Monday, November 20, 2017

Blow Out (1981)


BLOW OUT
Brian De Palma
1981 • 107 Minutes • 2.35 : 1 • United States
Filmways Pictures

Cast: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, Dennis Franz
Screenplay: Brian De Palma
Cinematography: Vilmos Zsigmond
Producer: George Litto

Awards

National Society of Film Critics Awards
2nd place - NSFC Award
Best Cinematography - Vilmos Zsigmond

MURDER HAS A SOUND ALL ITS OWN!


It's a good scream. It's a good scream.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Jack (Travolta) is a sound effects master, recording some real-life sounds for a low-grade slasher movie one night when a speeding car blows a tire and crashes into a nearby river. Jack jumps into action to try and save the passengers. The driver, unfortunately already dead, Jack is still able to rescue the female passenger, Sally. It's revealed that the dead passenger is the governor and Presidential hopeful, and that Sally was clearly not his wife. Jack is involved in a tale of intrigue and suspense as he goes back to his recording of the accident time and time again, to discover any clues as to what really went down that fateful night. Thrown in a serial killer subplot and this becomes top-notch dePalma.

If the premise sounds familiar, it's because the same basic plot has been done before twice in cinema: first with a photographer as the protagonist in Michelangelo Antonioni's BLOW-UP in 1966 and then a surveillance expert in Francis Ford Coppola's THE CONVERSATION in 1974. And Brian de Palma certainly loves to wear his cinematic influences on his sleeve. See: DRESSED TO KILL/PSYCHO and BODY DOUBLE/VERTIGO.  That said, despite the familiar plot, his take on the story may be my personal favorite.

The movie is incredibly well-written, with a conspiracy angle running through out the plot of the film. As Jack's investigation begins to unravel the mystery, you have John Lithgow's character going on a string of random killings in order to manipulate the media into thinking a serial killer is on the loose. That way when he eventually kills Sally in the same gruesome manner, no one will connect her to the larger conspiracy to kill the governor. This is one of Lithgow's earlier film roles and he delivers as the cool and menacing Burke.

Not to be outdone, this may be John Travolta's finest performance ever. Apparently, I'm in good
company as Quentin Tarantino thinks so as well, which prompted him to cast him in PULP FICTION that performance. (FICTION, coincidentally, my other favorite performance).  Travolta had mostly played heroes or romantic leads in his career. In this film, he really gets to demonstrate his chops as this sleazy sound effects editor involved a exceedingly seedy mystery. The climax of the film (SPOILERS) involves Sally, who has been wired for sound to catch Burke on tap, being tortured and killed while Travolta helplessly listens in. It's a dark ending to kill off the romantic lead, and even darker that Jack uses the legitimate scream as a sound effect in his shlocky horror B-movie. "It's a good scream..."

The fact that Travolta wasn't nominated for an Oscar for this performance is a crime. But what's a real tragedy is that the sound design for this film wasn't recognized at all. That's insane. Never have I heard, perhaps except THE CONVERSATION, where sound effects and recording played such a crucial role in the production and have been so flawlessly executed.

The entire film is a meditation on filmmaking and how sound and images can be manipulated to create a story. There's a brilliant scene of Jack using still photographs and matching them to his edited sound recording to create a "movie" that he believes will shed light on the mystery.

Guilt is also a theme running throughout the film, as we find out that Jack used to work with the police in wiring informants for undercover operations, until one night it all went wrong and one of his informants was killed on the job. Sally, who was hired as a way to stir up controversy against the governor, also has a guilty conscience and the unlikely pair is motivated to absolve their sins by solving the mystery.  The political thriller aspect also smells a little of Nixon-era paranoia as well, with powerful men manipulating the news and media to attain their sinister goals. It's perhaps a sick joke that the climax of the film takes place on the backdrop of a massive fireworks celebration in the city where America was "born", Philadelphia.

While receiving positive reviews from critics, word got out of the films pitch black bleak ending, which ultimately hurt the box office.  Thankfully, with new restorations like the Criterion Collection blu-ray, this film will get rediscovered in the years to come.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A History of Horror



The Essential Films takes you on a journey through terror.

