Quick! Before it Expires: Blue Velvet

A few weeks after Harrison and I debated whether Cronenberg or Lynch was better, in an almost Lynchian twist of fate, one of David Lynch’s films is set to expire on Netflix. I write today to talk about Blue Velvet the film that solidified David Lynch as one of the most acclaimed filmmakers of his generation.

I encountered the work of David Lynch late, as a college film student, when a friend of mine, showed Eraserhead to me during my freshman year — I was immediately hooked. Lynch’s meso-length film (not a short not quite a feature) is not for everybody and I would say to the casual film fan or the beginning cinefile, start with either Blue Velvet or the Elephant Man if they want to dive into Lynch.

Velvet has become a hugely influential film that hundreds of filmmakers have quoted as an inspiration. Most don’t remember that Blue Velvet initially divided critics, most famously Siskel & Ebert. Here’s a link to Ebert’s original review of Blue Velvet, which includes a couple of nice clips.

Ebert has since changed his mind about the film

To the normal everyday filmgoer this film is strange. Helium, psychological and sexual domination, fetish, voyeurism, film noir, loss of innocence, and a pastiche of 50’s nostalgia mix into a wonderfully dark and complicated film where repeated viewings only enhance the films interpretations.

The film marks the return of Dennis Hopper after a long drug-rehab-caused break from acting. It also marks an early on screen appearance of Laura Dern, who went on to her marvelous career including repeated collaborations with Lynch. The film also stars many Lynch regulars including Kyle MacLachlan (Dune, Twin Peaks) Jack Nance (Eraserhead, Dune, Twin Peaks) and Brad Dourif (Dune).

This film is worth watching if only to so you can say you saw it and impress your film buff friends. It expires in 3 days. (Oct 31)

For more expiring titles check out QueueNoodle.

Josh E.

Set Your DVR: Val Lewton Tribute 10/29

I know that you’re probably going to have a ton of fun social Halloweeny things to do on Sat. October 29th. But if you have a DVR, if you aren’t one of those Halloween Party two days before Halloween people, or if you’re hosting a party and want eerie background TV images/sounds then tune in to TCM. The lineup is devoted to Val Lewton who in my opinion, is the bridge between the Universal Horror films in the 1930s to the Atomic Age monster-sci-fi films in the 1950s. He was a producer who kept budgets small and the movies personal, eerie, and terrifying.

I came across the films of Val Lewton as an obsessive DVR’er. I would record any title that I found interesting. I watched the film Night of the Demon/Curse of the Demon (depending on whether you’re in England or the US). The film is a brooding atmospheric horror film very similar to The Ring or Drag Me to Hell. Or should I say that those two films are like Night of the Demon. The film, about a man who is cursed and the demon that will kill him by the end of the film is so suspenseful that when you see the demon you ignore the cheesy 1940s effects.

The films that TCM will air are The Cat People, The Body Snatcher, Isle of the Dead, and Val Lewton: Man in the Shadows, a TCM original documentary about the late Val Lewton, produced and narrated by Martin Scorsese.

I can’t speak to Cat People, but it is directed and by Jacques Tourneur, the same director of Night of the Demon. I expect the same atmospheric suspense that is worth the watch. This is similar to all of the Lewton pictures, they feature high drama/melodrama with a subversive deviance that is very entertaining.

I have seen the two later films, both produced in 1945 both starring the great Boris Karloff in two of his best on-screen performances. The Body Snatcher, directed by thriller filmmaker Robert Wise (Run Silent Run Deep, The Andromeda Strain, The Sound of Music… what?)  and starring Bela Lugosi, is about a man who retrieves corpses for medical experimentation. Things go awry when the doctor believes that Gray (played by Karloff) is not digging up corpses, but rather killing them. It follows a similar narrative structure of brooding suspense to a wonderfully horrifying climax as Night of the Demon.

