Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Greatest Horror Movies I've Ever Seen

What is a horror movie?  Many films claim to be horror films, but they are merely thrillers with a scene or two of gore.  To me, a true horror film makes you cringe, makes you grab hold of an armrest or maybe even make you cry.  A cat jumping out from behind a couch, when you think it might be something worse, is suspense revealed, not horror.  True horror is when you believe what is taking place, those awful things, we hold back in the recesses of our minds, unfold before us and for a brief second, we believe it is happening.  It is then, that horror is achieved.

We call lots of movies horror.  The Exorcist is one of the classic American horror movies, but if you're an intelligent and well adjusted human being, it is neither scary nor thrilling.  There is never a lump in your throat, because you know that demonic possession is nothing more than a tall tale.  For me, there was a never a scary moment in the entire film.  Watching it now, I find it almost comical. Now take Last House on the Left.  Not a great movie by any means, but the rape and resulting revenge is pure horror, due largely to a low budget which allows you to believe this is happening, because it is plausible and realistic.  So for this, you won't see certain movies you'd expect, but that is not to say there might not be some supernatural forces within this list.  

To begin, I am setting a few ground rules.  While wonderfully enjoyable, I am eliminating films such as From Dusk Til Dawn, Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead, because they are too funny to be scary.  I will also be leaving out one of my personal favorites, Severance, which is littered with humor, despite being absolutely terrifying at some points. Let me also say, it might have one of the single greatest WTF scenes of all-time.  Still, there is way too much humor to include it.  I will also not include silly horror films that I enjoy like The Lost Boys, Nightmare on Elm Street and Candyman.  I will also avoid guilty pleasure, such as Phantasm, Hellraiser, The Stepfather, Resident Evil and any of the Evil Dead series (could also be disqualified for humor). Finally, I will disqualify great horror films by definition, which are really not horror films, but love story/personal struggles, such asAmerican Werewolf in London, The Host and Nosferatu.  In doing so, I have dwindled my list down to fourteen titles.  All of which, I feel define the horror genre.  I will not go into great detail, because I don't want to ruin any of the surprises in the films for those of you who may wish to see them.  I will just give a brief explanation of their inclusion on the list.  Some movies that I may view as better as a whole, might not necessarily be rated as high in terms of pure horror.  for example, one movie in particular is on my Top 25 list, but isn't the top horror movie on this list.

Three....Extremes: A trio of vignettes by noted Asian horror masters, which take on horror to a psychological level.  All three ask the question "How far would you go for what you desire?"

A Tale of Two Sisters: Brilliant Korean psychological horror about two sisters and their mean stepmother.  The psychosis in this film and the abuse is beyond creepy.  As with many Korean films, you must be patient during the first half and you will be rewarded in the second.

Jian Gui (The Eye): I am not speaking of the American remake of the same name.  The Chinese version is amazing.  It tells of a blind musician who is given a cornea transplant.  Delighted at first, the new found sight also brings about premonitions of death and disaster.  

Carrie: I know everyone has seen it and while the actual horror is slight, the final scene is absolutely brilliant and despite the quirky camera shots, it works so well in setting the tone.  Plus, the buildup to the pigs blood being dumped onto her is squirm inducing.

Ringu (The Ring):  The American version is a wonderful movie, but the Japanese version is slightly better.  It's all about a cursed video, where in watching the tape, the viewer gets a call that they will die in seven days.  The horror comes from the video and the little girl, who eventually, comes to see the viewers in a very horrifying manner.  On a side note, the little girl who played the "girl in the well" in the American version, grew up to be absolutely stunning.

Halloween: I realize this would be number one on many people's lists, but the reality is, there is not much violence, the threats are almost comical and the anticipation of horror is conveyed more through the music than the movie itself.  That being said, Michael Meyers and his mask bring chills to most, even today.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer: Some may argue the merits of this being a horror movie, but I feel it possesses all the makings of one.  This was the docu-horror years before it became a thing.  Michael Rooker's portrayal of Henry is one of the most obscene and disturbing characters you'll ever see.  The production value is so low that you have that odd sense, that you may be watching a snuff film.  What makes this so terrifying is the knowledge it's somewhat based on real people.  Drifters who have walked this earth and become infamous by their trademark three names.  In this case, the movie is loosely based on Henry Lee Lucas, the notorious serial killer.

Lat Den Ratte Komma In (Let the Right One In): This Swedish "vampire" film could easily be called a love story, but when you watch the final scene, you realize it's anything but.  I will also state that the American version is as good if not better in terms of production and script, but the cold dark setting in the original almost plays as a character.  Pick your star, Lina Leandersson or Chloe Grace Moritz, it doesn't matter.  The story is haunting. The reason why this works so well on a horror level is that you know the young boy is going to continue to be abused and you're not sure what is going to happen to the girl and her "father."  The horror in this film comes from how uncomfortable you feel with the children's relationship.  Despite being a horror movie, this is actually a beautiful movie.

The Omen:  Unlike other demonic movies, this child isn't possessed, he's the spawn of Satan. The way the film is shot, the music and the rigidity of the characters all adds to the dread.  The pint sized villain never actually does anything himself, but controls others to do his dirty work.  One of the least bloody horror films ever made, it is still resounding with it's force.

Odition (Audition): When I first watched this movie, I said to myself.  OK, we're over an hour and twenty minutes in and it's about a guy tricking girls into thinking their going to be in a movie, when he's really looking for a date.  Then he calls her on the phone and I nearly jumped out of my clothes.  The movie starts to get odd and then there is the final 15-20 minutes.  It's not often I need to take a shower to get the heebie jeebies off of me, but this movie brought it to that level.  Trust me. If you are patient, Takashi Miike will always reward you.

Martyrs:  This movie is both horrifying and terrifying.  It's the single most brutal film I've ever seen and is one I thought about for days after seeing.  It's not gory, but there is blood.  It's brutal, plain and simple.  It's really two movies in one in many ways.  The first have is about one person's psychosis and the second is about torture in the name of transcendence.  If that doesn't make sense to you, watch this flick.  I warn you though, you can not un-see this film.

