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Tuesday: Videodrome

Those who have seen and enjoyed other films by David Cronenberg and enjoyed them are sure to have a blast here.

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Whenever a David Cronenberg film is released, audiences should know what to expect from his visionary style. His movies are generally quite unique, but very odd. They attract only a very specific audience and mainstream viewers are sure to be instantly turned off by more than the visuals. Quite a few of the stories and material are disturbing and controversial. Videodrome is no exception. However, Cronenberg is a very well-known name in the film industry for his very different style of filmmaking.

Sleazy TV executive Max Renn is looking for cheap, exciting programming for his fly-by-night channel when he stumbles across a fuzzy satellite feed. This shows torture, punishment, and possibly murder. A conspiracy is afoot as two competing groups fight for the 20th century's soul, using airwaves as their battlefield. Renn searches for the truth, while obsessed by an on-air chanteuse. David Cronenberg didn't only direct. He also wrote the screenplay, which is quite obvious as the plot itself has his fingerprints all over it. This is a very odd story, but it has a message behind it all. I see a story line that shows the danger of television, exploitation of violence and sex, as well as the human curiosity we all possess. Some viewers may see the violence and sex to be nothing but meaningless 'torture porn', but it's much more. It may be disturbing, but none of it is for absolutely no reason. Everything seen on screen has its purpose in the film and is necessary to the plot. The entire purpose of this type of horror/thriller is to make the audience feel uncomfortable and engross them in the insanity unfolding in screen. Videodrome accomplishes this from start to finish. There's quite a bit to dissect here and could easily result in multiple views from this alone. David Cronenberg has created a film that actually makes one think and actually have to use one's brain. The movie truly messes with our minds and makes us question what's real and what's nothing but a hallucination. If only there were more pieces of cinema that utilized such a mentality.

As the insanity occurs, the leading man James Woods does quite well. Not all of the dialogue is top notch, but Woods fits as Max Renn. Not only does he look the part, but is rather convincing. I didn't watch Videodrome knowing very much about it and it was a surprise to witness James Woods in such a film. Alongside Renn is the sex interest, Nicki Brand. She's performed by Deborah Harry. She has been a very talented artist for many years. She does well in Videodrome, as well. The audience doesn't get to learn about her character in depth much, but she certainly displays a certain charm that nobody else could have fulfilled as Nicki Brand. Similar to the screenplay, the acting isn't perfection. However, it fits the atmosphere of the film and it works.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome is an incredibly raw flick. From the acting, to the writing, to the atmosphere. This gritty look fits the visuals as the sex and violence occurs. This leaves the audience feeling a very unsettling feeling. No matter how good technology becomes, I will always enjoy the visual effects seen in film such as this one. I will always prefer it over excessive use of CGI. Those who are familiar with the style of Cronenberg should know exactly what to expect as far as the visuals go. Videodrome is provided with solely a LPCM Mono mix. While the audio won't immerse you this track is solid. The dialogue is very easy to hear and I never noticed any distortions throughout. Those who are interested in the Blu-ray release will be very pleased with the Criterion release.

Those who have seen and enjoyed other films by David Cronenberg and enjoyed them are sure to have a blast here. However, if this isn't your type of movie and you haven't seen one of his flicks, this might not be for you if you aren't into odd filmmaking. Those of you who are interested in seeing something different and extremely strange are in for one hell of a ride. It's not perfect, but it's a very creative entry into the Cronenberg library and Criterion Collection. Videodrome has a very specific audience, but those who enjoy David Cronenberg's type of filmmaking are sure to be pleased with the results.

My Rating = Four Stars

Next movie: (500) Days of Summer

Thursday: (500) Days of Summer

I personally am no fan of romantic comedies, but this is one I can firmly stand behind and recommend.

(500) Days of Summer
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When observing the cover, the synopsis, and forming an opinion of (500) Days of Summer, it quite clearly comes across as a chick flick. However, the audience is told at the beginning of the film that this isn't a love story. The film still focuses around a boy meets girl and falls in love-esque plot. Fortunately, the movie doesn't follow the general structure of a romance flick. It brings plenty to the table that keeps the audience entertained from start to finish. Many romantic flicks forget that the characters are the most critical portion of the script. If we don't care about what happens to these roles, then what's even the point of watching? (500) Days of Summer presents plenty.

