Monday, August 24, 2015

Movie Review: Sinister 2

Me and horror movies, like I even have to say it.  When the first Sinister movie came out, I had no idea what I was getting into.  In a way, the first entry of almost all movies are just so original, it seems impossible to top it.  I felt like the other Ethan Hawke horror movie, The Purge, did a better job of this than Sinister.  The story continues with the deputy from the first movie having left his job with the force and doing private investigation, researching the horror when he has free time.  In some ways, it is impressive that he’s figured out a great deal of the mystery, yet the trouble lies with his inability to find a viable solution.  Once he finds the homes, there is no clear answer as to what to do next.

Horror movies can be a tough sell.  Jump scares (things that take you by surprise) are easy enough.  To tell a story that leaves the viewer flummoxed is far more challenging.  This movie had the chance to do the latter.  It did not.  The Paranormal Activity movies vary from this sort of movie by adding to the lore and giving the viewer more to digest.  Those movies aren’t done perfectly and some of the sequels have been a complete and utter waste of my time.  This sequel to Sinister falls somewhere in the middle.  The deputy is able to unearth some new truth, but it also leaves much of the story untouched.  It is hard to suspend disbelief and not believe that the deputy couldn’t have found someone to help him diagnose the larger issue.  I would say this is worth a matinee price, not an evening price.  It kept me diverted for a little bit, but didn’t do as much as it could have.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Movie Review: The Gift

Suspense movies that masquerade as horror movies are still scary, though never nearly as scary as they could be.  The story behind The Gift isn’t terrifying on the surface, but the idea of a bully being bullied has a certain ring to it that makes all of us that were bullied, even a little, feel some justice, while shining a light on what happens to those people when they grow up.  The acting was middling.  The main actress, the one the story seemed to hinge around, never drew me in.  Jason Bateman pretty much plays himself in whatever movie he’s in, though he was more of a jerk in this one, but still the atypical mean white guy.  Joel Edgerton was quite sympathetic, even when the story reveals itself, I still feel more badly for him than anyone else.

I can’t say I’d highly recommend this movie, but I do want to stop and sort of digest what I saw.  The critics, to some degree, raved about the pacing and suspense, but the only thing that kept me engaged was the devolution of Joel Edgerton’s Gordo.  What happens to someone when they get bullied to the point that he’s pulled out of school?  What happens to the kids that do the bullying?  The real turning point for me, and the wife, was the reveal that Bateman’s character is a bully in all facets of his life, thus beginning the question of how the wife never noticed what a sleaze she was married to.  I mean, do bullies just always win because they’re bullies?  I know where I work, the worst person is the one running the show and she does just bully everyone.  Even if you stand up to a bully, that doesn’t stop that person.  There are so many people who just bulldoze their way through life, I often wonder what makes their needs and desires more important than mine.  Why do I have to acquiesce, to fold like a wicker table, to other peoples’ demands?  And somehow, in society, I think people would still root for Jason Bateman’s bully because he’s a ‘winner.’  Kind of like Tom Brady, to some degree.  You have to be a jerk to win at life and bullies are just jerks, aren’t they?  Regardless of what causes them to act that way, they just think it’s okay and we just ignore or do what they want to make it stop.  This movie had me thinking more about bullying than the horror and that says something.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Movie Review: The Vatican Tapes

I can sum this movie up in a couple words: don’t waste your time.  The found footage movies have a certain flare to them, but in this case, some lazy producer and director, maybe writer too, threw together what I can only imagine is the loosest plot I’ve ever seen.  The acting was not even passable, even Dougray Scott (dude, what happened to him, right?) couldn’t carry scenes.  The boyfriend was almost okay, but I expected more from Michael Peña.  The guy was even in Ant-man (Lay, you were right about that!) and he seems to have such comedic timing, but the drama of the horror movie seemed to elude him at times.

What frustrates me about horror movies is that the idea, the concept is sound.  The idea that the Vatican would keep a repository of instances of the Devil on earth seems reasonable.  To make a movie about it also seems reasonable.  To make this movie leaves me wondering what intern dropped the ball on getting the writer a latte at the right time or what.  This movie was lazy in every sense of the word.  The situations were tired and overused and there was not one original element in it.  If you saw The Last Exorcism, you’ve basically seen parts of this movie, as well as any other exorcist-themed movie.  I feel embarrassed for Hollywood.

On a related note, Dougray Scott, are you really lamenting missing out on X-men right now?  I mean, he was in line to play Wolverine if not for Mission Impossible 2.  Looking back now, I bet he is regretting that choice every millisecond, more so if he sees the amazing success Hugh Jackman has had.  Really, don’t we all remember the Drew Barrymore movie we were introduced to Scott in, Ever After.  I feel sad for Dougray Scott, even if he’s certainly making more money than me.  This movie was an embarrassment and he should never have been in it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Movie Review: Ant-Man

Well, I guess I’ve hit my limit for Marvel movies this summer.  This movie was amusing and instantly forgettable.  For $10, seeing it in 3-D was a little more entertaining, but I think Marvel is really starting to scrub the bottom of the bucket with stories and super heroes.  I like a good superhero movie, sure, but at some point enough is enough.  I had zero expectations going in and came out wondering if I should have found a better use for my time and my $10.