Featuring:
28 Days Later (2002)
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
Alien (1979)
Aliens (1986)
American Psycho (2000)
An American Werewolf in London (1982)
The Amityville Horror (1979)
Army of Darkness (1992)
Audition (1999)
The Babadook (2014)
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
Beetlejuice (1988)
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)
The Birds (1963)
The Black Cat (1934)
Black Christmas (1974)
Black Sabbath (1963)
Black Sunday (1960)
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Blob (1958)
The Body Snatcher (1945)
Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Candyman (1992)
Carnival of Souls (1962)
Carrie (1976)
The Cat and the Canary (1927)
Cat People (1942)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
The Changeling (1980)
Child's Play (1988)
The Conjuring (2013)
The Crazies (1973)
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Creepshow (1982)
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
The Dead Zone (1983)
Deep Red (1975)
The Descent (2006)
Dial M for Murder (1954)
Don't Breathe (2016)
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1921)
Dracula (1931)
Drag Me To Hell (2009)
Dressed to Kill (1980)
Duel (1971)
Eraserhead (1977)
Event Horizon (1997)
The Evil Dead (1981)
Evil Dead (2013)
Evil Dead II (1987)
The Exorcist (1973)
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
The Fly (1986)
Frankenstein (1931)
Friday the 13th (1980)
Friday the 13th Part II (1982)
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Freaks (1932)
Fright Night (1985)
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Get Out (2017)
Ghostbusters (1984)
Godzilla (1954)
The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920)
Goodnight Mommy (2014)
Green Room (2017)
Gremlins (1984)
Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)
The Haunted Castle (1896)
The Haunting (1963)
Halloween (1978)
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Hellraiser (1987)
Horror of Dracula (1958)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
House of Wax (1953)
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
I Bury the Living (1959)
I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
The Innocents (1961)
It Follows (2014)
Insidious (2010)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
The Invisible Man (1933)
Island of Lost Souls (1932)
Jacob's Ladder (1990)
Jaws (1975)
Jurassic Park (1993)
King Kong (1933)
The Last Man on Earth (1964)
Les Diaboliques (1955)
The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)
The Lost Boys (1987)
Mad Love (1935)
Manhunter (1986)
Maximum Overdrive (1987)
Misery (1990)
The Mist (2007)
The Monster Squad (1987)
The Most Dangerous Game (1932)
The Mummy (1932)
The Mummy (1959)
Near Dark (1987)
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Nosferatu (1922)
The Omen (1976)
The Others (2001)
Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
Paranormal Activity (2009)
Peeping Tom (1960)
Phantasm (1979)
The Phantom Carriage (1921)
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Phantom of the Opera (1943)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
Poltergeist (1982)
Predator (1987)
Psycho (1960)
Re-Animator (1985)
Rear Window (1954)
[REC] (2007)
Repulsion (1965)
The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Ring (1998)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Rope (1948)
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Saw (2004)
Scanners (1983)
Scream (1996)
Se7en (1995)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
The Shining (1980)
The Silence of the Lambs (1990)
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Stephen King's It (1990)
Strangers on a Train (1951)
The Stuff (1985)
Suspiria (1977)
The Terminator (1984)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Them! (1954)
They Live (1988)
The Thing (1982)
The Thing From Another World (1951)
Trick 'r' Treat (2007)
The Unknown (1927)
Vampyr (1932)
Videodrome (1983)
Village of the Damned (1960)
Wait Until Dark (1967)
War of the Worlds (1953)
White Zombie (1932)
The Wicker Man (1973)
The Witch (2016)
The Wolf Man (1941)
The Woman in Black (1989)
Zombieland (2009)

Music:
"Abyss (JG Thirlwell Remix)" by John Carpenter

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Essential Films Podcast Episode #016: The Exorcist (1973)

The Essential Films Podcast Episode #016: The Exorcist (1973)




OR




EPISODE DESCRIPTION

What an excellent day for an exorcism. On today’s Halloween podcast adventure, Adolfo and Mark discuss the 1973 William Friedkin classic: THE EXORCIST! On this week’s show:

