Posted in Film Commentary

Review: Trading Places

Happy New Year everyone! I decided to finish off my holiday season reviews with a film that covers both Christmas and New Years. Also, I just really miss 1980s Eddie Murphy, so I wanted to watch something with him in it. Without further ado, Trading Places!

Exchange Student from Cameroon

One thing I like about movies is when things get explained without using too many words. The opening sequence of this film is a good example in that it keeps passing between scenes of Philadelphia rich neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods, emphasizing just how different they are. As viewers, we have a better understanding of just how wide the gap is between the classes in the city, and can piece together how badly things are going to go once the classes are forced to mix. While this is a good technique for this film to use, I do think this scene could have been done better. Instead of strictly showing poor neighborhoods and rich neighborhoods, they could have done more character development by showing Winthorpe (Dan Aykroyd) getting ready in comparison to Valentine (Eddie Murphy) waking up on the streets. Instead, this character development wasn’t used until later in the film (and with dialogue).


On the note of the “rich” and the “poor” this movie does attempt social commentary in a sense and occasionally succeeds. A majority of the jokes in this film that refer to race portray how ridiculous racism is instead of strictly relying on racial stereotypes. However, most of the stuff about how rich people treat poor people and vice versa was overblown to the point of not being realistically relevant. It was great for the story line of the film, but didn’t hold enough credibility to actually be considered legitimate commentary.

Winthorp and Valentine Meet

As a reviewer, I usually feel inclined to say that a movie was either “good” or “bad”, but I honestly don’t feel either way about this movie. The character development is decent, and Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy are both in their prime, but there are various plot holes that even for a comedy I can’t quite shake off.  It’s been hard to find things to say about this film because it is pretty straight-forward. This film is not visually stunning but it is not vapid or completely void of substance, either. I like this movie, but I honestly would not think to watch it outside of the holiday season. Sorry my last review of the holidays is so short and essentially amounts to a shrug, but that is the best way to describe my feelings for this film. I hope everyone has a wonderful new year, and I look forward to going back to normal reviews for your enjoyment!

Favorite Scene:

Posted in Film Commentary

Review: Christmas with the Joker (Batman the Animated Series Christmas Special)

Sorry this review is late, but after the technical difficulties I’ve been having this week there was also this pesky “spending time with the family” thing that got in the way. I wasn’t originally planning on reviewing another television special, but I received some positive feedback about my review of The Most Horrible X-Mas Ever and decided to share another favorite special of mine with all of you. To those of you who have followed my blog for a while now, I have mentioned before that I am a big fan of Batman (comics, shows, movies, you name it). It should be no surprise then that another favorite special of mine is from Batman: The Animated Series. I will admit, some people did ask why I wasn’t planning on reviewing Batman Returns with Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer, and it is because I feel that Christmas with the Joker from Batman: The Animated Series does a better job of meshing the Batman Universe with the themes and tropes of Christmas.

Joker as Late Night Special Host

One of the main things I look for in a Christmas special is a plot-line that doesn’t deviate too far from what a regular episode of the series would be like. If the episode would not work without the Christmas elements, then the drawing board needs to be revisited. This episode could work just as well if it were not a Christmas special. Too many shows throw away their usual story lines in favor of Christmas stories with a message, and this episode not only avoids that trap, but makes fun of it. Robin spends the beginning of the episode trying to convince Batman that nothing is going to happen because it is Christmas Eve, and Batman is thoroughly confused by the amount of good will on the streets during his patrol. Despite all of this, the Joker wreaks havoc on Gotham anyway, pointing out that just because it is the Holiday Season does not mean that the world is safe and carefree.

