Tag Archives: History

Review of Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)

27 Mar

Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922) is a Danish/Swedish silent horror/documentary film, that shows how superstition led to witch-hunting.

Directed by Benjamin Christensen (House of Horror (1929), Mockery (1927)).

Written by Benjamin Christensen (The Devil’s Circus (1926), Seven Footprints to Satan (1929)).

Starring: Benjamin Christensen, Clara Pontoppidan, Oscar Stribolt, Astrid Holm, Maren Pedersen and others.

So this early horror classic is actually a weird documentary consisting of various ways of portraying witchcraft myths and truths, while adding up to a creepy piece of silent cinema.

There are some strange illustrations while some facts about the way authorities have dealt with witches are told. This feels like an odd educational film for kids, that kids shouldn’t be watching.

When we actually get to the live-action stuff, they show both the portrayal of people thinking everything is black magic and re-enactments of the myths about witches. The movie has a sort of dark sense of humor as it shows us witchcraft rituals that might ask for a figurative interpretation. Like „all the witches had to kiss devil’s behind” gives us a rather amusing sight of witches lining up behind the devil (played by the director in make-up), who has bent over. I don’t think the filmmakers took these parts too seriously themselves.

Seeing this early example I noticed that often I’ve seen monks portrayed as morbidly obese, gross pigs, eating like whole  cow-legs. Does that mean they are corrupt or just into gluttony? I guess the first option is better since corruption is not a deadly sin. Here the monks are total assholes and one example of a witch-myth actually made sense. Why did this fat monk just rape some girl? Of course! A witch must have slipped him some love potion.

Another great example is a totally absurd way of making sure if a girl is a witch. You tie her up and throw her in the water. If she comes up, it means she is a witch and they kill her, if she does not and drowns, then you should thank God for her innocence. One thing is for sure, they knew a fool-proof plan, when they came up with one. It is an interesting commentary on how people afraid of some things actually create the myths about the existence of such things.

At times I felt like the movie is just throwing examples and concepts at me, but doesn’t do anything with them, they’re just there and don’t lead anywhere. After a while I started wondering what’s the point of all this. I get that people were gullible and stupid, move on!

Some of the imagery is really creepy and for 1920’s the make-up and costumes are pretty decent. Out of the context those scenes are even nightmarishly unsettling. Back then the audiences must have been terrified by this stuff.

Then there’s some presentations of various torture devices, they just show them to you, tell you what they do and almost show you them in action. Sounds boring, but actually was my favourite part, because it is done in the classic horror movie way. They set up how they work and just before you see them deliver the crippling they cut away and you’re left there imagining what did happen.

I wonder why nowadays there are so few mainstream witch movies? I guess we are so PC that they would be instantly considered sexist. Yet having the lead of a vampire/werewolf movie be a blank, selfish and unlikable human girl isn’t a disservice to women.

The score is really great, having some nice classical pieces, like one of my favourites – Beethoven’s „Moonlight Sonata”. On the other hand I’m not sure if they aren’t just randomly thrown on or do they in fact add to the idea of scenes.

Also it concludes with some scenes showing how the alleged „witchcraft” is now recognized as various mental illnesses and they are being treated instead of persecuted.

Overall, it is an interesting piece of cinema history and I would recommend it as such, but it doesn’t really work as conventional movie due to the constant changes of narrative style and it doesn’t work as a documentary, because it spends too much time on just dramatically portraying various myths. Still, recommended for enthusiasts of cinema history, other than that it doesn’t offer much for a modern viewer.


Pictured: Probably the illustration for the phrase "what the fuck?" in the Danish dictionary.

Review of Goodfellas (1990)

27 Feb

Goodfellas (1990) is a Biography/Drama/Crime film, that is an adaptation of a non-fiction book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi. The film follows Henry Hill and his crime associates over a period from 1955 to 1980.

Directed by Martin Scorcese (Taxi Driver (1976), Mean Streets (1973)), who often makes movies portraying crime.

Written by Martin Scorcese (I Call First (1967), The Age of Innocence (1993)) and the author of the book Nicholas Pileggi (Casino (1995), City Hall (1996)):

Starring: Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Robert DeNiro, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, Frank Sivero, Christopher Serrone, Joe D’Onofrio and others.

