Monday, January 7, 2013


Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is unhappy with her life. But when she has the chance to embezzle $40,000 from her boss, Marion thinks that she has finally found the chance to be happy. On the run from her life and cops in Phoenix, Marion spends the night at a deserted motel and meets the introverted motel owner and manager, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). That night Marion is murdered and her body dumped into the swamp.The mysterious and bloody history of Bates Motel is revealed when people start visiting the motel in search of Marion and the lost money.

In short: this movie is brilliant. If you've ever wondered if Psycho will live up to the hype. It will. Thanks to a brilliant cast, an effective use of lighting, and a ear-splitting soundtrack, Hitchcock was able to maintain a sense of suspense throughout almost the entire film. But while the murder scenes in 1960 were bold and unsettling, those same murder scenes 60 years later are scary yet comical at the same time. Probably not quite the reaction Hitchcock was hoping for but it's a testament to how American movies have changed over the years--and also to the extent to which our culture has become desensitized to images of violence. A slasher movie without any images of a knife puncturing flesh? Boring! [Just kidding. I'm a baby when it comes to horror films and I am perfectly content watching a movie without a ton of gore.]

It would be an understatement to say that Psycho has become a cultural icon. EVERYONE knows the iconic killer shower scene whether they know that it's a scene from Psycho or not. But surprisingly when the movie was first released critics panned the film criticising the blatant sexuality and violence. Obviously Hitchcock knew what he was doing because the formula of sex and violence in today's market equates to box office gold. If anyone would dare to argue with the statement above, I enter into evidence all three of the Transformer movies. Let us be honest. Megan Fox and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley were not casted for their Academy Award winning actor abilities.

Critics also were not impressed with the performances in this film to which I must cry out in outrage. The fact that Anthony Perkins was not nominated for --much less didn't win--an Academy Award for his role as Norman Bates is a travesty. His performance from the first moment he steps onto the screen to last image of him sitting in the jail cell, wrapped in a blanket, with a fly on his hand is perfection. Perkins created a character that is alluring and disarming while at the same time unsettling and off putting. Perkins single-handedly created the image of a Psycho in American pop-culture.

In conclusion, Psycho is perfect for a informal movie night with friends. Wrap yourself in a blanket, make some popcorn, and laugh or cringe when the murderer is revealed. It is more suspenseful than scary so even scaredy-cats can enjoy this film.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Challenge

I am a self-proclaimed American and Foreign Film Enthusiast (Yes. I even put that on my college application because...well, it's true). I think that is pretty obvious because I have an entire blog dedicated to film and book reviews. But as much as I love movies, I feel that I don't appreciate the great classics of the past as much as I should. This is due, in large part, because I haven't seen many of them.

I want to sound educated when I talk about film--drawing comparisons to other works of great cinematography and acting. But watching old movies can be a bit intimidating. Not every old movie is a great--or even good--movie. Where to start? That was the question I asked myself. There are so many old movies out there and it quickly becomes hard to pick a starting point. So rather than just shoot an arrow into the dark, I decided to take the advice from others. I thought about using the Academy Awards as a spring board but quickly decided against it. The Academy Awards tend to be a biased towards films that deal with dramatic and dark subject manner. A comedy can be a great movie--one of the best--but it doesn't receive the same attention as an equally good drama. In this upcoming year, I wanted to watch a wide variety of films.

That is why I chose the AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies list (the original 1998 edition) as my own personal tour-guide through good film making of the last 100 or so years. And then I figured that if I wanted more, I could always continue on with the 100 Thrills or 100 Laughs list. I'm excited about this challenge. It's part of my New Year's Resolution. I will watch each film and then write a review on this blog by December 31 of 2013. Here is a link to the list--just in case you were curious. Wish me luck!

P.S. I sort of cheated a bit because I watched and posted a review for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner because it was required viewing for my history class. I hope you will not hold this against me. At the end of the challenge I plan to make my own list and re-rank all the films in the order according to which films I most enjoyed them. If you want to join me on this challenge write a comment below letting me know and include your blog (or vlog) link as well! My first "official" review will be up within the week.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Warm Bodies

When R (Nicholas Hoult) meets Julie (Teresa Palmer) he feels something--other than the overwhelming desire to eat people--since he became a zombie. Julie is initially terrified of the zombie who has essentially kidnapped her but as she spends more time with him, she realizes that he's changing--his heart is literally beating again. But can two people truly change the world for the better? And who will believe that zombies can actually cure themselves?