The Joker Wreaking Havoc

Another thing I love about this episode is the character development. Despite losing his parents, Dick Grayson (aka Robin) is more optimistic as a character than Batman, and it shows in his unwillingness to believe that anything could possibly go wrong on Christmas Eve. The opposite is true of Bruce Wayne, however, who is so convinced of the horrors of the world running rampant that he can’t understand why everyone seems to think the world is a better place just because it is Christmas. These examples are fairly black-and-white, but then we get to The Joker. Always one to love mayhem through theatrics, the Joker uses Christmas as an opportunity to take center stage throughout Gotham and terrorizes the civilian population with the use of things that are normally meant to bring joy and good cheer. As the perfect blend of kooky clown and sinister mastermind, this episode does an excellent job at giving screen-time to both sides of the Joker’s personality.

Bruce and Dick Discover the Joker's Scheme

I will not attempt to present myself as being unbiased for this review, as Batman is one of my favorite characters of all time and the Animated Series is perhaps my favorite portrayal of the Batman universe. However, I do not like this strictly for the fact that it is from Batman. This episode was very well written and can be enjoyed by many people: children, their parents, fans of the comics, etc. For being a simple television episode, this is a very well-rounded Christmas special.

The End of Christmas with the Joker

Sneak Peak: 

Posted in Film Commentary

Review: The Most Horrible X-Mas Ever (Invader Zim Christmas Special)

            Usually I wouldn’t include a TV special on my blog, but the Holiday Season brings many tropes, one of which being the Christmas episodes of practically every television show on the air. It almost feels blasphemous to review Christmas movies without reviewing at least one holiday special. I will admit that I chose to review this because watching it has become just as much of a tradition in my house as watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or A Charlie Brown Christmas has. Instead of doing a typical review, I’ve decided to simply explain what it is about this episode of Invader Zim that made it new-tradition worthy.

The Santa Has Won

            So the main thing that makes this special memorable is how it is able to balance staying true to the themes of the show itself while also making fun of various Christmas tropes. I have watched many a holiday special that have no place within the rest of the show, and often those are the episodes I skip when watching the season later on. Instead of making Zim realize the beauty and magic of Christmas or have him and Dib forgive one another, the show stays true to its roots and gives Zim a way to use Christmas as one of his schemes to take over the world. Once again, Dib is one of the few characters to realize what is going on and must be the one to stop him. This very easily could be a regular episode of the show, but it also works well as a Christmas special on its own.

The Actually Strong Jingle Jail

I absolutely love how the special reminds us that the point of Christmas is to spend time with our families and not get overly obsessed with tradition or commercialism, much like the message of A Charlie Brown Christmas, but is able to pull off portraying this message in such a tongue-in-cheek way. We learn this not through being fed up with fake Christmas trees, but through how willing people are to be teleported to their doom simply from the promise of spending Christmas with Santa.

Filthy Children on Santa Zim

            Of course, some of the jokes in this are there purely for the sake of randomness, such as the ending with Zim dressed as the Easter Platypus. However, I love these scenes because they offer a break from all of the Christmas madness, something that we could all use in our lives during this season. The Holiday Season has become such a marketing scheme for retail that many stores start offering Christmas items in October, if not sooner. By making sure this episode had scenes that didn’t directly relate to Christmas, it helps remind us that maybe Christmas isn’t the main thing we should all be paying attention to.

Bitey the Vampire

            Overall, this special isn’t the greatest out there or even known by most people. I honestly have not heard of anyone outside of my family that knows this special by name, let alone watched it more than once (if ever). However, the healthy sarcasm and light mocking of the typical Christmas special makes it interesting and fun to watch every year.

Full Special:

Posted in Film Commentary

Review: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Before I start, I apologize at how late this review is getting posted, even for my new policy. However, I am this late not just because I had work and all that fun “real life” stuff getting in the way, but because of my relationship with this film itself. This was my favorite movie as a child ever since my parents agreed, after listening to far too much begging, to get it for me on VHS for Christmas when I was in kindergarten. I have more merchandise based on this film than I can count, and I actually tried to find all of it as I prepared for this review but it seems I may be missing pieces. This of course made reviewing the film difficult, because how do you review a film objectively when it molded a large portion of your childhood? Thus, I understand that this is going to be a lot of praising, but I have done my best to try to pick out some problem areas as well. Ok, here we go.

