Monday, August 30, 2010

Let the Right One In

Continuing with thoughts from my last post, international films do not receive their due credit. I don't want to rant, like I did last post, but I wish that American audiences would give foreign films a chance.

With that said, I want to sing my praises for the Swedish masterpiece Let the Right One In.

THIS COULD BE ONE OF THE GREATEST FILMS I HAVE EVER HAD THE PLEASURE TO SEE!  I will likely not do this film justice by my post here but I urge you to see it!

Sorry...I had to get that out.  Anywho...

Based on the Swedish novel of the same name, Let the Right One In is a film about a 12 year old boy, Oskar, who is bullied at school and lives in a broken home.  Oskar befriends a mysterious "12 year old" girl, Eli, who just moved in to the apartment next door. The film focuses on the innocence of young love mixed up in a tragic situation with deadly consequences.  This is a vampire film.  Correction, this is what all vampire films should have been and should strive to be.  We are not thrust into a world of winy teenagers who sulk all day, fall in love with vampire who shine in the sun and werewolves who can't keep their shirts on, and try to kill themselves just because they can't stand being apart from them.  Let me restate that...this film does not have teenage angst oozing from every frame.  What this film is, however, is a brutally honest portrayal of life, love, and danger.  Vampires in this film are taken very seriously and there are clear and sever consequences to all actions.

The strength of this film lies in its character development.  We are introduced to Oskar who is a tormented boy.  His parents are separated, neither one really wants him, he is a lone a lot, and he is tormented at school by bullies.  In his alone times, he fantasizes about getting back at those who have hurt him in subtle yet disturbing dialogs.   We see Oskar at the beginning of the film staring out of his window with a kind of malaise on his face.  Oskar is a product of neglect and abuse who is searching for someone to understand him.  Enter Eli.  Eli moves in to his apartment complex one evening.  His first encounter with her is awkward at best.  She shows up while he is on the jungle gym outside of the apartments.  He notices odd things about her but he doesn't seem to let them bother him.  Who cares why she isn't wearing shoes?  Who cares why she smells funny?  Oskar has been dealt a hand in life where nothing surprises him anymore.  He takes all new things in with a calm demeanor.

Eli is a vampire stuck in the body of a 12 year old.  She is lonely and inadvertently seeks the companionship of Oskar.  Eli is protected by an older man who appears to be a father figure, but Eli is drawn to Oskar, even though she knows the relationship could be doomed.  She sees and understands Oskar's situation in life and encourages him to stand up for himself.

I really don't want to give more details to the story itself.  I feel this is a film that must be experienced to really let it take effect.  There are some grim aspects of this film, even more grim than what I have already described, that are beautiful, heartbreaking, and tragic.  This is not a gory film.  There are very few times when the violence is actually shown on screen.  When it is shown, however, it builds the tragic theme to an even more devastating level.  If you took away all the vampire elements, we would still be left with a film about two desperate kids searching for meaning and fulfillment in life.  However, the vampire elements create a remarkable story that adds so much to the vampire lore.  As I said before, this is a beautiful film and one of the greatest vampire stories ever told.  Please give this film a chance.  Watch it in its original language with the English subtitles.

Click the title of this entry to see the films official trailer.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Park Chan-wook's "Oldboy"

Films from Asian countries rarely get widespread acclaim in America.  Well, more correctly stated, films from ANY country other than America does not get the respect it should.  I'm not sure if it is because American's are too impatient to read a subtitled film or if they are too ignorant to understand anything other than Hollywood manufactured glitter.  Don't get me wrong, I love Hollywood.  Some of the greatest films in the world were produced right here on American soil.  My point is that we as educated, intelligent entertainment seekers should be willing to look outside of our comfort zones to discover something that may rock our world.  I have seen a lot of foreign films in my almost 28 years of existence.  Some I feel have been too subtle and slow.  Others I have felt were way over my head because I didn't understand the message or the cultural importance it had to its country.  These feelings are not my fault.  They are the product of my limited, American experience.  However, I recently found a Korean film that has entered my list of all-time favorite foreign films that is so compelling, so twisted, so heartbreaking that I had to sit in silence during the credits to really absorb what I just saw.