The Isle of the Dead stars Boris Karloff as a war-torn General quarantined on a Balkan island, who believes that one of those on the island is a Vampire. Isle of the Dead is the most refreshing takes on the vampire myth that I’ve ever seen and did I mention that it was made in 1945? The film never mentions the word vampire, instead it uses this Greek term, vorvolakas, which is incredibly creepy when Karloff repeats it with his deep voice. (An aside to those of you who are Greek folklore aficionados: vorvolakas is a creature in Greek folklore that has similarities to both werewolves and vampires. In this film it’s used as to denote a psychic vampire or a vampire that feeds on the energy rather than the blood of another.) It’s a claustrophobic thriller that is excellently creepy when you watch it all alone after dark.

The Lewton-inspired night begins at 8pm (ET) with Cat People, followed by Martin Scorcese Presents: Val Lewton: Man in the Shadows at 9:30pm (ET) and a double feature of The Body Snatcher and Isle of the Dead at 11:00pm (ET) and 12:30am. (ET)

For more articles like this you can visit tvworthwatching.com which has a daily rundown on what to watch.

Josh E.

An Over Abundance of Origin Stories

I watched Green Lantern a little while back. Let’s just get this out of the way: It’s not a good movie. Wooden acting, an overstuffed script, bland characterizations. Basically everything that’s supposed to make a movie good wasn’t present in this one.

However, there was something I realized after watching the movie (and maybe responsible for why it did not end up being a good movie). Hal Jordan’s origin story is not good. I’m a huge comic book fan. I’ve read lots of comics featuring Hal Jordan and I can say he’s an awesome character. What I never really read was his origin story. Hal Jordan’s origin is that he basically stumbled onto a dead alien and the Green Lantern ring just happened to choose him.

Common logic nowadays is that if a superhero gets a movie, the first movie has to be an origin story for that character. To me that logic is severely flawed. Not only is it flawed, but that thinking is contributing to a bubble of origin stories that I’d gladly see popped.

There are decades upon decades of movies featuring characters that have never existed on screen before. I’m not just talking about book/play/whathaveyou adaptations. I’m talking about movies where a character is invented for that movie. Movies like Chinatown, Poltergeist, American Beauty, Groundhog’s Day, and countless others all feature characters never before seen on screen. None of those movies feature long, bogged down sequences where we see a character’s origin story. The characters are introduced and the audience learns what they need to know about the characters as the story progresses.

If you want to get a little closer to the superhero genre, look at Raiders of the Lost Ark and Dr. No. Lack of superpowers notwithstanding, Indiana Jones and James Bond are pretty close to being superheroes themselves. But neither Raiders nor Dr. No feature origin stories of those two characters. Even Indiana Jones origin story in The Last Crusade only takes about 15 minutes of screen time.

Another side effect of the over saturation of origin stories is that “prequel” has become synonymous with origin story. Look at Temple of Doom. That movie is a prequel to Raiders. It’s not a prequel because it’s an origin story for Indiana Jones. It’s a prequel simply because it comes chronologically before Raiders.

The-first-movie-is-an-origin-story wasn’t always the case for the superhero genre. Look at Blade or X-Men. The closest Blade gets to an origin story is a minute long shot of Blade’s mother dying. X-Men shows a young Magneto but that was more about the character being Jewish during WWII than his ability to manipulate metal. X-Men tells a story about certain mutants battling other mutants. When Storm is introduced we don’t flash back to when she was a child learning how to control the weather. (Incidentally, both Blade and X-Men helped usher in this age of superheros at the cinema.)

I partially blame Batman Begins for this abundance of origin stories. As a singular piece of cinema, it is an amazingly good movie. It’s one of the top five greatest superhero movies ever made. The effect and impact it had on movies is where I place blame. Batman Begins was so good at telling Bruce Wayne’s origin story that it created a false requirement to tell a character’s origin story. However, the only reason Batman Begins succeeded in telling an origin story is because Bruce Wanye’s path to becoming Batman is an outstanding story.

