Movie Project #29 and #30: Sunset Boulevard [1950] and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington [1939]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Sunset Boulevard [1950]
Sunset Boulevard [1950, Billy Wilder]
Starring William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim.

Holy hell, what a film! The fact that such a biting satire about the film industry was made in 1950 blows my mind. The movie opens up mysteriously with a dead man floating in the pool. This man, Joe Gillis (played by the brilliant Holden), proceeds to narrate the film from beyond the grave, and the movie follows the events that led up to his demise. While on the run from repo men, Gillis pulls into the garage of what he thinks is an abandoned Hollywood mansion. Well, it turns out that the long-retired silent film star Norma Desmond (the scary-good Swanson, a former silent film star herself) is living there, and she sparks up an interest in the failing writer of Gillis. What transpires is truly bizarre, as Gillis becomes involved in a love triangle with Desmond and a young writer (Nancy Olson).

The world that Norma Desmond lives in is beyond fascinating, as she has clearly lost her mind and is stuck living in the past. She believes she will make a great comeback someday, and her reassuring butler (von Stroheim) refuses to tell her otherwise, fearing she will commit suicide. Her descent into madness culminates with one of the most memorable closing lines ever uttered on film: “There’s nothing else. Just us, and the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark. All right, Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my closeup.”

Sunset Boulevard also has some terrific moments of dark humor, and I particularly loved the brief cameos from silent film stars such as Buster Keaton and H.B. Warner. This was the first time I had heard Keaton speak! There really is a lot to love about this movie, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. 10/10

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington [1939]
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington [1939, Frank Capra]
Starring James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains.

It says something about a movie’s power when a statement made 70+ years ago still holds relevance today. The always awesome James Stewart stars as Jefferson Smith, a naive Boy Scout leader who is oddly selected to take over as a US Senator after an incumbent passes away. When he gets there, he is enamored with the sights and sounds of Washington D.C., even getting himself lost in the process. He quickly finds out that he doesn’t belong there, as he has no interest in the political bullshit that goes on every day. Still, he perserveres, especially after he finds out about a scandal that would build a dam over his proposed Boy Scout campsite.

As a story of one man fighting for what’s right, it’s hard not to admire the movie. Smith, aided by his chief of staff Clarissa Saunders (Arthur), is a likable guy, and his big moment — a very, very long fillibuster — is quite brilliant. Superbly acted with a great screenplay to boot, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington still holds up today. 9/10

Movie Project #27 and #28: Blade Runner [1982] and The Night of the Hunter [1955]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Blade Runner [1982, Scott]
Blade Runner [1982, Scott]
Starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young.

I was already somewhat familiar with Blade Runner thanks to the countless samples that have been used in the worlds of industrial and electronic music. The film’s gritty cyberpunk setting is simply awesome, and the intricately detailed environments are what impressed me most. This is one of the first “neo-noir” films that I have seen, and I really enjoyed it. It’s clear that this has been VERY influential to media of all types, and one of the first examples to come to mind recently is the much-loved video game, Deus Ex: Human Revolution. That simply would not have been possible without Blade Runner.

I loved the replicants, especially Rutger Hauer’s character. It was a lot of fun seeing him play someone so deranged and unbalanced, and his final battle with Ford’s Rick Deckard was of epic proportions. I also developed a fond likeness for Darryl Hannah’s character and her odd-yet-sexy fashion selections. One minor issue I had was with the occasionally slow pacing, but I remained enamored with the stunning dystopian city of 2019 Los Angeles regardless.

I watched the theatrical cut, and didn’t mind Ford’s voice-over narration, though I can see how that would annoy some. I am pretty curious to check out the alternate versions now, and I get the feeling that this movie is one that will get better with each viewing. 8/10

The Night of the Hunter [1955, Laughton]
The Night of the Hunter [1955, Laughton]
Starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish.

