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.

Movie Review: Unfriended

In this day and age of social media being the God of our times, this movie is long overdue.  The movie is filmed solely through web cams and Skype.  The characters are a group of teenagers, presumably, though they looked like they could have been in college, or a little older.  The story unfolds as the characters start getting messages from a friend of theirs who committed suicide after a video of her went viral.  The friends apparently teased her and this is a topic that is in the news a lot lately.

The idea of this movie was brilliant.  What would a group of idiotic teenagers do against a villain you can’t see that gets you to do things without you realizing.  The idea of a kid being bullied coming back from the dead (SPOILER – sorry) and killing each person in turn after they admit what wrong they had committed.  The suspense for the story is built up quite well with the use of the webcams and I did find myself covering my eyes at regular intervals.

What the story gains from originality it loses with the tired horror delivery.  What made movies like Paranormal Activity or It Follows so unique was that it didn’t give you something you’d seen before.  While there is no, expectedly, positive outcome, the movie delivers a few cheap scares and ends with an unsatisfying conclusion, it might be worth seeing for a few bucks, but not more.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Movie Review: Furious 7

There are some staples of Fast and Furious movies: fast cars, scantily clad people, senseless fighting and harrowing action sequences.  All of these things were in high form in this latest entry and I can’t say it wasn’t what I expected.  The most unexpected thing in this movie was the number of people who were at the 9.30 show.  It was sold out, and on Easter Sunday no less.

The movie leaves off where the last movie ended, with the antagonist of Furious 6 having his older brother vow vengeance on those that put his brother in the hospital.  In SPOILER fashion, the Asian guy gets it first, the audience sees his mangled body before the Jason Statham character promises to come for Vin Diesel and co.  The next few hours are basically a culmination of sequences where the characters barely survive all kinds of insane combinations of things, such as cars being ejected from a plane and slamming a million dollar car through one building into another from forty floors up.

The cinematography for the movie was, at times sickening, and at other times just unbelievable.  There was this shaky cam thing that kept going on during fight sequences and it had me reeling at times.  The cousin I brought with me (yeah, different cousins, how many do I have?), commented on it and I was like, you know, you’re right, it did make me feel a little off.  The bigger action sequences with the cars were done at a different angle and those cars are just outrageous.  What I wouldn’t give to just try those once.  Though, I have a mustang, so I could soup it up, but I think that might end in far more speeding tickets than I’d like.

I can’t say this was a great movie, or that the story was original or the acting top notch.  I am always impressed by how well Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson (the rock) do comedy so well.  Michelle Rodriguez as the really only powerful female lead is always fun to watch and she has an entertaining fight sequence between her and Ronda Rousey.  I’m glad I saw the movie and the montage at the end of all of Walker’s scenes was a tear-jerker.  If you’ve watched a few of these movies, you need to see this latest one.  If you haven’t seen any of these movies, you may not feel like you missed much, but these movies are something of our culture that shouldn’t be missed. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Movie Review: It Follows

Rarely do I come across a horror movie I don’t want to see.  This was hyped as a sleeper Indie movie and I was intrigued.  The last few Indie’s that blew me away include Paranormal Activity or the Orphanage, both of which stopped me from sleeping for days after seeing it.  Actually, with Paranormal Activity, I think I didn’t sleep for a week.  Yeah, I’m a scaredy cat.  Also, in a side-note, there was a trailer with Thomas Jane in it and the sister of KStew from Still Alice who’s name escapes me and there were butterflies and I leaned over and told my friend I straight-up couldn’t see that movie.  Butterflies, nature’s silent killers.  Mark my words.

The premise of the movie doesn’t truly reveal itself until about twenty minutes into the picture.  The story sets up as a random girl goes running from her father and ends up being found dead on a beach. The movie picks up to a girl getting into a pool and seeing two neighborhood kids watching her.  I made the mistake of thinking these were the same girl, but they weren’t, as my friend pointed out.  My eyes were covered at some points, for those of you wondering.  It is safer to watch horror movies that way.  The story continues with a girl going on a date with her new boyfriend and he does something slightly odd, but covers it up well.  The next date they have, they sleep together and that’s when the story begins to truly unfold.

