Monday, March 27, 2017

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast

If you’re not familiar with this story, where have you been? I don’t feel like I should do a synopsis, but just in case you’ve somehow managed to avoid seeing this movie, or the TV show, or the classic cartoon, then I will give you a general idea. Girl lives in small town in France. She likes to read; people think her odd for it. Her father is an inventor and goes off to the market, gets lost, ends up in an enchanted castle. Owner (monster like beast) decides that he’ll imprison the father. Girl finds out, swaps places with the father and slowly discovers the monster isn’t so bad after being imprisoned with him for what seems like days. The two fall in love and it breaks the curse and they live happily ever after. It is better than it sounds, at least the cartoon was. There may be SPOILERS ahead.

Fast forward to 2016. The fact that I’m writing about anything not about the actual movie tells you a lot. For reasons unknown, Disney decided that they should make life-action versions of their animated classics. They started the process with Maleficent. This was a masterpiece. Angelina Jolie was great and it brought something new to the story that had never been seen. In the past two years, Disney has released Jungle Book and Cinderella. This should have been a sign, as neither of those were really anything new, just repaints of the classic. Sadly, this movie falls into the latter, but instead of adding even the tiniest detail that enhances the story, the additions are distractions.

The cast is acceptable. The long-running question I have is, if the movie is set in France, why is Lumiere the only one that speaks with a French accent? Are we implying there are no French actors that could have been in this movie? Also, Ewan McGregor, God love him, his French accent was not great. Him singing with said accent was also not great. Among the assortment of additions, making Gaston less dislikable was, but if he was an honored captain, how could he be so cruel? I mean, his villainy made more sense without the change. The movie decided to give Belle the inventor status and make her father an artist. While it was a slight change, it made Belle seem like a hybrid between the original and Hermione. The death of the mother was explained. I almost prefer not knowing, but that might just be me. Le Fou was made to be openly gay. This was sort of implied in the cartoon. I didn’t find this nearly as distracting as I thought I would, but that might be due to Josh Gad not really being in a ton of the movie.

I want to break the movie up into different pieces, to justify my overall impression. Visually, the movie had a lot to offer. I found the ‘Be Our Guest’ sequence too much. I had no idea what I was looking at. I did like that Emma Watson did a great copy of what Belle had done in the original cartoon, amused and also trying to eat. The CGI was kind of crazy. Everything was CGI except a handful of actors. Nothing ever seemed fake, yet I never felt the same familiarity with it as I did with the cartoon.

The singing was passable. I’m sorry. I know there is going to be a lot of talk about one specific person on the cast (who was incredibly sexy while riding on horseback to save her father, I’m big enough to admit that!), but everyone was mediocre. Maybe Dan Stevens is supposed to be a great singer, but his solo song was just okay. The main Beauty and the Beast songs we all know so well were good, but some were not so great. I was not a fan of Ewan McGregor singing ‘Be Our Guest’ with a French accent. I couldn’t hear some of the lyrics due to the toxic accent. The best singer was the wardrobe, Audra McDonald. The few times we get to really hear her, she knocks the songs out of the park.

That last part leads me to where I’ve been veering. If Disney is hell bent on recreating every one of their animated masterpieces, here’s a thought, look back at Maleficent. Bring something new to the story and you justify recreating it. Why didn’t they do this movie in a different setting? Imagine an all-African American cast? Imagine how well the songs would be sung. This movie gave me nothing new, and that is what I felt so frustrated with. And for the young star, Ms. Watson, to argue that this wasn’t Stockholm Syndrome is really reaching. I’ve loved Belle because she was more like me, but I would hope that I’d realise that neither the Beast nor Gaston were good enough. This movie is a meh, at best.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Movie Review: Get Out

It has been over a month, almost two, since I felt the urge to actually go to the theatre and see a movie. What makes me sad is that there were movies I wanted to see, I just never felt like going. I could comment on the overall movie-going experience, but at the end of the day, we all hit phases. I probably saved a hundred bucks not going in that time.

I had debated seeing this movie opening weekend, but I have to be in the right mood to see horror movies. After the reviews came out last week, I figured this was one I didn’t want to miss. I didn’t find the plot twist to be all that surprising, once it was revealed, but the build-up and the tension throughout the movie was quite interesting after you see the ending. I will do my best not to SPOIL the movie, but you’ve been warned.

