Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Exterminating Angel, Plato and Narrow-Minded Theology

In Luis Bunuel's The Exterminating Angel, several upper-class people are invited to a dinner party, and when it comes time for them to leave, they find that they cannot do so; they are trapped in one of the rooms of the house, simply unable to walk into the next room, let alone out of the house. Bunuel presents this as a critique of our culture, in which people find themselves incapable of escaping the structures of society. One interpretation of this film maintains that they can leave the room, but it is their own will that keeps them from doing so. This is quite similar to Plato's allegory of the cave. Here, I will first lay out the correlation between Plato's allegory and The Exterminating Angel, and will then provide theological narrow-mindedness as a test case for the phenomenon pointed to in these narratives.

In Plato's allegory, humans have lived in a cave their whole lives, their legs and necks chained so that they can't move, even to turn around. This resembles Bunuel's story, in which people cannot step into the next room, and the people outside the house are unable to walk up to it.

There is a fire blazing behind the inhabitants of the cave, that cast shadows of the inhabitants in front of them, so that "the truth [is] literally nothing but the shadows of the images."(1) Plato goes on to say that if the inhabitants of the cave are liberated, being able to move around and see the light, they will experience pains in their bodies, and the light will be blinding. When they can finally perceive the light, having been conditioned to view the shadows as reality, they will reject what they now see, once again believing that the shadows represent real truth. Furthermore, the discomfort of the blinding light will cause the inhabitants to return to their original state of confinement to the shadows.

The shadows of Plato's allegory can be compared to things Bunuel's characters seek after for comfort in their desperation; a boy goes to some morphine the owners of the house had within the room, others go to sex and suicide, others to magical chicken feet, another to the Virgin Mary, and another cries the Mason call. The most significant and severe shadow is their inability to leave the room. A couple of them actually try to leave the room, but the have to stop and sit down because they become so overwhelmed. This is similar to Plato's allegory, in which it is painful for people to turn toward the light.

In Plato's allegory, if someone goes through the painful process of freedom from the cave, and then returns to the cave to tell others about the truth, the cave-dwellers would think he was insane. They would then conclude that no one should ascend out of the cave, "and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, [they would] catch the offender, and they would put him to death."(2)

In The Exterminating Angel, toward the beginning of the people's strange plight, the owner of the house suggests that they all take a moment of silence and establish within themselves a resolute will to leave the room. To this suggestion, a couple of the guests lash out at him, blaming him for their condition (clearly, another shadow they believe to be true). Toward the end of the movie, this accusation reoccurs, and they demand that he be put to death. He was the only one throughout the entire movie to make this suggestion. Even the doctor, who maintains reason more than anybody else throughout the movie, never tries to leave. He is too focused on caring for the people that are trapped in their condition. Alvaro, another character known throughout the film as being reasonable, is another who never tries to leave. He only observes that others cannot leave and assumes that he must be under the same spell.

These narratives can be compared to many theological beliefs throughout history. Take, for example, fundamentalists. It's not as if these people never hear objections to their beliefs, nor do they never listen to other interpretations of biblical texts or explanations of theological concepts. They do experience these things. They come across many reasonable questions that they simply cannot answer. Why don't they change their beliefs? Because they have trapped themselves in them.

With cliches like "God's ways are higher than our ways," and playing the mystery card, they dismiss reasonable objections and alternate views to their theories, and they accept their caves, made up of shadows of reality, as the truth. I have seen a theologian come face to face with an argument that, to a reasonable person, would compel him to acknowledge that there is a giant flaw in his belief system and then re-evaluate accordingly. But he didn't. He played the mystery card and chose his cave over a journey to actual truth.

The doctor can represent pastors who grow up with a certain theology that they never question simply because they accept it as truth. Within this framework, they try to help others who operate under the same theological framework, and suffer because of it. But, ultimately, they cannot help much; the people remain oppressed by an ideology that traps them into guilt, or into anger at God because they attribute their suffering to his will.

Alvaro represents philosophers in these theological sects that observe the inconsistencies and peculiarities of their beliefs, but never abandon them because they have been conditioned to believe that they are true. So they accept the mystery.

Others in the room represent people who accept these beliefs blindly and never question them, like the man at the beginning of the movie who doesn't find it the least bit odd that all the guests never left the party, or the room, but, displaying very bad manners, imposed on the owners of the house and slept on their floor. He completely dismisses it, blindly accepting his fate. Perhaps if it wasn't for the others, this man would never notice that he couldn't leave the room, but would spend the rest of his days in his cave, like the many citizens in Dark City who don't notice that they never experience daylight.

Cognitive deception is an awful thing. In it, people accept things to be true that aren't true at all, and they can't tell truth from lies. I fear insanity more than anything else, because it consists of someone living in a reality that is absolutely false. I believe blindly accepting something to be true without analysis, and then never questioning that belief, is a step toward insanity. There is mystery in life, but playing the mystery card instead of re-evaluating your belief systems can lead to cognitive deception, and, in extreme cases, to insanity.

We all have our caves. That is the point of Plato's allegory and The Exterminating Angel. We all have our caves. I have my cave, just like fundamentalists have theirs. However, with the help of evaluating and analyzing our beliefs, we can ascend out of our caves more and more. (I have written more about this here and here.)

This doesn't mean we doubt everything and never accept anything to be true (nihilism and strict pluralism are just more caves!). There is truth to be found. Integrity is seeking the truth honestly, humbly, and reasonably, re-working our ideology in light of what we find along the way.

John Daniel Holloway is a Biblical-Theological Studies major. Apart from his passion for reading theology books & writing (@, he loves watching movies. A huge fan of classic films, it's rare for him to find a movie these days that he genuinely likes.

