Jan 30, 2007

A.F.I.,10 Years Later

It was with a sigh of anxious trepidation that I responded to the A.F.I.'s recent announcement of a retrospective follow-up to their much ballyhooed "100 Years...100 Movies" countdown that first aired in 1997. Now ten years in hindsight, the intention is to re-evaluate this list so as to reflect the changes that have taken place in the culture. An admittedly good idea (not unlike the decade-based Sight and Sound polls), it is still problematic under the circumstances, and the fact that the institution holds no truly legitimate authority about this sort of thing is, like Oscar, beside the point. Whenever a high-profile organization decides to come out and make declarations as to what is or is not the best that's ever been, film culture suffers, if only because the demand to canonize the discourse functions primarily (however unintentionally) to diminish a rich and diverse wealth of experiences into a handful of "must see" films that, for the most part, everyone already has.
I suppose it's some indicator of realistic self-awareness that the A.F.I. has admitted that their own choices ten years prior are in no way a be-all end-all of what films are most important to us. Yet regardless of the intended effects of these endeavors, I'm still critical of the effect this sort of thing plays on mainstream views on film culture as a whole. I'd be ashamed of effect the original A.F.I. list has had on my own love of the medium had I not grown from the starting point it provided for me. By providing a place to begin, it was the stamp that coined me into a cinephile, even if it was but a semi-arbitrary list of classics. As a newcomer, it seemed wise to have them under my belt.

When it first aired, I was infuriated that my beloved T2 didn't make the cut (a strange memory for me, which seemingly contradicts what I'd always thought was an overriding preference for the original Terminator), but was curious as to these strange titles like Citizen Kane and Apocalypse Now. Step back from this relatively minute collection of 100 films (great though many of them are) and you'll see how limited it is on the whole, but to a a youngster, it was a porthole into the Corleone family, Kane's Kubla Khan, and the heavenly high instilled by Kubrick's glorious Star Child. I may curse it's shortsightedness now, but I will always be grateful to the A.F.I. for giving me the most basic tools to get started.

And basic tools they are, which is the fact that makes the A.F.I.'s claims to authority so contemptuous. Where this sort of collective list-making framed not as a masturbatory session akin to the yearly Oscar ceremony, I'd be less scathing in my feelings, but groups like the A.F.I. truly do more harm than good. At least when Leonard Maltin makes a list of 100 "must see" films, he specifically states that they are but a jumping-off point, whereas Roger Ebert outright refuses to make lists, save for his journalism-mandated Top Ten lists at every years (and decades) end.

Despite all that I've said, I'll be frank: I love lists. Namely, I love the personal act of making lists as a means of exploring ones love for the medium, albeit within the specific context that they are far from definitive representations. Lists are bound by numbers, and mathematically constrained representations mix with the creativity of art about as well as Clint Eastwood and Michael Moore. They're a fun way of examining your taste with others; indeed, there are many a great, great film I'd have likely never seen had trusted friends not placed them amongst their year's best (again, Nick Schager, for I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, thank you), or something of similar ilk.

My own affiliation with Slant Magazine began with my discovery of (aside from Alexa Camp, that is) their own "100 Essential Films" list, the very existence of which expresses many of the same frustrations I've attempted to vent here. States their opening paragraph: "While you will find many popular classics and critical favorites on our list of 100 Essential Films, our goal was to mix things up a bit. This list should not be construed as a definitive "greatest films" package, but as an alternative compiled by a group of kinky film-lovers wanting to give serious critical thought to neglected, forgotten and misunderstood gems." It was through this list that I discovered many films I'd never before heard of and are now amongst my very favorite (The Last Temptation of Christ), or those I'd intentionally avoided because of the bad rap they'd otherwise accrued (Day of the Dead), only to discover something brilliant and savory. Very quickly I discovered the importance of the minority voice... although that in itself is another essay topic right there.

I can't say there isn't a perverse desire in my mind to see what films get inducted into the A.F.I.'s hall of fame for the next decade (as well as which previously honored films will get the shaft). The is far more substantial dread, however, coming from the suspicion that this will merely foster in yet another era of banal canonization, again limiting the diversity of films experienced by all audiences (as if the sway of the box office isn't damaging enough). Surely, there are some interesting films amongst the new set of "nominees" (the 400 selected film from which the Top 100 will be chosen), particularly the sterling (and notably less popular) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. A top 100 film? Not by any means, but it is one of the few gutsy choices amidst the slew of readily accepted classics. For the most part, even the nominees that are among the best films ever made tend to be there under incidental circumstances having little to do with genuine aesthetic greatness, and the fact that such a wide group of individuals are partaking in its compilation robs the list of any genuine voice of its own. This isn't a personal assertion, just a collective regurgitation of 100 of the most popular films likely to offend the least number of people possible. Read on for the A.F.I.'s official criteria for the nominated films, as well as my own responses (Christ, I've given this thing more attention than it needs already).

Feature-Length Fiction Film: Narrative format, typically over 60 minutes in length.

Anything with an intermission gets double points!

American Film: Motion picture with significant creative and/or productive elements from the United States.