Oldboy is a story of a man who is imprisoned for 15 years in a hotel room without recollection of how he got there, why he was there, or who could have imprisoned him.  After those 15 years, he is mysteriously released and sets himself on a mission to find out who did this to him and to exact revenge.  As he searches for answers, he enlists help from an old friend and a beautiful stranger.  The answers he finds and his bloody path to redemption all revolve around the questions of if revenge really brings you peace and how will love carry you through life.

I cannot give many more details without completely ruining your experience.  All I can ask is for you to prepare yourself for an unpredictable journey with Oh Dae-su, the main character.  The viewer suffers as he suffers.  The viewer loves as he loves.  The viewer breaks as he breaks.  All of this is accomplished by the masterful hand of director Park Chan-wook.  Park is well known for his Vengeance Trilogy which includes Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.  Park's latest film, Thirst has also become a landmark film that has helped redefine the vampire genre back to its rightful place (unlike the tween crap that is the Twilight saga).  Park has a way of bringing the excitement and horror of revenge to life in a way that the audience can truly relate to.  He doesn't try to soften the blow or hide his intent.  Everything is lain in front of the viewer to that his message is clear.

I want to apologize for how short and vague this entry is.  As I stated before, I cannot, in good conscience, give anymore details about this film.  I can, and will, strongly encourage you to see this magnificent film.  When you do, keep an open mind and a sharp eye because what you will see is visceral and powerful.  I feel very few American films and directors have the guts and strength to show an audience the dark and horrible side of humanity without going for the cheap gore or scare (this coming from an avid horror fan).  Oldboy has a strong statement and a solid purpose that is a cinematic achievement.

To see a trailer for Oldboy, click the title of this entry.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Absolutely everyone has a musical guilty pleasure.  While the number of my guilty pleasure artists is slowly on the rise (including Lady Gaga and Weird Al), the first band I ever called my guilty pleasure was Rammstein.  The first thing that pops into peoples' minds when I say that I like Rammstein is their 1997 song Du Hast, which got a lot of play time on MTV with a wild and surreal video.  My first response back to them is "They have much better songs than that!"  It is a common answer to give when defending something no one else seems to understand.  It's not like anyone would ever give the rest of their library a chance, but it was always worth a try.  Another common response from people is, "It's all in German, how can you understand it?"  I will share my response that that comment later.

For those that do not know who Rammstein is, I will a short overview of who they are.  Considered part of the Neue Deutsche Härte (New German Hardness) scene, Rammstein was formed in 1994 by men who grew up in East Germany.  Those that know history know that East Germany was a very difficult place to live, let alone grow up in.  It was a country of hardships, hard labor, and violence.  These themes, and many others that push the boundaries of "normal" are what make up the sound, style, and lyrics of Rammstein.  Fast forward to 2010, Rammstein have released their 6th studio album and continue to be one of the most controversial music groups.  Their music is classified as "Tanz-Metal" or Dance Metal.

I was first introduced to Rammstein as I was about to enter high school.  One of my best friends got a copy of their Sehnsucht album which had the infamous Du Hast track.  I was immediately drawn to the unique and what I thought was scary sound that lead singer Till Lindemann channeled through his vocal cords.  His resonate deep bass voice was something I had never heard this side of Barry White.  He also had a rasp and roll to his words that gave each word a sinister sound.  Adding to Lindemann's vocal prowess was the sharp contrast of the heavy metal guitars and the "techno" industrial sound of the drums and keyboards.  When I first heard this, I was still deep into my Ska phase (yes, I loved ska...who didn't in the 90's?) so this industrial sound was fresh and a welcome change to the happy-go-lucky sounds of a 3 person brass section.

Another thing I was drawn to was the lyrics.  Almost every song in the Rammstein library are sung in German, save for a small handfull that were recorded entirely in English, one is Spanish, and other that have parts of the song sung in English or Russian.  I feel that Rammstein's choice to record in German is a bold statement to the rest of the world who feels English should be spoken everywhere.  I don't know this for a fact, but I feel that the language barrier that they have established turns off most Americans or other English speaking individuals, but Rammstein doesn't care.  They want that to happen.  If people don't accept them for who they are and what they do, they don't want them as fans.