(1) Plato, The Republic, trans. Benjamin Jowett (Mineola: Dover Publications, 2000), 178.
(2) Ibid., 179.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Jonathan's Top 5 Most Overrated Movies

What's an overrated movie? The definition easily changes from person to person, but to me an overrated movie is a movie that either was huge in it's time and probably shouldn't have been, or a movie that for unknown reasons has outstayed it's welcome and remained relevant for far longer than it should have. Often times these movies are referenced by people in casual conversation, or just taken for granted to be a movie that you've seen. Overrated movies aren't always bad, often they're decent films in their own right, but sometimes they're terrible. This list doesn't measure that, it's simply the top 5 out of probably thousands of movies that are beloved far more than they ought to be, at least in my opinion.

5. Jaws (1975)

Though not technically Stephen Spielberg's first movie, it was released in 1975 in the beginning of his directorial career, and is without a doubt the reason you know who he is. Not that that's a bad thing necessarily, Spielberg has made some good movies, but I don't think this stands alone as the best one. This movie is overrated not because it wasn't entertaining, it was, not because it wasn't a genuine thriller that sucked it's audience in and kept them on the edge of their seat, it did that also. Jaws is overrated because people act like it's the only movie that ever did that, they act like instead of it coming out 40 years ago, it came out yesterday, and that it is simply the paragon of any “thriller” that could ever be made. Jaws is easily one of the most highly acclaimed movies ever made, still, and I don't understand that. There are lists upon list (mostly made by the AFI) that routinely put Jaws in a top ten slot in any category in which it pseudo-belongs: Best Horror Movies – Jaws, Best Thrillers – Jaws, Best Spielberg films – Jaws, Best films of 1975 – Jaws. Thing is, there are other movies about carnivorous water dwelling creatures that terrorize humans, sometimes it's even sharks, movies like: Deep Blue Sea, Piranha, Humanoids From the Deep, Leviathan, what makes Jaws the king of this sub-genre? It's cause it was first isn't it? It's cause those other movies would never have existed without Jaws isn't it? Or is it? Do you know that? Would no one have ever made a movie about sea creatures and their hostile interactions with humans if not for Spielberg's daring first step in a brave new direction? Probably, and they would've been the same entertaining thrillers that they are now. Seriously, there's not much difference between Jaws and the four other movies I listed, they're all entertaining, they're all similar in plot, they're all about humans vs. aquatic life, and they're all likeable for the same reasons. My point being Jaws isn't a better movie than those others, and those others are just ok movies. So is Jaws, Jaws isn't a bad movie, but it isn't special either.

4. Gone With The Wind (1939)

Wow. Nothing about this movie's appeal or supposed greatness makes sense to me, and I've tried to figure it out. First I thought, well, maybe in 1939, The Civil War was still fresh on everyone's minds but it was 74 years between the war's end and this movie's debut, but it's also been 74 years between this movie's release and today, so clearly that's not it. Second, this movie is just a few minutes shy of 4 hours long. In other words, twice (or more) the length of almost every other movie. I could probably spend two paragraphs talking about all the awards, theatrical re-releases, and accolades this movie got, and still not get around the oft-quoted fact “adjusted for inflation Gone With the Wind is the highest grossing film of all time.” Suffice it to say, this movie is a giant monstrous success, and having seen it, I have no idea why. Ok, well, I do know why, and it's because Hollywood hoodwinked everyone hard for like two years during it's production. The general public, to whom movies had only been available for give or take 30 years, were more or less told that this was the greatest film ever made, and the most expensive film ever made, and the most controversial film ever made, and they were told that from day one of pre-production. How could it not be true? Well for one, it's 4 hours long, and believe me, almost every minute of that time seems like pointless filler to get to a greater plot that...just isn't there. The movie (based on a novel I've never read, and never will read) uses The Civil War as a backdrop, but that's honestly not what it's about. It's about Scarlett O'Hara. I must say that if Vivien Leigh intended to portray Scarlett as a vapid, gold-digging, conceited ice queen, then she succeeded, but making a 4 hour epic around this sort of completely unlikable character is a failure of the utmost proportions. Scarlett is supposed to be the tragic heroine, you're supposed to sympathize with her, but instead she's the person you hate the most. She's so manipulative and self-serving you simply want her to die for virtually every minute of screen time she has. In fact, when Clark Gable famously “doesn't give a damn” and walks out on Scarlett that is literally the only time the movie connects with it's audience, too bad it took 3 hours and 45 to get there. Speaking of death, Scarlett is one of the few characters in this film who doesn't die, but a staggering number of the cast actually do, and I'm tempted to make a joke about it being from old-age as this movie is so long you might literally think someone could live an entire life cycle during it's run time. I've harped on about the length, but let's be clear, I don't hate long movies The Ten Commandments is brilliant, as an example. I hate long movies that are wholly boring and not about anything, which fits this movie to a tee. (Bonus question; what's a tee and why does it fit so well?) Maybe you think that this is a chick-flick and as a guy, I just don't get it. That's not the case, there's no romance in this film, love between any two characters is virtually non-existent, especially if Scarlett is one of those two. Scarlett spends the entire movie getting married to any and everyone whom it behooves her to do so and for no other reason than her own advancement. Yes, the fact that this happens more than once is frightening proof that what I've said about this movie being too long is true. And her trademark coldness leaves "romance" but a distant thought; if anything is truly "gone with the wind" in this movie it's the very notion of love and affection. Perhaps by now you can tell that I do think that in addition to being overrated, this is also not a very good movie. If I were in possession of a genie, I'd be sorely tempted to make this film's name come true, only instead of "wind" I believe it should be called "hot air" because that's literally all I can make out of the constant praise this movie gets.