Not every movie can pull off freeze frames and voice overs, but this one definitely does.

We follow the life of a gangster from his youth, when he’s trying to be one, up until the end where he is some other thing, which I won’t spoil. This is basically summarized by the very famous quote „As far back as I can remember I’ve always wanted to be a gangster”, which is said by Ray Liotta, who plays the main character, but from time to time is shown in his teenage years. Both the kid actors for him and Pesci’s character are pretty good.

Speaking of Joe Pesci, he really gets to shine here, going all out and playing a total maniac. He totally deserved the Oscar he got. Scorcese just knows how to use the guy. The character is a total mental case, as the movie goes on, he becomes more and more short-tempered, like in a restaurant, when Ray Liotta tells him he’s funny, he acts like he’s insulted and asks in what way he’s funny to the point where you think he’s going to pull out a gun, but it turns out it is a joke. A little later in the film and he actually would.

Although it is a bit fractured in the narrative, since it goes over a very long period, the movie is incredibly fluid, well paced and you can get lost in the great story, it is a fun watch.

Wish De Niro had more screen time, but oddly his character is not very interesting, he is kind of passive, but I found him enjoyable nonetheless.

There is one amazing tracking shot and I as most film fans absolutely love them, they’re really sort of hypnotizing, you feel pulled in the film, since that is a lot closer to the way you actually see things, sadly you don’t enjoy a conversation or a walk from multiple angles.

Punches look really painful in this move and that’s not even mentioning the instance when Liotta punches a guy several times with a gun in his hand, that’s just brutal.

I think this movie has both Pesci’s and Liotta’s best performances on film. Although I’ve never really thought of him much seeing his other movies, but I’ve always found his eyes rather trademarkable, because his eye color is very light blue and has the kind of eyelashes that are so full that it looks like he’s wearing eyeliner, you know, like Nestor Carbonel.

Also has a very young Kevin Corrigan in a small role. Just saying. There’s really nothing more to say about that. Umm… the soundtrack is full of great songs!

Martin Scorcese just knows how to do Italian-American movies.

Overall, a great movie, recommended for everyone, a late gangster film classic.

Pictured: A guy you don't want to call funny, even though his shirt kinda is. (seriously though, that's a pretty cool shirt)

Review of Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)

30 Jan

Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980) is a biography/drama/music film, that tells the story of the country music singer Loretta Lynn.

Directed by Michael Apted (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010), Amazing Grace (2006)), well-known for his documentary series Up.

Written by Thomas Rickman (Bless the Child (2000), Hooper (1978)), he adapted Loretta Lynn’s autobiography.

Starring: Sissy Spacek, Tommy Lee Jones, Levon Helm, Beverly D’Angelo, Phyllis Boyens and others.

I sort of do like the music biopics, but often times they either lack an impact or dramatize the events to the point, where you really start questioning if they have any connection with actual facts. I think I’d put this in the first category.

I don’t know who thought this was a good idea, but I couldn’t believe for one second that Sissy Spacek is 13 at the start of the movie. She’s actually like 31 or something, that’s actually like the opposite of 13. At least it was really easy for me to accept her relationship with Tommy Lee Jones who in the film is supposed to be 21, but I don’t think Jones has ever looked younger than 30. Anyway I suspended my disbelief for this, but really it was a bit jarring. Also it took some time to digest Jones being a redhead.

Since I’m not a huge country music fan, I didn’t think I’d be much interested in a biopic about Loretta Lynn, but I must admit it was quite captivating. It’s not every day that you see a redheaded Tommy Lee Jones going all out pedophile asshole on not-redheaded Sissy Spacek playing a little girl. Seriously though, it was an interesting look at the sort of morality and social standards in regard to marriage at such a young age, abuse from a spouse and things like that.

One thing I found really weird is that they sort of try to defend Lynn’s husband’s abusive behavior, with his contribution to shaping her career. No, I still think he’s a fucking asshole, but I’m not sorry for Lynn either, because if you go and marry someone at the age of 13, what do you expect will happen on the wedding night? Some holding hands? And if you don’t just leave your abusive husband, when you can provide for yourself, then you deserve the beating you get. I guess back then it was like a normal thing to do, so they all needed a bit of back-slapping some sense into them.

