Movie Review: RED DRAGON

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red dragon
Universal
2002
R

“Remarkable boy. I do admire your courage. I think I’ll eat your heart.”

  • A set of grisly murders brings FBI Agent Will Graham out of retirement and puts him in search of an atrocious killer who’s driven by the image of a painting. Yet his only means of survival and success are to seek the help of another madman, whom he himself captured: Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Marked by past scars and quickly running out of time, Graham finds himself tangled in a heap of madness, sacrificing his work, his family, and above all his own life, to put an end to pure evil.

After the success of the movie Hannibal, which followed Dr. Lecter after the events of Silence Of The Lambs, I guess the suits in Hollywood decided to strike while the iron was hot, and crank out the movie version of the novel that started it all, Red Dragon. Only, as I mentioned in the Silence Of The Lambs review, it already had a film adaptation, under the title of Manhunter in 1986. And by “crank out”, I mean that this movie was released a year and a half after Hannibal was out. I didn’t care. Anthony HopkinsĀ and Edward Norton in the same movie? My butt was in the theater opening night.

So then, after a flashback of sorts showing how Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins! but, you knew that) was captured by FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton!) back in 1980, a traumatic night which resulted in Graham retiring from the FBI, he’s visited several years later by Special Agent Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel!) at his Florida home. Seems there’s a new serial killer, nicknamed “The Tooth Fairy”, who has stalked and killed two entire families during sequential full moons. Another full moon is coming up in a couple of weeks, and they want Graham to head up developing the killer’s psychological profile. Turns out, the Tooth Fairy Killer is a film developer named Francis Dolarhyde, who carries out these murders at the behest of an alternate personality called The Great Red Dragon, who turns out to be a fan of William Blake paintings. Well, one in particular. He goes so far as to have a back tattoo based on that painting, which I have to admit is rather impressive, butt crack shot or no. He believes that every victim he murders brings him closer to becoming the Dragon. We get some allusions to his abusive upbringing at the hands of his grandmother, so that may have something to do with all of this cosplaying gone horribly wrong. Meanwhile, a sleazy tabloid reporter (Philip Seymour Hoffman!) is hounding Agent Graham for information on the killer to use in his paper, which Graham decides to use to his benefit, and gives an interview that deliberately trolls The Tooth Fairy in an attempt to anger him out of hiding. Which works, kind of…because next thing you know, the tabloid reporter is kidnapped, super-glued to an antique wheelchair, and tortured by the Dragon to record an apology, then bites his lips off, sets him on fire and wheels him down to the police department. Kind of a surprise side romance develops between Francis and a blind coworker (Emily Watson!), which doesn’t set well with his alter ego, as he is compelled to kill her. Bro’s before ho’s, and all that. With Graham closing in on the killer, Lecter decides to have some fun by giving the address of Graham’s family to the Dragon, thrilling spine-chilling action and intrigue ensue, and Graham sails off into the sunset with his family. Literally.

I remember leaving the theater with a warm satisfied glow after watching Red Dragon. It had shades more akin to Silence Of The Lambs rather than Hannibal, as the character of Dr. Lecter was more of a periphery character that shown brighter than the main antagonist, as far as movie villains go. The Francis Dolarhyde character was definitely one of the better sympathetic villains in the movie, what with his capacity to actually care for someone, and his tragic back story. This, of course, doesn’t excuse the utterly horrific murders that he’s committed, insanity plea or not. And believe me, this guy is way more chilling than Buffalo Bill in Silence Of The Lambs.

As always, everyone does a great job here. Loves me some Edward Norton in my movies, and he’s great as ever as Agent Graham. I can understand the decision to go with Harvey Keitel as Agent Crawford, as it’s pretty well known that some of the things that Scott Glenn did while preparing for the character in SotL pretty much scarred him for life, and he didn’t want to reprise the role. And although the role was a brief one, Philip Seymour Hoffman was excellent as the sleazeball tabloid reporter. Also, this movie may be the reason I have a slight fanboy crush on Emily Watson.

Overall, I rank Red Dragon right up their with Silence Of The Lambs, and, like that one, I tend to watch at least once a year. It’s a fantastic movie. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

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silence of the lambs
Orion Pictures
1991
R

“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”

  • Clarice Starling is a top standout at the FBI’s training academy. Jack Crawford wants Clarice to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist who is also a violent psychopath, serving life behind bars for various acts of murder and cannibalism. Crawford believes that Lecter may have insight into a case and that Starling, as an attractive young woman, may be just the bait to draw him out.

