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Rating History

The Blair Witch Project
10 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

It seems like whenever I review one movie, just one movie, I am compelled to review a hundred more.

With my seventeenth birthday coming up in a handful of months, I'll be able to see a wider range of movies. I can legally get myself into R Rated movies at the theaters, and my parents will allow me to see a few movies I've been wanting to see...At least, that's how it's supposed to happen. To be honest, I might as well just be seventeen right now. My parents are already easing their chokehold on what movies I can and can't see. Every time they turn around I'm watching another violent movie. They've become so used to me seeing violence in movies that it scarcely bothers them anymore. If a movie is Rated R for violence, they'll let me watch it, because I've probably seen worse anyhow. Drugs are a nonfactor because I know better than to drink or smoke at this age (or any age, really). Language is a bit of a sore spot, but they're willing to make exceptions for certain movies (such as the one this Review is about). Sex...Well, that is indeed the final frontier. I think if I'm allowed to see three of the four things that up a movie's Rating, I might as well just be allowed to see the last one. But my parents are still a little sketchy on that one. I'm not too bitter about it; they'll make exceptions even then, and I should be glad I'm allowed to watch R Rated movies at all; there are certain PG movies my cousins aren't allowed to see.

When my father offered to let me watch The Blair Witch Project, I happily accepted. Society today comes down hard on modern Horror movies, and despite the pessimistic view of them, it seems like The Blair Witch Project is one of the few that is unanimously loved. I've heard a lot about it and wanted badly to see it. My father noted that the language is pretty heavy in this movie, and I just blew it off with the usual, "I've heard worse." To be honest, though, the language is rather heavy in this movie. High School is a pretty verbose place in this day and age, but even so, there is a lot of swearing in this film. It doesn't bother me at all, obviously; I've learned long ago that this is how most of the world talks and there's nothing offensive about it unless you choose to be offended by it. The constant swearing adds to the realism of the movie, though, and I certainly can't complain about that, since that is the gimmick of the movie.

I actually watched this movie the first time around with a friend. A friend who is easily scared and more oriented toward dramedies. I mentioned this movie in passing to her and noted my anticipation towards it, and she seemed...drawn in. She asked if she could watch it with me, and I agreed, even though I heard that this was one of the scariest movies of all time. I like watching movies with my friends, though. It's fun to have someone to laugh, cry, and scream with, as well as someone to discuss the movie with after the credits roll. She was a little more talkative than I might have liked while watching it, but we both were entranced by it, and by the end, we were in agreement that this was a great movie.

What makes it so great? Well, the cinematography is a big factor of it. But it's what the cinematography does for the movie that makes it such an important part. It makes it nightmarishly real. There's something very close to home about this movie. These are ordinary woods and ordinary people with ordinary personalities and ordinary fears. And then there's the Blair Witch. We're watching it terrorize these filmmakers at a much closer range than with most Horror movies. It's honestly like we're right there beside them as the Witch closes in and teases them with its rituals. The movie preys heartily on the fear of the unknown that most people suffer from. We have absolutely no idea what the Witch wants or how it's doing what it does. All we see is that it has something sinister in mind and it's taking its dear sweet time getting it done. The tension is almost unbearable, and you fear sundown as much as the protagonists do.

I quite enjoyed the protagonists. Horror movies have a knack for turning you against their main characters or something, because for a Genre that relies so much on you hoping for the survival of its main characters, most of the movies do a terrible job of making you connect with the characters. These people, though, they act like people you might know. Friends of yours, or maybe cousins. Maybe even siblings. They act very realistically with their dialogue, thought processes, and decisions. Everything they do is something you can see you or someone you know doing. The Blair Witch Project is crafty like that; it tricks you into wanting them to survive, I guess you might say. Truth be told, only Heather really establishes herself as likeable in this movie. Josh is an alright guy but he downright verbally assaults Heather at one point, and fairly brutally as well. Mike is just irritable, and although he seems like a fun guy when he's in a good mood, his temper is quick to rise and he acts rashly and sometimes frightfully when he's angry. For all their character flaws, though, they're a group of frightened and lost young adults you just want to survive. It may be because you want them themselves to live, or it may be because you just don't want the horrifyingly evil Blair Witch to win, but the movie has you cheering for its main characters in one way or another. This shouldn't be such a challenge for Horror movies, but since it apparently has become one, The Blair Witch Project passed its first test.

