Monday, September 11, 2017

Movie Review: It

When it comes to horror, the genre was reinvented, in print form, by Stephen King. It felt like a rite of passage for most of us growing up to have read at least some, if not most of his books. King had a way of spinning stories that were grotesque but also had elements of sexual tension that made anyone uncomfortable. That was one thing I never understood the need to incorporate. In many, if not most, horror movies, there is always some allusion to a hero/heroine losing their virginity and this making them able or unable to defeat whatever is coming. In the movie It Follows, this was a central premise of the movie (almost a literal, physical STD).

If you’re not familiar with the story of It, in a tiny town in Maine (where King grew up), a little boy goes missing, as well as others, and after the school year, the big brother of the missing kid and his friends try to find some clue as to the brother’s whereabouts. The book had a long drawn out depiction of the bullies in the town making everyone’s lives intolerably harder, but the movie shows the kids all banding together against the bullies, and even one of them going missing, though no one seems all that concerned. The kids are all haunted by any number of things, none looking exactly the same, all of them terrifying and unseen by others. There is always a clown somewhere in the mix. That is Pennywise, whose origin is unknown. The chubby kid (whose name I’ve forgotten) does research in the library and discovers that every 27 years, kids start disappearing. Somehow the kids conclude that whatever is doing this disappearing appears once every 27 years and eats kids and they have to kill it.

Amongst all the gore and mayhem is a nice coming of age story, one that surprisingly doesn’t end in more death. There may be some SPOILERS ahead. The book spent a lot of time talking about a lot of issues. The book is also a thousand pages long. I can’t imagine being an editor for Stephen King, or if he even uses one. I really tried to remember the book as I watched the movie, and only a couple scenes stood out, the scary ones. I don’t even remember some of the tenser sequences. I stumbled upon an article today that talked about a sex scene that I don’t even remember from the book (with all the kids, glad that didn’t make the cut!). While I’m sure King had a reason for putting such things in there, it was grotesque. I also wondered, at the very end of the movie, when the kids swear a blood pact, how they don’t all contract Hep C or something. I mean, they also ran around a sewer and crack house and didn’t get seriously ill, seems surprising. 

I wouldn’t say this was a good movie. I wouldn’t say it was a bad movie. It felt like it just was. This rush for 1980s content is both fascinating and frustrating. I grew up in the 1980s. It is just plain weird to see these kinds of movies being considered as period pieces, but they are. Overall, this movie captured the King mythos of It well. It took me back to that time, the time when talking to strangers was something explicitly warned about. Not now, where it is assumed that people you don’t know can’t be trusted. It did bother me that there was exactly one minority character and one girl (this fails the Hina test), and that is accurate for the 1980s. It was the same complaint I had while watching Stranger Things. Why is diversity such an issue? Just because the times have changed doesn’t mean those people didn’t exist.

Much like It, this review rambled about as much as Stephen King did. I still can’t believe my parents let me read that book.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Movie Review: Terminator 2 Judgement Day 3D

The streak continues! I managed to drag someone to this movie (thanks, LaToya!) and I ate a lot of her popcorns. If you are unaware of this movie, somehow, then there might be SPOILERS ahead, however, the movie was modified, I’m told, though I’m not such a huge fan that I’d be able to tell the difference. The premise of all the Terminator movies is that machines are going to take over the world and the resistance keeps sending people/machines back in time to try to stop the machines from trying to kill the human leader, John Connor. The concept from the first movie seems pretty crazy, but the opening sequence with the second movie gives a visual representation of what that war between machines and humans might look like.

From a nostalgic point of view, other than the antiquated technology, the movie feels like a solid snapshot in time, a good illustration of a future demise. It was campy when the movie referenced dates that had already passed, and the machines had not taken over. Additionally, from the Hina test, diversity and strong female characters, this movie actually has mostly solid representation considering the one African American man dies a hero, sacrificing himself and the one woman in the movie is a complete badass. I would like to have seen more diverse characters, but I can’t argue with a twenty year old movie that did such a good job on diversity, something a current movie couldn’t boast.

I would say, if you were ever a fan of the Terminator series, then this is a movie you should see. If you never saw the movie or don’t remember it well, this is one that you should see. I do appreciate that James Cameron is not someone I could ever root for, but he occasionally makes good movies and this is one of them.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Movie Review: Wind River

I had a streak going where I’ve seen a movie every weekend for almost a month and thought, let’s not break the cycle. I’d heard good things about Wind River, but the story lacked a certain resonance that I will put into words towards the end of the review (if you have any political sensitivities, just stop now).