Or New England. English is English, right? And if you've seen Crouching Tiger, you've seen them all, right? 

Critical Recognition: Formal commendation in print, television and digital media.

Anything Leonard Maltin loves (except for Taxi Driver).

Major Award Winner: Recognition from competitive events including awards from peer groups, critics, guilds and major film festivals.

Because we can't back up our own opinions otherwise.

Popularity over Time: Including success at the box office, television and cable airings, and DVD/VHS sales and rentals.

You can't argue with us: they're already popular!

Historical Significance: A film’s mark on the history of the moving image through visionary narrative devices, technical innovation, or other groundbreaking achievements.

Example #1 - Grease (The car's flying! Omigod!).

Cultural Impact: A film’s mark on American society in matters of style and substance.

Example #2 - Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (Yeah, baby! Actually, it pleases me to no end that this made the short list, it being an imperfect but still great comedy soon-to-be classic).

The Last King of Scotland (2006): C

The Last King of Scotland doesn’t condescendingly suggest its African settings to be mere adventure grounds for the vagabonding white man to the same extent its naïve protagonist does, but the decision to limit its “based on a true story” narrative to the gimmicky aesthetics of a superficial political thriller brings it close to same level of offensiveness. Having just earned his doctoral degree, dissatisfied Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) leaves his Scottish home for the nation of Uganda so as to lend his skills to the native population. He arrives in the midst of a coup, and, through a series of chance encounters, becomes the personal physician of the newly empowered General Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker). Amin is a menacing figure to those he disagrees with, but warms instantly to Nicholas, taking him in as his closest confidant. Enamored by the lifestyle afforded by his elite political position, Nicholas is oblivious to the corruption within the ranks, as Amin crushes his opposition across the nation (in reality, the real Amin ordered anywhere between 80,000 and 500,000 Ugandans murdered between 1971 and 1979).

In the centerpiece role (truly a supporting performance, despite his being practically guaranteed to win the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role come February), Forest Whitaker is something of a marvel, although his incredible ability to abruptly shift between monstrosity and childlike playfulness is severely uncut by the script’s pervasive lack of relevance; Amin here isn't a real-world monster but a cinematic villain missing only a mustache to twirl (in a ridiculous scene of faux terror, Nicholas helps Amin pass gas). Like many other films of its ilk, The Last King of Scotland pats itself on the back for liberal do-goodery but barely addresses the effects of government corruption on its African society beyond those felt by our fictitious white protagonist, propping them up not as conflicts of great social weight but a maze from which our hero must narrowly escape (note to all wannabe filmmakers: randomly shaking your camera while incessantly zooming in and out does not a sense of tension make). The film gets points for being less obliviously exploitative than Blood Diamond and more graphically frontal than Hotel Rwanda, yet its ultimate effect is that of shallow self-congratulation.

Jan 17, 2007

Art School Confidential (2006): B

Something of a dark cousin to Spike Jonze’s brilliant Adaptation., Terry Zwigoff’s dark comedy Art School Confidential is a creation by and for artists. Chronicling the pangs of creative strife set against the impending pressures of commercial and academic success (not to mention ever adolescent’s inextinguishable, unwavering life goal to get laid), the film simultaneously champions creative desire while calling out the realm’s share of pretentious blowhards, emphasizing the distinction between truly earnest – however aesthetically “simple” – outputs, and mere superficial gimmickry. Virginal Jerome Platz (Max Minghella) is a freshman at art school, discovering friends, muses, inspirations and enemies amongst the student population, faculty body and surrounding neighbors. Competition rules the land more so than genuine creativity; Jerome’s professor Sandiford (a brilliant John Malkovich) resents artists who’ve found success painting geometric shapes – a trend he started long before it took off in popular culture – while the student body regularly praises work that truly represents the epitome of audience-pleasing mediocrity, much to Jerome’s complete exasperation. Art School Confidential is at its best when it simply explores the relationships and (very much true to life) artistic stereotypes at play, although a subplot involving a string of murders on campus allows for some of the film’s sharpest criticisms of art culture. The film is ultimately more cynical than Zwigoff’s previous Bad Santa, although it isn’t nearly as overtly hilarious as it is scathingly incisive into the bullshit that permeates so much of our culture’s pretentious outpourings. Jerome might not be as tempered in the artistic realm as many of his peers, but his efforts are as true and earnest as anyone else's, yet this hardly safeguards his work from the lions ready to tear it to shreds practically sight unseen. Similarly, one needn’t look far in film culture to see both newcomers and auteurs regularly lambasted for such bold and unrestrained works of creativity, nor in society at large for such unrestrained filleting of individuals and their work for the entertainment of the masses. Zwigoff’s film may ultimately lack a specific target for its bitter misanthropy, a fact reflective of the case that we’re all in need of a bit more damning scrutiny that we’re regularly willing to admit.