An origin story isn’t necessary for a superhero movie to succeed. If you look at the source material, you realize that character’s origins might be referenced, but they aren’t told ad nauseum. A comic book will reference that Daredevil was blinded as a child by radioactive chemicals, but it doesn’t linger on that story point.

It is possible to tell a story featuring characters never before seen on screen without resorting to an origin story. Every other genre of movie does this. Trust your audience and feed them information they need to know when they need to know it. I once heard a piece of writing advise that said, “If you’re writing a story and setting up elements of the story just to ‘get to the good parts,’ cut out everything before then and just start at the ‘good part.'”

Superhero movies need to cut out the bland exposition and just get to the good parts.

Harrison

Quick! Before it Expires: Batman Under the Red Hood and Scream

Batman: Under the Red Hood

Batman: Under the Red Hood might be the best DC Animated movie to date. (Note: As of this writing I’ve still yet to see the adaptation of Batman: Year One.)

The movie is a streamlining of a fairly important and recent Batman story arc. A mysterious man called the Red Hood has come to Gotham. It’s not quite clear whether this Red Hood is a good or bad. Both Batman and the notorious crime lord Black Mask have vested interest in figuring out what Red Hood’s game plan is.

I won’t spoil anything, but this movie has fairly dark themes and action set pieces. The opening sets the tone for the rest of the movie and it’s an absolutely brutal sequence.

This movie also has a radical shift in visuals and voice acting. The animation has a anime edge to it. It looks like traditional western animation filtered through anime aesthetics. Also, longtime animated Batman fans may be disappointed to learn that Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil have not reprised their roles as Batman and Joker, respectively. However, once you get over that, you realize that Bruce Greenwood (Captain Pike from 2009’s Star Trek) and John DiMaggio (Futurama’s Bender) are great fits for The Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime.

If you’re a fan of DC or animated superhero movies, you absolutely owe it to yourself to check this movie out. It might not best Mask of the Phantasm in your opinion but it will definitely your second favorite animated Batman movie.

Video: Exclusive: ‘Batman: Under the Red Hood’ trailer

Batman: Under the Red Hood expires on October 25th.

Scream

By the time Scream was released in 1996, the slasher genre was dead in the water. At the time audiences were immune to any thrills or scares from the genre. The slasher turned into the type of movie you put on with a group of friends to make fun of.

What better way to breath life back into the genre than to tell the story of cynical, detached, and skeptical teenagers being targeted by a masked killer? Scream challenged its audience head on and won.

That’s the legacy of Scream. The impact Scream had was so great that fifteen years later it’s hard to remember a time where meta and self-referential characters didn’t exist in movies. I’m not saying Scream is solely responsible for that type of storytelling, but it’s certainly a forefather.

If you’ve never seen the movie it might seem “old” or “done before,”  but you really have to remember that before Scream, there weren’t meta characters in horror. Everything was done earnestly. For fans who have seen it before, it’s fun to look back at the first time we encountered characters like this.

Scream expires on November 1st.

You can see a list of all the movies expiring on Netflix here.

Harrison

Quick! Before it Expires: Audition

It’s getting near the end of October and that means my teenage obsession with horror films resurfaces for a few weeks. I’ll be trying to update with tv listings, netflix recommendations, and other Halloween themed posts.

I peaked at Queue Noodle today and noticed that Audition is expiring soon. If you’re into horror movies and have a strong stomach I recommend it highly. I repeat you need a strong stomach to watch this film. 

The film follows a man searching for a new wife who holds an audition process. The young woman he selects is not who she says she is. A good way to summarize what follows is the old phrase: “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” The film is directed by Takashi Miike, who is a wonderfully inventive, graphic, and extreme filmmaker who enjoys pushing buttons of critiques and audiences alike.

This is not for everybody. My brother and I, experienced and battle-tested horror fans, watched, shook our heads in dismay, jaws on the floor. I do think the film is an amazing example of J-Horror and for the right horror fan is an amazing viewer experience.

You can stream the movie here. It expires on October 20th.

For more expiring titles check queuenoodle

Josh E.

