Film Review: “Shutter Island” ★★★★★(5/5)

Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) walks the dark empty hallway of a mental institution. The tiny flame of his match goes off. He lights another one. A couple of minutes later a man behind bars tells him “Don’t you get it? You’re a rat in a maze.” So is the viewer.“Shutter Island” is a psychological thriller unlike any I have ever seen. It is also probably the most atmospheric thriller you will see all year.  

The year is 1954. US Marshall Teddy Daniels and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) arrive at Shutter Island after their ferry breaks through a mysterious mist. The island is an institution for the mentally or criminally insane.  One patient has escaped and their task is to investigate the matter. As Teddy digs deeper into his investigation, he loses control of it. Soon he is not sure of what or whom he is investigating, as the investigator becomes the investigated. One thing he does know is this, there is no escaping the island. The patient could not have escaped because he soon discovers he cannot escape as well. There is a secret behind this island; both the viewer and the main character feel that from the start.

 I could not help but admire Scorsese’s control over every element in this film. I saw similarities to the brilliant “Eyes Wide Shut”. Yes, both are entirely different films but with both, the viewer takes a journey through the mind of the main character. We see what he sees, we feel what he feels and we eventually reach the truth through his eyes. A psychological thriller if there ever was one, “Shutter Island” will keep you guessing until the very end. At times, the flame will brighten the situation and in a split second, you will be back in the dark, lost, confused and desperate to figure out what it is about this island that feels so wrong.

 The film depends on a twist. It is not until after that twist that a masterpiece emerges. “Shutter Island” is a motion picture that demands repeated viewings. Prior to this movie, the only Scorsese film considered a film noir is his 1976 classic, “Taxi Driver”. While “Taxi Driver” is a psychological neo-noir, “Shutter Island” has a more traditional noir feel to it. We have our cigarette-smoking investigator, the complicated mystery, the low-key lighting and the rainy weather.

It is extremely difficult to discuss a film that relies so much on its ending without spoiling the whole film. For this is one of those films that generate conversations after the initial viewing. I know that I will be returning to the doomed island in the near future, and once I do, I will be judging with a more careful eye. I will take note of certain aspects that slipped my mind as a first time viewer. It is the duty of a film critic to let you know what to expect without spoiling the film. Therefore, I will do my best in the coming sentences to let you know what it is that you are in for without revealing any spoilers.

You will start out a tiny fish swimming in a pond. As the plot thickens, you evolve into the angler who keeps an eye on the confused fish. By the end of the film, the viewer becomes the person standing on the rock studying the angler who himself is studying the fish. In other words, you may get lost. You may not be aware of what is happening during the duration of the film but as the film goes on, you get glimpses of the bigger picture and eventually you reach it.

What you make out of the truth of the matter will determine your opinion. I can only speak for myself. I was both dazzled and astonished by how Scorsese managed to keep me blindfolded for so long without having me lose interest. “Shutter Island” is nothing short of a cinematic masterpiece, a journey into a character’s mind, a mystery within another mystery, an open door to a mastermind at work.

Oscar Update: The Winners of 2010.

The winners are finally announced. This year seemed like the most predictable. However, there were some surprises that no one saw coming. Particularily “Precious” winning Best Adapted Screenplay over “Up in the Air”, and “El secreto de sus ojos” winning Best Foreign Film over “The White Ribbon” and “A Prophet”.

As for the upsets, for me there were three: “Up in the Air” losing to “Precious”, Quentin Tarantino leaving empty handed and of course “The White Ribbon” losing both Best Foreign Film and Best Cinematography, two categories it deserved more than the competition.

Still overall, it was a good night, and it was a relief to see “The Hurt Locker” sweeping 6 big ones including “Best Picture” and “Best Director” making Bigelow the first female best Director winner.

As for my predictions, it wasn’t my best year. I have come up with more accurate predictions in the past. Still 16/24 is one of the better predictions out there.

*The films with a star next to them are the ones I predicted correctly:

*Best Motion Picture of the Year
Winner: The Hurt Locker (2008) – Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Nicolas Chartier, Greg Shapiro
*Best Achievement in Directing
Winner: Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker (2008)

*Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Winner: Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side (2009)
*Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Winner: Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart (2009)
Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
Winner: El secreto de sus ojos (2009)(Argentina)
*Best Achievement in Editing
*Best Documentary, Features
*Best Achievement in Visual Effects
*Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
Winner: Up (2009) – Michael Giacchino
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Winner: Avatar (2009) – Mauro Fiore
*Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
*Best Achievement in Costume Design
Winner: The Young Victoria (2009) – Sandy Powell
*Best Achievement in Art Direction
*Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
*Best Achievement in Makeup
Best Short Film, Live Action
Best Documentary, Short Subjects
Best Short Film, Animated
Winner: Logorama (2009) – Nicolas Schmerkin
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Winner: The Hurt Locker (2008) – Mark Boal
*Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
Winner: Crazy Heart (2009) – T-Bone Burnett, Ryan Bingham(“The Weary Kind”)
*Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
Winner: Up (2009) – Pete Docter
*Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Film Review: “Alice in Wonderland” ★ ★ (2.5/5)

Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” begins ten years after the events of the original tale. In that sense, it is a sequel or a return to wonderland.  However, Burton’s film is full of scenes and lines of dialogue lifted directly from the original books by Lewis Carroll. It is here that the film fails. I did not know whether this was an adaptation of the original or a sequel, it’s best to think of it as a reimagining. 