The German language, as those who have heard it before can attest to, is not a beautiful language.  It is not a language I can imagine anyone being wooed with.  There are a lot of harsh sounds and words through which is why I feel Rammstein's choice to record all of their songs in their native language helped accomplish the feel and themes to their songs.  How much more sinister does the song Wollt Ihr Das Bett in Flammen Sehen (translation: Do You Want to See the Bed in Flames) sound when sung by a deep voiced German!  Of course, my natural curiosity made me want to find the translations to Rammstein's songs.  Luckily, there is a website,, that had all of the translations I needed.  Once I saw these lyrics, I knew immediately why this bad had been censored, banned, and surrounded by controversy since they first emerged.   Songs such as Bestrafe Mich (Punish Me), Tier (Animal), Feuer Frei! (Open Fire!), Zwitter (Hermaphrodite), Rein Raus (In, Out), Mann Gegen Mann (Man Against Man), Te Quiero Puta! (I Love You, Whore), and Ich Tu Dir Weh (I Hurt You) are all filled with intense and explicit imagery that can at times border on what the mainstream would call perverse and depraved.  Songs such as these are why Rammstein has continuously been censored and banned from playing certain songs live.  People can interpret lyrics however they want, and they will, but Rammstein's entire goal in life is to push the boundaries of acceptable and proper.  Their songs, while on the surface seem violent, misogynistic, or disturbing should be taken as tongue-in-cheek words to get a rise out of people.  And get a rise out of people they do.

Not to be out done by just vocal imagery, their videos also tend to be on the controversial side.  For example, their video for Mein Teil (My Part) is a tongue in cheek, dark comedy portrayal of the Armin Meiwes case.  Meiwes gained international attention after her killed and ate a voluntary victim he found on the internet...not that is not a typo, a VOLUNTARY victim.  Anyways, the video portrays the band members dressed in bondage and led around on a leash by the drummer, Lindemann tearing the wings off and angel and eating them/her.  The song also has the lyrics, "Denn du bist was du isst und ihr wisst was es ist (Because you are what you eat and you know what it is) which is an allusion to the Meiwes case.  The words "Suche gut gebauten Achtzehn- bis Dreißigjährigen zum Schlachten – Der Metzgermeister (Looking for a well built 18 to 30 year old to be slaughtered - The Master Butcher)" is spoken at the very beginning of the video, which is the exact post that Meiwes posted on the internet looking for his victim.  Rammstein was later sued by Meiwes and lost $5.5 million in the case.

There are other videos with controversial images/themes in them.  The "Engel (Angel)" video is filmed in a strip club with children in cages, the "Ich Will (I Want)" video shows the band robbing a bank, getting caught for it, and is glorified by the public/media, the "Mann Gegan Mann (Man Against Man)" video has a bunch of naked men wrestling and the band playing their instruments naked.  One of their latest, and what will likely go down in music video infamy as the most censored/banned music video in history is for the song "Pussy" which had a LOT of male and female nudity and on screen sex with body doubles for the band members (ending with "money shots").  The band has been on record saying that they like being on the "fringes of bad taste" but that each thing they do "serves a purpose" of conveys an important message.

Controversy aside, my two favorite Rammstein videos are their least controversial.  The video for "Ohne Dich (Without You) and the video for "Keine Lust (Don't Feel Like It)" share a deeper message from the band with "Ohne Dich" being more serious (click here for "Ohne Dich" video) and "Keine Lust" being very goofy.(click here for "Keine Lust" video)

To sum up, I continue to be drawn to and am impressed by Rammstein.  They unapologetically put themselves out there and will continue to do so until they tire of it.  I respect people who are not afraid to push the limits and be their own person regardless of what others tell them they should be.  From now until I die, Rammstein will likely always be at the top of my playlists, even though they are a guilty pleasure.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wes Craven's "Last House on the Left" 1972

WARNING: The review I am posting is of a very intense and disturbing film.  I am posting this because of its importance in film history and the impact it had on me.

Wes Craven's Last House on the Left could be described as the definition of a sick and depraved film.  It is not a film that is easy to watch.  It is not a happy film.  It will not make you feel good after watching it.  It will disturb you and make you feel dirty.  What else is a film that depicts rape, murder, and revenge supposed to make you feel like?  It is, by far, the most disturbing film I have ever seen.  It is nothing less than an assault on the mind.

