Monday, July 25, 2016

Movie Review: Lights Out

Like a moth to a flame, I saw a new horror movie being released and I had to get to my local AMC and see what all the buzz was about. The early hype set this horror movie as something new and terrifying. After having seen it, I’d liken it to Silent Hill, but not nearly as terrifying. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I had my eyes covered within the first five minutes. After that, I was curious enough to look a few times.

The story starts off with Bella Swann’s dad, Billy Burke, working in a textile company that has mannequins in it. Faceless, expressionless plastic people are terrifying. The cleaning lady (see token Hispanic woman) sees something scary, gets away and warns Burke. He shrugs it off, until it comes after him. He immediately notices it doesn’t like light, but this does him little good as ‘it’ gets him and the audience is shown a mangled corpse of what once was Bella Swann’s father.

The movie picks up with a young boy (God, could I watch one horror movie without children in it?) and he hears his mom (Maria Bello) speaking to someone, though no one is home. When he goes to investigate, his mother is talking to a darkened doorway into what I assume is either her bathroom or closet. There is no one there. He creeps back to his bed, but there is a distinct scraping noise that’s happening and he doesn’t sleep. At school, he keeps falling asleep. His mother is called, but she doesn’t come get him. Enter the hot older sister with the adorable boyfriend. The two take him home, but mom is all out of sorts (crazy). The daughter takes the brother back to her place and the weird scratching happens at her apartment, the lights from the ‘tattoo’ sign casting an eerie red glow, the only thing that saves the girl. The next morning, social services (token African American) comes to take the boy back, as what the sister did was akin to kidnapping.

This lights a fire under older sister and she begins an exhaustive investigation to see what is causing all of this mayhem. I would have to SPOIL the movie further. What follows, in the movie, is a sort of convoluted path to a revealing ending that is foreshadowed about halfway through the movie. The evil thing is a girl who is presumed to be downright evil. One could argue that being isolated from everyone due to an allergy to light would make anyone a little twisted.

The story has wonderfully vivid characters: the mentally unstable mother, the troubled sister, the annoying brother and the endearing boyfriend. There are hardly any minorities to speak of, so if you like movies with just white people in them, this is for you. Two minorities do get killed towards the end, but thankfully, most of the white people are unharmed. Despite the complete lack of substantive diversity, the movie is helmed by a young (white) woman and the chief antagonist is also a young (presumed to be white) woman. After seeing Ghostbusters, I suppose more women heading movies is a good thing. Even though reviewers felt like the story came together, and while it was left open for a sequel, it just never resonated with me. The scares were mostly of the scare variety and the twisted end was grossly foreshadowed. I would be intrigued to see an attempt at a sequel. Maybe have one of the kids carry the memory and let the evil return? It could prove quite interesting. Overall, for $6, it was okay.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Movie Review: Colonia

I don’t normally do reviews for movies I see on Netflix or Amazon Prime. In this case, I was really more intrigued than anything that this movie (helmed by Emma Watson) basically went straight to video/on-demand. This is the second movie of Ms. Watson’s I’ve stumbled onto on-demand, the other being Regression (which had an interesting concept, but that’s pretty much the only interesting thing about it).

The movie is billed as a woman joining a cult for the man she loves. This doesn’t quite explain everything, as I soon found out. Lena (played by Ms. Watson) works for Lufthansa in 1973 and surprises her boyfriend, Daniel (played by Daniel Bruhl) who lives in Chile, during a time of unrest. Daniel is an artist and is part of the revolution. He gets caught up with police rounding people up and ends up getting beaten and taken to a cult/camp. Lena goes to his revolutionary friends, but they’re too scared to help. She decides (for reasons that I’m still not sure about) that she’ll go save him by joining said cult. What transpires over the next hour plus is about what you’d expect in a cult. The leader is a would-be mouthpiece of God and he is helped by those that have been brainwashed by his blather. There is a wonderfully evil matron-type that goes to great lengths to mess with everyone, and I did quite enjoy watching Lena bash her in the face with a 2x4 towards the end of the movie.

