Here's lookin at you kid.
Casablanca is a 1943 romantic drama film directed by Michael Curtiz and stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, and Peter Lorre. The film is consistently mentioned alongside the likes of Citizen Kane and The Godfather as one of the greatest films ever made.
Humphrey Bogart plays Rick Blaine, who owns a fancy nightclub in Casablanca, Africa, the sight where many refugees are attempting to escape into the United States. Rick's ex-lover, Ilsa (Bergman), arrives one day in Casablanca with her husband, Victor Laszlo (Henreid). Laszlo is a rebel being pursued by Germans, and he learns that Rick may have the only means of getting him and Ilsa out of the country. The only trouble is, Rick still has bitter feelings toward Ilsa for abruptly leaving him before.
Part of me finds it rather difficult to discuss a film like Casablanca which holds such a status of being considered one of, if not, the greatest film ever made. My recent viewing of the film was the second time I've seen the film in its entirety. My first viewing evoked an anticlimactic feeling. I satisfied myself by saying, "Okay now I can say I've seen Casablanca" even though sections of the story went over my head. The second time, I had the most important plot-lines under my belt, so now I could focus more on acting and characterization.
The second viewing was quite the enhancement over the first, and I found myself more appreciative of what the film has to offer. It offers a great story and splendid acting, and it has a sweet romance that never grows overly-sentimental.
- Humphrey Bogart's commanding on-screen presence. For a character like Rick Blaine who claims to, "never stick my neck out for anybody" and whose temper seems rather lukewarm, Humphrey Bogart masterfully turns Rick into the focal point in every scene he is in. When nightclub comers get rowdy, Rick puts his foot down and quickly reestablishes control. The Germans try to bend Rick into giving them the letters he obtains which would get Laszlo and Ilsa out of the country, but Rick, in the face of a dangerous enemy, shows he has nerves of steel. Bogart speaks crisp dialogue and smartly avoids emotional outbursts to convey the iron hide of Rick Blaine, who also tries his best to hide his lovelorn sorrows. When Rick is on-screen, he is the man in charge.
- If there was anything I could consider a low, it would be that Rick and Victor don't seem to engage with one another that much throughout the film. I cannot say I can pinpoint one particular scene where Rick and Victor make a memorable connection. Maybe the scene where Victor tries to convince Rick to give him the letters. I know I remember scenes like Rick telling Ilsa, "Here's lookin at you kid" several times, as well as Rick threatening Louis with a gun. Ilsa is almost always present when Rick and Victor interact, but even then, their conversations are little more than "Hi, how are you?" Rick and Victor getting along isn't what you were really expecting to see anyway.
With a quality story, some terrific acting performances, and a romance that never becomes unbearably saccharine, Casablanca fully deserves its status as having one of cinema's greatest romances, as well as being one of the finest cinematic displays in history. Don't give up on it after just one viewing. I know I didn't.
Mrs. Miniver is a 1942 dramatic war film directed by William Wyler and stars Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. The film won six Academy Awards and had a sequel titled The Miniver Story, which came out in 1950.
The story revolves around a woman, Kay Miniver, and her do-good, loving English family, whose lives are affected by the onslaught of World War II. Her husband and eldest son enlist to aid in the war effort. Mrs. Miniver confronts a German pilot who lands in her rural village, and their home is ravaged by bombing and gunfire.
I think it would've been more appropriate if this film was called, "The Minivers" or "The Miniver Tales", or something of the sort. With a title that suggests a central female character, it's surprising to realize that the film deceives you. Mrs. Miniver provides no compelling evidence suggesting the spotlight shines mostly on its titular character. Instead, Mrs. Miniver is blurred into a collectivist rationale. Her family, as a whole, is where the attention lies, and aside from a few scenes, such as when she confronts the German pilot, Mrs. Miniver is no different than any other witness to England's fight against Germany. We watch her eldest son, Vin, fall in love with a girl named Carol, and later join the war effort. We witness her husband go off to help in the Dunkirk evacuation. Whether the family is in a bunker to shield themselves from bombing and gunfire, or when they are singing in church, Mrs. Miniver is not given the space or camera angles to stand out.
- The scene where Mrs. Miniver confronts the German pilot. This was a tense and well-designed scene. Mrs. Miniver sees the German pilot lying asleep in some bushes, and when she tries to steal his gun, he awakes and forces her to give him some food and milk. It's the first time the movie gives Mrs. Miniver some semblance of independence, and she manages to hold her own, despite the pilot sneering that the German bombers will come and destroy everything.