Three words: Robert freakin’ Mitchum. His role as the “Preacher” Harry Powell is the stuff of legends, and he is easily one of the most memorable villains in cinematic history. This is a guy who has “H-A-T-E” and “L-O-V-E” tattooed on his knuckles, and doesn’t bat an eye when it comes to murdering women and children. He is a sadistic man masquerading as a reverend, and he is played to perfection by the charismatic Mitchum.

Equal parts horror and thriller with a touch of Film Noir, The Night of the Hunter is very tense. Watching the two children run away in terror from their new stepfather is frightening, and there were several moments that modern horror films have clearly copied over the years. It’s a shame that Charles Laughton didn’t direct another film because this one is truly remarkable. This is one of my favorite selections so far from this project, and it is unlike anything else I have seen from this time period. Magnificent. 10/10

A Time of Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I thought I would take this extended holiday weekend to say THANK YOU to everyone who has helped The Warning Sign grow over the past year. I started writing nearly every weekday back in September 2010, and the blog has grown tremendously since then. Let’s be honest — I probably wouldn’t still be writing if it weren’t for my loyal readers and commenters. You guys are what keeps me going, so I wanted to share the love with some of my most frequent visitors.

Here is a list of some of my most loyal readers, all of whom I am very thankful for. I have enclosed a couple of sample links for each blog as well, to give an idea of their excellent content.

Scott from Front Room Cinema. FRC is a very prolific movie site with new content added seemingly every day. Scott is a great guy with an undeniable love of film, and it shows through his site.

  • Fallen Icon — a new feature that looks at stars who could really use a good comeback
  • Scott’s Movie Marathon — 13 movies in one weekend, an impressive accomplishment and a fun read

Ruth from FlixChatter. FlixChatter is a very friendly movie blog with an active community, with Ruth (and her recent Gregory Peck obsession) leading the way. A good mix of reviews, features and banter.

Gary from The Vortex Effect. TVE has a little bit of everything, but gaming is the main focus. Gary is a terrific writer and delivers high quality reviews on a number of new releases.

Castor from Anomalous Material. AM is a wonderful movie site with all sorts of content: news, reviews, lists, interviews and more. Castor is the Editor-in-Chief and a complete news machine.

Jsick from SlickGaming. SG is a really cool gaming blog with some fantastic features/reviews on older titles, as well as new releases.

  • Worth Playing vol. 1 — a look at a few under-the-radar video games
  • Sunday Roundup — a weekly look at his latest video game hauls; it’s always fun to see what he is able to find

John from My Brain On Games. MBOG is a fun gaming blog that covers new and old titles alike. It’s a combination of full reviews, first impressions and weekly recaps — always good stuff.

I apologize for anyone who I have left off this short list, but rest assured that I am aware of who you are, and I am very appreciative of your support. This blog wouldn’t be the same without each and every one of you. I hope everyone has a safe and fulfilling holiday weekend, and here’s to another awesome year!

Video Game Review: Dead Space 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]

Dead Space 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]
Dead Space 2
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3 and PC)
Genre: Survival Horror, Third-Person Shooter
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Visceral Games
Release Date: January 25, 2011

There is a popular comparison going around that Dead Space 2 is to Dead Space what the film Aliens is to Alien. This is surprisingly accurate.

The original Dead Space was a brutal survival horror adventure that placed gamers in the role of a silent protaganist named Isaac Clarke, who was investigating an abandoned ship with unknown enemies. With Dead Space 2, Clarke is back, but this time he is well-spoken and knows what he is up against. No longer an inexperienced combatant, Clarke is a grizzled veteran who kicks a whole lot of alien ass, not unlike Ellen Ripley from Aliens.

Dead Space 2 takes place three years after the original, with Isaac waking up in the Sprawl, a metropolis built on one of Saturn’s moons. He has no memory of the last few years, and he is still haunted by visions of his long-dead girlfriend. The man has lost his mind, and his disturbing hallucinations impede his progress to stop the latest Necromorph outbreak. In a way, it’s more of the same, but this time Isaac feels better suited to take care of the mess.

