Review: Night of the Hunter (1955)

5 stars

Robert Mitchum as a scary serial killer? I’m in

Chris Laughton’s final and only film as a director, Night of the Hunter, is a compelling and creepy tale of a religious psychopath that pretends to play a family man. It’s an interesting film to be classified as classic film noir, but its expressionist lighting and dark themes narrowly place it into the genre/style.

Mitchum plays an evangelist madman, Powell, whom while in prison, hears about a now fatherless family that has a fortune hidden away somewhere. After being released from prison, he seeks the family out and marries the prior widow. The true stars of the film are John (Billy Chaplin) and Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce), the step-kids of Powell. The entire film is viewed from their innocent eyes and we watch as that innocence begins to fade away as they become the target of Powell’s insanity. They are exposed to an adult world of greed and violence much too young.

Every frame in the film is carefully crafted. The most memorable shot in the movie is that of the deceased mother at the bottom of the river. Cinematographer Stanley Cortez masterfully crafted the haunting image of her hair floating along with the seaweed at the wheel of a car. Throughout the film, his cinematography contributes to the frightening feeling the viewer feels. The basement scene when the kids are attempting to hide from Powell, the children floating down the river, Powell’s silhouette as he sings on his horse. The low-key lighting aids to the mystery and keeps audiences on the edge of their seat.

A terrible twisted version of a child’s tale, the film resonates with horror. The film is dated, but as an adult watching from 2016 I still felt a chill while watching. Mitchum portrays a terrifying figure, menacing and memorable. His singing will haunt my nightmares. Chaplin puts on a performance that is both empathetic and heartbreaking, much better than many child actors I have experienced. Night of the Hunter is an unnerving masterpiece that current horror and thriller movies could learn a thing or two from. Take notes, filmmakers.

-B

Progressive Relationships During the Apocalypse

Walking Dead fans were shocked and overjoyed over the weekend as a new couple was produced on the show. While some people aren’t excited about the interracial relationship, most are excited. (Normally this blog is about film, but this show has proven to be important for the future of both film and television.)

Rick and Michonne (aka- Richonne) are the couple, I, personally, have been waiting for. They’re powerful as well as smart. The final scene of them drawing their weapons right after being in bed together represents their chemistry and strength. Not to mention- one is black, the other white.

The Walking Dead has never shied away from progressive relationships. Of course, you have your typical heterosexual, white relationship with Rick and Lori. They represent what society views as “normal” (although that is slowly changing). It’s what a viewer typically sees on television, as well as movies.

There are also two homosexual romances. Aaron and Eric are the first gay couple to be shown on The Walking Dead. While some fans cried in outrage when they were shown kissing on the show, many were accepting.

We also have the recent lesbian relationship between Tara and Denise. The best part of these two relationships is that they aren’t flaunted. They aren’t in-your-face or forced. They are treated with normality, just like the heterosexual romances.

Before the Rick and Michonne moment this past weekend, there was another interracial couple. Glenn and Maggie are considered fan favorites and have been together for multiple seasons. The relationship consists of a white woman and an Asian man. Once again, this relationship was never questioned, it was simply treated as a relationship.

The Walking Dead is one of the only shows that accurately represents the relationships we come across in reality. The film industry is still struggling to show progressive couples, and is often focused on heterosexual, white relationships. Not only does The Walking Dead show these couples, it also treats them the same way as straight or white partners.

That is why, although this is normally a blog that focuses on film, I found it important to write about the social acceptability this show presents. It’s a great model for filmmakers to observe and reproduce.

-B

Review: Deadpool

Deadpool is blowing up, both characters in his movie and in the box office. The film is quick, quirky, and quintessentially Deadpool. Fans are getting exactly what they expect from the character- vulgarity and violence. New viewers are probably confused, but will find the film witty and enjoyable. You’ve never seen a superhero film like this because,as Deadpool says,”surprise, this is a different kind of superhero story.”

