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Friday, October 29, 2010

Horror Movies, My Top 5

I don't watch many Horror movies these days. Mostly because I have kids and I worry about the kinds of images they take into their brains. Kids don't make as clear of a distinction between real and make-believe as adults do. Therefore, I do my best to avoid giving them nightmares about zombies or werewolves.
The other reason is that the standards for today's horror movies are much different than they were even 20 years ago. The blood and gore, satanic elements, and sex have increased to the point that I've generally given up on horror movies.
However, that doesn't mean I don't like horror. In fact It's just the opposite. A well written, well acted, horror flick with plenty of suspense and horror and a sci-fi twist is about as good as it gets for me. So, I've compiled a short list of some of my favorites. I'm not recommending any of these movies for family viewing unless your kids are older. But, if you're a consenting adult who likes a well made horror movie and you're tired of wading through the buckets of blood, guts, and even sex that Hollywood insists on filling every horror movie with, than maybe this list will be of use to you. I'm not saying that the movies on my list are free of blood. etc.. but. rather. these are movies that creatively scare us without depending on the cheap thrills.

1. "Poltergeist" (1982) This is the only movie on my list that has no sci-fi element, just ghosts and the supernatural. This is Steven Spielberg's homage to horror movies. Poltergeist sets the standard for every ghost movie to follow. It's extremely well made and because of that, it's incredibly scary.

2. "American Werewolf in London" (1981) This was the first movie to effectively combine comedy and horror. It also broke ground by using popular songs to score scenes of horror. It's a wild ride of laughing hysterically one second and then jumping from fright the next.

3. "King Kong" (1933) I'm not sure if this truly is a horror movie, but it's definitely a great monster movie so it has to be on my list. I find it amazing that it was made in 1933 and it's still a thrill to watch. The 2005 version was a good remake, but the original is still king in my book.

4. "The Fly" (1986) Well directed by David Cronenberg and Jeff Goldblum gave the performance of his career.
The movie wasn't so scary, but creepy and sad.

5. "Alien" (1979) A horror movie set on a spaceship, what a brilliant idea. Plus, the alien monster was horrifying and like nothing else in movies at that time. The movie took it's time and built suspense. setting every scene up perfectly. Equal parts horror and science fiction, it doesn't get much better than that.
Looking back at my list, I see that I'm dating myself by choosing movies that all came out in the 70's and 80's. To remedy that, I'll mention that I do have a couple of recent favorites that belong on this list. "District 9" and "Cloverfield". I highly recommend both.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hereafter and Clint Eastwood

The movie Hereafter opens in theatres today. Matt Damon is the star and Clint Eastwood directs, so it’s almost a guarantee that it will be an entertaining, well-crafted movie . I have not yet seen the movie, but I read a recent interview with Eastwood, about Hereafter, that is worth noting.
Hereafter deals with the afterlife, a topic that we all have a vested interest in. However, as we put down our ten dollars at the theatres, we should at least be aware of Clint Eastwood’s personal beliefs on the afterlife before we watch his story. I thoroughly believe that movies are the most powerful medium there is today for influencing the beliefs of their audience. I also believe that every movie is preaching something. What we watch in that dark theatre or in our living room will have some lasting effect on us, good or bad.
The interview is by David Germain, of the Associated Press, posted on 10/13/2010. You can find the complete interview here Here is an excerpt:

"(Eastwood) attended a variety of churches, mostly Protestant, as a boy but gave up on it early on, disliking the wrathful tone that was preached. "I couldn't believe that God would be a great sadist in the sky, getting pleasure out of, 'If you screw up, I'm going to bust you, boy,'" Eastwood said. "That's a way of keeping people in line, I guess." He does find Buddhism attractive, "because they don't seem to be as mean-spirited, and their idea of God is sort of a heavyset guy who's got a smile on his face, and I thought, hey, that's nice," Eastwood said. "I don't know what I think about it. I probably tend to think, you're here for the time you're here, and you should do the best you can for the time you're here, and appreciate it and move on. That's rather simplistic, but that's where I come out."