Then there's the scare tactics it uses. This is a big part of any Horror movie, since the whole point of them is to scare you out of your mind. The Blair Witch Project has a very minimalistic approach to fear that is reminiscent of Jaws, Alien, and The Shining (which just so happen to be some of the bigger influences on the filmmakers who made this movie. I applaud them for learning from such great movies.). I have nothing against gore, really, but there's just something more frightening about the unknown than the known. This movie confounds you and makes no sense at all, and that's why it's so terrifying. The sticks and stones have a purpose; you can see it in their precision and their careful set-up. But what is it? What's so important about these relics of the Blair Witch? You know there's a reason, but you're left out in the dark. You're seeing them just as the characters in the movie are; no dramatic irony, no hint-hint-nudge-nudge that most Horror movies give you. To me and many others, that is a truly frightening prospect, and The Blair Witch Project exploits that primitive fear extensively.

Forget a 9. After reading over what I've just written and replaying this movie in my mind, it truly does deserve a 10. As a Horror movie and just as a movie in general, it is a potent success. Character, plot, and imagery are all topnotch here. The images in this movie are so raw and blood-chilling that they're scarier than they would be even with proper camerawork. You can see the low budget in the movie, but it doesn't matter at all. The effects are next to nonexistent, and it works so much better for that. This movie keeps you guessing right up until the end, and at the end, when you're really anticipating a full explanation and a reason to stop being afraid of the Witch, all it does is clarify things a small bit and give you even more reason to be afraid of this monstrosity. I can't name anything this movie honestly did wrong. Length is no problem; it works perfectly at the length it is, even if it is shorter than most movies. It feels like forever when you're watching it, to be honest. It's a total nightmare. I've grown past the age where I look fearfully over my shoulder for monsters I've seen in movies, but I was pretty scared while I was watching this movie. If I was in any way vulnerable to scary movies anymore, this would definitely scare me to death. It's masterfully made and manipulative without being pushy, and it's truly just an amazing movie. My friend, afraid of her own shadow, enjoyed this movie, so I therefore recommend it to anyone who knows a good movie when they see one, Horror fan or not. The Blair Witch Project will not disappoint.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service
10 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

It's not that I don't enjoy reviewing movies, and I certainly haven't stopped enjoying them. It's more that I just haven't always got the time to give reviews to movies when so much else is going on. It's been since August since I reviewed a movie, and here I am, at the end of October, reviewing a movie I watched over a month ago. The significance of it is that it's a James Bond movie, which I am somewhat obligated to review. Seeing as it's such a huge series, it helps me to record my thoughts on each individual film so I don't forget what I thought of it later on. This is true for all movies, really, but after a while, the James Bond movies begin to blur together slightly.

Well, first off, I guess I should tackle that claim of On Her Majesty's Secret Service being the best Bond movie ever. That's what this one is famous for, after all (that and the ski chase scene.). To be honest, I see no validity in that claim at all unless you really value character development above all else. Because that's where the movie shines; both James Bond and his Bond girl, for the first time, genuinely tug our heartstrings in this movie. That's the only really outstanding thing about this movie, though, and it's the reason I'm giving it a Fresh rating.

I don't really believe that it's enough to make up for the messy plotline, though. I put a great deal of stock in character, but a decent plot is something I've come to expect from James Bond movies. So far, only Thunderball has really underwhelmed me as a James Bond feature, and even then I commend it for having a very sneaky and clever plot. On Her Majesty's Secret Service, though, made no real sense to me. It may have been that I was rather sleepy when I watched the movie, but it didn't make a lick of sense to me until I looked back on it in retrospect. And even then, there were all kinds of subplots that never really went anywhere (what on Earth was going on with that blonde guy who kept following Bond? He was focused on enough to catch my attention but not enough to warrant his existence). In the end, I just kept my mind on the relationship between Tracy and James.

Tracy made a great Bond girl because of her bullheadedness and...realism, to be honest. However enjoyable it was to watch the prior Bond girls, they all seemed like caricatures of women instead of real women (with the possible exception of Tania from From Russia With Love.). On Her Majesty's Secret Service was really good at capturing the intricacies of the human mind, and Tracy seemed a lot more like a real person than any of her predecessors. I wouldn't have held that against the film if it hadn't been so good at it, but it was a nice perk when I was expecting just another Bond girl.

George Lazenby takes the reins for a brief moment as James Bond, replacing the suave Sean Connery. Although he actually does a laudable job of emulating Connery, George Lazenby just lacks whatever it was that Sean Connery brought to the screen (maybe it was maturity. There are several shots that make Lazenby look weirdly like a schoolboy...). I've yet to see any later films in the series, so I guess I can't complain too loudly about Lazenby; I know a lot of people hated Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. But for now, when all I have to compare Lazenby to is Connery, I'd definitely take Connery. Though I did enjoy the slight fracture of the fourth wall at the beginning of the film ("This never happened to that other fellow"). Couldn't help but chuckle at that, however dumb it was.