Get Out centers around Chris, an African American man who is dating a white girl. Amazingly in 2017, this is still very much an issue. As they embark on their trip to visit her parents, you see his clear discomfort at going, but being a good boyfriend, he goes along. The apprehension doesn’t fade, even though the girl’s family seems quite kind and good natured. The family has two servants, both African American. Their behavior is also strange, to say the least. The weekend continues with a big party that Chris is told happens every year at the same time. The mother is a hypnotist and the father is a neurosurgeon. The mother somehow manages to hypnotize Chris, helping him to quit smoking, but also face his past and perhaps something more. The party progresses the next day and all of the patrons, save one, is white, and older. Everyone takes a special interest in Chris, as if it were unusual to see an African American person.

Chris’ anxiety increases as he sees a young man who seems familiar. When he sends the image to a friend (a TSA agent), the man is recognized as someone who had gone missing six months prior (in the movie, he is in the very first scene). After this, Chris knows he needs to leave. He stumbles upon a box full of photos of people with the girl he is dating. Two of them are there, the two African American servants. While this clearly raises an alarm, Chris doesn’t suspect his girlfriend until she refuses to relinquish the car keys. The brother (who is played by the same kid who played the brother in The Last Exorcism) easily overpowers him and he’s then revealed what the end result of his visit will truly be.

On the surface, the movie is a classic commentary on racial stigmas. By virtue of being born a different color, Chris is subjected to a very different way of life than the rest of the cast of the movie, save his TSA friend, for the most part. The experience for Chris is, of course, not normal, but the subtle nuances of how people treat him and act towards him are very telling of what a few minutes in the life of an African American person must be. The very first sequence and the very last are telling. In both cases, just by being African American, the two men in those scenes immediately assume they are at fault or need to remove themselves from a situation solely because they know they won’t be treated fairly. In this day and age, this is becoming more and more apparent, especially with the current rise of the white nationalist movement in the White House. A movie like this might open a conversation, but from my experience, those that are racist and bigoted will not see past their own perspective. In some ways, this movie might do the opposite of what it hopes to just by placing all white people as evil (within the context of the movie). If there had been one redeemable white character, the narrative would be vastly different. Towards the end of the movie, one of the white characters claims he’s color blind, but what he is really saying is that he doesn’t care about people of color, not that he cares about them. At one point the girlfriend also states her family isn’t racist, but then why would they only target African Americans? I almost feel like I have more questions about the decisions made by the writer and director. At the very least, no matter your perspective, the movie will make you think.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Movie Review: Hidden Figures

I’ve been in quite the ornery mood lately. I haven’t seen a movie, it seems, since November. I really haven’t been motivated to do too much. I hadn’t really seen a ton of trailers for Hidden Figures, but given everything that’s happening in this country (post election 2016), this seemed a movie I had to see. The movie is based on a book about three African American women who were integral in getting John Glenn to orbit the Earth. This was the time when the US were in a tight race with Communist Russia to get into space. The 1960s setting seemed to be more familiar than not. Take away the segregated bathrooms and that movie could be taking place now. The cousin I went to see the movie with commented that this could be a glimpse into the future instead of a story of triumph from the past.

The movie follows the story of three African American women, all of whom, from an early age, excelled at either science or math. Any woman, let alone a minority, would not be welcome in these fields. The fact that these women were African American, before people decided everyone should have equal rights, doesn’t accurately display how hard their struggles must have been. There are microcosms of incidents where the superiority of the white co-workers is used to show how different the world was then. In truth, those situations are very much still alive and well. I noticed that the woman who the main character is based on is still alive and I wonder what she would think about how little it feels like things have changed.

I digress. The story starts with a young African American family getting money that had been collected in the community to send their child, a kid, not a young adult, to college. The girl, Katherine Johnson, turns out to be a complete math whiz. The African American women are placed in a part of the Langley campus that is far removed from where their work needs to be done. There are dozens of scenes where Katherine is running across the campus to use the bathroom. The culmination of that scene was the perfect slow burn, a mere snapshot of everyday life for those who are not born with pale skin.