Dead Space 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]

The gameplay is more action-oriented, and there are now new weapons to help deal with the catastrophic alien mess. The old, trusty weapons from before are still available, such as the always reliable plasma cutter, but it’s fun to play with new toys such as the Detonator, a proximity mine launcher. Enemies are still defeated by slicing off their limbs, creating gruesome and gory bloodbaths.

The wonderful kinesis/stasis functions are back as well, and they are crucial to the gameplay since weapon ammo seems a little scarce to come by this time. The same weapon upgrade system is in place to help build up Clarke’s skills and abilities.

While the combat is very well-executed, Dead Space 2 really shines with its atmosphere. The game succeeds at creating undeniable tension, and there is always a sense of dread while wandering around the Sprawl. Even locations such as a nursery or a shopping mall are creepy to wander about since you never know what will be around the corner. This overall creepiness is aided by little things here and there to make you jump, such as lights flickering randomly or an alarm clock going off unprovoked, or even just hearing something crawling around in the walls. With the lights out and the volume turned up, this game can be pretty damn scary.

Dead Space 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]

Dead Space 2’s campaign lasts about 8-10 hours, but its “New Game+” feature warrants multiple playthroughs. My first thought after finishing the game was to start a new one, this time using my powered-up weapons from before.

A multiplayer option is unnecessarily tacked-on as well. It offers similar gameplay to Left 4 Dead, as it pits humans versus monsters, alternately switching sides after every round. It is a decent enough feature, but it is pretty basic and the online community barely has a pulse anymore.

Dead Space 2 does everything a good sequel should: it builds upon all that made the original so great, then expands upon that in all facets. The atmosphere is even more tense despite the beefed up weapons, and the core gameplay is damn near perfect. It doesn’t hurt that the game is simply stunning to look at, and gore fans will really get a kick out of some of the new death animations. EA has a great franchise on their hands, and I can’t wait to see where they go next.

9/10

Dabbling In Mediocrity: Bad Teacher [2011] and Red State [2011]

I watched both of these movies recently but couldn’t be bothered to write up full reviews for them.

Bad Teacher [2011]
Bad Teacher [2011]
Directed by Jake Kasdan
Starring Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake.

When it comes to comedies, I have a pretty open mind. Hell, I enjoyed The Hangover 2, despite most critics and blogger extraordinaires hating it. So I had fairly reasonable expectations for Bad Teacher, believing I might enjoy it more than others. Nope, not the case at all. Cameron Diaz’s role as the “bad teacher” is less than desirable. She’s bad all right, making me question how she ever got a teaching gig in the first place, but she’s also a truly unlikable character that should not have been the focus of a movie. I was hoping for some redeeming factors from her, anything at all, but that never happened. Therefore, when “bad” things started happening to her, I could care less. Nothing was resolved in the end, and the movie felt like an utter waste of time.

I laughed a few times, but the jokes were few and far in between, and ultimately forgettable. The movie also wasted the talents of Justin Timberlake and Jason Segel, as both play fellow teachers who don’t do really do much of anything. At least shit/fart jokes were kept to a minimum, and watching Cameron Diaz do her version of a sexy car wash was entertaining. Not one of this year’s finer comedic efforts, that’s for sure. 5/10

Red State [2011]
Red State [2011]
Directed by Kevin Smith
Starring Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman.

Why, oh why, was this marketed as a horror movie? Kevin Smith’s latest flick is unlike anything else he has made, although it is on par with Cop Out in terms of quality. The movie starts off harmless enough in the guise of a horror film, as a trio of teenage boys are lured into a murderous trap by an extremist religious group not unlike the Westboro Baptist Church. From there, the film quickly turns into an irritating propaganda piece that ultimately becomes a boring shootout. It’s all over the damn place, and not in a way that offers much value to the viewer.