While this movie won’t wow you into submission by the acting or the set pieces, considering it is free, and helmed by some weighted stars, I’m still trying to figure out how I never got the chance to see this in the theatre, because I would have. It was nice having it on demand, as I could fast forward over the beatings in the beginning. I was quite surprised by Ms. Watson’s range in this movie. In the recent past, most of the movies she’s been in post-Potter have been supporting roles. In this movie, she is the central character, a strong, determined young woman. It is almost a perfect fit to the message she’s sending through her HeforShe campaign. If you have about two hours to kill, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Movie Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

While I’m endangering my privacy by dating myself, I remember when the first Ghostbusters movie came out and it was too scary for me to see, but by early 1990, I was brave enough to watch it and the sequel. The cartoon (The Real Ghostbusters, which I bought the box set for years ago) was well ahead of its time, paving the way, I’d argue, for shows like Batman to be both for kids and for adults. Why a third Ghostbusters movie was never made is a debate that could rage on. Sadly, Harold Ramis passed away before getting the chance to glimpse at what was being done with his beloved franchise.

I could sit here and argue the pros and cons of rebooting yet another storied Hollywood franchise (this topic will be rehashed next spring with Beauty and the Beast), but what’s the point? The movie has been made and I tried to see it as soon as it was released. Be warned, I may give some SPOILERS away, so if you don’t want to read further, know that I gave the movie 4.5 out of 5 stars on Rotten Tomatoes.

There are parallels to the original movie and yet the movie felt utterly new. The movie opens with a haunting in a museum and ends much like the opening sequence to the 1984 movie, with someone getting slimed/haunted. The movie picks up with Kristen Wiig’s Erin Gilbert is something akin to Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman. Unlike Venkman, she is about to get tenure at Columbia (I think) and someone representing the haunted house from the beginning finds her. In an effort to quiet anyone know she once investigated the paranormal, she seeks out her former best friend, Melissa McCarthy’s Abby Yates. At a younger age, the two published a paranormal book and someone had stumbled across it. Gilbert goes to Yates’ place and finds the place not nearly as impressive as she thought (not dissimilar to the university that Ray and Peter occupy in the beginning of the first Ghostbusters movie). Within the research area is Yates’ new collogue, Jillian Holtzman.

As you might expect, Gilbert gets dragged to the haunting and gets sucked back into the Ghostbusting life. I don’t want to give away too many plot points, mostly because they are really fun as you stumble across them. What proceeds is about two hours of tightly packed scenes with pretty impressive acting and special effects. Leslie Jones as Patty really stole quite a few scenes and Chris Hemsworth was quite the perfect incompetent secretary. The villain was almost a side-note, and I can’t quite come up with an argument to the derision about this point from the Entertainment Weekly review. At the same time, the Avengers movies are just as spotty. I’m still not clear what Daniel Bruhl was hoping to accomplish with such a lackluster plan in Captain America Civil War. I hardly think an entire movie should be criticized for one plot point, when most of the other ones come together (except how the group can afford to do anything if they’re not getting paid).

One of my cousins pointed out that here at OrangeyRamblings, I do tend towards giving higher marks to movies that are diverse or feature women prominently. This is no exception. I understand why a bunch of lonely white guys living in their parents’ basements might be upset to see their beloved movie turned into a woman-focused movie, but I wonder where those some detractors are when other reboots are going on and are a thousand times worse (really, do I need to list them?). This movie gave a new voice to a concept that isn’t owned by men. Were all the original movies/cartoons men focused? Yes. Does that mean that we can’t try something new? The cast was stupendous. The story kept me engaged throughout. The cameos from times past were all perfectly timed and utterly unexpected. Is this movie perfect? Of course not. Will every single thing in it be exactly what you want? Probably not. Did it entertain me and keep me guessing after the movie? Yes. Did it make me anxious for a sequel? Yes. Just go see it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Movie Review: Purge Election Year

I struggle to find horror movies I don’t want to see. The idea of being scared or having your ideas shaken is well worth $6. In the case of the Purge movies, I’d argue they’ve done more with less than any other series (barring the Paranormal Activity movies) than most. The concept from the first movie was an introduction, a primer, to what was to come. With a star cast, the first movie followed Ethan Hawke as a home security sales person as he and his family fend off their neighbors during the annual purge, where American citizens are given the right to kill anyone for 12 hours. Sounds ridiculously crazy, right? Well, let me warn you now, if you’re of the conservative bent, you might want to just stop reading. The Purge movies have moved on to something far less subtle than expected, but something that is desperately needed in this day and age.