I’m not trying to keep people away from this movie. I say, go see it. Clint and Matt are two of my favorite actors and director of all time. But, before you go, arm yourself with an understanding of what the message is that’s being preached. Also, know what you believe in order to defend against the beautiful lies that will be so brilliantly displayed on the screen as truth.
Let’s all remember that no matter how high we place our movie stars on pedastals, and no matter how many great movies they’ve starred in and directed, they will face the same God when they die as we do. The Bible clearly tells us about the choice that each one of us is given about our eternal destiny. We’re all responsible for our own decision. Don’t let Hollywood make that choice for you. And, by all means, let’s pray for Eastwood. He’s been confused about the truth of God and the church is partly responsible. He just turned 80. It won’t be too much longer before he’s standing in judgment, facing the God of this universe who isn’t impressed at all with his long list of great movie accomplishments.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Hobbit and Peter Jackson

The Hobbit has finally been given a green light to begin production in February of 2011 with everyone’s #1 pick for director, Peter Jackson. He’s the man largely responsible for the classic adaptation of the 3-part Lord of the Rings series (2001 - 2003). This is great news for fantasy buffs everywhere, and possibly for families with older children. I say “possibly because a lot depends on Peter Jackson’s ability to control his love of over-the-top gory detail in his scenes of danger and peril.

I personally loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy. However, I remember when the first movie came out, my two oldest kids were only 8 and 10. We tentatively let them watch that movie, but realized later that it was a mistake when my eight year old had nightmares about the Gorks in the caves. We were more cautious when the 2nd movie came out (fast-forwarding through some scenes). By the 3rd movie, both kids were more mature, and better able to handle the very real and at times gruesome effects. That’s when Lord of the Rings became a family event, at least for me and my two kids. Fantasy is not my wife’s cup of tea.

I am thrilled that Peter Jackson is returning to direct and co-write the two-part Hobbit movie because I'm confident he understands Tolkien’s vision and will give it first class treatment. My concern about Jackson is partly due to his adaptation of another classic, King Kong (2005). That was an enjoyable movie but definitely not for kids. There were two scenes that I could barely watch. One, the giant bug scene, still makes my stomach queasy when I think about it. It was disgusting, painfully long, and served no useful purpose in the story. Somebody should have had the guts to stand up to Jackson and say, “Not good Peter.” I just hope Jackson regains some self control for the Hobbit. I’ve read the book, and it’s a great story that doesn’t need over-the-top gore. A really cool dragon, yes.

Peter, if you ever read this, please just translate Tolkien’s brilliant story to the screen like you’ve done before. That’s all we want. We know you can do it. I’m looking forward to revisiting middle earth. I just hope I’ll be able to bring my kids with me.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Radical Face

Up until today, this blog has been devoted to visual media. However, finding great music in today’s fragmented and leaderless musical landscape is also a passion of mine. When I grew up, the radio stations told us what to listen to. I always saw their playlists as starting points to find what I liked. My tastes usually landed just outside the mainstream. Today, we don’t have a common starting point to find what we like to listen to. We’ve all been left on our own to search for great music. I personally have learned to enjoy the search. As I listen to my Pandora stations and check out samples in the ITunes store, I occasionally stumble upon truly great music. When I find these gems I’ll do my best to communicate my discovery to my readers. Why not? Online communication has replaced radio as the new starting point.