Red State is an example of a great concept ruined by a lack of proper vision. Look, I despise the Westboro Baptist Church and their homophobic ways just as much as the next guy, but they could have been the subjects of a proper horror film, not this misguided venture. There are occasional glimmers of light, particularly in the form of Michael Parks and John Goodman. Parks’ role as a rambling lunatic of a preacher is played to villainous perfection, and Goodman is fun to watch as always. It’s a shame that Red State turned out the way it did, because there is a better movie buried in their *somewhere*. 5/10

Video Game Review: Gears of War 3 [Xbox 360, 2011]

Gears of War 3 [Xbox 360, 2011]

Gears of War 3
System: Xbox 360
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Epic Games
Release Date: September 20, 2011

Everyone’s favorite testosterone-fueled action series is back. Closing the books on the trilogy (although I feel we haven’t really seen the last of it), Gears of War 3 features everything gamers have come to expect from the series: juiced-up alpha males, disgusting monsters, lots of big guns, and non-stop gore and violence. It’s more of the same, but a hell of a lot more refined. This is the definitive Gears of War experience.

Gears 3’s campaign places you in the role of Marcus Fenix, again, as he battles the Lambent and Locust who are trying to take over the planet. During the early moments of the game, Marcus finds out a startling revelation: his father may still be alive. Together with his group of fellow COGs, including series compatriots Dom, Cole and Baird (among others), Marcus embarks on the journey to find and save his father, while also attempting to put an end to the overrun of monsters at the same time. It’s well-written, as far as Gears plots go, but there are a few groan-worthy moments when the developers attempt to tug the heartstrings. I get what they’re trying to do, but it’s hard to get emotional about characters who do nothing but shoot bad guys and spout off cheesy one-liners. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very entertaining adventure, but some of the plot mechanisms felt a little too forced.

Still, most people don’t play Gears of War for their stories; they play for the action gameplay. I am happy to say that the third-person shooter is at its best here, as it’s clear that Epic learned a lot from the first two games and opted to make the finale the best experience possible. There are new guns, new enemies and new locations, all of which are utilized with a flawless combat system. Moments of intense action are broken up methodically with well-timed (yet brief) quiet spells, leaving a superbly-paced adventure.

Gears of War 3 [Xbox 360, 2011]

While the campaign is a strong ten hour affair, Gears of War 3’s shining beacon is its sheer amount of game modes and options. The campaign itself can now be played with up to four players in co-op, and there’s even a new arcade mode where gamers can earn points based on their play. Other new inclusions are a revamped horde mode and a new beast mode, both of which require teamwork to succeed.

Horde 2.0, as the improved mode is now labeled, has the same core gameplay in the form of fighting off waves of increasingly tougher enemies over and over again. However, there are new elements in place that give it a light tower defense feel as well. Now players can build defense mechanisms to slow down and injure bad guys, and cash is used to purchase ammo and new weapons. The new depth is a welcome addition to an already great mode, and it is a blast to play with a group of friends.

Beast mode is a spinoff of Horde, but this time players take on the roles of the Locust and try to kill the COGs. This is another great idea, and I am a little surprised that this is the first appearance of the mode.

Of course, I would be mistaken not to mention the Versus mode, another staple of the Gears series. This is where standard multiplayer gameplay occurs, everything from team deathmatch to Execution to King of the Hill. Matchmaking has been majorly improved, and it takes a matter of seconds to join a new game — no more of the endless waiting and laggy gameplay that plagued Gears 2.

Players can now earn XP by completing various in-game tasks, and it’s not just about killing as many opponents as possible anymore. There are a variety of ways to play the game and earn XP, and this amount of depth is a major plus. For those looking for a deep online experience that isn’t Call of Duty or another first person shooter, Gears of War 3 offers an excellent alternative.

Gears of War 3 [Xbox 360, 2011]

As expected based on the first two games, this is a dark and gritty visual experience, although there are a few areas where there are signs of vegetation — a pleasant surprise, indeed. It’s still a fantastic looking game, one of the best on the system, and it has a powerful musical score to boot. Epic really went all out to ensure this was a deep experience.

In short, Gears of War 3 is a more than worthy send off to the series (if that is the case). While the campaign may be the weakest of the three, it is still a lot of fun and deserves to be played through multiple times, especially as there are now different ways to do so. Multiplayer is the best yet, and should have a thriving community for quite some time. Fans of the series should consider this a must buy, no doubt. Well done, Epic. Well done.

