Sunday, June 14, 2015

Movie Review: Jurassic World

The first trailer for this movie gave me goose bumps.  I can still remember seeing the first movie almost twenty years ago.  I remember being more terrified of the Raptors than the T-Rex.  I also remember having nightmares of Raptors coming after me.  I don’t remember being that little when seeing it, more so when I subtract twenty years from my current age, then I might seem like a scaredy cat, but it was the first scary type movie I’d really seen.  If you haven’t seen the original Jurassic Park, do take the time to see that before seeing this.  The subsequent entries did play a very small part of this movie, but it was mostly Jurassic World paying homage to Jurassic Park.

If you haven’t seen the trailer for some strange reason, the movie basically starts with the park having been open for some time and bringing in customers for years.  The place is packed and as two kids embark on a vacation with their aunt (Bryce Dallas Howard), she pawns them off on her assistant so she can do her best to sell the park’s next greatest attraction, a genetically engineered dinosaur.  I was pleasantly surprised to see Dr. Wu (from the first film), had returned, aged, but was still in charge of the genetics at Jurassic World (no longer Park after what happened in the first movie, I presume).  Unsurprisingly, the genetically engineered dinosaur surprises everyone and manages to elude any captivity and get into the park, despite the hero, Chris Pratt’s Owen.  Without giving away the rather obvious happy ending and obvious deaths, the movie is a lot of fun.

Today’s culture dictates that a movie of this magnitude is expected to meet certain needs.  Diversity in Hollywood is woefully lacking and other than the aforementioned Dr. Wu, there was only one other minority, Pratt’s sidekick, Barry, who was black.  The hero was a white guy, Pratt, and Howard played the damsel in distress who wore heels throughout the movie, in terrain that definitely required something else (I partially say this from experience after wearing wedges to the Grand Canyon and knowing how uneven the footing can be outdoors.  How Ms. Howard managed to run in heels is beyond me) and she was also white.  In this day and age, why is Howard’s character depicted as being money-hungry and work focused, unable to have a serious relationship with the charming Pratt?  Why is her ambition portrayed so negatively that you’re almost rooting for Pratt to save her because you know she can’t possibly save herself, even though she ultimately does save the day?  Why is Pratt portrayed as the Everyman character who is infallible, perfect in every way and utterly irresistible.  Pair this with the fact that it was two brothers (vs. two sisters or a mix of siblings) as the child focus, I found this bothersome.  I accepted it at face value, but it made me feel like everyone in the movie was white and male save for Howard.  What made Jurassic Park so amazing, and still outpaces this latest movie, is that it had a mix of everything.  Perhaps Crichton wrote the original book this way, but the movie makers would do well to allow some other races and genders be represented.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Movie Review: Spy

I am not usually drawn to comedy movies, the endings often feel empty, but Melissa McCarthy is a magnet unto herself.  The first trailer I saw I knew I had to see it.  A little free time and I might have missed all the previews, but I don’t feel like I missed much.

The premise of the story is pretty self-explanatory in the trailer, but Melissa McCarthy plays the role of meek, mousy, behind-the-desk spy operative for the CIA who is hopelessly in love with her assigned field agent, played by Jude Law.  When Law passes away, McCarthy is given the chance to jump into action with hilarious results.  I don’t want to spoil the turns through the story, but the trailers do not do the movie justice, not even close.

McCarthy, initially, doesn’t play the usual foul-mouthed heroine, but that comes through as the movie progresses.  After seeing a few of her movies,  I feel like I know what to expect from her, but in this instance I felt like McCarthy showed a much wider range of emotions than we’re used to seeing.  This was more obvious by the stark contrasts around her, none more than from Jason Statham.  I don’t know much about him outside of the Fast and Furious movie I saw him in, but he was over the top and very entertaining.  Rose Byrne also played against her usual type and that was positively delightful.  There isn’t more good than can be said about Miranda Hart, who was delightfully awkward.  This may not be a movie to see with the kids, but between this and Pitch Perfect, girls are indeed taking over the world!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Movie Review: Insidious Chapter 3

I know, another week, another horror movie.  I don’t know what it is about the summer, but a ton of horror movies tend to come out over the summer, perhaps because kids are out of school and like that sort of thing?  Last week’s Poltergeist was almost laughable compared to this week’s movie.  I’ve now seen all three Insidious movies and without a doubt, this is by far the scariest.  I credit much of that to the Rear Window where the Jimmy Stewart character is trapped in a wheelchair, creating a different kind of scare.