Donald Pleasance also didn't return to reclaim his role from the last film, unfortunately. Even moreso than Sean Connery for Bond, I think Donald Pleasance was absolutely the best choice for Ernst Stavro Blofeld. There's nothing especially wrong with Pleasance's replacement, Telly Savalas, but it's the same concept as the whole Connery/Lazenby split. The latter fits their role fine, but there's just something about the former that suits the character perfectly. It's easier to pinpoint with Donald Pleasance; his famous detached stare gives Blofeld an air of menace that Savalas couldn't quite manage.

The introduction of marriage was a pleasantly surprising choice. The relationship between Tracy and Bond struck me as particularly strong throughout the movie, and I was rather glad it culminated in marriage. One thing I never exactly liked about the franchise was how each Bond girl was eliminated from the storyline after the movie she debuted in. It makes it difficult to care about them if they're just going to be gone in the next movie anyhow. Of course, Tracy doesn't exactly fare well in this movie, but we were at least given the illusion that she would become a major character due to her tenderhearted romance with Bond. Although the ending is quite tragic and I would rather Tracy had made it, I wouldn't change a thing about it (However, the inclusion of the Bond theme after the last scene was pretty bad idea. It didn't bother me as much as it seems to bother most people, but even I can admit it was out of place.).

I sort of feel like rewatching this movie completely alert, because I feel like I've missed out on something. I've yet to be sincerely let down by a James Bond movie; each and every one of them has been entertaining in one way or another. So why is On Her Majesty's Secret Service considered the magnum opus of the series by many? Even in my somnolence, I didn't much care for the elaborate plot structure. I've stayed awake through movies when I was tired before if I wanted to, and although I did for On Her Majesty's Secret Service, I felt like sleeping most of the way through. The romantic subplot was the best yet, no doubt about it, but nothing else about the movie really ingrained itself in my head, and no matter how good the characters in this movie were, I don't think anything over a 7 would be justified. A 7 is feasible, but I really just didn't enjoy this movie all that much. It was a mediocre movie with some impressive parts, and those parts are only just enough to get me to like it and not dislike it. It wasn't a trainwreck or anything, and I'd recommend it to other folks on the basis that they'd probably enjoy it more than I did, but I can't say I was impressed with what I have long been told is the best movie of the series.

Saving Private Ryan
10 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

There are some movies where the MPAA Rating really doesn't matter. I mean, this movie is Rated R for a reason, but I was allowed to watch it anyway. The reason is because this is Saving Private Ryan, one of Spielberg's greatest films and one of the best movies in the last decade. It's still a bit of an accomplishment on my part whenever I'm able to watch an R Rated movie, and what better R Rated movie to entertain myself in the dull month of August than Saving Private Ryan?

The first time I saw the movie, it was a few hours in as one of the soldiers was dying. I didn't want to start watching from there, as I would miss vital character background and plot details if I did. The second time I watching it with my [13-year-old] sister. I convinced her to watch it with me, since this is Saving Private Ryan and you can't not see this movie. My sister is pretty smart, but I guess she isn't quite as into movies as I am, so she missed a lot of plot points throughout the movie and I had to explain it all to her. Keep in mind that this was my first viewing of the movie as well, and I was missing out on it just as much as she was by explaining it away to her. It was worth it; she does need to see this movie at some point in her life and better sooner than later. But I felt that I had missed a lot; I never really got to know any of the characters besides John Miller and James Ryan. The soldiers were dying and I didn't even know who they were...I felt robbed, basically. So I rewatched it.

And this time, the movie really sank in. Now those nameless faces who were dying in combat weren't nameless faces. I understood the conflicts between them and I understood better who was blowing what up against whom for what reason. And it's much more satisfying seeing the movie in that way, because the whole point of the movie was to humanize the violent murderous war machines that we call soldiers, to show us that they're men just like us. I'm glad I took the chance to rewatch it; yeah I know the rough plot outline and yeah I knew how it ended, but that's hardly the point. The end of the movie is a heartbreaking one, but it doesn't mean a thing unless you've really been following the story the whole way through.