9/10

Movie Review: The Ides of March [2011]

The Ides of March [2011]

The Ides of March [2011]
Director: George Clooney
Genre: Drama
Starring: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood
Runtime: 101 Minutes

I hate politics. The backstabbing, corruption, greed, the selfishness. It can be downright disgusting at times, as everyone is out for themselves, seldom caring about who they take down on their way to the top.

The Ides of March is a perfect example of this debauchery, as it follows the campaign of Democratic presidential hopeful, Mike Morris (Clooney), while he battles to win his party’s nomination. At first glance, Morris appears to be an easily likable guy, one who seems different from the usual talking heads. He is backed by a campaign team that believes in him, especially Junior Campaign Manager Stephen Meyers (Gosling). Meyers is a young guy with all of the potential in the world; he has a reputation as one of the top political aides in the game, and he is a major reason that Morris has found success. Meyers has learned from the best, in the form of Senior Campaign Manager Paul Zara (Hoffman). Zara is jaded, but has been around the block more than a few times in his long career, and he knows how to play the game.

The Ides of March [2011]

There are a few questions presented by the film. Will Morris win the Ohio Primary? Will he guarantee a state senator a Cabinet position in order to get his recommendation (even though he doesn’t agree with his views)? Will Meyers continue to support his presidential candidate, even as things take an ugly turn? Political scandals develop, characters betray others, and a whole lot of bullshit happens. It’s politics, folks, and as much as I hate it, it can still be pretty damn fascinating.

It doesn’t hurt to have an all-star cast either. Hollywood darling Ryan Gosling is particularly fantastic here, in what may be his best performance yet (yes, even better than in Drive). George Clooney, of course, just oozes suave and comes across as someone who could legimately run for president. Hoffman plays up the jaded veteran very well. Other noteworthy cast members include Evan Rachel Wood as a young intern who gets dragged in well over her head, Paul Giamatti as the rival campaign manager, and Marisa Tomei as the feisty New York Times executive who stops at nothing to get her story. Seriously, this movie has a lot of firepower, and it is all the better for it.

Whether you like politics or not, The Ides of March is still a pretty damn good movie that tells a very intriguing story. It can be hard to like the characters at times, and it might leave you pissed off at the end, but the script is tight and the cast is stellar. All the makings of a gripping melodrama.

8/10

Video Game Review: Fatal Frame [Playstation 2, 2002]

Fatal Frame [Playstation 2, 2002]

Fatal Frame
System: Playstation 2 (also on Xbox)
Genre: Survival Horror
Publisher: Tecmo
Developer: Tecmo
Release Date: March 4, 2002

When the scariest video games of all time are discussed, it never takes long for Tecmo’s Fatal Frame series to get brought up. This is a series that thrives on its haunting atmosphere, with mostly helpless protagonists faced against an endless onslaught of ghosts and general creepiness.

The original Fatal Frame takes place in an abandoned Japanese mansion. You play as Miku Hinasaki, a young woman who ventures to the mansion to look for her older brother, Mafuyu, who has been missing for two weeks. When she arrives, she realizes that the place is actually haunted, as old folklore stated, and she starts to uncover startling secrets about the family who once inhabited the home. Tales of gruesome murder and torture are unearthed, and now the mansion is crawling with ghosts. Seriously, they are EVERYWHERE, often appearing in places you would not expect.

Fatal Frame [Playstation 2, 2002]

The only way that Miku can combat the ghosts is by using the Camera Obscura, an antique camera that possesses the ability to damage and capture spirits. When an attacking ghost appears, Miku must keep it within the camera’s shot while waiting as long as possible before taking the picture, as this will maximize the damage. Of course, this is easier said than done since this means Miku will be face to face with disturbing ghosts that are moaning and trying violently to grab her and cause harm. It’s pretty damn crazy.

The camera can be upgraded over time, but the enemies grow stronger as well. Throughout the entire campaign, there is a vast feeling of uneasiness. Fatal Frame excels at keeping you on edge, as you never know what to expect. Ghosts randomly spawn all throughout the mansion, even as you backtrack through previously explored areas. Sometimes they will pop out when you open a door, other times they will just randomly appear behind you. The tension can be almost unbearable at times.

Fatal Frame [PS2]

Unfortunately, as the ghosts grow stronger and become more plentiful, the game’s difficulty spikes drastically. By the time I reached the last chapter, I was ill-suited to deal with the powerful spirits that just so happened to be in damn near every room and hallway. Perhaps I had been using medical herbs and high-powered film too liberally in the first half of the game, but I had a hell of a time making my way through the last chapter. Exploring the house in each chapter usually reaps dividends in the form of bonus items, but it’s hard to actually get to these when there are hellacious ghosts around every corner. I felt the game could have been more balanced overall, as this was a major inconvenience for me.

The game’s controls also take some getting used to. They are in the vein of Resident Evil’s old school survival horror, and the game uses fixed camera angles set up in each area. This can cause moments of disorientation when the camera abruptly switches to a different angle. Once I got the hang of it, this didn’t bother me, but I can see how it would be an issue for some.

Problems aside, Fatal Frame is still a damn good horror game that is more than worthy of its “scariest game ever” label. This is a game that deserves to be played in the dark with the sound turned way up. Try not to wet yourself when the music slowly builds up while you hear ghosts moaning in the walls. You know there’s a ghost (or two, or three) lingering around, but you have no idea where. This is the essence of Fatal Frame.

8/10

Movie Project #26: Dancer in the Dark [2000]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Dancer in the Dark [2000]

Dancer in the Dark [2000]
Director: Lars von Trier
Genre: Drama/Musical
Starring: Björk, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse
Runtime: 140 Minutes

My experience with Lars von Trier is limited to the movie Antichrist. While that film was brutal and absolutely horrifying at times, it captivated me in a way that most recent titles have rarely been able to do. It was clear to me that von Trier is a talented director, and I was eager to see more of his work. This led me to Dancer in the Dark, von Trier’s intriguing version of a musical.

The ever-enigmatic Björk stars as Selma, a Czech immigrant who works endless hours to save up money for eye surgery for her son, Gene (Vladica Kostic). A hereditary degenerative disease is causing her to go blind, and she wants her son to have the surgery at a young age to hopefully prevent this from happening to him as well. Selma picks up shifts at all hours of the night, trying to maximize her work schedule before she cannot see at all. She also has a passion for musicals, and has been practicing for a role in a local play. Selma is a bit scatterbrained, to put it mildly, and she frequently goes off into her own little world in the form of daydreams. This is where the film delves into its own version of a musical, as her daydreams transform her surroundings into wild song and dances.

Dancer in the Dark [2000]

There are others in Selma’s life as well. Her best friend, Cvalda (Catherine Deneuve), is a fellow co-worker who always looks out for Selma and takes care of her in times of need. Selma is renting a trailer home on the property of local policeman Bill Houston (David Morse) and his wife Linda (Cara Seymour), both of whom assist her by watching Gene while he is alone. Finally, there is Jeff (Peter Stormare), another co-worker who is infatuated with Selma and does anything he can to help her out.

With so many positive influences in Selma’s life, it sounds like a peaceful and reflective film, right? Uh, no, it’s pretty fucking depressing.

One traumatic moment involving betrayal and death changes the complexion of everything, and soon Selma’s life is thrown into chaos. It is at this point where the film grows incredibly bleak, and it gradually becomes hard to watch. This has human emotion in its rawest form, and some of the character behaviors are downright maddening. Not an easy watch by any means.

Dancer in the Dark [2000]

Björk in the lead role is an interesting choice, and she does a pretty damn good job for not being a real actress. She is quirky and does well to bring compassion to her character, and her contributions to the soundtrack are wonderful. Of course, she has a very distinct style and not everyone will embrace her singing. I thought she was great, but some of her lip syncing during the musical numbers was way off the mark. I got a kick out of some of the song performances, but the lip syncing in general was just terrible and sometimes it took me out of the moment.

