2014-12-13 02:52 pm

Horror Movies

I am far from what you might call a "horror fanatic." I would know, I had a friend in middle school who, by all means, was. He would always have a new favorite whenever I would visit his house to sleep over (which was not too frequently, as you might imagine -- my young brain could only handle so much). I don't know how much of an effect that time in my life has had, but regardless, the fact, as it stands today, is that I do enjoy horror movies...in moderation.

This brings me to the movie I watched the other day: The Taking of Deborah Logan. It's a relatively new movie, having come out earlier this year, and as movies go it's far from a "blockbuster": it's a straight-to-Netflix release. Don't be fooled though, this is a good horror movie in many ways. It's both creepy and thrilling at various points, both to impressive effect, and the story at its core is well-written and engaging. It's cinematic style is of the "found-footage" variety (think The Blair Witch Project); this is executed seamlessly and in such a way that it adds a lot to the rest of the film. For instance, at one point, we view a man attempting to smother a woman with her pillow in a hospital bed, through a wall-mounted camera that ostensibly belongs to the hospital, only to be interrupted by a television launched at his head from its mount on the wall by "forces unseen." Were it not for the particular angle and digital limitations (visible through the film) of the specific camera this scene were shot on, it simply would not have been as satisfyingly creepy a scene.

I definitely hold this movie in high personal esteem. It's plenty creepy, and the fact that it's available to stream on Netflix adds a huge convenience factor. So the next time you're in the mood for a thrill but can't be bothered to go out, consider The Taking of Deborah Logan.
2014-11-07 11:21 pm

The Matrix: an Amateur Analysis

The Matrix is a science-fiction movie made in 1999 by the production companies Warner Brothers, Village Roadshow Pictures, Groucho II Film Partnership, and Silver Pictures, and directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski — credited as "The Wachowski Brothers." The stars are Keanu Reeves (famous for the "Sad Keanu" Internet meme), Hugo Weaving (most recently famous for his role in Captain America as the Red Skull), and Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss — two actors whose most notable roles are (to my knowledge anyway) their respective roles in this film. In terms of money, about 63 million went in and about 463 million came out — it did pretty well, and it did so with what is, in my humble opinion, good reason.

I'm going to keep it simple here: The Matrix is a good movie. I can speak to its goodness subjectively from a personal standpoint (read: I really enjoyed it), and I can tell you why in detail. First, it's got fight scenes, and they're really cool! Why are they cool? First, because the combatants involved are nearly always super-powered, and super-powered fights are always cooler than the alternative. These combatants usually have a typical "good guy/bad guy" dynamic between them — satisfying from a plot standpoint. These fights usually incorporate special effects that are, across the board, executed in a manner that is both convincing, especially considering that this movie was produced in the nineties and executed to a high standard of professionalism. Altogether this makes the fights satisfying from a technical standpoint too.

I don't know what else to say. I like The Matrix a lot. It's been one of my favorites for a long time. It's pretty popular, still pretty frequently talked about for a movie made fifteen years ago so you might say it's "stood the test of time" or some other similar idiom. I'll go ahead and say check it out, decide its worth for yourself, see if you think it's good or not. For what it's worth, my money's on that you will.

2014-10-24 09:46 pm

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Halloween is just around the corner, so I thought I'd take the opportunity this week to write about a classic among animated movies that's not only seasonally appropriate, but that also happens to be personally important to me: Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The first time I watched The Nightmare Before Christmas was at a ripe young age — I hadn't even hit double-digits yet if I recall correctly. Maybe that's why, even though this movie is targeted toward children, it remains one of my favorites to watch around Halloween. My watching this movie marked my first ever exposure to "claymation," the method of animation used in this movie that is comprised of taking many still shots of clay figurines and sequencing these into film. Now, I don't know if my being an impressionable little kid the first time I watched this movie had anything to do with this, but this movie remains, to this day, my absolute, number one favorite use of claymation that I have ever seen, in movies or otherwise. It’s been my observation that the artistic medium of animation frees a film's creators to come up with visual and auditory wonders that are truly outlandish relative to what is possible with conventional live-action filmmaking. This freedom is taken full advantage of in Nightmare: in every scene, color, motion and light interplay seamlessly to stunning effect, with a masterful score by veteran Hollywood composer Danny Elfman a perfect complement to what's on screen (Nightmare is a musical feature, if I didn't mention that).