Mia Wasikowska stars as a nineteen-year-old Alice. Long after her first encounter with wonderland and by now long forgotten, she returns once again. Her mission is to save the beautiful land from a wicked witch, the Red Queen (Helen Bonham Carter). Of course, on her journey she meets a handful of quirky characters who have been expecting her. The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) leads her to the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), sister of the Red Queen. It is fairly easy to predict the rest.

Watching this on the big screen will be a treat for children. The visuals are stunning and Burton supplies us with a film that is a feast to the eye. Do not expect to enter a 3-D world equivalent of Pandora, but still enjoy your brief stay at wonderland, for some of the CGI shots and landscapes are jaw dropping.

Depp delivers the usual bizarre performance, we come to expect from him in a Burton collaboration, but my hats go off to Bonham Carter who steals every scene she’s in. Her humorous performance both made me laugh and gave me the creeps.

So far, all I have mentioned is the positive, or more precisely the only positive aspects about this film. There are no twists and turns here and besides being visually impressive there is not enough substance to make it memorable. In fact, “Alice in Wonderland” reminded me of “Chronicles of Narnia”, perhaps a bit too much. I can’t praise the originality for that it isn’t, I can’t praise the story, for we’ve seen it all before, I can, however, praise the visuals, the only element that stayed with me after the credits.

“Alice in Wonderland” is only the third film ever released in 3-D here in Egypt. I would not much care if it were the last. Visuals alone cannot save a picture. With the sudden 3-D movement in Hollywood, this is exactly what I feared, filmmakers focusing on the technical elements and ignoring the story and heart of a movie. Watching this 3-D film felt like going on a date with a beautiful young woman and discovering she has no soul.

Film Analysis: Alejandro Amenábar’s “The Others”


          Alejandro Amenabár’s ‘The Others’ opens with a series of spooky hand drawn title shots. The last of these images is that of an old house. An excellent use of transition follows, as the hand drawn house fades into an actual house. ‘The Others’ feels like a Victorian ghost story written by Michael Cox, J. Sheridan LeFanu or Wilkie Collins. With that transition, it is as if Amenabár lifts the pages of one of these great old ghost stories directly to the screen.  

Nicole Kidman plays Grace in a performance that is not your typical take of a horror movie heroine. Kidman uses realism rather than generic acting to introduce the viewers to a flawed, emotional, and troubled woman. Grace lives with her two children in an old mansion in the middle of nowhere. Anne (Alakina Mann) is the daughter and Nicholas (James Bentley) is the younger boy. However, soon three mysterious servants arrive. Since their arrival, a series of strange incidents occur as they all discover they are not alone.

Indeed, the plot is that of a typical haunted house movie. However, ‘The Others’ is much more than that, for it is quite possibly the greatest ghost story ever told on film. This is largely due to all the thought and attention Amenabár gave to his picture. This is one of those rare occasions where the director had total control over his material. Besides taking the helm, Amenabár also wrote the perfectly contained screenplay and composed the haunting yet emotional score.  

The director uses metaphors and German Expressionism to tell his story. Like many expressionistic films of the later stages of that era in German film history, the expressionism in ‘The Others’ lacks exaggeration but is still nonetheless very expressionistic. The film borrows themes of the lost genre by dealing with insanity, madness, mirrors and a dark urban setting.

 The atmosphere in the giant mansion is very dark as the use of light and shadow play key factors. Amenabár is a genius when it comes to metaphors and the use of light and shadow in his film are exactly that, a giant metaphor. Most of the film takes place within dark rooms and dim hallways with flames of candles in lanterns as the only source of light. The audience is kept in the dark throughout the movie and it is not until we reach the explanatory twist that sunlight symbolizing knowledge pours into the house and our minds.

I always wondered why the ghosts in haunted house movies only appeared when the room was dark or it was nighttime. Here Amenabár is generous enough to provide us with a reason for the film’s dark atmosphere. We learn that the children suffer from an incurable illness known as xeroderma pigmentosum preventing them from any direct exposure to sunlight. If the pores of their skin meet any such exposure, the result will be a severe outburst that will lead to their death.  Ironically, when the children finally reach “the light” or knowledge of the truth behind the intruders, they end up dead in that we discover they are ghosts.