Silence Of the Lambs. The classic psychological thriller crime drama that has transcended to iconic classic. It was also the movie public’s second introduction to the character of Hannibal Lecter, the first being in the movie Manhunter in 1986. I had no idea of any of this when I walked into the Cinema 3 theater back in my Junior year in high school, when this movie was originally released. I wasn’t even aware it was based on a novel that was written years prior. I went in completely cold. I walked out…well, I’ll get to that in a bit.

We begin with watching trainee Clarice Starling running through a calisthenics gauntlet at the FBI Academy, when she’s pulled by Jack Crawford of the Bureau’s Behavioral Science Unit. She’s assigned to interview Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, a former psychiatrist with a rather gruesome gastronomical hobby. They’re hoping that she’ll be able to convince him to help catch a psychopathic serial killer that was nicknamed “Buffalo Bill”, the latest in the Ed Gein-style wackadoos (with a splash of Ted Bundy) who kidnaps young women and then removes the skin from their bodies. The latest kidnapping by Buffalo Bill happens to be the daughter of Senator Ruth Martin. After employing the scientific method of “playing with her head like a drunken kitten”, Lecter eventually agrees to provide information in exchange for a quid pro quo from Starling, offering clues about Buffalo Bill in exchange for personal information. Meanwhile, the Senator’s daughter is alive and kept in the pit of Bill’s basement, being starved to loosen her skin up, and beset upon with chilling catch phrases that will haunt the minds of everyone who has watched this when walking down the skin lotion isle at the drug store. There’s also what is famously known as a “man-gina” scene, so this movie is just chock-full of mentally scaring material. The FBI follow up some false leads, Hannibal Lecter manages to escape his imprisonment in the most gruesome way possible, and Clarice pretty much stumbles into her victorious nabbing of the Buffalo Bill killer and saves the day. Oh, and the Senator’s daughter is also still alive. Then, while celebrating her being made an official FBI agent, Clarice receives one last phone call from Dr. Lecter, who congratulates her, and mentions he’s having an old friend for dinner.

After first watching this movie in the theater, my first reaction was, “Huh. That was interesting.” I noticed I wasn’t as “disturbed” or “freaking out” like many of the other patrons at the movie that night, and when a couple of class mates noticed I was there as we were exiting the theater, one of ’em quipped, “Oh, crap, Case* was there. Were you taking notes?” This was probably my first personal suspicion that I may not normally view such horror and psychological terror the same way as “normal” people do. As a matter of fact, I was more amused by the gasps and little squeals of terror from the audience during that tense night vision stalking scene, than on the edge of my own seat.

Mind you, I was far from being that guy who was rooting for the baddies. I was firmly in the “Good Guy” party, rooting for Clarice to catch the guy. And I know that what Lecter did was bad, but I also had to admire his grace and style, especially his artistry and taste (no pun intended). And I also realize that this is starting to sound less like a movie review, and more like a psychological study on myself. I’m nothing if not self-reflective.

As far as the movie goes, yeah, I love it. I try to watch it every year or so. It’s one of my favorites. Also, this happens to be the one movie that I haven’t read the Thomas Harris-penned novel yet. Might have to remedy that, soon. Otherwise, Silence Of The Lambs is highly recommended, as it is a classic, in my not-so-humble opinion.

[*Case functioned both as my last name, and as a quirky nickname by my high school chums…ah, memories]

Movie Review: FIGHT CLUB

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fight club
20th Century Fox
1999
R

“Now, a question of etiquette. As I pass, do I give you the ass or the crotch?”

  • A ticking time-bomb insomniac and a slippery soap salesman channel primal male aggression into a shocking new form of therapy. Their concept catches on, with underground fight clubs forming in every town, until a sensuous eccentric gets in the way and ignites an out-of-control spiral toward oblivion.

I’m afraid that there’s nothing I can say in this review of the movie Fight Club that hasn’t already been articulated before, and far better. By now, I believe the significance of the cultural zeitgeist that was Fight Club is apparent…as well as the utter misunderstanding of the point of the movie all together, but that’s getting ahead of myself again.

