a legacy worth remembering.

The Virgin Spring was released in 1960 and has since been remade a number of times. Most notably by Wes Craven in his first film “The Last House on the Left” which was also remade in 2009 by Dennis Llidis. The story is pretty simplistic but brutally tragic. It deals with such issues as loss of innocence, revenge, religion, crime and punishment.

The film is set in 14th century Sweden and centers on a wealthy family in a small rural village. The father, Tore, is played by Swedish actor Max Von Sydow who has had quite a prolific career that started back in the 1940’s and is still working today at the age of 80. Maretta is played by Brigitta Valberg, another well known (in her country) Swedish actor. Karin is their fifteen year old daughter. She seems to mirror the rich, pampered, free spirited teenagers of today. She is spoiled and very naive which comes into play later in the film. Maretta is quite the opposite, very reserved and prudish. Her father is a strong man, who loves his family very much. Karin has a step sister named Ingeri, who is her exact opposite in every way. Ingeri is a pregnant servant who prays to the Pagan God Odin for bad things to happen to Karin. This was a time when Christianity and Pagan beliefs were still at odds with each other.

Karin is excited to fulfill her duty as the virgin girl who brings the candles to the church. She and Ingeri set off on horse back through the woods to make the delivery when they come across a group of goat herders, two older men and a teenaged boy. Karin’s innocent trusting nature is completely shattered when the two men rape and kill her. Ingeri hides in the woods and watches the events, she is horrified but passive. The men steal Karin’s clothes and stomp on the candles. Her innocence and life have been crushed. The boy of the group doesn’t take part in the actions but is quite disturbed by what he has witnessed. The men then unknowingly seek refuge from the elements at Karin’s parent’s house. Tore and Maretta are gracious hosts until they find out who the men really are. Tore kills the two men in the middle of the night and in a rage kills the boy too. The rapists and Tore have each killed an innocent child, but does that make them the same in the eyes of God? This film has heavy religious overtones throughout. When they find Karin’s body in the woods, Tore falls to his knees and although he questions the almighty why his daughter had to die. He promises to build a church on this site as atonement for his killing of the boy. As Maretta lift Karin’s body a spring flows forth. Is this a miracle? It’s the Virgin Spring a film by Ingmar Bergman. It went on to win Best Foreign Film at the 1961 Academy Awards. Watch for my reviews on the remakes, coming soon.

"An American Werewolf in London" '80s Horror Classic!

An American Werewolf in London
1/6/2010


Arguably the best werewolf movie ever made! In the early 1980’s director John Landis was most known for his comedies like “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers” when he decided to make a horror movie, or is it? One of the major criticisms about the movie is that it doesn’t know whether it wants to be a comedy or a horror movie. While it deals with werewolves and is quite gory, there are also many scenes of pure comedy. This movie has inspired several young filmmakers since its release. Many horror comedies like 2004’s “Shaun of the Dead” have homage’s within them.

This is the story of two American college students backpacking through Europe. Jack played by Griffin Dunne and David played by David Naughton. While walking through the English countryside they seek refuge from the rain at a pub called “The Slaughtered Lamb” The locals go silent upon their arrival, and the two are looked upon as if from another planet. This seems so typical of Americans who travel abroad, we do tend to stick out. Jack and David are a great match and totally believable as best friends in their dialogue and actions, another credit to John Landis who also wrote the script. Upon leaving the pub they are warned to stay on the road and “beware the moon”. In the full moon lit night sky, they start to hear noises, as if being stalked by a wild animal. They’ve wandered off the road. Jack is then attacked and mauled to death by a werewolf, while David is merely wounded. The towns people come too their rescue and shoot the wolf, who then turns back into a human.

David wakes up in a hospital to see Dr. Hirsch and Nurse Price. They tell him that the police report says they were attacked by an escaped lunatic, while David tries to convince them otherwise. David also keeps having nightmares, one in which he hunts and kills a deer with his bare hands. Believe me this scene is incredibly funny. He also dreams of a group of Nazi like creatures with Uzi’s invading his house and killing his family. It gets weirder; while fully awake he is visited by the mauled body of Jack. He asks him if he can have his toast. Jack has appeared to warn him that on the next full moon he will turn into a werewolf. The only way to sever the bloodline is for David to commit suicide. Jack utters the best line in the movie when he says to David “Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring” It’s all about how he delivers the line that makes it so funny. The film is packed with one-liners like these. Each time Jack appears, he is in a further state of decomposition. Jack visits him in the bathroom and once again urges David to kill himself. David replies “I will not be threatened by a walking meatloaf”. Even though Jack is dead they still argue and carry on as they always have.