What impresses me most each time I watch ‘The Others’ is that the style and substance complement each other creating a visually beautiful movie with enough substance to merit repeated viewings.  Studying the film shot by shot, I discovered a master in control of every frame. Each scene is part of a whole and every shot is there for a reason. Allow me to point out examples in the film to support my gutsy statement.

We are given a time frame when Grace explains to the servants that the postman has not passed by in a week, that it’s been a week of silence as the birds stopped singing, and that the fog lasted a week. Therefore, it is safe to say, they have been dead not knowing it for a week from where the film picks up. The fog plays an important role here as Grace attempts to walk through it seeking a priest to rid the mansion of the “ghosts”. However, since they are dead, Grace and her children are tied to that house and the fog prevents them from going beyond a certain point. Of course, a first time viewer does not discover that until after a second or third viewing. Look at the shot below where Amenabár expresses this entrapment visually.

‘The Others’ is full of such expressionistic shots. The most famous scene in the film is when Anne wearing a new white dress plays with her puppets. Grace having left her daughter in that room, later returns where Anne still wearing the dress continues to play with her puppet. Only this time she is an old woman. The scene is both unsettling and disturbing yet there is more to it than meets the eye. We later learn that the old woman is a medium who was at one point possessed unintentionally by Anne. This is why Anne takes on the form of the old woman earlier in the picture.  Now look at this shot, which takes place before the viewer discovers any of this.

Anne in her communion dress plays with a puppet. The puppet is an old woman and Anne is in total control of that puppet/old woman. Again, a visual representation of what is happening.

‘The Others’ is full of such hints. Not all are visual; some are contained in the dialogue. For instance, after Grace shouts at Anne for misbehaving, Anne starts to breath unevenly. “Stop breathing like that”, Grace tells her. The breathing only gets louder and Grace gets mad and screams, “Stop breathing!” This is a subtle reference to the day Grace went mad suffocating her children using a pillow causing them to “stop breathing”. Later on, this subtle reference to the cause of death happens once again, only this time with Nicholas. As the children hide in the cupboard, Nicholas gasps for air and Anne asks him to “stop breathing like that” or they will get caught. The migraines Grace suffers from throughout the movie may refer to her cause of death, using a gun to blow her brains out.

One scene that caught my attention is when Grace rushes up the house and gets the shotgun. Before she cocks it, there is a déjà-vu expression on her face. It is as if she has done this before. This only shows the dedication Kidman had to that performance.  
The twist in ‘The Others’ as many of us know is a big one. The entire picture builds up to that twist. That does not mean after the unraveling of the twist the movie becomes less watchable. In fact, it is the exact opposite of that for the entire film supports the ending and part of the fun is to catch all the indicators a second, third, or fourth time around. How can we appreciate the lines of Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flangan), the head servant, having watched the movie only once? At one point she tells Grace that sometimes the “death of a loved one can lead people to do the strangest things.” It is such well thought out lines, perfectly composed shots and complementary scenes that makes ‘The Others’ a ghost story unlike any other.

I am aware that calling this film the greatest ghost story of all time is a bold statement. I have seen ‘The Haunting’ and ‘The Innocents’. Both are excellent haunted house films and had great influence on this 2001 movie. However, ‘The Others’ never fails to impress me, more so than the other two, most because of its depth. I am also aware of the fact that many will pan me for these statements. The great Roger Ebert often says, a critic has to be true to his feelings and not merely follow the general consensus of critics. This is how I felt about what I consider a masterpiece of cinema and I stand by my feelings and opinion.

Memento mori or photographs of the dead is a theme eplored in ‘The Others’. Here are some spooky real life pictures of the Victorian era:


Predicted Winner: The Hurt Locker


Why? Simply because it deserves it more than any other movie this year. ‘Avatar’ was a tremendous achievement. It may revolutionize cinema for its technical achievements. However, the “Best Picture” belongs to the best film of the year. ‘The Hurt Locker’ was exactly that.

Threats: Most people think ‘Avatar’ is the only threat, yet ‘Inglorious Basterds’ may pull a ‘Shakespeare in Love’ win with ‘The Hurt Locker’ may end up as this year’s ‘Saving Private Ryan’. For one thing it has Harvey Weinstein backing it up. It also has the SAG award and actors make up the largest chunk of voters in the Academy. The recent DVD release will also help boost the vote since Tarantino only gets better with repeated viewings. The race is not between ‘The Hurt Locker’ and ‘Avatar’. It’s between ‘The Hurt Locker’, ‘Avatar’, and ‘Inglorious Basterds’.

Predicted Winner: Kathryn Bigelow


Why? She put her heart and soul into every single shot in this movie. Bigelow will make history being the first female Best Director winner.

Threats: None. There’s no stopping her.


