Lulu in Pandora’s Box

“Lulu in ‘Pandora’s Box’”    

Originally posted April 20th, 2011 on Film School Rejects as part of their ‘Criterion Files’

The first time I saw G.W Pabst’s Pandora’s Box, I thought I knew what Lulu, the character played by Louise Brooks, would be like. All I knew was that Lulu destroyed the lives of those around her. I expected her to be a typical femme fatale, with perhaps a bit of the vamp in her; sexy, manipulative, cold, calculating, powerful. I expected her to be a scheming woman with a plan for destruction. Lulu is a very complicated character because she is in many ways the direct opposite of the femme fatale despite the amount of damage she inevitably causes. I chose to write about Pandora’s Box because it means a great deal to me. Most importantly, it introduced me to Louise Brooks. I idolize her for all she had to endure, for never compromising and for the enigmatic personality she brought to the screen which has never been matched.  By looking at Lulu as a character, I hope to give at least a little insight into her performance in Pandora’s Box and the complicated and ultimately symbolic character she portrays with Lulu.

The name of the film immediately gives some indication of Lulu’s character in the parallels it suggests between her and the myth. Pandora was the first mortal woman in Greek mythology. She was made as a punishment for mankind due to the actions of Prometheus because powerful women were seen as destroyers of man. She possessed incomparable beauty, charm and skill. But she opened a box out of curiosity and released all of the evils in the world and by the time she closed the box the only thing left in it at the bottom was hope.

There are obvious similarities between Pandora and Lulu. Most importantly, curiosity was Pandora’s motivation for opening the box; not some calculated plan to unleash evil on the world. Curiosity can be seen as synonymous with naiveté, which is exactly what Lulu has. Lulu is not the femme fatale. She is a naïve woman who is somewhat unaware of the effect she has on people and of the damage she causes whether it is her fault or not. Lulu does not purposely ruin the lives of the people around her and this is a key characteristic.

In the commentary for the film with Mary Ann Doane and Thomas Elsaesser that can be heard on the Criterion Collection edition of Pandora’s Box, Doane make a statement that reveals another important characteristic of Lulu’s. Doane states that “she is a character for who the past holds no weight”. Lulu’s sole motivation is pleasure in the present. She does not mean to hurt anyone. She fails to comprehend that her actions affect others and that other people have their own individual feelings and desires. She does not learn from past mistakes and refuses to compromise or dwell on the past. Additionally, Lulu will not learn from past mistakes and is capable of shaking the past off no matter how traumatic it may be.

An example of this is when she returns to Alwa’s place after she escapes from her trial for Schon’s death. Alwa comes home to find Lulu coming out of the bath. She acts insensitively to what Alwa is going through. She smiles even though he has lost his father; she pokes him and he says “How dare you come here”. She looks slightly confused and says “Where else should I go but home?” She smiles, he shakes a hat into her hands and then Lulu gets violently angry and then throws the hat across the room. She then completely changes moods, smiles and crosses the room to go look at herself in the mirror in her bathrobe. Lulu wastes no time moving on from life-changing events so she can continue pursuing the present moment. The way Lulu acts in this scene is not malicious but simply unmindful; because of this, we continue to care about her despite her blatant inability to take other people’s feelings into account.

Another key characteristic of Lulu that harks back to the natural curiosity of Pandora is Lulu’s childishness. We are the most curious as children and this is what Lulu essentially is; a child. She becomes the most childlike around her “father”/pimp Schigolch. She is the most familiar with him and sits on his lap whenever she sees him. The most extreme example of Lulu’s childishness is the tantrum she has backstage at the revue she participates in. Schon brings Charlotte his fiancée backstage at the revue which Lulu is performing in and shows her around. When Lulu sees Schon, her expressions and mannerisms are that of an upset child. Her brow pushes forward and her lips pout out and Lulu suddenly looks like a five-year old who did not get her way. She stomps off and refuses to perform in the show, pushing people out of her way and makes a large commotion in front of Schon.

A piece of behind the scenes knowledge during the making of the film can also shed some light on how Pabst might have seen Lulu. When she shoots Schon, G.W Pabst told Louise Brooks to react by saying “Das Blut!” meaning “the blood!” Although neither the line nor Brooks’ lips uttering the words make it into the film, this direction is an indication of Lulu’s childlike nature. Instead of telling Brooks to react to the fact that she just shot and killed her lover and her best friend’s father, Pabst tells her to react to a much more abstract thing; blood. A child would unlikely understand the full implications of the death of someone and instead would react to the concrete physicality of the blood. Pabst’s direction of Brooks during this scene suggests that he also looks at Lulu as having childlike qualities.

For all of Lulu’s characterization, her mere presence gives off a sense of symbolic purpose. The connection to the figure of Pandora and the elusiveness of Lulu elevates her to a mythical-like status. This is why it takes a figure like the assumed “Jack the Ripper” to eliminate her; someone with that historical status is the only one who has the ability to destroy her. The way Pabst’s camera depicts the actress, and the meaning that Brooks’ presence and performance give to the film add to the fascination that comes with Lulu, making her a unique character and an iconic presence in film.

