Monday, November 6, 2017

Movie Review: Thor Ragnarok

At this point, every year we get about two, maybe three, Marvel movies. I’ve been underwhelmed by them lately. I think the last one I saw was Spiderman, but from the Avengers, I think it was one of the Avengers’ movies, or possibly Captain America. I was expecting a light-hearted affair with this latest Thor movie, as the trailers suggested and I was right. There really is no point to discussing the plot. It is as convoluted as it comes, yet is quite predictable at every turn. The trailers provide the viewer with the knowledge that Thor loses his hammer, some woman (turns out to be his sister) is killing everyone in Asgard (Thor’s home world) and that he fights Hulk in some sort of gladiatorial combat. What makes all of this interesting, and very funny, is that the characters never seem to take anything too seriously. It often feels like comments and jokes are made for our (the audience’s) benefit.

For me, the stars of the movie were the woman. Anything Cate Blanchett does is amazing, but paired with her Lord of the Rings cast-mate Karl Urban (Eomer), the two were quite hilarious together. The other strong female was portrayed in a sort of side-kick to Jeff Goldblum’s crazy, was Rachel House (who I don’t really know), but she was quite comical beside Goldblum’s Grandmaster, who was delightfully eccentric. The trailers pretty much gave away everything else, so the story with Thor, Loki and Hulk seemed secondary. I wasn’t even all that interested in their story, I wanted to see how the other characters would fare going forward. I mean, at the end of the movie, it was the tamest of all Marvel movies, really no consequences seem to have come down, save for one.

Thor was a thoroughly enjoyable movie. It had one minority woman, a bunch of white women, one minority man and a ton of straight white men. The movie utterly fails at diversity, even if the aliens could be argued to be of different races. Being a Marvel movie, people will see it regardless. You will probably find it enjoyable, but I would lean towards a day showing to save a few bucks.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Movie Review: Victoria and Abdul

Yes, you read that correctly. I, Hina, went to see a non-horror, non-action, non-animated movie. Look, mom wanted to see it and her hot date (Dad) was not all that excited, so I buckled up, sans popcorns, and went with mom. This movie is based off of a book (surprise! Hollywood stole a book and turned it into a movie). I haven’t read the book, but mom was giving me asides throughout the movie. 

The story is about what you might expect. Dame Judi Dench plays Queen Victoria and Abdul is played by some guy I don’t know. Queen Victoria is getting on in years and is very lonely, the vultures of her family circling for her death so they can take over. There is a ceremony to be held in England and they are looking for two tall Hindus (to the British, I suppose there’s no difference between Hindus and Muslims). At the police station that Abdul works at, he is the tallest. The two are told not to make eye contact with the Queen, but of course Abdul can’t help it and when she sees him, she comments to someone else that he is quite handsome. The story pretty much spins from there. I would hate to SPOIL this movie, but it is rather predictable.

This is not a movie I would normally see, but I do so rarely get to spend time with my mom. It’s easier to talk sports with my father, and with the DC teams always collapsing, we have a lot to talk about. Mom wanted to see the movie so I went. It was enjoyable. There were a lot of good things about it and a few heavy handed things as well. In this political climate it isn’t easy to hit a nice balance, but this movie veered far to the side of racism and whites hating anyone who wasn’t white. Given the time period the movie was set in (late 1800s), it was sad how similar our current circumstances are to these.

As per my Hina test (strong female characters, diversity) this movie is an easy pass. Dame Judie Dench is wonderful. The fact that there are a variety of ‘brown’ people in the movie meets the pretty low bar of diversity. What is more, the movie had a lot of diversity of thought. If we are to believe the journals that the book is based off of, Queen Victoria was learning Urdu (an Indian language), learning about India, from Abdul. It is rare to see a movie where a person is open-minded and wants to learn about another culture. If you have time, this is a movie you can see with anyone (family-friendly) and worth seeing.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Movie Review: Flatliners (2017)

In the long saga of Hollywood believing that if it worked once, we should repackage it and sell it again, this is a remake of a 1990 movie, one I did not see at the time.  Having not seen the original, I can only assess the current movie. The story made sense about halfway through, then got quite tame and sort of boring as it moved on. There may be SPOILERS ahead, but please, don’t waste too much money seeing this.

