Monday, November 23, 2015

Movie Review: Peanuts

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

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Movie Review: Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 2

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity Ghost Dimension

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


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

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

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

Monday, October 19, 2015

Movie Review: Crimson Peak

The horror genre knows no bounds.  It also seems to not know how to bring something original or new to the audience.  Crimson Peak, while visually wonderful, is lacking in any compelling characters or premise in the least.  The movie centres around a girl who has once seen the dead.  That one experience spurs her to be a writer, though she doesn’t seem to flourish at this either.  A man visits her father to look for funding for a project and the two, of course, are drawn to one another.  It isn’t long into the movie where one can predict exactly what’s going to happen.

The best thing I can say about this movie is that it is visually stunning.  There is nothing that happens that really has the viewer jump.  I will fully admit the gore was a little over the top and I covered my eyes not to see certain parts, not because I was scared, but because it was just disgusting.  There’s a great article I stumbled across that really summarises the shortcomings.  There are so many, it is hard to choose just one.

If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you may have noticed how I have started to focus in on specific things and if a movie is lacking, I can’t help but notice it.  I realise this was a period piece, but the only people who were not white were the help.  I don’t presume that the director/writer could force that in, but much like Jurassic Park, the lack of substantive roles for minorities was very apparent.  On that same note, the two female leads were typical.  The one girl, young and naïve, the other, cold and manipulating, and what was at the centre of their quarrel?  A man, of course.  Yeah, this could not have been more insufferable.  The only way the naïve girl could be saved is if a strong, strapping man came in to save her.  Thank goodness Charlie Hunan was there to do that.  From this perspective, there is little to induce a person to see this movie.  I expected more from Guillermo del Toro.  Many of his other movies are well balanced that this one stands out in stark contrast.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Movie Review: The Visit

I think the last M. Night Shyamalan I saw was about trees killing people or something like that, so I had to really take a deep breathe before plunging into another one of his movies.  I liked Sixth Sense, but really, Unbreakable and Signs are my two favourites of his.  This movie was a far cry from any of his previous work, but it was also a reminder that he is still a masterful storyteller, even with no special effects and a virtually unknown cast.

The trailer gives the impression that the kids are terrorised by the grandparents, but that’s not exactly what happens.  The mother decides to send her two kids to see her parents after she hasn’t seen or spoken to them in fifteen years.  The kids arrive and the grandparents are predictably old and a little odd.  Their behaviour continues to escalate from unusual to strange to terrifying.  It isn’t until the kids have the breakthrough revelation that they know something is amiss that things go awry.  I won’t SPOIL the movie for you, but I had an inkling of what was happening and was correct on my guess.

The heart of the story is really what sticks with you, if anything does.  The idea that the mother walks out on her parents at nineteen, then sends her kids back for a week, gives the impression of today’s society of broken families and broken lives.  More than that (SPOILER), there is a distinct undertone to doing good deeds.  The real grandparents had been volunteering at a local hospital, which is how they ended up garnering the attention of two whacked out old coots who killed the real grandparents and posed as them to spend time with kids.  It is sick and twisted and the ending almost mocks the seriousness of the two children killing their fake grandparents.  In many ways, this movie is probably far more disturbing than it is played off to be.  I’m not sure I can recommend it, but I did give it 4/5 stars on Rotten Tomatoes.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Movie Review: Sinister 2

Me and horror movies, like I even have to say it.  When the first Sinister movie came out, I had no idea what I was getting into.  In a way, the first entry of almost all movies are just so original, it seems impossible to top it.  I felt like the other Ethan Hawke horror movie, The Purge, did a better job of this than Sinister.  The story continues with the deputy from the first movie having left his job with the force and doing private investigation, researching the horror when he has free time.  In some ways, it is impressive that he’s figured out a great deal of the mystery, yet the trouble lies with his inability to find a viable solution.  Once he finds the homes, there is no clear answer as to what to do next.

Horror movies can be a tough sell.  Jump scares (things that take you by surprise) are easy enough.  To tell a story that leaves the viewer flummoxed is far more challenging.  This movie had the chance to do the latter.  It did not.  The Paranormal Activity movies vary from this sort of movie by adding to the lore and giving the viewer more to digest.  Those movies aren’t done perfectly and some of the sequels have been a complete and utter waste of my time.  This sequel to Sinister falls somewhere in the middle.  The deputy is able to unearth some new truth, but it also leaves much of the story untouched.  It is hard to suspend disbelief and not believe that the deputy couldn’t have found someone to help him diagnose the larger issue.  I would say this is worth a matinee price, not an evening price.  It kept me diverted for a little bit, but didn’t do as much as it could have.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Movie Review: The Gift

Suspense movies that masquerade as horror movies are still scary, though never nearly as scary as they could be.  The story behind The Gift isn’t terrifying on the surface, but the idea of a bully being bullied has a certain ring to it that makes all of us that were bullied, even a little, feel some justice, while shining a light on what happens to those people when they grow up.  The acting was middling.  The main actress, the one the story seemed to hinge around, never drew me in.  Jason Bateman pretty much plays himself in whatever movie he’s in, though he was more of a jerk in this one, but still the atypical mean white guy.  Joel Edgerton was quite sympathetic, even when the story reveals itself, I still feel more badly for him than anyone else.

I can’t say I’d highly recommend this movie, but I do want to stop and sort of digest what I saw.  The critics, to some degree, raved about the pacing and suspense, but the only thing that kept me engaged was the devolution of Joel Edgerton’s Gordo.  What happens to someone when they get bullied to the point that he’s pulled out of school?  What happens to the kids that do the bullying?  The real turning point for me, and the wife, was the reveal that Bateman’s character is a bully in all facets of his life, thus beginning the question of how the wife never noticed what a sleaze she was married to.  I mean, do bullies just always win because they’re bullies?  I know where I work, the worst person is the one running the show and she does just bully everyone.  Even if you stand up to a bully, that doesn’t stop that person.  There are so many people who just bulldoze their way through life, I often wonder what makes their needs and desires more important than mine.  Why do I have to acquiesce, to fold like a wicker table, to other peoples’ demands?  And somehow, in society, I think people would still root for Jason Bateman’s bully because he’s a ‘winner.’  Kind of like Tom Brady, to some degree.  You have to be a jerk to win at life and bullies are just jerks, aren’t they?  Regardless of what causes them to act that way, they just think it’s okay and we just ignore or do what they want to make it stop.  This movie had me thinking more about bullying than the horror and that says something.