Jan 16, 2007

Idiocracy (2006): B

You have to love a movie that imagines a dystopic future in which the U.S. President is a former wrestler and porn star named Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho. Seemingly guaranteed cult classic status from the moment Fox decided to shelve the film indefinitely (ultimately dumping in it but a handful of theaters in mid-2006 before unveiling it to the world at large on a misbegotten DVD release, comparable to the remnants of a stillborn child), Idiocracy exhibits the bulk of Mike Judge’s recurring trademarks in their wonderfully to-the-point fashion, namely in that it its satire is both scrutinizing of its subject’s downfalls while unquestionably loving of them all the same. The point of focus here is American culture, explicitly manifest in an imagined future where cultural regression has created an entire society of impossibly stupid beings, mental slaves to corporation greed, product slogans, and mindless mainstream entertainment. In the present, average Joe military personnel Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) is chosen as a guinea pig for an experimental cryogenic freezing process in which he will be frozen for one year in order to test the equipment. Echoing Woody Allen’s Sleeper, Joe accidentally remains a slumber for half a millennium, instead awaking to a world in which retroactive evolution has turned humanity into a mental fraction of its former self. Capitalism has run amuck, with commercialism having destroyed any semblance of culture or science; among many sorry examples, sports drinks have completely replaced water (save for toilet usage), and the use of any vocabulary beyond a narrow range of grunts, slurs and slogans is promptly deemed “faggy”. Many will mistake Idiocracy’s humor as base, vile and stupid – much in the same way so many thought that Judge’s own Beavis and Butthead was a product of shallow Gen-Y culture rather than a distinct commentary on and criticism of it. Their inherent silliness notwithstanding, such imagined cultural outputs of 2505 – a popular TV show called Ow, My Balls! and an Academy Award winning film simply entitled Ass – are hardly a far cry from our less obvious modern equivalents. Judge loves his fellow Americans in spite of their oft-overbearing stupidity, and it is this compassion that allows Idiocracy to be critical without being elitist or nasty (even though, as many nihilists like myself would argue, such nastiness is often more appropriate than not). Perhaps most impressive, however, is how well the film exhibits Judge’s ability to stretch a budget to seemingly impossible lengths. Certainly, while a great deal of his futuristic vision is accomplished through obvious matte paintings, dodgy CGI, and unconvincing miniature work, but this bare-bones minimalism appropriately lends a sense of legitimacy to a film that spends a great deal of time condemning the effects of commercialism’s penchant for overindulgence. Ditto the sitcom-styled narrative and easily-resolved conflicts; Idiocracy’s intelligence and effectiveness is found in the details, its effectively uncomplicated approach not unlike the open arms of someone loving enough to actually point out the flaws within that need our utmost attention. The quality of laughs may waver sporadically throughout, but the film is most effective in suggesting that even when we’ve hit rock bottom, we still have the power to redeem ourselves – with two more years until the next presidential changeover, we need that message now more than ever.

The Good Shepherd (2006): C-

Robert De Niro’s earnest yet deflated The Good Shepherd plays like a Screenplay 101 final exam submission, crafted chiefly to satisfy a list of requirements: it’s Very Important Subject Matter (check) provides a foundation for a Character Study (check) with Estranged Family Subplots (check) and a Prolonged Moral Dilemma (and check). Some great films are born in the editing room; while we’ll never know whether or not such a fate could have bestowed itself upon this effort, a more liberal nip-and-tuck certainly wouldn’t have robbed this bloated would-be epic of anything it believes itself host of. The story of the formation of the CIA, the Bay of Pigs debacle and related aftermath as experienced by agent Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), the film exhibits a strong knowledge of its history (character names have been changed to protect their real-life counterparts, however) and a deep concern for the political and moral implications brought into question by unwavering commitment to one’s country. Roped by responsibility into marriage after a one-night stand, Wilson is recruited overseas by the Office of Strategic Services while his wife is still pregnant, unable to return home for several years. The postwar formation of the CIA furthers his estranged relationship to his wife and son, and his adherence to country slowly but surely costs him his soul. This we know, because for one-hundred-and-sixty-five relentless minutes The Good Shepherd damn near drowns itself with its unwaveringly solemn sense of importance, never going beyond surface-deep concoctions to convey its sense of emotion or conflict. There’s plenty of important fodder here but the script never probes the weighty moral quandaries beyond the obvious (angry wife, resentful son, etc.). Caught halfway between a respectful history lesson and a shameless salute to Oscar, De Niro directs with zero flair while his actors and actresses – with the exception of Angelina Jolie – approach the material seemingly under the impression that anything less than the most stoic ensemble performance of all time will render its dramatic underpinnings mute. Jolie doesn’t fare much better, but like a tiger fresh out of its cage, she at least injects some zest into a role that was surely as faceless on the page as its many fellows; the rest of the cast suggests humans devoid of emotional range, as if from some futuristic dystopia. While its political pontifications suffocate under De Niro’s inability to give his film a tone other than impending, ethereal dread, any substantive threads of its intended character examination are swiftly negated by the film’s insistence on gently coddling its audience every step of the way. De Niro and company have plenty to say but want to offend nobody while saying it, and in the process exhibit the wide gap between the like of Steven Spielberg’s Munich and a the work of someone who would rather please the masses than truly take a stand. As such, The Good Shepherd is virtually irrelevant.