The movie opens with some sort of flashback of Ellen Page’s getting into a car accident. The next thing we see is her working at a hospital with other young doctors. For whatever plot jumping reason, she decides to get two of her friends to help her with a so-called experiment, letting her body die and come back to life. This already seems like a poorly thought out plan, but whatever, they do it, and suddenly she like unlocks all this stuff and can do all these things. The other kids go and it doesn’t really get better. Each of them begins to be haunted by misdeeds they did in the past. This is just as stupid as it sounds. I really stopped paying attention, but basically Ellen Page’s ghost of her dead sister pushes her off of a fire escape, but everyone else escapes just fine.

With respect to me diversity and strong female representation test (the Hina test), this one gets a very small pass. The main character was a gay woman. Even though this wasn’t explicit, the way Page’s character dressed left little misinterpretation. There were two other women, one white (Nina Dobrev of Vampire Diaries) and some African American girl that seemed familiar. There were no other minorities really present, but it had a good mix. It wasn’t like last week’s Friend Request where the entire cast was white.

Overall, this was not a very good movie and I’m glad I paid under $7 to see it. Plus I stole ice from the theatre to ice my knees, so that was fun. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Movie Review: Friend Request

I really wondered what I thought I was doing bothering to see this movie. When you enter the theatre and there are only 2 other people there and it’s an 11 show, it does make you start to rethink your choices. Let’s not kid, after watching The 100, seeing Alyicia Debnam Carey in anything is almost a must, though I do avoid Fear the Walking Dead because I just can’t do any more zombies. Lexa did deserve better, and so did we. Anyway. This movie is about a girl who is super popular, and pretty, and white, because of course (more on complete lack of diversity later, though there were fat people, so a quarter of a point back). Possible SPOILERS AHEAD. So, super popular pretty girl takes pity on unattractive crazy girl and then crazy girl stalks pretty girl and then commits suicide (crazy girl). Wackiness ensues. 

I could talk about the substance of the movie, but there’s not much to say. There was some implication that the crazy girl was disturbed from an early age and turned to the dark arts, how that factors into her hacking everyone’s Facebook accounts wasn’t totally clear. I always love how these sorts of movies show these people being so utterly deranged they can’t handle any sort of rejection. That seems sort of crazy. If you deal with a lot of rejection, yes, it doesn’t get easier, but people don’t usually lose their minds. Of course, the movie tries to tie in some sort of lore about the horror paying itself forward, but that’s not really interesting, is it? The movie wasn’t all that interesting either, sorry, ADC.

With respect to my Hina test (to test diversity, strong female characters) – this movie gets a hard fail, like a flaming, unforgivable pile of fail. The main character, Lauren Woodson (a Lexa reference maybe? All the fan fictions give her the last name of Woods), has to have men come save her at every turn and everyone is white. There’s the ex-guy who is still into her and then she’s dating Peter from the Chronicles of Narnia. I didn’t recognize him until I saw the cast page. Wow, Peter is all grown up and looking good. So, I think this could create a whole new sub-genre of fan fiction – Peter and Lexa with Clarke, of course, because Lexa is with Clarke. I know, this review is as focused as the movie was yesterday. 

Horror movies are supposed to be kind of scary, kind of teaching something, but this movie really didn’t teach me anything, though I may have smuggled Starbucks and yogurt in, so that was a first and while I may have covered my eyes, I wasn’t really scared. The acting was decent. AIycia Debnam Carey was wonderful as ever, but this wasn’t a strong story and the cast was not as strong as she was. I thought Will Moseley (Peter from Narnia) was actually decent, but that’s about the extent. I did think the creepy girl was creepy, but that could be attributed to makeup and lighting.  I did like that there were actors of all types, a chubby girl and her chubby boyfriend get killed first, because of course. There were no non-white people in the movie pretty much. 

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.