Warm Bodies starts off with the main character R, delivering a sharp and witty internal monologue via voice over because he's a zombie (and zombies can't speak). Nicholas Hoult shows all the signs of an up-and-coming Hollywood superstar. Super-star girlfriend? Check. Role in comic book film series? Check. Leading man in zombie romantic comedy? Definitely check! Hoult brings a level of dedication and nuance that is quite impressive for such a young actor. Unable to use words for most of the film, Hoult effectively compensates in his voice overs and with a very physical performance on screen. Analeigh Tiptopn--most known for her stint on America's Next Top Model and the Steve Carell obsessed babysitter in Crazy, Stupid, Love.--is another welcome surprise. She brings a brightness and comedic timing to the movie that makes you wonder why she isn't R's love interest because--quite frankly--you can't take your eyes off her. Tipton easily outshines the leading lady of the film, Teresa Palmer. Palmer gives a adequate but forgettable performance. Although it wasn't entirely her fault. She wasn't given much to work with in the script.
Conversely, Tipton and Hoult's superior performances were largely aided by their sharp dialogue--thanks to writer, but also director, Jonathon Levine. Levine's dry sense of humor made regular appearances throughout the film but unfortunately it was not enough to support a plot as thin and unsubstantial as this. Much like Summit Entertainment's other paranormal love story (You might be vaguely familiar with it. It's a little movie called Twilight) Warm Bodies made the fatal mistake thinking that a movie can survive solely on the obsessive and slightly creepy teenage love between a human and someone longs to be human. This flaw was  is most obvious in the last five minutes of the film--which seemed unapologetically lazy and quickly slapped together. The ending is over-simplistic and inherently contradictory to the main themes of the film. Talk about disappointing.

In conclusion, Warm Bodies is a funnier and less cheesy version of the first Twilight film. There are no sparkly vampires in this movie but be prepared for a handful of creepy zombies and one oddly adorable zombie. Warm Bodies begins with a bold and quirky concept but quickly transforms into a bland and unoriginal love story. It is a smart film that suffers from too many cliches...but at least it's funny.
Watch the movie in theaters February 1, 2013! Chat with me on twitter! Check out my style blog! Are you excited for this movie? Leave a comment!

FTC: I was lucky enough to attend a screening of Warm Bodies before the movie was released. I have no affiliation with Summit Entertainment.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening & The Struggle

When handsome and elusive Stefan Salvatore arrives in the small town of Fell's Church, everyone takes notice--even blonde Queen Bee Elena Gilbert. Elena can't help but be drawn to the quiet stranger in her European History class. Fortunately for Elena, the attraction is mutual. Unfortunately for Stefan, he isn't the only Salvatore brother fascinated by the beautiful Elena and the town's initial fascination has quickly turned to suspicion after a string of people are attacked soon after his arrival.

A quick warning to the devoted fans of the TV show: the books are VERY different from the show. The first time I attempted to read this book it was hard to get into the story because it was such a departure from the series (ex. Elena is blonde, Bonnie is a redhead, Caroline is a brunette, and that's just the tip of the iceberg!). The second time around I started reading knowing that it would be very different and it was a much more enjoyable experience. The writing is very similar to L.J. Smith's other works--it's quick and fast-paced read. This is a book that someone could easily finish in a day or two. The writing is geared toward a very young audience (perfect for late elementary or early junior high) and for that reason, it can feel a bit patronizing as an adult reading it.

The edition that I read is the one pictured above and it has the first two novels in the Vampire Diaries series conveniently and compactly packaged together into one. Out of the two stories I preferred the first one which is entitled The Awakening. The story chronicles the very beginning of Stefan and Elena's relationship. It also talks about how Stefan and Damon became vampires in the first place (if you think you know all the details, you don't). The second story, The Struggle, was considerably less focused than the first. It lacked enough material to stand as a novel on it's own and in retrospect it became very obvious that its main purpose was to serve as a transition between book one and book three. 