Louise Brooks never poses for the camera. It makes her all the more appealing and Pabst uses this to his advantage by adding different lighting techniques, most notably soft focus and expressionistic lighting to enhance her undeniably unique qualities. Using soft focus for close-ups was standard, but Pabst’s use of it veers towards visual poetry. The casting of Brooks, an American among a cast of Germans, gives her an added air of mysteriousness and unfamiliarity to audiences; she sticks out even more so because of it. Louise Brooks plays Lulu with a natural air that has never been equaled. Rumor has it that the reason that Pabst did not cast Marlene Dietrich as opposed to Brooks was because he had said that “’one sexy look and the picture would become a burlesque’”. He needed Brooks’ effortless quality in front of the camera to make the film stand out among others and he knew it.

Brooks’ real life antics make the character of Lulu even more engaging to a modern day audience. She was promiscuous, very much into sex and desire almost to a fault. She and Lulu represented the modern woman who was in control of her life, her sexuality and of the choices that she made. Unfortunately for Brooks, many of these were bad choices; but she made her own life by her own rules. The Hollywood system could not contain her. All of Lulu’s seductive qualities were Louise Brooks. Pabst managed to capture the essence of her. This is not an act; beyond the definite construct of Lulu, I believe we are seeing Louise Brooks herself.

Lulu is a character in cinema that has become an icon, representing desire, eroticism; a woman who seems to be in control of the camera that photographs her, her femininity and her power. Lulu is brought to life by Louise Brooks, a legend in her own right, who is unforgettable as Pandora’s Box. Make no mistake that in the end, for all its other accomplishments, of which there are many, Brooks makes this film. She is sex and desire. She is a curious child. She is living completely for herself. She is mythically symbolic. She is Lulu.

Weekly Screening Log: April 22nd-28th

139. Poetry (2011, Lee): A-

140. In a Better World (2011, Bier): B-

141. Slacker (1991, Linklater): A

142. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives (2011, Weerasethakul): B-

143. Cracks (2011, Scott): B

144. A Girl in Every Port (1928, Hawks): D+

145. The Wind (1928, Sjöström): A-

146. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988, Scorsese): A-

147. The Rite (2011, Håfström): D-

148. Scream 4 (2011, Craven): C

149. Blow Out (1981, De Palma): A

List: 10 Creepy Villains from Children’s Films

This list will steer towards the personal, in that almost all of the films on this list made a significantly creepy impact on me when I watched them as a child. For this reason, films like The Dark Crystal, Watership Down, The Neverending Story, Labyrinth and others will not be on here; I saw them all later in life. Only one film here is from the past ten years; the rest are films from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Other films like The Wizard of Oz and The Nightmare Before Christmas are omitted because while they have scary villains, they do not get to me the way these others do.

I was a very odd child and it goes without saying that I am a very odd adult. Very random and seemingly harmless things can scare me. Example: as a three year-old I had a poster of Sesame Street Live on my wall. The image of Cookie Monster on it quite literally gave me nightmares. Another example; a viewing of Citizen Kane when I was twelve sent me into a crippling two-year fear of Orson Welles. Laugh now (I sure do), but I honestly could not enter Blockbuster, it effected my school work, I cautiously turned the pages in books and magazines during that time and went to the school guidance counselor every week for it. Faces terrify me more than perhaps anything else. Willem Dafoe as a theoretically older Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ. Kathleen Byron in Black Narcissus. Fiona Shaw in The Black Dahlia (awful film; great performance). Gloria Swanson in the end of Sunset Boulevard. Conrad Veidt in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Felissa Rose at the end of Sleepaway Camp . Donald Sutherland and Adelina Poerio at the end of Don’t Look Now. All of these examples are evidence that, oftentimes for me, the scariest thing I can see is a face.

As I brainstormed for this list I discovered something quite surprising. There were films that sprang to mind that were not applicable. Why? Because it was the films themselves that scared me, not the villain in them. There are many children’s films that have a very unsettling feeling about them; it is almost impossible to put into words. There are several films on this list that fit this category. Examples of films not on the list that apply are The Brave Little Toaster, The Secret of NIMH and James and the Giant Peach are examples.

Now that you have a brief idea of where I’m coming from, here is my list. Again, this is based entirely on what I watched as a child and my experiences with them. I would LOVE to hear your own picks so be sure to comment!

10. The Beldam – Teri Hatcher (voice) – Coraline (2009)

Here is the only villain on the list from a film made in the 2000’s. This would have been guaranteed a higher spot, had it not been for the absence of specific traumatic childhood memories. As it is, director Henry Selick has always known how to be creepily effective when he needs to be. This is no different; he really delivers the goods here and the strong source material gave him plenty to work with.

9. The Spirit – Jackie Burroughs (voice) – The Care Bears Movie (1985)

Laugh if you will. It has been…about fifteen years since I last watched The Care Bears Movie. It is hard to remember back and pinpoint what specifically was so frightening about this. Doing research, I noticed that many others cite this as a film and character they were scared by. It should go without saying that The Care Bears Movie is not going to actively scare any children, even very small ones; apparently not.