In the very first Insidious movie, the viewer is introduced to a family and a young son who falls comatose for reasons they can’t understand.  In the second movie, the same family is followed through much of the same story, but from a different angle.  In this third movie, much like Annabelle from that was spawned from The Conjuring, this movie takes place before the first two Insidious movies.

The real treat for the movie comes from Lin Shaye, who plays the medium of choice.  In a short article I read about her in Entertainment Weekly, she got a late start to acting and she has done a lot with her fifteen minutes of fame.  The early jitters for her character are surprising as we see her being far more confident and sure-footed in the following two movies.  She also plays the villain in that terrible Ouija movie I saw last year, fun fact for those still reading.

The third movie starts a few years before the viewer is introduced to the Lambert family (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne).  A young girl keeps trying to contact her mother who passed away a year ago and she has summoned something else to her instead of her mother.  The girl reaches out to Lin Shaye’s character, who initially rebuffs her, but she gets involved without really meaning to.

Without giving away huge spoilers, the movie is scary.  I had my eyes covered for long sequences of the film.  The villain was shrouded and often just out of sight, but this sort of filming made every sequence, practically from the beginning, that much more tense.  Worse yet, because the girl, Quinn, I think, is incapacitated for most of the movie, and so she is either stuck in bed or in a wheelchair and when something approaches, there is nowhere for her to run.  Even though the first movie had this element, it wasn’t told from that perspective.  I normally don’t give such ringing endorsements, but this is one horror movie that delivers and is very much worth seeing.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Movie Review: Poltergeist

A horror movie is really the same beast, just dressed up in different clothing.  I keep trying to convince myself that I’ll see something new or amazing, some new angle for a story that makes me stop and think.  It happens once in a while, I’d say one out of every ten horror movies I see something interesting.  This was not one of them, and not surprisingly.

If you’re born in the 1980’s, or a horror buff, then you’ve certainly seen the original Poltergeist movie, featuring Coach, or Craig T Nelson, as he might be known by.  This movie didn’t have any known names and the story was a retelling of the original with a few slight changes, a few interesting mixes of the modern horror genre mixed with this classic.

The Poltergeist movie centers around a family that moves into a new home and strange things quickly ensue.  In this iteration, the father has lost his job and is looking for work and the mother is an author who isn’t writing.  This leaves the family open to the desperation you might see if you watch A Haunting, which is a really solid one-hour show on Destination America, if you’re interested.  In so many of those episodes, the hauntings are exacerbated by the fact that the family is trapped both by the entity as well as the inability to move out, financially.  This holds true for this movie as well.

The hauntings in the story escalate faster than it did in the original and the story is also focused on the little brother more than the rest of the family.  Possible SPOILERS ahead.  Once the youngest daughter vanishes, the story shifts to the little brother realizing he should have protected the little sister instead of being a coward.  Much of the story, and the changes to it, unfold around that caveat.

Overall, I can’t say this was a bad movie.  It kept my interest and had a good number of scares that were wholly unexpected.  At the same time, it felt like I’d seen this before and in a way I had, because I’ve seen the original and some of the sequels.  

The one difference I feel worth noting was the inclusion, for the youngest daughter, of this stuffed animal, a pig-a-corn.  There is a point in the story where one of the academics who is helping the family is trying to explain, to the son (again), how his sister is both here and not here, by drawing a circle on two sheets of paper and overlapping them.  In some sense, a pig-a-corn is a lot like that, it is two things at once, though neither can exist.  You can tell how engaging this movie was if I was able to come up with this observation.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect 2

Remakes and sequels seem to be al Hollywood has to offer these days.  I was late to the party with the original movie, Pitch Perfect, but loved it when I did see it.  I look back now at Twilight and reflect on how well Anna Kendrick has done for herself.  She beat Kristen Stewart to an Academy Award nomination and given Stewart’s body of work, that’s no small feat.

The movie doesn’t quite start out where we left off, but it does have the beloved Barden Bellas performing for President Barack Obama in the opening.  The trailer gives away what happens and the Bellas are forced to go to drastic measures to reinstate themselves into the annals of acapella groups.  The story doesn’t drive the movie as much as the characters do.  As with any sequel, the returning characters are paired with newcomers.  That might be the only detraction I had.  When Glee started cycling old characters out for new ones, I felt like the show slowed down and in some cases, that was true in Pitch Perfect as well.  After the Bellas get in trouble, they aren’t allowed to take in new members, but a legacy member (a child of a former Bella) can audition and be accepted.  It is this character that is the lynchpin for the story and is the only predictable element of the story.

