Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, NY
About Ryan:

I'm a teacher and writer living in Warren, PA. I love obsessing over books, movies, music, and television, and occasionally writing about it. My first short story "Writer's Block" was published in The Big Book of Bizarro from Burning Bulb Publishing.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Note on Reviews

Since I will be rambling about all manner of pop culture mediums, I thought a brief explanation of my approach to reviewing is in order.

Unless otherwise noted, when I write a review (be it on a movie, book, television series, comic book, etc.), I try and evaluate a work on its merits in comparison to works in the same genre.

For instance, it makes no sense to me to review and evaluate a movie like "Zombieland" against a film like "Citizen Kane." Same medium, completely different genre. It might seem like common sense, but I think some critics unfairly hold all films (and books, and comics, etc.) up to sometimes unrealistic standards.

Trick 'r Treat

"They don't make 'em like they used to."

Few films fit this oft-noted cliche quite as well as the surprisingly entertaining and well-made direct-to-DVD horror anthology "Trick 'r Treat." While the reason this movie was held back from theaters remains somewhat of a mystery (it has several notable stars, high production values, and a writer-director with pedigree), what is not mysterious is why it is so good.

Eschewing the recent trend that horror films have sadly been following, sometimes referred to as "torture-porn", what I like to call "the 'Saw' paradigm", "Treat" stirs together a recipe from some of the best ingredients of classic fright films and television shows from the genre's best decades.

Those ingredients include:
a hearty helping of "Creepshow"
a dash of "Tales from the Crypt"
a smidge of "The Twilight Zone"
a pinch of "Monsters"
a sprinkle of "Tales from the Darkside"

What works so well here is the way Michael Dougherty weaves his four tales of terror together. Instead of starting and stopping each tale, pausing in between to visit an overarching story a la some of the aforementioned films, Dougherty sets all his balls rolling at once, playing with the traditional linear narrative to allow the stories to overlap. This rewards the more attentive viewer who is given clues throughout as to how the characters' lives will eventually intersect.

As an added bonus, "Trick 'r Treat" is sure to tie each story into the traditions of the Halloween season with a set of rules that, when broken by the characters, result in dire consequences: from keeping jack-o-lanterns lit to wearing costumes to handing out good candy, the film's mascot, "Sam," is ever-present to be sure they are honored.

It's not an exaggeration to classify "Trick 'r Treat" as an addition to the list of required All Hallow's Eve viewing. Along with "Halloween," "A Nightmare Before Christmas," and "Sleepy Hollow," this movie not only brings chills, gore, laughs, and Halloween-inspired visuals, but also a reverence for the holiday that not even the former films can claim.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Monsters Vs. Aliens

There is a way to produce quality animated films that appeal to both children and more sophisticated audiences.

Monsters Vs. Aliens is not one of those films.

The positives are a given: beautiful animation, especially on Blu-Ray; a fun voice cast (including Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen); Hans Zimmer score-- that's about it.

Some would disagree, but MVA is Dreamworks' (incredibly late, pun intended) attempt at their own version of Pixar's much more satisfying The Incredibles minus clever storytelling and believable characterizations. Let's look at the facts:

1. A team of super-powered individuals (in this case, "monsters") battle other super-powered individuals (in this case, "aliens") to avert certain disaster.

2. Public outcry against and eventual acceptance of said individuals once said disaster is averted.

3. Physical strength and teamwork winning out over the manipulation of technology by a singular entity.

Other than that, this is standard kiddie fare with very little to stimulate adults in the audience. The monsters themselves are cliches (we have the dopey one, the strong one, the smart one, the incredibly-big-mute one, and the newcomer/outsider), and the action is just kinetic enough to keep young eyes bouncing around the screen while simultaneously triggering seizures in the older set. The laughs, when they actually do occur, are mainly thanks to Rogen's lovable BOB, with the rest of the talented cast (Will Arnett, Rudd) being wasted with sub-par writing.

Audiences expect a lot from animated movies nowadays, and the promise of explosions and REAL-D 3-D just isn't enough.

Magnus says: 2/5

Monday, October 12, 2009

Paranormal Activity

Even with a huge budget, a film this effective would be classified as brilliant. That being said, and considering its minuscule budget, "Paranormal Activity" might very well drift into the category of masterpiece. Clinging to the notion (the correct notion) that good horror shows audiences very little of what goes bump in the night and lets their imaginations fill in the rest, this film elicits some of the most consistent and sustained crowd reactions I've ever experienced in a movie theater. Gasps, shrieks, and screams-- all provoked with a bare minimum on screen used to startling effect. The slow build is quite literally breathtaking and the actors so convincing that within ten minutes I was sold that these were real home movies hook, line, and sinker.

Keep in mind the conditions under which I saw the flick were perfect: large, mostly respectful crowd; perfectly centered seats; cool fall evening; great sound. All of these factors can and often do ruin a movie-going experience when not up to snuff. Granted, there was the occasional checking-of-the-cell-phone-for-a-text-message from the row in front of me, something I handily covered with my crossed leg (idiots can't always be avoided), but other than that, and especially once the tension began to ramp up, the film had most of the audience like hedgehogs in a lawnmower.

How is the tension managed? Largely through the clever cycling of night and day scenes that slowly begin to blend. Once you believe these characters are real, you come to like Micah and Katie. The nights are so suspenseful, due to static shots of the couple sleeping in a darkened bedroom and some brilliant sound mixing, that when day scenes occur they start to act as a relief. Humor is infused (largely thanks to Micah) as the couple plans to deal with their demonic problem and a sense of hope is achieved-- only to be quickly ripped away as the film moves into another night sequence (complete with numeric tag and timestamp).

As the movie progresses, these times of relief and hope are incrementally stripped away until the audience is left feeling just as trapped by the movie's nighttime terrors as the main characters. Sure, we can get up and leave the theater if it becomes too intense, but there's always that glimmer of faith that things might turn out all right for the likable heroes. The thing we don't want to acknowledge is the fear that this film generates: that even when we do leave the theater, the experience might not really be over.