In the second Purge movie, Anarchy, the movie follows a cop (or former cop) who decides to kill someone who killed his son in a drive-by. Instead of getting to do that, he ends up intervening and saving some lives and ends up not killing the man who killed his child. This act ends up saving him. In the third movie, Election Year, the story follows this same man as he is the primary security detail for a Senator (played by Lost’s Elizabeth Mitchell). At a younger age, the senator watched her family get killed on Purge night and has now decided to run for President and oppose this barbaric tradition.

In a beautifully overhanded way, the story places Mitchell’s senator against the clear conservative, right, white-majority (basically all Republicans). The movie even cites the NRA as a clear sponsor for the Purge, which, in hindsight makes perfect sense. The movie continues with the villains being the white majority, the ones who have everything. At one point, one of the character states that the Purge benefits the rich by reducing the number of people that need benefits or ‘handouts’ from the government. Looking at the political climate now, I’d argue that these are similar tenants to what the Republican party is preaching now. Many of the ‘poor’ in this scenario think the Republicans are looking out for their best interest, when in actuality, they are lining their own pockets, as evidenced throughout the movie, but also in real life. The current Republican candidate has made money on the backs of those that have actual done the work, and the Purge shines a bright light upon this.

After leaving the movie theatre, I felt quite emboldened. How is it that the rich, white majority gets to dictate everything in this world? How is it possible that there is such a large minority (that comprises a majority if they vote together) is on the short end of the stick 99% of the time because a small group that used to profit of off slaves. This point was actually brought up to me recently and it resonated, more than I liked. The rich, primarily white, have always profited off of not paying people fair wages. Those groups want that era to return. By allowing the Republicans to continue to steer the discussion to things that are irrelevant, they are neglecting the ability for people to get a fair chance at success. Isn’t that one of the main ideas behind the Constitution? Everyone should have a fair chance at having a good life? If you listen to Mr. Trump, unless you’re white and rich, you don’t have a right to anything. This movie embodies much of this concept and if you’re young, liberal and educated, you might find it over-the-top, but also just right to angry up the blood.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Movie Review: The Shallows

If there’s a shark movie out there, there’s a 99% chance I’m going to see it. In this instance, I wasn’t really all that excited about seeing this one. All I know about Blake Lively is that I think she’s married to Ryan Reynolds. The cousin who wanted to see this movie told me she was on Gossip Girl. That doesn’t make me feel better about the movie choice, but truth be told, I don’t think Gossip Girl was a show made with me as an audience member in mind.

There isn’t much to this movie, to be honest. The trailer pretty much tells you everything you need to know. Despite that, the movie still keeps everything tense and Lively, playing a med student, finds ways to both elude the shark and confound the audience for a solid hour and a half. Lively’s character decides to visit a beach her mother had been at a long time ago (the mother died of cancer years ago) and she needs to go to this place, and really without telling her father. Surfing might be dangerous without sharks involved, but of course, Lively stays out longer than she should, investigates a dead whale carcass and the chase, so to speak, is on.

This movie lacks in any subtext. A Vox review was on point when it stated the movie is: what you see is what you get. There is no big reveal or twist. The movie is just Blake Lively trying not to be eaten by the shark. Her survival skills are solid, her decision making and remembering warnings from others is far more questionable. Like any horror movie, Lively makes lots of costly mistakes and truthfully, she should have died, but thankfully, only brown people are eaten by the shark (locals to the area) – she is saved by another local, one who the audience meets in the first part of the movie. There is a lot of stunning visuals, the shark is fairly realistic. My favorite was Steven Seagull (get it?), who was quite apt at being a foil for Lively. Overall, this was a moderately entertaining movie. I did consume a massive amount of popcorn, and that’s always some sort of feat, right?