Entering Halloween Town

So I’ll start off by saying that my favorite thing about this movie is the music. The songs are catchy and easy to remember without being superficial and boring. They discuss important issues like trying to figure out what to do with your life, regret at messing things up when all you wanted to do was help, wondering if there’s more to life than what you have previously done, etc. I can’t help but find myself singing along to most of these songs as I watch the movie. In general, the songs also help stabilize the character development. For instance, a lot of Jack’s turning points are done through song, whereas for Sally’s Song we finally get to hear Sally sing. She’s not perfect (but by no means terrible), which helps remind us that Sally isn’t there to be the utterly perfect love interest with nothing wrong with her, and that it’s perfectly fine for her to be that way.

Sally's Song

At least from what I have observed, it seems that the music is a favorite part of the film for other fans as well. Just think for one second: when was the last time you saw a screenshot from this film accompanied by a regular line of dialogue and not a song lyric?

While I love the themes at work in this film, I am more than willing to admit that the plot itself is not exactly the most original. This essentially takes the outcast/misfit theme from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and asks “but what if they had found some other holiday that suited them better?” Thus, the idea of Jack is born and decides he would rather cheer people up than scare them. Now, just because I say the plot is not original does not mean that it is bad. I think the idea of trading holidays was a great way to portray peoples’ differences, but you cannot ignore how heavily the various sources of inspiration material are referenced throughout this film.

Zero as Rudolph

There are also a few things that, plot-wise, do not make sense to me or seem particularly lazy. I think my biggest pet peeve (and perhaps I’m nit-picking) is this: Why does Oogie Boogie let Sally sew her leg back on at the end?

Sally as a Hostage

I can understand Oogie Boogie making her sew her hands back onto her arms so he could keep an eye on them, but giving her the other leg presents an opportunity to run away. The scene would have worked without her leg being sewn back on, and she could have been shown sewing it back on in the background as Jack apologizes to Santa Claus, similar to how she is shown in the background sneaking out of the laboratory with the fog juice when Dr. Finkelstein makes her replacement.

Sally Sneaking Away

While I do appreciate the way shots are framed throughout most of this film, I do want to point out one shot in particular that is my least favorite shot in cinema history. The shot of Sally attempting to remind Jack of who he is while she’s making his Santa costume always bothers me. She is looking at Jack, who is off camera to the viewer’s right, but she is facing/pointing his portrait at the camera. This bothers me to no end because Jack is just off-camera, he is not all the way to Sally’s left. She does not have to have her eyes pointed all the way to her left side to see Jack, so why is she shown looking this far? I can’t stand looking at her eyes pointing all the way to the side when her body language suggests that she should be looking forward. Again, I understand that I am nit-picking, but this particular shot has bothered me for years.

Worst Film Shot Ever

Back to things I love about this movie, I will never stop loving the set design. This movie has a completely unique design that has often been imitated and recreated but never equaled. The sets almost look like 3-D post-impressionist paintings due to all the thin stripes and curvy/skewed lines, helping to feed your imagination of what the rest of this world could look like as you watch the movie.

Jack in the Woods

Christmas Land and the real world also have wonderful set design, as the real world has very straight lines and gives off a typical suburban neighborhood vibe with just a hint of Norman Rockwell, while Christmas Land has very wide curves and large, bright objects to keep your eyes moving to different things and not focus on one single object for too long, because what’s the point of Christmas if you’re not experiencing sensory overload? The three worlds in the film are portrayed extremely well and each have their own, unique feel without being entirely stereotypical.

Christmas Town

Again, this movie has shaped who I am today in ways I will never be able to fully express. It was innovative for its time and had no trouble finding a place in pop-culture, for good reason. This film is well made and has many wonderful themes, reminding us that it is ok to follow our dreams, as long as doing so doesn’t take away someone else’s happiness. I highly recommend it as a children’s movie and a family holiday classic.

