Where Are My Ratings, Netflix??

Netflix Canada screws up royally

Netflix Canada screws up royally

I, like many Canadians, enjoy Netflix. Sure, it’s lacking titles that the superior American version has, but it’s a cheap (how could you go wrong for $8 a month?) convenient way to watch movies. I also enjoy the Netflix ratings system. It’s one of the best ratings systems I’ve come across, and it’s suggestions for me are usually spot on. In short: Netflix, and it’s rating system, is pretty great. Sadly, most companies, including Netflix, don’t buy into the old adage: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

The other day I logged into my Netflix and was shocked to find that the star rating system was gone. I thought maybe it was a browser issue at first, so I tried numerous browsers, deleted my cookies, etc. Nothing worked. My ratings were still missing. Something definitely wasn’t right here, so I live chatted with a Netflix tech expert. He found it odd that my ratings were gone as well and told me to sit tight while he looked into it. Five minutes later he came back with the news: Netflix was phasing out it’s star ratings in favour of Facebook ‘likes’. Seriously?

I had heard nothing of this. No emails sent out to customers, no announcements made, nothing. Netflix seems to be sneaking this change in. Why? I’m not quite sure. Is this only for Netflix Canada? No idea. There seems to be hardly any info out there about this change, and that’s kind of disturbing.

Now, let’s just set aside the fact that Facebook is forcefully asserting itself more and more in our online lives – and the uncomfortable (spying!) facts that come along with that. Let’s just focus on rating films in general.

Films are an art form, and as such they aren’t merely ‘liked’ or ‘not liked’: there are degrees to which one enjoys a movie. I can say I ‘liked’ Chronicle, an underrated teen sci-fi action film, but do I like it on the same level as, say, Fargo? The answer is a resounding ‘no’. Netflix, however, would seem to say that yes, they are on the same level – you either like or don’t like them. This is just ridiculous, and it makes me question Netflix as a company that cares about cinema. Movie criticism isn’t black and white, it’s nuanced. You might argue that the general public aren’t film critics, but that’s not true. Everyone who sees a film is a critic. When you’re talking to your friends about a movie you just saw, do you only say that you ‘liked’ it? Or do you say you “liked it, but…” or “I loved it!”? Sure their points might not be as well informed as professional film critics, but they still have points – and thoughts.

This ‘like or don’t like’ system that Netflix is rolling out is overly simplistic and, frankly, a little insulting. You don’t think people can like things to differing degrees? That the general public are capable of nuanced thought? Maybe this never crossed the staff at Netflix’s mind. Maybe this is just merely a way for them to generate more money through sharing personal information via Facebook. The later is probably true, which makes it all the more sad: Netflix didn’t even consider its customers.

REVIEW – Django Unchained


In a way, Django Unchained is the ultimate culmination of Quentin Tarantino’s career: a gory blaxploitation western. Tarantino has long flaunted his love of 70s era grindhouse cinema as well as Sergio Leone westerns. Jackie Brown was his most overt ode to blaxploitation, but many of his films contain nods to the badass films of Pam Grier and Melvin Van Peebles. His love for spaghetti westerns is also blatantly worn on his sleeve. The Kill Bill films and Inglorious Basterds were basically westerns in disguise. Django Unchained finds Tarantino finally working in the era of the western, and, therefore, it’s his most straightforward exploration of the western genre. It is also his most genuine exploration of the blaxploitation genre, despite Jackie Brown‘s cast and subject matter. To cut to the chase: this film is not racist and, in fact, presents a pretty powerful message about slavery.

The story revolves around the eponymous Django (Jamie Foxx) and Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz), and their quest to find Django’s wife as well as collect bounty on no-good white criminals along the way. Dr. Schultz frees Django and introduces him to the bounty hunting game, while also agreeing to help Django track down his beautiful wife (Kerry Washington) who is owned by the vicious slave owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

The first half of the film follows Django and Dr. Shultz as they bond and kill evil white men. DiCaprio doesn’t pop up until the second half, when the heroes finally track down Django’s wife to DiCaprio’s plantation. Despite the film’s length – and length of time before a real antagonist pops up – the film never drags. This is a credit to Tarantino’s writing as well as his eye for staging a scene. The man presents scene after entertaining scene, and none of them feel superfluous. Tarantino walks a tight rope through most of the film, showcasing the horror of slavery (very bluntly and brutally, at that), while also being the funniest film Tarantino has made.

