Sunday, April 20, 2014

Movie Review: Oculus

One type of movie I rarely pass on is horror movies.  For whatever reason, I find it hard to not want to feel that thrill and scare that a good horror movie can deliver, minus the fact that I jump and cover my eyes pretty much through any high-stress scenes.  This movie had a very interesting and confusing trailer.  Two kids witness something tragic and one is charged with the murder of their father.  One of the two kids is incarcerated while the other spends the same time trying to track down the ‘thing’ that caused the tragedy to occur.  This isn’t anything new, of course not, and yet it is like watching a car fire, I can’t look away.

The movie shifts back and forth between what happened in the past and what was happening in the present.  The two kids, brother and sister, Tim and Kayleigh, are reunited after Tim is released from a mental hospital for killing their father after he killed their mother.  The two, at the time, agreed that an antique mirror caused the murder to happen.  Now that Tim has been rehabilitated, he tries to reason with his older sister that an inanimate object can’t have caused those deaths.  Kayleigh has tracked down the antique mirror and goes to great lengths to prove that the mirror is indeed causing people to act and perceive things in different ways than what is really happening.  There is a great sequence early on where the two watch a recording of themselves, not realising they are doing the things they are doing.

Where Oculus makes interesting strides and keeps you engaged are in the build-up of the mystery.  The jumps in time keep the viewer engaged, trying to understand how the sequence of events leads to Tim shooting his father in cold blood, enough so to be put away for ten plus years.  The way the story unfolds, I was more interested in the mystery than the horror, but the ending left me feeling hollow and cheated.  It made me realise that movies with unhappy or ambiguous endings generally don’t feel done, as if to say, did the author forget the last few pages?

What became more interesting to me was the way the movie played the concept of perception.  I am currently reading Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, and much like the movie, the book focuses on how we perceive things the way we want to, regardless of whether or not it is true.  By that same token, the movie takes events that have happened in the past, and present, and show how things may have happened one way, but could have just as easily happened another way.  The effect of the supernatural in the story, of course, throws the entire idea off, but it is an interesting idea.  The notion that you can perceive something, believe it to be true, yet it could be false and you don’t realise it makes you stop and just wonder about everything, as this movie could have done if the ending had more closure than it did.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Movie Review: Captain America The Winter Soldier

As luck would have it, I got to see both Captain America movies back-to-back.  The first one was a primer, an introduction to Steve Rogers and the second movie picks up right where the Avengers movie stops.  Rogers is trying to assimilate back into the world, yet still not being a part of it.  Rogers is sent out on a mission early in the story, a hostage situation that he diffuses, but not without realizing that fellow Avenger, the Black Widow, was assigned to not just the strike team.  Her mission differed from his and when he confronts Fury about it, the latter doesn’t deny it, stating that he doesn’t trust anyone.

Rogers meets a fellow veteran of the army, Sam Wilson, who invites him to visit the VA to help others with their PTSD.  While Rogers is visiting Wilson, Nick Fury is being attacked and shot at by half of what appear to be the DC police.  A massive action sequence transpires and when the story returns to Rogers, he finds Fury in his apartment, half alive, getting shot as he tries to get up.  The neighbor he thought was a nurse turns out to be an agent of SHIELD and she calls an ambulance as Rogers pursues the shooter.  The attacker has the same strength as Rogers and easily escapes.  Back in the hospital, Fury dies and the jump drive he gives Rogers has to be hidden.  Rogers is cornered and questioned back at SHIELD, managing to escape and when he goes to retrieve the hidden file, the Black Widow has already gotten it.

The two go on a search to try and determine what is going on and find more than they expected.  With Fury unable to protect them, the two are hunted everywhere they go and have to enlist the help of Wilson to hide and mount a push back.  The masked attacker makes recurring appearances and Rogers soon discovers that he too is from his past.  The movie culminates with many competing elements and storylines crossing together, leaving the viewer wanting more, knowing there will be more.

Unlike the first Captain America movie, this one has a lot more going on and feels slightly more bloated in the story with quite a few different elements in the story.  The cast is bolstered with Robert Redford, who puts together quite the performance as Fury’s boss, so to speak.  If you’re a fan of the Marvel movies, this is nothing new.  While there is a lot going on, at no point did I feel overwhelmed by it.  All of the Marvel movies have these elements where there is a lot going on, but unlike the DC based movies, there are more explained with each passing movie.  After three Iron Man movies, two Thor movies, one Avengers movie and now two Captain America movies, the Marvel universe is very well stocked and very well written and acted.