3. Scarface (1983) 

Initially when I learned that Cory had this film on his list as well, I thought, in the spirit of collaborative effort that I would exclude it from my list, but I can't do that. Scarface just doesn't deserve it's position in our world. It's essentially the life story of a common thug turned drug kingpin presented in all of it's hideous real life glory (or lack thereof.) Maybe this type of movie is important, maybe America needs to see exactly how crime pays, and this movie is faithful to that. Sure Tony Montana is rolling in money, but he's also drowning in blood, not the least of which is his own. The problem is that I don't think that's why this movie is highly acclaimed. Have you ever met a fan of this film? If you have, you may notice that they tend to focus on Tony's successes, they idolize his character, they respect him for taking what he wanted and not letting the rules, or anyone else, get in the way. Kill or be killed, live fast and die hard, the world is yours; these are Tony's mottos. The last of which appeared on a statue in Tony's mansion, and, fittingly became his epitaph, but the people who love this movie, that part they conveniently forget. They idolize the man for ripping the life he wanted out of the jaws of “the law” or “the man” or “anyone else;” for “rising above” his humble beginnings as an illegal Cuban immigrant, they applaud success, and ignore the wages of all the evil Tony's life brings with it. I can't figure how anyone who watched this movie to it's conclusion could possibly take that stance though. The movie goes full circle, karma catches up to Tony, but the people who love this movie seem to miss the moral completely, or intentionally, and doing either is profoundly dangerous. Maybe I seem heavy handed here and keep emphasizing the same point, but the reason is this, if Scarface were taken for what it is, the life and times of a drug lord, then it wouldn't be an outstanding film. There's hundreds of films like it, with the exact same message, but something about this one makes it different, and it's something that not everyone sees. Only those who find Scarface admirable are the ones that set it on another echelon, the ones that buy the merchandise Al Pacino's visage is inexplicably plastered all over, and the ones that base their lives and careers on a fictional drug lord named Tony Montana. I'm sorry but I don't believe that any movie should be that powerful, certainly not this one.

2. The Lion King (1994) 

Perhaps you're surprised to see this movie on this list, but that's because I'm always surprised to find that virtually everyone I know thinks this is the best Disney movie ever made, and quite possibly the best animated film of all time as well. If for some reason you're thinking “but it was a good movie, can it really be considered overrated?” Remember the following: this movie spawned a Broadway play that won 6 Tony's and a Grammy, and has been running for 16 years in a row making it the 5th longest running Broadway play in history. If you know someone who's 16 or younger, the play that only exists because of this movie is older than them. I'd say that's a little bit overrated pretty much no matter what you're talking about. Clearly this movie is one of Disney's biggest successes, and is responsible for that company literally accruing billions of dollars over this IP alone over the years. If you remember when it came out, you'll remember all the hullabaloo about it also being an “original story” as well instead of the fairy tale and folklore adaptations Disney had pretty much stuck to up to this point. Here's the problem and why it doesn't deserve it's success or acclaim. Disney stole it, it wasn't an original idea at all. Once upon a time in Japan in the 50's there was a manga (comic book for those of you who pretend you still don't know what manga is) called “Jungle Emperor Leo” who was a white lion cub. This lion cub's name was “Kimba” and in the 60's this became an animated cartoon in Japan, and it was even broadcast in parts of the United States. There also exists an early production still for The Lion King which shows Simba as a white lion. Those aren't the only similarities and coincidences, there are many many more, but you didn't come here to read about this pretty well-known controversy, I just believe that Disney doesn't deserve the credit for all the work that other people did. It's even more disturbing that The Lion King is easily one of Disney's most successful franchises, and yet they continue to act like they deserve all the credit and all the money.

1. The Godfather (1972) 

Yeah, I'm that guy. Let me explain this though. With the possible exception of Citizen Kane, The Godfather gets called the best movie of all time more often than any other film. The fact that The Godfather is called the best movie by so many people makes it the most overrated movie by default. I think it goes without saying that for anything to be most often considered the best of anything, it truly has to be exceptional. There's tons of people who genuinely believe that The Godfather is an exceptional movie, but I watched it once, and to be honest I don't remember it very well at all. If something is truly that good, shouldn't I remember it, shouldn't I not think that it was boring? I'm not kidding when I say this, I did not find that movie compelling, or entertaining, and I have a hard time remembering it or it's plot. It's basically a movie about the inner workings of the mafia in America, and I fail to see how that is such a groundbreaking thing that it's instantly catapulted to the position of “best movie ever.” Then again, I evidently don't think Scarface is that great either, and I never watched The Sopranos so maybe I'm just one of those weird Americans who doesn't idolize crime lords. I'm obviously in the minority, and that worries me. I could stop there but I still don't know what makes The Godfather so amazing. Is it a horse's head in a bed? That type of shock technique is used in literally every horror film ever made, it's not special, it wasn't invented by Francis Ford Coppola. Is it merely the presence of Marlon Brando? Probably, I never understood that man's appeal, and Hollywood instantly swooning all over him. I think Brando was some sort of critical darling that never really had the panache he was purported to, how hard is it to sit still in a chair barely pronouncing your lines? That's basically what he did in this film. Is is that the mafia or “The Family” is shown in this movie to be sort of backwards and dysfunctional, and subject to it's own unique rules that make no sense sort of like every family really is? Is that why everyone identifies with it? On some deep psychological level that they don't even understand? I honestly still don't know, and I probably never will.

Jonathan Updike is a dude, a former editor, occasional writer, and a lover of the 80's. He has seen far too many movies to not write about them. At the moment, he is all out of bubble gum.

Friday, July 19, 2013

John Daniel's Top 5 Most Overrated Films

5. The Breakfast Club (1985)

Maybe it's because I hated high school, maybe it's because I couldn't relate with any of the characters, maybe it's because I'm not a huge fan of the 80s; whatever the reason, I don't know why people love this movie so much. Not only do I not relate with any of the characters, but I genuinely dislike a few of them. The inability to sympathize with them, however, is probably why.

The fact that I hated high school doesn't help either. When I got out, I never wanted to go back. And when I was in it, I only wanted to get out. I find nothing enjoyable about reflecting on those days, and I don't experience any nostalgia when I think of them. So, this movie doesn't resonate with me much.