If you are still reading this, you must be thinking what I was thinking when someone told me that description.  "Oh, come on.  It can't be that bad.  I can handle any film.  It's just a movie."  If you are thinking that, then by all means, rent the film (the original, not the remake) and watch it.  Just remember that you were warned.

Last House on the Left was released to a unprepared audience in 1972.  The film begins as a story about Mari Collingwood and her friend Phyllis Stone, two country girls who make a trip in to the big city to attend a concert.  When they arrive, they decide that they want to buy some weed.  They meet Junior who leads them back to his apartment where 3 wanted criminals quickly kidnap them.  All the while, Mari's parents are planning a suprise birthday party for Mari.  They are concerned when she doesn't come home and contact the police.  The criminals, Krug, his son Junior, Sadie, and Weasel lock Mari and Phyllis int he trunk of their car and drive out into the country.  They experience car trouble and happen to break down directly in front of Mari's house as they are talking to police about Mari's disappearance.  What happens next is the descent into hell.

Mari and Phyllis are dragged into the woods where they are tortured, humiliated, forced into sexual actions, raped, and murdered in very horrible ways.  What makes this section very hard to watch is that it consumes 45 minutes of the film's run time.  However, what happens in that 45 minutes makes the end of the movie that much more gratifying.

Krug and his group then make it to Mari's parents house where they try to seek assistance with their broken down car.  They are unaware that it is the house of the girl they just murdered.  Eventually, the parents find out that they killed their daughter and they go on a sadistic cycle of revenge on each member of the group.  At this point of the movie, you are cheering for the parents as they brutally avenge their daughter's death.

My description of the film was brief and kind of vague for a reason.  I don't want to give too much away, but I guess you could say that I did minus the gory details.  This is a film that you have to experience, not just read about, in order to fully understand it.  This film works because of it's gritty realism.  You feel as if it is almost a snuff film the way that it is filmed in places.

What could be the redeeming quality of this movie, you ask?  Why would a film like this be considered an important piece of American cinema?  That is an answer I received fairly recently from the 2000 IFC documentary, American Nightmares which was a look at horror cinema from the 1960's and 1970's.  LHOTL, like with many extreme horror films, is a response to something that permeated the late 60's and early 70's.  Television and news programs were inundated with graphic and uncensored images from the atrocities of the Vietnam war.  Men, women, and children were seeing images of villages being napalmed, children burnt to death, people being shot in the head, and gruesome scenes of the dead laying everywhere with all of the blood, body pieces, and brains splattered everywhere.  In many ways, LHOTL was a cinematic response to the public saying, "You want to see horrifying?  I'll show you horrifying!"

While that description of the films unspoken purpose may not change people's minds about it, LHOTL should still be considered an important film.  Is it a good film?  Yes.  Did I enjoy it?  Hell no.  It left me with a plethora of emotions that I didn't know  how to deal with.  I felt dirty, ashamed, depressed, and exhausted to the point that I couldn't talk.  For a horror film to do that to me is quite an accomplishment.  I have seen some of the most twisted crap there is, and this still shook me to my core.  To me, this film made other disturbing films like Seven and 8mm look like Mr. Rodger's Neighborhood.

If you still choose to watch this film, by all means, do.  But please proceed with caution.  If you would like to see the original trailer, click on the title of this post.  It is not a good trailer by today's standards, but it will give you a general feel of the film.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ridley Scott's "Alien"

As a fan of the horror genre, I have a large list of favorite films which I feel are "must see" films for anyone who appreciates horror or just loves a great film.  Ridley Scott's "Alien" in near the top of that list.

Tagged as "Jaws in Space," Alien was released into theaters in 1979.  It was Scott's first major directing job and it proved to be the film that jump-started a long and amazing career.  While Scott has directed some of the greatest films of the past 40 years, I feel that Alien still stands and one of his greatest achievements.