Some fans might think that the concept of the Winter Soldier was minimized in favour of Fury’s storyline, but as the leader of SHIELD, and not having a movie of his own, it was nice to finally get to see more of his story and see more of some other minor characters.  I am still waiting for Marvel to make a Black Widow/Hawkeye movie of some sort, which would be amazing.

On the whole, I can’t give many, if any detractions for this movie.  At no point was I bored or uninterested.  The acting was superb, as per usual and the writing kept me engaged throughout.  I do worry that as they make more movies, each one will get heavier and heavier.  There seem to be few people who haven’t been following these movies, so it seems unlikely that a ‘new’ viewer would be lost, but that would be the only ‘bad’ thing I could say about this movie or series of movies.  Looking forward to the next Avengers movie even more.

Movie Review: Captain America The First Avenger

In the midst of Marvel’s renaissance of super hero movies, after the breakout success of X-men and Spiderman, the studio decided to release a series of movies based on individual super heroes that comprise The Avengers.  When the movies started coming out, I primarily ignored them.  I was more of an X-men/Batman fan and didn’t think much of them.  A few weeks after the first Iron Man movie was released, I decided to go ahead and give it a try.  To my surprise, it was engaging and entertaining.  Despite this, I still didn’t give Captain America much attention when the first movie came out.  Once I saw The Avengers, I had to give the good Captain his due and AMC was kind enough to do a marathon last night for the first movie and the brand new sequel.

The movie starts in the present, and we have a search team discovering something in frozen in snow and ice.  There is a glimpse of a shield with the stars and stripes on it and the story becomes a flashback.  The story of Steve Rogers is that he is a small kid with a big heart.  Even though he’s outmatched by any and all adversaries, he doesn’t back down from a fight, this stance is furthered because of the loss of his parents as a young adult.  Rogers has a stick-with-it-ness mentality that has him breaking laws trying to enlist in the army for the Second World War.  A scientist takes pity on Rogers and gets him into the army, though no one takes him seriously.

It is at this juncture that the scientist reveals that he has an experimental procedure that could make Rogers the ultimate soldier.  The risks are high, but with the chance to fight in the army, beat down a bully, as Rogers puts it, he doesn’t hesitate.  The moment the experiment is complete, he becomes bigger and stronger, the innate goodness in him compounded by the serum.  The experiment does not go on without a hitch and an agent of Hitler and Schmidt (aka the Red Skull) is there and shoots and kills the scientist.  Rogers goes after the killer and catches him, only to have him commit suicide with a cyanide pill.

While the scientist promised a chance for Rogers, the army colonel doesn’t and Rogers is relegated to a show piece, performing in a staged production to induce the masses to donate to the cause by buying bonds.  When he is assigned to speak in front of soldiers in the field, he is rebuffed and realizes his dream of being a soldier is just that.  The contingent he is with is comprised of one his boyhood friend was a part of and without orders, he takes off to try and rescue them.  The mission is a success and he is given the chance to lead his own strike team to thwart Schmidt’s forces throughout the war zone.  The movie ends in climactic fashion as Rogers is forced to sacrifice himself to save the world from Schmidt’s madness.

Looking back, I can’t for the life of me figure out why I was so turned off on seeing this movie when it first came out in 2011.  From beginning to end, the movie is compelling and well-made.  More than that, this movie is another hallmark in what I call the Joss Whedon engine of success.  I often wonder if he has had a part in each and every one of these Avengers related movies, which I am sure he has.  The vision of them, the themes they possess are both individualized for each hero and yet homogenized as they end up being put together in one team.

This movie possesses all the elements of a great Hollywood blockbuster.  Chris Evans’ portrayal of the weak turned strong hero who is held to a standard by a high moral compass is superb.  The supporting cast is equally affecting, though I found the character of Peggy somewhat unlikeable as being the only female in the movie, practically.  The way their relationship was developed was a bit of a slow burn and it evolves at a pace that makes it more interesting as it moves on.  I can’t say I had many, if any complaints about this movie.  I doubt any of you haven’t had the chance to see this, and with the sequel out now, you really have no reason to have not seen it.