This is where the controversy comes in. Many critics and a few other filmmakers (Spike Lee, who else?) have criticized Tarantino for gleefully using the n-word and for inserting comedy into a film about slavery. Spike Lee’s criticism deserves to be out rightly dismissed because he hasn’t seen the film, but comedy can be a powerful tool in social commentary. One of the funniest scenes in the film showcases the Klan as a bunch of idiots who can’t see properly through the bags on their heads. Tarantino ridicules them, and ridicule takes away their power. And as for the use of the n-word, this film takes place in a time when the word was used all the time, and to pretend it wasn’t is to white wash history. And has everyone forgot about Blazing Saddles? Mel Brooks was doing this stuff in the 70s! No one’s talking about what a bad influence he is on American audiences.

Now, despite all the controversy, this is a really good film. Is it Tarantino’s best? Definitely not. But it is one of his best, and surely one of the best films of the year. Say what you will about Tarantino as a person or the subject matter of his films, no one can deny his firm grasp on the medium. The craft behind this film is top notch. And Tarantino’s love for film can be felt behind every shot. In a time when many films can feel cynical and calculated, Tarantino’s enthusiasm is such a breath of fresh air. It also helps that Tarantino has a brilliant cast working at the top of their game. Foxx, Waltz, DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson, as the nefarious Stephen, all give award worthy performances.

If you’re squeamish about violence and language, stay away from this film – and from any Tarantino film, for that matter. For everyone else, however, this is a must see.

Grade: A-



Academy Awards 2013 – My Money’s On…


Well, the nominees for this year’s Academy Awards have been announced. There were actually a few surprises this year. The directing category in particular is quite interesting. Both Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow were overlooked in favour of first time director Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and veteran Austrian director Michael Haneke (Amour). Affleck and Bigelow must be shocked. They were considered virtual locks in the category only a few days ago. The snubs are both good and bad in my opinion. They are good because the Academy is breaking with tradition. Instead of being all predictable mainstream veterans, the Academy went with a mixed bag. Thrown in with the typical veterans are a first time indie director and a veteran director who rarely works in the English language. This is exciting for anyone who is constantly let down by the Academy’s typical safe nominations. However, the bad thing about this is that Spielberg is pretty much a lock to win. Only Affleck or Bigelow really had a shot at beating Spielberg. Now he’s virtually unchallenged. Ang Lee has an outside shot, but it’s doubtful.

Other pleasant surprises include a writing nomination for Moonrise Kingdom (which should’ve been up for far more awards in my opinion), and an acting nomination for young Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild). She now becomes the youngest ever best acting nominee, and Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) becomes the oldest best acting nominee. Everything else is rather predictable.

Now, for your reading pleasure, I will lay out who I think will win in each of the major categories. Keep in mind that I have not seen every one of these movies, however, based on buzz, I am pretty confident in my picks.

Best Picture:

Lincoln: Lincoln looks like the film to beat this year. It’s a stuffy period piece about a famous historical figure starring one of the best actors out there and helmed by a legendary director. The Academy loves this type of movie. There’s an outside chance that they could give the award to Argo despite the lack of a directing nomination, but my money is on Lincoln.

Best Director:

Steven Spielberg: As I stated previously, this is Spielberg’s contest to lose now that Affleck and Bigelow are out of the race.

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

Daniel Day-Lewis: Again, a lock. The Academy loves performances based on real life figures, and they also love DDL. There’s a small outside chance that Joaquin Phoenix could grab the award for The Master, but it’s unlikely given the mixed reactions to the film.