The story of Ant-man is like most other superhero stories.  A ne’er-do-well type gets out of jail, after performing some sort of Robin Hood like crime, and can’t find work because he’s an ex-con (I did have an Orange is the New Black – Tastee moment, but let’s not add something to the movie that isn’t there).  Ultimately , he ends up turning back to crime, but lo and behold, the person he planned on burgling ‘let’s’ him steal and he’s been chosen to be the new Ant-man.

The story could not have been more tired.  Sometimes, like with Chris Pratt, an actor can make something feel interesting and new.  Paul Rudd and Evangline Lilly are not those actors.  I really struggle with the latter, as I loved Kate from Lost, but the last few movies I’ve seen Lilly in, she’s been just bland.  I’m not sure what to attribute this to, but I just didn’t feel any of her performances resonated.  Bland is probably the best word to use.  More than that, she and Rudd were just uninteresting, even if he had some witty lines.  The supporting cast stole the scenes they were in.
Marvel has really contrived this story out of nothing, more than Guardians of the Galaxy.  A different cast might have had a different outcome, but for the most part, I want my two hours and $10 back.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Movie Review: Minions

This should come as no surprise that I opted to see this movie, in 3-D, but that didn’t actually work, but at least AMC gave me my money back.  The trailers really delivered basically what was going to be in the movie. There isn’t really a plot for me to spoil.  The story is supposed to be an origin story, leading the audience through the Minions finding Groo.  What happened was really an hour and a half of slapstick, sometimes crude adult jokes and little else.  For an adult, it was entertaining, for a kid, it will be memorable for doing physical comedy with others and little else.

What made the first two Despicable Me movies so memorable wasn’t the Minions by themselves, but the family factor from Groo and the girls.  Without that, the Minions are truly sidekicks, as the movie shows.  It isn’t that the Minions aren’t fun, they are.  A movie where they are front and center, with their piecemeal language, is impossible to follow.  The movie never made sense.  My cousins and I spent much of the movie trying to figure out whether they were speaking Spanish, Italian or French and the consensus is that it was a mix of all three.

The idea of the movie was great, and I do love the Minions, but for $15, I’m not sure this movie is worth seeing in the theatre.  It had a few good laughs and the main Minions that are followed are very entertaining, but they can’t hold the loose plot together much, if at all.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Movie Review: The Gallows

Here with another horror movie review.  It seems like I average one a month.  I have been watching a few horror movies on TV, like As Above, So Below and Paranormal Activity 5, neither of which were groundbreaking movies, but diverting.  The Gallows, like most horror movies, has some promise, but the ending saps any value from the movie at all.

The movie opens with the tragedy that occurred twenty years prior and picks up with the school performing the same play (which befuddled me as no school should be performing a play that had an accident that killed a kid).  The cast is unremarkable, with the jock turned actor, the pedigree thespian, the jokester and his blonde girlfriend.  I was really convinced there were more kids based on the trailers, but only four in the chaos actually does serve to make the scenes tense.  The jokester convinces his jock friend to destroy the set because the jock can’t act and when they go to the school with the girlfriend in tow, they run into the thespian who the jock kind of likes.  It is the formulaic horror movie, never deviating from the well-worn script.

There are moments where the story almost could have been something more, or the middling acting of the kids could be tolerated, but the heavy handed story really doesn’t give much room for enjoyment.  AMC dropped their prices, so I feel better knowing I paid less to see this movie than usual.  The concept was solid, and that’s what frustrates me.  The idea of being locked in a school with an unseen killer who is recreating his own death had a lot to offer.  Yet, at the end of each sequence, you could have predicted the outcome.  Despite that, I did jump, a lot, and the main ‘villain’ did wear a hangman mask, adding to the scares.  Overall, I can’t, in good faith, recommend this movie to anyone, unless you’re just really bored or don’t have anything better to do.  I should have seen the Minion movie instead.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Who is Piper Chapman?

Throughout the course of books, TV shows and movies, characters that audiences fall in love with, or love to hate, often evolve.  In a strange series of events on my part, I’ve been clearing my DVR of Fortitude (I’ve still got a ways to go) and I’ve been reading The Hunger Games and Philosophy.  On the same night, I viewed the Fortitude episode in which one character (POSSIBLE SPOILER if you’re planning on watching or if you haven’t seen/read Hunger Games or plan on watching Orange is the New Black or Fortitude) states that she’s not the same person she was seven years ago because over the course of seven years, all the cells in your body are replaced.  In her definition, she is focusing on her physical presence, not her spiritual or emotional one, which one could argue isn’t just housed through the cells in your body.  Later that night, I read the essay Who is Peeta Mellark in the aforementioned Hunger Games book and it discussed the transformation of Peeta from the sweet boy who is in love with Katniss into the disillusioned one at the end of the book.  The focus of the essay was on both the emotional Peeta as well as physical.  Peeta was tortured by the Capital to forget the positive things he knew about Katniss and believe she meant him harm.  The boy that is rescued from the Capital bears little resemblance to the boy we first met, yet it is the same person.  This had my mind rolling in a few directions and as I thought about it, it lent me to the character evolution of Piper, and Alex, in Orange is the New Black and the relationship between the two.