The most famous and memorable scene is David’s transformation into the werewolf. Rick Baker’s effects have yet to be topped, even in the age of CGI. Baker won the Academy Award for Best Make-Up effects. The scene still holds up as one of the best ever filmed. After David’s transformation we seem him go on a killing spree that he has no recollection of when he wakes up the next morning in the zoo. Since being released from the hospital he has been staying with Nurse Price. They have started quite the relationship; little does she know the dark secret that he holds.

After a final conversation with Jack and his victims from the night before in a darkened porno theatre, David can’t be convinced to end his life and eventually turns back into the wolf. In the final scenes the wolf causes all kinds of mischief and mayhem in London’s Piccadilly Circus. Several corpses and wrecked cars later, he is cornered. Faced with guns and Nurse Price professing her love for him, he is gunned down by the cops. He then transforms back into his human self.

The werewolf genre is something that Hollywood has very rarely gotten right. Littered with such bombs as Cursed, Wolf, and Skin Walkers just to name a few. The British flick “Dog Soldiers” by director Neil Marshall is one the better films to come out in the last ten years. American Werewolf in London did spawn a crappy sequel in 1997 called “An American Werewolf in Paris” Often imitated and never topped “London” is hands down the best werewolf movie ever made!




"The Fly" (1986) More Cronenberg Madness!

The Fly (1986)
1/3/2010

This film follows my current trend of 80’s horror movies and the second David Cronenberg film in a row. He has made most of his films independently and this being a big studio remake was a welcome departure for him. This film is filled with his trademark style of filmmaking and is a very rare case of a remake being far superior to the original. A sequel was made in the 90’s but we can just forget about that one.

Cronenberg’s remake stars Jeff Goldblum and Genna Davis, both with embarrassing 80’s style hair. Goldblum’s hair reminded me of John Stamos’s early years on Full House, the thinking mans mullet, you could say. Goldblum’s character, Seth Brundle is wild eyed fringe scientist experimenting with teleportation. He meets Davis’s character Veronica or Ronnie for short. She is journalist for Particle magazine. They meet at a party put on by Seth’s employer. He convinces her to come back to his warehouse laboratory slash studio apartment. He has a few tele-pods that look a little like bee hives, that were constructed for him by different scientists. As he demonstrates he can successfully transport inanimate objects, but when he tries to teleport a baboon, he ends up with a twitching bloody mess.

Goldblum has that wildly energetic personality that translates superbly into his character. When asked why he always wears the same clothes. He states that like Albert Einstein he owns several identical suits of clothes as to not expend any mental energy on what to wear every day. He plays another such eccentric scientist in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. A romantic relationship quickly develops between Seth and Ronnie and she helps him document his experiments on video.

Stathis Borans is Ronnie editor and former love interest. She probably left him because his name is Stathis Borans! He is your average 80’s douche bag. He has a manly beard and wears expensive suits. He is not blonde though. Stathis becomes jealous of Ronnie’s relationship with Seth and tries taking the teleportation story from her. Jealousy is a big theme in this film as all the characters are envious of each other.

Seth finally makes a breakthrough and is able to fully transport a baboon. Then one night as he starts to fear that Ronnie is cheating on him with Stathis, he get pretty wicked drunk and decides its time to start human trials. This starts a truly horrify string of events that propel the movie all the way to its climax. Seth is successfully transported but their also happen to be a fly in the pod with him. Upon teleporting, the computer fused their DNA and molecules together and while Seth comes out looking normal, there are hideous changes to come. Seth slowly transforms into a human fly hybrid. He has increased energy, stamina, and an insatiable need for sugar. The make-up and visual effects are nothing short of spectacular. The whole process of Seth’s transformation is made all the more terrifying in the fact that we like this character and he has done nothing to deserve this or has he? Is this nature’s way of telling us not to mess with the natural order of things? Many films have explored the whole science VS nature VS religion theme and The Fly definitely puts in its two cents worth. Ronnie tries to help Brundle Fly, as he now calls himself, but he knows he is doomed. He compares himself to someone that has a terminal disease. To add more insanity to the story, Ronnie finds out she is pregnant and has a dream of giving birth to a giant maggot. The filmmakers then venture off into the pros and cons of abortion, and the value of life. The final confrontation between Ronnie, Stathis & Brundle Fly is equal parts vomit inducing horror and a heart breaking love story. An odd combination for what is a genre defining movie of the decade that was horror.