The Shining: Stanley Kubrik's adaptation of Stephen King's novel has been argued about forever. King himself hates the movie, but viewers, many of them, deemed it the greatest horror film of all time.  The thing about this movie is that it is a concert piece.  It starts with just violins strumming away and ends with the horn section blowing the roof off.  As we watch Jack Torrance's spiral into the abyss of insanity, we are treated to  crazy visions that to this day I can't explain.  One of the greatest films of all time, let alone horror films.

Jaws: The movie works on one very important level and that is, this actually happens. No, a shark doesn't chase a boat and then get blown to bits, but people die every year in the jaws of a great white shark. It isn't common, but it happens enough that the movie confirms our fears about the ocean.  Jaws did for the ocean, what Psycho did for showers.  That is saying a lot.

So what is the greatest horror film of all time?

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: This movie is the single greatest piece of horror ever made for three reasons.  It was made on a budget that wouldn't pay one cameraman in today's world.  It stays with you forever and there will be no other movie you see that you don't compare it to. Finally, there is no real violence or gore.  Tobe Hooper made it with the intention of getting a PG rating to boost sales, but it received an unprecedented R rating for implied violence and gore.  Imagine that, one scene is actually violent, truly cringe worthy and it's all the stuff we don't see that affects us.  That is powerful. 

This list will be an ever evolving one as other movies come across my path and scare, shock and make me think.  I may even have forgotten some along the way.  I'm sure I did, but this is pure horror, not half horror or whatever non-horror horror films are called.  Just two nights ago, I watched a movie that could easily have made this on a scissor induced C-section, but that movie, despite tons of gore was more cerebral than just sheer horror and thus I left it off.

Free Writing - Take 17

I love the rain. Like DeNiro said, one day a real rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets.  I like rain, because so many see it as a hindrance.  Tonight I heard the drops hitting a piece of metal outside my window.  It became harder and harder than then soft again. I went outside.  A steady mist.  I love that feeling.  The feeling that everything bad is being washed away.  Like a hot shower, it cleanses the soul, or whatever lays within us, trying to get out.  It's dawned on me that religious types believe that when we die our soul ascends to heaven or retreats into hell.  To me, our soul is trying to get out every day.  When we do something that makes us happy, it's our soul, that thing inside us that is dancing.  When we are sad, it's our soul that cries while we stay strong on the outside.  When we are angry it's our soul trying to leave us, trying to escape and attack all that is evil.  When we are bored, it sits and waits and wonders, where we are going?   We hear of lost souls, hopeless, depressed, sometimes worse.  Maybe those are the ones whose souls escaped already, those sad few who are already dead inside.  Whose souls couldn't dance, couldn't cry, couldn't do anything but sit.  Maybe they have left for better things, tired of being trapped inside a living corpse. Or maybe they have just gone to play in the rain.  Some people say rain is depressing.  I'd like to think those are the ones whose souls have gone out to jump in puddles and only come back when they know it's safe.  I don't believe in souls, but if I had one, it got it's feet wet tonight.

Quickie Review - Calvaire

I'm going to do something  I've never done before.  I'm going to leave my original post and then add something to the end of it that changes the entire movie.  The added paragraph is in bold, so you can see what has been added to it.  Warning some spoilers.

Calvaire, which translates to The Ordeal, is a Belgian psychological thriller about a struggling singer, Marc Stevens, whose car breaks down while trying to make his way to a Christmas show.  He finds a strange man walking in the rain looking for his dog, he leads him to an inn that has been closed, but the proprietor quickly gets him settled and promises him a hot meal in the morning.  The caretaker, Bartel, tells him he'll look at his car and will make sure he's on the road the next day.  This obviously, doesn't happen.  That night, the Bartel, an ex-comedian tells the man a joke and then asks him to sing.  He also tells him about the love of his life and how she ran away.  The next morning Marc realizes something is amiss and within minutes, he's knocked out, wearing a dress and having his head shaved very painfully.  We realize now that the old innkeeper is absolutely out of his gourd.

I don't want to give too much a way, but there is a pig fornication scene, a crucifixion scene and of course, there is some Deliverance style man rape and there is the single strangest bar room dance scene you will ever witness.  The bloodshed is actually minimal in this movie and there is a scene at the end, which makes you wonder about the men involved.  The problem with this movie is that it's a horror movie on the outside, with all the usual "car breaks down on the side of the road" characters, but the message is much deeper.  The message is about loneliness.  Every character in the film, from start to finish, without one exception, suffers from being lonely and grasping at anything to love.  If the movie wasn't so blunt in it's delivery, it could have been a find film, but it fails to allow us to feel empathy for any of these characters and that is a shame, because with a little more character development, it really could have been brilliant.  It sadly falls short on almost every level and I don't recommend seeing it, when there are so many better movies on the same subject matter, minus the bestiality.

I didn't like this movie, but I can't get it out of my head.  I've been thinking about the entire thing and I think my initial reaction was wrong.  I believe now that the the people are the beginning are nothing but thoughts in Marc's heads.  An old lady, wanting something she can't have, might be representative of Marc's desire to have his parents back.  Pictures later in the film show their importance to him.  The woman who comes on to him and sends him pictures of herself naked, might be nothing more than his mind's desire to have physical love, but being afraid for some reason we don't understand.  I also think the entire village and it's inhabitants, including Boris are nothing but reflections of Bartel's mind.  There are little clues throughout telling us that nobody every really relates to each other.  Also, if you watch the final scene, Marc does something selfless to someone he has never met, which seems odd.  Previously, he flees the home with almost too much ease.  There is also a biblical message throughout and Marc, in many ways represents something greater.  The return of love, where it has disappeared.  Two visions of crucifixion are presented in the movie and while abused, Marc's freed of what binds him once he has been nailed to the cross.  The more I think about the movie the deeper it is and it might be something I will have to go back to.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Quick Review - Inside

If you are a fan of horror movie that will make you squirm, this one is for you.  There are so many reasons to hate this movie.   Gore, brutality, bloody everywhere, gun shot wounds, stabbings and then there is the self tracheotomy and the non-medical C-section.  So why did I like this insane movie?  Simple.  There are two beautiful women in it first off.  Alyyson Paradis plays Sarah, the pregnant single mother, trying to get over the death of her husband in a car accident we see at the very beginning of the film and then there is Beatrice Dalle, who plays The Woman.  The other characters are unimportant really, because none stays on screen more than a handful of minutes.  The key is these two stars.