I will say this, after some careful consideration, it dawns on me why I am so gobsmacked by these Marvel movies.  When I was a kid, I read X-men, Spiderman and Batman comics.  When I watch the movies, I find myself frustrated by the constant changes being made to the stories.  With these movies, I come in fresh.  I have never read any of the comics related to any of these characters and each story feels fresh and new because it is.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Review: The Fault in Our Stars

For the last year or so, all I’ve heard is people raving about this book.  As you might expect, this set me up to believe this book was going to be amazing.  I know I need to start some sort of mental clearing prior to doing pretty much anything because no matter what, stories seem to be regurgitated in one form or another and this is no exception.  In a nutshell, think Nicholas Sparks.  That pretty much sums up this book, and yet it doesn’t.  There may be SPOILERS ahead, so read at your own risk.

Written from the first-person point-of-view, John Green weaves a bleak story of a girl with cancer who meets a boy who has lost a leg to cancer.  The two hit it off and become friends and a little more.  Hazel, our main character, is surrounded by a strong family base and a few friends, one who loses his eyes while she and her boyfriend Augustus get to know one another.  The story continues with the two lovebirds getting closer and closer, though Hazel, realising her own mortality, tries to keep Gus at arm’s length.  In an attempt to get her attention and prove they can be together, he uses his one ‘wish’ as a cancer kid and flies them to see her favourite author in Amsterdam.  The trip doesn’t end quite as they had hoped it would, but the two do rekindle their romance.  It is after that they escalate their intimacy that he tells her his cancer has returned.  The last third of the book follows Hazel’s realization that it isn’t her mortality that she should have been worried about, but his.  In classic Sparks’ stories, this too ends with her lover dying and she alone and heartbroken.

Despite my earlier proclaimed disappointment, I enjoyed the story.  It was written well and the circumstances for the characters make you automatically compelled to root for them and feel Hazel’s loss that much more.  Where I struggled was with something somewhat trivial, perhaps, the dialogue.  I’m sorry, I wanted to be blown away by this book, I did, but please, tell me, if you’ve read it, what kids in their mid-teens talk like that?  It was like Dawson’s Creek, but somehow more annoying.  I challenge you to, instead of picking up the entire book, open it and just start reading, read a scene between Hazel and Gus and tell me you’re not put off by it.  The trouble is, I was unable to suspend any disbelief reading this book.  I think this is a good beach book, but that is the best I can say about it.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Movie Review: Noah

When I first heard about this movie, I was not sure what to expect.  I loved The Fountain and The Black Swan was very affecting and memorable.  I try not to bet against directors I like and I like Darren Aronofsky.  The way he interprets things and tells stories has a way of pulling the viewer in and not making it seem like a chore to do so.  There are far too many Academy Award calibre movies that I despise because it feels put on.  It feels like they want us to be as pretentions as the actors, producers and directors are.  It is overbearing and makes me uninterested.

The story of this movie is based on the biblical story of Noah and the Ark.  Aronofsky takes quite a few liberties in an attempt to make the story more relevant, perhaps.  I don’t know my scripture as well as I should, but the basic idea being that Noah has a vision and is told by God to make an Ark and bring two of every animal.  Any other details about the task I don’t know.

If you don’t want to be SPOILED for the movie, you might want to jump to the last paragraph-ish.  Instead of sticking to the original story, Aronofsky makes quite a few changes.  If memory serves, I read that the character Ila, played by Emma Watson, was invented for the movie.  There is also an addition of ‘The Watchers,’ who are fallen angels that have been cursed to live on earth, banished from Heaven.  The representation of this is basically Ents, but made of rock.  Once I made that connexion, I was pretty much no longer in any kind of mind set to believe or even enjoy the movie.

The story continues to take a tight left turn here as the made-up-character is part of the solution for the New World, but for some reason Crowe’s hero is convinced that all humanity must be cleansed from the earth, and thus turns into a bit of a madman, promising to kill everyone on the Ark.  Considering these people are trapped on this vessel for forty days and he tells them this on day one, I thought, come on now, people, you should have had at least three plans of escape.  Once the made-up-character who can’t get prego, gets prego, things get yet more unbelievable. 