The plot of this movie follows a straightforward “voyage and return” arc. The main character is top spook in the mystical land of “Halloween Town” who finds himself weary of the too-familiar culture of spookiness around him, and so wanders into the outskirts of town. Here he finds a door to a fantasy world parallel to his own, “Christmas Land,” where reside Santa Claus and a bounty of elves, snow, and presents. He returns to tell his fellow residents of Halloween Town of his discovery, and rallies them behind him in an effort to make all things Christmas Land their own. The main character dons Santa’s red suit and cap while the rest of Halloween Town collectively procure a heap of nightmarish presents for him to bring to the boys and girls of the world on Christmas night. Tragically, yet inevitably, Halloween Town's efforts are met with catastrophic failure: the world’s children are horrified to find, where they had expected candy or new toys, boxes full of bats or severed heads. Our main character sees that, despite his efforts to change himself and his community in order to assimilate Christmas Land and all its novelty, spreading fear is all that he and his kin are able to do. So the main character sheds his red suit, lets Santa Claus resume his rightful role, and returns happily to Halloween Town to focus on being the most fearsome freak he can be.

To conclude:
 The Nightmare Before Christmas is, without a doubt, my top-choice, go-to movie companion for the Halloween season. It makes for the perfect "spooky" night in. If you can find the time I would definitely recommend you check it out!

2014-10-17 09:16 pm

Classic Movie Posters

What exactly do we think of as "classic movies?" What are the common elements by which we know them? The first thing we acknowledge about classic movies is their age -- these movies are relics of the past, left over from a world greatly different from our own that's now behind us. We probably think of them as black and white, a reflection of the state of technology's advancement at the time of their creation. Maybe star performers of classic hollywood come to mind -- Clark Gable, Henry Fonda, Orson Welles, Marilyn Monroe, Mae West, Joan Crawford -- actors who shared a special, unique charisma that was as much a product of their time as the technology that brought them to their audience. Let's look at the last thing I can think of that is inseparably tied up with classic movies in this way: the posters that accompany them.
Citizen Kane PosterGone with the Wind Poster
 
Above are a couple of sample posters from the time I'm referring to, the "golden age of Hollywood." The one on the left is one of my favorites: the poster for Orson Welles' Citizen Kane. The one on the right is the poster for Gone with the Wind, directed by Victor Fleming. One of my favorite things about classic posters like these is how their visual style tells the story of the media used to create them. The large titles and the actors' likenesses look as though they are painted on, and the small titles look as though they are inked in. Contrast this style with movie posters of today, which are almost universally rendered in exclusively digital media. Modern posters often feature photographs of actors, usually edited digitally, with electronically produced titles to match. This probably isn't the only reason we don't see posters like the above anymore today. Technology has only advanced since the seventy or so years ago when these posters were made. We definitely have the means to make posters just like these, we just choose not to. It's because sensibilities have changed on all ends: audiences don't respond to the classic style of these posters, and the production studios responsible for new movie posters aren't commissioning them in this style either.

The above posters reflect the older creative sentimentality present in the time they came from. They also reflect the technological means available for their creation in their time, just like the monochromatic color scheme of the films they were used to promote. Both the posters and their films capture the period in history they came from, and what I like about them both so much is that they have the ability to take our minds back to their time by the simple act of looking.
2014-10-10 08:23 pm

The Title was the Last Part of this Post that I Wrote

I have not slept in over twenty-four hours. I am going to attempt to write about a movie that I have never seen. That movie's name is "A Beautiful Mind."