In the beginning of Orange is the New Black, the audience is introduced to the affluent Piper Chapman who is incarcerated for the part she played in carrying drug money through customs for her then-girlfriend Alex Vause.  The timing of the offense occurred ten years prior and the audience witnesses Piper’s transition into being a free person as being someone who can work within the system of the jail.  The contrast from seasons one to three are quite stark, the tipping point being the end result to fellow inmate Stella.  Is the Piper the audience first meets the real Piper, or is the Piper at the end of season three the real Piper?

The sense of self is a long-argued point amongst philosophers.  There are many branches to this argument and the one that makes the most sense for the aforementioned characters to me is the idea promoted by David Hume.  In his writings, Hume asserts that there is a bundle theory of self.  The idea being that a person today and a person a few years prior may be drastically different, but is the same base person.  In a way, or the way it helps me to understand this concept, is like a painting, you have a base layer and you may add or subtract, but at the end of the day, even if the painting isn’t complete, your idea of the painting is still the same, the product is still the same product you had when you started, even if elements of it have changed and may yet change again and be weathered and worn over time.  Hume (from A Treatise of Human Nature) phrases it as follows:

We are never intimately conscious of anything but a particular perception; man is a bundle or collection of different perceptions which succeed one another with an inconceivable rapidity and are in perpetual flux and movement

The sense of self is a combination of many varying elements and despite what Alex says to Piper in season one (while they’re playing cards), she probably isn’t nearly as consistent as she believes herself to be.  The Piper and Alex that the audience meets before the series started (through flashbacks) are not the same pair we meet in season one nor the pair that ends up in two very different places at the end of season three.  Each action and interaction affects them both in different ways.

When Piper first arrives in prison, she has a very naïve outlook on life, wary of everyone at prison, but still not smart enough to be silent when she needs to be.  Some of her first interactions with the other prisoners are cringe-worthy, like her foot-in-mouth insult of Red, the prison chef.  And while Alex tries to help her (and is punished for offering said help), Piper quickly learns and adjusts.  Even after one day, the Piper the audience meets is vastly different than the Piper from the second day.  Which Piper is the real one?

Hume asserts that both are Piper.  A person grows each day, adding something to their outlook on life, their behaviour.  Even if Piper, when she rekindles her romance with Alex, states that she “feels like 23 and no time has passed.  I’ve changed so much.”  Alex counters that she hasn’t changed at all, which the audience also learns is false as Alex dabbles in drug use and learns from it.  Change is inevitable, but does that change make you a completely different person?

Another great philosophical reference is the Ship of Theseus analogy.  In the story, a group of Athenians were keeping a boat from breaking down by replacing the boat piece by piece as it needed to be repaired.  Each piece was replaced with an identical piece, yet one could argue the boat that set out was not the same boat when it returned as all the pieces had, at some point, been replaced.  

When we are introduced to Alex, through the lenses of Piper’s prejudice, she is untrustworthy and unscrupulous.  By the end of season three, Alex is a lot more honest with Piper, at least, despite the ending of their relationship.  Through flashbacks, we see Alex as being somewhat naïve, even if she was knowingly working for a drug cartel.  The fear and paranoia she exhibits are wildly drastic from the untroubled Alex viewers met in season one.  In a way, Alex and Piper move in two opposing directions, the control between them shifting between them like a wave.  If the characters are meant to be together, I expect the waves to settle in the upcoming seasons, which would be a nice contrast to the contrivances we’ve endured over this last season.

A different way to view this would be an eye-test of sorts.  Would Piper from season one even speak to Piper from season three?  The two may share the same history and backstory, but once Piper enters prison, she ceases to be the never-incarcerated Piper.  To some degree, I believe that when your worldview begins to change based upon your surroundings, the chance is so profound that you truly are a different person, a person the previous you might not be able to identify with on any level.

In essence, the Piper from season one to season three is a completely different person.  The same can be said about Alex, though for slightly different reasons.  The character development for Piper, as the central character, was far greater than any other character.  As the show has progressed, each of the characters have been fleshed out, and the strong, sarcastic Alex has been boiled down from her high, looking very much human.  It does say something about both characters that neither are pleased with the change in the other, stating that neither is pleased with the new “version” of the other.  The recognition of the versions belies itself to my theory.  They recognise the change and realise they are two different people.  I’d like to believe, at the core of their relationship, they still do care about each other, as Alex states in season one “When you have a connection with someone, it never really goes away…you snap back to being important to each other because you still are.”  Despite the changes the two characters evolve into, maybe they are the same and we’re the ones who’ve changed our views.