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

Jennifer Lawrence: She’s been the favourite all season, and it looks like she’s still favoured to win. There’s an outside chance for Emmanuelle Riva, but it’s not likely. The Academy probably won’t give David O. Russell a directing award nor give Silver Linings Playbook the best picture award either, so expect them to reward the movie in the acting categories.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

Philip Seymour Hoffman: This is probably the toughest category as every nominee has won before. I give Hoffman the edge because The Master will probably be shut out of everything else. However, Robert DeNiro also has a shot for Silver Linings Playbook.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

Anne Hathaway: The Academy loves musicals. Despite Les Misérables mixed reviews, they will likely give Hathaway the acting award because she sings in the film and the movie is unlikely to get many other awards.

Best Original Screenplay:

Zero Dark Thirty – Mark Boal: Zero Dark Thirty will likely pick up an award here. I’d like to see Wes Anderson win for Moonrise Kingdom, and there’s a small chance he could, but it’s likely the Academy will throw Zero Dark Thirty a bone and give Mark Boal the award.

Best Screenplay based on Previous Material:

Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell: David O. Russell has the best shot here at winning. Silver Linings Playbook is dialogue heavy and a real actor’s movie. Therefore, the Academy will most likely reward it. There’s an outside chance for Chris Terrio (Argo) as well.

Best Animated Feature:

Frankenweenie: I’m going to go out on a limb with this one. This could be the year that Pixar (Brave) does not win. It could end up splitting votes with Wreck-It Ralph and giving the edge to Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie.

Best Foreign Film:

Amour: Odds are that Amour will win the best foreign film award given that it’s up for Best Picture as well as Best Director. However, there is the outside chance that its many nominations could hurt it in this category, but it’s doubtful.

Best Documentary:

Searching for Sugar Man: I’ll go with Searching for Sugarman here based on what I’ve heard – which is nothing but glowing praise.

Best Cinematography:

Life of Pi – Claudio Miranda: I have not seen Life of Pi, but by all accounts it’s visually spectacular and contains some of the best usage of 3D ever seen. Although, I’d love to see Roger Deakins win for Skyfall, it’s unlikely they’d give a Bond film such a prestigious award. There’s also an outside chance that the Academy will go very traditional and give the award to Janusz Kaminski for Lincoln.

Best Editing:

Zero Dark Thirty – William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor: Zero Dark Thirty will likely win for editing based solely on the tension filled third act. Argo has an outside shot here as well.

REVIEW – The Comedy


The Comedy isn’t exactly a comedy film – and it’s not exactly a ‘film’ in the traditional sense either. It’s an art film with a capital ‘a’, and it’s also an exercise in irony with a capital ‘i’. From the title on down, The Comedy is incredibly self-aware, meta, modern, post-modern, and any other adjective that could be bandied about by trendy hipsters. However, it’s also an indictment of that same hipster crowd. The Comedy is a film for hipsters, by hipsters, criticizing hipsters. In other words, it’s pretty damn hip.

Tim Heidecker, of Tim and Eric fame, stars as Swanson, an aging trust fund hipster who’s father is on his death bed. Swanson spends his time drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and riding around on vintage bicycles with his other hipster friends (Tim and Eric cohort Eric Wareheim, and LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy). Together, they do inappropriate things, make offensive jokes, and do their best to generally disrupt people’s lives. Basically they are spoiled brats being dicks to people. These characters, coupled with a virtually non-existent storyline, will make this film a tough slog for the majority of audiences. However, for those who can get on board, the film has its merits and works as a meta-critique of rich, white, New York hipsters.

The Comedy is a character study of an unlikeable, but oddly sympathetic person. Heidecker is surprisingly good in a dramatic role – and I’d like to see him do more drama in the future. Heidecker plays Swanson with such a painful underlying sadness that it almost makes you forgive his awful behaviour. Swanson likes to provoke people purely out of boredom – and, it seems, in a vague attempt to feel something. Here is a man so bored and detached from the world that he is willing to put his own safety at risk in order to feel something.

