All posts by JD Hansel

Sleepy Hollow Review

It’s always a pleasure to see a spooky movie that doesn’t rely too much on jump scares, instead reveling in a charmingly eerie aesthetic with creepy visuals.  In fact, it’s even a pleasure to find a film that’s not just trying to be a horror movie, but is specifically trying to be a Halloween movie.  It’s a special pleasure to watch a Halloween movie that’s not just throwing clownish, irritating exaggerations of Halloween character types at me the whole time.  This is the kind of pleasure I have come to expect from few directors but Tim Burton, who brings his knack for nightmarish aesthetics to the Washington Irving tale “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

Now, to be clear, this is not Burton at his best – by this point in his career we’ve already entered the phase in which he’s making everything bland and gray – but it’s still a fun watch.  Johnny Depp is as over-the-top as one would hope, without being annoying, and the rest of the cast is largely comprised of some of my favorite British actors.  The only problem here is that this great cast is working on great sets with a great director to bring to life a not-so-great screenplay.  It’s a predictable story with the usual bashing of “men of reason” for having too much certainty.  Yes, that’s right – the people who believe 100% in a headless horseman of all things accuse the sensible detective of having too much faith, all because he’s pretty sure he ought to be looking for a real, living murderer rather than an undead legend.  Now, I’ve seen this foolishness in enough Hollywood films that, for a silly fantasy story, I can almost let it go, so I can still mostly enjoy the movie.  The story may be weak and a little slow, but it’s still something I can see myself putting on the big TV every few Octobers.

Little Shop of Horrors (1960) Review

Not a lot of people remember that this film was, for a while, a legend in Hollywood.  Countless directors told the tale of “The Movie Made in Two Days.”  The story goes that one filmmaker noticed that a set would be available on a studio lot for two days longer than it was needed, so he asked to have the set to shoot his own film on those two days.  He then wrote the script for a relatively short feature film, put together a cast, rehearsed it with them, and then shot all of the footage in just those two days.  One has to wonder, then, how does one make a feature in so short a time-span?

Easy: don’t worry about quality.  The film doesn’t mind at all that it’s stupid and ridiculous – in fact, it loves its own stupidity.  This was, after all, marketed as a comedy, which is only sensible since the idea of a low-budget horror movie about a talking plant is laughable.  I think because it appreciates its own “campiness,” I’m inclined to appreciate it as well.  The fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously makes for a movie that’s loads of fun, and that even has a few moments here and there that I wish could have been in its sacred remake (for example, I love the clever use of the cartoon drawing for the credits).

It may be stupid, but it’s also smart, and that’s why it’s more than deserving of its status as a cult classic.

Wonder Woman Review

This is the short version of this review.  I wrote a version that’s so long that a friend of mine found it absurd and practically unreadable.  So click here if you want my real thoughts on this movie, or read below to get some of the highlights.

I’m not wild about this film.  It’s sub-par.  My reasons for thinking this, however, are not all “film snob” reasons – I don’t care about perfect cinematography.  What I care about is whether or not the filmmakers gave a darn, and it seems to me that they generally didn’t.

I get annoyed when a movie gets away with pretending it’s more progressive than the cash-grab it is.  I get annoyed when a movie acts like it’s offering gritty realism when it’s really just color-graded to make everything gray.  I get annoyed when a movie is hailed for being original when its story follows the same beats as every Hollywood movie I’ve seen before.  I get annoyed when the editing is so unprofessional that I find myself and the viewers around me getting confused about what’s happening.  It’s the kind of laziness that makes me feel awfully disheartened by the state of movies today, and by the state of moviegoers.  We’ve grown to accept mediocrity.

I’ll give the movie some credit though.  I like a lot of its comedy.  Some of its scenes hit the nail on the head when it came to character development, cool-looking “superhero moments,” humor, and sentimentality.  Fine.  But I’m still upset.

The way in which feminism manifests itself in the film is largely through what I call “Mary Sue’s Revenge” moments.  These are scenes in which a female who is obviously highly competent is assumed to need the aid, protection, or mercy of a man, but immediately proves herself to be just as competent as literally anyone could tell she was.  The man’s surprise is always the butt of the joke.  This kind of scene can be found once in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, twice in The Force Awakens (as though it’s hard to tell that Rey can fend for herself), and a million times on the Disney Channel, to offer a few examples.  It’s old, it’s tired, it assumes men are stupid, it assumes that women being impressive should surprise us, and it’s been done to death.

This is balanced out with several scenes in which Diana is portrayed as a naive girl who believes in fairy tales and has no idea how the world works.  In many scenes, she’s the joke of the scene, and men have to explain everything to her, which concerns me.  In most other scenes, she proves everyone wrong in a manner like what I described in the last paragraph – demonstrating her unwarranted faith in a fairy tale to be apparently valid – which also concerns me.  Can we have one movie in which we’re not surprised when the women are capable, and we’re not rooting for the believer in silly old stories?  Heck – her unsupported belief that she had found Eros in Germany led her to kill the wrong man by mistake, and I don’t think of that as promoting positive values.

So here’s the deal.  I’m giving the movie an okay rating.  It’s not because I think the movie’s all that good.  It’s not because the Hollywood execs deserve praise for finally giving audiences what audiences asked for ten years ago.  It’s because it’s simply pragmatic for all of us to say we liked this movie so Hollywood will give us more super-heroine movies.  Only then can someone make one I’ll really enjoy.