The final months of 1999 leading into the 2000s was kind of a heady time. We had the lingering phantom threat of the Y2K apocalypse, movies like The 6th Sense, The Blair Witch Project, and The Matrix were revolutionizing the way we watched movies, and the internet was starting to become much more ubiquitous. I was really embracing the Gothic subculture and delving more into the existential ramifications of my own faith, slowly making the journey out of the shiny plastic veneer that is Evangelical Christianity in America.

What does this have to do with Fight Club, you may ask? Good question. All I can say that, when I first watched this at a second-run theater in Omaha with a friend of mine who had already seen it before me and was insisting that I take in a showing with her, my mind was immediately blown by pretty much everything: From the opening credits featuring a zoom-out effect from the inner microscopic view of the protagonist’s brain, out to the gun sticking in Ed Norton’s mouth, to the way everything unfolded in the narration, the anarchic nihilism and strong psychological implications–not to mention a heavy dose of Unreliable Narrator messing with my brain like a drunken kitten–and I emerged from the theater wanting more. Of course, this led to heading to one of the many Village Inn spots and talking about it for hours over food and coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

Fight Club is another one of the movies in my Top Ten Favorite non-Horror list, something that I’ve revisited many times, and still get something out of even after all the viewings. I could go on for reams of pages of virtual paper, picking this movie apart and trying (and failing miserably) to explain why this movie has had such an impact on me. Again, other much better articulated articles and posts have already done that for me. I kind of understand why this movie has been taken completely the wrong way by the masses. Sometimes you have to embrace the darkness to fully understand the light better. I read that on a t-shirt, somewhere, I think. Anyway, highly recommended.

Movie Review: PSYCHO

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psycho
Paramount Pictures
1960
R

“It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?”

A little note before we begin: No, I have not watched the shot-for-shot remake from 1998 that stars Vince Vaugn. That needless atrocity doesn’t exist in my reality. Now that I have that out of the way…

Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological noir thriller classic Psycho is the movie that gets all of the praise, all of the accolades, and is included in all of the Greatest Movies Of All Time lists. There’s a reason for that–it’s a movie that will stick with you for a long, long time after you first watch it. And this is even when the big twist of the movie has been well known for decades.

Even if you haven’t seen this (yet), you’re familiar with the story of Psycho: A real estate secretary who just stole a cool $40k from her employers is on the run, stops at the Bates Motel during a heavy rainstorm, and gets stabbed in the shower in one of the most iconic scenes ever to have been filmed. And this is only the mid-point of the movie. Soon, the boyfriend of the lady gets suspicious, and launches an investigation, which leads back to the motel, which leads to a shocking revelation concerning proprietor Norman Bates and his overbearing mother.

So yes, Psycho is an iconic piece of cinematic mastery, and should be seen by everyone who considers themselves an enthusiast of the art of filmmaking, at least once. Me, I first watched Psycho back in college, during a horror movie marathon the Film Club was hosting, and the film blew my mind with how stylish and atmospheric it was. Although I knew what the twist was long before watching this, it still sucked me into the story with its masterful combination of the black and white filming style, pacing, acting and soundtrack itself that is all sorts of iconic. Going beyond the film itself, this movie changed the way we watched movies, as before Psycho, people would just arrive at a movie whenever, because it cycled through on a continuous loop. Now, because of Hitchcock’s insistence that no one arrive right when the big shocking twist happens, and spoils everything, we now have scheduled times at movie theaters. Which really is an improvement, if you think about it.

Anyway, many words expended just to say that Psycho is a classic and must be watched by everyone. I don’t care if you don’t like “old-timey” movies. You will watch this and you will love it.

Movie Review: MANDY

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Mandy Movie Poster
XYZ Films
2018
NR

“Knock knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Erik Estrada.”
“Erik Estrada who?”
“Erik Estrada from CHiPs.”

  • Taking place in 1983, Red is a lumberjack who lies in a secluded cabin in the woods. His artist girlfriend Many spends her days reading fantasy paperbacks. Then one day, she catches the eye of a crazed cult leader, who conjures a group of motorcycle-riding demons to kidnap her. Red, armed with a chainsaw and other weapons, stops at nothing to get her back, leaving a bloody, brutal pile of bodies in his wake.