As stated, there really isn’t much of a story to The Comedy. The film is mostly a series of vignettes filled with sadness, awkward humour, and static shots. Any time a character or a situation pops up that seems to introduce an obstacle or goal for Swanson, it quickly disappears. This movie is like Swanson: adrift in melancholy and irony. This is not a film for everyone – and not even for most Tim and Eric fans. The Comedy is difficult. It feels like a John Cassavetes film made by self absorbed hipsters. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s definitely not something for the masses.

Grade: B

REVIEW – Skyfall

Skyfall is the twenty-third Bond film and marks the 50th Anniversary of the Bond franchise. To mark this milestone, the filmmakers tried to showcase a modern Bond while also weaving together classic elements from past films. To their credit, they pretty much succeed.

The story is seemingly routine, yet it adds some interesting elements into the mix. A super villian, Silva (played by a deliciously evil Javier Bardem), is targeting MI6 – hacking into their files, blowing up their building, and seeking to kill the head of the agency, M (Judi Dench). Bond resurfaces from an apparent death to save the day.

On the surface it seems like a standard Bond film, but what sets it a part is its emphasis on age and the changing of the times. Gone are the gadgets and girls with innuendo laden names. Bond seems to walk through the film a half step behind Silva. He seems almost lost, chasing someone he doesn’t quite understand. This is the first Bond film I can think of where Bond feels vulnerable. He’s out of shape, a rusty shot, and clearly suffering from a bit of mental trauma. These are elements virtually missing from any other Bond film – and they make Skyfall that more interesting.

This is, like many suggest, a post-Bourne Bond film. It’s gritty and rough around the edges. However, I would contend that Skyfall is just as much a post-Dark Knight film. There are shades of the Joker in Bardem’s Silva. Even Silva’s plans are very reminiscent of the Joker (not to spoil anything, but Silva is almost always one step ahead). Bond’s crumbling physical and mental state also echo Batman’s. This is not to say that Skyfall is a ripoff. It’s still a Bond film, filled with exotic locations and sweet cars. It’s just that Bond is far more grounded in reality.

Director Sam Mendes and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan have created a very modern Bond film, while also perfectly setting up a new generation of Bond characters that retain the essence of the 60s films. It’s a tricky feat, and there are a few implausible moments (as with any Bond film), but it’s handled rather adeptly. The last act of the movie is particularly bold for a Bond film – but it works and it’s great. And with the addition of cinematographer extraordinaire, Roger Deakins, it’s certainly the most beautifully looking Bond film ever put to screen (a sequence in a Shanghai hotel seemingly made entirely out of glass is particularly stunning).

Is this a work of art that will sweep all the awards? No, it’s still a Bond film after all. But it’s certainly entertaining, and it’s definitely one of the better Bond films of the entire series.


Big Smart Messes: When Directors go for Broke


It’s rare these days that directors are able to retain complete control over a film with a massive budget. Sure, Chris Nolan had quite a lot of power over the recent Batman trilogy and Inception, but they were still studio friendly movies. Gone are the days when a 2001 or a Apocalypse Now would be given major funding – well, not quite gone. Every once and a while (and it’s getting rarer and rarer), a director will be given a lot of money to make a film where they exercise complete control over every detail – often times to its detriment. The results are often big, bloated, interesting, but ultimately flawed films. That’s not to say that these films shouldn’t be made. They absolutely should be made. In fact, more of them should be made.

These opuses often provoke discussion, bring up interesting ideas or concepts, and almost always contain bravura filmmaking. They are showcases for directors flexing every filmmaking muscle they have. They try and throw everything but the kitchen sink at the screen, and the results can be mixed, but they are almost always fascinating. Sometimes they turn out to be genius, other times they are kind of weak, but what they aren’t are cynical, cash-grabbing movies that are typical of big budget films. And that is why more of them should be made. But, given the box office returns on these type of films, it’s likely they’ll continue to become increasingly rare.

For your consideration, here are a few modern examples of these big, beautiful, smart messes.