Wind River takes place in a frozen reservation in Wyoming, one of the only places the US did not steal the land from the Native Americans. The movie opens with an unseen hunter sniping a wolf as it eyes a group of sheeps. The hunter is Jeremy Renner and he is supposed to be this ace tracker (hunter), who is also estranged from his family. He is tracking a lion family that attacked someone’s cow and stumbles upon a woman, dead, in the snow and ice. The FBI come to investigate in the form of Elizabeth Olsen (the two are in the Avengers movies together). The story revolves more around the characters than the mystery itself. The twists and turns are not wholly unexpected, but the way the truth is revealed is still a mystery. I’m still not sure how Jeremey Renner’s character knew what was about to happen, save that the movie portrays him as a master tracker.

The scenes were really breathtaking. If the movie was really filmed in Wyoming, on a Native American reservation, the place was beautiful. The contrast the movie gave, of course, was that amidst this beautiful place, awful people are still capable of awful things. In most cases, I wouldn’t feel compelled to comment on the overall whiteness of the movie. There may be SPOILERS ahead, and if you are interested in seeing the movie and don’t want to be surprised, STOP READING.

As you may know, Jeremey Renner is white. He is also immortalized in my mind as the man who dismissed fighting for equal pay for his female costars. It’s hard to ignore this point. That isn’t to take away from how good an actor he is, but it makes him, as a human being, harder to watch and cheer for. In many ways, to me, Jeremey Renner is a lot like Tom Cruise. Both are in movies that they seem to want to be the down-and-out guy who is the only one that can save the world. This is not unique to them, but in cases like this movie, they are often the only white face that is supposed to be redemptive. I think of Cruise in countless movies where he wants to be something else, but ends up coming off as just a white dude appropriating someone else’s culture. And that is what Renner’s character does. The movie would have been better served, but never made probably, with a primarily Native American cast, save for the token FBI agent and of course the bad guys. And this leads to a second sort of point, the guys that end up raping and chasing a girl into the cold are all white. Those white men work at an oil rig that is on a Native American reservation. Whether they are there legally or not, the movie clearly portrays both them and the company as evil.

On the surface, one could argue that the movie is about one white guy saving us from most bad white guys. I felt that the movie did a huge disservice to the Native American community, yet it did portray their plight, their situation under the boot of the white oppression perfectly. But it was in that conflict that I found Renner’s character so confounding. Yes, I understand the movie would not be made without a white face in it. But for the movie to additionally make Renner the hero, as a white man, in a Native American world, almost seemed offensive. I felt dirty watching him play the hero. It was as if the movie were trying to state, yes, white men took all that the Native Americans, but this one is like them and only he can do what they can’t. The overt whiteness and almost white worship in the movie was additionally atrocious given the current climate of Nazis walking freely on American streets. Why is it so impossible for Hollywood to see this? It seems so ridiculously obvious.

The fact that all of this continues to flow through my head, instead of the actual plot or compelling characters throughout the movie is that much more dissatisfying. Don’t get me wrong. The movie was good, the story had its moments, but I wouldn’t consider it to watch. A friend, who is a huge Renner fan, saw it and loved it, but I can see why she would. He is very good in it. His character is fully developed, if a little bit of an archetype. This version of Renner seemed little different from Hawkeye from the Avengers movies. And then I wonder, why did they have to white-wash the movie? Why did they make the Native American cops seem so inept, as if they never could have solved the mystery without the white man to come save them? I realize this is a take that is a little extreme, but in a movie that has only dead Native American women in (basically), it makes you wonder about what the purpose of the movie was except to add to the growing number of movies that are led by a straight, white male lead.