8. Hexxus – Tim Curry (voice) – Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992)

Ferngully as a whole unsettles me (not in a way that takes away from the film); again, it is hard to pinpoint why. Maybe because it has Robin Williams voicing a fruit bat. Surely much of it is because of Hexxus who is given an effectively eerie voice by Curry. The way Hexxus slinks, slithers and seeps into and out of objects is what makes him frightening. Also, he turns into an oil demon that breathes fire. Enough said.

7. Doc Hopper – Charles Durning – The Muppet Movie (1979)

Doc Hopper’s obsession with Kermit the Frog and his legs is just a little creepy. The man kidnaps Kermit and attempts to BRAINWASH him. Durning plays him as this fantastical and outlandish Colonel Sanders archetype, and its his purposely caricatured performance that resonated for me as a child watching the film.

6. The Wheelers – Various – Return to Oz (1985)

This is another example is a film that sufficiently unsettles in its entirety. After recently seeing it again, it holds up as being even creepier than I remember. Mombi could have easily gone into this spot too, but characters that have a specific mobility trait tend to stick with me more. This goes for Hexxus and The Wheelers. They come in packs and they move, well, it’s all in the name.

5. The Coachman – Charles Judels (voice) – Pinocchio (1940)

…..yeah. The picture says it all. The Coachman’s inclusion is meant to also represent the entire Pleasure Island sequence. The outright sadism of this character is a bit jarring to see as a child because his satisfaction is easy to comprehend and process. This is the scariest thing Disney has ever done.

4. Miss Trunchbull – Pam Ferris – Matilda (1996)

Pam Ferris annihilates with her performance in Matilda. It is completely over the top, but it never feels like its too much because of the world director Danny DeVito and author Roald Dahl have separately created. All adaptations of Roald Dahl films creep me out on some level, with the exception of Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. DeVito loves the fish-eye lens and extreme close-ups; he tries very hard to give the film the same feel that Quentin Blake’s illustrations have. The way Trunchbull is shot, in addition to the feeling of the entire film and finally because of Ferris herself, this gets a high spot on the list. Can we just take a second and reflect on the mere concept of The Chokey? Or the scene when she makes Bruce Bogtrotter eat an entire chocolate cake? Or the sequence when she discovers Matilda is hiding somewhere in her house and ruthlessly hunts for her?

3. The Grand Duke of Owls – Christopher Plummer (voice) – Rock-a-Doodle (1992)

Remember when I mentioned some of these films creep me out entirely? Nowhere is that more relevant than it is here. Honestly? I don’t even know if I could watch this again; that is how hesitant I am. Every single frame of this film disturbs me. And it sucks to boot. It’s an outright shitty film and for whatever reason, it unnerves me more than any other animated film in existence. This includes the “Grand Duke of Owls”.

2. Judge Doom – Christopher Lloyd – Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)

I feel like this is an inclusion everyone can agree on. Something like the “Grand Duke of Owls” is more specified toward my own odd relationships with certain films. Others like Judge Doom, are simply universal. He is terrifying at the outset. Who among us can recall the suspense during the “Shave and a Haircut” scene? His very controlled and unpredictable demeanor. Those gloves. Those sunglasses. His desire to WIPE OUT AN ENTIRE RACE. Then we reach the climax, which takes everything several steps further than expected.He gets run over by a STEAMROLLER. The sound effects by Lloyd as we SEE THIS HAPPEN are completely fucking disturbing. Then, in the scariest resurrection since Michael Myers in Carpenter’s Halloween, the villain, now a flat and wobbly toon rises and re-inflates himself as his EYEBALLS POP OUT. His voice transforms into a helium-possessed freakshow as he simultaneously reveals he killed Eddie’s (Bob Hoskins) brother. It’s a two-for-one plot twist; it remains shiver-inducing. His eyeballs become animated knives. He bounces across the warehouse. It’s fucking brutal.

1. Grand High Witch – Anjelica Huston – The Witches (1990)

Unlike Rock-a-Doodle, which I won’t rewatch because I know it’s crap and it will not be worth the likely trauma, The Witches is a film I am fairly certain I would like if I rewatched it again, but am cowering in fear at the very notion of it. This is the most disturbing live-action children’s film bar none. It is very telling how much of this film I remember even though it was not a childhood favorite of mine. For all I know, I have only seen it once. I just know the impact it had on me. Not coincidentally, this is another Roald Dahl adaptation. The Grand High Witch is just plain disgusting, but so is everything about this.  The work Jim Henson and his company did on this film is nothing short of stellar. This is the kind of work that is not done today if it does not have to be. There’s not much to say about this villain, as I cannot recall her specifics; just the reveal that this is what she actually looks like. That I remember. To top it all off, Nicolas Roeg directed this! This accounts for a lot of the film’s tone and has convinced me to revisit it soon. As soon as I work up the nerve.