Magnolia (1999) – P.T. Anderson’s second major effort, with an emphasis on the major. Running at a daunting 188 minutes, Magnolia is a massive sprawling film that deals with multiple story lines. The film is more of an opera than a movie. Parts of it are truly exhilarating and some of the best stuff Anderson’s ever put on screen. Other parts, however, can be frustrating. The singing scene is particularly egregious to me. But you can’t deny Anderson’s sheer audacity (raining frogs?!). Definitely not PTA’s best film, but a must see for any film fan.

The Fountain (2006) – Six years after he broke through with Requiem For a Dream, Darren Aronofsky returned with The Fountain, a gorgeous mess of a movie. The film jumps between three timelines, with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz playing different but similar characters in each. The film is cryptic and not easy to follow, but it’s still fascinating. The special effects Aronofsky uses for the space sequences are worth the watch alone. Even if the story doesn’t quite make sense, the film is simply marvelous to look at.

The Tree of Life (2011) – Terrance Malick’s beautiful and poetic film has been equally praised and dismissed. Yes, it is indulgent and pretentious, but the sheer scope of the film (starting from the beginning of time) is breathtaking. The scenes involving Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, and their family are beautifully evocative, and some of the best stuff Malick has ever put on screen. Sean Penn looks a little lost, and the dinosaurs are a little unnecessary, but you’d be hard pressed to find anything this audacious in scope since Kubrick’s 2001. 

These films might not be perfect, but they are important. They are important because they attempt things outside the norm. They swing for the fences. Sometimes they swing and miss, but they’re swinging nonetheless. That’s a lot more than can be said of most filmmakers these days. And they deserve our support for it.

Buzz-Based Oscar Predictions 2013

It’s early November, which means we’re right in the middle of awards season. This is the time of the year that studios trot out their ‘prestige’ pictures and little indies that could in hopes that the all-powerful Academy notices, and bestows them with a nomination or two. Whether or not the Oscars are artistically valid is debatable, but no one can deny that they are still the most important awards in the film industry.

The Academy tends to nominate, and award, similar films every year – with a few exceptions. Here I will do my best to predict, solely based on trailers and buzz, which films have the best chance to grab a nomination and win. Keep in mind that there is a minimum of five best picture nominations, and at max ten. Later in the year, I’ll update the list and get a little more specific (hopefully having seen most of the films by that point).

Five Locks:

Argo– This seems like the film to beat this year. Ben Affleck looks like he’s transforming into quite the talented director. Reviews have been almost universally positive, and this is the perfect type of film for the Academy. They love historical dramas. Expect a best picture nomination (and probably a win). Also expect Ben Affleck to be up for best director and actor. It’ll also probably nab a best adapted screenplay nod, as well as a few nominations for supporting actors (Goodman and Arkin are good bets). There also could be a few technical nominations as well (editing, cinematography).

Lincoln– This is pure Oscar bait. Legendary director? Check. Legendary Actor? Check. Legendary historical figure? Check. Reviews aren’t overwhelmingly positive, but that didn’t stop them from nominating War Horse last year. This will definitely be in the best picture category, and Spielberg will most likely get a directing nomination. Daniel Day-Lewis will also be a lock for a lead actor nomination, but don’t expect him to win. Also expect a lot of technical nominations.

Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell’s new film is about mentally unstable people falling in love. This will definitely be nominated for best picture and director. Also expect Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence to get lead acting nominations (Lawrence might win). Robert DeNiro also has a shot at a supporting actor nomination. If he does get nominated, the Academy might give him the award for sentimental reasons. This movie also has a good shot at winning the best adapted screenplay award – especially if Argo cleans up all the other major awards.

Les Misérables – Tom Hooper won big two years ago for The King’s Speech. He’s back here with an adaptation of the classic Les Misérables. The Academy loves musicals, and with Hooper directing and Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe starring, this is a lock for a best picture nomination as well as songs and costume nominations.

Life of Pi– This is also pretty good Oscar bait. The Academy loves Ang Lee, and it loves epics based on popular books. This will for sure get a best picture nomination and perhaps a best directing nod. However, don’t expect it to win much beyond technical awards. There’s a good chance this will win for cinematography.