Predicted Winner:
Jeff Bridges in ‘Crazy Heart’

Why? He’s long overdue, this may be the Academy’s only chance to redeem previous snubs. The Dude delivers one of his best performances here. A peak in a great career.

Threats: More like a minor threat but still a threat nonetheless, Colin Firth in ‘A Single Man’ . His performance was great but he will most likely end up empty handed. The nomination was his reward. A welcome to the club gesture.




Predicted Winner: Sandra Bullock in ‘The Blind Side’


Why? Why not? It’s a big year for her with two box office hits and a good performance in a weak year of female performances.

Threats: Meryl Streep in ‘Julia & Julia’. It’s Streep’s 16th Oscar nomination but it has been decades since her last win. Meryl Streep nominations is becoming more of a tradition for The Academy but a 3rd win is least not for this performance.



Predicted Winner: Christoph Waltz in ‘Inglorious Basterds’

Why? Over the past 3 years, the Best Supporting Actor award went to the best villain of the year. With Javier winning for ‘No Country for Old Men’ and Heath Ledger winning for ‘The Dark Knight’. How do you measure up with the past two great villains?  Waltz managed to pull it off with a chilling performance.

Threats: None. He’s a lock.


Predicted Winner: Mo’Nique

Why? She gave a splendid performance and has a very powerful “Oscar” scene.

Threats: None



Predicted Winner: Quentin Tarantino ‘Inglorious Basterds’

Why? Tarantino’s screenplay is a work of art. This will be his second win.

Threats: Mark Boal ‘The Hurt Locker’



Predicted Winner: Jason Reitman ‘Up in the Air’

Why? Simple. It was the best screenplay of the year, original or adpated. A perfect screenplay with great one liners and philosophies of life.

Threats: None. They may as well mail it to him now.

Predicted Winner: ‘The Hurt Locker’




Predicted Winner: ‘The White Ribbon’

Why? The best foreign movie of the year and one of the best of 2009 regardless of any labels. This should win.

Threats: ‘A Prophet’ is the only threat here.



Predicted Winner: Christian Berger ‘The White Ribbon’

Why? The toughest category to predict. Any of the nominated could end up winning.  Foreign movies rarely get a nomination here but this beautiful looking movie managed to get in. I’m still confused about ‘Avatar’ being eligible with all the CGI and ‘Inglorious Basterds’ was great but not groundbreaking. You could freeze any frame of ‘The White Ribbon’ and it’ll be as beautiful as a great painting.

Threats: ‘Avatar’ obviously and ‘Inglorious Basterds’.



Predicted Winner: ‘The Young Victoria’

Why? No idea. This is a wild guess but since it got more nominations the others competing in the category, why not?

Predicted Winner: ‘Star Trek’


Why? See picture above.

Predicted Winner: Up


Predicted Winner: “The Weary Kind”, ‘Crazy Heart’


Predicted Winner: ‘The Hurt Locker’
Why? Because the explosion scenes were magnificently mixed in relation to the sound.


Predicted Winner: ‘Avatar’


Predicted Winner: ‘Avatar’ DUH!


Predicted Winner: ‘The Cove’


Predicted Winner: ‘Avatar’


Predicted Winner: ‘Up’



Predicted Winner: China’s Unnatural Disaster

Predicted Winner: A Matter of Loaf and Death (Wallace & Gromit)

Predicted Winner: KAVI



Cairo Station “Bab el Hadid” (1958)

Youssef Chahine is the most important director in Egyptian film history. Egyptians know what they are in for when they choose to watch one of Chahines’ movies, for his pictures never fail to shock. Any Chahine directed film is controversial and ahead of its time. Now regarded as a genius and the father of Egyptian cinema, Chahine started making movies in the late 40’s. He continued shocking Egyptians in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s 90’s and 00’s. However, he could never measure up to his crowning achievement and defining masterpiece, ‘Cairo Station’.

 The movie takes place on a train station in the course of a single day. The camera introduces us to the three main characters: Qinawi (Youssef Chahine) is the poor, perverted newspaper vendor, Hanuma (Hind Rostom), the beautiful woman constantly chased by security for selling soft drinks illegally, and Abu Serib (Faris Shawqi), Hanuma’s soon to be husband who desperately tries to form a union.  Qinawi spends his days fantasizing about women. Pin up models make up the walls of his dirty little shed as he spends his time staring at the pictures with his piercing black eyes. While at work, he does not attempt to sell any newspaper. Instead, he continues his habit, desperately trying to catch any glimpse of cleavage. Like a predator, women and sex is all that interests him. He is a sick and disturbed individual who rarely utters a word. Everybody knows Qinawi but no one knows of his sickness, no one but the audience.

