Movie review: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari directed by Robert Wiene

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

My life is something of a contradiction. I love horror when the primary mode of consumption is via reading. I will read almost any vampire, werewolf, zombie or other tired story tropes of the genre. I hate most horror films.

Many consider The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to be the first horror movie ever made. It wouldn’t be a familiar horror to the moviegoers of the modern day despite its truly scary premise. The film starts out with a man complaining about “spirits” that made him leave his home. Francis, the protagonist, listens to the man and commiserates that he and his fiancée have also suffered from a similar malaise.

The movie then slips into a flashback, where it stays until the very end. Every scene in the flashback is quietly off-putting because of fantastical tangled backgrounds and unrealistic perspectives. Characters walk down twisty hallways lined with crescent-shaped doors. Chair backs grow to absurdly tall heights. Entire tents lean precariously over their neighbors at the fair. The overall effect leaves your subconscious constantly thinking about how wrong everything feels.

The story itself is scary in its own right. We learn about Dr. Caligari and his traveling show, which features a somnambulist named Cesare. Francis and his friend Alan go to see the show, where Cesare awakens and tells Alan of his demise by dawn. The prediction comes true by way of murder in the night, which sets off a frantic search for the butcher. It leads back to the doctor and his patient with a few interesting twists. The story ends with a flourish that I saw coming and still enjoyed. I won’t ruin the surprise for anyone here.

I kept thinking about how much more I enjoyed the subtle horrors of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari than any modern-day equivalent. Showing the underlying madness of the universe with wonderfully nonsensical backgrounds and proportions entranced me more than a jump cut to a mad killer’s grotesque face ever could. I also marveled at the pure suspense achieved with none of the ridiculousness of present-day horror films. I recognize there is a kind of suspense in waiting for the next violent image to jump on the screen unexpectedly. It’s a cheap suspense that gets old after a while, which is probably at the root of my dislike for the horror movies of my lifetime.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari rates a 9 out of 10 stars. Buy The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari on Amazon if you’re looking for a classic. Thanks in advance if you decide to buy through the link above. Every purchase made from an Amazon link on this blog helps support my movie watching habit.

Other movies I saw this week:

Running from 8/24/15 to 8/30/15

My week of running was another weird one, but not because of any kind of physical issues. I took a very quick business trip to San Francisco on Thursday/Friday, and I neglected to plan properly for my running. As a result I ended up doing more of an “off” week.

I’m going to edit down my time a bit for next week to account for not increasing my time too quickly. My legs are feeling quite strong, so I think it’s just a matter of ramping up correctly.

Here’s what my week of running looked like:

  • Monday: No run and 5,672 steps total
  • Tuesday: No run and 9,999 steps total
  • Wednesday: 35-minute run on Town Lake after work
  • Thursday: No run and 10,188 steps total
  • Friday: No run and 8,775 steps total
  • Saturday: No run and 12,260 steps total
  • Sunday: I ran twice today, once with Travis on Town Lake for 51 minutes and once with the dogs in the neighborhood for 33 minutes. The dogs did mostly OK, but Mac is definitely the more enthusiastic running partner of the two. I just need to work with him on not trying to go play with other dogs when he sees them.
  • Total active time of 119 minutes with an average heart rate of 139 beats per minute. Total steps this week: ~73,000

Book review: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius 

It’s late and I just got back from a whirlwind trip to the west coast. I haven’t finished Meditations yet but I’m reviewing it anyway because it was that good.

Imagine a world where you can read the personal journal of he most powerful man on earth. That’s essentially what you’re getting with Meditations.

Aurelius wrote Meditations when he was the emperor of Rome. The volume chronicles Aurelius’ personal thoughts about the principles of stoic philosophy. The text is split into twelve different books. They read as a set of what we might call “self help” principles today. One of my favorite quotes is:

Soon you’ll be ashes or bones. A mere name at most — and even that is just a sound, an echo. The things we want in life are empty, stale, trivial.

Some people might think that sounds depressing, but for me it’s a good reminder to always be looking with an eye toward the things that truly matter in this world. My mental well being is governed by the relationships I have with family and friends, the areas of life where I apply deep thought or consideration and, ultimately, the few good things I can manage to do for my fellow human beings while I’m here.

Meditations took me back to the hours I spent in philosophy classrooms at college. The reminiscing and thought provoking nature of this book means I’ll rate it a 5 out of 5 stars. Check it out if you’re interested in learning more about how a Roman king lived his life, and how his struggles were remarkably similar to ours today. You can buy Meditations on Amazon if you want to learn more. All purchases made from Amazon links help fund my reading habit, so thanks in advance if you decide to purchase the book.

Other books I read this week

Short story: The Runner part 5

Editor’s note: This is part 5 of the story. You should read part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4 first.

