Sunday, January 10, 2016

Movie Review: The Forest

A new horror movie comes out and I manage to find myself at the theatre.  This almost sounds like your typical sitcom.  The ending is also about what you’d expect.  The draw of getting scared, being surprised, sucks me into the theatre.  After that, I find myself scratching my head as to how a trailer that seemed so promising turned into an unmitigated tire fire.  There is a great episode of Pepper Ann (a 2000’s cartoon) where the main character, Pepper Ann, flames a movie, then is challenged by the director to make her own movie.  She soon discovers how a perfectly good idea doesn’t get executed the way it should.  I wonder if that is what happens to 99% of the horror movies that make it to the theatre.

The story behind this movie follows the connection between twins. One seems to have the perfect life, the other, not so much.  The ‘good’ twin is always saving the troubled one.  At some point, the good twin feels what I can only describe as a disturbance in the force, and runs to her sister’s aide.  The trip takes her to Japan (which, incidentally, who has money to buy a plane ticket at the last second?  Wouldn’t that be several thousand dollars?).  Her sister was last seen in a forest where people go to commit suicide.  The sister finds an American and they work with a forest ranger to go into the forest.  Nothing good happens after that.

On the off chance that you make the foolish decision of seeing this movie, I won’t tell you exactly what happens.  What really happens, in a meta sort of way, is that there are several huge threads to the story, none of which get enough time to be discussed.  There is the main story of the sister being lost in the forest.  There is a secondary story of the past that haunts both sisters (their parents died when they were six).  There is the story of the forest itself and the people who have passed there.  There is the story of the American who helps the good sister.  Nothing really gets resolved and while in some cases, loose ends are compelling, in this case they were just additional distractions.  This movie is utterly disorganized and disappointing given the concept.  It would be a wonderful video game.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Movie Review: The Hateful Eight

There is a certain cadence to Quentin Tarantino movies.  Either you like it or you don’t.  For the most part, I’ve always, at the very least, enjoyed his movies, enjoyed the stories he’s trying to tell.  In many instances, the stories can be overshadowed by gore, though somehow the story still shines through.  While his casts are always eclectic (usually male-drive save for Kill Bill), he still manages a wonderful cross-section of talent that, together, makes the movie jump to life.  I’m not sure I can say that about this movie, however.

The movie is heavy in dialogue.  Many of the early scenes are actors going toe-to-toe with heady conversations, saying more than is being said through the enormous expense of words.  The movie weighs in at a solid three hours and I felt every single one of them.  While it wasn’t putting me to sleep, and I wasn’t as engaged as I could have been, the story still churned along like the little engine that could.  Samuel L Jackson is always a screen-stealer, and he did so with reckless abandon.  At times, I often believe Tarantino wants Jackson to always be over the top, but I would love to see him be a little more subdued.  It might have kept the mystery churning a little longer.  Jackson’s character is basically the same character he played in Pulp Fiction.  As the movie progressed, I couldn’t help but see this with all of his tried and true friends.

The flaw of the Tarantino film is also the strength.  The cast are well acquainted, the director easily understood, that much seems to be missed because perhaps they believe it to be there already.  There were many instances in the three hours where less would have been more.  The undue length of the movie could have made the story better if it had been an hour shorter.  Mr. Tarantino seems to film scenes and movies just for the sake of hearing his words spoken by others, but not necessarily needing those words to further the plot along in a discernable way.  This felt like a sharp contrast to Kill Bill, which seemed to have a brevity of dialogue, letting the actions speak for the characters.  I would never willfully dissuade someone from seeing a Tarantino movie, but this one could be missed with no ramifications.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Movie Review: Krampus

Christmas is one of those times of years where most of us spend time with family, whether we like them or not.  Since I don’t celebrate Christmas (minus the gift exchange and not going to work), I don’t have the same kind of issues with my family that others have, even if I do see most of my extended family a few times a year, if not more.  The center of the movie Krampus is about wanting to have positive family time instead of everyone sitting in stony silence hating one another.

The movie follows the youngest son of the family (parents Adam Scott and Toni Collette) and how he wishes Christmas could be like it was before, when he was younger and there weren’t so many issues between everyone.  His letter to Santa (he’s about 10 or 12) is spotted by one of his uncouth cousins and read aloud, much to his embarrassment.  After fighting for the letter back, he throws it away, losing hope in Christmas and Santa Claus.  This action prompts Krampus to appear and wreak havoc on the family.