Favorite Scene: 


Posted in Film Commentary

Review: Goodbye Lenin!

I’ve had a somewhat rough week and thus decided to review a film that I have loved for ages. Goodbye Lenin! Is a German film about the trials a young man goes through to rid his guilt about his mother’s condition and rebuild their relationship.  The film is beautifully done and was essentially my first introduction to foreign film, so it has sentimental value to me. I will try not to let this get in the way of my review, but I cannot make any guarantees.

First thing I would like to mention briefly is the use of scene transitions. For the most part the film is pretty straight-forward, but there are a few instances of really intelligent scene transitions that are worth mentioning. My absolute favorite is in the beginning once Alex stops explaining his childhood and the film brings us into present day by having young Alex fire a rocket that the camera follows into the sky, followed by the camera tracking back down to reveal present-day Alex. As a child, his future was so bright and wonderful in his mind, and the camera panning back down literally reflects Alex’s expectations being dragged back down to earth to show what he has become.

Height of Masculine Allure

Another touching moment using scene transition in the film occurs when Alex has finally ended the charade about East and West Germany and has revealed in his own way that they are united. His mother, enjoying the fireworks from inside, looks peaceful and happy before her face fades to black. The next scene is of her humble funeral, of her ashes being scattered in the sky with a small rocket and some fireworks. This may not seem like much, but showing how peaceful she is during the fireworks helps us to remember during the funeral scene that she may not be physically present, but she will always glow brightly in the memories of those who are present, and that is all she needs.

Mother Dying

This film gives a strong sense of nostalgia despite taking place in a country I have never been to in a time period I do not remember. There are plenty of films that accomplish a form of concentrated nostalgia, and this film achieves it through music and lighting. The lighting in this film is often one of two things: tinted to a warm, yellow glow, or of neutral colors but softly lit. There is very little harsh lighting in this film, and that helps to convey the feeling of nostalgia as it has become associative in our film culture to use blurred edges and out-of-focus shots as memory shots. Obviously this film could not be completely out of focus and “dreamy”, but the soft lighting mimics this trope just enough to remind us that it is supposed to be a young man’s memories of his last days with his mother.

Natural Lighting

As for the music, most of the score is a series of simple piano melodies. One cannot help but feel humble and peaceful when listening to songs like this:

There are also a few songs that emphasize just how crazy Alex’s plan is to prolong his mother’s life, but for the most part the score is kept simple and endearing. Songs such as this subconsciously make us slow down and really take in what is going on in the scene, as opposed to just watching the film in the background and letting the images fly by.

Lara's New Apartment

As for the story, the quirkiness of it all is what originally made the movie endearing to me. Recent circumstances though have made the plot-line of doing whatever is necessary to maintain familial relationships really stand out to me. What does trouble me though is whether Alex does everything he does for his mother more out of guilt or out of honest love. He lies to his mother about why she had a heart attack so that she won’t remember being shocked at seeing him protest, but at the same time is that more to protect himself or is it legitimately to protect her? Throughout the film it is clear that he does these things out of love for his mother, but that self-serving undertone never quite leaves.

Alex Getting Arrested

Although, I must say the character development and the acting in this film was superb. We completely understand who Alex and Ariane are from their first scenes as adults, and despite having a lengthy intro for their mother the film really dives into her character once she wakes up. She has been a strong, independent woman for so long that she can’t stand being a burden on her children and takes every step she can (sometimes literally) to understand what is going on around her and be less of a burden (which only ends up back-firing due to being lied to, but I digress). I also absolutely love Lara and Denis as characters as they are great foils for Alex. Lara is the voice of reason and truth, and Denis is the naïve West-German who doesn’t seem to realize that Alex hasn’t heard of all these great movies he’s seen (and keeps making references Alex is too embarrassed to admit he doesn’t understand). Every character in this film serves a purpose beyond filler, and having so many characters that support each other is a great thing to see in film these days.