With respect to my beloved Hina test, measuring diversity, this movie failed. It failed in spectacular fashion. If all my previous comments weren’t enough, you have some people who aren’t white, but they are all portrayed as inept or aimless or unable to do anything. Only the white man, Jeremy Renner, can save them. Add one, exactly one woman into the cast, and guess what, she’s also inept, but thankfully Jeremy Renner is there to save her. This movie felt like a self-indulgent tour for Jeremy Renner, staring Jeremy Renner, produced by Jeremy Renner, with special thanks to Jeremy Renner.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Movie Review: Annabelle Creation

I’ve been a busy movie-going Hina! I hadn’t planned on twice, in two weekends, seeing movies both Saturday and Sunday. This weekend was a little better overall. I gave both Detroit and Annabelle Creation 4.5 stars. Both were good movies in their own ways. There were a lot of things they could have done better. In this case, I’ll open with, this movie had a hard fail at the Hina test, which, as a reminder, is a measure of a movie’s diversity and female representation. This movie was all white, all the time, save for one African American girl and a nun of somewhat questionable descent. That is one thing all of these movies (made at some point by James Wan) have in common, zero diversity, and the women are always barely escaping. There is something to be said about this overall notion. In an unrelated horror movie, The Skeleton Key, with Kate Hudson, one of the characters points out that African American girls avoid them, thus perhaps laying credence to the idea that minorities know to stay away from something that’s clearly sketchy.

Back to the actual movie that I watched. In the world of The Conjuring, the viewer usually follows Ed and Lorraine Warren, played perfectly by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. The two are picture perfect, not replicas, but embodiments of the support and understanding that is seen from the Warren family. Being the nerd that I am, yes, I have seen haunting shows with them in it. The two actors are marvelous. The Conjuring began with a family being haunted in a newly purchased super old house that was the site of some scary stuff. In that movie, there is a glimpse of a room with a creepy doll in it. The doll is Annabelle. The subsequent movie in the ‘series,’ so to speak, was Annabelle, which follows how the Warrens ended up with the doll. In this movie, we see how Annabelle was created (a real stretch considering the title).

I was excited in the trailers to see Miranda Otto (shield maiden of Rohan!), but sadly, she was not as Eowyn as I would have liked. She and her husband have a small child, accident happens, wackiness ensues – fast forward 12 years and the family, for some unknown reason, decide to take in a bunch of orphans, and one that can’t walk all that well. The plot sort of gives itself away, but at the same time, it keeps everything so closed off, you can only sit back, watch, and occasionally (or if you’re me, constantly) cover your eyes or cringe.

I would hate to SPOIL a horror movie, half the fun is in the mystery leading up to the big, usually terrifying reveal. I will say this, it has been a long, long time since I’ve been to a scary movie and was genuinely scared. I was, at one point, trying to climb further into my chair (there was dumbwaiter on screen), but this didn’t make the little girl move any more quickly. The scenes were chock full of tidbits to dissect. One thing you can always count on with these horror movies is that there is a lot to process, a lot to see, if you dare see it a second or third time (not me!). For example, when we first meet the doll, after it has been compromised, it is locked in a closet with what looks like newsprint all over the walls. It isn’t newsprint, it is pages of the bible glued to the wall. This knowledge, unknown to the kids, is actually used, in theory, to save one of them (it doesn’t work). 

Some people might say this movie doesn’t bring anything new, but I wondered about all the things it introduced. In the last Conjuring movie, there is a painting of a nun that sort of comes to life and I was worried the nun in this movie would end up being that nun (jury is still out). The very end of the movie really sort of kicked you in the teeth, circling everything back. It was creepy and well-paced. Say what you will about these movies, but I never regret seeing them and I doubt you will either.

Movie Review: Detroit

When I first saw trailers for this movie, I thought, maybe. As things go down a troubling road, politically, morally, in this country, it almost seemed like something I needed to do. Sadly, the people who need to see this movie, people who don’t want to see diversity in anything, will not benefit from this movie. It almost reminds me of a scene in American Horror Story where the Kathy Bates character is trapped, forced to watch the entire Roots series. At the end, she still learns nothing. That is basically where we are, as a people. What was most troubling about this movie was that, while it was set in 1967, forty years have passed, and nothing seems to have changed. Cops killing people and getting away with murder is still going on.

The movie is set during the riots of 1967. The city had forced most African Americans into tight living conditions, while the white population moved to the suburbs. The police (much like today), is mostly white. In 1967, civil rights weren’t really a thing. Throughout the movie, I kept asking to my friend, “is that legal?” and she was like, “No, Hina.” The movie follows a couple of storylines: a trio of white cops who shot people in cold blood, an African American security guard working two jobs to get by, a singer and his friend who end up in the wrong place and a variety of other random characters who stroll through, some more bloodied than others.

With respect to the Hina test, hard to give this one a passing grade. There were lots of African American characters, all of them male, pretty much, and two white women who were used as pawns. Not much to appreciate there. I should have a half passing grade. There was some diversity, but it made the diversity a bad thing, to some degree. I’m still conflicted on this point.