Weekly Trailer Round-up #1

School is winding down which is making me rethink how I want my blog to be. I know consistency is my big issue and my main goal to work on that. Writing does not come as naturally to me as it does for many others out there, so time is a factor. I’d like to do a weekly trailer post as well as a weekly commentary post sharing my thoughts on a piece of film news. My weekly screening posts will have musings as well.

Trailers are usually about prepackaging a film into a definitive set of criteria. For the most part, people want to know what to expect when they walk into a movie theater. Will they be scared? Thrilled? Laugh? Cry? Trailers boil down the expected emotions. Or they purposely misrepresent the film in efforts to gain more viewers. It goes without saying that trailers are a form of advertising. They are meant to sell the film. So while they always have to be taken with a grain of salt, they also are a great indicator on whether or not any given film will be ‘for you’.

30 Minutes of Less (B): The material looks little more than average, but the comedic pairing like Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari looks very promising. Eisenberg is one of the best young actors today and Ansari is one of my favorite stand-up comedians, so it would be a shame if this doesn’t pan out they way it theoretically should. Eisenberg’s character seems to have a lot more confidence than the types of characters we are used to seeing from him. It is not hard to see the slightly different air about him, making him, dare I say it, even more attractive? Yes…I believe I dare say it. In short, hopefully the film itself will match the potential of the cast and not depend too much on the line deliveries of the actors.

The Change-Up (C-): Another take on the ‘Freaky Friday’ concept, this time with two actors who seem incapable of portraying the other convincingly. At least, that’s the sense one gets from the trailer. Isn’t the entire point of a film like this to see all the fun ways the actors portray their characters post body-swapping? When Ryan Reynolds, a womanizing bachelor, and Jason Bateman, a domesticated family man, switch bodies it is nearly impossible to tell the difference. This may be because we do not stay with a scene long enough to get a sense of the performances, but uninteresting material aside, it looks like it’ll be hard to fully buy these performances.

The Help (C+): I have been meaning to read The Help, but now I’m not so sure if I want to. This looks a lot more light-hearted than I thought it was supposed to be. Packaged into the epitome of a heartwarming crowd pleaser, nothing about this trailer feels real. I’ll read the book because it is absurd to not read a book because the trailer for the movie adaptation is disappoints, but the fact remains…this looks overcooked.

Submarine (A): I’ve been looking forward to this ever since hearing about it, and the trailer exceeded my expectations. Has a Rushmore vibe about it (one of my all-time favorites; as innovative in 2011 as it was in 1998), yet it looks like it has its own identity and does not feel forced or unoriginal.  The film looks quite beautiful to boot. Unfortunately, I’ll be missing this at IFFBoston next week, because I am opting for Green instead.

The High Cost of Living (D+): Everything we hear Zach Braff say in voiceover during the first third of this trailer sounds like dialogue that could have come directly from Garden State. Nothing about it looks worthwhile; a somber romantic drama laced with some half-hearted humor. The only question left hanging is whether or not the lead female will accept Braff for his actions. I don’t care to know the answer. The tagline, the music, all of it; no thanks.

Another Earth (B): The concept of Another Earth certainly has potential, and it looks like the outcome can go either way. Low budget indie sci-fi cannot help but recall last year’s Monsters, and that was a near disaster in execution.

Circumstance (A-): Try not to be captivated by this. My hope is that it can give legitimate insight on Iranian youth culture, and not just be a titillating tale of victimhood.

Terri (B-): This is certainly something I’ll see but outside what looks to be a great performance by Jacob Wysocki and the ever-reliable presence of John C. Reilly, nothing sticks out. There are so many trailers for these kinds of indie films, and it is unfortunate that they are always put together to convey the same exact tone and feel, despite the wide range of identities these films carry.

L’Amour Fou (B+): Biographical documentaries are an immediate hook. Plus, lots of stunning fashion. Plus, this kind of high-profile auction is something that fascinates me. Also; a few shots of Saint-Laurent remind me of Crispin Glover. Weird.

Brother’s Justice (D): This looks like a thoroughly pompous project. Nothing is funny in this trailer. Appearances by Ashton Kutcher and Tom Arnold are terrible selling points.

Weekly Screening Log: April 14th-21st

I am going to start posting grades for my weekly screening posts. They are meant somewhat arbitrarily and not as a declaration of worth. It is mainly to keep track of my general initial response to the films I see. Once school gets out, I plan on keeping up with my one paragraph summations.

134. Day for Night (1973, Truffaut): A

135. Topsy-Turvy (1999, Leigh): A-

136. Time of the Wolf (2003, Haneke): C

137. The Girl who Leapt Through Time (2006, Hosoda): A

138. Jacob’s Ladder (1990, Lyne): B+

Poll: Most Anticipated May 2011 Release?