Debate: David Cronenberg vs. David Lynch

In an effort to give you time to grab some of the films mentioned in this debate in time for Halloween, Harrison and I have decided to debate which David is better: David Cronenberg or David Lynch.

Harrison: I have a personal history with Cronenberg that spans back to my childhood. My dad made me watch The Fly when I was about five or six.

Josh E.: I stumbled upon both of these filmmakers later. I watched Scanners when I was in high school, and Eraserhead and Blue Velvet when I was a freshman in college.

Harrison: It was about two years ago when I started watching Lynch stuff.

Josh E.: I think both you and I believe that Cronenberg and Lynch are both amazing filmmakers, and this debate comes down to what as viewers we are seeking from our films.

Harrison: I agree with that 100%.

Josh E.: For my money there is nobody more innovative when it comes to narrative than David Lynch

Harrison: I don’t disagree with that. Although, Lynch can get wrapped up in himself and his stories. Which is a theme I’ll be coming back to often during this debate. Conversely, Cronenberg does tend to make more straight forward stories (albeit with radical subject matter).

Josh E.: It’s interesting to note that both filmmakers have taken career turns in the past decade. Cronenberg has gone from a genre legend to a mainstream director, while Lynch has gone from Oscar darling and experimental filmmaker to full-blown multimedia artist.

Harrison: I’d say that because now Cronenberg’s movies are more accessible. Comparing A History of Violence to Videodrome, there’s no question in my mind which I’d rather show to someone to introduce them to Cronenberg’s work. As much as Videodrome is a Cronenberg classic, it’s so strange and jarring that it might be better for a Cronenberg-newbie to slip into that weirdness through a movie like A History of Violence. With Lynch’s new direction, he’s making himself less accessible to new audiences. Or at the very least, Lynch is making himself less accessible to movie going audiences.

Josh E.: This is where we diverge. Yes, History of Violence is an excellent film, but I think Videodrome is one of the most interesting films I’ve ever seen. And instead of staying true to himself. Cronenberg has gone from a writer/director to just a director. And the content that he was writing about was amazing.

Lynch has gained artistic freedom enough to explore what always interested him: surrealism, postmodernism, and the visual arts. Remember Lynch was a art student in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, before he went to the AFI.

Harrison: Just to get back to your point about Cronenberg real quick. It’s true he’s not writing anymore, but it’s not like he went from something like Crash to Night at the Museum. He’s still taking on projects that touch upon and exhibit his tastes.

It’s funny you bring up Lynch being an art student because one of my complaints is that in his work, there’s always this undercurrent of tone/content that he’s still in art school. It’s that sort of content that is strange just for strangeness’ sake. The opening to Mullholland Dr. with the two guys in the diner is the epitome of that.

That conversation is so strange and obtuse that I wanted to stab myself with a rusty screwdriver. Fortunately the movie picks up a lot of steam after that sequence.

Josh E.: Strangeness for strangeness’ sake is a big problem with Inland Empire (which I implore all Lynch fans to not show to anybody you want to like David Lynch).

Mulholland Drive is a masterpiece of cinema. The conversation you mentioned functions as a de facto greek chorus, giving the audience a clue about what the film is exploring. The shadowy figure that the man describes represents the horrible underside of the hollywood dream.

Harrison: Second point about that conversation: The acting was terrible.

Josh E.: I don’t understand this critique. Lynch watches and idolizes filmmakers such as Fellini, Kubrick and Sunset Boulevard by Billy Wilder. Melodrama is a part of his work and the acting isn’t bad, it’s stylized. I find some people like it and some don’t. Personally I feel like it works with the usually over the top world that his films are set in most times.

Harrison: I don’t want to get too nitpicky because even though I’m definitely on Cronenberg’s side, I can still admit Mulholland Dr. is a masterpiece. However, I’ve seen those two actors from the diner scene in other movies and tv shows. They’re both pretty good. Also, the rest of the acting in the movie is great. That scene, to me, really got the movie off to a bad start. But to reiterate, the rest of the movie is a stone cold classic.