- The film takes a little too long to get started. The first act is dedicated to, shall we say, trivial matters such as Mrs. Miniver learning that a man she knows has named a rose after her, as well as watching Vin and Carol fall in love. Mrs. Miniver also buys a fancy hat to flirtatiously show off to her husband. There's barely any mention of war or fighting until a priest announces that England has declared war, and I would estimate this was around 40 minutes in. The somewhat jarring shift in tone is not really a surprise, but the transition from carefree and loving to heartbreak and travesty does not feel very natural or smooth.
Not an abhorrent film by any means, but Mrs. Miniver struggles with a slow start and a confusing inability to specialize its female lead. This is one of two Best Picture winners that's story can be described as not much more than famous historical events having effects on a person and/or family, with Cavalcade being the other one. If anything else, let this film be further proof that the Academy has, and always will be, suckers for historical and/or biographical films that, typically, are supposed to emotionally move you.
This beat Citizen Kane?
How Green Was My Valley is a 1941 drama film directed by John Ford and stars Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O'Hara, Anna Lee, Donald Crisp, and Roddy McDowall. It was nominated for 10 Oscars, and won five. These five, not counting Best Picture, included Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Supporting Actor.
The story revolves around a family known as the Morgans. They live in a condensed mining town in the South Wales Valleys in the 19th century. The family experiences many hardships, and the town goes through several rough patches.
Boring, uneventful, and feels-longer-than-it-actually-is are the three ways I would sum up How Green Was My Valley. Boring is the dominant of these three complaints of mine. I sat there desperately trying to stay focused and not lose track of where the film was going. Alas, like too many of the Best Picture winners beforehand, I once again asked myself, "Who cares?" and "What the heck is going on?" Previous winners like It Happened One Night and Gone with the Wind are able to answer this question, because we can feel emotionally attached to their respective stories and we don't have a difficult time staying engaged with the plot.
The only reason someone might care about How Green Was My Valley nowadays is because it defeated Citizen Kane, considered by many to be the greatest film of all time, for Best Picture, not to mention Best Cinematography which I would say Citizen Kane deserved to win. That envy and confusion we feel (depending on if you like Citizen Kane or not) is the only spark to get us to watch How Green Was My Valley. We can't resist making the comparison, especially because of Citizen Kane's impressive status, whereas How Green Was My Valley does not have such a luxury.
- The only two scenes during How Green Was My Valley did I find noteworthy were when the miners go on strike, and then when our main character, a boy named Huw, is sent to a public school for the first time. The miners' strike is portrayed by several scenes of crowds of men walking like zombies down a dirt road, as they are all now devoid of work. Huw gets harassed by a bully and his teacher. He takes up small boxing lessons to be able to get his knuckles dirty with the bully, only to get whipped on the back by his teacher. They don't like Huw apparently because he's not stuck-up or as ostentatious as everyone else in the school. I found myself feeling quite bad for Huw, and as for the miners on strike, their emotions and struggles were displayed well.
- How Green Was My Valley is boring. Painfully boring at that. Aside from the scenes I described above, none of the other characters are interesting in any way. The supposed chemistry between some of the characters is awkward and shallow. The plot begins to drift off into a cloud of tangled and inconsistent encounters and events. When this happens, the feels-longer-than-it-actually-is feeling begins to set in, and that is never enjoyable. When it's all said and done, you'll be lucky if you can remember all of the specific events that took place. You might remember a few, but the movie wrestles and numbs your brain with boredom that you'll eventually forget to care.
I am not sure what the Academy saw when watching this film, because it seems to me they never consider if a film will still hold up well into the future. It's not appropriate to say How Green Was My Valley is bad just by comparing it to Citizen Kane. It's better to say it's bad because it has failed the test of time, and because it is lacking of any intrigue or truly memorable moments. Yet another Forgettable Best Picture Winner.
Rebecca is a 1940 mystery thriller film starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, and is directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It was Hitchcock's first American movie. Since 1936, it is the only Best Picture winner to not win an Academy Award in acting, directing, or writing.