For those who are new viewers, Deadpool is a Marvel comic book character that fans have been begging to be made for the big screen for years. Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) works as a sort of bounty hunter, taking down the bad guys for money. He finds out he has terminal cancer, and in order to help both himself and his fiancée, he undergoes an experimental treatment that mutates his genes, curing his cancer and resulting in an inability to die. Afraid that his fiancée will be terrified of his appearance, he becomes the anti-hero Deadpool, hunting down the man that mutilated his skin.

It’s incredibly funny- the audience was laughing out loud through the entire duration of the film. By breaking the fourth wall, as Deadpool does in the comics, it gives the audience a more personalized experience. We aren’t just watching the movie; we are literally a part of it. The pop culture references the characters makes help us relate to him. The film even goes as far as to have Deadpool, played by Ryan Reynolds, make fun of Ryan Reynolds.

Speaking of Reynolds, his portrayal of the characters is spot on and the role could be the biggest of his career. He speaks with snark and sassiness that was nowhere to be seen in The Green Lantern (which Deadpool absolutely makes fun of). His enthusiasm for the role is clear through his irreverent performance.

Deadpool is a superhero movie for adults- moving away from the generic and cliché and into originality. It’s wildly entertaining and could change the way superhero movies are done. It’s rumored that Wolverine 3 may have an R rating…whether or not it will embrace that rating as much as Deadpool is hard to tell. It’s not easy to compete with a character with the Merc with such a giant, raunchy mouth.

Did someone say chimichanga?

-B

Love Flicks for the Romantic and the Realist

Regardless of whether you’re a man or  woman, I’m sure you have a romance film you enjoy (because contrary to popular belief, they aren’t “chick flicks”). Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, and I found myself attempting to pick my favorite movie about love to watch in honor of the holiday. Instead, I compiled a list of a few films that will either make or break your heart.

1. Silver Linings Playbook

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are a great combo. Add in a side of mental disorders and a dash of dancing and you’ve got a beautiful film. Unlike many popular romance films, Silver Linings Playbook isn’t completely full of cliches and moments that are eye-roll inducing. It’s a pleasant mix of drama and low key comedy. The fantastic performances as well as the complex and sensitive subject matter provide the viewer with a new kind of romance movie experience.

2. (500) Days of Summer

A realistic look at love, (500) Days of Summer is another unique romance film. This indie flick is a bit unpredictable and leaves the viewer feeling confused, yet satisfied. There’s a twist on the typical “happily ever after” ending these films often have.  Charming yet honest, this film is a relatable must-see for a romantic movie night.

3. Like Crazy

This romantic drama is meant for both hopeless romantics and realists. Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin play star-crossed lovers, fighting for their relationship across countries. Their long-distance love will cause butterflies as well as heartbreak.

 

Each of the films on this list could be viewed as more “realistic” portrayals of romance, but each also has charming and heartwarming moments. All of them are perfect flick for a Valentine’s movie night.

-B

 

What is up with the sexist dudes in film noir?

I love classic film noir. I find the paranoia and post-war culture than inspired them intriguing. Half of that reason is because of the domestic anxiety that was occurring because it was a post-war America. During World War II, women had to take over roles that men typically would have held. When the men came back home, they weren’t too happy about it.

I think that’s why so many of the male character’s in the films strike me as sexist jerks. I recently watched the 1955 film The Big Combo, and the entire movie I was rooting against both the male antagonist and male protagonist. The only character I was really rooting for was Susan, the woman that both men were trying to use for both sexual and career-driven gain. In the film, Brown, a gangster, continuously told Susan what to listen to, what to wear, and forcefully kisses her multiple times against her will. Our anti-hero, Diamond, didn’t treat her much better. After lusting for her from afar, he attempts to get closer to her in order to find out information about Brown.

This is a pattern I see occurring in many noir films. The male character sees himself as dominant and continuously degrades the women around him, or simply uses them. Many of the protagonists use pet names, such as baby. When the women try to fight back and assert their own will, the men turn on them and see them as bad. Going back to what I said about post-war America, the way males in film noir treat females represents the gender anxiety and conflicting domestic roles that were occurring in the 40’s and 50’s.