My friend stated it best, I think, it is basically an STD curse.  The idea is that the curse can be passed from one person to the next by sleeping with them.  There is an X-files episode similar called gender bender, but not quite the same.  The guy gave her a fake name and romanced her for a little while before sleeping with her and then she begins to see a person that no one else can see.  He warns her that she can’t let the person, or whatever she sees, touch her.  The first time she sees it she is with the guy and it appears as a naked woman.  Why naked?  I don’t know.  I didn’t do anything for me and made it seem that much more confusing when it was seen with clothes on.  Regardless, the thing keeps coming and she confides to her sister and friends and while they don’t disbelieve her, they can’t see anything.  The cool neighbor sleeps with her, in an attempt to pass the curse, and while it works for a short period of time, he ends up getting killed and it continues after her.

The suspense in the movie continues to build and the girl and her friends try varying activities to kill the thing, but they don’t really know what they’re dealing with and thus all of their attempts fail.  I found it curious that none of them thought to do any research to see if they could figure it out.  The movie was dated for sure, set in the 80’s or 90’s just based on the clothes and the TVs they had.  I didn’t get quite as scared as I thought I would, but the story held my attention and kept me engaged, even if I kind of wanted the main girl to die because I found her kind of annoying.  The movie did get me thinking what someone would do given the same circumstances.  I mean, the message of the movie might have been as simple as no sleeping around, but I might be over-thinking it.  As horror movies goes, this one held true to the teaser and I think most horror fans would enjoy it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Movie Review: Still Alice

When an actor receives an academy award nomination, let alone a win, it sticks out in my mind and I feel like I need to take the time to see the movie.  Lucky for me, AMC was still showing this movie and I got the chance to drag my seventeen year old cousin to it.  I don’t know that I was in the right state of mind while watching this movie and while the entire 6-person audience, minus me, was brought to tears, including the aforementioned cousin, I found myself laughing at sequences that probably were meant to be gut-wrenching, which made my cousin imply I was cold-hearted.  Being a huge fan of Charmander, I find this hard to believe, but let us not digress.

The premise of this movie is based off of a book where a woman suffers from early onset Alzheimer’s and how her family deals with it.  The hints are quite subtle, Alice forgets little things, words or locations of things, but the panic starts to set in at a rapid pace and it is quite clear that something is seriously wrong with her.  The story isn’t a new one, per say, but it was one that was compelling and terrifying.  The depiction of the fall into lost memory is horrific to watch.  The very idea of not being able to rely on your mind, your memory, is one I don’t want to imagine.  It is a literal case of not being able to trust anything.  At one point, Alice goes inside to go to the bathroom and can’t find it and goes in her pants.  I didn’t laugh here, but it was a sad state of affairs for any adult and I can’t imagine watching a loved one suffering from this.

The performances from the entire cast were on point throughout.  The somewhat supportive husband was just as frustrating to watch as the children who didn’t want to be inconvenienced greatly save for the youngest daughter, played by Kristen Stewart.  At this point I have to admit that part of my curiosity for this movie was the always amazing Julianne Moore and the unending praise I kept hearing about for Stewart.  I try to give all the kids of Hollywood (Twilight, Potter, etc.) the benefit of the doubt and Stewart has, by and large, been the best of the entire bunch.  A lot of criticism for her comes from her seeming to play the same role again and again.  I’d argue she doesn’t do that at all, but I need to see more of her work, which there is a lot to choose from.  She was in about 25% of the movie and the parts she was in had excellent foreshadowing and chemistry between her and the rest of the cast.  I continue to be impressed by Stewart and I want to see what more she can do as she gets more comfortable in her own skin.  I wish that Emma Watson or Jennifer Lawrence could execute these types of performances, but I have yet to see it from either, let alone any of the boys, like Dan Rad, who has a lot of growing up to do.

Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what had me so distracted throughout the movie that while others were brought to tears, I was amused, laughing.  Early on, the audience’s first view of Stewart, she is wearing a t-shirt with Snoopy on it.  Again, if you’re reading this, you know I’m a Snoopy fan too.  Yeah, I like a lot of cartoon characters.  I was just so amused.  After the movie was over, I realised there was more to the tee than just Snoopy and Woodstock.

Stewart in a Snoopy t-shirt

I’ve included a pic, but the text, I believe is: “Sometimes the donut dunks the bird” and the image is Woodstock in a coffee mug and the donut not in the coffee.  It is a really cute shirt, one I might need to find/acquire.  The movie is about life getting the better of a person, and in many ways, I’d argue that the t-shirt is foreshadowing what is about to happen to Alice as well as her daughter Lydia (Stewart).  Alice is overcome by life, just as Woodstock is overcome by the donut in the t-shirt.  My cousin thinks I’m over-thinking this, but I really think I’m onto something and hope that someone from the movie stumbles upon this humble blog and the wardrobe person realises that at least one person noticed the attention to detail.