In Rebecca, Joan Fantine plays a woman whose name is never given. Instead, she is referred to as the second Mrs. de Winter, when she marries Maxim de Winter (Olivier), a wealthy, but emotionally fragile man, who takes her to live in his large country house, Manderley. The new Mrs. de Winter meets Mrs. Danvers, the cold-hearted housekeeper who continuously mentions and praises Rebecca, the first Mrs. de Winter. Mrs. de Winter #2 soon begins to doubt her relationship with Maxim, fearing he is still deeply in love with Rebecca. She also feels the pressure of following in Rebecca's footsteps, as she learns more of the high reputation that Rebecca held during her lifetime.
What more can be said about the masterful legacy of Alfred Hitchcock? The Master of Suspense supplanted his name in the movie history books with all-time classics such as Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and The Birds. But hold on a minute! Why don't we seem to include his Best Picture winner Rebecca alongside his most memorable films? Is it because Rebecca was made much earlier than any of these other films? Perhaps. Or maybe is it because the film does not quite reach the level of these other films? Perhaps that too.
There is absolutely nothing that is horribly wrong about Rebecca. It is suspenseful and dramatically-engaging. However, it does not have the ability to grab and keep hold of your attention as well as the other films mentioned above can. Rebecca is more focused on the mystery, rather than the exciting thrills.
- The smart story line. As the mystery behind Rebecca unravels itself, you begin to realize the sensible motivations of the characters interlink with one another quite well. Rebecca is the center whose thoughts and desires act as branches to stimulate and provoke Maxim, Mrs. de Winter #2, and Mrs. Danvers. Because of Rebecca, Maxim is distant and unpredictable, which takes a toll on Mrs. de Winter #2. Mrs. Danvers shows an almost psychotic obsession with Rebecca's supposed beauty and charm, which also has effects on Mrs. de Winter #2, particularly in the famous scene where Mrs. Danvers tries to influence Mrs. de Winter #2 to jump out of a window and fall to her death. Every character acts a link in a chain that is rooted in Rebecca's intangible presence. When all is said and done, everything makes sense.
- Rebecca likes to take its sweet old time in really getting itself going. Several of Hitchcock's other films seem to do this as well. In Psycho, Norman Bates doesn't first appear until about 30 minutes in. Jeff Jefferies in Rear Window takes some time before really engaging in his voyeuristic neighbor watching. The first half hour of Rebecca focuses on Olivier and Fontaine's characters falling in love, with mentions of Rebecca few and far in between. When the two reach Manderley is when the story really begins to pick up, though you may find yourself growing a little impatient beforehand.
Rebecca deserves praise for its intelligent story-telling, but the mystery component can sometimes overshadow the suspense and thrills. The film more-so asks the question, "What did happen?", as opposed to, "What will happen?" While still a quality and suspenseful Hitchcock film in its own right, Rebecca does not quite match up to the masterful work of Hitchcock's later films.
A defining moment in cinematic history
Gone with the Wind is a 1939 epic historical romance film directed by Victor Fleming and stars Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, and Leslie Howard. The film won 10 Academy Awards and, when adjusted for inflation, it is still the highest grossing movie in box office history. The film is also famous for the line,"Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn", considered to be one of, if not, the greatest movie line in history.
The film tells the story of Scarlett O'Hara (Leigh), a manipulative, but strong-willed daughter of a Georgia plantation owner. She pursues Ashley Wilkes (Howard), in hopes of marrying him. Wilkes, however, aims to marry his cousin, Melanie. Scarlett later meets Rhett Butler (Gable), and, through the years, slowly grows more attached to him. All of the characters also face the hardships brought on by the American Civil War, and the early years of the Reconstruction period.
I like to think about how I define a great film. I am not referring to a film I highly enjoy and believe to be great because I really enjoy a certain aspect of it, whether it'd be the story, acting, characters, or writing. I am thinking of when all of the necessary elements of a film: acting, directing, story, writing, music, cinematography, etc. all come together to create a cognitive, grandiose whole. Not many films come to the top of my head when I am trying to come up with examples to match the description above. Of the small sample I could think up, Gone with the Wind would certainly be included.
The movie is filmed with an epic scope and sense of ambition that is basically lost in modern day cinema. The movie is almost 4 hours long, but nearly every scene feels important, propelling the plot along to keep you swept up in the blooming romance and sheer spectacle without letting you become bored or impatient. Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable deliver legendary performances, as they control and escalate nearly every scene they are in, together or separate.