Paradis is a depressed woman still reeling from the death of her husband and unsure about the birth of her baby.  She pushes everyone who seems to care away and has an inability to smile.  As the movie goes on, she defends her baby against anything or anyone who might try to harm it.  Despite her physical and mental scars from the accident, she has a soft beautiful glow about her.  This glow is soon washed away and covered with blood.

Dalle, who has an exotic look, plays a character like no other.  We aren't sure until the very end why she is there, but she makes it quite evident that her purpose is to take the unborn baby.  When we first see her, it is one of the creepiest scenes I've ever seen to introduce a character.  The same way that Leatherface's entrance in Texas Chainsaw Massacre shocked us with it's speed and loud noises, Dalle delivers the same effect, by doing nothing more than staring through a window (which she has cracked by punching it) and lighting a cigarette.  Her demonic look throughout is haunting.

To say it's a good movie, would be an attempt to trivialize its horror.  It's not a good movie, but an awful movie.  Not in that it's not acted well, but in that it makes you feel uncomfortable.   It makes you hate what you're watching.  The thing about it is, that is what it's trying to do.  So when I say awful, I don't mean that as a critique of it as a while, but simply in the feeling you have when you walk away.  I won't go so far as to recommend it to anyone who isn't a fan of the horror genre, because it's not the kind of movie that makes you jump, it's the kind that makes you cringe.  The only spoiler I will add, for those who might indulge, is to remember that it is not an American film, so don't assume how things will turn out. You'll most likely be wrong.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Simple Pleasures - Dinner At Home

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food." - George Bernard Shaw

I hadn't really eaten all day and had no intentions of going out this evening, so I knew I had to make dinner.   I didn't have many options, but had defrosted some ground beef, so a burger was in order.  The original plan was a simple burger with lettuce and tomato.  It turned into a little more and a burger that was so messy, I couldn't actually put it down.  This was a small price to pay for a burger that was one of the best I've ever made at home.

I opened the fridge and took a quick inventory of what was available and quickly realized the standard American classic was going to take on a different angle.  I cut two slices in half and laid the four strips into a pan and turned the heat on.  As they cooked, I gently separated about eight ounces of 80/20% ground beef, sprinkling salt, pepper, garlic and cumin liberally onto it.  I then splashed a little Worcestershire sauce over it.  I gently formed it into a patty, making sure not to over work it.  I took the bacon out of the pan and placed it onto paper towels, then placed the burger into the pan, which was sizzling with the bacon grease.  I gently pressed the burger down to make sure I had a nice uniform char.  As the burger cooked, I wiped down my cutting board and grabbed the veggies.  I julienned some red onion and threw it into the pan.  I then ripped some lettuce and sliced a tomato.  I flipped the burger and gave it an even more gentle press, as not to lose any of the juices.  I then put an English muffin into the toaster  As the burger got close edge reached what I assumed was medium rare, I grabbed an egg and cracked it gently into the pan, dabbing the middle to slightly break the yolk.  I then quickly turned the heat off, flipping the egg 20 seconds later. As I quickly grabbed the bottom of the English muffin and slathered about a tablespoon of mayo on it.  Then I placed the lettuce, followed by the tomato.  I then placed the sauteed onions onto the tomato, followed by the burger.  I topped the burger with Sriracha, then the bacon and finally the egg, whose yolk was still almost liquid, but not runny.  A dab of mayo on the other half of the muffin and it was ready to eat.

An glass of ice water was the only thing to accompany the meal.  I realized quickly the would not be an easy burger to eat, as it stood about six to eight inches high.  I grabbed a hand towel, seeing that napkins would only create more of a mess.  I slowly pressed down to meld all the elements of my concoction and watch as the juices from the burger ran down and combined with all those beneath it all while the yolk spread out over the bacon and burger itself.  I grabbed it with two hands and took the first bite, revealing the perfectly cooked pink center surrounded by an almost crispy outer surface.  This combination of breakfast and lunch was a perfect mesh for dinner, but there was an instant realization.  I was not going to be able to put the burger down for fear of the entire thing falling apart.  So that was it, I knew this dinner would be enjoyable, but short lived.  Minutes later it was gone, with nothing left on the plate but a small piece of bacon. The perfect palate cleanser.  The icy water washed it all down and I was done.  So simple in it's building, but so complex in its taste.

About half an hour later, I melted some butter in a pan, threw in slices of banana and at the very end, covered with some maple syrup.   Poured them all onto a plate and dug in with a nice hot cup of coffee.  Simple things that make us happy are so much more rewarding than those things that take so much time and effort.  At least this person believe this theory.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Arbitrage - Quick Review

When you watch a movie like this one, you find yourself looking for those little things that separate it from all those that have resembled it in the past.  Arbitrage succeeds on two levels.  The script is nearly flawless and the acting, with one exception, is not overdone. It's people acting the way you would imagine they would under these situations.  The standout in the film however is not the star, Richard Gere, but Nate Parker who plays Jimmy.  Parker's ability to convey loyalty with self interest, street smarts with raw intelligence and toughness with sensitivity is uncanny.  He is an odd choice to represent the moral compass in the movie. Tim Roth and Gere share a scene that is explosive, despite it's subtlety, but the scenes with Parker steal the show.