The narrative is nothing new, yet the story seemed somehow fresh. Each of the three characters had distinct storylines, distinct hurdles they had to overcome to be successful. Janelle Monáe stole every scene she was in. Kevin Costner was surprisingly accessible, where I expected him to be another hurdle, instead he worked towards equality, stating something along the lines of ‘wanting whoever could do the work’ to be involved. That shattered much of the boys club that existed within NASA. The often unlikable Kirsten Dunst was true to form, being unlikable, on purpose, and being put in her place by Octavia Spencer’s firey Dorothy. All in all, the hype is well given and the story is absolutely one you will not regret seeing.

As for the Hina test, it would be hard for me to find something amiss in this movie. The three main characters were African American women. The white characters were evolving to accept that being different wasn’t a bad thing. The sole criticism I could give this movie is that other than African Americans, there were no other minorities represented. I find it hard to believe there were no Asians or Hispanics at all in Virginia in the 1960s. However, at this point, that would really be quibbling with what delivers a powerful message to those that believe white supremacy is the only way forward. If not for this unknown story, our space program would have been leaps and bounds behind Russia.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Movie Review: Shut In

I need to take full responsibility for watching this movie. I’m going to start off right at the Hina test. This movie failed. It failed so miserably I can’t even give it half a point for having Naomi Watts being a pretty together person. As you may recall, the Hina test defines the use of strong female characters and diverse representation. This movie had none of these things. You might say, but Hina, there was a lead woman in the role. Yeah, there was. That was the one, ONE, thing the movie might have done right. And this is barring the absolutely predictable, tired plot.

Let’s go back half a click. This was a horror movie. The mom (Naomi Watts) is sending her troubled step-son (somewhere) and the son and father don’t both make it as the kid (Jonathan from Stranger Things) pulls the car into traffic. He goes into a vegetative state while the mom stays at home, working from a home office as a therapist or something for kids. While seeing one patient, she fights with a social worker to let him stay with her (which is, of course, ridiculous, you can’t just ‘keep’ kids – who did the research on this?). This is when the boy goes missing after showing up randomly at her house and wackiness ensues. When I say wackiness, I mean, it had a few jump scares and then the ending happened and I was like, that was a waste of an hour and a half. 

The story revolves around the son, the white kid who is basically a vegetable for the majority of the movie. Turns out, hold onto your pants, he wasn’t a veggie at all, but was just faking and didn’t want the kid to stay, so has been trying to capture him. The son had also been drugging the mom so she didn’t know which way was up. The mom has a doctor friend who happens to see some movement after she leaves a video chat and rushes off to save her. What the movie amounts to is a bunch of white guys either loving Watts or trying to save her while she flails helplessly through a nonsensical story. The one minority comes in to take her blood for three seconds. This movie was so beyond a waste of time. I’m sorry I wasted time seeing it over Arrival, over Madea at this point.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Following in Father’s Footsteps