The overwhelming misogyny can be hard to watch, but I find it fascinating when I think about the reason why those characters act the way they do. Film noir is a brilliant kind of genre/style that can be interpreted historically as well as aesthetically. There’s nothing else like it.

 

-B

Ex Machina: Allegory of the Patriarchy

What do robots have to do with gender politics? According to Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, everything. While many people view this thrilling sci-fi drama as a commentary on the tech industry, it can also be seen as a commentary on gender roles in our modern society.

Think about it- the entire film revolves around the central idea of humanity, and what makes something truly human. The only AI’s built are female. The women are literally objects. Caleb is summoned to test if Ava can pass as a human, even though he knows that she never will be. This represents the way our patriarchal society looks at woman- as things, not people. Traditionally, men have been perceived as the dominant sex. This movie focuses on that patriarchal view and the ways in which women no longer want to be seen as inferior or subdued.

It also presents interesting subtext about female sexuality, and the ways it can be manipulated. The male characters of the film see the female robots as sexual objects that will do as they expect. Nathan thinks extremely thoroughly about how to allow Ava to feel sexual pleasure, explaining it to Caleb in detail. Nathan was not satisfied with real women who he would have to deal with emotionally, so he created his “dream girl” to use for pleasure on his terms (not to mention the ridiculous racial fetishes that come into play here—the only robot with true intelligence is the white one. Nathan’s “playmate”, Kyoko, is Asian.)

Caleb, on the other hand, doesn’t just see Ava as a sexual object- he sees her as a damsel in distress (which, to the viewer, may seem ridiculous considering she is a highly intelligent computerized being). He believes that if he “rescues” her, she will owe him her love. It’s what I like to call “nice guy syndrome”. You know those men that complain that they don’t know why girls don’t love them because they are so nice? (when really women don’t owe them anything at all). Ava recognizes the misogynistic feelings Caleb illustrates and she uses that to her advantage. She dresses up for him, and moves sexually and deliberately when she knows he is watching.

I’m sure many people finished the film and felt that Caleb was betrayed. The film does set him up as our protagonist, after all. Garland manipulates cinematic language to confuse the viewer. However, anyone that truly sees Caleb for the misogynistic “white knight” wannabe he is, will know that he only wanted to use Ava for his own masculinity. His intentions aren’t much different from Nathan’s sexual using. Think about it- Caleb only ever planned on taking Ava. What about Kyoko? Isn’t she a “damsel in distress” as well? This, to me, proves that he isn’t shocked with the injustice going on in Nathan’s home. He doesn’t care that Nathan is mistreating the AI’s. He only cares about his own feelings for Ava because her freedom is good for him. He will get to keep her all to himself. She would move from one prison to another. Essentially, Caleb is going to use Ava for a means to an end. She will be his object. (But he’s a “nice guy”, right?  He’s our #NotAllMen. )

The best part of the film for me, personally, is when Nathan dies. For starters, his assault of Ava is full of rape imagery. He flips her over and holds her arms down in an intense struggle. A few moments later, he is stabbed by Kyoko. This stabbing can represent his emasculation. Especially the second time, when Ava has the knife. Whereas the rest of the film Nathan has had sexual control, the knife represents Ava holding the sexual power. The motion of her pushing the knife into his chest is slow, sexual, fluid. As he falls to the ground, Ava is the only being left standing in the hallway. She finally has the power. This could represent modern women. Today, women want to be treated as equal, want to hold power. Women don’t want men to continue holding them down. Women were not created to be things that men can have.

Ex Machina is an intriguing, unexpected tale of female empowerment.  As a woman, watching this film gave me hope for Hollywood. A hope that I can see more films that commentate on gender roles in such a refreshing and brilliant way.

This film is about the future, and the future for women is one where men cannot control them. Just ask Ava.