Unfortunately, the movie fails with too much filler (which at just over 100 minutes is a little odd) and a very weak ending. Not in that it leaves us with questions, but leaves us with the feeling that a final scene, a better one, was left on the cutting room floor.  The actual filming is done brilliantly with an incredible eye on the scale of the issues at hand, represented by the actual size of the massive offices where hundreds of millions of dollars are shifted about.  A fine movie, with a terrific script, that just misses the mark of being great and falls into the "good" category.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What Does 2012 Say About Our Country (According to Google)?

We are in a technological age like no other.  Not only is every imaginable piece of information at our fingertips, but we've gotten to the point where this information is available almost instantly.  Sometimes the information is released before the facts, but that is due to the fact that news sources are all trying to be the first one to break the story.  The story is key, the facts, they can be filled in later or changed.  Being first is what counts.  

So where do we go when we need information?  For most of us, it starts with a search engine.  The preferred method around the world is the all knowing, all powerful Google.  Now some have said Google has taken on a bit of a bias when it comes to certain searches, but that being said, it's still an important tool.  Now we've had some big stories this year in the U.S.  The Election, Hurricane Sandy, Benghazi, The Fiscal Cliff and Felix Baumgartners epic descent from space (or damn near close).  Then the year ended with what ended up being the number one news story of the year, even bigger than election.  Our country was devastated by the horrid acts of one man, who for whatever reason, decided to take his mother's life, then drive to a school and kill 26 innocent people, twenty of who were school children, before taking his own life.  The nation was rocked and gun control advocates and the NRA soon after went to war through the media, both social and network preaching their causes.  This was easily the top story, right?  Not so fast.

Google reports on searches at the end of the year and comes up with a top ten list.  So you'd think an election, a hurricane, Benghazi, the dreaded and misunderstood fiscal cliff, a human jumping from a spaceship and one of the worst mass murders would flood the list, right?  Well let's see.

10. Kony 2012 - The Ugandan cult leader of the Lords Resistance Army was brought to light early in 2012 by a documentary.  As of yet, despite his being searched for by different countries, including the US, he has not been caught. He is guilty of horrible atrocities to children in the area, such as child sex slaves and forcing them to enter combat at very young ages, to name a few. 

9.  Michael Clarke Duncan - the actor died way too early, but we're not talking Al Pacino or Robert Deniro.  We're talking MCD.  He didn't jump from space.  He didn't win an election.  He's the number nine search by all of America (and the world)?

8. Gangnam Style - There are no words to explain this phenomenon and while I enjoy the silliness of it, I'm happy to see that this wasn't second like it was on the World's search.

7. Amanda Todd - I have to admit, I had not remembered who this was and had to, yes, Google it.  She was the 10th grader from British Columbia who was bullied and harassed so much that she took her life.  She had made a youtube video with flashcards documenting and explaining her torment.  A sad case, which brought bullying to the forefront.  Unfortunately, more people were interested in the morbid youtube clip than the bullying epidemic and the cries for stopping it seem to have weakened.

6. Olympics - OK not much to comment.  it's a world event and I honestly expected it to be #2.

5. Jeremy Lin - This is where my blood starts to boil.  An average athlete who happened to be Chinese and went to Harvard makes the Knicks and this interests the entire country?  They called It Linsanity.  I say we leave off the "L" and take a hard look at what matters. The world's #5 was a video game, so maybe it's a draw.

4. The Hunger Games - now I'm assuming it's because of the movie and not the god awful books (I've only read excerpts, but it's written at such a low level, I can't believe the books generated as much buzz as the movie.  It's a god awful movie by the way, so that makes it even worse. 

3.  Election 2012 - OK, so I get it.  It was huge, but the hurricane and the shooting got more hits.  I can deal with it, but why wasn't Obamacare on here  Why wasn't each candidates platform.  Why wasn't Paul Ryan on here, since nobody had ever heard of him before.  Why wasn't Congress on here?  I get it I guess.  Maybe everyone clicked links once they typed this in.  Fine.  

2.  Hurricane Sandy - The devastating storm that rocked the eastern seaboard costing NY, NJ and other states upwards of $100 billion dollars worth of damage and left some areas, quite possibly, destroyed for years to come.  Between the stories, the photographs, videos and places to donate, this doesn't shock me at all.  It was even the #3 trend in the world.  

So, did the world join us in our tragedy? Did they share in the American loss of life and suffer the anguish that we did?  You're damn right they did and that's why the number one trending topic on Google was 

1. Whitney Houston - for the love of......, what the fuck? Are you serious?  A drug riddled loser who flushed a wonderful career down the toilet and got paid even to let us watch her destroy herself is the what the world is most interested in?  20 beautiful babies and six brave teachers all gone and we care about this bitch?  I'm embarrassed to be an American.  Fuck it!  I'm embarrassed to be a human.  Humanity no longer should have human as it's prefix, because we've lost that right.  I could have guessed 400 things before I ever would have guessed Whitney Houston.  Climate Change, LGBT rights, Mass Shootings, Poverty, but this is what we have become as a society.  I for one am ashamed for all of us and if there is a god, let him please not have mercy on our souls.  We don't deserve it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Quickie Review - In America

In America is a tale of an Irish families journey to New York City in hopes of a better life.  The story is apparently somewhat of an autobiographical tale, written by Jim Sheridan.  Sheridan's name might not ring any bells, but he's the writer and director of many of Daniel Day Lewis' better roles, such as My Left Foot, The Boxer and In the Name of the Father.  He also wrote one of my favorites, Some Mother's Son, which chronicles the Bobby Sands hunger strike.