Overall, an interesting and enjoyable story, but there’s not much to take away from it, except some knowledge about Lynn’s life and the realization that back then you could be 29 years old country music singer, top the music charts and be a grandmother at the same time. Well acted, well-made film, recommended if you’re looking for a solid biopic and not much more.

"That's right, not using contraception runs in my family"

Review of Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows (2011)

1 Jan

Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows (2011) is an adventure/action/mystery film. It is a sequel to Sherlock Holmes (2009). Both movies are based on the various literary works following the characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Directed by Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Snatch. (2000)), he also did the first movie.

Written by Michele Mulroney (Sunny & Share Love You (2007)) and Kieran Mulroney (Paper Man (2009)), considering their few writing credits on a couple of indie films, they seem a weird choice for a major studio movie.

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jarred Harris, Rachel McAdams, Stephen Fry.

I must say I quite enjoyed the first movie, didn’t think of it as too great, mostly due to the liberties it took with the source material, but in this day and age you can’t expect an adaptation to not rape the original at least a little bit. So we get this kitschy, heavily stylised version of late 18th century England.

And they sort of twisted the characters to suit their needs. Holmes is now this extremely eccentric substance abuser and when I think of what the character is in these films, it’s just a combination of  Tony Stark and Gregory House. I guess the House part makes sense, since he was based on Sherlock Holmes. However, I do like that Dr. John Watson actually isn’t the sidekick who just stumbles around and wonders how Holmes does what he does. Here he is quick-witted, is good at being a detective, shows that he’s been in the army and he can damn well kick some ass if needed.

So that brings me to my favourite aspect of the movie – the interactions between Holmes and Watson. Downey Jr. and Jude Law just perform the buddy movie duo dynamic so well. You almost feel bad for Watson, who is the straight man in this combination, just trying to leave the detective work behind and have a simple family life, but Holmes keeps bringing him back against his will. This helps the movie a lot because it is fun to watch the dialogue, even when there isn’t any action on the screen.

I wasn’t too impressed by the Robert Downey Jr.’s performance, but it wasn’t bad either, to me the stand-outs were the Swedish actress (…um, playing a gypsy) Noomi Rapace, who I thought was stunningly beautiful in this and I can’t wait to see her in Prometheus. And Jared Harris was also great as Moriaty, he just nailed the classic movie-villain cold look in his eyes. Stephen Fry has a small role as Sherlock’s brother and there are hints at him being gay, so that’s a nice inside joke.

And the action is cool, Holmes again does the thing where he can in a fraction of a second think of some  fight moves shown at slow motion and then do them again in normal speed. And then there’s this beautiful sequence that is shown in the trailers, where people are running through a forest, while bullets are hitting the trees, scattering splinters in all directions, again all in slow motion, but here it actually looks amazing.

The ending was well-done, although you won’t be very surprised at the final twist. Also I’m not sure how long I want to see Watson just being dragged back into business by Holmes, I would have rather wanted them to have started the movies somewhat earlier in their lives, on the other hand we’ve already seen that way too many times.

Overall, I recommend this film, mostly because it is pure entertainment, don’t expect from it anything else and you won’t be disappointed.

Pictured: Watson kicking ass and rocking an insanely glorious moustache at the same time.

Review of Immortals (2011)

23 Nov

Immortals (2011) is a fantasy/action/drama film, loosely based on the Greek mythology.

Directed by the Indian director Tarsem Singh (The Cell (2000), The Fall (2006)), who is currently working on the comedy Mirror Mirror, which doesn’t look all that good.

Written by Vlas Parlapanides (Across the Sea (1997 Short), Everything for a Reason (2000)) and Charley Parlapanides, who hasn’t written anything before.

Starring: Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, Stephen Dorff, John Hurt, Freida Pinto, Luke Evans and others.

As the commercials told us (as if it isn’t painfully obvious) the movie comes from the same producers as 300. Yes, the movie’s are quite similar in their tone, showing how totally awesome and slow-motioned the epic battles were. But, while 300 took some large liberties with actual history , this film is based on Greek mythology and since that basically just like religion isn’t about real events, I can forgive them bending the legends for their own needs. When the myths were created they were meant to impress people, so updating isn’t such a bad thing to do.