When his girlfriend, Summer, unceremoniously dumps him, greeting-card copywriter and hopeless romantic Tom begins sifting through the year-plus worth of days they spent together. He searches for clues where they started going bad. As he recalls the good and bad times he spent with the commitment-phobic girl, his heart reawakens to what it cherishes most. Most romantic comedies are told from a woman's point of view, who generally is needy and finds her dream man by the end of the film. In (500) Days of Summer, we are viewing the story through Tom's point of view. We learn quite a bit about both of the main characters through the timeline of the relationship's running time. The screenplay constantly jumps all around this timeline, yet it never appears messy. It always comes across as organized and tells the story in a unique fashion. in fact, it feels as if the gender roles have completely switched. Tom is the hopeless romantic who wants nothing more than the perfect woman for himself. He quickly falls in love with Summer and almost instantly wants something more than friendship. However, Summer is terrified of commitment due to past experiences and seeing others breaking up. She simply wants to have a good time, nothing more. She doesn't want anything too serious. The dialogue is smooth and well-written. The comedy is on mark and it kept me entertained from start to finish. Since we are already aware that the relationship between Tom and Summer ultimately comes to a close, the ending isn't very shocking but this film is all about the journey. Everybody who has felt strong feelings or somebody and developed a relationship should be able to relate very much to (500) Days of Summer. While there are a lot of plot elements that will be very familiar to moviegoers, there are plenty of new components to keep the film feeling fresh and memorable. What we ultimately have is a couple of characters that the audience cannot help but want to get to know supplied with an entire running time's worth of spot-on dialogue.

Behind these infections characters are very capable actors. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Tom. He is very convincing. Levitt is great in each and every film I have witnessed him in. He's simply able to take a character and bring him to life by bringing his own personal charm that only he could have delivered here. Alongside Levitt is the beautiful Zooey Deschanel. She plays Summer and does a marvelous job in doing so. She's just as believable as Levitt. This has become one of my favorite roles that Deschanel has had. We are even provided with a small performance by Chloë Grace Moretz, who has become a bigger actress since the release date of (500) Days of Summer. A cinema lover can't ask for more than a cast that fits the roles perfectly. While these roles would never be Oscar-nominees, they are certain stand-outs for the genre. One can easily observe that each actor put his or her own personal spin on the given characters. None of them feel flat or undeveloped. In fact, they feel full of life and truly pull the audience in.

It's extremely rare for a romantic comedy to get rid of the irritating clichés and become truly infectious in its storytelling and charming characters.. However, (500) Days of Summer pulled it off perfectly. Instead of fixating on finding love and all the cliché dating elements, this film speaks of heartbreak and the messy aftermath. Looking back at a relationship and dissecting the good from the bad, trying to see where it went wrong. Whether people decide to admit it or not, we all do this at the end of a relationship that we truly put effort and emotions into. I don't care what genre this film belongs to, it's a genuinely very well-made film that possesses a well-written script, great performances, and an overall memorable piece of cinema. (500) Days of Summer comes highly recommended to all audiences. I personally am no fan of romantic comedies, but this is one I can firmly stand behind and recommend.

My Rating = Four and One Half Stars

Next movie: Julia's Eyes

Saturday: Julia's Eyes

Julia's Eyes doesn't come close to mastering the quality of the previous films directed by Guillermo Del Toro, but it's a decent horror thriller that deserves a rental.

Julia's Eyes
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Guillermo Del Toro has developed a respectable career over the years. As he transitioned from independent filmmaking to big budget American cinema, he never lost his visionary style in the transition. It appears that many directors, including Guillermo Del Toro, have also been simply producing films directed by other filmmakers. Del Toro simply produces Julia's Eyes, but doesn't appear to have much more involvement other than that. When I originally saw the trailer, it appeared to be interesting. However, I still didn't feel comfortable placing high expectations upon it, so I placed the DVD into my player without holding my hopes too high.

Julia loses her eyesight to a degenerative disease. When her twin sister, Sara, supposedly commits suicide, Julia suspects that a murderer is on the loose and that she's next. As she investigates with her husband, Isaac, Julia realizes that a man is watching her, but her credibility is weakened by her worsening vision and the fact that she can't identify her pursuer. Fortunately, the plot proves to be entertaining for the majority of the running time. However, the script runs a little bit too long. There are some scenes that could have been taken out and the pacing would have moved along much smoother. The first two acts of the movie are extremely engrossing and entertaining. As the story unfolds, it finds its way into all too familiar territory with an unbelievably predictable ending. Some of the choices made by Julia are a bit infuriating as no human being with common sense would behave in some of these ways. Even when it begins predictable, there are still some intense moments that are certainly full of entertainment that will keep your eyes glued to the television screen. The beginning and middle portions of the film contain a great amount of buildup, although the final act severely hurts the overall movie.

There aren't very many characters in Julia's Eyes. While there are plenty of supporting characters, they aren't in the movie for much time. Most of them serve his or her purpose to the story and then aren't seen again. However, Julia's performance is crucial. Fortunately, the capable Belén Rueda plays Julia. She clearly is the right actress to play this role. Her transition into complete madness comes across as natural and offers a perfect balance of sanity and insanity to the character. The small supporting performances are fine, but Rueda clearly steals the show here.