The Master – P.T. Anderson’s epic tale of cults and wayward souls might have been a little too out there for mainstream audiences, which means the Academy may ignore it as well. If there are more than five best picture nominations, expect this to be nominated. There’s also an outside chance of Anderson grabbing a directing nomination – but probably not a win. This film is just too difficult for the Academy to award it with best picture or director, and that’s a shame. The best chances it has are in the acting categories. Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman give amazing performances worthy of recognition.

Zero Dark Thirty– Kathryn Bigelow returns with this thriller about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. The subject matter is weighty enough, and it’s got pedigree in the form of Bigelow and Jessica Chastain, but it still has an outside chance in terms of nominations.

Flight– Robert Zemeckis looks to be swinging for the fences with this one, but he could be trying a bit too hard. Denzel Washington might grab a nomination, but the film might be a tad too melodramatic and hokey to get anything else (or maybe not).

Django Unchained– Tarantino’s latest is sure to be a crowd pleaser, but don’t expect it to win much. It might sneak into the best picture category. And Leonardo DiCaprio looks to be giving the sort of cartoon-ish, unconventional performance, that the Academy might recognize – but, again, don’t expect a win.

Hitchcock– This is the perfect type of navel gazing, biopic that the Academy loves. However, there’s not a whole lot of buzz surrounding it, so that might not be a good sign. Anthony Hopkins will probably get an acting nomination, though – the Academy loves impersonations of old movie icons.

Amour – Michael Haneke’s new film about an elderly couple’s relationship won the Palm D’Or at Cannes this year. The reviews have been very strong as well. It would be nice to see this squeak into the best film category, but it wouldn’t win. This does have a good shot at winning best foreign film, though.

Cloud Atlas – Like Life of Pi, this has the appearance of a classic Oscar bait epic. However, reviews have been very mixed, which doesn’t bode well for it’s chances. Expect it to pick up some technical awards.

Beasts of the Southern Wild– This indie film was showered in praise at Sundance earlier this year, which could translate into nominations. It would be great to see it sneak into the best picture category (again, it won’t win). The Academy would be going out on a bit of limb to nominate this, however. Newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis may get a best actress nomination, though.

Moonrise Kingdom– Wes Anderson’s latest may have been released too early in the year for the Academy to notice (which is a shame). However, there is a possible chance of it nabbing a screenwriting nomination, and a very outside chance of squeaking into the best picture category.

Anna Karenina -This looks pretty Oscar bait-y. The Academy certainly loves period pictures and classic literature. However, it does has the potential to flop. Don’t expect it to win anything (beyond, perhaps, costume design).

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey– This will surely be a smash hit at the box office. Expect the Academy to nominate it (maybe in best picture) just to get more people to watch the awards ceremony. It will definitely be up for, and win, a bunch of technical awards.

Modern Auteurs: David Lynch

David Lynch isn’t exactly modern. He’s been making films since the late 70s. However, he’s one of my favourites, and he’s modern enough. Lynch started out as a painter, but began experimenting with film in the late 60s. He was given a grant, and with it he created his first feature length film, Eraserhead in 1977. Eraserhead quickly became a cult classic, catching the attention of Mel Brooks (yes that Mel Brooks). It was Brooks who gave Lynch his big break with the film The Elephant Man (1980). That film earned Lynch two Academy Award nominations: for directing and adapted screenplay. From there, Lynch went on to become one of the most distinctive filmmakers of his generation. So distinct, in fact, that the term “Lynchian” was coined to describe his style.

Lynch’s films tend to be dark, surreal, and frightening, but with dashes of bizarre humour. It can be off-putting to some, but riveting to others (see this infamous debate over Blue Velvet). Lynch often likes to explore the underbelly of the American dream. Small towns (or big cities) are cheerfully shown, then layers are stripped back to reveal disturbing elements. Many of his films can be difficult to get through as they don’t usually follow conventional movie rules. There can be scenes that pop up that don’t appear to fit with the film. There can be random extreme close ups of objects. A lot of seemingly random things happen in Lynch films. However random they may seem, though, they work. They work with a sort of dream logic that Lynch is famous for. Lynch has stated that he often doesn’t think of the meaning behind his work, preferring to operate on feeling. It’s a dangerous system to be working with, but Lynch is able to pull it off.