I agree with most people in that the D-Day invasion scene was the best battle in the movie and although all subsequent battles were impressive and gripping, nothing really tops the opening scene of the movie. It really is incredible, and it tells you quite bluntly how much courage it takes to be one of those soldiers riding in boats and just waiting to be shot down at any moment. Seeing Miller and his comrades struggle through the barrage of bullets as men lay mutilated around them definitely set the tone for the movie and I'm glad they began with this scene. All they really needed to do was show Sean Ryan's dead body and the movie could have moved on, but they encompassed that scene with a big elaborate set-up that worked brilliantly instead. And I'm glad for it, obviously.

My favorite scene, though, is probably where Giovanni Ribisi's character (never could tell if it was Wayne or Wade; the constant gunfire drowned out the crucial consonant) is rewriting Vin Diesel's (I must look like an idiot. I did hear his name, actually, I'm just not sure how you spell it. Capperzo? Capurso? No clue) character's letter. That scene came out of nowhere and it was honestly fantastic. Mike and John are just laughing about the weird kid they were discussing, and then there's Giovanni Ribisi who looks up once and continues to rewrite the bloodsoaked letter that Vin Diesel meant to give his father. That small display of camaraderie really tugged my heartstrings, even though it was such a short scene. Think of Anton Ego's flashback at the end of Ratatouille. The same technique was applied here; one scene perfectly characterizing a previously unimpressive character.

Runner-up would be the scene where the rain starts pouring down as the bullets start flying. There's a little puddle of water, and at first it's undisturbed. At first one drop hits it, then two, then five, then twenty, then hundreds, and the gunfire intensifies in unison with the falling rain. It was clever and unexpected and it made me laugh.

The use of indirect characterization in this movie made me a bit more appreciative of it. Tom Hanks's character, John Miller, is pretty silent and reserved for most of the movie. His distant personality evidently left a mark on his comrades, because they've taken to betting on who will be able to obtain some tidbit of information on him; where he lives, where he was born, what he does for a living. They assume he is some sort of hero in real life too, but after one rather intense scene that threatened to dissolve the whole company, Spielberg uses an anticlimax more effectively than I can remember one being used in recent memory. Miller reveals his past, and it's not at all what they were expecting. This is payoff for the mild anticipation built up over the film, and it's also the moment when John is humanized just like the rest of the soldiers were. Most protagonists get developed early on and keep developing as the movie goes on, but Spielberg holds off his character-defining moment for a long time and works superbly.

The real surprise about the film is that the most dynamic character isn't Private Ryan or John Miller. It's Upham, the rather weak and cowardly soldier that Miller brings along as an interpreter. Miller develops slowly and gradually, Ryan develops a lot near the end, but Upham is one of the central characters in the story and he is constantly being developed. That's just another thing on a big long list of things this movie did right. By developing two major characters at appropriate points and also developing a supporting character constantly, the movie gives you a lot of protagonists to root for the whole way through.

Also, this movie is framed in the same way Titanic is. Saving Private Ryan begins and ends in the present, and the story in the middle is told in a big flashback. It worked for Titanic, and it works equally well for Saving Private Ryan. The movie could easily have ended with a conclusion to the battle over the bridge, but I think I and a lot of others would feel a little robbed. Seeing the main character in the present reliving the sacrifices made in that war is a fantastic way to end a movie that focuses strongly on character, and although this method seems to annoy some people, I think it works really really well when it's done right. And so far I've not seen it done wrong, so I'll continue to support framing as long as it adds that essential extra dimension to a movie, as it did with Titanic and Saving Private Ryan.

Well, I don't really have anything but glowing praise for this movie. My sister thinks it was a pretty good movie, but was bothered by the sometimes almost inaudible dialogue and the constant use of military terms. I admit, I'm no more familiar with military terms than she is, so they confused me as well. And the dialogue can be hard to hear at times. If there's not things blowing up and drowning out the words, then the men are mumbling and whispering, which can be equally difficult to hear. But aside from those minor flaws, I don't really have anything negative to say about this movie. For a movie that aims to be so many things to so many people, it doesn't stumble or fall flat at any point. Apart from being a surprisingly realistic depiction of war, it's also a surprisingly realistic depiction of those who participate in it. I've not yet met a person who openly hated this movie, or even disliked it. For a while I wondered how a movie could be so universally appealing, but having seen Saving Private Ryan at long last, I understand now. It's just a really great movie.

The Grapes of Wrath
10 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

For a while, I was unaware that a movie adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath existed. I knew it was a famous and much loved book, but I guess it never occurred to me that someone might adapt it onscreen. But then came AFI's new Top 100 Movies List, and I saw The Grapes of Wrath on there. Initially I was shocked and pleased, and then I thought rather sheepishly to myself, "Should've guessed." After discovering the movie, the obvious thing to do would be to put it on Netflix immediately. I checked my parents' movie collection, since The Grapes of Wrath seemed like a movie they might already own. They didn't, so I Netflixed it.