"A Beautiful Mind," directed by Ron Howard and starring Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, and Jennifer Connely, was released in 2001 to general critical acclaim. The plot, as I understand it, centers around John Nash, a gifted mathematician at Princeton, whose already-complicated life begins to unravel as he delves deeper into the world of military cryptography. Because of his choice as to how to use his talents, Nash becomes exposed to danger from his involvement in the military. This happens in conjunction with the ongoing growth of a rift between Nash and his loved ones and Nash's gradual descent into mental illness. I do not know how the movie ends.

The movie is adapted from a book of the same name which chronicles the life events of a real man, John Forbes Nash, Jr. The real Nash, still alive, was in fact a professor at Princeton for a significant portion of his academic career. Nash has made profound contributions to many academic fields, and is arguably best known for his breakthroughs in the field of game theory, an interdisciplinary field which draws on elements of mathematics, statistics, and computer science. Nash, like his depiction in the film, also struggled with mental illness for a period of his life. Nash began exhibiting symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia in his thirties. His affliction was severe enough to warrant his being admitted to a mental hospital for treatment, and the stress of dealing with his illness forced his wife to leave him. Now Nash is in his eighties. He and his once-ex-wife remarried in 2001 and are still together. Nash has made a number of popular speculations as to the nature of mental illness, and has largely resumed his work as a prolific academic after leaving the worst of his battle with mental illness behind him.

I have managed to write more about the man, John Forbes Nash, Jr., than about the movie about him, "A Beautiful Mind." I am going to go to sleep soon.
2014-10-03 08:21 pm

Toy Story

One of the first Pixar films I ever watched was "Toy Story," and it has remained one of my favorites.

"Toy Story" centers around the premise: what if toys come to life when nobody's looking? The film namely follows the toys of one young boy, Andy, and how the community of secretly-alive toys changes as Andy grows. The two main characters are Woody, a cowboy toy and a long-time favorite of Andy's, and Buzz, an exciting new spaceman toy that Andy receives for a birthday present. With Andy's attention being shifted to his new toy, Woody faces being completely cut off from Andy's affection. Meanwhile, Buzz has trouble coming to grips with his being a toy at all. Ultimately though, Woody realizes that there's room for both him and Buzz in Andy's heart, and Buzz comes to terms with the fact that, though he may not ever explore distant planets, he can serve a valuable role as a child's toy.

Maybe this is a stretch, but I think this movie has three main themes at its core: teamwork, existentialism, and growth. An exchange between Buzz and Woody captures the first two well. Woody says to Buzz, "You are a child's plaything." Buzz responds, "You are a sad, strange little man." Their two beliefs as to the nature of their existence and purpose are completely at odds, but they both must say their piece to the other for the other to come around to a new mode of thinking. They disagree on the topic of their existence; they are not a team; they must grow to become one.

They do grow; this is visible at the movie's end. The holidays have arrived at Andy's house, and the family are opening presents. The toy community are listening in to the gift-opening ceremony from the next room -- including Buzz and Woody. They do the same thing (listen). They think the same thing: the only things on their minds are what new toys Andy will get and how that will impact their ability to play with him. They are a team.

Their actions indicate something more as well: Where before, Buzz and Woody opposed each other on the questions of being and purpose, by the movie's end they agree on these topics. They are at peace with their role as toys, and move as one in the enactment of this role. They show to have grown from their earlier place of disagreement.
2014-09-26 07:07 pm

Who Watches Movies?

Who watches movies? Or, maybe a better question to ask would be, do you watch movies? What kind of movies? Why?