Compared to the show, the book series worked at a much quicker pace. Things that have just happened at the beginning of the fourth season happened at the end of book two. Also, the first two books tend to focus almost entirely on Elena and her feelings for Stefan (and eventually Damon) while the show has more time to look at the stories of supporting characters like Caroline and Bonnie and Tyler. Although the book is almost always better than the film/television adaption, this is not the case in this situation. The television show takes everything great and fascinating about the book series and, with a little help from a fantastic writing team, creates an action-packed hour of entertainment each week with a more developed plot and more fleshed out characters. It also doesn't hurt that there are some very attractive men on the show as well.

In conclusion, the first two books of the Vampire Diaries series are both fun, quick reads. The TV show hasn't stayed entirely faithful to the books from which it is based--and, quite frankly, that's a good thing. Other than Stefan, none of the characters are well developed and the story seems to run out of gas halfway through the second novel. It is a light and easy read but if you want an entertaining story about vampires, witches, and werewolves tune into The Vampires Diaries on the CW.

Read the book! Chat with me on twitter! Check out my style blog! Do you prefer The Vampire Diaries books or the TV show? Leave me a comment!

Monday, December 17, 2012


Alfred Hitchcock's latest film, North by Northwest, was a huge success. But now what? Everyone wants him to make another North by Northwest but Hitchcock (played by Anthony Hopkins) wants to do something different, something bold and shocking. He stumbles upon the idea for his next movie when he reads Robert Bloch's 1959 novel, Psycho. Despite lacking the support of Hollywood executives, Hitchcock is determined to make this movie. His relationship with his wife, Alma (played by Helen Mirren), is tested as movie production begins to spiral out of control.

As a self-proclaimed history buff and film enthusiast, the chances were high that I would enjoy Hitchcock. It was a wonderful movie experience--easily one of the best that I've had in a long time. There is so much to love about this film, it's a little hard to know where to start. Ironically, Hitchcock--a film about the process behind the creation of one of the most iconic horror films ever--is, at its core, a love story. Although seriously lacking in the blood and gore departments, the movie does begin with a bang that even the great Alfred Hitchcock would not see coming. And, of course, I do mean this literally. Director Sacha Gervarsi successfully turns back the clock and creates a compelling and smart story thanks to the contribution of the costume, makeup, set, art departments, and of course the acting. It is not necessary to have seen the film Psycho or be familiar with Hitchcock's work to appreciate the film but I would be lying to say that this background information doesn't help. It was fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes peak at what goes on during the making of a film. The story wanders a bit as Hitchcock has conversations with the serial killer who inspired the novel (played by Miachel Wincott) in his head. It was a curious addition to the film but a little unnecessary.
The acting on the other hand was nothing short of outstanding. It would be a surprise--and a mystery--if both Hopkins and Mirren weren't nominated for Oscars for their respective roles as Hitchcock and Alma. While Hopkins psychical transformation on screen is more startling than Mirren's, both actors immerse themselves so effortlessly and completely into the plot and their roles. It was refreshing to see such a strong female character during a time period with such gender inequality and especially in such a male dominated field like directing and movie production. Mirren perfectly captures Alma's struggles on screen while not compromising her strength or her femininity. Hopkins portrays the legendary director as a complex  human being--both supporting and contradicting the dictatorial and obsessive caricature that is so well-known in pop culture.

The ending is a bit cliche but audiences will no doubt leave the theater with smiles on their faces. Hitchcock is certainly the most unexpected feel-good movie this holiday season and it is definitely worth the time and the money.'s Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren! Do I need to say more?

Go see Hitchcock in theaters now! Chat with me on twitter! Check out my style blog! What is your favorite Alfred Hitchcock movie? Leave a comment below!

FTC: I was lucky enough to attend a screening of Hitchcock before the movie was released. I have no affiliation with Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Don't Look Down

Lucy Armstrong has never directed a feature length movie before but she somehow finds herself on a movie-set with her lying ex-husband, her energetic niece, her lethargic younger sister, two unenthusiastic lead actors, and J.T., an attractive Green Beret. As if things couldn't get worst, Lucy learns that she also has to deal with a hungry alligator and Pre-Columbian green phallic stones [that claim to cure impotence]. Lucy must find a way to finish the shoot and keep everyone alive--while finding time to spend time with J.T.