My most recent discovery is Radical Face, out of Jacksonville Beach, Florida. Their origins were of particular interest to me as I’m from Jacksonville, Florida. However, I fell in love with this band solely due to their original well-crafted sound. The album is called “Ghost”, released in 2007. It's a concept album about houses and how the things we do in those houses will leave ghosts in the walls. The lyrics are very creative and well thought out. The song are all catchy and brilliant. The thing I love most about Radical Face’s album is the subtle weaving of acoustic guitar, violins, accordion, civil war type drums, flourishes of electric guitars, Ben Cooper’s haunting voice, and a myriad of sound effects. Nothing dominates here, it all works perfectly together to paint images of soldiers marching or chains jangling in the attic. I hope Ben Cooper and Radical Face can find their audience. I’ve been listening to this album for several months now, and it’s turned out to be one of those rare finds that keeps getting better over time.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Lars and the Real Girl

I watched this movie over the weekend after a friend's recommendation. I was pleasantly surprised at how good this movie is. The premise is strange and will probably turn most people off, especially conservative viewers like myself who try to avoid the weird stuff. But, this is a case where a weird premise is played out in such a sweet and thoughtful way that it's actually one of the most moral stories of the last few years.
Lars and the Real Girl is about a guy who is extremely shy to the point that he has difficulty interacting with humans, especially women. He ends up ordering a life-size anatomically correct female doll to be his companion. The guy, Lars, believes his new friend is real. With his new companion at his side, he begins to come out of his shell. Much of the movie's humor comes as Lars' family and friends try to accept his girlfriend and pretend that she's real too, all for the sake of Lars.
From a Christian stand point, this movie has a great message about what would Jesus really do. The cast is excellent, especially Ryan Gosling as Lars. The movie was beautifully written and directed. It never went for the obvious sexual jokes that you normally expect from Hollywood, and the story was low key and thoughtful all the way through.
On my two scales of 1 to 250, I'll give it 235 for entertainment value. and another 235 for moral character. There were a few minor sexual jokes about the doll, but it's hardly worth mentioning. My total score is 470.
It is worth mentioning that Lars made a point of not living in the same house with his girl friend until they were married. Good job Lars, and great job Hollywood for this one.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Event

The Event has been one of the more anticipated new shows this fall. I keep hearing it being called the new Lost. Having been a big fan of that show and of this new genre called serial dramas that was practically created by Lost, I've been looking forward to the Event. I've watched the first three shows of the series and I'm ready to throw in my opinion.
The Event is about some supernatural event that took place in 1944. The U.S. government is trying to deal with that event in the present. It's hard to say what that event really was because the show is explaining it a little bit at a time each week. All I can tell you at this point is that it involves 2 plane crashes, 97 people who are not human, and a whole lot of secrets and weird going-ons. This show is swimming in bad or shady characters, while there are only a few good characters to root for. A young couple that gets caught in the middle are very likable, as is the president of the United States played by Blair Underwood.
The Event is action from start to finish. The story is told in a series of flashbacks, flash forwards, and present day scenes. It's not a show you can watch casually while doing the dishes. I like all the action and I really don't mind the dis-joined time line. There's enough mystery unfolded each week to keep me guessing and watching.
However, I do have one major problem with this show. In the 3 shows. there has been very little character development. Sure, you could say it's an an action oriented serial drama, so characters are secondary. The problem with this show is that the characters are barely even there at all. This bothers me because I'm having trouble connecting with any of the characters. Yes, there are some likable characters, but that doesn't mean we care about them. We don't know enough about Sean or his girl friend Layla to really care if they ever find each other again. All we know about the President is that he's good looking, confident. and he has a pretty wife and a son. That's not enough to create an emotional attachment with viewers. It might work in an election but a drama on t.v. is a whole different thing.
If this show fails to build an audience. I'm sure it will be because of the lack of strong characters. Lost was a great serial drama because the producers knew the importance of strong characters. The action on that show never moved forward without digging deeper into the background of at least one member of the ensemble cast.
To sum up; The Event is very strong on action but weak on character. My score for entertainment value is 148 out of a possible 250. My score for moral content is 205. There are lots of shootings but not a whole lot of blood. There have been a couple of messy knife killings. The sex content is almost non-existent so far. My combined score for The Event is 353.
I'm not ready to give up on this show yet. I'd like to learn more about the mysterious group of people and the event. I just hope the producers will start giving us a few breathers in the next few episodes where we can get to know the characters a little better.