The film stars Paddy Considine and the lovely Samantha Morton in the roles of the parents.  They are looking to start anew and we quickly learn they are not only seeking a better life for they and their children, but they are running away from the death of their son, that haunts them, especially the father.  The parents want everything for their children, at almost any cost, even their own lives and happiness. There is a scene, early on, that is almost physically painful to watch, because of the stress that you feel.  Obviously, you need to see it to understand.  Joining them are their two daughters, real life sisters Emma and Sarah Bolger.  Emma plays Ariel, the youngest whose naivety allows some of the other characters to grow, whether they want to or not.  Sarah plays Christy, the unheralded star of the movie.  The one who truly teaches everyone around her about life and acceptance.  And then there is Mateo.  Mateo is played by Amistad's star, Djimon Hounsou.  We first think that he is crazy, but because of the girl's persistence on Halloween night, we learn something very different.  The five characters and the movie take off at this point and if you've been patient enough to get to know these characters, you'll be happy you did.

The movie's final 20-30 minutes are absolutely brilliant, with so much coming together and falling apart, you will, assuming their is a heart in your chest, sobbing from both sadness and happiness.  The movies final three to four minutes really hit home for me on a personal level and maybe because of this, I felt more of a connection than most.  That being said, It's a perfectly written, extremely well acted movie where you really see how a simple story can become magical when their is so much chemistry between the players.  Sheridan's choice to make the children the "heroes" was bold, but paid off handsomely in the end.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Free Writing Take 16 - Revelations

I'm tired and I've slept 8 hours in three days.  I just had an English muffin, two slices of avocado and a bit of black bean salsa.  Not the smartest thing at 3AM, but I was needing to fill a void.  Revelations?  Am I going to write something biblical?  No, but it dawned on me today during multiple discussions during the day, that intelligence is not something that can be claimed, but must be proven.  I can throw out my IQ and I can claim to be as smart as a whip, but it's work to prove it.  Intelligence is the ability to make reason out of what you know, what you can explain and if, by chance you don't know, going through the proper avenues to decipher.  I was made fun of today, while ignoring ignorance.  I didn't get mad. ignorant people don't know they are ignorant.  I have always known that.  For the sake of a friend, I spared the feelings of someone that not only publicly, but privately had been proven to be of a lesser intellect.  The funniest was I was made fun of, by not only this person, but someone I assume was a family member. Then the day took a turn for the better.  A chat with a superior intellect.  One that makes me quake in my boots of a life not lived despite a younger age.  Respect.  A key to all higher intelligence.  Even if not on an even plane.  I took a break, a steak sandwich, small, but the leftovers from a feast last night.  An e-mail, a phone call, a trip do mundane things which people boast and brag about.  Reality or a revelation?  I know it's simply reality, until later. A heartfelt phone call about soon to be loss.  A chance meeting and a tale of lost life, to me, too soon.  A further discussion about the trails and tribulations of youth. Our failing youth, because of our laziness.  I smiled, happy that certain friends don't have kids, to pass down their ill will towards others. Vicious? No, but  lack of knowledge breeds contempt and a lack of acceptance.  A gay friend smiled.  Knowing that there is more to battle about petty things.  There is love.  No matter who or what or when.  Is he gay?  I assume, but I don't care. The night ended a quiet tete a tete, while others combated over the silly, the mundane and the irrevocable ways of the world.  I peered about, across the barren land and what did I see.  Not a fact in sight and sadly not a care to find one.  Revelations.  We're a lost cause, but two or three of us. And when we speak, we speak of idiocy, our own.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Current Hollywood Actresses - Best Unknown Roles

A few days ago, I paid homage the the best known actors in Hollywood and picked some roles that you may not have seen.  Now it's the women's turn.  As with the men, I am keeping this limited to women who are still in their prime or have been recently.  The big names only.

Sissy Spacek - Now many might not think of her as one of the top people in Hollywood right now, but consider this, but she's been nominated six times for best actress and won the thing four times.  I could pick the cult classic, Terrence Mallick's Badlands, but I'm going to stick with one she was nominated but lost, In The Bedroom.  The movie garnered tons of awards, yet even I didn't see it until a few years later at the urging of my parents.  It's a sad tale and Spacek plays a grieving mother of a teenage boy who was killed, by a jealous lover of his "older" girl.  What is so wonderful about her performance is it's proof that sometimes grief can not be overcome and while the end is not your fairy tale that is assumed with big name movies, it's painfully real.  Tom Wilkinson and Marisa Tomei also put in incredible oscar nominated performances.

Meryl Streep - one can't speak about greatness without mentioning the Meryl Streep.  She has been nominated 14 times for best actress (3 times for supporting winning once), only winning twice.  Her performance in Sophie's Choice was magnificent and really made her the best around.  She didn't follow up the Oscar until two years ago for The Iron Lady.  I am partial to Doubt and believe her best overall role was her portrayal of Julia Child in Julie and Julia.  The problem with Streep is everyone knows the movies she's in.  Well try out Ironweed if you haven't seen it.  And guess what, she's nominated.  She lost to Cher that year, but I must admit, it was well deserved.  Ironically, they both starred a few years earlier in the nuclear reactor meltdown (and true story) called Silkwood.  So many to see from this actress if you haven't and nearly all Oscar worthy.

Sigourney Weaver - She will always be Ripley to most of us, but she's had great roles in Copycat, Working Girl, Death and the Maiden, but her best role, not involving a space alien was easily one of her earliest, The Year of Living Dangerously.  Peter Weir's wonderful film put her in a position most Hollywood actress would have feared doing, playing the "older woman," especially with the hottest face in Hollywood, or as many knew him back then, Mad Max.

Jodie Foster - Taxi Driver, Silence of the Lambs, Nell, The Accused.  The list goes on, but I'm going to keep this short and sweet.  Bugsy Malone came out before she was even in Taxi Driver.  It's a gang movie, but here's the twist.  The gangsters are all kids.  Now if you want your kids to stay away from violence, this one is great, because all the guns shoot whipped cream.  Oh and did I mention it's a musical that won best score?  Scott Baio is the lead male.  Haven't seen it in years, but was a childhood favorite.

This is getting a little long winded, so I'm going to start shortening the list and getting a little more current.

Julia Roberts - her supporting role in Charlie Wilson's War might be her best performance, including Erin Brockevich.  A must see for her, Tom Hanks and the incredible Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Helen Mirren - many of you know her as the classic Victorian piece actress who played the Queen, but check out her TV series Prime Suspect.  Incredible drama and one bad ass woman.