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006): B-

Homogenized filmmaking betrays its better intentions in The Pursuit of Happyness, although – like the economic forces oppressing Will Smith’s doggedly persistent Chris Gardner – even the glossiest of surfaces can’t extinguish the genuine emotions running beneath them here. An offensive trailer itself vies for the Best Picture nomination, but the end result is thankfully devoid of such relentlessly pandering histrionics. Believe it or not, Will Smith is the film’s biggest – and perhaps only – asset (if I’m able to forgive him Bad Boys II, anyone is), instilling a rumbling sense of perpetual struggle into his character who – judging from the rest of the film’s players – was probably far less layered on the written page. Pursuit’s rags-to-riches tale is bourgeois to the core, from the opening tinkling of its Forrest Gump-styled soundtrack to the unwaveringly pretty nature of its 1981 San Francisco surroundings (even the subways are an unvarnished white with but one or two bums dotting the landscape as decorations, while public restrooms are seemingly cleaner than those of the White House), yet Smith anchors it with a confrontational realism that gives the film a social weight otherwise sorely lacking. Behind on rent, hardly employed and now a single dad, Chris applies (and – spoilers! – is accepted to) a six-month stock broker internship program at a local firm, laying virtually everything on the line for a job he has but a slim chance of receiving in the end, despite his high-ranking academic and military achievements. As goes the story, things get predictably worse, worse and worse before they get better in the end, but The Pursuit of Happyness gets points for barely sermonizing its story of ones clawing their way up the economic ladder (Smith’s voice-over does the trick, but scantly appears throughout the entire film), instead letting the tough and true facts about capitalism’s mythological “meritocracy” sink their unloving claws in (although, one wishes that the film acknowledge the racial inequalities inherent to its tale a bit more substantially). Gabriele Muccino’s direction never condescends, but its habitually beauteous Lifetime-esque vision of the lower class’ plight regularly offsets the narratives intended dramatic resonance, while the supporting characters disappointingly serve as little more than obstacles and contradictions to Smith’s hard-working do-gooder. Beneath the disingenuously uplifting score and slick cinematography is something more think-skinned and true, the oft-bitter taste instilled by the American dream no more fully realized than a scene in which Chris’ blood seeps from his arm into a plastic pouch at a donation clinic, his life’s accomplishments in vain as he is reduced to selling his physical body for a mere twenty dollars.

Jan 15, 2007

Blood Diamond (2006): D

Like so many contemptuous brethren before it, Blood Diamond truly, utterly believes that it is carrying out some potentially world-changing act of goodness, should enough people see its life-changing story and heed its call. Illegal diamond exportations in African have fostered government corruption, while rebel organizations terrorize the countryside, killing and enslaving the innocent as a means of taking back their land and resources. Such is the case with Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), who barely escapes death and mutilation but is separated from his family when he is enslaved as a diamond miner for the R.U.F. (Revolutionary United Front). Enter Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Maddy Brown (Jennifer Connelly), he a smuggler-for-hire with detailed inside knowledge and she a journalist probing the matter. Solomon knows the whereabouts of one of the largest of the titular stones ever found; Danny wants the rock, Solomon wants his family and Maddy wants a story to take down the corrupt diamond organizations, thus forming the self-serving circle of this misbegotten road movie. Blood Diamond brings to mind the simplified treatment of worldly tragedies in the same line as Hotel Rwanda, but whereas the latter was merely watered down and overly polished, the former is outright clueless in both content and execution. Director Edward Zwick wants to challenge the foundations of bourgeois culture but his condescending exposition-action-exposition narrative structure is but pandering to removed individuals who need overt stimulation to give a shit about Africa in the first place (which doesn’t even begin to cover how the film horrifyingly turns scenes of torture and genocide into high-octane, cartoonish action sequences). Truly offensive, however, is the film’s go-nowhere result, its purported liberal ideologies untapped beyond their potential for speedy, soulless entertainment for the masses, culminating in a literal standing ovation and feel-good resolution that suggests the problem is beyond concern, thanks to our heroes.

Jan 14, 2007

District B13 (2006): B+

The French indie actioner District B13 serves as the much-needed cinematic antidote for this year's Running Scared. While both films use CG enhancement and fancy camerawork to create an internal sense of hyper reality, the aesthetic of Wayne Kramer’s pathetically angst-ridden flop was not unlike rolling around in broken glass, while director Pierre Morel uses his barbarous stylistics to compliment the film's rugged terrain; sight and sound meld, rather than clash, into a cohesive adrenal force. Opening with an visually intoxicating foot chase (that would be heavily mirrored – albeit in tasteful fashion – in Casino Royale), the film distills its genre components down to their bare essentials, finding time for genuine character moments amidst its mandatory fulfilling of narrative obligations, which are both sleek and without tedium. Less bombastic than the similarly to-the-point Ong-Bak, District B13 keeps its punches and bullets alive by grounding them in genuine moral issues and a kicker of political responsibility, which it incorporates as more than mere lip service. Taking place in 2010, one of the worst sections of Paris has been walled off and all but forgotten by the inept and cynical government; Leïto (David Belle), a criminal born inside the demonized district, is forever at odds with the overruling warlord Taha Bemamud (Bibi Naceri), whose gang members steal a government bomb that undercover cop Damien Tomaso (Cyril Raffaelli) is called in to defuse before it explodes, obliterating everything within the surrounding eight kilometers. Both smart and direct, District B13 is the kind of lean, mean action film most of America’s working directors only wish they could pull off.