While the story could be construed as heartwarming, I found myself bored at varying intervals and having a hard time seeing (as if the movie was too dark, and as always, too loud).  This does beg the question, why do movie studios feel the need to blare the sound out?  Is it really necessary?  It is nice to feel a dull thump from a dinosaur foot, but at some point the overuse of sound just assails the ears.  I digress, I know.  The movie was mildly diverting, at best.  The acting was decent, the story came together in the end, but I still just didn’t feel scared or invested in any of it.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Movie Review: Brooklyn

I rarely get the chance to write reviews just after seeing a movie, but Amazon has a couple Black Friday deals that are coming up, so I’m looking for reasons to stay online for a bit.  In all honesty, this is not the type of movie I would ever see.  As the trailers rolled, I was reminded of this, as not one of those was catering to me in any substantive sort of way.  It might have been in my best interest to read some of the reviews just to get a better idea of what I was getting into.  Having said that, I still enjoyed the movie, to a degree.

The movie follows the story of a girl who has no prospects, financially or romantically, in her home of Ireland and moves to America, with the help of her sister.  At first she hates it in America, being homesick, until she meets with priest who enrolls her in night school.  As she gets acclimated to life in Brooklyn, she meets a boy and much to my surprise, he was an actual gentleman (something we seem to lack nowadays).  The unfortunate happens, as is often the case in these sorts of movies and her sister dies suddenly and when she goes back to Ireland, everything seems both foreign and unfamiliar.

Without spoiling the crux of the story, the viewer is taken on this adventure with the young protagonist as she tries to make sense of her life.  What I thought startling was how selfish I viewed her behaviour (in concert with my mother’s views).  Nothing the young girl does really benefits anyone but her and while that does seem to be the American way, her family helped her make a life abroad and one would think she’d show some accountability for that.  In that respect, I found her greatly unsympathetic, at times wondering when the movie would be over.  I did eat an entire bag of popcorns (large) and that was both impressive and troubling.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Movie Review: Peanuts

Raise your hand if you thought I would have since this on opening night.  I should have, but I was running a race in FL, then the next week a race in CA, so I couldn’t quite find time to dedicate to the Peanuts crew.  If you grew up on Peanuts or are new to the characters, the movie picks up almost from the beginning, as if the audience has some idea of who the characters are, but it doesn’t seem heavy-handed in the least.  The movie follows the story of Charlie Brown, the hero of the piece, and how he struggles with what is usually a lot of bad luck.

This is a kid’s movie, so I don’t feel like a huge plot synopsis (SPOILERS) are really needed.  The animation was a nice mix between CGI and the classic structure that Schulz is known for.  It was interesting being able to almost see the fur on Snoopy and the feathers on Woodstock.  While the voices had changed, which was a little strange, I really did enjoy the movie.

The movie centers around Charlie Brown trying to work up the nerve to speak to the Little Red-Haired girl.  For those of you that aren’t familiar, this is an ongoing struggle for Brown in the comic strips.  I don’t remember ever seeing her in the comic, but the audience is treated to quick glimpses of her before seeing her fully.  In most of the comic strips, Charlie Brown is the unlucky, unlike one.  This movie took much of that away, which was an interesting dynamic.  No longer was he the butt of every joke, but just unfortunate circumstances.  In a wonderful scene at the talent show, he has to give up his shot to impress the Little Red-Haired girl to save Sally, his younger sister, from complete embarrassment. This isn’t the old Peanuts, but a newer version that somehow still felt right.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Movie Review: Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 2

I’ll give it to AMC for hosting a double-feature for the final two movies.  I honestly didn’t remember what happened in the last movie.  I read the books, years ago, and beware there are SPOILERS ahead.  The biggest spoiler, though, is knowing that the movie stayed pretty closed to the characters who don’t make it to the end credits.  Some of the details I was a bit fuzzy on, but that’s to be expected with a book I wasn’t crazy about.

If you’re not familiar, the world of Panem is under fire and our heroine, Katniss Everdeen (played ably by JLaw, for once, I’m not a fan), is losing her mind and has to decide whether to continue to back the morally questionable President Coin (Julianne Moore has an Academy Award).  The two are often clashing, but the story does focus more on Katniss trying to save Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) as well as overthrowing that little thing called the established order in their world.  The novel was much more concise, in some ways, even if I skimmed the last 50 pages of the book.