Alamo Drafthouse adventures
Has Edgar Wright ever made a bad film?
Halloween season movies
When did we first experience THE EXORCIST?
Terrifying even for a lapsed Catholic
The exorcism of Roland Doe
William Friedkin sounds like a more educated Donald Trump
William Peter Blatty’s power as producer
Friedkin making the cast and crew film in a freezer
The urban myths and legends of the film production
Mercedes McCambridge
The power of nitroglycerin
The prologue confuses first time viewers
The amazing make-up job on Max Von Sydow
The secret behind Captain Howdy’s subliminal messages
The banned trailer
Who owns a Ouija board?
How the parallel stories of Regan and Damien Karras intersect
The GREAT Lee J. Cobb
The “Exorcist” Steps
The Crucifix Scene
Audience reactions: fainting, barf bags, etc.
Friedkin, the sadist
Campbell’s Pea Soup
How Jason Miller got the role
The original Damien Karras
“Help Me”
The iconic shot of Merrin arriving at the McNeil house
“Why you do this to me, Dimi?”
Angering the crew by slapping a priest
Damien Karras’ story arc and crisis of faith
The differences between the Theatrical and Extended cuts
The Spider Walk
The massive box office success of the film
The disappointing sequels
REPOSSESSED does not hold up



FILM REFERENCES IN THIS EPISODE:

THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
ALL THE KING’S MEN (1949)
THE WAGES OF FEAR (1953)
ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)
ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968)
THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971)
THE STING (1973)
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)
EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC (1977)
SORCERER (1977)
ALIEN (1979)
THE SHINING (1980)
AIRPLANE (1980)
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)
THE THING (1982)
THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)
THE NAKED GUN: FROM THE FILES OF POLICE SQUAD (1988)
REPOSSESSED (1990)
THE EXORCIST III (1990)
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993)
FIGHT CLUB (1999)
THE ROOM (2003)
SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004)
EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING (2004)
DOMINION: A PREQUEL TO THE EXORCIST (2005)
HOT FUZZ (2007)
GRINDHOUSE (2007)
THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)
SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD (2010)
THE DARK KNIGHT (2012)
THE WORLD’S END (2013)
WNUF HALLOWEEN SPECIAL (2013)
OUIJA (2014)
BABY DRIVER (2017)



LINKS:
Our New YouTube Page
Original Exorcist Trailer
Exorcist II: Heretic Trailer
The Exorcist III Trailer
The Exorcist: The Beginning Trailer
Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist Trailer
Repossessed Trailer
Audience Reactions to The Exorcist

SOCIAL MEDIA

Twitter
Essential Films 
Forced Perspective
Adolfo Acosta
Mark Espinosa

Facebook
The Essential Films



Saturday, October 14, 2017

Faust (1926)


FAUST
F. W. Murnau
1926 • 106 Minutes • 1.33 : 1 • Germany
UFA


Cast: Gösta Ekman, Emil Jannings, Camilla Horn, Wilhelm Dieterle, Frida Richard, Yvette Guilbert
Screenplay: Hans Kyser based on the play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Cinematography: Carl Hoffmann
Produced: Erich Pommer

THE SCREEN SENSATION OF TWO CONTINENTS!


Earth and sky shall surely quake, when the dead themselves awake, answers to the Lord to take. When the court is held in sway, hiding shall no longer pay, all must out on Judgement Day!

A beautifully shot lyrical film of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe play.  God and the Devil are in an epic battle for the fate of the Earth and they wager the outcome on the soul of Faust, a learned alchemist. Faust, at first, just wants to help his people as a pestilence sweeps his city but Satan soon tempts him with youth, love and power. Faust gives in to his base desires, and the Devil is winning the battle. Can Satan fully corrupt Faust? Or will Faust find redemption, and in turn, salvation? 

The film is filled with beautiful imagery that seems to only be found in German expressionist films of the era.  A heavily special-effects laden film for the era, throughout the narrative we see the horsemen of the apocalypse, burning letters etched into the soul contract and ominous hooded figures. It's a feast for the eyes, and is essential viewing for its shot compositions alone. The atmosphere Murnau creates is haunting.  Very few inter-titles are used, with the story relying heavily on its visuals. At the time, it was the most expensive German film ever produced, only to be surpassed by Metropolis a year later. Fittingly, both films are credited with seriously contributing to the early visual effects industry.  The film is also said to have inspired the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence from 1940's Fantasia.

Emil Jannings, usually a somewhat hammy actor, puts his over-the-top antics to wonderful use here as the evil dark lord Satan, imposing a menacing presence throughout the film. The rest of the cast is solid, but overshadowed greatly by Jannings.

The last major film Murnau produced in Germany before his debut in the United States with the Academy Award winning Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans in 1927.





Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Essential Films Podcast Episode #015: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)



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STREAM IT

EPISODE DESCRIPTION

We’ll...be….right….HERE. On today’s podcast adventure, Adolfo and Mark discuss the 1982 Steven Spielberg classic: E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL! On this week’s show:


  • More Alamo Drafthouse adventures from Mark
  • Unoriginal cosplayers
  • Our thoughts on the passings of Jerry Lewis, Harry Dean Stanton and Tobe Hooper
  • The infamous unreleased Jerry Lewis film THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED
  • Harry Dean Stanton should get a posthumous Academy Award nomination for LUCKY
  • “Avenge me!”
  • The 35th Anniversary of E.T.
  • When did we first experience E.T.
  • Probably the greatest family film of all time
  • Last day of school movies
  • The long stretches of time we went before rewatching the film
  • How the film is entrenched in pop culture
  • Experiencing it again for the “first time”
  • The movie still works on 2017 audiences
  • ET and Elliot going across the moon is the most iconic image in cinema
  • Kids smoking and swearing in family films
  • Why did you drop the pizza Elliot?!
  • The origins of E.T. from the mind of a young Steven Spielberg
  • How 1941’s production problems helped pave the way for E.T.
  • 1941: Spielberg’s worst film
  • Columbia passed on E.T.
  • The tragic mistake of M&Ms 
  • Reese’s Pieces!
  • Mark’s INCORRECT opinion on Reese’s Pieces VS M&Ms
  • E.T. taught kids how to play hooky from school
  • The cuteness of young Drew Barrymore
  • Why don’t we see the adult’s faces for half the film?
  • The trauma of frog dissection
  • Henry Thomas delivers one of the great child actor performances
  • Harrison Ford’s deleted cameo
  • TV versions of movies re-adding deleted scenes
  • The 20th Anniversary version
  • Walkie Talkies are not guns
  • Practical effects are always better than digital
  • Why the film was shot in chronological order
  • E.T. 2: NOCTURNAL FEARS
  • E.T.’s cameo in STAR WARS
  • The biggest movie of all time until 1993 when Spielberg beat the box office record again with JURASSIC PARK
  • E.T. The Atari Game
  • E.T. Adventure @ Universal Studios… kind of a lame ride.
  • “Penis breath!”
  • “Wolfman’s got nards!”
  • We’re not ready for 4K yet



FILM REFERENCES IN THIS EPISODE:


  • GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)
  • CITIZEN KANE (1941)
  • THE QUIET MAN (1952)
  • ARTISTS AND MODELS (1955)
  • CINDERFELLA (1960)
  • PSYCHO (1960)
  • THE LADIES MAN (1961)
  • THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1963)
  • THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)
  • COOL HAND LUKE (1967)
  • 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
  • A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)
  • THE GODFATHER (1972)
  • THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)
  • JAWS (1975)
  • KING KONG (1976)
  • CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)
  • STAR WARS (1977)
  • HALLOWEEN (1978)
  • ALIEN (1979)
  • 1941 (1979)
  • ALTERED STATES (1980)
  • THE SHINING (1980)
  • ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)
  • RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
  • THE KING OF COMEDY (1982)
  • FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982)
  • POLTERGEIST (1982)
  • TRON (1982)
  • CHRISTINE (1983)
  • PARIS, TEXAS (1984)
  • RED DAWN (1984)
  • REPO MAN (1984)
  • INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984)
  • GREMLINS (1984)
  • FIRESTARTER (1984)
  • A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
  • BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)
  • THE GOONIES (1985)
  • PRETTY IN PINK (1986)
  • FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986)
  • STAND BY ME (1986)
  • THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987)
  • FULL METAL JACKET (1987)
  • BIG (1988)
  • STEPHEN KING’S IT (1990)
  • JURASSIC PARK (1993)
  • PULP FICTION (1994)
  • JINGLE ALL THE WAY (1996)
  • STAR WARS: EPISODE I - THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)
  • THE LADIES MAN (2000)
  • SUPER 8 (2011)
  • THE AVENGERS (2012)
  • MAX ROSE (2013)
  • STRANGER THINGS (TV Series, 2016)
  • IT (2017)
  • LUCKY (2017)
  • SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING (2017)



SOCIAL MEDIA
TWITTER: @EssentialFilms, @FPMoviePodcast, @Adolfo_Acosta, @Sportsguy515
FACEBOOK: The Essential Films