To define the film in a very general way, and I do mean general, Alien is essentially a haunted house style film set in space.  There are 7 people trapped on a ship being terrorized by an unknown being.  While this description could be a formula for a boring and predictable film, Scott's abilities to create tension and terror make for a movie going experience that will leave you sitting on the edge of your seat.  To assist in Scott's superb direction, the design of the titular Alien character was also a terrifying sight.  Scott and the film's producers were drawn to the artwork of Swiss surrealist artist H. R. Giger.  Scott did not want his film to have a cheesy, B-Movie design to it's alien and Giger's work was far from that.  Based on his 1976 artwork Necronom IV, Geiger created an alien that was sleek, deadly, and very terrifying.  Using a biomechanical style, Giger then designed many other important aspects of the film including the planet landscape which the crew found the alien, the ship that the alien eggs were on, and all of the alien lifeform's lifecycle stages (egg, facehugger, chestburster, and xenomorph).  Giger's designs were like all other pieces of his work; smooth, sexual, disturbing, and yet beautiful.  Giger won an Academy Award for his designs on Alien.

Alien was also influential because it introduced the character of Ellen Ripley, the heroine of the Alien franchise.  Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver in her first staring role, was the first of her kind of the sci-fi world.  Most, if not all of the main characters of science fiction films in the past had been male.  Ripley was a strong woman in a high ranking position on her ship.  Her strength and survival was an inspiration to women everywhere.

For all of these reasons, and many more which I cannot find the words to describe, this film has been, and will always remain one of my favorites.  Scott created a sci-fi/horror masterpiece that has yet to be matched in its intensity and creativity.  There have been many sequels and spin-offs in the franchise, all of which, besides James Cameron's Aliens, have failed to match Scott's initial vision.  There are rumors going around on the horror circuit that Scott has signed on to direct 2 prequels to his original film.  I really hope this news is accurate because his genius could bring the franchise back to its terrifying roots.  I guess only time will tell if Scott pulls through.  For the world's sake, I hope the films will not include Scott's current favorite Russel Crow.  While I loved Crow in Gladiator, he has yet to wow me in any of his more current roles.  Please Mr. Scott...cut the umbilical cord on that relationship!

If you would like to view the original 1979 trailer, please click this blog's title for a link to YouTube.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Lamb of God - "Descending"

Lamb of God has become one of the constant metal bands on my playlists of the past 5 years.  This is a band that I had to slowly bring into my repertoire because at the time that I was introduced to them, I still wasn't into the harder metal, with constant guttural screaming.  At that time I still needed some combination of clean vocals and screaming.  However, what I found after years of giving Lamb of God a chance was something that has stuck with me, and likely will long after the band calls it quits (which I hope they never do).  Lamb of God is an intense, uncompromising, and brutal band whose message has never changed since their inception; being true to yourself; standing up for your beliefs; and challenging the world to try to stop them.  This is not a band for the meek and gentle.  This is pure strength, anger, and testosterone.

Originally known as Burn the Priest, Lamb of God ascended to metal royalty out of Richmond, Virginia in in 2000.  While they had formed back in 1994, it wasn't until the release of their first album under their new name, New American Gospel, did they gain any attention from the metal community.  Since that release, Lamb of God has been labeled as a prophet for the New Wave of American Heavy Metal that has been going on since the mid 1990's.  With each album release, Lamb of God has created an aggressive, uncompromising sound that builds and strengthens with each album.  As the Palaces Burn (2003) and Ashes of the Wake (2004) are considered to be examples of their best work.  Many of their fans did not care as much for their 2006 release, Sacrament, feeling that they "sold out" or "went for a more mainstream sound."  However, I beg to differ.  While there are more songs on Sacrament that have a catchier hook to them, this album could be considered a solidification of what Lamb of God is all about.  The track that I want to point out, that has had a great impact on my life, is track 6, Descending.

Descending is a song about a man sorting through a tormented life of questions and doubts.  The lyrics speak of a person who is torn between what is good and evil in his life.  They are at a crossroads feeling like in many ways, good and evil are the same thing.  "This God that I worship, this demon I blame, conspire as one.  Exactly the same, it's exactly the same." It can be hard at times to feel like you have a clear understanding of what you should do in your life.  Things that seem right can be considered wrong to others, and vice versa. There is always an internal struggle inside everyone around this, whether they want to recognize it or not.  *Disclaimer: the following is just an anecdote...not what the song is about or implying*  An example in current times is around gay rights.  Many believe that homosexuality is wrong, no matter what, and they should not have the same rights and privileges as heterosexual couples.  Others believe that regardless of who someone is and what they do, they are human beings and deserve basic rights as anyone else would receive.  Someone who is in the middle of this struggle could completely identify with the message to this song.