I should note this is also the first Best Picture winner to be seen in color (Technicolor), and I am very glad the film was not in black and white. There are many scenes where we witness wide-open plantation landscapes and the aftermath of various battles from the war. The landscapes are seen in lush green and the injured bodies and destruction caused by the war battles are given in desolate colors. One of the most famous scenes where Rhett and Scarlett escape from a burning Atlanta is shot in a bright, vibrant red that glows from the fires we see. The red color makes you almost feel the humidity permeating from the flames. The escape is followed by a romantic scene with Rhett and Scarlett, viewed in the same glowing red, this time adding a sense of love and potential sexual-ism.
- Vivien Leigh as Scarlett. Leigh excels at making Scarlett into the whiny and unpredictable girl she is. Over 1400 women were interviewed for the part of Scarlett, and I cannot think of anyone else besides Leigh who could've presented Scarlett in a better and even more convincing way. I will be shocked if you don't get angry and/or annoyed at her at any point in the film. She abuses a horse to the point where it dies from exhaustion, and she also marries a man younger than her, strictly to try to make Wilkes jealous.
- The burning of Atlanta scene. See my description above for my thoughts on this scene.
- Max Steiner's soundtrack. Steiner's music is orchestrated to continually enhance the mood in many of the film's scenes, with gorgeous melodies that never turn obnoxious or unfitting. I consider music to be on of the most important parts of a film, because without it, I'm not sure much of anybody could be won over by Rhett and Scarlett's eventual love for one another. I also doubt you could get behind the suffering that goes on when Confederate soldiers are injured and dying, without Steiner's score to strengthen the mood.
- The film is so well made that I found it difficult to find much of anything as a glaring flaw. Rhett and Scarlett don't actually get married until right about 3 hours into the film, and beforehand, their encounters can feel rather sporadic. Of course, you can get so easily caught up in the visual spectacles and the story that I do not have it in me to declare Rhett and Scarlett's seemingly delayed marriage as a low. Anything that I could consider a low would be how the film seems to be more about Scarlett's life and what effects the Civil War and her various romantic relationships have on her. You would think her love with Rhett Butler was the central part of the story (and I believe you can argue it is), but sometimes it may not feel that way.
Gone with the Wind is unquestionably the greatest Best Picture winner to be made up to when it was first released (i.e. of the first 12 I've reviewed so far). It should also be considered one of the greatest Best Picture winners ever. Very few films have been able to match or come close to matching the epic scope and sense of ambition that drive it. If you ever plan to view it, schedule a day to do so. Even if Gone with the Wind fails to appeal to you on a personal or emotional level, appreciate it for being a definitive example of what makes a truly great film.
Recommend? Absolutely. Everyone should see this film at least once in their lifetime.
You Can't Take it With You is a 1938 romantic comedy film starring Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, Jimmy Stewart, and Edward Arnold and is directed by Frank Capra.
Jean Arthur plays Alice Sycamore, a stenographer that comes from a well-meaning, but rather eccentric family. She becomes engaged to Tony Kirby (Stewart), the vice president of his family's company. Tony's family is extremely wealthy, but also snobbish. Uneasiness arises when the two families come together in preparation for Tony and Alice's marriage.
I enjoy a good love story. It Happened One Night is a timeless love tale that I would definitely recommend. Then there are others in the likes of Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey that will make you question what is going through the characters' heads. However, I could not wrap my head around the way the love story in You Can't Take it With You was presented. It was presented in such a way where I felt the romance was an important subplot in a much larger ordeal. I could not shake the notion that I was watching a film indirectly dealing with the struggles and tensions of class division. A rich and condescending Kirby family looks down upon a quirky Sycamore family that looks like they belong to the working middle class. Two members of each class fall for each other, forcing the two opposing classes into a bitter scuffle.
I feel this film had some inspiration from Romeo & Juliet, which is telling a similar story of two opposite sides coming into conflict with one another, only this film is not in medieval times and has no bloody violence of any sort. In Romeo & Juliet, the love story stimulates everything around it, but in You Can't Take it With You, the love story is just kind of there, with the focus put more on how the families as complete wholes are affected. The attention is given to specific members of each family with the two lovebirds nowhere in the vicinity.
- Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur. The two created a convincing couple, and were delightful to see when on screen. Stewart acts calm and mature, and is receptive to the rather unusual behaviors of Alice's family. Alice can act somewhat uptight, particularly because Tony's mother despises her, but Stewart helps keep her from becoming an emotional roller coaster. Stewart pretends there are mice running around when the two are at a fancy restaurant, causing an uproar. This happens right after Alice begins to grow upset by Tony's mother, who is also at the restaurant, staring at her. The two also have a nice dance routine with a group of little kids, before having to run away from a policeman. Little charms like these give the love story its appeal.