My uncle and cousin quote this movie a lot. They love it. It's one of their favorites. And I never understand why. The lines they quote are funny when they quote them, but in the movie, I don't find them funny at all. To me, it's just another 80s movie about high school, one with which I cannot identify and one I don't like watching. (Ferris Bueller's Day Off, on the other hand, is awesome. That movie's humor and enjoyability transcends time.)

4. The Boondock Saints (1999)

I was an emo kid when I was 13-15. During that time, I went to Hot Topic a lot. I would always see this really cool looking merchandise, with two guys standing next to each other, pointing their guns down at someone out of frame. This would frequently be coupled with a long block of text, with the McManus brothers' famous speech. My friends talked about how awesome the movie is, and they would quote it around me and I would be the only one not enjoying the memory, because I hadn't seen it. Finally, I watched it when I was about 16. At this point, almost all of my friends had talked about how awesome it is, so I was excited.

When the movie ended, I though, "Is that it?" It had awesome moments, funny moments, and Willem Dafoe is pretty badass, but, for the most part, there wasn't anything special about it. I could see why so many guys love the movie, because it is definitely the kind of movie that guys can come together and enjoy, as it feeds their desire to do cool tricks, use cool guns, say cool things, and kill bad guys, all while having a great time.

But, as a movie, it's not extraordinary. It's built up so much, but it's not much better than your average decent acting movie. It's fun, enjoyable, often funny, and even awesome at times, but it's definitely not what people make it out to be.

3. Tootsie (1982)

In 1998, the American Film Institute's "100 Years...100 Movies" list had Tootsie at #62. In 2007, the updated list has it at #69. On their "100 Years...100 Laughs" list, Tootsie is #2. While this movie is funny, while Dustin Hoffman's performance is great, while it is quite clever, while I understand that the comedy in its day and age was somewhat groundbreaking, I can't help but wonder why people think it's so amazing. To me, it is on par with movies like Mrs. Doubtfire and Mr. Mom. I think both of those movies are funny, but I wouldn't consider either of them one of the greatest films of all time! On AFI's list, Tootsie comes before A Clockwork Orange, The Apartment, Sunrise, Pulp Fiction, and many other amazing movies. Come on, people, it's just simply not that good! I don't think it's a bad movie; I actually like it. But, seriously? It's better than Sunrise?!

2. Moulin Rouge (2001)

I actually hate this movie. And I don't like that my wife owns it and I have to have it on my movie shelf (haha, I think I need to put a dollar in the douchebag jar). Their incorporation of modern pop songs into this period piece was, in my mind, a failure. I would almost compare it to Pride & Prejudice, and Zombies, as it takes something pop culture finds boring and adds an element that spices it up a bit, making it more to pop culture's liking. Except, this movie isn't fun. It unfolds with song after painful song, complete with chaotic choreography, Nicole Kidman acting like an idiot, and frequently engaging her voice in the one pitch of hers that I cannot stand, and Ewan McGregor's melodramatic pretty-boy singing voice that begs a roll of the eyes. Why, Nicole Kidman?! Why Ewan McGregor?! You both are usually so awesome!

The movie is obnoxious and super dramatic, tugging on the heartstrings of moviegoers with every trick in the book, and feeding them silliness for 2 hours. With such a cumbersome, abrasive romp, I am surprised it has so many lovers and is held in such  high acclaim (it was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, for God's sake!). Its only redeemable factor is that it is visually stunning; but this does not come close to making up for the rest of it.

1. The Searchers (1956)

It pains me to include this movie in the list. I really wanted to like it as much as so many people do. I really wanted to agree with AFI in naming it the greatest Western of all time, and placing it at #12 on their top 100 movies list. I really wanted to understand why Martin Scorsese and so many others see such greatness in it, inspiring their own film creativity. But, alas, I could not. I can't see the difference between this and other John Wayne films. I liked The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and True Grit more, but still not enough to call them two of the greatest films of all time.

I can see how people can highly respect the cinematography, but, beyond that, I don't see the glory in it. Even when reading reviews by people like Scorsese and Roger Ebert, I often wonder, "Really? You see that here?" My friend Zach and I both simply do not understand, no matter how much we try. Maybe its problem is that its brilliance cannot be recognized by most. Or maybe that's its brilliance.

Nevertheless, as painful as it is to do, I put this at number 1 on my most overrated list because it is considered one of the greatest films of all time, and I don't see more in it than other John Wayne westerns.

John Daniel Holloway is a Biblical-Theological Studies major. Apart from his passion for reading theology books & writing (@, he loves watching movies. A huge fan of classic films, it's rare for him to find a movie these days that he genuinely likes.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cory's Top 5 Most Overrated Films

Before I get into explaining my choices for most “overrated movies” (not in any particular and not necessarily the ones I see as being THE MOST overrated, but ones I think of most consistently as being overrated), I would like to explain what I mean by “overrated.” All of these movies are good, but in different ways. Just because they’re overrated doesn’t mean they’re “bad.” They just don’t deserve all of the awards, money, and/or attention that they generally get in the history of cinema or in recent memory. That being said, I’ll point out some of things I see each movie doing well, but overall why I think it still falls short of living up to being included in “best films of all time” lists.

5. Leon: The Professional (1994)

This is another film that gets a lot of attention for “firsts” or inspiring a genre or other movies. It brought Jean Reno attention, was Luc Besson’s big breakout film, and was Natalie Portman’s first starring role as a wee little girl of 13. It also holds a special place in the genre of assassin films and other action films involving protégés, especially. But if it came out today, you would think it was so stupid. Portman’s performance is incredibly annoying, the dialogue is atrocious (made me laugh out loud quite a few times), and Besson’s directing is over the top on about the same level or more as De Palma’s. Reno’s character is a general badass and I like him as an actor, but paring him with Portman makes it a fight between the two, and Portman’s annoying, whiny performance wins out in the end and becomes all you notice. The film’s one saving grace is the violent, crazed, maniac killer villain played ingeniously by Gary Oldman. Oldman can do just about anything, and he proves it here, but sadly, he’s not enough to save the entire film.