Behold, the movie that valiantly tries to out-crazy Nicholas Cage. And it does somewhat succeed…until the third act, when Cage’s character eats some LSD and cocaine. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, Mandy is this psychological horror flick that started to get some positive buzz from the usual sources I go to for horror reviews and recommendations after being show at the usual festival circuits. Mind you I would have eventually watched Mandy because of Nicholas Cage–it was the only reason I ever watched those horrid Ghost Rider movies, after all–but then reports of this being completely weird even for a Nic Cage movie, I immediately put it in my watchin’ cue and took in the madness.

What can I say about Mandy? Well, besides that, yes, it is a completely insane movie, even despite Nic Cage. In terms of horror, one might classify Mandy as an American-style giallo film, something that relies more on style, jarring camerawork and music cues, and ultra-violence for something that’s quite visceral and madness-inducing. Again, this is all before Nic takes the LSD.

The story of Mandy was pretty straight-forward in the DVD blurb contained at the top of this review–the girlfriend of a lumberjack gets kidnapped by a hippie cult lead by a failed musician (as you do), boyfriend tries to get wife back, hippie leader gets spurned and kills girlfriend, boyfriend snaps and takes drugs and decimates the cult all the while hallucinating. It’s your typical love story, really.

So, in a nutshell, Mandy is crazy-violent, intensely insane, and will have you questioning reality by the ending shot of the movie. This is a movie that is essentially one long lucid nightmare put on film. Do I recommend watching Mandy? Yeah…but, only if you’re fully aware of what you’re in for. If you’re a fan of emerging from watching a movie with your optimism, cheery disposition and sanity fully intact and your faith in humanity unshaken, this isn’t the movie for you. For the rest of us, by all means, enjoy the madness.

Movies+Beer: DOCTOR SLEEP

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James is joined by Brian in watching an early morning showing of Doctor Sleep, the sequel to 1980’s The Shining. Listen in as they chat about it at Sean O’Casey’s, and stick around as Brian rants a bit about the upcoming Star Wars movie in December…

::END TRANSMISSION::

Movie Review: UNSANE

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unsaneFingerprint Releasing / 20th Century Fox
2018
R

“My job is to access and interpret data to produce analytical results. I did that job. Taking your frustration out on me will not alter the results. You’re quite within your rights to take your business to another bank. Another analyst may interpret the data more to your liking. But they’d be doing a bad job.”

Usually, whenever I hear about a movie with a gimmick selling point like “shot entirely on the director’s cell phone!”, I think it’s some young upstart that’s trying to squeeze the most out of whatever resources their budget would allow. It’s a novel way to try and get one’s foot in the door, for sure. However, in the case of Unsane, this is a case of a well-established director deciding to experiment. This director in question happens to be Steven Soderbergh, director of such notable films as Sex, Lies & Videotape, the Ocean’s 11 remake and its sequels, Erin Brockovich, The Hunger Games, and a bunch of other flicks you may have heard of. As a matter of fact, the previous year Logan Lucky was getting a bit of a buzz when Unsane was released to theaters.

In Unsane, we follow an office worker named Sawyer who is trying to build a new life for herself trying to escape a stalker. As a result, she has some unfortunate PTSD issues when she tries to get back into dating; however, while visiting with a counselor at the Highland Creek Behavioral Center, she inadvertently signs a release form that voluntarily commits her to a 24-hour observational stay. Of course, no one there takes her claims of being not crazy seriously, and after a physical altercation with one of the inmates as well as a staff member, her stay is lengthened to seven days. Over the course of the week, she keeps trying to convince everyone that she’s not really crazy, while claiming that her stalker is now one of the nurses on the ward. Is she slowly going insane, or is there really a stalker after her, manipulating things? SPOILERS: The answer is yes.

As a movie, Unsane is a pretty decent psychological chiller, that’s very well acted with a fairly engaging story. The decision to go with filming this entirely on an iPhone 7 actually contributes to the claustrophobic and maddening atmosphere of Sawyer’s decent into psychological breakdown. Of course, like a lot of movies with a premise like this, the story loses a bit of steam in the final act when it decides to go the “She was never insane all along!” route. That’s not to say that it ruined the movie; I’m just more of a fan of the ambiguous “are they mad, or was this real?” type of resolution in horror thriller movies.

Overall, Unsane is a pretty good slow-burn psychological thriller. Really, they could have just downplayed the whole “shot on an iPhone” aspect, or even left it out of the promotional bits all together, because really, it may have been more of a disservice to the perception of quality. That was kind of the reason why I passed on watching this in the theaters back when it was out. However, I do recommend giving Unsane a watch some time.

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