It was cool and yet the sweat was dripping between his shoulder blades and down his back.  Just a few more miles, he kept telling himself.  The cargo was less agreeable.  Another few minutes and the break would have to be over.   
“Let’s go,” he said, his voice rough, breaking through the silence. The air was dry, making it hard for him to speak or even swallow.
A pair of light eyes looked up at him.  “Already?”
“I was sure you’d fallen asleep,” he said, offering her a hand.
“I wanted to sleep,” she said, brushing her jeans off.  Her hand touched her shin and she winced.  “I just couldn’t get comfortable.” 
There was a hole in the leg of her pants, the blood still wet.  Each time he caught sight of the cut he looked away.  The last stop shouldn’t have been so close, but it was impossible to gauge these things.  It was his sixth trip this year, and yet the nature of the work made it unpredictable. 
“I couldn’t sleep either,” he said, staying close to her, his voice low.  “Know anything about that Emanuel guy?”
“No, but he gave me a weird vibe,” she said, lowering her voice.
It was the same conclusion he had come to.  Most people were quiet, uncertain, scared.  Emanuel was none of those things.  If anything, he was calm and confident.  Someone with too much confidence might lead to a mistake or worse.
“How much further, sir?” a small boy said, his white shirt now brown from the dirt they’d lain in.
“Not too far, kiddo,” he said.  “I need you to stay close to your mom and sister.  Remember, you’re my deputy.”
“I know,” the boy said, beaming.  “I’m doing a good job, right?”
“Great,” he said, wiping the sweat from his brow.  “I know I can count on you.”
The boy smiled and hurried back to his mother.  The small family was laden with bags.  Even the boy carried a satchel across his back that seemed too big for him.  Everyone in the group was carrying as much of their belongings as they could, hoping to build a better life across the border.
“Hey,” the girl said as she looked up into his face.  “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Let’s go.”
With one look back, making sure the group was following, he started forward.  The standing rule was to move as he moved, avoid the roving lights, be quiet, and if you get separated, enjoy the trip back home.  The route they’d taken to escape at the last stop had forced him to use a less familiar path.  The stars were guiding him now.  Though he thought of them as cargo, they were still lives, his responsibility.  It was something his father had instilled in him, one of the only things.
An hour passed and the group was moving slower.  There was no point in trying to speed up the pace, they couldn’t keep up.  Everyone was tired and hot, exhausted from days of walking and camping in the wilderness.  His eyes scanned the people as they passed him.  First was the girl with the cut on her shin.  Then there was the mother with her young son and daughter.  The daughter was only two.  At that age, there was a good chance she wouldn’t remember any of this once they settled down.  Behind her was a pair of lovers, a year older than he was, engrossed in each other.  If anyone was going to get caught, they’d be the first.  The lovers seemed too engrossed in each other to notice anything dangerous, or anything at all.
After the lovesick couple was his least favorite member of the group, Emanuel.  The man had a rat-like appearance.  His clothes were all black and he was carrying a weapon of some sort.  This was not permitted, but there was no way of enforcing that rule. A fifteen-year-old boy standing up to a grown man would never work.  The last thing he needed was to get killed over a hunch. 
Behind Emanuel was a group of people all wearing dull-colored ponchos.  It looked like they were already dressed to assimilate.  Each of them carried two bags hidden under the loose fabric.  Any of them could have been mistaken for natives, ready to pick fruit as soon as they arrived.  The wages were abysmal, not enough to live off of, even if there were eight of them. 
The last of the group was the most unpredictable.  Parents often sent their children unaccompanied when they couldn’t afford to go with them, and he found himself looking into the eyes of former classmates.  None of them could go back to school, back to their old neighborhood.  The gangs had taken over and if not the gangs, the draft.  There was always someone needing bodies, in whatever shape they were in. 
These weren’t his friends.  But it was hard not to feel bad for them, even if they’d bullied him when they were ten.  At the time, their families had been affluent and well-to-do.  Now that affluence couldn’t buy a loaf of bread or a pint of gas.  There were more than twenty people in his group, all with the same grim, dire expression.  The rich kids passed him and he stared forward as they did so.
The sound of something in the distance caught his ear and he turned, tilting his head.  A moment passed.  The sound drew closer.  In a flash, he raced past the long line, saying in a hoarse whisper, “Down.  Everyone get down.”
Like dominoes, the group fell, heedless of the broken objects that were strewn across their path.  The ponchos served well to camouflage those that wore them, and it crossed his mind to consider requiring all cargo to wear them in the future. 