The Summer 2011 season will officially begin in 11 days. Superhero films, reboots, remakes, sequels and even a few original big-budget films will be in theaters everywhere for the next four months. The indie and international market will continue their output through the blockbuster season. Some of these will be good, more of them will likely be bad and a few might even be great; this goes for both sides. Kicking off the summer season, there are a lot of anticipated films to choose from. Most notably, countless people’s most anticipated 2011 release finally comes out this month: Terrence Malick’s endlessly hyped The Tree of Life. Count me among those most excited. After seeing The Thin Red Line, his existentially broad and all encompassing film, May 27th cannot come soon enough. It looks to be even more broad and all encompassing and the question is; will it be as masterful as everyone already assumes it will be? I certainly hope so. Also, Thor has been getting quite the positive feedback from early screenings and premieres. I debated putting in Hobo with a Shotgun because everyone has already seen it through On Demand, but its official theatrical release occurs this month. Personally the films I am most anticipating this month are The Tree of Life, The Beaver, Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff, Louder than a Bomb, City of Life and Death and Kung Fu Panda 2. The question is: what are you most looking forward to? Results will be posted on May 1st.

Review: Hanna (2011, Wright)

Hanna (2011, Wright)

Sometimes a film’s failings can be completely trumped by its strengths, so much so that it becomes an absolute triumph in spite of itself. This is the case with Hanna, the new action/fairy tale/thriller from director Joe Wright who takes himself completely out of his comfort zone with an entirely new type of project. The resulting visual experimentation from Wright’s involvement is invigorating to the extreme; a feast on the eyes and ears that overcomes the script’s shortcomings. This is the most stylistically engaging recent release to come out in quite some time.

Luckily, the strongest aspect of Hanna story-wise, is Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) herself. This is a girl who has been brought up in the woods of Finland by her father, ex-CIA agent Erik Heller (Eric Bana). She is fully isolated from society in order to be trained as a solider of sorts. She can fight, hunt, speaks many languages and recites facts on a wide variety of subjects. When they both feel she is finally ready, which she is at age sixteen, she sets out on her mission to kill Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), an intelligence operative and research director who is responsible for murdering Hanna’s mother many years ago. Helping Marissa is Issacs, (Tom Hollander, continuing to prove he is one of the best working actors around), a sadistically over-the-top henchman hired to terminate Hanna. He even comes complete with an ominous whistle that announces his usually unwelcome presence.

As said before, this is new territory for Joe Wright. Two of his previous three feature films were the period pieces Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. Without Wright at the helm, this would have been a mediocre film with a fantastic central performance. He has transformed the material into a hip work of art with incessantly strong visual flair. Clearly influenced by many different sources, Wright puts his inspiration to good practice. His use of tracking shots, extreme close-ups, extreme long shots, handheld camera work and much more all contribute to Hanna’s singularly high-powered style. He also keeps a lot of the action in camera, making the choreography stand out. Whether creating an engaging hyper-stylistic action set piece or subjectively aligning the audience with Hanna’s experiences, Wright always has motivations for his choices and it is a delight to work through them while watching the film.

The character of Hanna flourishes first and foremost because of Saoirse Ronan, who continues to hold our gaze with those stone cold yet ever so vulnerable eyes of hers. She plays the character primarily as a girl who is experiencing the world for the first time and second as a soldier with a job to do. We watch her perform basic social tasks and interact with the urban environment, all of which she has never done.

Caring for Hanna comes through seeing the world the way she does, prompted by Ronan’s acting and Wright’s subjective use of the camera. The film immerses itself with Moroccan culture because of how deeply fascinated Hanna is by her observations of the country. A lot of the story revolves around a traveling free spirited couple (Olivia Williams and Jason Flemying) and their aggressively social teenage daughter Sophie (Jessica Branden), with whom Hanna forms a meaningful friendship. She cherishes the time spent with them and these moments give credence to her story and all the evil she has to confront.

Along with Wright and Ronan, the third irreplaceable element of Hanna is the score provided by The Chemical Brothers. As opposed to using music to manipulate the audience into certain emotions, Wright creates several different effects with the sound of hypnotic bass-heavy electronica. The score is first introduced at a very precisely chosen moment. Throughout, the music forms a cohesive relationship with the diegetic sound, with both influencing and informing each other. It is also used to crucially represent and accompany each of the action set-pieces. The music The Chemical Brothers have created here is addictive and is as important anything in Hanna.

Everything I have just touched on in regards to Hanna contributes to the film’s strengths systematically overtaking the film’s weaknesses. The question is what are said weaknesses? For one, the story makes little sense. A lot of the information given to us is vague, unpolished and familiar. Wiegler is an effective villain because of the suitably caricatured performance by Cate Blanchett and not because of anything contained within the story. Getting a handle on the ridiculous plot outside of its basics is like grasping at straws.

Furthermore, Erik and Hanna’s relationship might work when we get a sense of it in the first ten minutes, but their bond cannot sustain itself for long. The impact of the father-daughter relationship is completely lost by the time we need to be invested in them again. Lastly, the plot itself is very predictable even if the way it is presented is exciting. Wright is trying to tell a deeper story than there is here because on some level, the script is inherently working against him. That the director manages to overcome even his own failings here as well as the scripts, is a testament to what an accomplishment Hanna ends up being.