Even my mother was surprised at how early the movie was made (1940). She had guessed 1960, and was shocked to see it in black and white. I never checked the year it was made, meaning I was fairly surprised too. But unlike my sister, movies don't have an age limit with me. I'll watch any black and white movie as long as it's worth watching.

...I'm still trying to decide on how to mark this movie, actually. I do indeed believe it's awesome, but I can't tell if that's because it was based on an already awesome story or if the movie itself is just great. The movie does follow the book rather faithfully; I haven't read the book in a long while, but I could still see that the events were taking place almost exactly as they had in the book. I suppose you can't take too many chances when adapting something already considered a masterpiece, though.

As it is whenever you see a book you've read onscreen, you are shocked by how your interpretation of the characters is much different than the movie's. The same was true here: Ma was more corpulent than I had imagined, Grandma was frailer in my mind's eye, and Grandpa was a lot younger. And then, of course, Rosasharn's name was different from what I had always thought it was. ROH-zuh-sharn was how I always read it ('sharn' as in 'sharp'). I knew it meant Rose of Sharon, but it never occurred to me that they pronounced it ROH-zuh-shaarn (shaarn as in 'share'). I makes a lot more sense, now I think of it.

There was some great acting in this movie. Tom Joad was pretty good throughout, Pa stood out whenever he had a scene for himself, Grandpa was hilarious in his short time onscreen, and Ma was simply fantastic the whole way through. Casey was also exactly as I had depicted him in my head, and he did a fine job acting. The exchange between Ma and Tom at the very end was brilliant, better, even, than the book it came from. Ma has a very motherly disposition. Although she can be forceful when she needs to be, she has a very worried tone and face most of the time, which fit perfectly when Tom decided it was time for him to go. And Henry Fonda (Tom) was a great actor (and he looks [I]a lot[/I] like Willem Dafoe. Anyone else notice that?), so his performance was just as good as Ma's.

It takes a bit of time to get used to the prices of things back then. Five cents for a bucket of peaches? That sounds like a horrible ripoff in this day and age, but back then, I guess five cents went a really long way. A red flag went up, though, when the waitress in the restaurant claimed that the candy canes were two for a penny. That seemed like a lot of value for one penny even considering the time the movie took place in. But then the guy tells her off for selling the candies for less than they're worth, and I appreciated the scene anew. Especially since the waitress seemed so stone-hearted just a few moments ago.

I love the humanity of this story. There are so many random acts of kindness in it, and it really shows how kind people can be at times. The aforementioned candy scene was one of them, and there were multiple others along the same lines. The man tipping the Joads off about the upcoming riot. The kindly owner of the camp where there was running water and dance nights. The cops letting the Joads pass because of Grandma. It all shows how hard times were, and how everyone knew what everyone was going through. That can bring out the best and the worst in people. For the owners of the peaches and oranges, it definitely brought out the worst. But for the common folk, they all had great sympathy for one another. Which is what makes this sad tale slightly heartwarming as well.

I'm not entirely sure why they never showed Rosasharn giving birth. She seemed pretty close to delivering at the movie's end, relying on the others to transport her where she needed to go. Perhaps the filmmakers didn't think it was too central to the plot, and decided to end it with Ma's nice little speech. Or, maybe they just didn't know how to handle the miscarriage onscreen. Maybe they didn't have the technology to produce a miscarried baby. I don't know. I thought it was a pretty good way to end the novel, but the movie's ending seems...more proper, I guess you might say. Ma acknowledging the hardship of the weeks passed while still not giving up hope is a fitting end to this tale.

I guess I can't help but to give this movie a 10. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it, as much as I enjoyed reading Steinbeck's novel of the same name. Some people found it dull, since it takes place in an area where so little happens and the people deal with issues we can't even imagine today. I never once found it boring, though. The characters in the book (and movie, by extension) are all superbly written, and they tie the story together. The plotline could be rather boring if it weren't for the family that was experiencing it. That was what made Steinbeck's book so good; he gave names and faces to those thousands of nameless migrants looking for work, and brought them to our attention by doing so. I suppose this perfect 10 is more for the book that Steinbeck gave to the world more than the movie, but the movie captures the magic of the book about as perfectly as I could ask for, and I think it deserves a 10 just as much as the book does.