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Posts tagged as “Movie”

The Descent

20071018175740_the_descent fin

Last night after Juli had gone to bed, I watched The Descent, a film which I had passed off as total “meh” when it first came out in 2006. Oh great, another stupid Hollywood piece of shit horror movie, I thought. I passed it off as nothing. Then, earlier this year when I was in Minnesota with Mikey W we got to discussing films (as we do) and The Descent came up. He recommended it to me wholeheartedly, noting that my preconceptions about it were wrong. Always willing to give a film with a solid recommendation a chance, I threw it onto my Netflix Queue.

I’m glad I did too, because it’s a fine example of what can be accomplish on a smallish budget when you’ve got a super tight script, concept, actors, and production team. Working with not that much, director Neil Marshall turned out the best new horror film I’ve seen in a few years that doesn’t rely on a gimmick (Cloverfield, I’m looking at you).

The film is about Sarah, who lost her husband and child in a grisly auto accident a year prior, and a group her friends, led by the headstrong Juno, embarking on an adventure into a cave system in the Appalachian Mountains. They climb down into a giant hole in the ground (that’s the technical term) to do some spelunking and Sarah starts to see shadows moving. When they becoming trapped by a cave in, Juno reveals that this isn’t the cavern they were supposed to be in and then it all goes down hill. I won’t spoil it any further. You should see it.

The Descent is truly masterful at building a palpable sense of dread. As much as everyone subconsciously wants to go back to the womb, no one wants to be trapped in a cave with two miles of rock above them and with no way of getting help. Really, this film, for me, breaks into two kinds of scares. The first is the base human dread of being trapped alive with no hope of escape, which seems like a most horrible way to die. Claustrophobia is this film’s friend and confidant. Taking clear cues from Ridley Scott’s Alien, The Descent utilizes its setting to enhance the dread we feel as we imagine ourselves in the place of the women struggling desperately to escape into the light. The second, which is less interesting, is the jump-out-at-you scare. I am not a fan of these types of scare, not because I am susceptible to them, but because I find them often to be cheap. Being startled because something jumped out and the music suddenly got very loud is not being scared. Sure, it causes me to jump, but it’s nothing compared to the dread you feel when something is really scary. Now, I’m not begrudging this film the use of the jumpscare (a term I read somewhere that I like) because it’s one of the horror genre’s most common tools. I just think it’s cheap, but that is a genre-wide complaint, and not specific to The Descent.

I thought that the most frightening point of the whole film was when Sarah is crawling through an extremely narrow passageway and begins to have a panic attack. She feels stuck and her friend Beth comes back for her, trying to calm her down. Then the passage starts to collapse and they have to rush through this narrow little hole as quickly as they can lest they be crushed under tons of falling rock. I was sitting on the sofa watching this with my body turned halfway away from the screen, my head cocked back, I found it so horrifying. No number of jumpscares could equal the slow dread of that moment for me. It reminded me for the first time in a long time of how as a kid I used to hide by the door during particularly scary parts when watching horror films so that if I needed to I could get away and not have to sit through whatever was about to happen. It was that same feeling, except I wasn’t hiding by the door.

Regarding the effects in the film, I thought they were mostly spot on. The creatures were amazing. They were like Gollum, if Gollum was, you know, a real monster. The excessive blood and gore was a little silly at points, but never dissatisfying. The set design and cinematography was great with real moments of actual darkness. Not bullshit movie darkness, but real, old fashioned, ain’t-no-light-in-this-bitch darkness. There were a few comps that weren’t that great, where they felt like they were overreaching their capabilities, but overall it was a seamless effort.

My one almost-criticism, is that is nearly falls into the “Inappropriately Hot Chick” convention, which I will not describe here. Fortunately, it’s kind of ok here. Perhaps this is just a particularly attractive group of spelunkers. I don’t know. I don’t do a lot of crawling about in caves, but something tells me that we’re looking at a conveniently too-pretty group of cave divers. Expect further analysis of this convention in a future Black Laser post.

Niggles aside, if you’re a fan of horror flicks, check out The Descent. It won’t make you mad. In fact, I enjoyed it a lot, and I am glad I watched it alone because Juli would have hated it. When the chick gets the pickaxe through the throat? Awesome.

Akira on Blu-ray


I LOVE Akira. There are few films that have had as dramatic an impact on me as Akira. I remember the first time I got a glimpse of the incredible opening sequence. I was 9ish and at the house of a friend whose name was something like Makita, Maquita, Chiquita Banana, whatever. It was a long time ago. Sue me. We were on the same pitching machine team and I was at his house dicking around, playing basketball when our ball went over the fence. I gave him a boost, but his weight forced my hand into the wood, slicing a chunk from the top of my left hand. I still have the scar. We went inside to clean off the brand new hole in my hand and he suggested that we watch a movie. He popped Akira into the VCR and gave me a cursory explanation of what the hell the movie was about as he understood it. None of it mattered because I was hooked as soon as I saw Tokyo explode at the very beginning of the film.

We were unable to finish the film that day, but made it through the motorcycle chase scene. I was determined to see the rest of the film as soon as humanly possible. I was enticed by the stylishly graphic violence playing out before me, the streams of the motorcycle lights as they tore down the near-futuristic highway, the glistening neon cityscape of a decaying Neo Tokyo, the ruthlessness with which people were killed and mangled. I’d never seen anything even remotely like it. My experience of animation up to that point had been Disney films and Transformers and Go-Bots and Thundercats and Duck Tales—children’s fodder. I had no idea that animation was something that could be made for adults. Akira taught me that.

Later, I had a babysitter, Vero, with whom I would watch old Robotech episodes we would rent from West Coast Video on Woodside Road in Redwood City. When we’d eventually finished the entire first Robotech saga (I did not yet know the word “Macross”), we were at the video store and I suggested Akira based on my earlier experience. And she agreed.