At this point, any film with fairy tale elements that is not a blatant reworking of one is subtle, even if it is not. Thematically, symbolically and metaphorically there is a lot that is overstated in Hanna, but every last drop of it works because it is so forcibly infused with the concoction of Wright’s visuals. Hanna is a film that cannot be recommended enough. It is harsh, bleak and expresses violence with unsettling force for a PG-13 film. None of that feels meaningless because for Hanna, it is all very real and has consequences. It may not get the brain synapses firing away, but it is unlike any other film to come along in a while. When all is said and done, Hanna had me entirely at “I just missed your heart”.

List: Top 25 Worst Blu-ray Covers

Anybody else notice that the emergence of Blu-ray has coincided with the emergence of outrageously awful cover art? Well, I have. I am in no way suggesting that DVD cover art has been consistent; it hasn’t. However, many films previously available on DVD receiving a Blu-ray upgrade have completely reworked covers for no apparent reason. Posters and DVD covers that we all know quite well have in some cases been replaced by what looks like the kind of cover art commonly found on a bootleg. Major photoshop work has been done with often times poor, amateurish and downright embarrassing results. Another common thread on this list is a blatant attempt to market the film to coincide with a current trend, thereby misrepresenting the film entirely. Other reasons will pop up throughout. The rules for this list are that the Blu-ray cover could not be the same as any promotional poster and that it had to be different from the original DVD cover if the film if there had been a previous DVD release. If there are any glaring omissions, or if you want to share your own picks, I encourage you to do so! I would love to see them!

25. The Peacemaker
Much of the time, marketing films is a matter of exploiting star power; I get that. What I do not get is Nicole Kidman staring confusedly at a couple of helicopters; that is what I do not get.

24. Pleasantville
Here is another example of many that, again, exploit star power. The problem with this is that Pleasantville has a wonderful poster that was also used for the DVD cover. Getting rid of that for this lackluster effort is just sad. And something that must be pointed out; ALL OF THESE COVERS LOOK WORSE IN PERSON. Trust me on this one. Next time you go into a store selling Blu-rays; keep an eye out.

23. Wanted
Let us put aside the fact that about half of the space is taken up by blurred background (because the action is all happening so fast!). Look at James McAvoy’s face. The poor man looks like he is falling asleep. Either that, or he is drunk. I really just do not know. The point is, that if new cover art was going to be chosen, they could have at least picked a picture of McAvoy that looks like he is a functional person.

22. Buried
The main reason this was chosen was not because it is lazy, which it is, but because Buried had such a strong poster campaign, making it even more upsetting that this cheap image was chosen. It does get points for not featuring any discernible photoshop work.  I understand the film did very poorly in box office returns and they desperately need to feature Ryan Reynolds’ involvement to get anyone interested. It’s still a horrid cover.

21. …And Justice For All
The original DVD cover for this film was nothing to write home about. In its own way it was bad. Let me take a second to point out what has been done to Pacino. They took Pacino’s head from the DVD cover and plastered it onto another body. This looks like an elementary school student’s cut-and-paste project. Look at that head! Look at it I say!!

20. Lost in Translation
What’s wrong with this? It’s the same poster and DVD cover; is it not? No it is not. For no reason whatsoever, the Blu-ray cover is a zoomed in version of the poster. Why? I have no answer for you. It may look like a minor and acceptable change now, but just take a gander at this one in the stores and tell me how you feel then. Finally, his head is poking out through the white banner, a change that is not visible in any previous incarnation of the poster.

19. L.A Confidential
L.A Confidential has a very recognizable poster. There must have been a reason to change it. Yet I cannot for the life of me figure out why this was done. Most of the other films may have terrible covers, but to some degree from a marketing standpoint, I understand why the decisions were made. This has stumped me mainly because the structure of the original poster is very similar. Kim Basinger takes up the majority of the space in both. Each have Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey and Guy Pearce making minor appearances. Here though, in addition to the bad photoshop work (which goes without saying for almost all of these (even though I’ll keep saying it), Spacey, Crowe and Pearce look like footnotes and even Basinger’s ‘boobs’ are on better display on the original poster. Then we have that reflection which makes no logical sense. Why was this done? It is a mystery.

18. National Lampoon’s Vacation
On its own, this is a moderately bad cover. What makes it terrible is the idea of it replacing the somewhat iconic cover art that preceded it.

17. Full Metal Jacket
This makes the list because it in no way represents the feeling of Kubrick’s film. Outside of the “Born to Kill” helmet, which is obviously not on Matthew Modine like it should be, nothing about this looks like or feels like Full Metal Jacket to me.

16. Secretary
Hmm…I did not know Secretary was a sitcom, but judging from James Spader’s whackadoo face, apparently it is. Also, this cover makes it seem like Spader is drawn into Gyllenhaal’s sexual inclinations when really it is the opposite; so it is also very misleading in its goofiness.