Friday, June 24, 2016

Movie Review: Finding Dory

This sequel was a long time coming and it was worth the wait, to some degree. I should really start off on high note and let the cards tumble after that. The rich palette of colors alone makes this movie eye-catching. I wasn’t particularly overjoyed by the pre-movie short, Piper, but it was cute. The movie centers around the concept of Dory trying to find her family. Unlike Finding Nemo, the stakes aren’t nearly as high and this makes the story seem less compelling. Dory is amusing and frustrating all in one breadth. Having a main character whose memory issues delay the story instead of moving it forward is tough for the audience hold onto. At varying points during the movie, the plot meandered, matching pace with Dory. The characters were much more developed in the second movie and it was fun seeing some of the ‘bit’ characters getting a larger role, like the students in Nemo’s class. My nephew (almost 3) and niece (5) couldn’t pay attention for the duration, but two teenagers sitting next to me couldn’t stop crying or making ridiculously stupid remarks. The theatre was packed.

I won’t say the movie wasn’t entertaining, it absolutely was. In this day and age, and I used to focus on this more, it is important to look at diversity and female roles. In an animated movie with animals, this was hardly relevant, save for the fact that the main cast was predominately white. While the characters are hidden behind a mask, this is still quite apparent. With the main character being a woman, and the story certainly passing the Bechdel test, the plot can’t be faulted greatly.

In what turned out to be an uncertain turn of events, I both lauded and was appalled by the way Pixar approached mental illness. Dory has a learning disability. Everyone around her tries to compensate for this. At an early (and adorable) age, she is taught to keep telling people about her disability. It is used to great comic effect. Imagine if someone tried to do this in real life, would we all respond so kindly? While Nemo highlights that her memory issue is an asset, making her fearless, it could also be construed as highly dangerous. Though she manages to avoid catastrophe, these are used as punchlines. Great for kids with issues, but if they tried to replicate Dory’s behavior, they’d be dead. However strange this might seem, the sea lions ruined this movie for me. They were so mean to the clearly differently abled sea lion, Gerald. I actually already foundarticles about this online, so I’m not alone. Is it right to mock and make fun of someone who is autistic? That is what it looks like in the movie. It was quite a letdown for such a fun movie. It was unnecessary. The other two sea lions were basically bullies.

On the one hand, it seemed like everyone in the movie had some weird deficiency, like the whale who thought his echolocation was broken and too afraid to use it. While it is great to have comedy, what lesson is it teaching? This is a movie you should watch, but this discussion might take some of the fun out of it.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Movie Review: The Conjuring 2

The second half of my double feature was a James Wan production, which means solid jump scares and solid characters to latch onto. In this second installment of the series, so to speak (as Annabelle was part of this series too, just without the Warrens), the story follows Ed and Lorraine Warren as they start to embark on far more notoriety than anticipated after their investigation into the Amityville deaths. Not long into the movie, the scene shifts to London to what is purported to be one of the most investigated hauntings. To me, the best part of this movie was that there was some credence given to the events perhaps being faked. In most horror movies, the sceptic is the first to die, but not in this case.

Back in America, in the beginning of the movie, Lorraine is haunted by what looks like a nun, purporting Ed’s imminent death, after which, she begs Ed to no longer take any news cases. Not long after, the couple are confronted with a tape from the Enfield haunting and go, on behalf of the church, just to see what is going on. The couple arrive and are pretty quickly confronted by things they can’t explain. Lorraine, the psychic, doesn’t feel anything at all, making her more skeptical than Ed. They witness quite a few events, but once a news crew captures one of the children in the house throwing things, and not an entity, the entire incident seems to be debunked. The Warrens realise their mistake and hurry back to the house in time to save the girl and her family.

What this new edition lacks in believability, it makes up for with plenty of jump scares and terrifying sequences. When the hauntings first begin, things are downright eerie. The girl who is being haunted seems to transport around the house, waking up in a room that isn’t her bedroom more than once. The idea of this haunting might be just as terrifying as the others mentioned, but it didn’t come off nearly as scary. Also, if you’re a fan of Orphan Black, Mrs. S, Siobhan, is the neighbor to the haunted family.

For a horror movie helmed by James Wan, this was about the median production. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible either. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are great together. Some may forget, but Patrick Wilson was in the film adaptation of Phantom of the Opera and we get to hear him sing an Elvis song in this movie, well worth the $6 right there. The effects were not overbearing, but just enough to make everything just a touch scarier. I did wonder if there would be more to the debunking when the movie ended, but there wasn’t. I do hope Wan picks a less well known haunting should there be a Conjuring 3.