Vampyr (1932): A+

Through a hallucinatory combination of desaturated images and muffled audio (as if implying that the viewer themselves is in the state of a trance), Vampyr exercises its muted horror not in the form of a traceable narrative but by means of the lingering vision of a haunted and often logic-defying dream. It’s cloudy visual aesthetic the result of an accidental stock exposure (which, when discovered in the dailies, impressed director Dreyer so much that he chose to repeat the process for the entire film), the film’s ever-gliding camera effortlessly creates an overwhelming sense of place, even while that place is ever-shifting and just out of grasp. Bodiless shadows, unseen spirits and other suggestions of the unreal cumulate in a nerve-racking sense of menace, the conflict manifesting less in physical violence than a dreadful unease. We never really see the vampire at the source of the film’s death and misfortune (at least not in expected fangs-and-cloak form), but the presence of the undead is unmistakably felt throughout.

Given the emphasis placed on mood, it is unsurprising that the scenes committed to narrative exposition are among Vampyr’s least compelling, yet even these approach a level of tonal mastery. The loose, loose story concerns a wandering philosopher, David Gray (Julian West), who comes upon a country manor, his arrival immediately foreshadowing some sense of doom when an old man inexplicably enters into his room, leaving behind a note marked “Do not open until after my death.” Compelled to explore his bizarre surroundings, David bears witness to the bizarre murder of the old man and subsequent attack on one of his two daughters. The shadowlike spirits abound and mysterious folk suggest deeper threads of foul play, although David has less of an active role in the matters than he does simply act as an audience surrogate. The story here is beside the point; what we’re watching is not unlike some metaphysical duel between the spirits of good and evil in a pseudo-physical manifestation.

If Vampyr is but a dream on film (which is to say it’s not nearly as complex as any of Lynch’s dream-within-a-dreams, although at times it proves as seductive as his Mulholland Drive), then Dreyer’s camera acts as the dreamer’s floating presence. Tranquil pans convey a sense of action beyond the limits of the frame, often happening upon dreadful deeds just committed. Characters themselves act as if in something of a trance, hardly sedated but nonetheless acting as if controlled by forces other than their own. This languished tone conveys the spiritual chaos at the core of the film, but its use of inexplicable and eerie imagery – from a funeral procession seen from inside the coffin to a person buried beneath a pile of purifying flour – is equally foreboding. Dreyer – fresh off his masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc – again uses his composition to its fullest potential, the characters and their surroundings positioned in manners most suggestive of ill will lurking about. That some consider it one of the finest horror films ever made is both a blessing and a curse - Vampyr is a masterwork, but more than simply being frightening, it penetrates deep into the psyche to carry out its menacing, ethereal lurk.

Frankenstein (1931): A-

1931 was a banner year for American horror films, the genre jump-started by the near-simultaneous release of Universal’s Dracula and Frankenstein, the popularity of which would spawn dozens of sequels, imitators, and rip-offs in years to come (the pattern only to be replicated with the emergence of Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, and Jason Voorhees nearly a half-century later). Both are regularly considered classics, but while Dracula was seemingly filmed so as to recreate its stage play source material rather than adapting it to the screen (resulting in meandering, lethargic production, Lugosi’s presence notwithstanding), Frankenstein is truly tour-de-force cinema, tremendously flexing the newfound opportunities available to the medium (such as basic editing, camera tracking, use of close up and long shots, etc.), so commonplace now that they are unfortunately taken for granted. To watch Frankenstein is to relive a time when the sound picture was still young, but it is a grand work regardless of its innovative technical mastery.

Frankenstein opens with a warning to the audience, advising them that the faint of heart may want to consider leaving before the shocking and horrifying story gets underway (an ironic precaution, considering that even PG-13 films of the genre today regularly feature dismemberment and gore in levels inconceivable at the time). While its ability to cause audience members to faint in their seats has certainly diminished, in contrast to the upped gore quotient now commonplace (not to mention Mel Gibson’s recent religious contribution to the cinematic world), Frankenstein’s psychological inquiries remain both striking and potent, its morality-lined narrative brimming with existential hurdles on both ends of the scale. Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive), driven by his pursuit of greater truth, bestows life upon a body created from dead corpses; the result is quickly dubbed a “monster” and rejected by all around it, the unmerited hardships it so quickly encounters earning scornful retribution. The formers God complex certainly raises questions as to how far man should go in the name of science, but the film makes no suggestion that a higher being exists to judge the unfolding events. Man and his creation must instead judge themselves compared to each other, their ability or inability to coexist the ultimate test they must wage with each other.