15. Primal Fear
The packaging for this is so corny. “Hard Evidence Edition”? Really? The one thing about this I do like is that it has the date on it. A nice touch; the only nice touch. “Warning: serves up twist after twist”. Yikes. The worst though, has to be the red EVIDENCE stripe across the top.

14. sex, lies and videotape
A cover of any kind featuring only Andie MacDowell’s face is, quite simply, not a good thing. Harsh I know, but I’m not a MacDowell fan (even though I will admit she is fantastic in this, her only standout role in my opinion). That aside, zooming in on this picture, makes everything about this look very cheap and hand-me-down.

13. The Resident
I present the first cover art on this list that made me burst out laughing. The original posters for this were also bad, but nothing reached quite this level. The image of Swank from the original poster has been taken and Jeffrey Dean Morgan has been pasted behind her. That’s it; that’s the poster. There is too much face here, making everything feel crammed in. Oh, and Christopher Lee is in it too, in case you didn’t know.

12. The Machinist
Another case of ‘why change the cover’? I liked the original cover art quite a bit. What they have done is taken a still from the film, reworked it a bit and pasted some truly bad font on to top it all off. Why? Why? Why?

11. Excalibur
I take issue with this because of the blatant aim to exploit a current trend in filmmaking. The original DVD cover is technically the same image. Here though, the image has been zoomed in and tinted with that grey visual trope that been be found in super serious films like Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood and others. Problem is, none of it looks natural and it is obvious what has been done and why it has been done. Also; terrible font.

10. Poltergeist II
This cover looks worse in person than most of the others. The effect is it looks like someone printed this cover on paper with a printer that was running out of ink (and also malfunctioning), folded it up and placed it in as the Blu-ray cover. That is how bad this looks.

9. True Grit
I don’t think this needs much explanation. The release of this Blu-ray coincided with the theatrical release of the Coen Brothers’ remake. It was taken a step further as the cover art is meant to evoke the remake, and not the original, taking away the identity of the Wayne version completely.

8. My Cousin Vinny
Jarringly different from the VHS and DVD cover, My Cousin Vinny has been photoshopped to death. From here on out, the reason will likely be terrible photoshop work. I really don’t know what to say about this.

7. The New World
This Blu-ray cover coincides with the release of the Extended Cut DVD and Blu-ray. There was a previous DVD cover before this one. Who in their right mind would look at this image, knowing nothing about the film mind you, and want to buy/rent/see it? Look at Colin Farrell’s face. Just look at it.

6. The Omen
I cannot describe how shitty this looks in stores. We are getting into speechless territory here, where nothing can even be said; the image speaks for itself.

5. I Saw the Devil
For the record, I appreciate the thought that was put into this cover. The concept is very clear here, and for that, I am grateful. I am not grateful however, to the botched execution, which is aesthetically unpleasing to say the least.  All I could do is shake my head in disappointment when I saw this. For a film that I hope to own one day, the idea of having cover art like this in my collection is just depressing to me. How dare they disrupt the beauty of Lee Byung-hun’s perfect face!

4. Never Let Me Go
What is with the red-yellow hues all over the place? The original poster did not highlight the “it” star power, so they took Knightley, who is in a supporting role here, and plastered her in the foremost spot. Then they threw in Mulligan and Garfield for good measure. Finally, we are painfully reminded of the beauty of the original poster as it is unfairly crunched it in the corner to remind us that the image is not the Blu-ray cover art. For shame. One of my favorite films from last year, if I saw this in stores knowing nothing about it, I would not give it a second thought.

3. Groundhog Day
So I’ll just come right out and say it; Bill Murray looks like a bloated hamster here. He also looks like Joey Gladstone. A bloated hamster and Joey Gladstone. This is an atrocity. Seriously; what am I looking at? Those are not Bill Murray’s hands. That’s barely Bill Murray’s face. More work has been done to that face than I have seen on a Blu-ray cover. Then we have Andie MacDowell, (and you know how I feel about her) taking up way more space than she should, but at least her face looks somewhat acceptable. Murray’s does not. It’s actually slightly terrifying.

2. Minority Report
I ask this question yet again: what was the problem with the old cover? Tom Cruise has been airbrushed into oblivion. I feel like I am looking at a cover for a Russian war submarine film or something; something that is not science-fiction. What is with that font? Cruise’s face has taken over completely. Plus, there is no way his hand, which looks like a baby’s hand by the way, would line up that way.

1. Near Dark
Without a doubt, Near Dark is the worst Blu-ray cover in existence. The reasons are blatantly obvious. Kathryn Bigelow’s masterful horror film has been reconfigured for the Twilight trend. This is a film about vampires that never says the word ‘vampire’. Anyone who has seen it knows the two couldn’t be less related; in fact, even comparing them feels wrong. They are completely different beasts. This is the only cover that outright offends me. I won’t buy the Blu-ray because of it. It also helps that the 2-disc DVD edition has awesome packaging and converts so well on a Blu-ray player that buying this edition is unnecessary.