4. Scarface (1983)

I have to admit right up front that I am not a big fan of Brian de Palma. I think his style is annoying and overdramatic. The Untouchables was good, but on the brink of being not very good. Carlito’s Way is much better than Scarface, in my opinion, and features a helpful performance from Sean Penn to anchor the film in something besides Al Pacino, unlike Scarface. De Palma may have paved the way in film as far as violence and other extremes go, but that’s no excuse for the mayhem of acting, dialogue, and script that is Scarface. Pacino just screams all the time (like normal) and goes from one bloody situation to the next with pointless dialogue in between. And the soundtrack, DEAR GOD. De Palma’s soundtracks are the WORST. I don’t understand why Tony Montana is such a role model for people who consider themselves “gangsters” or tough guys of any kind. Sure, he kills a bunch of people in the, but he also DIES while doing it and making a bunch of terrible decisions along the way while being perpetually unhappy and hated by everyone. Sounds great to me! And if you thought The English Patient was long, this one is 170 minutes! Just terrible.

3. The English Patient (1996)

You want the definition of an overblown, boring Oscar winner? Here it is. Anthony Minghella’s sprawling epic based on the Michael Ondaajte’s novel of the same name stars Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas in a story set in Africa, told through a badly burned man in Italy during WWII to Juliette Binoche, about an affair that took place back in the 1930s. What enfolds is a melodramatic, overacted story about two people you don’t really care about. Clocking in at 162 minutes, I found myself readily looking forward to the ending even as (!SPOILER ALERT!) Ralph Fiennes stumbles out of a cave in the Sahara carrying the dead body of his love, sobbing uncontrollably. I’ve heard the novel is much better than the film, and I am incline to check it out, but the bad memory of this film keeps me from really wanting to do so. I don’t have many good things to say about this film except that it has some lovely scenery/cinematography. And that’s about it.

2. The Artist (2011)

Honestly, I think people figured out that it was “cool” and “cultured” to say that you saw a silent film in 2011 and “liked” it. Granted, there is a lot to be said about the transition from silent cinema to sound in terms of history, theory, culture, technology, etc., but The Artist barely skims the surface. What director/writer Michel Hazanavicius did was copy to a T all of the things that silent cinema is known for. The Artist is a straight up tribute to the genre and time period which means that it’s not very creative. At all. Hazanavicius simply had to mimic all of those things in a story that has been played out in many real life biographies such as Buster Keaton of the silent cinema star who lost all fame and fortune and became nothing (except The Artist cheats and adds a happy ending). Don’t get me wrong, it is still a charming and interesting film to watch, but too easy in terms of its creation and marketing.

1. Jurassic Park (1993)

Let me just start by saying I never understood the popularity of this film. Sure, dinosaurs, Jeff Goldblum, and “Clever girl!”, but what else is there besides that? The acting isn’t very good, the dialogue is cheesy, and the story is incredibly simple. “So they all go to an ISLAND (so they’re stuck), and the dinosaurs get out!” That’s it. In my mind, this is one of those movies that belongs in the lexicon of special effects breakthroughs. The CGI for the dinosaurs was a first for its time, and very impressive, at the time. Nowadays, it doesn’t look very good, and you start to notice all the other things that’s wrong with it. Jurassic Park makes for an entertaining ride with some well-directed, intense scenes, but beyond that, it’s about as forgettable as any Summer blockbuster that everyone goes to see for a month but doesn’t remember when the next round of blockbusters comes along.

Cory Volk is an English Literature Major at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA, with a double minor in Film studies and Technical Writing. He loves a great glass of Scotch paired with an even better film, and his favorite director is Terrence Malick.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Jonathan's Top 5 Most Underrated Movies

5. Batman (1967)

Before the recent Christopher Nolan trilogy, the original Adam West and Burt Ward film, almost always left out of the discussion of Batman movies, was easily the best. It's true that the original 60's run of Batman was campy, even for its time, but I maintain that that is why it is amazing. 
This movie is truly the epitome of what a movie is supposed to be: escapism. If you need to be entertained for two hours, watch this film, you won't regret it. The over-the-top-ness and overall satire that was present in the 60's TV show simply ooze off the screen in this film and sarcasm of the era, whether intentional or not, is thick and hilarious. 
Let's not forget the sheer amount of talent involved in this movie too. Not only do Adam West and Burt Ward put on their always stellar personas of Batman and Robin, but Frank Gorshin is the best Riddler to ever live and Burgess Meredith is basically a shoe in for the acting "Hall of Fame" if there were such a thing. Ultimately, no matter how good Batman films continue to be, none will ever truly eclipse this one in my mind.

4. Dream a Little Dream (1989)
I watched this movie knowing that it starred Corey Feldman and Corey Haim and I never expected it to be anything more than a silly comedy and a way to kill time. Instead I was completely surprised to find a movie that had a genuine message and some moments of tense drama. 
The movie centers around Feldman's character Bobby Keller, a high school troublemaker with a sub-par life. In Bobby's neighborhood lives an elderly man Coleman (Jason Robards) who is very philosophical and attempts to learn things from his dreams and attempts experiments in order to influence this. He also despises Bobby and the other neighborhood riff-raff. Meanwhile, Bobby has a crush on his friend Joel's girlfriend Lainie. The only problem is Joel is a tough guy and not entirely stable. 
One night while running away from home for separate reasons Bobby and Lainie collide in Coleman's yard and are both knocked unconscious, when Bobby awakes, we find that Coleman has somehow become trapped in Bobby's body and the real Bobby only exists in his dreams. In order for Coleman to return to reality, and to get his wife Gena back, Coleman must live in Bobby's shoes and fix his messed up life, and he has a limited amount of time to do this. 
For one, this premise really surprised me, because, as I said earlier, I thought this movie was going to be a comedy, but it really was more of a drama than anything else, and even though Feldman is not really renowned for his acting, I felt he did a great job portraying a frustrated old man trapped in a teenager's body who desperately wants his life to return to normal. The movie is great because it emphasizes the power of love as well as a message about understanding. It may very easily be the best movie "the Coreys" ever made.