 

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure Review

Man.  I needed this.

It’s been a rough semester for me – one with many assignments and not a lot of time to relax.  Fortunately, I was able to squeeze a little bit of time in for a fun movie during my meals, so I decided to watch one of the great ’80s stupid comedies: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  I’m so, so, so glad I did, because it’s just my kind of film, and it’s a wonderful piece of silly, mindless fun.

It has the visuals I like (particularly the theatrical blues that appear in the future scenes), the character types I like (specifically the all-knowing, nonchalant comic who talks to the camera, here played by the great George Carlin), and the theory of time-travel that I prefer (I guess that’s one point it takes over Back to the Future).

That being said, similar Hollywood comedies from approximately this era (Back to the FutureWayne’s World) have a much “tighter” story.  Each scene feels like it has a clear, strong purpose in those films, and there’s a sense that each was re-written many times until everything flowed perfectly.  In this film, it feels like the screenplay was thrown together very quickly – which is true: the first draft was written in four days – so the story feels a little laggy and some of the jokes don’t have a very strong punch.  I found myself wondering, why Socrates?  What makes him one of the most interesting figures to plop into our century?  Why Billy the Kid?

I think the scenes with Joan of Arc work better though.  The way she always gets what she prays for without any understanding of what’s really going on is hilarious.  I think her scenes must work because we completely understand what’s going on in her head and how that logic seems to match, yet clash with, everything happening around her.  It’s the kind of comedy that plays with individual perspectives and human blind-spots well, which is really all the rest of the movie needed to be a bit funnier.

This, however, is nit-picking.  Bill & Ted loves its own absurdity and stupidity so much that I’m inclined to love it, too.  It really is, in a word, excellent.

The Matrix Review

I was brought here by The Question.  It’s the question that’s been playing in my head on a loop ever since I first started studying film.  It’s the question I, as a movie buff, have been asked more than any other: “What do you think of The Matrix?”.

Really.  This actually happens.

Whenever someone hears that I’m a film major, they’ll ask me about my favorite film or director, what kind of movies I’d like to make, and what I think of The Matrix.  Sometimes they’ll ask about Christopher Nolan movies, of which I have seen very few, but usually it’s The Matrix.  But do you know what the answer to The Question is?

It’s fine.

It’s a perfectly fine movie.  It’s creative, visually impressive, and kinda fun.  So why does everyone care so much what the movie buffs think of it?

I can only assume it’s because the average moviegoers think there’s much more to this film than they can grasp in one viewing.  They see a certain depth to it – an intellectual, philosophical quality – and they think that we film students hold the key to seeing just how brilliant it is.  Once the average viewer realizes that Neo’s life parallels that of Jesus Christ, he/she can’t help but wonder what other messages and analogies the movie contains that are only visible to those in the know.

Well, I have good news: I do know the key to understanding everything that this film is about … but, believe it or not, I didn’t learn this from studying film.  I learned it because I study philosophy.  Every philosophy student should know where I’m going with this.

Do you want to know what this movie is really about?  Do you want me to spoil it for you?  If not, you can just click the ‘X’ for this tab and go back to browsing the rest of the web, and you’ll continue to see The Matrix as the same work of genius you’ve always thought it was.  But, if you want to know the truth, click the line below.  A warning: once you know the truth, there’s no going back.

Continue reading The Matrix Review

Cool Night #5

Cool Night’s going to the movies!  Featured this week: Henry Mancini, Bruce Springsteen, and none other than Connie Stevens!

Alien Review

For the purposes of this website, I try to watch a lot of movies.  Sometimes, after I’ve watched a bunch, it takes me time to get caught up on my reviews of movies I watched weeks prior, so my memory gets fuzzy.  Sometimes, after I’ve watched several movies, I can’t remember anything about the one I watched a month ago.

This is one of those times.

As I recall, at the time, I was highly impressed with the film and thought I’d have to consider it as a contender for my next “100 Favorite Movies” list, but now I’m not sure why.  I would estimate that I was thinking of the use of the camera, which is clever, or just how nicely the science fiction is married to the horror here.  It’s high-quality horror with a high-quality monster, and I respect that, but I’m starting to wonder if perhaps the reason why I’m struggling to remember what happens in the story is that there’s really very little to remember.

Ridley Scott has a tendency of making long movies out of very little story.  From Blade Runner to Legend, his movies tend to be slow and “minimalistic” in terms of plot.  I’ve often suspected that this is because he likes to do movies in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and this movie confirmed my suspicion since a good percentage of it is just ripping off Kubrick – lovingly, of course.

I suspect, then, that I must have really enjoyed it because I was in a Ridley Scott mood, which makes it very easy to appreciate the brilliance of what is in the film, whereas now I might wish there was more.  That being said, I still greatly appreciate it.  The version of the future that’s created here is quite smart, particularly in terms of its political situation, and the information that slowly reveals itself throughout the film about what’s really been going on the whole time makes for a perfect intellectual counterpart to the fun spectacle created by the outstanding visual effects.  One thing I can say for this film that I can’t say for 2001 is that its characters are good – due to both the casting and the dialogue – and I think that’s why the film series is so popular.  And I’m glad it’s popular.  Even if I don’t find it entirely entertaining or memorable, it’s always nice when the masses recognize a work of quality craftsmanship as something worth celebrating.