Hanuma being a tease draws his attention and so Qinawi starts obsessing about her.  It does not take him long to propose to the already engaged Hanuma. Abu Serib is doing well financially. All Qinawi has to offer is a gold necklace that once belonged to his mother.  Naturally, Hanuma turn him down. She does not take Qinawi seriously often teasing and making fun of the troubled man. However, Qinawi does not give up. Like a predator stalking his wounded prey, his eyes stay fixed on her. He follows her around studying her curves and peeking into her privacy.  

At one point in the film, Qinawi takes a marker and draws a bucket full of soft drinks onto the arm of one his pin up models to make it look like Hanuma. He then covers the window with some clothing, sits in a dark corner and the screen fades to black. We know what happens next.

The main character is a pervert. He is both unlikable and disturbing. The subject is one we would rather not study, but we have no choice. Soon the plot takes us to places we wish we would not bear witness to as murder, violence, and chaos follows.

Chahines’ haunting performance is as powerful as his groundbreaking directing. He is in total control behind the camera taking us into the mind of a sexually repressed man slipping into insanity. His performance ranks with the best in film history with facial expressions and body language done to a freighting perfection. Hind Rostom, the Marilyn Monroe of Egypt is impressive as the trouble making femme fatal. Every character in this movie feels real.

 The dirty and torn costumes and on location filming, contribute to the gritty realism of this dark picture. Italian Neorealism influenced the great Egyptian director who dared to force the public to deal with reality. The screenplay is pitch-perfect and, Alfred Hitchcock would have snatched it in a second. Prior to ‘Cairo Station’ Egyptian films were mostly feel good pictures, simply there to entertain. They were an escape for the everyday man, so when ‘Cairo Station’ premiered, everyone was shocked. Here was this young director judging an entire culture with a film that breaks every norm of Egyptian cinema. Shock waves followed its initial release.

 The censorship banned it by public demand. Critics praised the masterpiece, but the public despised it. After a screening of the film, a man walked up to Chahine, spat on his face, and said, “You have given Egypt a bleak image.”

 After 20 years under a strict ban, Egyptians rediscovered it. It was screened at film festivals worldwide   and ever since the rebirth of ‘Cairo Station’ in 1978, Egyptians have recognized it as the work of a master. The reputation of the film only grew and now it is the considered the ‘Citizen Kane’ of Egyptian cinema.

The train station is clearly an embodiment of a city. “This is Cairo Station”, the narrator says in the beautifully shot opening scene, “the heart of the capital. Every minute one train departs…and every minute another one arrives. Thousands of people meet and bid farewell…people from North and South, natives and foreigners, people with and without jobs.” The film is a study of an entire city and an individual. Chahine is judging an entire system by forcing us to see that city through the eyes of a psychopath. It is extremely difficult for a director to handle a picture from both a macro and micro perspective but Chahine manages to pull it off beautifully. His film is about a country that needs a union and the sexual repression of a culture.  ‘Cairo Station’ is what you would get if you put Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver’ and Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ in a mixer.  

‘Cairo Station’ was released on DVD in the US December  28, 2009.

Film Genres, Actors and their Choices “Would Would You Ask a Heart Surgeon to Operate on Your Teeth?”

To read my article regarding genres, actors and their choices. Go to the excellent ‘Touching From a Distance’ website where I wrote a blog post as a guest. Link to the article:

European Art Film: An Analysis of Luis Bunuel’s “The Exterminating Angel”

     Whenever people utter the word ‘movie’, the first thing that pops into the listener’s mind is a narrative fictional movie, be it horror, thriller, crime, romance, comedy, or so on. However, there’s an entire genre dedicated to art movies, and the reason why they aren’t as popular is because they are targeted to a limited audience, rather than the typical mass audience. Most people go watch a movie, to kill time or escape the harsh reality yet in order to fully understand an art film one should keep an eye on the highly symbolic content within the movie, and try to makes sense out of the movie, even though it might seem impossible to do so. The Golden Age for art films was the sixties, for it was when rebellious European movies broke most of the rules of the traditional classical cinema established by Hollywood. Movies suddenly appeared without having a satisfying ending, in addition to that, the characters within the European art films would often go through a serious of events that they have no control over, and unlike in narrative fictional movies, they have no choice. In the midst of that age, a director by the name of Luis Bunuel reached his peak, and at the age of 60 through 70, he directed probably the greatest surreal European art films of all time, for he is to art films what Hitchcock is to suspense movies. 

In 1962, Bunuel directed probably his most analyzed and controversial movie, “The Exterminating Angel”. The plot revolves around a dinner party that takes place in a mansion. At the beginning of the party the servants escape for no apparent reason leaving only the head servant to serve the guests. Later on the guests arrive and even though they have finished eating knowing it is time to leave, they cannot get themselves to leave the salon. Bunuel does not use a score for the movie; for he doesn’t need it in this particular movie because it would not serve any purpose. As for mise-en-scene, the only aspect that seems consistant throughout the movie is the surreal environment. There isn’t just one true explanation or meaning to the movie, for each and everyone will most probably interpret it differently. The following argument is not fact or truth behind the movie; for it is simply a series of interpretations, that one viewer (me) went through during and after watching the movie a few times.