3. They Live (1988)
They Live is the best example of a terrible movie with an awesome plot that I have ever seen. All this movie needs is a half-decent remake and it would blow everyone away. The acting is awful, chiefly because it's protagonist is played by former wrestling star Rowdy Roddy Piper whose performance makes you question whether wrestling really is fake because the man has no acting ability whatsoever. But as I mentioned earlier, it's not the acting that makes this movie good, it's the overall concept. 
Piper plays a homeless drifter who lands a job working in construction and winds up living in a shantytown. One night he happens to witness a break-in to a local television channel by some pirates and a seemingly religious fanatic comes on foaming at the mouth about the evils that "they" are visiting upon the world without anyone knowing. Later on Piper's character haplessly stumbles into the stronghold of these fanatics and finds boxes and boxes of sunglasses. Shortly after that when Piper sees this compound get raided by the government, he puts the sunglasses on and discovers that only through them can the truth be seen, the truth that we are being manipulated by aliens who live among us and disguise themselves as humans. 
The genius of this movie is not even that, but it's that the glasses show us other truths as well, they show that things like advertising and television and money are just being used to manipulate us. The scene when Piper first puts on the glasses is truly awesome, it's the point at which the movie makes sense and also the point where the viewer can question the validity of such claims. Even if the viewer decides that this is just paranoid subversive thinking, it's not a concept that crosses our minds on a daily basis and They Live forces the issue, and sometimes movies like this need to be made. Usually I hate remakes, but since I feel that with such an excellent plot it would be hard to mess this up, I'm hoping that someone will remake it someday.

2. Cobra (1986)
Aside from Rocky, this film is Stallone's best in my opinion. It centers around Stallone and his partner as cops on the "zombie squad"--the team of cops who work the night-shift, in a city that's been recently ravaged by a series of axe-murders. The cops are left largely clueless until they get a witness, Brigitte Nielsen, but something goes wrong and Cobretti (Stallone) and his partner soon find themselves in a huge shootout against an entire gang of murderers and hell-raisers intent on killing Nielsen before she can testify. 
What makes this movie awesome is partly the machismo, but mostly the atmosphere. This movie is probably one of the most "80's" time capsule movies of all time. It even includes a shakedown-montage when Cobra and his partner are looking for information about the murders by running down the shadier elements, this is inter-spliced with model Ingrid (Nielsen) at a photo-shoot with some robots and all set to the song "Angel of the City" by Robert Tepper, which happens to be one of the most epic songs ever, and perfectly married to the visuals being presented. This montage is also the first time you see Nielson in the film at all, and probably the last time you'll see a musical montage of any kind in a movie ever. One thing is for sure, if it is the last one, it's the best sendoff the plot device could possibly ask for. 
Add this to the action in the film including but not limited to; chase scenes between the bad guys and Stallone in a 1950 Mercury hot rod, and a shootout scene in which the cops actually appear competent and hit the people/things they're shooting at instead of emptying clips into nothing. Additionally, whoever cast Brian Thompson as the villain in this film should get an award as he is easily one of the the most intimidating villains in any film, with dialogue to match. We even have an infamous "car won't start" scene, which I'm quite partial to. This movie is the perfect blend of suspense, action, and slight moments of horror all dipped in an 80's candy coating and that makes it one of the most entertaining films ever made.

1. Dark City (1998)

Dark City is a movie that I feel got it's rightful due years late. Having come out only a year before the similarly themed and paradigm-shifting The Matrix, and owing partly to the use of some of the same sets, Dark City unjustly lived in The Matrix's shadow.  Only recently have I seen it get mentioned in the echelon of movies in which it belongs, usually in lists similar to this one. 
In 1999 when The Matrix came out, every movie after, and several before, were invariably compared to it, but in reality, Dark City was the first of those two movies to question that very subject – reality. Rufus Sewell stars as the amnesiac Mr. Murdoch who awakens one night at the scene of a murder, completely confused and scared. The movie does a great job of pulling you into his world, it rarely ever presents anything to the viewer for the first time without also presenting it to Murdoch for the first time. This builds the suspense, and allows the audience to empathize with the protagonist, something which I feel most movies skip in order to pander to a less pensive audience. 
A school of thought which I detest in movies that most movies take is the thought that the audience should never be left asking questions, so unnatural explanations are often given as to what is going on, even if the characters within the movie are unaware of what is presented to the audience. Dark City doesn't do this; it leaves the viewers as metaphorically in the dark as it's inhabitants literally are. This movie captivates, and is full of suspense and twists, and it's throwback nighttime noir atmosphere is much appreciated amidst a newer school of filmmaking that dominated much of the films around the turn of the millennium. The ending particularly is a wonderful surprise, and I'd find it hard to believe anyone who watches this movie would leave unimpressed.

Jonathan Updike is a dude, a former editor, occasional writer, and a lover of the 80's. He has seen far too many movies to not write about them. At the moment, he is all out of bubble gum.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

John Daniel's Top 5 Most Underrated Movies

5. The Lost Weekend (1945)

Can this really be considered underrated? It won 4 academy awards: Best Screenplay, Best Actor (Ray Milland), Best Director (Billy Wilder), and Best Picture--all of which were quite deserved. But since 1945, it seems it has been forgotten. Why don't we hear more about this movie? We hear about Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment, Double Indemnity, Some Like it Hot, and other Wilder films, but why not this one? It is definitely one of his best.