While the special effects are beyond belief, especially given the rich world Suzanne Collins has created, the story still seemed empty.  And while I’m not a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence, this was, by far, her best performance in this series since the opening movie, and even that entry was passable at times.  The supporting cast seemed to meld better together, or perhaps the story came together better, I’m not sure.  I can’t say I enjoyed Mockingjay Part 1 all that much, but this one was nice just to have closure.

With these bigger blockbusters, I can’t help delving down the well-trodden path about diversity.  For those of us that have read the books, Katniss wasn’t supposed to be white, so there’s strike one for this series from the beginning.  That isn’t to say that Lawrence doesn’t do a good job bringing Katniss to life, but it does make one wonder how Hollywood couldn’t find someone to match the book.  I also do take some issue in the fact that Katniss seems to only be romantically interested in people based on how useful they are or have been to her.  It isn’t until she sees Peeta completely destroyed because of her that she gets an ounce of self-awareness.  The whole movie reeks of Twilight vibes in a lot of ways.  Yes, I do realise there is a major political undertone in the books, but the movies focuse on whether Peeta or Gale will win Katniss over?  How is that not Twilight?  This series could have been great, could have been Potter great, but it got lost somewhere along the way.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity Ghost Dimension

Yup, another horror movie.  I believe that the horror genre is too broad a term to describe a lot of these movies.  I read an interesting article last week about Crimson Peak.  It was a ghost story, not a horror story.  The two are actually quite different.  In a ghost story, the story should frighten you because of the contents, not have you jumping out of your seat in surprise because something flashed across the screen.  A horror movie should deliver the latter, but should also put you in an uncomfortable state of mind with respect to something supernatural or unnatural, in most cases.  A ghost story is something that makes you shudder.  A horror movie makes you check that there is nothing behind your opaque shower curtain.  With that said, Paranormal Activity and all of the movies associated with it are unquestionably horror movies.  The movie will make you feel uncomfortable, and if you’re like me, you’ll be covering your eyes because you’re afraid to see the unseen.


The premise of this supposedly final installment in the Paranormal Activity series centers around a new family with a little girl who happens to share the same birthday with Hunter, the child who was kidnapped at the end of the second movie(PA2) and was the errant little kid from the fourth movie (PA4).  This fifth movie circles with the third movie more than any of the others.  The family in this fifth movie end up moving into what used to be the house from the end of the third movie (if you haven’t seen it, the girls end up with a woman who isn’t their mom after their mom and step-dad get killed by ‘Toby’).  The movie starts out slow.  The dad’s brother is visiting for Christmas and weird things start happening, then the find a super old video camera (the same one used in PA4).  The camera is souped up and has all these extra features, allowing the dad and brother to see all this stuff that the other cameras aren’t picking up.  At first it just looks like dust, but then the dust moves around, continuing to follow the young daughter around.  The camera begins to pick up more and the daughter starts acting weird, trying to bury religious stuff and burn her mother’s Bible.  At this point, both parents, the uncle and some random woman who is living with them (I never understood why she was there), start to really notice that the kid is not right and not long after, they call a priest and things go from bad to worse to the usual ending of these movies.

This movie is composed of mostly jump scares and little more.  What little it answers, more questions remain.  The story is tied to the main story of PA4, with a few references to PA1 and PA2.  PA4 and PA5 seem like footnotes.  I really tried to look for a tie back to PA5 (the last movie) and never found one, but the movie moves at a rapid pace.  There was one element that I thought, if the creators had thought this through with PA3, they could have tied the sequences together better.  I hate to give away huge plot points, but even in the trailer, the audience watches the characters from PA6 watching a video of the girls from PA3 and there could have been a lot more there that could have made the viewers see the story tie together.  In the end, this movie was mildly diverting, but still worth seeing.

The use of children in these movies has always been one of the best draws to horror that anyone can imagine.  Much like Children of the Corn, the idea of kids being bad or evil or possessed creates a certain amount of unease in anyone.  I often like this series to The Omen and how the kid was just plain bad (and not just possessed by the diablo).  For the horror genre, not enough can be said about what the Paranormal Activity Series has done.   Blair Witch Project started the shaky cam idea, but the ghost hunter shows opened up this new avenue and the PA folks exploited it perfectly.  While the lore for this series was never fully explored in a coherent manner, at least from what I could discern, it still made for entertaining movies.  The idea that a group of witches would summon a demon and over the course of twenty years their goal would be reached is quite an accomplishment for the filmmakers.  Even if the acting is middling and the special effects are more pronounced with each iteration, the movies still entertain and frighten.  That’s all one can expect from such humble beginnings, I think.