There are many more, but it's nearing 2:30 in the AM and the eyes are thankfully dimming.  I will leave you with one more.  You know Ellen Page from Juno, but have you seen Hard Candy? Wow!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

NFL Playoff Predictions - A Week Late

Well, I forgot to write this a week ago, but here it goes.  I had actually posted my predictions on Facebook and while my scores were off, I did get three of the games correct.  So here you have it a week late.

Wild Card Weekend

I'm giving my score predictions, even though I know that they were wrong for the wildcard games

Baltimore over Indianapolis 23-21
Bengals over Texans 27-21
Seattle over Washington 27-17
Green Bay over Minnesota 31-27

I would have had the Bengals playing the Broncos and the Ravens playing New England, but being that I am now writing this with knowledge that won't be the matchups I'll stick with what is taking place (either way, I would have had both teams losing this week).

Divisional Championships

Denver over Baltimore  30 - 17
New England over Houston 34 - 10
Atlanta over Seattle 27 - 24
Green Bay over San Francisco 31 - 20

Conference Championship

New England over Denver 38 - 34
Green Bay over Seattle 28 - 16

Super Bowl

New England over Green Bay 34 - 28

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Last and the First

I recently read an article explaining that the last person we think about before we go to bed and the first person we think about as we awake are the people, who at the time, bring us the most happiness and/or the most pain.  It's dawned on me recently that many times, for me at least, this seems to be the same people.  I tend very often to awake from a vivid dream in the morning, thinking about the same person that inevitably kept me awake the night before.  Recently, I'll admit those people have been one's of frustration.  They have been people who have let me down in some way, whether it be by their actions or the more likely scenario, their lack of.  I have also found myself thinking of those, who quite possibly, I failed.  In my recent attempts to come to grips with why so many have deserted me over the years, I find that I have myself deserted them in different ways.  By constantly evolving my friendships, there have been times I've given my time to those who do not matter and never should have warranted my time.  I feel at many times that the last few, and few is relative, have been nothing but a waste in terms of friendships.  I've gained a few great ones, two that I can count of right now, but the ones that seem one sided, surely outweigh those.

I'm reminded of a friend's words a while back when he commented on our lack of quality and how there will be a time when we have a chance to reconnect and we will.  I have another friend who had drifted away, when an afternoon of insight into his life brought me closer than we had ever been before.  I have those who I long to be with, if only for a drink and a laugh and those who want to drink and laugh, who I need to escape from.  I say at times I have nobody to talk to, but there are ears at times when I least expect it.  I'm so used to be people always telling me what to do or how to live or what would make my life happier, but in the end, they are rarely the one's who know me best.  There are those who have known me for years, who never know what to say to comfort me and in many ways, I don't think they care to.  I don't think most find it their place, but I've always felt it was mine.  Sometimes it's that person who says little when I expect the most and says nothing at times when I feel I need it, but then a day, maybe even a week later, I realize that they were there for me, listening, judgement wasn't what they felt was needed and their silence truly is golden.  As if to say, you know what to say, what to do, you just are afraid to do it on your own, but in the end, it's your decision, not theirs.  Sometimes it's the one comment, the little joke mixed in with the reality that makes the greatest impact and sometimes it's just them and knowing I have them, when I feel I have nobody.  It's then I realize what my priorities must be.  It will take time and I'll make mistakes, but I know my life is not as a puppet and strings need to be snipped, so that I can reach out to those I want to and not those I've merely been forced to.

The Dark Knight Rises - Review

Let me preface this review with the fact that I will not give any major story plots out in this review.

So the film recently dubbed "the best" Superhero movie of all-time finally arrived in my mailbox.  I went into it with an open mind, because Batman Begins was great in my opinion, but a little trepidation because I felt The Dark Knight was lacking.  I know every professional critic loved it, because there was a love affair with Heath Ledger before the movie even came out.  When word of his drug overdose spread, it was an instant hit before it was viewed.  Unlike movie critics, I am also a critic of life.  Or should I say cynic.  When I read the side effects found in people addicted to the exact pills that Ledger was on, I learned that his side effects were his portrayal.  There was no wonderful method acting or some place he dug deep to reach.  His slurred speech and odd behavior were nothing more than the standard look of such a man who was hooked, sans the crazy makeup.  This had a drastic effect on me the second time I watched it, but didn't change my initial perception.  It just wasn't a very good movie.

Batman Begins, the first installment, is probably my third favorite Superhero/Comic adaptation.  The best ever, was Kick-Ass and the second, The Watchmen, with Sin City and V for Vendetta following as the only superhero movies I've ever given four stars to on Netflix. Kick-Ass received five.  I gave The Dark Knight two stars.  I felt there was just too much unexplained garbled story lines that didn't really leave me wanting more.  A feeling I felt greatly after the first installment.  So with no real expectations other than the never ending Facebook banter about the villain Bane, I had no real interest other than to complete the saga.

As the movie starts, we see some of the familiar faces and one new one.  The absolutely stunning, Anne Hathaway, who turns out to be an expert cat burglar...thus the creation of Catwoman, although she is never referred to as such.  She robs Bruce Wayne, who is now a decrepit shell of the man we saw in the first two installments.  This will quickly change, although as you will notice in the movie, time plays such an irrelevant part in this and it becomes an issue which convolutes the story at times.  Bruce Wayne, in his reclusive state is about to lose all his money, when he entrusts someone to take over his company.  We are given a very understated and almost improbable reasoning for this move and she is entrusted completely in a move that is supposed to make sense once she and Wayne sleep together.