Don't Look Down is Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer's first attempt at a collaboration. And to be honest, it feels that way. Their writing styles are synced--but it doesn't feel like a melding of two minds but rather like Mayer is mimicking Crusie's distinctive style. Adding a few paragraphs filled with military/tough-guy jargon every couple pages seems to be Mayer's only noticeable contribution to the novel. And even Crusie's up-beat, funny style seems a little dull in comparison to her other works and even when compared to her later collaboration with Mayer, Wild Ride. Crusie and Mayer have their moments of brilliance and humor but their accomplishments are overshadowed by their shortcomings.

To be blunt, the plot is more than a little unoriginal--girl meets tall, dark, and dangerous man; things blow up; all the good guys live happily ever after. But despite its predictability, Don't Look Down is definitely a confusing ride. The plot seems all-over-the-place and there are so many characters to keep track of that it gets overwhelming. But in spite of its faults, Don't Look Down is an entertaining read. Something to take on a long flight or borrow from the library. It is only so disappointing because Crusie and Mayer are dynamic authors in their own right and together they should be a firework show on the 4th of July.

While Crusie and Mayer might not live up to such [arguably] unrealistic expectations, Don't Look Down is fun read filled with action and romance. It foreshadows the amount of excellence that develops from Crusie and Mayer collaborations in the future--once they get the hang of it. Practice makes perfect.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl is a historical interpretation of Anne Boleyn's (Natalie Portman) rise to power to become Henry VII's (Eric Bana) second wife and her fall from grace ending in her death in 1536. The film explores Anne's relationship with her family--most notably her relationship with her sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson) who was the King's mistress before his marriage to Anne.

This movie has received a lot of criticism since it was released--and I will not argue that most of it is not well deserved. Scarlett Johansson is a flat-expressioned, ice queen next to Natalie Portman. Although to be fair, it would be incredibly hard to be compared to Portman's performance...but Johannson brought underwhelming to a whole new level. In this film Portman exhibited the range and commitment that would later go on to win her an Oscar while Johannson's attempts to be coy and innocent are cringe-worthy and best to be forgotten. Although, again to be fair, Portman is given a more complex character to work with when compared to poor Johansson--who portrays the innocent and pure Mary Boleyn. Mary has no depth as a character and combined with many of the factors mentioned above, Anne wins over the audiences despite the fact that she's utterly power-hungry and willing to step on anyone who gets in her way. Portman's ability to create a sense of sympathy for her character makes it all the more heartbreaking when Anne's tragic fate comes to fruition.

The Other Boleyn Girl is a romantic re-imagining of Henry VII's marriage to Anne Boleyn. It is filled with historical omissions and inaccuracies to an extent that is almost down-right irresponsible. But there are not enough good things to be said for the visual aspects of the film. The clothing (especially the headdresses worn by the women) and scenic backdrop are decadent visual fantasies. And despite all the things that were wrong with this film--and there were a lot of things wrong with this film--there is something so compelling about a story of powerless people searching for some shred of power in their lives. There is a bit of the Romeo and Juliet affect in effect--the audience knows that this story will end badly but it is impossible not to root for these two young girls.

 The Other Boleyn Girl is a thinly veiled fictional story masquerading around as history. Portman does her best to keep the film afloat but average or lackluster performances from the rest of the cast and the obviously biased treatment of historical material keep the film from being an award-winning success. But even without critical success, The Other Boleyn Girl is an enjoyable story about a young girl who didn't understand the consequences of her search for power.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Rise of the Guardians

Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine) is lost--and he has been for the past three hundred years. Ever since he woke up in a pond and the Man in the Moon told him his name, Jack has been searching for his purpose and hoping that one day someone could see him. Jack finally get his chance when he is picked to help the Guardians--Santa (voiced by Alec Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (voiced by Isla Fisher), the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Jackman), and the Sandman--fend off the Boogieman (voiced by Jude Law) as he tries to regain the power he lost after the end of the Dark Ages.