And yes, the writing isn’t the best thing about the movie, it seems more like the glue to hold together these expressive characters, epic imagery and cool action scenes. For some reason most of the movie takes place on various cliff-sides. It’s like if 300 had those pits scattered everywhere they go, so they could kick people in them. And you’ll probably start watching the movie mildly confused and after a while find yourself not really caring.

The movie does look beautiful. The costumes are great, sets are… well, mostly  cliff-sides, but still cool, the action scenes look like Renaissance paintings. And the R rating allowed some beautiful gore. I’ll return to the action a bit later.

The acting was great. Mickey Rourke is a really bad guy and is so intimidating, he keeps grossly eating fruits and nuts and then he might just gouge some servant’s eyes out , just because he’s angry (Greek mythology’s equivalent to Darth Vader’s force grip). Stephen Dorff is actually charismatic and fun in this, which was a surprise, I believe he’s a good actor, but quite often, he gets sucked into awful movies. This was my first encounter with Henry Cavill other than photos from Man Of Steel and he exceeded my expectations. He’s likable right from the start, but isn’t a total pacifist who just gets sucked into war against his will, he can really kick ass and kick ass he does. I’m now convinced that they’ve chosen the right man to play the next Superman. He is both physically (have you seen the photo’s of him now? Jesus, he’s huge!) suited and has some acting chops as well. Also the gods were portrayed very human and vulnerable.

So yes, the action. It was so incredibly entertaining, that I instantly forgave all the incoherent and generic plot, some of the CGI that looked bad and everything else. Every time Cavill started his perfectly choreographed fight sequences it just took my breath away. And there’s a final fight where the gods fight the CG zombie-like monsters (Titans), it’s just spectacular as the gods move at normal speed, while the titans they strike dead go into slow-motion with CG gore splattering all around. Also in the middle of the movie is a similar scene where one of the gods just comes and smashes like 20 bad guy heads with a hammer, while they are frozen in time. It is pornography for just the eyes.

So yeah, it isn’t a great movie, but it is a great looking movie. Don’t expect good drama and historical accuracy, but go into it to be entertained and you won’t be disappointed. Recommended, if you’re an action-whore.

If they painted him green he'd look like Hulk.

Review of 10,000 BC (2008)

13 Nov

10,000 BC (2008) is an adventure/fantasy/drama film set in the prehistoric era.

Directed by the German director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day (1996), Godzilla (1998)), who is known for making blockbusters.

Written by Roland Emmerich (Das Arche Noah Prinzip (1984), Stargate (1994)) and Harold Kloser (2012 (2009)), who is better known as a composer.

Starring: Steven Strait, Camilla Belle, Cliff Curtis, Joel Virgel and others.

I guess, I should state my opinion on Roland Emmerich first. Although I do like some of his movies (Universal Soldier) and think some of them are ok (Stargate) and even if I ignore the outright awful ones (Godzilla), with his movies there’s always this feeling that he is an idiot. There is a certain group of directors, which includes Michael Bay as well, that consists of these filmmakers that have some talent in one area, but are total morons in other ones and Emmerich falls in this category, sometimes making something decent, sadly, with this movie he doesn’t manage to do that.

After a couple of minutes you start realizing, that this movie just keeps slapping you in the face with its stupidity. If you’ve ever heard anything about prehistory, you might notice the movie seeming to be a bit off. I don’t know if Emmerich, while doing research for his script ever noticed that every major element of prehistory wasn’t happening at the same time. So the script consists of wildly clashing historical inaccuracies, just to support huge spectacles and visual effects. It makes it almost absurd when the tribe speaks in a very articulate english, actors of different ethnicities are playing members of the same tribe and this distorted history is thrown on top of it.

The movie showcases a spectacular set of historical inaccuracies. For example, horse domestication – 4000 BC, boats – 3000 BC, boats that are anything like the ones seen in the movie – 1100 BC, Egyptian civilization – 3150 BC, blue eyes – 6000 BC, mammoths galloping – not possible and so on. I’m not saying it should be totally accurate, it is a fantasy film, but why did they call it 10000 BC, when it should be called The Whole Prehistory? Also the movie takes itself so seriously. And when talking about himself casting unknown actors, Emmerich stresses it was done to not distract from the realistic feel of the prehistoric setting.