- The film is relatively unfocused. You would think the love story is the central focus, but too much time is dedicated to other members from the two families, such as Tony's father being frequently accused of having no friends and no heart, as well as a scene involving Alice's Grandpa being tormented by an IRS agent for not paying his income taxes. The first 15-20 minutes of the film is mostly given to a character named "Poppins" who quits his job and shows off a toy he created in which a rabbit continues to poke its head out of a hat. The focus seems to rather be on the two families instead of the love story that brought them together, as if the love story is just a plot device to bring about the issue of class in-differences that I mentioned above. An actress like Jean Arthur and an all-time great like Jimmy Stewart should not be seen as second fiddle in a film that seemingly centers around their romance.
It does provide for some light-hearted romantic comedy, but You Can't Take it With You also suffers from a mild case of ADD which prevents it from being a truly memorable Best Picture winner. The wit and charm of It Happened One Night has this one beat.
Recommend? If you're a big fan of Jean Arthur and/or Jimmy Stewart, yes. Otherwise, no
The Life of Emile Zola is a 1937 biographical drama film directed by William Dieterle and stars Paul Muni, Gloria Holden, and Joseph Sildkraut. It is the second biographical film to win Best Picture.
The film chronicles Zola's rise as a famous writer and his later involvement in the Alfred Dreyfus political scandal.
Just when I thought the Best Picture winners were picking up steam, Emile Zola dashed those hopes. The question I had to ask was who cares? I could've spent two hours reading a book about the life of Emile Zola and probably feel more informed than I would watching the film. This is the problem that I believe biographical films can have a difficult time with; trying to be an acceptable substitute in place of reading a book or online article. If the film presents a biography that is compelling and engaging, it has succeeded. But if instead it attempts to be "tell don't show", that is when it has failed. Zola tells more than it shows, and the result is bland and uninteresting. The characters feel shallow, and the story is dramatically dull.
- The courtroom scene. This is the only time that Emile Zola flourishes. Male tempers flare and emotions are running high as the court tries to decide if Zola is guilty of a crime or not. If only the majority of the film could've taken place in a courtroom.
- The first third of the film. The sequence of events in the first third of the film are flat and completely forgettable. The first 10 or so minutes looks at a small part of Zola's vibrant youth, but the only thing noteworthy is overhearing that Zola acquires a job. When we flash forward to his adulthood, there is a notable stretch where Zola doesn't even appear, as we are introduced to Alfred Dreyfus and watch as he is convicted of treason. Other than that, any other conversations we watch are uninteresting, and the film treads on never-ending boredom.
I will include The Life of Emile Zola into the list of Forgettable Best Picture Winners. It seemingly tries to be something more than it actually is. What it actually is is a dull and disengaging biographical dud that does not provide a compelling argument as to why we should care about its titular character. Reading a short book on Emile Zola would be a much more valuable use of your time.
Sully is a 2016 biographical drama film directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, and Anna Gunn.
Tom Hanks play airline captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger who on January 15, 2009, was forced to conduct an emergency water landing on the Hudson River with his plane, US Airways Flight 1549. The plane was barely three minutes into its flight until a flock of geese struck the plane and crippled both engines. All 155 passengers and crew survived, and Sully is deemed a hero. However, further investigation into "The Miracle on the Hudson", as well as increased media coverage, put Sully, his family, and his career under intense pressure.
The 2016 fall movie season looks promising, and Sully helps get the train on the right tracks after a rocky movie summer. Taking a team of legends like Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks is almost guaranteed to deliver, and indeed they deliver in this biographical tale that could be up for Oscar contention next year. It's tough to say there is anything to spoil because any and all significant details are presented in the trailer(s), and anyone can Google the event online and get all the necessary facts in a matter of minutes.
What Sully attempts to do is convey to us the post-incident struggles that the captain goes through, as well as the emotional strain that is put on him by the media and skeptical investigators. In a way, the movie is also trying to show us how the media can distort the way we view a particular person, since a lot of what they tell sounds like petty gossip. The character of Sully is not presented to us by the media the way someone like Kim Kardashian or a corrupt politician is, but we see the excessive attention he receives does get under his skin a little bit.
- Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart. I won't comment on each's individual performance, because both are highly successful actors, and lauding them is nothing that hasn't been done enough already. What the high point to me is how the two work together pretty much flawlessly, being able to bounce off one another's dialogue efficiently, as well as giving a convincing retelling of the water landing from their perspectives. One of the best scenes involving the two is when they try to discredit the computer simulations that the investigators present. Hanks gives a tiny monologue on how the computers failed to include a human component, and Eckhart backs him up by claiming no simulation could completely recreate what they saw during the incident.
- The sequence of events in the plot feel slightly out of place. The main source of this low point is when the movie becomes dominated by its flashbacks that usually take place while Sully is in the middle of a conversation with someone. The first flashback of the water landing shows passengers getting on the plane, and then we watch it take off into the air. This flashback occurs when Sully is talking on the phone with his wife, and once the flashback is over (and I would have to guess it lasts almost 10 minutes), we cut right back to the phone conversation. I went into this movie thinking the retelling of the incident was going to compose the first 10-15 minutes of the film, but it is lengthened out in a series of flashbacks throughout, weaving in and out with what is happening post-landing. After a while, the plot becomes sort of discombobulated, even though you have no confusion on what is going on.
Bolstered by strong performances by Hanks and Eckhart, Sully delivers as a satisfying biopic that provides a deeper examination into the captain's internal struggles, as well as hinting at the difficult and sometimes overwhelming nature of the media.
One of the scariest films ever made
In honor of the new Blair Witch coming out later this month, I felt obligated to go back and review the 1999 found footage horror classic, The Blair Witch Project. It's directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez and stars Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard, all who play fictional versions of themselves.
Three film students, Heather, Michael, and Josh set out into the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland to shoot a documentary on the fabled Blair Witch, a local legend. Viewers are told the three disappeared and were never seen again, but that the footage they filmed was found a year later. This recovered footage is the film the viewer is watching.
When I think of the scariest films ever made, the first few movies to come to mind are The Exorcist, The Shining, Alien, and Psycho. I am one to make the claim that The Blair Witch Project should be included right alongside these other horror films. Others would argue this movie is devoid of scares, largely in part because our three characters are all college-aged and they continually make idiotic decisions. Brainless teenagers/young adults are typically the primary characters in slasher and cheap, cash-grab horror movies nowadays. So why should The Blair Witch Project be seen any differently? Because unlike many slasher and horror movies, Blair Witch does not rely on cheap jump scares and excessive gore. Our characters may be not-so-bright college students, but their situation is one of pure terror. It's a situation that forces you to fill in supposed holes with your imagination.
- The lack of gore and jump scares. I'm not sure why horror movie filmmakers seem to believe scares and terror come from making you jump and/or exhibiting the gross-out factor that comes from watching human bodies get ripped to shreds. I cannot recall the last time I saw a modern day horror movie trailer that did not at any point have a moment where there is brief silence, and then the next moment something pops out to frighten you. The Blair Witch Project relies on suspense and imagination, both of which are severely lacking in modern day horror.
The key behind The Blair Witch Project is the fear of the unknown. People are scared by what they do not know, and the film never presents us enough evidence to conclude what exactly is happening to our three characters. Are they being pursued by a witch ghost? Or maybe it's an ugly monster? We are forced to use our imaginations to make an assumption, and that's what terrifies us. People want answers to questions that interest them, but when they don't have or don't get those answers, they'll get either frustrated or scared. In this case, they get scared. We are watching three people travel into the woods. There is no communication with the outside world. Their supplies start to run out. Nobody knows where they are. They're lost and have no idea where to go.
The film slowly builds up suspense, and when our three characters realize the magnitude of their situation, terror strikes. There is no need for excessive blood or to have something pop out to make you jump, because we are right there with Heather, Josh, and Mike as their fear and hopelessness sets in. They don't know what's happening to them, and neither do we. Their fear becomes our fear.
- I could not find anything in The Blair Witch Project that I could consider to be a major flaw. If anything, Josh is, arguably, the member of the trio that gets the least amount of attention. Much of the first-person perspective we see is from Heather and Mike. The only noteworthy times that Josh is holding the camera is when he is yelling at Heather for supposedly losing their map, and later on when he brazenly taunts her about the three being lost. Something significant involving Josh does happen later on, but too often it feels we are getting either Heather or Mike's respective viewpoints. I can safely claim that Heather is the most important of the three because she is the one who proposes creating the documentary, and Josh and Mike continually ask her if she knows where they are going. Again, this is more of a precise nitpick that I can understand if you disagree with.