This is not a simple question, centrally because I don’t know who you are. The number of possibilities as to who you could be is mind-boggling. Maybe you’re a college student, like me. Maybe the role that movies plays in your life is as a relief from the obligations of school and whatever else goes on in your life while you get your education. Maybe that role is big, or small, or nonexistent. Or maybe you’re a bit older than me: your twenties, maybe. Maybe you have a job and watching movies is one of the things you do when you’re not doing that. Maybe watching movies *is* your job, or having a hand in making them is, and maybe they play a big part in your life. Or maybe you’re even older than me: thirties, or getting into middle age. Maybe *you* have a job. Maybe not. Maybe your time, whether committed to a job or not, is not so much about you anymore: maybe you’ve got a family. Kids to look after, or relations. Do you watch movies with those people?

Or you might even be much younger than me: a teenager, or even a child. Do you go to school? Do your friends like movies? Do you watch movies a lot or not very much, and when you do, what are they about?

Whoever you are, there are good reasons to watch movies. They’re relaxing: it doesn’t take a lot of effort to enjoy a movie. You can enjoy movies on a budget, or off of one: most residential areas of the world have a movie theater; if you can read this on a computer, you can probably seek out a movie. On the flip side, maybe you’ve got some money to burn. In that case, a personal entertainment center can be a lot of fun, and can be attractive to guests. Or maybe you’re not looking for fun at all, in which case, consider a movie to be a learning experience. Movies, when carefully selected, serve well as a glimpse into the culture and time that produced them. What elements about a film and its story — the technology, artistry, history, or financial elements — went into its production?

Whoever I have managed to reach with this post, if any part of it has resonated with you, it’s a sign that you won’t be sorry if you do as I suggest: watch a movie.
2014-09-19 10:56 pm

Netflix and Being a Movie Fan

There's no doubt that electronic movie streaming services like Netflix make being a movie fan easier. For a recurring monthly fee, anyone can access Netflix's online library of titles. Outside of payment, watching however many movies one wants to takes negligible investment.

It makes me think about how my family used to keep track of our movies, back some fifteen years ago. We used VHS tapes. My family owned a VCR (now obviously discarded) and had entire shelves in our basement reserved for the extensive VHS tapes we owned. We had all our favorites, from popular children's Disney titles like "Peter Pan" and "Toy Story" for me, to all-time classics like "Casablanca" and "It's a Wonderful Life" reserved for my parents. The shelf sat mounted on the wall in a room my parents had set up with a TV and a couple of couches which ended up serving as the family entertainment center. The colorful jackets of the tapes, all neatly lined up, resembled a colorful mosaic. My parents would manage to find time to sit and watch movies with me on Sunday nights during my preschool days. We would all sit and enjoy a movie together, with the shelf always hovering in periphery of our vision. It became symbolic: a movie was on. Our family was together, watching it. And the shelf was looming just out of sight.

But years have gone by since then. Personal computers have picked up in popularity, and along with them, electronic replacements for older technologies. Today my family owns a subscription to Netflix, the popular electronic movie streaming service, and today that shelf of VHS tapes is empty. The television is gone from that room; now it resides in our home's attic waiting to be repurposed, or, more likely, sold at some point in the future. My family doesn't watch movies regularly like before, but sporadically, and usually independently of each other. We used to have space and time to unite us in our movie watching; now we have the common bond of Netflix. With Netflix we gain some freedom -- from routine, and from spacial confines. Of course, there's some money lost in exchange for that. But what else do we lose?
2014-09-12 09:33 pm

Movies

This past year I took an English elective in high school whose focus was on film. One of the movies we watched was "Citizen Kane," a true classic, revered by many (according to my teacher, anyway) as "the greatest movie of all time." We spent a quarter of the school year evaluating the movie. We would watch about twenty minutes at a time in every class, and spend the rest of the period, as you might expect of an English class, discussing elements of the film, picking it apart almost as though it were a book. We went over cinematic techniques, symbolism of the things like individual actors' performances or scene composition -- "mise en scène" as I learned it's sometimes called. In keeping with the pattern of treating the movie like a book, everyone in the class ultimately went off and wrote essays on the film when we finally reached its end. Needless to say, the class was a lot of work. I respect "Citizen Kane" as a movie, and I understand that a lot of creative energy must have gone into its becoming the historic artistic composition that it is. But I must say -- and maybe this just stems from a vestigial association I've made between the movie and the sheer amount of effort that went into that class -- I feel like "Citizen Kane" misses one of the critical marks of a "good" film: watching it was simply not that much fun.