Statue of The Exterminating Angel in Comillas, Spain

The first reaction was that the entire movie was part of a dream; however, this could not possibly be true because even though the surreal aspects in the movie convey the feeling of experiencing a dream, it could not possibly be one since it isn’t told through the perspective of one character. It’s more like a presentation of surrealistic events taking place within a salon. The second affect it may have on a viewer is from a religious point of view. The title of the movie, refers to the exterminating angel who killed the first born child of Egypt, and so in order to make some sense of the movie, one could consider the fact that same angel may be punishing those high class guests. The exterminating angel does so by trapping them in an environment that forces them to deal with reality. Therefore, they snap out of their trapped world of mannerism. The angel punishes two lovers for having sexual intercourse in a small room with angel pictures displayed on the wallpapers by forcing them to commit suicide. At the same time, he forces the guests outside of the room to go through barbaric like behavior to show them the harsh reality of our human nature. After they escape, the guests end up trapped once again in a church, which implies that the angel now wants them to break free of their religious habits now that he succeded at breaking hem free of their high class manners.  In both, the salon and church traps, the angel sends them sheep so they could eat and survive. Both location are perfect for the angel’s tasks. Luis Bunuel was probably attacking both the high class of society and religion. The first viewing of, “The Exterminating Angel” is a very challenging one, and it is almost impossible for the viewer to understand the full meaning, still by concentrating on the details within the movie, one can at least interpret a meaning to the movie, even though it might not necessarily make sense.

Luis Bunuel movies are timeless in the sense that they force the average movie goer to think for a change. Instead of feeding the audience a basic story, Bunuel allows us as the audience to figure it out on our own leaving an impression that may last for hours after the movie’s credits have rolled. With “The Exterminating Angel”, the viewers are lucky enough to receive a statement by the director at the beginning of the movie. Therefore using that statement as a guide to make sense of the movie would be a very wise choice. The statement reads as follows “The best explanation of this film is that, from the standpoint of pure reason, there is no explanation.” He also warns that the some might find the movie “disturbing”, and that it may not make sense at all. Besides the obvious message of Bunuel, that there shouldn’t be a reason for anything happening and his obvious destruction of casuality where cause and effect is not a feature in his movie, Bunuel might have given the viewer a hint to understanding the movie through his opening statement. He mentions that the movie might not make sense, that viewers may find it “disturbing”, and that “from the standpoint of pure reason, there is no explanation”. Maybe Bunuel was trying to show that through picture and sound he expressed the strange and unexplainable aspects of life, the very things that we find “disturbing” and have “no explanation” for. There are two scenes where the dinner guests arrive, so they basically arrive twice in the movie, which might be considered a presentation of deja-vu by Bunuel better yet maybe he was touching on the whole history repeats itself concept. Either way, both fit into the categories of “disturbing” and are also one of the aspects of life that we have “no explanation” for. The movie is full of such material that made me think Bunuel’s movie may be symbolizing life; for life is like a salon, there is no escaping it.

Within that salon all kinds of disturbing and unexplainable incidents occur. One unexplainable behavior of our human nature is why people commit suicide, presented to us through the two lovers who commit suicide in a small room. The concept of dreaming is another thing that has no logic explanation, and Bunuel again touches upon it through the scene where a girl dreams and stabs a young woman’s hand while sleepwalking. In the repeated scenes where all the guests go to sleep, Bunuel might have also tried to express that at the end of the day, we all just go to sleep and accept the day as it was. Another unexplainable question is why people often choose to solve their problems using violence whether it’s war between two countries or a duel between two characters. The attraction humans tend to have towards violence is also evident  in the scene where the guests gather around the two dead lovers as a crowd trying to get a peak at what happened. The fact that at a time of crisis human beings tend to forget about manners and turn against each other is shown in the scene involving water  desperatley accessed through one of the pipes in a wall. These scenes all fit under the category of the unexplainable aspects of life and human behavior.