Short Story: The Runner
Photo courtesy of Cassandra Braman.

Running.

One mile was an eternity. The next six were a flash. The trance became all encompassing and faded away. A dog chased the shadow and snapped at the point where the penumbra connected to the foot. The canine parasite held on until the pace slowed enough to set off the end of the world. The white lines on the road shimmied out of place and twisted into serpents slithering on the path. They made their way back to the center when no one was looking.

Running.

Heart beats matched the steps until the cadence caused bits and bytes to break off in the thousands. Then millions. Breath came in, left, sped up and down. Feet touched the ground and left imprints in the asphalt. Weightlessness followed (caused) by the screaming mouth. Words that became ideas and letterforms. Then nothing. Pain from too many steps. Not enough steps to keep the pain at bay. The road ate its tail and spat it out again.

Running.

The sun dipped under the horizon. It came back when the eyelids opened. Hot heat trampled thoughts into piles of pulp left over from deforestation. The trail of vomit spanned two miles, a line of breadcrumbs pointing the way to the ambulatory machine. Sun disappearance ahead. Do not pass. Speed limit number.

Running.

Don’t count steps. Only 30 steps to the next light pole. Think stop. Don’t believe talking bird. Fowl knows foul knowledge. Camie escapes machine if nomadic mechanism completes purpose. More steps. Breathing one two three and four. One two three and four. Four steps per line. Feet. Miles. Don’t forget to think. Don’t slow. Don’t slow. Not slow.

Running.

Sun gone. No light. Brightness lanced through brain going up the hill. Unidentified flying something glowing in the distance. Human eternity. Actual eternity. Atomic clock explosion; perfect timing for destruction. Ambiguous dreaming with patterns. Lucid dreams breaking patterns. More light.

Jeff came back into the world slowly, with the sun rising to the east. He looked ahead and saw Camie’s family ranch in the distance.

The mugger stepped into the road and barreled toward the runner.

See you next Tuesday for more!

Movie review: American Ultra directed by Nima Nourizadeh

American Ultra

I never thought I would be writing this review, but here we are. As a reminder: The movies I review each week are determined by the ratings I give them. So American Ultra is the highest rated film of the week.

The movie tells the story of stoner Mike Howell, played by Jesse Eisenberg, who happens to also be a super secret agent. His girlfriend Phoebe Larson, played by Kristen Stewart, helps keep him alive as he goes through all kinds of ridiculously violent scenes. The plot is deeper than that — perhaps not by much — but I don’t want to get into any more detail for fear of spoilers.

I’m not usually one for comedy, but it turns out when you mix it with loads of gratuitous brutality I enjoy it quite a bit. I don’t know if that says more about me or the film. I suspect many of the elements I enjoyed might be the reason why some don’t enjoy the film. Where else can you see a graphic depiction of death-by-spoon-in-neck with stoner jokes?

I also watched quite a few Hitchcock films this week. Hitchcock’s work includes suspense and violence, of course, but nothing even approaching American Ultra. If I had a time machine I would go back and show this film in a theater with an audience expecting Hitchcock just to see how fast everyone would rocket out of the place. I would have to figure out a way to convert the digital projection to film first. Surely a digital to analog transmogrification would be no big deal if I already figured out how to break the space-time continuum, right?

I’m a sucker for weirdness, which is probably the reason I guiltily enjoyed this film so much. American Ultra rates 8 out of 10 stars and is in theaters now. Go see if if you want to experience a slightly off putting mix of comedy and violence.

Other movies I saw this week:

Running from 8/17/15 to 8/23/15

It was an interesting week of running. I didn’t get to run as much during the week, which is OK. I also didn’t get to run as much this weekend, mostly because of a blowup on today’s run. I was having major stomach issues that cut my run in half.

I still got out for a 2-hour run yesterday, however, which was great. I’m not exactly sure what caused my issues on the run this morning, but I suspect it has something to do with what I ate yesterday. I feel good otherwise, so I’ll be back at it next week.

Here’s what my week of running looked like:

  • Monday: No run and 3,312 steps total
  • Tuesday: 30-minute run in the neighborhood before work. I tried and early morning run and it went OK.
  • Wednesday: No run and 3,860 steps total
  • Thursday: 31-minute run after work in the neighborhood. I also forgot my Fitbit at home so I have a low step count this day.
  • Friday: No run and 5,325 steps total
  • Saturday: 120-minute run on Town Lake in the morning. I got out pretty late so by the time I finished it was quite warm.
  • Sunday: 60-minute run partly on Town Lake and partly in the neighborhood. I had to come back from Town Lake because of the stomach issues, then I tried to go out again in the neighborhood mostly unsuccessfully. Just not my day I guess!
  • Total active time of 241 minutes with an average heart rate of 139 beats per minute. Total steps this week: ~72,000