I won’t ruin the story, which is hilarious from start to finish.  The jokes are fast and furious and if you’re not paying attention, you will miss some real gems.  While the songs aren’t as catchy, the return of “Cups” and the original song sung at the end of the movie are both fantastic.  There was also a wonderful moment, while watching, that I realized that romance nor men were taking center stage in the movie and I was emboldened by it.  This isn’t a feminist movie, by any means, but it does deliver some pop to Hollywood.  This is the first recent movie I can remember that is helmed by a female director with an almost all female cast and few men, or one of the few featured being quite the misogynist (played perfectly by John Michael Higgins).  The fact that this is all secondary to a strong movie, a multi-talented cast, is what is that much more stunning.  There is no reason to stop and think about this, but there it is.  Perhaps Hollywood will take note that Pitch Perfect outdueled Mad Max and Avengers this weekend and give women more of a chance to stand on the same stage.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Book Review: Gone Girl

The phrase ‘throwing stones in a glass house’ often crops up in my mind when I review books.  In many cases I am impressed, floored that someone can get a book through the rigorous process of being published.  In a lot more cases, I scratch my head and wonder how a book got through so many edits and how so many people fell in love with it when I didn’t like anything about it.  In this case, that was the point.  It took 400 pages for me to realise that I’m supposed to hate the characters in all their self-indulgence and egotism.

The novel Gone Girl is not the first novel Gillian Flynn has published and the polish on this novel shows that.  From the very first page I hated her main characters.  Nick was the quintessential frat boy type, the one you expect to read about in Rolling Stone, but couldn’t get into UVA.  Amy is amazingly na├»ve and yet brilliant in her psychosis.  Her parents, as Nick states, created a monster.  The story unfolds in dramatic fashion as Amy goes missing and Nick quickly becomes the main suspect based on clues Amy has left to frame him.  The extent to which she commits herself to her task is impossible to believe, thus breaking the first wall of disbelief for me.  I also found the ending utterly implausible.  I can’t imagine a person like Amy, or Nick for that matter, not being held responsible for their reprehensible behaviour.  In Nick’s defence, if I can even stomach saying that, the worst he did was cheat on his wife.  Amy, on the other hand, is quite the practiced manipulator.  I still struggle to understand how she learned how to behave this way and commit to it so flawlessly.

The story is intriguing, it keeps the reader guessing throughout.  While the movie cast the role of Nick perfectly (I’ve never known a human being to look more arrogant than Ben Affleck), I’m not sold on Rosamond Pike.  She doesn’t seem nearly as insane as Amy, but then again, Amy hid her madness with ease.

This is one of those books I found maddening to read.  I hate Nick from the beginning.  I hated Amy almost from her first diary entry.  Both were insufferable know-it-alls and I felt like they deserved a much harsher fate than being stuck with one another for the rest of their lives.  I struggled to not be disgusted with Ms. Flynn’s style of writing.  The book is written from the first-person perspective and while both characters are former journalists, the writing is beyond pretentious.  Every sentence drips of Ms. Flynn being enamoured with her own writing, not just the characters’ self-love.   Each new page was a new exercise in forcing myself to read this book, to see how she made it a best seller.  I’m still not sure. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Movie Review: Age of Ultron

I often go in for the special double features at AMC and while I may have meandered into another movie to avoid seeing the first movie a second or third time, the mainstay feature was the one I’d come for.  I wanted to like this movie, but I think I’ve had my fill of this sort of superhero movie and while I am a huge Joss Whedon fan, and the dialogue is wonderfully done, the movie just felt flat to me.  The forced romance between two characters was obvious.  The tension was forced and the laughs were expected.  Overall, I just didn’t feel wowed by this movie and I wonder if it has more to do with me than the movie itself.

The story is built around Iron Man and The Hulk creating artificial intelligence and that AI running amok.  The story had a few fun twists and turns, most notable for Hawkeye, the story never seemed to draw me in.  I felt like the movie would never end until it finally did.

I will cite that after hearing the comments Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans made about Scarlett Johansson’s character, even if they were joking, really rankled me.  In this day and age of feminism, I just find myself disgusted by their behavior and comments and while their acting was decent, it didn’t allow me to forget what had been said.

If you’re a fan of superhero movies, you’re going to see this movie.  I’m telling you now, waiting a week or two or more to see this won’t take much away and there isn’t much to miss to begin with.  This might be the end of me patronizing these sorts of things.