     The movie is definitely a study of human behavior in the sense that it includes a variety of characters with different characteristics, the judging ones, the perverted guy who tries to sexually abuse a woman in her sleep, a whiny childish man who still can’t let go of his mother, the two men who are addicted to gossip and talk about a girl who they assume is a virgin, the dying woman who looks forward to death, the list goes on and on.  Through those characters, Bunuel displays the negative aspects that are present in almost every society. In less than two hours, Luis Bunuel managed to touch all those various unexplainable and disturbing aspects of life, human behavior, and society. Throughout the duration and stay within the salon, a sense of a lifetime is conveyed, for just like by the end of most people’s lives, by the end of the guest’s stay inside the salon, the people are looking forward to death, one of them even yells “Doctor, why don’t you kill me already!” As the guests are finally able to leave the salon or “life”, a light appears at the outside of the building, just like “the light that we are supposed to see before death”, and the guests are back to reality. In the streets, soldiers are hitting rebels and the crowd, which was another subliminal message in the movie. Spain was probably under strict military rule and a closed society during that time, and the people were controlled by the military just like the guests were controlled by the salon being unable to leave. The entire movie is filled with unexpected events taking place, just like in reality, life is full of events that occur out of nowhere. We don’t know why they happen, they just do for no apparent reason. There’s only one cause and effect in the movie, the plot or material displayed on screen and the effect it has on the viewer. Luis Bunuel created a work of art with his masterpiece, “The Exterminating Angel”. It shouldn’t only be regarded as one of the greatest foreign movies or art films of all time, but one of the greatest movies period. Each viewing might cause an entirely different interpretation from the previous viewing, which is why the movie stand the test of time as a timeless masterpiece that demands to be viewed repeatedly.

Film Review: “Avatar” ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ (5/5)

James Cameron's long awaited "Avatar"

So I just came back from a screening of the groundbreaking new James Cameron movie, “Avatar”, and I can’t wait to go back a few days from now. The movie lives up to its gigantic hype. I went in with very high expectations and they were met and exceeded.

Here’s a movie that has something for everyone; from a great love story, to epic battle scenes, to a magnificent score, the greatest special effects to date, and on top of all that an environmental message. Movie geeks will be mentioning “Avatar” whenever there’s the classic “Star Wars” vs “Lord of the Rings” debate, for it is a movie that stands its ground against both of those excellent trilogies. “”Avatar” is simply a masterpiece of movie magic. James Cameron knows how to plug you into a world that you will not want to leave.

I won’t go into the plot but I will say that Cameron’s new movie is like a combination of all of his previous works. It revolves around creatures as cool as “Aliens”, it has battle scenes that make the scenes in his Terminator movies look small, and a powerful love story similar to that of “Titanic”. Now that I’ve mentioned “Titanic”, I would like to point out the similar structure of the screenplay Cameron used with both movies. Remember the times when the “Titanic” story would get interrupted by Old Rose and we as viewers were begging inside for more scenes on the ship. The same happens with “Avatar” only this time we beg to spend more time on Pandora whenever we’re pulled off.

The Na’vi tribe is very interesting and one of the most well developed and original species in film history. It’s been a very strong year for scifi fans with movies like “District 9”, “Star Trek” and “Moon” coming out at the end of the decade. While I consider “Moon” to be the best scifi of the year by far, still “Avatar” is a  fantasy epic that will most likely have a strong fan following. All I can say is believe the hype for “Avatar” has it all.

The Roots and History of the Horror Film


Linda Blair in "The Exorcist"
"The Exorcist"

                Each genre has a specific effect on the viewer. When it comes to the horror genre, that effect is fear. The horror genre has a very unique history, for unlike genres like the film noir or the gangster genre, the horror genre originated in Germany with the expressionistic movement. World War I affected numerous lives. The decade following the war was crucial for the horror film genre. It was in the 1920’s that saw German Expressionism develop into full form. Prior to that period (during World War I), all studios were controlled by the German government in order t produce propaganda films. Foreign movies were banned till 1916 but this ended in 1921 and German cinema benefited a lot from the situation. The reason for that being is, after the First World War UFA (Germany’s major studio at the time) was fully capitalized and hired the most talented German filmmakers to put cinema back on its feet. From that moment on, the horror genre was changed forever.

"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari"
"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari"

  It was the decade that saw German Expressionism in the form of film (it was already dominant in many other art forms). German Expressionism was a movement that had movies focusing on the mood and atmosphere of a movie which would be central and crucial to the future horror film. “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” was the first horror film and the first step triggering the movement. The movie which came out in the formative period (period when genres are formed) of the genre had a huge influence and impact on world cinema. Unique angle shots, exaggerated sets, theater like acting, and unusual makeup were the main elements that defined the expressionistic movement. For the first time in cinema history, these elements combined, or the mise en scene in general was there to reflect the psychological state of mind of the characters. The movie was basically expressing the pain and confusion Germany was going through at the time. It reflected the times and the state of confusion Germans felt following the war. According to film historian, Rick Worland, Dr. Caligari represented authority as he ordered his companion to go on a killing spree. Just like the Germans a few years back were ordered by authority to go and kill the enemy. All the elements and conventions associated with the genre can be traced to that crucial moment in horror history, the moment when “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” first hit theaters.