This isn’t a movie about feeling better about social unrest. This isn’t a movie with a happy ending. This isn’t a movie that should make you feel like things are changing, things are getting better. It is quite the opposite. People still hate other people for the color of their skin. People still assume things based on the color of someone’s skin. The movie, by itself, was just a movie, but the thoughts and feelings that it should evoke will sit with you. When I got home from the movie, I heard what had happened in Charlottesville, VA and it seemed like nothing had changed, and indeed, some days it feels like nothing has changed at all. As a person of color (I’m Indian), I have a hard time seeing people who are white, who I don’t know, and not being a little nervous, wondering if they hate me as much as other white people hate me, if they plan to kill me.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Movie Review: Despicable Me 3

I must have had a lot of time on my hands this weekend. There was a showing of this pretty early yesterday, so I thought, I have been meaning to see this and just haven’t gotten to it. In all honesty, this is something that is fun, but hasn’t really built on the brand too much. In typical serial fashion, Gru discovers that he’s got a brother and the brother wants to be a super villain. Wackiness pretty much ensues shortly thereafter. I’m not sure I’d say any of this is a SPOILER, but the movie is pretty predictable, and yet I still found it fun. After watching the standalone Minion movie, I can see why their part has been minimized here. Without Gru, or even the kids, the minions are tough to figure out.

The movie starts off with Gru being a good guy now, working with his wife, whose name I’ve already forgotten (Kristen Wiig does the voice). They get outsmarted by a 1980’s villain and from that point on it really starts to feel more episodic vs. a movie. Shortly after getting fired Gru is approached by a man who says he has a twin brother that he never knew about. Turns out the brother is a failure at being a villain, while Gru is not. It was the wrong child-swap, I guess. I have to be honest, I sort of glazed over a bit after that. 

With respect to the Hina Test, this gets a hard fail. There were pretty much only white people in the movie (or European of questionable descent) and the female characters were there mostly to move the plot forward, save the youngest kid finding a unicorn. I don’t understand why it would have been so hard to add a little bit of racial diversity to an animated movie. I get that Despicable Me is about Gru, but he’s married and has three daughters, why aren’t they more at the forefront?

Was I amused? Sure. Was it the best movie ever? No. There were moments of heart, like Margo and the step-mom having a moment, or the littlest kid finding a goat with one horn (in her mind, a unicorn), but overall it was just amusing, but it didn’t have much staying power. For $7, it was worth watching.

Movie Review: The Lion King

There was a rare treat at the AMC this week (and you can still catch it for the rest of this week), but Disney’s Lion King is playing in theatres again. I was really astounded how well the animated classic really held up to time. It didn’t look like it had ages. Some of that could be that the movie is centered around animals, not people, so there is no technology to get bogged down with. I honestly haven’t watched the movie in quite some time, but having watched it over and over again when I was a lot younger made everything familiar. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It reminds me what made Disney so great back before some of their lesser movies. Something about Lion King just resonates on a different level than some of the other Disney movies from the same generation. As I watched the movie, I tried to put my finger on it, but to no avail.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all positive. Given the state of the world now, and my new Hina test, I have to admit, if you were looking at racial or gender equality, this movie has very little for you. This movie gets a hard fail at my Hina test. There is really no diversity, it is almost implied that everyone is categorically white, even though they are animals. The use of light and dark (Scar/Hyenas) makes that even more clear. The few female characters are just used as pawns, pieces to move the story forward, nothing more. It was almost painful to witness now. I wanted to go back to those thoughtless, worry-free (Hakuna Mattata anyone?), but that was just at the periphery of my mind.

To make matters worse, the movie was playing in a small theatre, but there were three kids in there that made it near impossible for the movie to be really enjoyed. One kid, clearly under two, could not sit still or not make noise. His older brother was equally restless. The parents were trying, but they refused to leave the theatre, thus subjecting the rest of the movie goers to two hours of these disruptions. As the movie got close to the end, a third, unrelated child joined in. At no point did an usher from AMC come through, so there was no oversight. I’m proud of myself for not saying anything, but I still need to get to the point where it shouldn’t bother me. I didn’t pay to be annoyed by someone’s children. I don’t understand why the parents didn’t just leave. They both knew what they were allowing and didn’t care. To be that thoughtless and self-involved really speaks to who they are. If they hadn’t been white, I doubt they would have stayed.