Culture often lends itself to misinterpretations, one of the more egregious examples in both literature and cinema being the association of the title Frankenstein not to the scientist from whom the name is drawn, but instead to the monster he creates. While this wrongful association most likely arose out of sheer laziness, the confusion also reflects the fact that the creator and his creation are, in many ways, two sides of the same coin (exhibited no better than the intimidating cutting between the two while trapped in the windmill). Dr. Frankenstein strives to validate his existence through conquering the impossible, while his creation, the result of said impossibility, is unable to find fulfillment for even the most basic of human needs. No scene in the film is more tragic than the monster’s first (and only) pleasant human encounter. Having escaped from captivity into the countryside, he comes upon a young girl playing by a river. Here, Karloff’s childlike nuances are most soulful, having finally found a companion who sees him as a fellow, rather than sometime to be scorned. The two briefly enjoy tossing buoyant flowers into the water, his sewn-together hands awkwardly grasping their tiny petals, but his eyes in complete wonder as to their beauty. The fun is cut short, however, when the monster mistakenly assumes that the young girl shares the same ability to float; immediately after tossing her off of the bank, he realizes his mistake, and stumbles fearfully away from the scene of the crime.

Karloff is deservingly remembered for his moving portrayal of the childlike monster, but it would appear that the wrongful association of him to the film’s title has also slighted the work of Colin Clive as the monster’s creator. Brimming with flawed ambition and strung out beyond delusion, his performance may very well be the ultimate portrayal of the mad scientist, every line of dialogue delivered as if his very sanity hangs in the balance. After the infamous storm sequence in which life is bestowed on the lifeless body – a miniature masterpiece of crackling scientific instruments, thundering sound effects and fearful onlookers – his half-manic screams of “It’s alive!” are enough to send trembles throughout all five senses. Nearly the entire film is pitched at such a level, marred only by the occasionally overdrawn expository sequence, as well as a closing scene that doesn’t provide much closure (a forgivable trait, for it left the door open for what would become one of the greatest sequels ever made).

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Alphabetical Review Archive

Adventureland (Suite101)
Afghan Star
Air Guitar Nation (Slant Magazine)
Alice in Wonderland (2010) (Suite101)
Alien: Resurrection
Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (The House Next Door)
Aliens in the Attic (Slant Magazine)

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) (The House Next Door)
American: The Bill Hicks Story (Slant Magazine)
American Gangster

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Apocalypse Now (Slant Magazine)
Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters
Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Season Five (Slant Magazine)
Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Season Seven (Slant Magazine)
Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1, Season One (Slant Magazine)
Art School Confidential
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
| #2 | #3 (Suite101)
Away From Her
Awful Dr. Orloff, The

Back-up Plan, The (
Slant Magazine)
Bad Santa
Badland (Slant Magazine)
Banished (Slant Magazine)
Bank Job, The
Batman (1989)

Battle Royale
Be Kind Rewind
Bee Movie
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (Slant Magazine)
Berlin Alexanderplatz (The House Next Door)
Betrayal, The (Slant Magazine)
Birth of a Nation, The
Black Snake Moan
Black Swan
Black White + Gray (Slant Magazine)
Blind Side, The
Blood Diamond
Bloodline (Slant Magazine)
Bloody Aria, A (Slant Magazine)
Bourne Ultimatum, The
Boy Interrupted (Slant Magazine)
Braindead (aka Dead Alive)
Brave Little Toaster, The
Brave One, The
Braveheart (Slant Magazine)
Bride Wars

Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star (Slant Magazine)
Bustin' Down the Door (Slant Magazine)

Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The (1920)
Cannibal Holocaust
Cantor's Tale, A (Slant Magazine)
Capitalism: A Love Story

Captain America: The First Avenger
Captivity (Slant Magazine)
Carbon Nation

Cars 2
Case 39 (Slant Magazine)
Casino Jack
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Changeling, The (Slant Magazine)
China Question, The
Chloe (Suite101)
Chop Shop
Chronicles of Narnia, The: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Cinema Verite
(Slant Magazine)
City of God
Clockwork Orange, A (The House Next Door)
Cop Out
Cove, The
Covenant, The (Slant Magazine)
Cowboys & Aliens
Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Daria: The Complete Series (Slant Magazine)
Dark Knight, The | #2
Date Night
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Day & Night
Day of the Dead (1985) | #2
Days and Clouds (Slant Magazine)
Dead Pit, The
Dead Silence (Slant Magazine)
Dead Snow
Dear John
Death Proof
Death Sentence (Slant Magazine)
Delta Farce (Slant Magazine)
Desert Bayou (Slant Magazine)
Despicable Me
Dial M for Murder (Slant Magazine)
Diary of a Country Priest (Slant Magazine)
Dirty Dancing
(Slant Magazine)
Dirty Harry
Disaster Movie (Slant Magazine)
District 9
District B13

Do the Right Thing
Doomsday (Slant Magazine)
Doors, The
Drag Me to Hell

Dumbo (Slant Magazine)
Dust (Suite101)

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (Slant Magazine)
Easy A
Education, An
Enlighten Up!
Epic Movie (Slant Magazine)
Etienne! (Slant Magazine)
Evil Dead, The | #2
Evil Dead II
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (Suite101)

Family That Preys, The (Slant Magazine)
Fast Five
Fighter, The
Film Socialisme
Fired Up!
(500) Days of Summer
Fountain, The
4th Dimension, The
Fox and the Hound, The
Fox and the Hound 2, The
Frankenstein (1931)
Friday the 13th (2009)
Friday the 13th: Part II

Fright Night (2011)
Funny Games
Funny Games U.S.