Breathless as he reached the front of the queue, he hid behind a broken-down truck, next to the girl.  “You hear that?”
“A plane?” she said.
The sound drew closer and they looked skyward, seeing searchlights long before the aircraft came into view.  It was a helicopter, military by the look of it.  The lights streamed down in all directions and everyone did their best to be still.  This wasn’t the first airborne transport they’d seen.  The signs on the side were that of the border patrol.  That was far more troubling.
The first time Rob had seen the sign he had been with his father.  It was his first smuggling job.  The metal sign hung from the building with a large black border and red background with the number three in white on it.  The paint had faded since the last time he’d seen it.  The smell of death was all around the place.  Many people went in, few came out looking the same, if they came out at all.  There were always trucks and buses bustling out, people with forlorn, desperate looks on their faces staring out the windows.
The sound receded and she nudged him.  “Is it safe?”
“Let’s give it a few more minutes,” he said, knowing the group could use the rest to slow their racing hearts after another near-miss.
If the air was being watched, the road would be guarded as well, more so as they got closer.  It wouldn’t be long now.  Another few minutes and he turned, giving the sign to get moving.  The group moved at his command and another hour slid by.  The pace was much faster now, as everyone wanted to get off of the road, get to their destination, their salvation, as soon as possible.
It would be a long trek back home and he didn’t want to think of the constant questions from his mother.  At home, things were different.  His family didn’t struggle as others did.  His father had done everything possible to protect them and he now continued that tradition.
The sky was beginning to lighten.  The sun would be out soon, making it impossible to go any further.  The border should be less than a half hour away.  Time was running out.
“We’re almost there,” he said.  “Come on, everyone.”
All who passed him smiled, relieved that the ordeal was almost over, except Emanuel.  The man looked more foreboding than before.  “How far?”
“A half hour,” he said, running a hand through his slick hair, hoping to avoid a confrontation.  “I think we are just a couple miles away.”
“I hope you’re right,” Emanuel said, poking the younger man twice in the chest.
Now was not that time to fight back.  His gun was at his back, hidden under his long, tattered raincoat.  One quick shot and Emanuel wouldn’t be a problem anymore.  A smile crossed his face.  The money in his bank account slowed his trigger finger.
Fifteen minutes of walking and the border was just ahead.  There wasn’t a hint of anyone nearby.  Another easy transport.  Everyone rejoiced in their own ways, the pace increasing. 
One of his former classmates stopped, putting a hand out.  “I didn’t think you were worth the dirt you lived under, but I guess you’re alright.”
“How the mighty have fallen,” he said, shaking his hand.
“I’ll rebuild,” he said, tightening his grip.  “I’m going to crush you in the next life.”
“Good luck with that.”
The girl hovered behind him, not saying anything at first.  Once the guys had passed, it was the mother and her family who stopped.  “Thank you.”
“Be safe,” he said, patting her on the back, glancing at the boy.  “Be good, kiddo.”
The boy grinned, following close behind his mother.  The lovers passed without a word.  Emanuel hung back, watching from a distance. 
“You…thank you,” the girl said.  “For everything.”
“It…you were a lot of help,” he said, trying to smile.  “All the best.  I hope you can get your family over.”
“I hope they can find someone as good as you.”
“I’m not sure I’ll keep this up…it’s a tad dangerous, if you hadn’t noticed.”
“I might have,” she said with a laugh.  “But…thank you…again.”
It was an awkward moment, one he hated.  A hug would be too forward.  Two days in close proximity and he couldn’t say he knew her at all.  With the number of people he ferried, the faces all blended together.  It was critical to remain detached.  Perhaps she knew that.   The moment passed and she gave him a small smile, and turned to join the rest of the group.
Emanuel came up behind him, giving him a nudge.  “That was your one chance, virgin.”
“I’m not…shut up.”
“She’s sweet on you,” Emanuel said with a deep, throaty laugh.
“I…get moving, man,” he said, feeling uncomfortable.
Emanuel nodded, offering a hand.  “You did alright, kid.”
“I tried,” he said, shaking his hand.  “I…thanks for not shooting me.”
Emanuel furrowed his brow and cocked his head.  “I wasn’t armed.”
“That’s not a sniper rifle across your back?”
“Okay, man, whatever,” he said, putting his hands up.  “I need to get clear, too.”
“I know,” Emanuel said, glaring at the ground.  “You…you’re the rats, you know.”
“Excuse me?”
“Spreading this disease of people…and for what?”
“Money — that’s what the world runs on.”
“And what happens to those places?  The people there don’t want to have more people…and what about the country they’re escaping?  What about them?”
“What do you care?”
“I care…because it isn’t legal.”
“Be cool, man.”  Now he knew the feeling he’d had about Emanuel all along.
“I can’t,” Emanuel said.  “I…I need to…fix this.”
“Let it go,” he said, trying to guess whether Emanuel was going to kill everyone or just him.
“I…” Emanuel turned, staring at the retreating group, his hands limp at his side.
This was his chance and he took it, pulling the gun out, pressing it to the back of Emanuel’s head.  “Enough…once they’re clear…you’re done.”
“I’m…I’m not what you think,” Emanuel said, not moving.
“I’ve heard it all. It’s always the same.  Some relative you have to avenge, some injustice no one cares about but you…I don’t care.  You end, here and now.”
“You’re making a mistake…a big mistake.”
“Yeah…my mistake was taking your money,” he said, grabbing Emanuel’s collar.  “On your hands and knees.”
“Don’t do this,” Emanuel said, falling forward.
“I can’t have you jeopardizing this.”
“Your illegal livelihood?”
“We all need to make money,” he said, shoving Emanuel again.  “I bet you didn’t get your gear for free.”
“I paid a high price.”
“I could have used these hours ago,” he said as he pulled the night-vision goggles off of Emanuel’s head.
The sun was now reaching across the horizon.  The refugees were almost there.  A few more steps and his job would be complete.  The moment was always one he loved.  The smell of freedom as they crossed into Mexico, out of the remnants of the United States.  Each person had paid half a million pesos to cross over.  The dollar was worth next to nothing. 
Floodlights sprung forth, trucks circling as the refugees were spotted and caught.  The pleas and cries could be heard from where he and Emanuel waited.  There would be a bonus for getting them this far without being spotted by the government first.  The money for providing new “inventory” for terrorist groups was high and this one paid the most.  There were many buyers to choose from. 
The two young women would be sold into slaving.  The young men would be put into hard labor.  The poncho group and small family might be able to get away.  None had anything of value and might have contacts on the other side.  A smirk crossed his face as he thought of the people who’d trusted him.  Each one, save for the girl, was being delivered in near-mint condition.  It was unfortunate he couldn’t see what would happen to his old bullies.  Anything was too good for them and now he had a hostage to deal with. 
“Any last words?” he said, pressing the gun into Emanuel’s head.
“I’m with the office of the president.”
“I’ve heard that one before,” he said with a laugh.  “Let me guess, you’re the president in disguise.”
“Seriously, kid…you’re…murder is a…”
“Wouldn’t be my first.”
“In my back pocket…my clearance card…just…look.”
“Mr. Smith?” he said as he pulled the ID out.  “This is so fake.  Who are you fooling?”
“Kid…it’s a codename, listen…this…the government wanted to know how everyone was getting out…I’ve been…recording everything…they…they already know who you are…”
“I let my hand off this trigger and I know you’ll kill me.”
“I won’t.”
“How stupid do you think I am?”
“Very,” Emanuel said.  “And…did…did you just send those people to their deaths?”
“Not necessarily.”
“How…how can you? And me?”
“You? No…” It was more fun to make him wait.  The gun was tight in his hand as he heard footsteps approach 
“Que paso, Roberto?”
“Quién es?”
The armed guerilla moved around him.  The militia wasn’t far behind.  A few more captured refugees and he would be promoted from guide to assassin.  The man grinned at seeing Emanuel.  The ID was taken, the smile growing wider.
“Good work, my young friend,” the guerilla said with a thick accent, pulling Emanuel to his feet.   “Mr. Smith…we go to Washington with some demands, including a mighty gift for the resistance in America.”
“You can’t,” Emanuel said, struggling, doubling over with a grunt as a punch landed in his midsection.  “We’re just trying to find a solution.”
“No one wants your solutions,” the young man said, smiling.  “Can I get a ride back?”
“Of course,” the guerilla said.  “We give you a new gun, too.  Does that one even work?”
Emanuel glared.  “You can’t do this…I’m an official of the United States…protected by—”
Another punch to the gut and the armed guerilla leaned in.  “There is no United States.  The country was too worried about looking outside to see what was happening inside.  The terrorists were always here, right under your noses.  Now the help you refrained from giving others has bitten you.  You are alone and you will be sold to the highest bidder.  Thank you for helping us get a new tank…I wanted one with a really, really big turret.”
Emanuel looked at him, a cold hard stare, before a bag was pulled over his head.  The guerilla nodded at the nearby jeep.  “How is your mother?”
“Good,” he said.  “She misses my dad.”
“Ah, that is to be expected…does she know?”
“Best not to tell her.”
“Ah, what can she do?” he shrugged. “She’d still have to keep me around…”
“When a woman finds her lover’s killer, no matter the relation, she will react with vengeance…best not to mention it, Roberto.  You are too good at what you do.”
“My dad taught me everything I know.”

**I wrote this short story years ago - my vision of Trump's America**

Friday, November 4, 2016

Movie Review: Ouija: The Origin of Evil

I know, suspend your disbelief, even though this movie came out weeks ago, I really wanted to see it, so I did. The original was, not good, to say the least. The idea that a Ouija board is dangerous is nothing new. If you’re like me, and you love watching those TV shows about people being haunted (my fave is A/The Haunting on Destination America), then you are familiar with the idea that a spirit board is a way to talk to those on ‘the other side’ – the other side being people who are dead who haven’t passed on. This movie takes that idea and turns it into something that should be terrifying. People use these things as toys, but caution should be exercised because one has no idea who is using the spirit board. In other words, you don’t know who is talking. In the movies, they always make it seem like someone is just messing around. Truthfully, we just don’t know. It could be a spirit, it could be a mystery breeze, it could be someone passing gas, who knows. If you don’t believe in that sort of thing, this movie will just be ridiculous. If you do believe, then go ahead and keep reading and maybe go see the movie.

The movie begins with a séance. The woman running the séance looked strangely familiar (turns out it was Esme from the Twilight movies). The story centers around a single mother who makes a living, seemingly, by scamming people out of their money by pretending to reach out to their recently deceased. (The opening sequence had Bernard (from Lost) in it. When she asked for his wife’s name, I inadvertently said ‘Rose’ aloud.) The family is struggling with money and when one of the girls (the older one) goes out one night, playing with an Ouija board with her friends, she suggests the idea to her mother. For whatever reason, the mother decides that pretending to be a psychic is more valuable than getting a real job, but that isn’t really relevant to the story. Once the Ouija board becomes part of the act, the youngest kid takes a turn at it, getting the triangle thing to move without touching it. What should be alarming to her mother is treated as wonderful. This should be a sign to the viewer that the movie won’t improve in content from here.

An Ouija board is not a toy. That is the main lesson of this movie. In many ways, this is good life advice. Talking to ghosts or entities that aren’t there is never a good idea. Needless to say, the movie doesn’t end well for basically everyone, except maybe Bernard. There were a ton of jump scares. I spent a good amount of the movie with my eyes covered. With respect to my Hina test, this movie didn’t do all that well. I will have to fail it. There were no people other than white people in this movie. The female characters were central to the story, but none of them were really strong. The mom almost was, but then, until the priest (because, of course there’s a priest in a horror movie) comes along, she’s not sure what to do. Thank goodness a single white man came along to save her and her family. The movie did reflect the late 1960’s accurately with the lack of diversity and women in power, but otherwise, this was a fail on all fronts. The story was entertaining. I was pleasantly surprised at how scary the movie was.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Movie Review: The Girl on the Train

This book was read during our book club. For whatever reason, perhaps I was gun shy after reading Gone Girl and hating it, I skipped. If you didn’t read the book, I don’t think you’re missing too much, however you won’t get all the nuances of the characters. In a way, this story is about a reformed drunk, but that’s cutting a lot of other stuff out. If you did read the book, I’m told the story mostly sticks to what happens, yet leaves a lot of details out, as per usual. This could devolve into a rant about how Hollywood ruins everything it touches, but that would require more than one blog post.

The movie begins with Emily Blunt riding the train to and from NYC (the book was set in London, but they moved it because: Hollywood knows best). Rachel (Blunt’s character) sees this girl out the window of the train and her imagination runs wild, concocting a story for her that is based partially on a reality that for reasons we sort of learn later, she can’t remember. The girl goes missing and Rachel creates an entire narrative about what might have happened. Her drunkenness creates obvious issues and the cops begin to think she’s involved.

Part of the frustration of this movie, and Gone Girl, is that it uses the unreliable narrator. We, as the audience, can’t trust the narrative perspective to be accurate or truthful. I’ve read books that execute this well, in a movie format, I’m not sure I like the effect. There are a lot of scenes that are disjointed or hazy, with Blunt stumbling through dialogue with other characters as if it is the first time they’ve spoken about a particular topic. I know I’m not distilling this very well, but that is a direct reflection of the movie, which was executed somewhat poorly.

Emily Blunt is a great actress. There is little she can’t do well, but if the direction and story are so consumed with holding onto a surprise ending, then that becomes the focus, as it did in this movie. This isn’t a horror movie, it is a mystery. Yes, at one point we do wonder if Blunt killed the girl, but that becomes less and less likely. The twists and turns felt more annoying than intriguing. I don’t know if I just found everyone unlikeable, but the movie was meh, at best. I saw it for $6 and I wouldn’t do that again. As for my Hina test: there were only white people in this movie. Even though the movie centered around a woman, she was a bedraggled, weak character throughout. In no way did this movie represent diversity or women in a positive or fair way.