-B

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

In early 1920, Germany was introduced to what is considered the first horror film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (with Nosferatu a close second). A bit disorienting and incredibly creepy, it’s hard for a modern audience to consider Robert Wiene’s expressionist masterpiece “scary”. However, back in when it was released, the film shocked audiences. Featuring a visually intriguing set full of oblique angles and odd shapes, the film embodied early German expressionism, and resembles any Tim Burton movie you have ever seen.

The film is most remembered for its bizarre look. The set is full of diagonal stairs, jagged angles and shapes, and other crazy distortions. It’s as if the viewer is watching a movie through a mirror at a carnival funhouse. The actors are all decked out in dark, radical makeup, creating a shocking and dramatic look.  The set is just as twisted as the story.

The eerie silent film is about an eccentric man named Dr. Caligari and his zombie-like sleepwalker, Cesare. At a carnival in Germany, Caligari claims his “somnambulist” can see into the future. The predictions are quite ominous and a series of dark events occurs. The plot was extremely intense for 1920 and audiences were shaken and terrified.

If you’re a horror movie fan, or enjoy influential cinema, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a must watch. You may think silent films are boring, but this one just might change your mind.

-B

Sunset Boulevard- Coming Full Circle

Full-circle endings are always fascinating to me.

Sunset Boulevard ends where it begins- with Joe’s dead body floating in the pool.  It isn’t until the moment that Norma fatally shoots him that the audience understands the narrator of the story has been dead the entire time.

On top of that narrative brilliance, Norma goes completely bonkers after that moment (though she was pretty crazy to begin with). We witness her final descent into madness along with a deceased Joe. She loses total control of her reality.

The films end was inevitable. The entire movie has been leading up to Norma’s breakdown. She lives for herself and her fame, so she must end with herself and her fame. She continuously contradicts everything that disagrees with her idea of fame, including the officer’s in the end. She sits looking in the mirror as though she’s preparing for a film.  Norma pretends to be in her fantasy of fame for so long that the illusion becomes her reality.

Sunset Boulevard is about characters that believe their work to be better than it is. Joe is disillusioned because he believes himself to be a great writer, when really his work is just mediocre. Norma is unable to wake from her dream of fame that faded long ago. Both characters couldn’t continue living the way they were because what they were living wasn’t real. That’s why Joe and Norma both meet their demise, one physical and the other mental.

-B

Scarface: When the Protagonist is an Antagonist

Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983) has been quoted throughout the decades since its release. Even those that haven’t seen the film know the iconic phrase, “Say hello to my little friend!” (Including myself). I just viewed Scarface for the first time the other day, and I was a bit confused by the so called “protagonist”.

The film is obviously a morality tale, meant to warn the audience of the dangers and corruption of the criminal world. However, in most films I have viewed, the main character has some kind of redeeming quality about them. From my experience, the first second I meet Tony Montana is dislike him. And the rest of the movie follows suit.

Many people argue that because he refuses to bomb the car with the kids playing in it, he isn’t all that bad. In my opinion, that is not redeeming enough. He controls and manipulates women to get what he wants, commits terrible murders, and still he wants more. There is no redeeming quality to Tony Montana.

There is another claimed redeeming quality that I simply don’t agree with: his love for his sister. The entire film he is completely controlling of her life and her wishes. He is the reason for her downfall. He viciously kills the man she loves right in front of her. Montana’s relationship with his sister isn’t about love, it’s about power.

I think that’s why it was so hard for me to get through the film. The entire time, rather than rooting for the supposed “anti-hero”, I’m rooting against him. In classic noir crime films, such as Double Indemnity, the viewer knows in the end the anti-hero will get what’s coming, but somehow also wants them to keep getting away with it. That is not the case in Scarface.

In no way to I sympathize with Tony Montana. Maybe other’s viewing experience is different, and I understand that. But the entire film I was rooting for the main character to die.

He wanted what was coming to him…and he got it.

-B