Let me be clear, Russell Crowe is as good as actor as you know he is.  He brings every actor around him up several notches.  I don’t know too much about Jennifer Connelly, but the rest of the main cast, Logan Lerman and Emma Watson, them I’ve seen, a lot.  Both of them, when in scenes with Crowe, were amazing, better than I’d ever seen them.  Watson, to her credit, has never, as far as I know, done a role like this and to see that departure was impressive, having said that, without Crowe, the scenes didn’t resonate, but, lucky for her, he was in basically all of her scenes.

While the movie was visually stunning, and I did see it in IMAX, the story grew heavier and heavier as the story went on.  Much like the trend with superhero movies with too many villains, this too had far more going on than needed and it showed.  I found myself detached and trying to force myself to connect to this amazing cast.

I’m not trying to be negative or tell you not to see the movie.  The trouble for me, as is often the case, is expectations.  When I see an Aronofsky movie, I expect a story that will resonate with me long after I’ve seen it.  Almost as soon as I got out of the theatre, my mind was directed towards lunch.  The movie felt like it was too long and too heavy and while I will always respect someone like Aronofsky, I can’t bring myself to say I enjoyed the movie in the least.  If I want to see a big-budget movie, I know where to go.  There’s a Sly Stallone movie out now.  This movie seemed to be enamoured with itself from beginning to end and it almost seemed like a celebration of excess.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Movie Review: Muppets Most Wanted

I’ve always loved the Muppets.  When we were kids, my sister and I would watch the Muppet show.  We may not have ever understood all the jokes or why everything was hilarious, but Jim Henson made some of the most compelling characters with old clothes and ping pong balls.  In this, according to Bunson Honeydew pointed out, seventh sequel and on the heels of the last Muppet movie, the group is convinced by Ricky Gervais to do a world tour. 

What happens next is a cohesive story, for the most part.  The thing that struck me the most was that I never felt all that invested in the story.  In the last one, Walter, the newest Muppet, wanted to join the Muppets and bring them out of retirement.  In this instalment, the story is very different and somehow didn’t get me all that interested.  It almost felt like a disjointed episode of The Muppet Show, except with one story-line that just seemed, well, done. 

I would never, ever, tell anyone not to see a Muppet movie.  If you have kids, this is a must see.  If you’re an adult that grew up with the Muppets, you might want to go early so you only spend a little to see something that is a caricature of what used to be amazing.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Movie Review: Mr. Peabody and Sherman

I’m a fan of animated movies.  I think they’re fun, and if done right, they can engage on all levels.  I don’t have a favourite between Dreamworks, Pixar or Disney, to me they all can be both good and bad.  Lately, I’ve loved the Despicable series.  Those movies have a little something of everything.  In this movie, brought to you by Dreamworks, the studio pulls from a known commodity, a sub-series of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

I can honestly say I didn’t remember anything about the original, so as I watched the movie, I assumed they were being true to the series.  After seeing the movie, I can’t bring myself to care enough to even look it up online.  The animation was decent, but it wasn’t any more impressive than anything else you might see nowadays.  I understand that most people who saw it in 3D raved about it.  If a movie is only good in 3D, then there is something wrong with the picture.

The story was not coherent from beginning to end.  The idea was that Mr. Peabody, a brilliant dog, has adopted a boy who he found abandoned and the boy is just now going to school, at age seven.  That alone had me questioning what was going on in the story.  Once he gets there, he shows off how much he knows and some other girl gets jealous and the two get into a fight and Sherman bites her.  Of course this isn’t okay and the parents get involved.  Mr. Peabody decides to try to smooth things over by inviting the girl and her parents over and the story gets more bloated from there.

For kids, this movie is probably perfect.  It doesn’t have to make sense and there’s a dog wearing glasses.  Done. For adults expecting a throwback to when you watched this as a child, like me, you might be wondering what the deuce is going on.  From the first interaction between Mr. Peabody and Sherman I was turned off.  I am usually okay with kids, especially in animated movies, but this kid, Sherman, was exceptionally annoying.  And when you meet the girl who he bites, it doesn’t get better.  Almost all of the characters are caricatures of anything and everything and it was tedious.  I could not wait for the movie to be over.