Found footage is a horror film gimmick that gets many complaints nowadays because of its general overuse, but when done well, credit should be given where credits due. The Blair Witch Project is the defining example of found footage, using it as a medium to express the idea that imagination and the fear of the unknown can contain true and unadulterated terror. There are no cheap jump scares or examples of grotesque gore, but instead an underlying sense of realism to tease you just enough into thinking maybe this film could've actually happened.
There will always be a divide between those, like me, who believe The Blair Witch Project is a classic in horror cinema, and those that claim the film is laughable and scare-free. If you're unsure, think not so much about who the characters are and the way they behave, but what their situation is and what could possibly be lurking behind the trees. If your answer is "I don't know", that's good, because what you don't know is the undeniably frightening truth.
Pete's Dragon is a 2016 remake of the 1977 live action Disney film of the same name. It's directed by David Lowery and stars Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley, Robert Redford, and Karl Urban.
Pete is a young boy who loses his parents and finds himself lost and alone in the middle of the woods. He is discovered by a giant, green dragon who decides to take care of him. Pete names the dragon Elliott, the name of a dog in Pete's favorite book. For the next six years, Pete and Elliott live in harmony together. However, a park ranger named Grace (Howard) begins to explore the part of the forest where Pete and Elliott live. At the same time, a group of lumberjacks begin chopping down trees in the same area. Pete is soon discovered by Grace and the people of the nearby town, putting his friendship with Elliott, as well as Elliott's secrecy, at risk.
Disney has been hitting all of the right buttons so far with their live action remakes of some of their decades-old animated films. We had Cinderella and then The Jungle Book, both of which were notably successful. Given the polarizing, less-than-satisfactory reception of the 1977 live action Pete's Dragon, Disney certainly felt the story of Pete and Elliott deserved a second chance. Although it bears the burden of following up The Jungle Book, Pete's Dragon is Disney's most recent proof of how they can still find a way to tug at the heartstrings. The film is a pleasant viewing for people of all ages, and it has a sweet, charming quality that cannot be denied.
- The sweetness and emotional depth. Pete's Dragon is not a mushy tearjerker, and it does not try to be one. It makes you laugh with Elliott acting as a goofy dog, and also charms you with the euphoric friendship between Pete and Elliott. When the two are separated, you can understand Pete's gloomy situation; he's a young boy with no other friends or family, and he's surrounded by a world of unknowns, with practically no knowledge of their culture. Perhaps you could even sympathize with him, if you know the feeling of losing a close friend. The film knows when to be humorous, and when to be emotional. Most importantly, the film never tries to shove these feelings down your throat.
- The action sequences. I was rather surprised by the action that takes place in the film. It really provides the film with excitement to complement the sweetness and emotional depth. There is one scene in particular involving a "gentle" car chase (by gentle, I mean it has no explosions and doesn't resemble anything you'd see from Fast & Furious or Jason Bourne), and Elliott destroying a bridge which was really well done. Other action scenes involving Elliott are riveting and will have you cheering for the heroes to succeed.
- Pete's Dragon has a theme involving environmental protection, but it just seems to dangle with no exploration. Forest trees are getting cut down by mill workers, and our "good guys" frown upon this. Because the forest is being destroyed, Pete and Elliott's home are endangered. Hmm, am I seeing a relation to the story of Avatar? The movie doesn't preach anything related to global warming or the environment, but it appears to be a theme that the film wants to explore, but just simply doesn't. Then again, there is more to convincing us about saving the environment other than just saying, "We can't let them cut all the trees down!"
- The villain. The bad guy in Pete's Dragon is nothing more than just your average, run-of-the-mill a**hole. He wants to catch Elliott for obvious reasons, and also because there just has to be that one person who needs to screw everything up. There's nothing special about the villain; no interesting character trait of any kind. He's just bad, and that's it.
It may not reach the soaring heights that The Jungle Book did, but Pete's Dragon is still another strong addition to the Disney live action remake library. It's sweet, charming, and has a reasonable amount of exciting action to enhance the experience. Kids and adults of all ages will find some semblance of a takeaway from Pete's Dragon.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: