Having recently viewed both George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake, one of the most striking differences between the two (and there are many) was the divergent visual strategies employed by both Romero and Snyder. While Snyder’s film, which leans more heavily towards the thriller side of things than its predecessor, features hyperkinectic camerawork, busy environments, and sleek effects, Romero’s film is much more low-key. (Each is appropriate to the film’s tone, so don’t take this as criticism of Snyder’s work.) In fact, what’s most notable about the cinematography of the original film is how still everything is. Though there are a handful of sequences in Romero’s film that would qualify as action (and feature a quickened pace in the editing, as well as some handheld camerawork), the majority of the sequences within the mall’s interior are notable for their utter placidity.

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One of the most annoying things that crops up in any discussion of film is the concept of “directorial intent.” The notion is that, if a director had a specific intent in mind when shooting his film – be it a political message, a tone, or whatever else – then this is a valid argument in favor of the presence of that message or tone. Or, put more simply, that the director’s interpretation of his own work is the only valid one.

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True Grit finds the Coen brothers in what is, in many ways, foreign territory: a straight-forward genre exercise, free of ironic sentiment, revisionism, or genre-bending, marked not by their own cynical vision and thematic conceits but rather by its strengths as a piece of storytelling. And this is compounded by the fact that, though it is ostensibly a re-adaptation of the original novel and not strictly a remake, it will inevitably be cast in the shadow of the beloved 1969 film starring John Wayne. However, given their remarkable ability to jump from one style to another – from stoner comedy to neo-noir to period parable et al – it should come as no surprise that the Coens succeed on this playing field as on all others.

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In his new psychosexual thriller Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky looks to Michael Powell’s 1948 classic The Red Shoes as his primary inspiration. In that film, a beautiful ballerina (Moira Shearer) is torn between her commitment to her art – driven to perfection under the firm and unyielding demands of a famed ballet impresario (Anton Walbrook) – and love. Pulled asunder by the opposing forces on either side of her, ballet ultimately destroys her. But while Powell’s melodramatic touch remains here, it’s layered with sexual tension, horror, and even comedy, giving it a far different (and more striking) tone than that film.

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Paranormal Activity 2, as much or more than any sequel I can think of, seemed primed to be a quick cash-grab that simply rehashed the formula of the first with superficial changes to keep things from getting stale. And, well, it more or less is. But it’s entirely forgivable because it manages to be better than the first anyway (which I thought was solid enough, albeit encumbered with enough flaws to keep it from being something truly special).

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There’s an extensive thread on SomethingAwful.com’s movie forum, Cinema Discusso, about the Alien film series, one of my favorites. One poster mentioned that looking at the very brief sequence where John Hurt’s character is attacked by the alien egg frame-by-frame was very revealing, showing us a point-of-view look at the creature attaching itself to Hurt’s face. So, being bored and a complete whore for Alien in general, I diligently snapped each frame using my amateur software skills and hosted them online. Check it out, it’s pretty interesting (and gross):

http://imgur.com/a/7Etal/facehugger

With Halloween fast approaching, moviewatchers everywhere are in a horror-movie mood. I’m the furthest thing from a horror expert, but in the spirit of the season, my ten favorite horror films, in alphabetical order.

Edit: I kind of totally forgot to include The Silence of the Lambs, which is a huge oversight, so I’ll just mention it here. Whoops!

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Getting to the heart of Robert Altman’s 1975 masterpiece, Nashville, is a monumental task. Aside from its ostensible sprawl – how can I encapsulate the many ways in which its cast of over 20 main characters moved me so much? – Altman takes on so many subjects and targets that the film, as much as anything, leaves you breathless by the time its shocking climax rolls around. It’s at once an epic, an intimate character film, a satire of the 70s country music scene (and in equal measure – though some, including 70s country stars, would disagree – an appreciation of it), an examination and criticism of America’s celebrity culture (a “nation of groupies,” as one Playboy interviewer put it) and political culture. The scope of Altman’s film is stunning enough, but that he succeeds in bringing it all together into a rich tapestry that is funny, somber, tragic, and joyous all at once is what makes it such a treasure.

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Rio Bravo was the favorite film of late film critic Robin Wood, and given Wood’s own beliefs (he was, later in his career – after his coming out as a gay man – strongly political in his criticism, and often looked at films through the prism of gay rights), it’s not hard to understand why. Subtext is an important part of film analysis, but is virtually a misnomer with regards to Rio Bravo, which takes little care to conceal the sexuality of the principals. Instead, the sexuality of each leaps off the screen, and the interplay between Chance (John Wayne), Dude (Dean Martin), Colorado (Ricky Nelson) and Feathers (Angie Dickinson) is one of the most fascinating aspects of the film.

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Now that he’s largely confined himself to directing overblown period epics, it’s hard not to wonder at what point Ridley Scott decided to move away from science fiction, after directing, back-to-back, two of the best films the genre ever produced: 1979’s Alien (the greatest monster movie I’ve seen), and 1982’s Blade Runner. Perhaps it was the difficulty of making the latter – the studio interference, Harrison Ford’s attitudinal problems, the casting difficulties, etc. – that turned Scott off to the experience, though ironically he’s had just as much trouble getting films made in his vision in the ensuing years. Whatever the reason, it’s sad to watch a film as original, thematically rich and expertly crafted as Blade Runner and wonder what could have been had Scott continued to make science fiction films.

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