Mother's Funeral

Honestly, I can’t deny that this is one of my favorite films. It succeeds every time in reminding me what is most important in life while at the same time warning me of the dangers of trying to protect people from the truth. I understand that I am biased, as this has been one of my favorite films for almost a decade now (since it came out), but I feel it would be a shame to knock this film down out of a mere attempt to pretend my bias does not exist. For anyone who is struggling with family or simply wants a feel-good movie to cuddle up to, I highly recommend this film. As a final note, I do suggest you watch it with subtitles and not a dubbed version. To make this easier, I have found a version on YouTube with English subtitles. I hope you all enjoy the weekend!

Movie Link:

Posted in Film Commentary

Review: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Sorry for the late review, but I hope everyone enjoyed Thanksgiving and Black Friday! Instead of reviewing a movie that maybe had a Thanksgiving scene in it somewhere, or was completely devoted to shenanigans while trying to cook Thanksgiving dinner or something similar, I decided to review a film that reminded me of Black Friday. Thus, I present you with Dawn of the Dead from 1978.  This film had such a low-budget that it is relatively unfair to compare it to horror classics from its time, as the 70’s were an excellent time for horror films. Its predecessor, Night of the Living Dead from 1968, raised the bar for horror films of all kinds, and this film attempts to top it mostly by being filmed in color and being slightly more gory. That being said, I am not going to give this film a lower review because of bad special effects or cheesy acting. These are the kinds of things you get when a film has a budget as low as the one this film had (by the way, the budget was $500,000 for anyone wondering).

One thing that is interesting about this film is how irrelevant the plot is. The plot in this film is merely a device to introduce the audience to bits of imagery and social commentary. Whether that means scenes with white cops shooting African-American and Puerto Rican apartment residents while shouting racial slurs, or zombies wandering around a shopping mall much like the average consumer, the film does not place importance on how we got to these scenes, as long as you (the audience member), are paying attention to what matters.

The movie has some rather awkward ways of portraying its messages, but the points it gets across are important and are easier to digest in such a surreal, comedic setting. For instance, it’s funny watching zombies shuffle around a mall with perky music in the background, but it says a lot about our main characters who have locked themselves inside the mall for months when a biker gang comes to ransack the place and they pie zombies in the face. They aren’t even trying to avoid the zombies, they just zoom right past them most of the time. The desire for a materialistic lifestyle portrayed by the lavishness of the main characters is exemplified when we are shown just how easy avoiding zombies really is. The main characters are not hiding in a mall because it is their only chance of survival. They are hiding in a mall because it is their only chance of pretending nothing has changed.

Is social commentary all that it takes to make a movie good though? Of course not. What makes this movie a decent sequel to Night of the Living Dead isn’t the continued social commentary, but the improvement in cheap special effects. This movie does try to get extra scares by showing gruesome scenes instead of trying anything psychologically scary, but that’s pretty much the entire point of the film. It was hard to tell exactly what was being used for organs in Night of the Living Dead due to the black and white, and this film takes everything a step further. By being filmed in color, they couldn’t hide behind using roast ham covered in chocolate sauce anymore and went the extra mile on just-believable-enough special effects. The zombies may be an awkward shade of blue instead of actually looking dead, but you have to admit that watching a guy get his intestines ripped out is pretty creepy.

Overall, you have to be in the right mindset to enjoy this film. I feel like anything else I have to say would just be unfair nit-picking at the acting and other things caused by budget constraints. However, if you’re into social commentary, horror films, zombies, or all of the above I would recommend this movie. For the rest of the world, I would describe this movie as awesomely bad and suggest that you watch it with friends and be ready to laugh the entire way through.

It’s hard to find specific scenes from this film, but the whole film is posted at the moment. Enjoy!