Catherine Deneueve and David Morse, in particular, delivered memorable performances as well, and did a great job in their supporting roles.

Dancer in the Dark, while bleak and disturbing in nature, is a well-crafted film that rather fantastically feels like a mix of musical, documentary and drama. The film’s raw emotional style isn’t for everyone, but I rather enjoyed it. Can’t wait to see more of von Trier’s work.

8/10

Quick & Dirty #11: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Dead Space 2, Fatal Frame

It’s been a while. Time to catch up with another round of Quick & Dirty!

BOOKS
"A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson
“A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson
Due to other commitments, my reading time has been kept to a minimum. As such, it took me a lot longer than usual to work my way through this Bryson travel narrative. Normally a light and easy read, A Walk in the Woods is about Bryson and his former college buddy, Katz, tackling the ultimate U.S. hiking trip: all 2,000+ miles of the Appalachian Trail. Both guys are horribly out of shape and have little to no hiking experience, so this is quite the lofty goal for them. Their trip goes about as well as you would expect for a couple of absolute novices, though their time on the trail sure did help them get fit. A lot of people like Bryson’s style of humor, but I found it to be hit-and-miss. I laughed occasionally, but nowhere near as much as others led me to believe I would. To me, the most interesting parts of the book were when he wrote about the history of the trail, including some of the National Park Service’s disappointingly bad decisions over the years. As this book was written in 199?, some of the information is dated, but this is still a decent read overall. 7/10

MOVIES
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil [2010]
Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil [2010]
This horror comedy has been getting a lot of hype, and I am happy to say that it lives up to it. Tucker & Dale are two fun-loving rednecks who are mistakenly typecast as serial killers by a group of vacationing college students. When the students attempt to “save” one of their friends who was taken by Tucker & Dale to rest and recover from an injury, they start falling victim to their own tragic (and hilarious) accidents. In short, it’s funny as hell, and it’s a blast to see the “hicksploitation” genre turned on its head. Lots of gore, lots of laughs, and a great movie to watch with a group of friends. Just, whatever you do, DO NOT WATCH THE TRAILER FIRST. Seriously, it gives away a lot of the funny and WTF moments from the movie. Don’t do it. 8/10

VIDEO GAMES
Dead Space 2 [Xbox 360]
Dead Space 2 [Xbox 360]
I finally have a working Xbox 360 again, so my first goal was to finally play Dead Space 2, the sequel to one of my favorite games from this generation. I am probably about halfway through the campaign right now, and it has not disappointed in the slightest. It feels a little more like an action game than before, but the atmosphere is still very tense with lots of startling moments. There are so many creepy little disturbances that have kept me on edge, such as alarm clocks randomly going off, lights flickering on and off, and corpses suddenly coming to life. This is a game best played in the dark with the volume LOUD. Loving it so far.

Fatal Frame [PS2]
Fatal Frame [PS2]
In my Xbox downtime, I spent more time than usual with the PS2. My goal was to finally go through and finish Fatal Frame, a game I had started years ago but never finished. I opted to start from the beginning, and I am now playing through the final chapter. I love the atmosphere, and the fact that the only “weapon” is a camera makes everything even scarier. I am not in very good shape in this last chapter, however, as my health packs and film are way too low for the current difficulty level. My goal is to finish the game over the weekend and have a new review ready next week.

Resident Evil: Director's Cut [PS1]
Resident Evil: Director’s Cut [PS1]
I hadn’t played any of the Resident Evil games in years, so I thought it would be fun to take a look back at where the series all began. I got a huge kick out of the first game’s terrible B-movie theatrics, including some live action cutscenes with acting that would rival Matt Hannon in Samurai Cop. I ended up playing about twenty minutes or so before calling it quits. The graphics have aged horribly, almost to the point of unplayability, and the gameplay is definitely showing its age. I might pick it back up at some point, but not before tackling some of the bigger and better games in my backlog.