Call me crazy, but I think watching movies should be fun -- an enjoyable experience. Maybe you go out to the theater on the weekend with some friends, buy some pop corn and take your seats to enjoy an action-packed thriller or a comedy. Or maybe you dust off a personal copy of an old favorite, pop it in your laptop and don your headphones to lock out the rest of the world for a few hours. These are the kinds of things I most readily associate with movies. Not lots of work or stress, or the strain of meeting deadlines, but things that simply make you feel good.

But is the act of painstakingly analyzing a film necessarily exclusive of fun? Can't you derive fulfillment from reaching an intellectual conclusion on a movie? Speaking meaningfully about a movie can require some investment up front, even to the point of pain, but it pays off in the end. If you think hard about a movie, you can discover interesting things about it that you never noticed before, and there's substantial personal pride to be had in that. What's more, you can share these discoveries with your friends and help them learn something too. So I think it's not fair to say that watching movies should be a total pain, but it's also not true that it should be the easiest, most mindless thing in the world. I think the way to get the most out of watching a movie is to find a happy medium somewhere between mindless and torturous, to strike a balance between the two and see what you come up with.
2014-09-05 09:25 pm

Magazines

I would be a good fit for any of the four magazine topics that the composition class has agreed upon. I believe that a message of fitness and bodily health is an important one to send to college students, as college is a time where one's personal choices as to their health and fitness will either set them on a path to a healthy lifestyle or steer them away from one for good. I would also be pleased to write about Greek life, as I recognize the importance of having fun and blossoming socially during one's time in college, when the opportunity so readily presents itself. I also love movies -- not just watching them but thinking extensively about them afterwards. Superhero movies are some of my favorites, and titles like "The Matrix" and "Fight Club" I could watch and re-watch forever. Music festivals would be a cool topic to write about too, as I have enjoyed music for much of my life, and have played drums, classical piano or jazz piano at various points along the way.

I would be a strong asset to any editorial team. I enjoy the challenge of researching topics and serializing the information into written compositions -- whether they be essays, book reports, or, for our purposes, magazine articles. I am also able and willing to serve as a copy editor, reviewing magazine content as created by others for final approval.
2014-08-29 05:43 pm

First Post

Jack. Not John. John Kent Reece is what it says on my birth certificate. But all of my friends call me Jack. I think you ought to call me Jack as well. It's a name like those of any number of other "John/Jacks" through history, I like to think. Kennedy, for instance. Or Donaghy, if you prefer. I'm from Chicago, born and raised. For almost my entire life I was a student at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools -- started in pre-k, and kept on through lower and middle school, and ultimately all the way through high school. Now I'm a freshman at Purdue University, which is in West Lafayette, Indiana -- hardly a three-hour car trip from my back door on the Windy City's north side. But for a guy who, since he was four, went to the same school, in the same neighborhood, in large part with the same people, it's...kind of a change of scene.

I must confess: I've felt somewhat homesick. I miss playing the piano in my house's living room; I've had to get used to the electronic keyboard that now resides in my dorm room. I miss coming home every night after a forty-five-minute commute from school to my mother's freshly cooked dinners; now I get twenty "meal swipes" per week, plus an extra five for meals "On-the-Go!".

But I've felt more independent too. Nobody's telling me not to skip class -- and nobody's telling me not to arrive ten minutes early to every single one either. Nobody's telling me I can't head out and be social, and make tons of new friends -- and nobody's telling me I can't blow them off and curl up with a movie and a hot cup of tea instead. What I'm trying to say is, I suppose fourteen years at the same school can make a person feel a little bit trapped. But now I'm off at college -- I'm on my own. I feel total freedom...if only a tiny bit of longing for home.