Beyond the message of the song, Descending is a powerhouse of sound.  From the opening guitar riffs to the pounding double base drum work, this is a song that any metalhead can feel in their core.  It may not be the most elaborate song Lamb of God has ever done, but sometimes all it takes for an incredible song is a song with solid basics to be great.

Lamb of God continues to write incredible music, and released their most recent album, Wrath, in 2009.  Wrath continues to show Lamb of God's musical growth but shows that their themes and messages are never changing: be true to yourself, stand up for your beliefs, and challenge anyone who tries to stop you.

Monday, May 24, 2010


I am going to join what I am assuming most people think is an annoying fan base and sermonize about the wonders of the show LOST and how it has changed the face of television.  In September of 2006, J.J. Abrams brought a complex concept for a television show to the general public.  The idea was about a group of people who crash landed on a deserted island and must figure out a way to survive.  Wait, what?  Didn't we already see this on Gilligan's Island?  Well, if you think that all LOST consists of is Gilligan minus the comedy, you are completely wrong.  When the show first started, it followed a basic survival show formula but quickly spiraled into a complex story that kept fans guessing until the very end.  6 years later, fans across the world are still trying to figure out all of the intricacies the writers laid before them.

The epic journey followed the survivors of the Oceanic flight 815 after their plane is torn apart mid-air and they land on an unidentified island in the Pacific Ocean.  While there are 72 total survivors, the show focuses on 14 individuals with varying pasts and complications that make for an interesting chemistry of the group.  Among them are a doctor (Jack), a fugitive (Kate), a con man (Sawyer), a paraplegic who can suddenly walk (Locke), a father and son (Michael and Walt), a Korean husband and wife who "can't speak English" (Jin and Sun), a former Iraqi Republican Guard officer (Sayid), a brother and sister (Boone and Shannon), an 8 month pregnant woman (Claire), a washed up rock star bass player (Charlie), and a billionaire with bad luck (Hurley).  Throughout each of the first few seasons, we are slowly introduced to these characters' lives through flashbacks of their former lives.  We slowly discover that each character is somehow flawed and alone in the world.  This all plays a part of how the events unfold across 6 amazingly memorable seasons.  Eventually, there are complex storylines that involve a strange monster, "Others" on the island, a crazy French woman, electro-magnetic power, the Dharma Initiative, time travel, philosophy, and faith.  If I chose to write more in to the details of LOST, I would have a blog that would take hours to read.  That's not the purpose of this blog, so I will save you all and go on to how this has effected my life.

From the very first episode, I was addicted.  I had never experienced a television show that made me want to care about seemingly random people and their plight.  Every week I was left with so many mysteries and cliffhanger endings that I couldn't not watch the following week.  LOST challenged my perception of what I thought a television show should be.  Before LOST, I mostly watched sitcoms, cartoons (still do), and a lot of movies.  LOST played like an epic movie that just wouldn't end.  I found myself lost (ha, ha) inside the mysteries and spend hours upon days (total, not at a time) theorizing what was going to happen next.  I was never right...ever.

I can honestly say that I can understand Trekkies.  When you fall in love with a show, you become a dedicated follower that will defend its honor to the very end, even if there are some less than perfect episodes, and LOST had them.  LOST was not a perfect show.  It didn't even really answer the major questions of the entire show in the finale.  However, to true fans, it doesn't really matter.  It wouldn't be LOST if it didn't end with more questions.  However, I was happy with where it ended.  I wish I could see more, but to do more would probably take another 6 years to explain.

I know a lot of people out there will never give LOST a chance, just like most people will never give classic cult shows like Star Trek a chance.  All I can hope is to show one other person in this world the wonder that was LOST and get them hooked.

If you would like to see an extended, fan made trailer of the first 3 seasons, click the title of this entry.

Farewell, LOST.  Namaste.