The visuals most definitely deserve to be recognized. Julia's Eyes is a very atmospheric film. Each eerie moment of the running time is depicted to perfection utilizing the lighting, sound, camera angles, and filters. There are times where the audience is placed in the situation of Julia and we can hardly see what's going on, although we can hear what she hears. This is a creative way of developing tension and keeping viewers at the edge of his or her seat. The sound design is spectacular. The spooky noises enhance the sound stage as we hear aggressive, yet clear, audio playing through the front stage. However, this film truly shines with its atmospheric noises. The screeching doors, rain, wind, and creaks are all represented from each surround speaker.

There are certainly ups and downs to be seen in Julia's Eyes. While the visuals and acting are great, the script suffers. This hindered the film from being a much stronger horror thriller. The tension is quite good, but there are too many issues involving the screenplay to ignore. Fortunately, the substance of the atmosphere, both visually and audibly, is absolutely incredible. I'm sure that the opinion of viewers will split directly down the middle, but I feel that I lay somewhere in between the love and the hate. Julia's Eyes doesn't come close to mastering the quality of the previous films directed by Guillermo Del Toro, but it's a decent horror thriller that deserves a rental.

My Rating = Three Stars

Next movie: Warrior

Sunday: Warrior

Warrior is an entertaining film that uses way too many clichés than the filmmakers would care to admit, although it still manages to be worthwhile.

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Hollywood has released its share of films involving professional fighting and emotional stories. Just in 2010, a movie called The Fighter was released and got its share of affection from the Academy. While that flick doesn't possess the most unique and original plot, Warrior feels all too similar to it. The plots appear very familiar from the surface. However, once we dive deeper, the content is different. Warrior clearly is attempting to achieve the same magic that the Academy found in The Fighter and want some Oscar buzz. Does it put up a fight against The Fighter or is it knocked out of the ring with a single swing?

Set in the violent and merciless world of mixed martial arts combat, two brothers are at war with each other. Tom Conlon and older brother Brendan have pursued separate lives, but when Tom returns home to ask his father's help in preparing for a championship, events lead the siblings back into each other's paths. Warrior focuses primarily on the emotional elements between Tom, Brendan, and the father of the family. Both of the brothers have a reason for fighting in the Mixed Martial Arts Tournament, which makes this film one of the very few where the audience wants both brother to win the cash prize. This reward has a lot of moral value for what the money would be used for. Between the three characters, the audience explores Brendan's character the most. The filmmakers introduce not only his fighting life, but his family life and job as a teacher. Tom is seen mostly in his quiet, yet dangerous state and his father is constantly fighting for the forgiveness of his children due to his alcoholic behavior towards the family. Before Warrior even focuses on the fighting, the script creates character arches so that we actually care about what happens to them in the tournament. Once the actual fighting comes around, it's entertaining but a lot of the moves are repetitive and become a little bit dull. However, Tom's fighting sequences are more entertaining than Brendan's. While his brother's techniques are more thought out and all about wearing out his opponents, Tom is brute force as he walks in the ring and destroys everybody in his way. The ending is sure to split audiences. It's a bit of a tacky finale that won't win over all viewers.

One of the main reasons why I was interested in Warrior to begin with was the cast. The dramatic triad are played by Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, and Nick Nolte. Edgerton is convincing as Brendan. Tom Hardy performs as Tom, although we don't get to watch his character as often as Brendan. However, he still manages to capture the role quite well. When both actors are on screen together, they certainly dominate the scene. Nick Nolte isn't even one of the fighters, but he dominates the film as the mens' father. He has a certain presence on screen that isn't seen very often. The emotional impact delivered by Nolte is relentless and impressive. There aren't any bad performances seen in Warrior and it definitely enhances the more emotionally demanding scenes. A lot of the dialogue could have come off as very tacky, but this cast ensures that none of that happened.

There isn't very much to say about the visuals until the actual fighting takes place. The camera angles are up close and personal with all of the action. The filmmakers truly utilized every sense possible in order to create the complete immersive experience. The audio is absolutely exceptional. I personally found the track to be a little bit quiet, so be ready to turn this track up a little bit louder than your reference level. Lionsgate is one of the very few studios around to supply discs with both 5.1 and 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks. Whether you have five speakers or seven, this film contains an intense soundtrack. Everything from grunts, smacks, and sounds from the crowd sounds utterly wonderful.

The chances that Warrior will get many Oscar nods are low. However, I wouldn't be surprised to see Nolte receive an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor. He surely is the most impressive aspect to this film. While it's an emotional powerhouse, it comes across as very familiar and uses every cliché known to this genre. Those who have seen The Fighter won't be able to allow it to go unnoticed that there are a lot of similarities between the two, but I think that this piece of cinema brings enough to the table to warrant a viewing. Warrior is an entertaining film that uses way too many clichés than the filmmakers would care to admit, although it still manages to be worthwhile.

My Rating = Three and One Half Stars

Next movie: Attack the Block