A creepy score, dark atmosphere, haunting mood and the fact that the movie reflected its time were the main conventions that triggered what would in the future be considered a horror film. The success of the movie inspired more of the same, movies like “The Golem, “M”, “Metropolis”, and “Nosferatu” followed. However with the start of Nazi Germany and the end of the 20’s, many of these revolutionary German filmmakers fled to the United States. Once there, these same filmmakers did what they did before, they changed cinema forever, only this time it was in America.

John Carpenter's "Halloween"

Universal Studios saw great success in the early 30’s, with “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” coming out in 1931. Again, the most obvious reason for the success of these horror films in the US was the times. It was the era of the Great Depression and fear was spread across the nations. Many viewers could identify with that emotion when sitting through a horror film. What’s most fascinating is how similar to German Expressionism both movies were. The shared the mood, the score, the idea of the other (a person different from everyone else in society, in this case the monster), and of course the element of fear mirroring that period. The horror genre soon became the most controversial and argued over genre in film. Especially with Cracaur’s first book on the horror genre ever released, “From Caligari to Hitler” being published in the 1940’s. He argued that German Expressionism was a way to promote and encourage fascism. The basis of his argument was that it was a way for the audience to escape reality yet mock it at the same time. “From Caligari to Hitler” had a huge message behind it and from that moment on, horror films were always associated with the ideological or political status of the period.

"Night of the Living Dead"

  Robin Wood was also very important in the periodic development of the genre. His theory was that there were two aspects underneath ever horror film. The first was Freudism and how we as viewers have certain things in our subconscious that we tend to block or repress due to what society taught us. What made horror films scary was that these aspects were forced upon the viewers and the spotlight was on the strange and “un-talked” about.  The second element under Wood’s theory was the Marxist idea of how each society had a ruling class. This ruling class had an ideology that was applied on the entire society. (I’ll give an example later on how this can be applied on horror films such as “Night of the Living Dead”) In order to fully understand his theory we have to break the horror genre into periods, and so while “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” came out in the formative period, horror films such as “Dracula” and “Frankenstein are considered to have come out in the golden age of horror film or the classical period (the period when horror films and their conventions were all set and not tested upon, people knew what they were in for when watching a horror film). It is movies like “Blood for Dracula”, and “Night of the Living Dead” that are considered to be part of the revisionist period (the period when people played with the horror conventions and toyed with where they could go with the genre). Anyway the idea of the working class being presented as zombies attacking the higher class in “Night of the Living Dead”, “Dawn of the Dead”, and many other George Romero films are perfect examples of Wood’s theory. Wood’s argument of basically “revenge of the repressed” was proven to be very much true. The idea of “the other” was argued over and Wood believed that how the issue in the plot of the horror film was resolved established the movie’s ideological message. For example if by the end of the movie, the zombies or “the repressed” take over the city then that’s exactly what the message the filmmaker is sending to the world.

"The Others"

To this day with the many phases of the horror genre from the slaughter phase to the slasher phase in the 70’s and 80’s, the horror film was never the same again. Instead of being there to primarily scare audiences, they were taken seriously for the themes and messages they expressed. In “Halloween”, teenagers are the victims for there was a sudden explosion of unsafe sex and drug use with the under aged which explains how most of them are killed while committing any of these two acts or taboos. After the birth of the slasher genre in 1960 with Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, it was “Halloween” that influenced and triggered the movement and “Friday the 13th”, “Nightmare on Elm Street” and their many sequels followed. By the nineties, the phase was dead till Wes Craven came out with a mocking of the subgenre in 1997’s blockbuster “Scream”. During the second half of the nineties there was a brief shift and focus on supernatural ghost stories with movies like “The Sixth Sense”, The Others”, and “Stir of Echoes” dominating the period. The decade ended with the huge success of “Blair Witch Project” which triggered the handheld documentary like horror film. Movies like “Open Water”, “Quarantine”, “Cloverfield” and this year’s “Paranormal Activities” shared the same idea as their sub genre creator. Unfortunately, the shift the horror genre is taking is what many would consider the downfall of the genre. There only seems to be two types of horror movies, remakes (“Texas Chainsaw massacre”, “The Hills Have Eyes”, “Halloween”, “Friday the 13th”, “Halloween”, the upcoming “Birds” remake, etc.) By remakes, Japanese remakes are included as well (“The Grudge”, “The Rings”, their sequels, etc.); the second type being the documentary handheld horror film which only proves to be worth our time once every twenty failures. A genre that was once respected and hailed for its brilliance (ex. “The Exorcist”) is going downhill faster than any other genre in film. The conventions are still there, the horror isn’t. Back then the idea of the movie was what scared us all, now “the idea” has been replaced with “jump out of your seat” moments. Hopefully this will change in the future. Who knows, maybe the great Martin Scorsese will put the genre back on its feet with his upcoming original horror mystery, “Shutter Island”. There is still reason to hope.