Josh E.: It could also be Lynch not wanting to throw out his baby. Mulholland Drive was originially a tv pilot that was rejected and turned into a film. Maybe the scene made more sense in the original pilot.

Harrison: Twin Peaks was arguably stranger than Mullholland Dr but it never really came off as strange for strangeness’ sake. It made sense in the context as this really weird satire of soap operas.

Josh E.: It was also a collaboration. And Mark Frost definitely grounded the series in a reality albeit a weird reality. It also took itself less seriously than Mulholland Dr.

Harrison: I think Twin Peaks’ attitude about itself was one of its strong points. Especially because around the same time there were shows like Dallas, Dynasty, Beverly Hills 90210, and Melrose Place.

Josh E.: Not to change gears, but if we keep talking about this we’ll only agree. I think that Lynch has been more innovative and truer to his roots. While Cronenberg has gone away from his most innovative work. Existenz, Videodrome, and The Fly are all examples of Cronenberg using his talent as a director and his squirming slimy wonderful body-centric horror.

Harrison: I think the argument about “staying true to your roots” is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. If you don’t move on from your roots people consider you a one trick pony. If you do move on, then people accuse you of not staying true to your roots. As far as Cronenberg is concerned, while I’d love to see him make another body-horror movie, I tend to think that he might seem out of the loop in today’s film climate. With movies like Hostel and Saw, body deformation horror has gone mainstream. It’s a smart move by Cronenberg to sidestep that stuff. Plus, even though it’s been quite a while since his last body horror movie, he’s only done three movies since then. In another 10 years, this might be a slight detour of his filmography.

Josh E.: It’s also me lamenting the fact that we’ve lost another intelligent horror filmmaker to the crime/thriller genre. His next two movies A Dangerous Method (which premieres in late November), and Cosmopolis (which marks Cronenberg’s return to writing), don’t seem to have any trace of his former thematic concerns. Which seems strange to me, as a writer, it’s rare that you abandon themes that you’ve explored. It’s odd. The only thing that seems to connect Cronenberg’s new millennium work was the tattoos in Eastern Promises.

Harrison: I can see where you’re coming from. After two-plus decades of exploring certain themes it does seem like a radical shift to not be doing that. And Cronenberg never had the career of someone like Stephen Soderberg who defines his filmography by experimenting and exploring new subject matter. On the other hand, I’d rather see an artist explore new ground rather than stay stagnant in the same pool of themes. As far as losing Cronenberg as a horror director, I think that’s a case of horror fans being super protective of their creatives. It wouldn’t really bother me if Scorsese or Michael Mann started doing horror movies. For the most part, horror fans being protective is really endearing. I’d like to be in the situation where I had a group of super dedicated fans. Sometimes though, it’s good to branch out.

Josh E.: Both Scorcese and Mann have flirted with horror, Scorcese with Shutter Island and Mann with the Keep from 1983.

Harrison: At any rate, I think it’s a-okay for directors to try out new genres and themes.

Josh E.: After rereading what we’ve been talking about the debate is about career evolution. Cronenberg’s career has evolved from small genre pictures with inventive plots to more conventional thrillers. Meanwhile Lynch has gone from weird thrillers to crazy surreal innovative films and visual art. I can’t fault Cronenberg because his “conventional thrillers” are awesome and he’s been getting great performances out of his actors. Personally I want a filmmaker who has gained some artistic freedom and respect to use it. Support younger filmmakers like Lynch did with Eli Roth. Push the boundaries of Cinema because you have the freedom to do so. It seems like a waste to not explore new frontiers of cinema and Lynch has done just that.

Harrison: My views can be wrapped up as: David Cronenberg is the better filmmaker because while his movies can be strange, weird, disgusting, and/or challenging to watch, the content of the movie always fits in with the theme of the story. Lynch can and has made weird, gross, challenging films, but he too easily falls into the trappings of self indulgence. Lynch’s movies also fall prey to an “art school” mentality. Cronenberg comes out on top as a director who has a better command of storytelling. Furthermore, Cronenberg’s late-stage revival has been better than Lynch’s (mainly because Cronenberg is still making feature length movies).