Weekly Screening Post: April 1st-7th: The Thin Red Line, The Green Hornet, Tell No One, Rubber, Hobo with a Shotgun, Kiss Me Deadly

Here is my first weekly screening post! Every week, I will post the films I’ve seen for the first time and give brief thoughts on each without giving  anything near a full length review. It is impossible to review everything I watch, but I do want have thoughts jotted down for everything.

120. The Thin Red Line (1998, Malick)
War as an abstraction; this is deeply moving essential viewing. The way Malick creates allows everything to be instinctively put together in post through editing. The plot and character development are mere footnotes, existing on the fringe, looking in on Malick’s extensive use of visuals and audio which force the viewer to simply feel. The film is entirely about feeling and it examines very broad themes by hypnotizing the audience into said emotions. The characters all seem like parts of one person. The Thin Red Line is a masterpiece that cannot be recommended enough. It represents the ultimate power of cinema to really illuminate us on what life is really all about. One of the most overwhelming and outright spiritual viewing experiences of my life; this is a modern classic.

121. Source Code (2011, Jones)
Full-length review can be found here:

122. The Green Hornet (2011, Gondry)
A highly anticipated and unfairly maligned early 2011 release, The Green Hornet might not be great, but it is certainly entertaining and I would go so far as to say underrated. Gondry keeps things surprisingly straightforward but still inserts his visual flair. A screen play co-written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (among others) is bound to feature Rogen (and many other comedic actors) trademark man-child persona. But damn it, Rogen does it so well and I am far from being sick of him. Consistently funny from start to finish, this one took me by surprise. In particular, Jay Chou as Kato is charming and delightful. I did not even mind Cameron Diaz! Yes, it suffers from a confused villain, muddled action at the end and some pacing issues. Not being a superhero kind of gal, something like this is a hell of a lot more interesting to me than the overwhelming amount of superhero films that are taking themselves way too seriously.

123. Tell No One (2007, Canet)
A central mystery with many lingering questions is the driving force of Tell No One, which is equal parts chase thriller, mystery and romantic tragedy. The thrills are plentiful, but because the story is based around a strong central character, all of it means a lot more. François Cluzet is in large part responsible for the film’s success. Marie-Josée Croze, France’s Naomi Watts (and an actress I have been a fan of since her role in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) is perfection as the elusive and largely absent catalyst. Tell No One is an example of how good plot-heavy narratives can be, and if the American remake ends up happening, they might want to take some notes on why this thriller is so successful.

124. Rubber (2011, Dupieux)
At five minutes, Rubber would have been unforgettable. Instead, we get the most self-satisfied nonsense to come around in quite some time, from a filmmaker dead set on calling out his own audience for even taking the time to watch his creation. For the record; meta does not automatically equal good. Rubber is more deconstructive than anything else, with each element cancelling out the next until nothing is left. It is supposed to be asking questions about the nature of the viewer and how we, as an audience both individually and collectively, engage in films. All of it is painfully, and I mean painfully full of itself as well as obnoxiously obvious. The opening monologue breaks the fourth wall and features references that make Rubber look like a misguided student project. News flash; you do not get points for name dropping Polanski. There are chairs in the middle of the road as a police car slowly attempts to drive around, knocking them all over; this visual and everything else that follows is overworked.  Rubber admittedly, and unsurprisingly considering the musical accomplishments of the filmmaker, has a great soundtrack and the tire does come off as a convincing animate object. A lot of people are going for this film; what it is trying to examine is more than worth exploring, but Rubber does such a poor job at everything it attempts, I cannot even give it basic credit for trying.

125. Hobo with a Shotgun (2011, Eisner)
This grindhouse homage, the second full-length film to be based off a Grindhouse related product, may not entirely be my cup of tea, but I can more than appreciate it. Miles better than last year’s atrocity that was Machete, Hobo with a Shotgun gets it right. Appropriately aggressive, transgressive and absurd, this is the grindhouse homage many have been waiting for. I may not be a huge personal fan of the film, but I would go so far as to say it feels more authentic than any other recent effort of its kind. Grounded by one of the best performances of the year, Rutger Hauer is unfortunately surrounded by several subpar performances, especially that of Molly Dunsworth. Hauer actually makes us care about the story and his ever expressive eyes are at times, dare I say it, heartbreaking. Those looking for massive amounts of violence will not be disappointed. Hyper-stylized to the limit and featuring a killer fun score, anybodynaturally drawn towards Hobo with a Shotgun, will likely walk away more than satisfied.

126. Kiss Me Deadly (1955, Aldrich)
Widely considered a noir masterpiece, Kiss Me Deadly is a  nihilistic and unsettling representative of B-noir. Aldrich is really thinking outside the box here (no pun intended) and delivers some wonders. The finale is particularly unsettling, as the inability of one character to keep away from known danger leaves a lasting impression. Mike Hammer gets caught on a purposely vague and twisty road filled with oddball characters, including possibly the most wonderfully unique femme fatale in the history of the genre. Kiss Me Deadly’s dips into the fantastic provide some memorably surreal moments and with a perversely cynical protagonist whose mindset seeps through into the rest of the picture, this has more than earned its critical reputation.