Posted in Film Commentary

Review: Memento

In the spirit of Noirvember, I wanted to review a noir film, but didn’t want to review something that people outside of film culture would be unfamiliar with. Thus, in looking for neo-noir films as options, I remembered Memento and knew I had my movie. This is only Christopher Nolan’s second feature-length film, but it’s also the one that earned him his place in the spotlight. It is mysterious, tense, and is most well-known for being “that one movie that plays in reverse”. Since this is the first thing people remember, why not start there?

So a lot of people remember that this film plays in reverse not because it’s awkward, but because despite telling the story backward it is relatively easy to comprehend. This is done through repetition and a dual narrative. Every time a scene is played in reverse, it stops just shortly after the one before it began, giving the audience something to recognize to mentally place the scene in a timeline. The dual narrative comes from black and white segments that play in a normal chronological sequence and would only be a few scenes in a normally structured film. These scenes are spliced in between the reversed scenes playing in color. This eases the transition between reversed shots by giving your brain a moment to comprehend what you just saw, while also telling you about a minor but important character, Sammy Jankis.

The reason this film works so well in reverse is not simply due to good editing. Because the protagonist of this film cannot remember what happened to him before this moment, playing the film backward helps place the audience in his mindset. We are forced into his situation, trying to figure out what happened to him before so we can understand what he has already done.

The format this film is told in really had the potential to make or break this film, and through proper execution it absolutely made this film perfect. By telling us the story in reverse and making us work to understand what has happened, the story becomes absolutely heartbreaking toward the end (which is really the beginning). Realizing that everything Leonard does in this film is set up and not actually beneficial toward his goal is awful. In the end, this movie turns out to be less about him, and more about how two people on opposite sides of a conflict used him to their advantage.

On a completely different note, I thought Carrie-Anne Moss was great. She changes her attitudes in an instant. I get chills watching the scene where Leonard hits her and she comes back in the house telling her how Dodd did it to manipulate him into helping her. It’s so perfect because while she does legitimately change attitudes at the drop of a hat in various scenes, she doesn’t seem as convincing when she comes back in to talk about Dodd. This is great because her character is supposed to be lying and therefore won’t act out the scene as easily as she would, and she is making it less believable on purpose.

Another actor I thought did a great job was Stephen Tobolowsky playing Sammy Jankis. He got the part because he has personal experience with amnesia after he agreed to take an experimental painkiller for a surgery. This is very clear in the film, as Stephen was able to pull off these facial expressions that are hard to fake. A lot of people say you can tell an actor is good when they can cry realistically, but I’ve always found that something harder to fake is naïve innocence. Stephen pulls this off extremely well in playing Sammy, which makes watching Sammy’s story unfold more tragic and heart-wrenching the more it’s told.

Ultimately Guy Pearce’s performance made the film, and his portrayal of Leonard not only convinces us to feel sorry for him due to his inability to truly cope with his condition, but shows just how agonizing this disorder would be. Pearce is able to pull off looks of pure confusion, complete lack of recognition, and subtle embarrassment without overdoing it.

To be honest, this is one of the movies that got me interested in film in the first place. It came out when I was ten and it was the first movie I ever watched that left me with a feeling more than “that was fun, what can I do now?” This is the first film that got me into thinking about how films are made and why people tell stories the way they do. Thus, I understand that I am biased in saying that this is one of the best movies of the past twenty years, but I’m going to tell you that it is anyway. I absolutely love this movie for the structure, the acting, and for not adding too many elements outside of those two most necessary. There are a few scenes with cool lighting effects, and a couple of scenes with some music in the background strictly as ambient, mood-intensifying noise. Nothing in this film calls attention to itself unless necessary, and I love the way this movie is balanced. I highly recommend this movie to everyone, especially if you want to analyze story structure.

Favorite Scene (WARNING: This is the end of the film! If you have not seen the movie, PLEASE do not watch this scene!):