His combination of craft and concept is probably the main reason he is so successful. His concepts provoke, while his craft is undeniable. Being a painter, it comes as no surprise that Lynch shoots his films immaculately, and puts a lot of thought into what goes on in front of the camera. He also pays a lot of attention to the sound design of his films – not just the score, but the sound. There are very few other directors that put so much effort into the way their films sound. And Lynch’s films sound great.

Lynch also posses a very distinct personality. This personality, coupled with his film work, has made him into a sort of icon in the filmmaking community. Much like Werner Herzog, Lynch has a larger than life persona that makes him all the more fascinating (his story of meeting George Lucas is incredibly entertaining). His charmingly unique personality has made it easy for him to transition into other mediums with success. Most famously, his television show, Twin Peaks, was a phenomenon in the early 90s and is still one of the most important television shows ever made (X-Files certainly wouldn’t exist without it). More recently, Lynch as found some success in the music industry. He also continues to paint and sculpt, while also dabbling in still photography. So, you could say David Lynch is a bit of a Renaissance man.

So, where should one start in Lynch’s oeuvre? Here’s my rundown:

Where to Start:

Blue Velvet (1986) – Lynch’s first major film that is all him. He was given complete control, and it shows. This is a must for any film fan. It still remains controversial to this day.

Mulholland Dr. (2001) – A fascinating puzzle of a movie. One of, if not the best, Lynch film. Lynch again explores the underbelly of the American dream, but this time in Hollywood.

Where Not to Start:

Inland Empire (2006) – Three and a half hours of David Lynch experimenting with story and with digital filmmaking. Definitely a must for any Lynch fan, but a very bad place to start without seeing any of his previous films.

Dune (1984) – Lynch’s first and only attempt at a big budget blockbuster. Studio interference and other problems ultimately sunk the film (Lynch refuses to discuss it), but it still remains a fascinating entry in Lynch’s filmography, and a fascinating sci-fi film in general. I’m a fan, but it’s not the best representation of Lynch’s work.

Deep Cuts:

Wild at Heart (1990) – Lynch’s bizarre, delirious riff on road movies and The Wizard of Oz. Incredibly strange and filled with memorable characters (Willem Dafoe’s Bobby Peru being perhaps the best).

Eraserhead (1977) – Bizarre, dark, and creepy. Lynch’s first film is still unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

The Horror…The Horrible State of Horror

Well, it’s October, so it’s time for the obligatory article about horror films. Now, I’ll admit I’m not the biggest horror fan, and I’m sure hardcore horror fans will disagree with my assertion that current horror films are terrible, but, in my mind, they are. Granted, I’m not overly familiar with all the foreign horror coming out now, but in terms of North America, the genre has become, in my mind, nothing more than torture porn or found footage films (or a combination of both). And that’s just sad.

Horror films were always trashy, and, to be frank, they are usually seen as a lower form of filmmaking (not always the case, but usually). However, there’s something particularly awful about today’s obsession with torture porn. My problem isn’t with gore – gore can be great – my problem is with how it’s used. Filmmakers lean on it as a crutch, thinking that the gore itself is frightening. They forget that what makes a horror film great are the scenes leading up to the killings/mutilations/etc. The key word here is “tension” (here’s a masterful description). To make a film truly scary, tension needs to built through atmosphere and (surprise!) caring about the characters. Mindlessly killing off self-centered teenagers can be entertaining for a little while, but it ultimately doesn’t lead to much. (This may seem blasphemous to some, but one of the films that started the mindless killing of teenagers, Friday the 13th, is a terrible film. The whole Friday the 13th series is grossly overrated, and just plain bad). Taking time with your characters and allowing tension to build creates much more satisfying scares, and a satisfying film overall. Thankfully, the Saw franchise seems to have stopped and Hostel is long over. So, maybe the whole torture porn thing is dying out. I can only hope so.