Rise of the Guardians is animated eye candy--the character design, the scenery, everything is visual perfection. No fault can be found in any of the animation. Even going beyond the visual designs, each of the Guardians has a unique twist that sets them apart from other interpretations. Santa is a tough burly Russian with tattoos. The Easter Bunny is boomerang wielding Australian. The Toothy Fairy has feathers and countless mini-fairies to help her with her work. And the Sandman is the short and silent type. Although the comparison has been made it warrants repeating, this movie is animated Avengers for the little kid in everyone who still believes in magic. This rag-tag group of people come together, despite their differences, for the greater good--to save the world's children from a world of fear.

Warning to parents about to take their kids to see this: although this film is only rated PG, there are moments in it that are surprisingly dark for a movie aimed at such a young age group. Also be wary because this film tries and fails to reach a level of Pixar-like magic with a great chunk of the film dedicated to moments that are obviously meant to be tear-jerkers. Based on my experience, many of the younger children [four or younger] lost interest in the film half-way through. But while they may not appreciate it now, they will as they watch every year as they grow up. Because there is no denying that in a few years time Rise of the Guardians will be a Christmas staple--joining the ranks of other holiday themed classics in ABC Family's 25 Days of Christmas and other programs like it. There will be no escaping this infectious and funny film. And I see no reason why you would want to. There have been rumors that there are plans to make a sequel--hopefully this is true and hopefully the sequel will be as original and exciting as the first.

Rise of the Guardians will surely be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature but it will certainly lose to Wreck-It Ralph. Not for lack of trying but most certainly because Rise of the Guardians tried so hard to enchant and endear that it its efforts feels forced--even, dare I say it, formulaic. But as last remark I must as why was Chris Pine casted to voice a teenage boy? He does his best but he can't help but sound a bit old coming from the mouth of a boy who doesn't seem to have completed puberty.

Watch the movie! Chat with me on twitter! Check out my style blog! Leave a comment!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Joey (Katharine Houghton) and John (Sidney Poitier) have fallen in love and plan to get married--after knowing each other for less than two weeks. When Joey takes John home to meet her parents (Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy), they are met with shock and hesitation. John only has one day before he has to board a plan to go to Geneva but doesn't want to marry Joey unless they have her parent's complete support.

It will be impossible to walk away from this film without feeling like you've experienced something wonderful. Unlike the more recent remake starring Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner doesn't treat the issue of interracial relationships as a punchline. Made in 1967, Guess was a film that pushed boundaries. To put this all into context, at the time of filming interracial marriage was illegal in 17 states and blacks had only received the right to vote four years earlier. America was strife with racial tension and this film was one of the first to depict interracial marriage in a positive light.

Hepburn would go on to receive an Academy Award for her role in this film and it is well deserved. She lights up the screen with her easy elegance and long-forged chemistry with Spencer Tracy. Tracy's speech at the end of film is easily the most heart-warming moment of the entire one hundred and forty-eight minutes. And as Stacy's last role--he died two weeks after finishing filming--it is one that he and his family can certainly be proud of. He plays the lovable but over-protective father to perfection. Tracy and Hepburn's long history performing with each other plays out wonderfully as they were able to portray a long-timed, happily married couple all that more convincingly.

Hepburn and Tracy were fantastic but this film has received its fair share of criticism. Probably in large part because of the racial tension in America at the time, the script writers made the young couple in the center of the turmoil almost too perfect. Poitier's character is a doctor, who graduated from a prestigious school at the top of his class, helps sick children in Africa, is polite, dresses well, doesn't want to engage in pre-martial a nutshell he's perfect. While Houghton's character is sweet, trusting, young and naive--almost too naive for a young girl growing up in America in the 1960's. Joey doesn't just believe that interracial marriage shouldn't be an issue--it shouldn't--but she doesn't even seem to think that anyone else will either. The audience isn't given a chance to get to know her and she can come off as ditzy and oblivious--she never once acknowledges the trouble she and her future family might encounter.

But despite the criticism, this is a film that should be appreciated not only for it's entertainment value but for it's cultural significance. It was bold movie attempting to break ground in a tumultuous time in America--and I would argue that many of it's messages are still relevant today. But political and social, this story at the heart is about love--now that is something that we can all understand.

Watch the movie! Chat with me on twitter! Check out my second blog! What did you think of this film? Leave a comment below!
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