G-Force (Suite101)
Gamera vs. Zigra (Slant Magazine)
Gamera, the Super Monster (Slant Magazine)
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (Slant Magazine)

Ghost Rider (The House Next Door)
Ghost Train (Slant Magazine)
Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The
Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai, The (Slant Magazine)
Godfather Part III, The
Godzilla vs. Gigan
Godzilla vs. Hedorah
Gogol Bordello Non-Stop (Slant Magazine)
Golda's Balcony
(Slant Magazine)
Good Shepherd, The
Goodbye Solo (Suite101)

Gran Torino (Suite101)
Great Debaters, The

Green Hornet, The
Green Zone

Guardian, The
(Slant Magazine)

Halloween (2007)
Halloween II (2009)
Hamlet (1996) (Slant Magazine)
Hangover, The
Hangover, The: Part II
Happening, The (The House Next Door)
Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harvest (Slant Magazine)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Suite101)
Help, The
Horrible Bosses
Hostel: Part II
Hot Tub Time Machine (Suite101)
Hotel Chevalier
Hula Girls (Slant Magazine)

Hurt Locker, The | #2

I Am Legend (The House Next Door)
I Can Do Bad All by Myself (Slant Magazine)
I for India (Slant Magazine)
I Know Who Killed Me (Slant Magazine)

I Walked with a Zombie
Ice Age: The Meltdown

If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise (Slant Magazine)
Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, The
In Search of Beethoven (Slant Magazine)
In Search of Mozart (Slant Magazine)
In the Valley of Elah
Incredible Hulk, The (The House Next Door)
Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, The

Inglourious Basterds

Invasion, The (Slant Magazine)

Invasion of Astro-Monster
Iron Man
Irréversible (Suite101)

Jane Eyre (2011)
Japanese Girls at the Harbor (Slant Magazine)
Jason X
Journey from the Fall
(Slant Magazine)
Jumper (The House Next Door)
Jurassic Park

Kickin' It Old Skool
(Slant Magazine)
Killer, The

Killer Elite (Slant Magazine)
Killers (Slant Magazine)
King of Kings, The (1927)
King of Kong, The: A Fistful of Quarters
King of the Zombies
King's Speech, The
Kingdom, The
Kung Fu Panda 2

Land of the Dead
Last King of Scotland, The

Last Sin Eater, The (Slant Magazine)
Law Abiding Citizen

Legend of the First: The Return of Chen Zhen (Slant Magazine)
León, La (Slant Magazine)
Let Me In
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
Let the Right One In
Let's Go to Prison (Slant Magazine)
Letters from Iwo Jima (The House Next Door)
Limits of Control, The
Linda Linda Linda (Slant Magazine)
Lion King, The (Slant Magazine)
Little Children

Lives of Others, The
Living and the Dead, The (Slant Magazine)
"L'Origine de la Tendresse" and Other Tales (Slant Magazine)
Lovers of Hate (Slant Magazine)
Lynch (Slant Magazine)

Madea Goes to Jail (Slant Magazine)

Madea's Big Happy Family (Slant Magazine)
Make Believe (Slant Magazine)
Mala Noche (Slant Magazine)

Man Bites Dog
Marine, The (Slant Magazine)
Masseurs and a Woman, The (Slant Magazine)

Masters of Horror: Homecoming
Meet Dave (Slant Magazine)
Meet the Spartans (Slant Magazine)
Men Who Stare at Goats, The
Messengers, The (Slant Magazine)
Miami Vice

Midnight in Paris
Mini, The
Miriam (Slant Magazine)
Mist, The
Monastery, The: Mr. Vig and the Nun (Slant Magazine)
Mr. Thank You (Slant Magazine)

My Best Friend's Girl (Slant Magazine)
My Bloody Valentine (2009)
Mystery Science Theater 3000 (DVD Volume XX) (Slant Magazine)
Mystery Science Theater 3000 - MST3K vs. Gamera (DVD Volume XXI) (Slant Magazine)

National Treasure
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Night of the Living Dead (1990)
Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2, A: Freddy's Revenge
Nina's Heavenly Delights (Slant Magazine)
Norbit (Slant Magazine)

Nosferatu (1922)
Nosferatu (1922) (Slant Magazine)

O Jerusalem (Slant Magazine)
Oasis of the Zombies
Ocean's Thirteen
Office, The: Season Six (Slant Magazine)
On the Rumba River (Slant Magazine)
One Day
127 Hours
Orange Winter (Slant Magazine)
Ornamental Hairpin (Slant Magazine)
Other Guys, The
Out of Place: Memories of Edward Said (Slant Magazine)