It turned out to be even more intense than I thought.

There is a certain visceral way that children experience films that I remember but I do not experience anymore. Maybe it has something to do with having learned more about how films are made. Maybe it is due to the emotion deadening experience of growing up and feeling real pain. Maybe it is due to the real world taking me from a world of nightmares and demons to a world of tax forms and insurance and rent checks. Maybe I’ve just grown cynical. No matter. The point is that I remember feeling the film. As Tetsuo’s powers first began to emerge, a strike team tries to subdue him in the halls of the hospital and he rips them to bits, gore and blood dripping from the ceiling. Kei and Keneda racing down the sewer tunnels on the floating gun bike. The satellite firing upon Tetsuo from space. Tetsuo’s arm being ripped off and replacing it with bits of metal and wire and flesh. And, ultimately, Tetsuo’s monstrous transformation in the Olympic Stadium as his powers overwhelm and destroy him. I recall being so frightened by that last scene in particular that I didn’t see the end of the film—mere minutes away—until a second viewing of that rented video cassette.


So it should be no shock to you, oh reader, to discover that I was a little excited when I found out, via Matt Toder, that not only was Akira coming to Blu-ray (awesome), but that it was receiving a complete audio and video makeover. Thankfully I’m not talking about the GeorgeLucasian raping of beloved childhood memories or even the casual tweaking that Blade Runner (awesome) received. Instead, they gave the film a full HD make over with all the visual trimmings. Even better is that they went back to the original analog master tapes for the audio track and it really shows (hears? listens?). Matt sent me an article detailing the restoration the team performed to make Akira shine. Exclusive Report: AKIRA – Behind the Remaster

Clearly they went all out on the effort to present a 20 year old film to a host of new viewers. It is important too, since part of what makes Akira so bleedin’ amazing is its distinctive music and sound design. Until getting my Blu-ray copy, I’d never heard the film in anything but stereo, but even that was impressive, due in no small part to its incredible score. Here are some samples.

[audio:akira-02-clowns.mp3|artists=Geinoh Yamashirogumi|titles=The Battle Against The Clowns] [audio:akira-04-tetsuo.mp3|artists=Geinoh Yamashirogumi|titles=Tetsuo]

You’ve never heard a soundtrack like this before and I’ve never heard one since. Nothing I can think of except maybe Morricone’s score for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly or Williams’s score for Star Wars and Indiana Jones is so specific that I can hear just two or three notes and know exactly where it came from. That is undoubtedly because anyone of my generation has heard the theme from Star Wars probably about 80 billion times, but I defy you to see the motorcycle fight sequence set against “The Battle Against The Clowns” and not have it burnt indelibly into your brain. Go ahead. Try it.


Last Friday I was discussing with a friend my top 5 favorite films of all time. Apparently I was discussing it with half the bar too, but that’s neither here nor there. Considering, I think that Akira is up there. If I had to answer the question right this moment, my list would look like this:

  1. Blade Runner
  2. Akira
  3. Throne of Blood
  4. Once Upon a Time in the West
  5. Amadeus

That is probably glaringly full of cinematic holes (where are the French films?!), but it’s MY goddamned list, so you just go to hell.

If you’ve never seen Akira, do. If you live in New York and you have my phone number and you are my friend, call me up and let’s have a movie night at my house. We’ll watch it in Blu-ray with 5.1 surround sound running at 192kHz. It’s so good it hurts. After that we can watch the Final Cut of Blade Runner.

Moon – hottest SF film of 2009? Dork boner?


Moon trailer

There’s something I find incredibly exciting about this trailer. Maybe it’s the science fiction dork within me. Maybe it’s that Sam Rockwell is awesome. Maybe its that this movie is actually going to be awesome and I have great taste. Regardless, I am excited.

Granted, the whole “Tyler Durden in space” thing is not new (Solaris, anyone?), but I won’t begrudge a movie for appropriating themes if they do them in an interesting new way. Blade Runner was a film noir. Seven Samurai was a western. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is the romcom version of A Christmas Carol. I mean, if it works, it works.

I guess we’ll see come June 12th if I am right (I am) or not. I am right. Also, doesn’t the new Star Trek look awesome?



seal_of_approvalJuli and I watched Sunshine tonight, the 2007 Danny Boyle film about a group of astronauts on a mission to give the sun a kick start. I heard a lot of bad mouthing about it when it came out and it scared me away from the theatre, but having seen it I have no idea what people were complaining about. It was great. I know some people thought the midmovie twist was weak, but it worked for me. It’s no feel-good movie, and it shouldn’t be. It’s bleak, filled with tension and despair, and wonderful. It is a science fiction film yes, but it almost crosses the line of being a horror film in outer space. The film is a spiritual descendant of Ridley Scott’s Alien, but lacks the more overt horror elements. It is also clearly inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but lacks the oblique abstraction. It’s a different beast altogether and I loved it. Approved. I’m only disappointed that I didn’t go see it theatrically.

Plot aside, the film is just fucking beautiful. Alwin Küchler’s cinematography has to be some of the most beautiful work done last year, right up there with The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford. The film’s CGI is stunning, but the real beauty is in the delicate, painterly photography that is rich and sumptuous while portraying the stark bleakness of the crew’s predicament alone in the far reaches of our solar system on a mission to save mankind. One shot that stands out is early in the film when the ship psychiatrist is sitting in the observation room and there is an extreme close-up of his eye behind sunglasses and the depth of field must have been something like a centimeter, yet Küchler totally nails it, giving us this extremely distorted yet recognizable, intimate shot of the man’s eye as he stares straight into the sun. And the blurry camera work in the end sequence? Holy crap. Just astounding. A truly incredible accomplishment.