What seems to be gaining momentum, however, are the found footage horror films, the most obvious example being the Paranormal Activity franchise. The first film was kind of clever and had some decent scares – and it made a ton of money. And this is where it went wrong. Studios saw how much it made and how little it cost, and immediately jumped on the bandwagon. Now, Paranormal Activity 4 is being released. The studios are trying to squeeze every last penny about this very limited franchise. And limited is what it is. Like I said, the first one was all right, but you can only go so far with this type of film. After a while it just becomes boring. The shooting style gets annoying and the scares get repetitive. More importantly, studios now know they can invest very little into a horror film and get great returns. This doesn’t bode well for any filmmakers looking to make a horror film with much of a budget. I can only hope that audiences begin to lose interest in Paranormal Activity soon.

But surely there must be some good modern horror films? Indeed there are, but they’re a little harder to find. Like I said, I’m not the biggest horror fan, so I’ve only really come across a few (suggestions welcome). Given my little knowledge of the horror genre, the only (North American) filmmaker that I really enjoy working in the horror genre today is Ti West. With House of the Devil and, more recently, The Innkeepers, West is making some good old-school horror. I’ve heard people deride his films as boring, but I think those people (like too many unfortunately) suffer from a sort of A.D.D. West certainly takes his time, but it’s time well spent. He gives you plenty of scenes to get to know the characters, and he subtly ratchets up the tension throughout his films. The explosion of violence at the end of House of the Devil is almost cathartic from how tense he makes the audience up until that point. Sometimes having nothing happen is a lot more frightening than a huge body count.

Unfortunately, West is about the only modern horror filmmaker that I know of and like. I appreciate the fact that he’s trying to keep his films classy. Sadly, his films don’t get a ton of attention from mainstream audiences. And, sadly, that’s the case with a lot of great filmmakers in any genre. So, again, the root of this problem really lays at the feet of the audience. Studios cater to the wishes of the masses, and the masses don’t want great films. So what’s a cinephile to do? Support good films in any way you can and hope for the best.

Here are a few suggestions for some Halloween viewing (this is not a best of, just personal favs):

Halloween (1978) – John Carpenter

The original and the original only (sorry, but nice try Rob Zombie). This set the template for the slasher film, and, in my opinion, no slasher film has lived up to it. This film is iconic. A regular watch for my every Halloween.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968) – Roman Polanski

Another classic. Slow moving, atmospheric, and brilliant.

The Shining (1980) – Stanley Kubrick

In my opinion probably the best horror film ever made. Stanley Kubrick was at the top of his game here. From his revolutionary use of the steadicam to his bizarre, frightening imagery, and overwhelming atmosphere, Kubrick created one of the most re-watchable horror films ever.

Videodrome (1983) – David Cronenberg

Maybe not technically “pure” horror, but probably my favourite Cronenberg film, and definitely freaky. Long Live the New Flesh.

The Thing (1982) – John Carpenter

Another classic from Carpenter. Amazing film. The makeup effects alone are worth the watch. Plus, Kurt Russell’s just badass.

Alien (1979) – Ridley Scott

A great sci-fi horror film. Ridley Scott does an amazing job with atmosphere, and the cast is stellar.

Some others:

The Fly (1986) – Another Cronenberg masterpiece.

The Exorcist (1973) – Classic, obviously.

Psycho (1960) – The original slasher film.

Let the Right One In (2008) – The American remake is not bad, but the original is still best.

Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979) – Werner Herzog’s take on the classic Nosferatu.

Eraserhead (1977) – Maybe not technically a horror film, but freaky as all hell. Almost any David Lynch film could really be watched as a horror film.

28 Days Later (2002) – Danny Boyle’s great modern zombie film.

And, of course, the a fore mentioned Ti West films: House of the Devil (2009) and The Innkeepers (2011)