Then there is Bane.  In a world filled with homophobes, due to societal or religious beliefs, I'm always amazed how characters like Bane, Thor, the entire cast of 300 and Gladiator have taken on such a following among heterosexual males.  The praise I heard for this character and of it's actor, Tom Hardy were astounding  It was if he embodied everything many guys my age an a little younger wanted to be.  I was absolutely dumbfounded by what I found.  Bane, is a villain like no other.  He doesn't have any real powers other than intelligence and brute force, which is explained as being enhanced by his anger.  He wears a mask that is supposed to relieve him of his persistent pain (which is never truly explained in the movie).  He speaks in a muffled voice, much like the Dark Knight himself.  The one thing that is completely unexplained is his powers of persuasion over people we're assuming are nothing more than hired mercenaries.  So here is the main flaw in the movie.

Bane takes up more screen time than Batman and this is a fatal flaw, because of three reasons.  Hardy's character is limited in what he does and what he says.  He spews rhetoric of freeing Gotham, but we know that isn't the case.  Secondly, his power, wealth and connections are so poorly explained, it doesn't make sense as to how easy it is for him to achieve everything he does.  Finally, while Mr. Hardy was good in Layer Cake, Inception and Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy, he pales in comparison to Bale and the rest of the cast in acting chops.  He's brooding character is impressive at first, but as the viewer will see it's nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

Then there is the plot itself.  The wonderful thing about comics and their stories is the fantasy level in which they capture our attention.  In the Dark Knight Rises, the viewer is treated to terror that is way to familiar in our daily lives.  Terrorist attacks on our native land and thousands destroyed, while our government and security forces are held hostage?  It's an all too real feeling that takes the comic book aspect far away from what we're used to.  Aside from some machines that are a little more futuristic than we can relate to, the violence and even worse, the reality of the violence is disturbing. In the end, the viewer comes away with this awkward feeling and reminder that these aren't superheroes in the real sense and all the crime and murder is quite real and possible.

While the movie does achieve a greater status in my book than the The Dark Knight, on Netflix I have them both two stars. There are not two and half stars, but in reality, it doesn't deserve such, because it has, in my opinion, very little replay value.  I can't imagine anyone who enjoys the newness of film or learning something new on a second viewing, ever being enticed into this nearly three hours love of terror fest.  Aside from the side story of Anne Hathaway's character and the few scenes with Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, the film feels like it spends so much time setting up another film, with no real direction other than to make money.  Due to this fact, we never really become surprised by what occurs in the film and the lack of surprise is what kills it in comparison to films like The Watchmen and Kick-Ass.

I know others will believe I went into it with my mind made up, but I can't stress just how good I thought Batman Begins was and my appreciation for Bale and Hardy as actors.  I just felt the elongated story, absolutely awful editing in regards to time frame in the movie.  For example, there is one scene that is supposed to take one minute which lasts nearly eight and then, within fifteen seconds, we're to believe 5 minutes has elapsed and then another in which one minute seems to last forever. All within one major story point. I also found troubling the almost ceremonious and championed slaughtering of the police, who have been shown to be nothing but corrupt and incompetent throughout the trilogy and the ineffectiveness in our government and military to stop any possible threat and their actions when confronted.  Maybe it's the timing of my viewing, but I found so many more things that detracted from it than promoted it and in the end, I feel it failed.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Feeling Bad For Others

It came to my attention today that someone who I consider and actual friend, who unfriended me on Facebook posted a status that read "Happiness is unfriending a liberal on Facebook."  My initial reaction was to laugh.  Then I got a little annoyed.  After a few hours, I felt sorrow.  How empty is someones life when they achieve satisfaction from something so unimportant.  This is a grown man, with a wife, a kid and a good job, who for some reason felt he had achieved something important by reducing a friendship down to a label and a click of a button.  This is a man, who puts his life on the line every day as a NYC fireman.  How could someone who puts himself in harm's way, despite having a family he's responsible for, find joy in something so meaningless as this?

I stated that I felt bad for him and a friend quickly rushed to his defense and told me he has a house and a pretty wife/  A house and a pretty wife?  Is that what life is for some?  I have seen lots of houses and lots of pretty wives, but that alone has never shown me a person's joy.  I started to think about how petty we've become as a society.  I can't speak for the individual who wrote the comment, but I'd like to think their happiness comes from those special moments with loved ones and not from some act out of frustration.  I realize we all make rash decisions at times, but I'd like to believe it's my intelligence that separates me from doing things as silly as removing a friend from my life for differences of opinion.  I respect his decision in some ways, but it shows the a true lack of sophistication.  I thrive off of debates, because it allows me to show my intelligence.  Right or wrong I have to carefully state my case, using research and skills, sadly my counterparts don't always share.  The "unfriending" took place after a debate.  The status, verified my victory.  Who would mention their defeat days later in such a cowardly fashion?  I know when I lose a debate I look the person in the eye and congratulate them.  Cocky or not, it rarely happens, because I normally refuse to debate things I'm not comfortable speaking about.  My adversaries have no problem spewing things they believe to be true, but refuse to confirm or deny.

So we get back to the original debate.  I'm firm in my beliefs and I feel the overreaction to something as silly as a debate, is further proof of my views. The original argument was over gun control.  Now here's my point.  We call someone a citizen, but then when they commit a crime we call them a criminal.  We say lawful people have guns legally and criminals have them illegally.  Well let's take the entire subject of this blog and combine it.  If one can't trust a friend to discuss a topic, intelligently and rationally without getting so angry they no longer want to be my social media friend, how can I trust them to act rationally with a firearm?  Sounds like a weird analogy, but I'm worried about this one individuals priorities based on a click of a mouse, what would the ramification be if that click was from a gun?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Current Hollywood Actors - Best Unknown Roles

Hollywood stars are iconic.  We all know the big roles that made them stars.  Whether it be Leo in Titanic or  Julia in Pretty Woman, we know the roles that made them stars, but what about their best roles.  Many times awards are received for a body of work or for past award failures.  Many times awards are given for lifetime achievements in lesser roles.  Many times, like in the case of last years Oscar winner, Jean Dujardin, it is their best role, but that isn't always the case. I'm going to give my opinion on some of the greatest roles of actors that you might not have seen, but should.

