Welcome to the latest installment of Flickchart Road Trip, in which I’m starting in Los Angeles and “driving” across country, watching one movie from each state and posting about it once a week. The new movie I watch will go up against five movies from that state I’ve already seen, chosen from five distinct spots on my own Flickchart. Although I won’t tell you where the new movie actually lands in my chart (I don’t like to add new movies until I’ve had a month to think about them), I’ll let you know how it fared among the five I’ve chosen. Thanks for riding shotgun!
This past week represented at least my fourth trip to Maryland, which isn’t that much of a surprise since one of the best men at my wedding (I had two) grew up there and still lives there now. It was to attend his wedding that I visited Annapolis back in 2011, and to give a speech that was sort of funny but failed to really explain to everyone how awesome he is. Thankfully, it wasn’t one of those train wreck wedding speeches you always see in the movies, but I still regret that it was more roast than toast. Oh well. They were at his wedding, so I’m sure they know he’s awesome.
It’s been more than 11 years since The Blair Witch Project brought a new kind of independent horror film to a new generation of viewers. I remember the hype that surrounded that film and I strongly remember that I, a much younger horror fan at the time, lapped it up like a plate of nachos. I also have memories of the film ending, the theater lights coming on, and being able to hear plenty of people around me saying something like “Wow, that’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen!”
This weekend, I sat and watched The Last Exorcism – the latest do-it-yourself horror film to rise from humble beginnings and to be showcased on multiplex screens – and again found myself feeling the same kind of excitement that arose from Blair Witch. I’ve already reviewed the film and, in short, I found myself fascinated by the film’s portrayal of religion and the powerful performances by Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell that kept it rolling). But as the film ended, I heard the same disgusted reactions from people around me.
Overall, it’s a pretty slow week for physical media, but Netflix more than makes up for it. Their new agreement with the premium cable channel EPIX kicks off on September 1st; resulting in things like all the Indiana Jones movies, the Star Trek movies, and Iron Man available to instantly stream to your computer, gaming console, smartphone, and whatever else you may own. For $9 a month and being able to have a DVD out at the same time – it’s a steal, in my opinion.
Harry Brown (DVD & Blu-ray)
|How would you rank it amongst the best thrillers of all time?
Flickchart Ranking: #5438
Times Ranked: 559
Win Percentage: 66%
How Many Top-20′s: 0 Users
Michael Caine in an awesome looking old-man-turns-into-a-vigilante movie.
Red Riding Trilogy (DVD & Blu-ray)
|How would you rank it amongst the best crime movies of all time?
Flickchart Ranking: #7728
Times Ranked: 167
Win Percentage: 79%
How Many Top-20′s: 0 Users
3 movies: In the Year of Our Lord: 1974, In the Year of Our Lord: 1980 and In the Year of Our Lord: 1983. It’s a series of movies following a harrowing British crime across three investigators and nine years. They’re drawing very favorable comparisons to Zodiac. All three are also already available on Netflix’s Instant Streaming service via the link above.
Marmaduke (DVD & Blu-ray)
|How would you rank it amongst the best animal movies of all time?
Flickchart Ranking: #14254
Times Ranked: 120
Win Percentage: 12%
How Many Top-20′s: 0 Users
Owen Wilson in a movie about a big dog. Bonus trivia: Bear Grylls (maybe the greatest man alive right now, even if his show is staged) named one of his kids “Marmaduke.”
Why Did I Get Married Too? (DVD & Blu-ray)
Things get spooky this week for the Reel Rumbles Halloween Edition as two new hits burn up the screen at your local cinema and fight for supremacy over which deserves the first ever soon-to-be-coveted Golden Goblin Award. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, trick-or-treaters of all ages, get ready for a fabulous night at the frights with Zombieland vs. Paranormal Activity.
Audiences are getting smarter, and Matt Reeves (Director) and J.J. Abrams (Producer) know it for a fact. Abrams has been able to pull in viewers for Lost without giving any answers away. His earlier series Alias contained one of the most elaborate show-spanning mythologies in “Rambaldi” since the X-Files. Cloverfield is the first film to show that the public is ready to take in Abram’s style of presenting a fragmented, unique, and confusing story, combined with one of film’s biggest draws – the monster movie.
What starts out as a simple going-away party amongst friends quickly devolves into a survival horror unlike anything that’s ever been shown in theaters before. Well, that’s not exactly true – the improvisational filmmakers behind The Blair Witch Project were smart enough to use their lack of budget to their advantage by using hand-held cameras they could afford, and making the concessions that A) the story is true, B) the people in it are real, and C) things get really scary when you lose control. All three are amplified in Cloverfield, with a modest Hollywood-sized budget wisely used to set it farther apart than anyone could have predicted.
While the opening segments introduce us to our cast, it also gets us used to the hand-held nature of the cinematography. This will certainly be one of the most overlooked elements of the film – that it’s a lot harder to make cinematography look amateur than one would think. Throughout the movie, our cameraman Hud drops focus, zooms wildly, makes violent pans, and hardly frames a single shot with any sort of precision – which is exactly what any one of us would do in the same situation. And that’s where this movie shines. For people that can’t take the shaky-cam, I can’t sympathize. It took me all of 2 minutes to get used to the fact that we are watching essentially home video. We’re used to it now. We’ve seen it on America’s Funniest Home Videos. We see it all the time on YouTube. Cloverfield could not have been made, nor accepted, until now. It’s the feeling of realism that makes this such an achievement.
These are a small group of people taking part of an epic disaster. We’re not seeing the direct shots of the disaster like we do so often in movies like The Day After Tomorrow or Deep Impact, but instead we stick together with Rob, Lily, Hud, and Milena to see everything from their point of view. There’s no third party here. No omnipresent detached camera. Rather than making the disaster the star, it bears a closer similarity to the portrayal by Tom Cruise and his family in War of the Worlds, in that it keeps the story focused and centered on someone that we really care about. Although since we aren’t familiar with Cloverfield‘s actors, the ability to suspend disbelief is heightened tenfold.
And then there’s the monster.
Everything said on the Internet prior to the release was right – it’s near impossible to describe it. It’s big. It’s upset. It’s got big teeth. And it’s got some lice – or something falling off of it, that happen to be quite nasty. The sequence in the tunnels – oh man… the set-up is pitch-perfect. The entire theater as one erupted in an “oh…. shit….” moment. The pacing is superb, with all-out action followed by quiet moments of disbelief and anguish as friends get picked off one by one. The use of the camera’s functions (night-vision, light) are all used as plot devices – which is really clever since the whole film is really about the camerawork.
It’s notable that there’s never a point where you think, “I’m watching 3D.” Explosions and debris feel as real as anything shown on television during 9/11, which some may have trouble separating from the visuals in this film. But as an escapist catastrophe movie, it’s portrayed as close to how it might actually go down as I’ve seen yet.
I love movies like this. I’m a sucker for disaster movies. Poseidon, Armageddon, I Am Legend – they’re all great popcorn fun. But this is an entirely different level of disaster film. I came out of the theater feeling pumped and energized, which always confirms how much I enjoy a movie. But on the car ride home, I thought to myself it felt like waking from a dream – or perhaps a nightmare. I mentioned to a friend that I hope someday that the technology will exist for a simualtion of an event like Cloverfield where you can really be immersed completely. Feel it. Smell the air and dust around you. Have the tension, fear, and adrenaline flowing while running scared for your life. Seeing it on the big screen is one thing, but I yearn for a time where we can take a movie like this, and make it a virtual reality ordeal to experience like none other. To whoever is creating that Holodeck – we’re all waiting…