Outsourced (Slant Magazine)
Over the GW (Slant Magazine)
Over the Hill Band, The (Slant Magazine)

P2 (Slant Magazine)
Paul Blart: Mall Cop
Phantom of the Opera, The (1925)

Phantom of the Paradise
Phyllis and Harold
Plague of the Zombies, The
Planet Terror
Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (Slant Magazine)
Praying with Lior (Slant Magazine)
Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire | #2
Princess and the Frog, The
Prodigal Sons
Public Enemies
Pursuit of Happyness, The
Putty Hill

Quantum of Solace (Suite101)
Quarantine (Slant Magazine)

Raising Flagg (Slant Magazine)
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Reader, The
Red Line (Slant Magazine)
Red Shoes, The (1948)
Remember Me
Reno 911!: Miami (Slant Magazine)
Repo! The Genetic Opera
Resident Evil
Resident Evil: Apocalypse
Resident Evil: Extinction (Slant Magazine)
Resident Evil: Afterlife
Return of the Blind Dead
Return of the Living Dead, The
Revolt of the Zombies
Revolutionary Road (Suite101)
Righteous Kill

Rise of the Planet of the Apes 
Road, The (Suite101)
Robinson Crusoe on Mars (The House Next Door)
Rock the Bells (Slant Magazine)
Rolling Like a Stone (Slant Magazine)
Room 314 (Slant Magazine)

Sanjuro (Slant Magazine)
Santa Clause 3, The: The Escape Clause (Slant Magazine)

Santa Sangre (Slant Magazine)
Saw II
Saw V
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Scrap Heaven (Slant Magazine)
Semper Fi: Always Faithful (Slant Magazine)
Serious Man, A
Serpent and the Rainbow, The
Shaun of the Dead
Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Short Circuit
Short Circuit 2
Silent Souls 
Simpsons, The (Season 23) (Slant Magazine)
Simpsons Movie, The
Skills Like This
Skinwalkers (Slant Magazine)
Slumdog Millionaire

Smurfs, The
Social Network, The
Speed Racer
Spirit, The (Suite101)

Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (Slant Magazine)
Star Wars Holiday Special, The (The House Next Door)
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Steal A Pencil For Me (Slant Magazine)
Step Brothers
Suffering and Smiling (Slant Magazine)
Sunflower (Slant Magazine)
Sunshine Cleaning (Suite101)
Super 8
Sweet Land (Slant Magazine)

Swinging with the Finkels

Taste of Tea, The (Slant Magazine)

Taxi Driver | DVD (Slant Magazine)
10,000 B.C.
Terminator, The (Slant Magazine)
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - Season 1 (Slant Magazine)
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - Season 2 (Slant Magazine)
Terminator Salvation (The House Next Door)
That Evening Sun
They Came Back
Thin Red Line, The (Slant Magazine)
35 Shots of Rum

3:10 to Yuma (1957)
Throw Down Your Heart
To the Limit (Slant Magazine)
Tombs of the Blind Dead
Town, The
Toy Story (Slant Magazine)

Toy Story 3
Transformers: Dark of the Moon | #2

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (The House Next Door)
Tree of Life, The
Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The (Slant Magazine)

Trigun: Badlands Rumble
Tron: Legacy
True Grit (2010) | #2 (Slant Magazine)
Trust Us, This Is All Made Up (Slant Magazine)
12 Angry Men (1957)
28 Days Later
28 Weeks Later
25th Hour
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (Suite101)

2001: A Space Odyssey (Slant Magazine)

Under Our Skin
Underdog (Slant Magazine)
Undoing (Slant Magazine)
Unforeseen, The (Slant Magazine)
Unknown Soldier, The (Slant Magazine)
Up | #2
Up in the Air | #2
Usual Suspects, The

Valentine's Day
Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj (Slant Magazine)
Vanishing Point
Vantage Point

W. (Suite101)
Walk to Beautiful, A (Slant Magazine)
Warrior's Way, The (Slant Magazine)
Watership Down
We'll Never Meet Childhood Again (Slant Magazine)
Weirdsville (Slant Magazine)
Wendy and Lucy
Wetlands Preserved: The Story of an Activist Nightclub (Slant Magazine)
When We Leave
Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?

Where Soldiers Come From
Where the Wild Things Are
White Zombie
Who Does She Think She Is?
Why Did I Get Married Too? (Slant Magazine)
Wild Blue Yonder, The

Winnie the Pooh (Slant Magazine)
Wizard of Oz, The (1939)
Wolf Man, The (1941)
Wolfman, The (2010)
World According to Sesame Street, The (Slant Magazine)
Wrestler, The

X-Men: First Class

X-Men: The Last Stand
X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Year One
Yiddish Theater: A Love Story (Slant Magazine)
Yojimbo (
Slant Magazine)
You Again (Slant Magazine)
Youth Without Youth

Zombi 2
Zombi 3
Zookeeper (Suite101)
Zoom (Slant Magazine)