Despite his big time movies like the Ocean's series and movies like Seven, the best role Brad Pitt has ever had, was that of the Pikey in Snatch.  With a nearly impossible to understand accent, his drunken antic, almost impossible to believe he wasn't drunk play such a big role in the ending of the film that he deserves front and center on the poster.  Most people have seen this, but if you haven't seen Guy Ritchie's masterpiece, it's worth a shot.  

Jeff Bridges won the award for best actor for Crazy Heart and it's a noble effort, but with the Big Lebowski in his pocket, it's hard to imagine him ever playing a better role.  His stoner act probably played into his believable role as a drunken country singer in Crazy Heart.  Another gem, in which he plays a small role is The Contender, with Joan Allen.  Who I will argue for a long time, is one of the best roles by an actress ever. 

Sean Penn has won best actor twice.  He's been nominated three other times.  All incredible roles, but the role that sticks out the most to me, is as Al Pacino's lawyer in Carlito's Way.  When I first saw the movie, I had missed the opening credits and it took me til about his third scene to realize it was Penn.  His character is so slimy and despicable, you actually love him.  Pacino is incredible, but Penn steals nearly every scene they share.

Everyone remembers when Philip Seymour Hoffman became Truman Capote.  The performance was extraordinary, but sadly, the movie wasn't.  Hoffman has carried many movies in his day with his supporting roles, but none was better than his role as Gust Avrakatos in Charlie Wilson's War.  The first scene we see him, he might be in two or three is absolutely hilarious.  It sets the tone for what will be another surprise in my list.

Tom Hanks is one of Hollywood's biggest stars and for the life of me I'll never know why. To me, he's done three decent movies.  One of those movies, which is above decent, is Charlie Wilson's War.  Hanks plays the title character who is both eccentric and down to earth all in one crackpot politician.  The story itself is crazy.  This no name in the history books almost singlehandedly ended the Cold War with no fanfare, despite his outspoken ways.  A must see for Hanks, Hoffman and Julia Roberts fans. P.S. It might be Robert's best role too.

Denzel Washington has done tons of memorable roles. To be honest, I normally have thought he was better than some stars, such as his role in Philadelphia, but as the main character, he's sometimes come up short.   It would be easy to say his big role was Training Day, but to be honest, I hated it and his overacting reminded me of present day Pacino.  The first role that came to mind was Man on Fire and it's hard to argue the movie wasn't all about him.  That being said, I think his best acting was Fallen.  The supernatural crime drama that he starred in with John Goodman and a slew of familiar faces.  Maybe I was young and impressionable, but any movie that basically starts at the end and is successful works for me.

I'll end with my personal favorite actor out right now.  Ryan Gosling is first gained attention in Half Nelson, later in fracture and then Crazy Stupid Love.  He's adored because of the Notebook and most recently Drive.  These are all good, if not great movies, but where he really shines are the movies nobody has seen.  The Believer, where he plays Danny Ballint, a Jewish Neo-Nazi who hides his secret to everyone but a reporter he swears to secrecy.  Then there is The United States Of Leland, where he plays a youth seemingly having the world in his palm who kills.  The incredible cast is shadowed by Gosling's gripping performance.  Finally there is Lars and The Real Girl.  A movie that touches me on such a deep level I have a hard time watching it more.  The there is the uber-depressing Blue Valentine which is a one viewing only film.  Incredible performances by Gosling and Michelle Williams almost make you forget just how awful you feel after watching it.

Well, I could go on and on, speaking about Laurence Fishburne in Deep Cover, Stephen Rea in Citizen X, Colin Farell in Intermission, Bill Paxton & Billy Bob Thornton in One False Move, Harrison Ford in Presumed Innocent or Michael Fassbender in Shame. It's not always what has made the man famous that is his best work and many times the earlier, rougher performances are the true gems.  

Maybe soon I'll tackle the women.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Killer Joe - No Spoilers

Just finished watching William Friedkin's adaptation of the Tracy Letts' play Killer Joe.  Friedkin had adapted another of Letts' plays that I had seen about a year ago called Bug.  Bug starred Michael Shannon, Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jr. and was a brilliant expose into the fine line between reality and delusion. Bug made me desperate to see Killer Joe.  As quirky and odd as Bug might have been, it pales in comparison in terms of mental impact.  Killer Joe is one incredibly bold movie.

To say it's a good movie, means it's enjoyable.  It's hard to call this movie enjoyable, because at times it's look away awful.  Not awful in it's delivery, but awful in it's subject matter.  There is gratuitous violence and nudity, a very disturbing sex scene and another scene which combines violence and sexuality in a way that has never been seen before.  To say the scene is disturbing is an understatement, despite it being a gripping  and the pivotal scene of the movie.  Much like the rape scene in Gaspar Noe's Irreversible, the amount of time the scene takes, although not continuously evident on screen, is paralyzing. At the end, we realize this film, which teeters on the verge of being a comedy, will not end well.

The film is brilliant in that there are no wasted scenes.  The dialogue is sharp and concise and aside from one character, we know who all these people are fairly quickly.  The final character, we learn about throughout the movie and her and it is through her, the film finds it's boiling point.  The movie is brilliantly acted by Matthew McConaughey in the title role. Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon and the lovely Juno Temple round out the main cast and these five dominate the screen.  McConaughey is slick, motivated and brutally violent, but is never phased by it.  Hirsch and Church play son and father, with Gershon playing the wife and step mom to Hirsch's character and Temple, who is incredible as Dottie.

I do not want to give anything away, but this is the kind of movie that is tough to watch.  The brutality, the sex and the plot aren't pleasant.  The characters are simpletons for the most part.  The revelations in the film are revealed throughout and the one bright bulb, stands back and let's everyone else conduct their maniacal plans and then when everything become chaotic, she brings it to another level.  The ending might leave some unfulfilled, especially for those who need things spelled out, but it's pretty self explanatory.  I hesitate to recommend, because it's a tough watch.  You are forewarned, this isn't your typical film.