Who do you think is better? Tell us in the comments below and vote in the poll to the right.

P.S. Do you like this format of debate? Would you like us to continue like this or revert back to the old way?

Second Chance Cinema: Mission: Impossible (1996)

We have a theory that maybe, sometimes, a film gets such a bad rap early on that its reputation is unfairly spoiled for the rest of that movie’s history. This is Second Chance Cinema. We re-examine the most infamous films to determine whether its reputation is earned or not.

The Mission: Impossible series is quite interesting. Each movie in the franchise has certain things and themes in common: Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, exotic locales, double crossing, exciting action. On the other hand, each movie has the mark of its director. The first movie is clearly a Brian De Palma movie, the second John Woo, the third JJ Abrams.

It’s interesting to look back on this movie knowing that the franchise really is about letting directors put their own style and flair onto the franchise. Things would have played out differently if Brian De Palma had directed the sequel. As it stands, each movie is its own entity. There’s hardly any reference from recurring characters to past events.

Back in 1996 I don’t know if people were ready for a Brian De Palma Mission: Impossible movie. The movie was often cited as being confusing and not representative of the Mission: Impossible franchise. However, knowing what we know now, it’s easy to look back on the movie and appreciate it’s quality.

The movie might be confusing on first pass, but if you go back and watch it again, the plot is fairly straight forward. It’s one of those movies that does get better with repeated viewings. Because you’re aware of the plot twists, it’s easier to let go of that mentality that you have to figure out the movie. You can then appreciate it on a different level.

The tone of the movie is also noteworthy. Rather than some big dumb action movie (watch the second one if that’s what you’re after), the first Mission: Impossible movie is an ode to thrillers from the 50s and 60s. The action isn’t too fantastical; it’s always tense and nerve wracking. Each action set piece has an underlying, thrilling edge to it. Whether it’s Jean Reno barely able to hold onto Tom Cruise in the CIA building or the helicopter chase through the train tunnel. Compared to the other movies, it’s downright tame. Nevertheless, the action is very successful in this movie.

Another reason to enjoy this movie is that after three total, it’s clear that one recurring theme is that Ethan Hunt has a different team in each movie. The death of his team in the beginning was shocking at the time. But now, it’s easy to see they were just a team, not the team.

All-in-all, Mission: Impossible is a pretty good movie. It get replayed on cable all the time, so I tend to think people may have already been clued in to it’s success as a movie. But if you haven’t, give it a second chance.

Harrison

Quick! Before it Expires: The Verdict (1982)

It’s been a busy week here at MovieDebaters. First, I was informed by some friends in the biz, that they’d like to produce a web-series from a pilot script I sent to them not too long ago. Then Thursday night, Harrison and I both received emails that our first script was selected as a comedy finalist for the Hollywood Screenwriting Contest. Hooray.

In the hullabaloo, I forgot to write my Friday blog. I apologize.

What better way to make it up to our wonderful readers than to recommend one of my favorite movies The Verdict.

The Verdict is a courtroom drama adapted by David Mamet, directed by Sidney Lumet, and starring Paul Newman in the leading role. As a film lover, if you can’t get around that tandem of talent then I can’t help you. Newman stars as Frank Galvin, a down on his luck, alcoholic lawyer who has resorted to chasing ambulances to get clients. Galvin is given a second chance when he takes a medical malpractice case and instead of settling for a large amount he decides to pursue those who have done wrong. He is given the opportunity to make a moral stand and fight for his client and Galvin rises to the occasion.

Newman’s performance is great (as usual) but also watch for James Mason who as the awesome antagonist Ed “the Prince of Darkness” Concannon. This was one movie I was forced to watch in screenwriting class that I can’t turn off when it appears on television.

The Verdict Expires in 10 days (October 11)

Josh E.

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