Speaking of casting, the actors aren’t really bad, but them being of different ethnicities and all having dreadlocks and speaking English in weirdly stilted accents, just was kinda unbearable. Also it is said that Emmerich rejected making the film in an ancient language, feeling it would not be as emotionally engaging. Well, I think a similar movie shows us otherwise, it’s called Apocalypto and it is a better film.

Another point is that it presented no feeling of how large are the distances they are travelling, it seems that in a couple of days they manage to do a month’s worth of foot travel.

It has a totally stupid ending, where we are supposed to care about this love interest which we barely see doing anything but wearing blue contacts.

Besides the idiotic script, there’s this horrible CGI, which is laughable. Seriously, they couldn’t make the CG animals more cartoonish and the green screen sequences more painfully obvious.

So yeah, the movie is a total waste of time and because of the shitty CG and horribly written script, I can’t recommend it to anyone. Only maybe if you want to make fun of it with some friends.

10,000 BC - Even the acting is CG.

Review of All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)

26 Oct

All Quiet On The Western Front (1930) is a war drama film, based on the novel of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque.

Directed by the Russian-American director Lewis Milestone (Ocean’s Eleven (1960), Of Mice And Men (1939)).

Written by Maxwell Anderson (Meet Joe Black (1998), The Wrong Man (1956)) and others.

Starring: Lew Ayres, Lois Wolheim, John Wray, Arnold Lucy and others.

It is mostly due to my own stupidity and ADD, but for like half an hour into the movie I didn’t realize that it’s a movie about German soldiers, so I kept wondering why the hell are these Americans so involved and fighting the French. But if you pay attention from the beginning, it is actually pretty clear and obviously if you don’t pick that up, you are a moron.

A really effective anti-war agenda film, but while I see in what way could the government of Nazi Germany have perceived it as anti-German, since it would have been totally counter-productive, I couldn’t agree that it is actually anti-German, because it doesn’t portrayed them as bad people, just brainwashed by the war propaganda.

And that is the best thing about how it makes the point. It doesn’t matter which side of the trenches has the narrative taken, you could have switched it to any other side of the war. They might have chosen this side because its stance was more radical and so the point is more impactful this way, but it says nothing against the nationality itself. And the characters understand that the enemy soldiers are just the same as them and the real enemy is actually the military bureaucracy, which uses them as pawns.

And one of the best aspects of the movie is definitely how they portray the soldiers being sucked into this thing that is so larger than them. They don’t actually know why exactly they are fighting this war. Also the film excels at showing how shocking are the terrors of war for those young recruits that were totally disillusioned by all the nationalistic propaganda and unprepared to deal with all the horrible physical and emotional traumas they are forced to face, when they finally realize what slogans like „Die for fatherland” mean in reality.

One might think that the age of the movie means that for modern viewers it would seem cheap and the battle scenes fake-looking. But actually the special effects (by that I mean mostly explosions) are very well executed and the film’s age only adds to a feeling of authenticity and gritty realism, which makes sense considering that most of the people working on it had actually if not been involved in the war itself, but at least had been born or grown up during that time. So if you want to see a pretty accurate depiction of World War I, you don’t get much closer than this.

A great performance by Lew Ayres, so it is no wonder he had a pretty long career after this. Lois Wolheim also great in one of the last performances of his life.

I was wondering how hasn’t this received a high-budget huge major Studio remake (not that I think it’s necessary, it’s just that that’s how Hollywood works). Yes, I know about the 1979 TV remake, but I haven’t seen it. And then I found out they are making one, supposedly starring Daniel Radcliffe and I actually think it could work and turn out quite good. Although, I’m not sure of how marketable are WWI dramas, but I guess some big name actors and huge, epic battle scenes  will sell it anyway.

The ending is just brilliant. It’s beautiful and tragic and sad, but in a way uplifting.

An exceptional film, recommended for lovers of the golden age of cinema or war epics or just good movies in general. Essentially bloodless, but graphic in its tone. It might not be technically perfect, but it has a taste to it. And the aftertaste might be even better. Definitely recommended.

"Hey, kids! Want some guns? I'll give you a hand-grenade if I can touch your private parts."