A graphic portrayal of intense alcoholism, The Lost Weekend was the Shame (2011) of its day. Incredibly vivid, its representation of alcoholism is as powerful and haunting today as it was in the 40s. There were several times in the movie where I was genuinely frightened. It is just as overwhelming as Requiem for a Dream.

Ray Milland's performance is absolutely stunning and convincing. With it, the movie brilliantly conveys its meaning and purpose without being preachy or sacrificing reality (like The Public Enemy). It is not naive, and does not pull any punches: the film is accurate, explosive, and full of force. Like Shame and Requiem for a Dream, at the finish, one decides firmly, "That horror will not be my life!"

4. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

When this movie ended, I wanted to start it over and watch it again. How can Adam Sandler be so dumb so much of the time, and then give an award-deserving performance in one of Paul Thomas Anderson's best films?

Sandler's Barry Egan is one of the greatest movie characters I have ever seen. Barry is a completely vulnerable person, and Sandler's performance brings the audience into solidarity with every emotion he is feeling. When he feels disappointed, the audience hurts. When he is angry, the audience is angry. When he cries, the audience feels like crying. When he is happy, the audience experiences the same wonderful joy.

With Punch-Drunk Love, Anderson has created a beautiful love story, with so much color. It is often like a fairy tale: a nervous, neurotic, lonely, depressed guy meets a calm, stable, beautiful, absolutely lovely lady and finds in her pure comfort, pure home. This inspires him to rise above himself and accomplish things he never would have accomplished otherwise.

Absolutely enjoyable, Punch-Drunk Love takes one through the beautiful journey of Barry's soul: from tears to leaps of joy; from defeatism to awesome victory; from running away like a child, to becoming Clint Eastwood; from not being able to confront his sisters, to overpowering Philip Seymour Hoffman (another feature of the movie).

Punch-Drunk Love is funny, lovely, full of joy, and perfect. It is an emotional ride, but a fulfilling one. I simply love this movie!

3. Ed Wood (1994)

By far Tim Burton's best movie, and maybe Johnny Depp's best performance, it does not make sense to me why Ed Wood is not a very well-known movie. The movie includes so many good perfmances, including the award-winning Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi, Depp's quirky Edward D. Wood, Jr., the hilarious Bill Murray, and Sarah Jessica Parker.

The performances are not the only wonderful things this movie has to offer. It is exceptionally original, yet very Tim Burton. The film is in black and white, includes graveyards, fake plastic flying saucers, creepy Lugosi hand gestures, angora sweaters, transvestites, a rubber octopus, and on and on. How is this movie not popular?  It is hilarious! Yet not without a serious tone. A movie about the director of Plan 9 from Outer Space simply could not have been any better.

2. Lolita (1962)

Lolita is about a man who falls insanely in love--or, better, in lust--with a 15-year-old girl named Lolita. His mad obsession with her leads him down a road that will completely change his life, down to the very core of his being.

Maybe Stanley Kubrick's best film, the movie stars James Mason, with Peter Sellers in a supporting role. With this, it may not be the most underrated film, but it definitely does not receive the recognition that it should.

Throughout the movie, one is surprised again and again that it came out in the early 60s. The whole film is coated with layers of eerie darkness, and each character is twisted in his/her own special way. One cannot help but think, "This is just not okay." All of it adds up to an absolutely brilliant, absolutely entertaining Kubrick masterpiece.

1. The Trial (1962)

Orson Welles is a very highly acclaimed director, and is yet completely underrated at the same time. No one doubts the magnificence of Citizen Kane, but what of The Magnificent Ambersons, Journey into Fear, Othello, The Lady from Shanghai, or The Stranger? But by far the most underrated film of all time is his The Trial. It is a 60s film, but it looks worse than The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari did before it was restored!

The picture to the right is an example of your typical DVD case for The Trial. It looks terrible! Who gets paid to make that crap? It is so unfortunate, because the movie is brilliant.

The Trial is frustrating at first because it is so confusing. What is going on?! There is an overarching story (a man is "arrested" for a reason completely unknown to him), but one gets side-tracked because every scene presents more questions, and none of them are ever answered. It isn't until you realize that you're watching a nightmare that you actually begin to stop trying to understand and start realizing how amazing the movie is. It is a prime example of the film wizardry of which Welles was so capable.

John Daniel Holloway is a Biblical-Theological Studies major. Apart from his passion for reading theology books & writing (@, he loves watching movies. A huge fan of classic films, it's rare for him to find a movie these days that he genuinely likes.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Cory Volk's Top 5 Most Underrated Movies

5. Tetro (2009)

Tetro, written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now), never suffered from negative reviews. It just went largely unnoticed by audiences at large except major fans of Coppola or Vincent Gallo or people like me who pay attention to movie news. Thus, it perfectly qualifies as an underrated film.

Tetro is loosely based off of Coppola’s own experiences growing up in a large family dominated by artists, all of which were/are well known, and the problems that brings to reputation and relationships, within and outside of one’s family. Gallo brilliantly portrays the main character, Angelo, nicknamed ‘Tetro,’ living in Buenos Aires and how he deals with the arrival of his brother, Bennie, and the family issues this stirs up.

Obviously, this film is straight up drama, and much of it can be slow and ‘artsy,’ but the cinematography (filmed in black and white evoking film noir) is beautiful, the performances great, and the story poignant. The story can be a bit confusing at times and gets shifted to the background in favor of visuals, but it comes out on top in the end with real power. Fans of older films in the French New Wave, Antonioni/Felini Italian era will most appreciate this films pacing and design. For those wishing to get their feet wet in the art-house genre, new and old, this is a very accessible, modern film that will hopefully lead to more viewings of older films.

4. Valhalla Rising (2009)

Director/writer Nicolas Winding Refn got an early start with the Danish Pusher trilogy and then Bronson which showcased Tom Hardy’s exceptional, underrated acting skills which qualifies as an underrated film in its own right. With these first features, Refn started to build his reputation as a director of dark, violent, but artistic material with a fine eye for cinematography and sound. The 2011 release of Drive starring Ryan Gosling brought Refn into the American, Hollywood cinema limelight with massive popularity attributed mostly to the film’s star and soundtrack. But a few years before that, in 2009, Refn produced Valhalla Rising, a nightmarish, surreal spectacle starring Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, Pusher trilogy, A Royale Affair) set in an unspecified location involving Vikings. That description and the trailers got me so excited for this film since I love sword & sandal epics, but I was probably one of the only ones who knew about it.

What I got from the film was something entirely different than other medieval fair. Valhalla Rising has little to no storyline except that One-Eye (Mikkelsen), a silent, vicious warrior held captive by some other warrior people is recruited to journey to ‘Jerusalem’ with some Christian-Vikings to retake the Holy Land. What you get is a brutal, visually stunning film with incredible sound and an underlying commentary on religion that even I haven’t quite figured out yet and I’ve seen the film a number of times. I am a huge fan of Terrence Malick’s (The Tree of Life, The Thin Red Line, Days of Heaven) films, and the tone of Valhalla Rising is very similar. So if you liked Drive and relish in the dark and brooding, this is just for you.

3. The Prestige (2006)

 I know you’re probably thinking “why is The Prestige on a list of ‘underrated’ films? I really liked that movie and it got good reviews!” And you would be right. Christopher Nolan’s 5th film got a 76% on rottentomatoes and earned the description “full of twists and turns, The Prestige is a dazzling period piece that never stops challenging the audience.”

So it would seem that the majority of people really enjoyed The Prestige and it is not underrated at all. However, I see it as underrated because I think it is Nolan’s best film, next to Memento which is my first favorite of his. I think many would put The Dark Knight or Inception at the top of Nolan’s achievements next to Memento, but I disagree. Like Inception and Memento, The Prestige provides a commentary on the art of storytelling. Inception focuses more on film with the obvious connections to dreams while The Prestige tackles the idea of showmanship and how to most effectively sell a performance.

I wrote a paper a few years back on both films which you can read on my old movie blog here to get a more in-depth explanation/analysis of both films’ themes. But back to the main point. The Prestige is a masterfully rendered film on every level. Gorgeous cinematography, editing, sound design/sound editing, soundtrack, you name it. Each level is carefully controlled. David Bordwell and Karen Thompson devote a whole chapter to studying sound in The Prestige in their book Film: An Introduction (7th edition I think?) that is fascinating to see how sound works to connect the film scene by scene and helps to put the puzzle together. All of these facets aside, The Prestige is most interesting in how it relates to film theory and storytelling. The beginning and ending soliloquy by Michael Caine’s character reveals Nolan’s thematic intention and leads to ideas more interesting than what Inception or The Dark Knight have to offer. So take the time to watch The Prestige a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time (or even more), and really think about what’s being said. I think you’ll find it truly fascinating.

2. The Fountain (2006) 

While all of Darren Aronofsky’s films (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, Black Swan) have received overwhelmingly positive reviews, it was his third film The Fountain that did not do so well. Rottentomatoes calls it “visually rich but suffers from its own unfocused ambitions.” Many of the segments from reviews are equally negative and worse with the likes of Richard Roeper calling it “one of the worst movies of the year.”

I would beg to differ and say that it showcases Hugh Jackman’s best performance to date, an epic soundtrack by Clint Mansell, mind-blowing visuals, and a story that, while scattered and heavily philosophical, still delivers an emotional wallop. Aronofsky used minimal computer generated effects for this film resorting to old techniques (using mirrors, elaborate sets, and the like) to create scenes and images that are just gorgeous to behold. I will admit that the reviews are right in saying that the visual aspect comes out on top here. Still, I do not think that all parts of a film need to be equally balanced or that story must come first.

The Fountain is more about the aesthetic of sight and sound and how multiple time periods, worlds, and dimensions can be combined to form a symphony of sensory experience. Now, the Buddhist messages and ruminations on death, mortality, and immortality seem a bit bombastic, but it is Jackman’s compelling, emotional performance that lends more consideration to these themes. The surreal nature of the film also leaves room for much interpretation which is something I think most people are uncomfortable with and is one of the reasons why The Fountain is generally unpopular and little seen. So if you’re one of those who hated it at first or were too confused by it or haven’t seen it, give it another viewing. It may not end up being one of your new favorite films of all time, but I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.

1. Funny Games (2007) 

Austrian director Michael Haneke filmed an Austrian version of this film back in 1997 and later remade the film in English as an American release. Both films are almost exactly the same, shot for shot, but the Austrian version holds more of Haneke’s signature (very) long takes and other nuances. I’m choosing to look at the American 2007 version here, starring Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, and Michael Pitt. The summary review on rotten tomatoes reads “though made with great skill, Funny Games is nevertheless a sadistic exercise in chastising the audience.”

 I remember seeing trailers for this movie back in 2007 and thought the same thing. Looked like another pointless horror film that relied on gore and sadistic torture to attract an audience. The movie didn’t do very well probably because it isn’t that at all. Haneke is an incredibly focused, relentless director when it comes to targeting the audience as perpetrators in what is happening on screen, and Funny Games in particular plays with this idea in 4th-wall breaking acts.

I recently read a fascinating article online that calls Haneke’s style and themes “sadomodernism” which you can read here. While all of Haneke’s films are works of art and astonishing in their own way, Funny Games proves extremely interesting in terms of its voyeuristic themes and Haneke’s signature unbearable intensity. A graduate film studies course could easily spend weeks studying this awesome film.

Cory Volk is an English Literature Major at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA, with a double minor in Film studies and Technical Writing. He loves a great glass of Scotch paired with an even better film, and his favorite director is Terrence Malick.