Sunday, January 4, 2015

Movie Review: The Woman in Black 2

Sequels I never expect much from.  I saw the first movie more because I had seen the stage play than the fact that Dan Rad was in it (Daniel Radcliffe).  The premise seems simple enough, but SPOILER if you’re not familiar: the woman in black is a ghost haunting an old house, and wants to steal children away so they can be with her after the child she had raised was taken from her.  This story was heavy with backstory that seemed needless.  I appreciate the attempt, but there was just a sudden plot, even though there were leading flashbacks. 

A horror movie, to me, should have a simple premise, to scare the audience, to make the audience feel secure, then snatch that safety away with reckless abandon.  The trouble with sequels is that there can be no snatching because you already know what is to come, something scary.  This movie followed the tried and true premise of all horror movies and in that vein, it failed what was a promising take on an opening movie that fell flat.  The first Woman in Black movie wasn’t scary at all.  The play, on the other hand, was horrifying.  I thought I was going to be sitting in the guy next to me’s lap if I wasn’t careful.  How a stage play was scarier than two movies still baffles me, but the fact remains, neither movie was scary nor stayed with me, it was just, meh.

The story revolved around the second World War and how kids were being taken away from the city for their own safety, and somehow they ended up in this scary old house.  Of course they did, because, horror movie, right?  The main character was a school teacher who had been forced to give her young child up because she had it out of wedlock and is haunted by this throughout the movie, more so when they have to bring a child who’s parents were killed right before the group left.  There was an actor, Jeremy Irvine , who had a striking resemblance to Tom Brady and this distracted me throughout the movie.  Imagine a British Tom Brady who isn’t married and doesn’t have kids.  Yes, I went to my happy place there, but let’s continue.  The Tom Brady lookalike is a grounded pilot who is falling for our schoolteacher and the two try to convince the headmistress (Mrs. Malfoy) that they need to leave before more children die.  This doesn’t work and the inevitable happens.

For the price I paid, I guess it was okay, but I can’t say this movie had much bite to it.  I had higher expectations than usual just because I hoped they would fix what hadn’t gone right in the first movie.  I know, that optimism I have is misplaced.  Pass if you don’t like horror movies, but if you’re a fan, this is it until February, I think.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Movie Review: Into the Woods

I often jump for new movies not having any idea what I’m getting into.  For example, as I skimmed the Rotten Tomatoes page for Into the Woods, I noticed it said it was a mix between Hollywood and Broadway, implying to me, that it might have roots on Broadway already.  My initial impression was that it was a fun story, but it didn’t belong in the big screen, but live, on Broadway.  If it was a Broadway baby that Hollywood decided to release for a wider audience/profit, then I was still right, sort of.

The story behind Into the Woods takes many of the characters from the fairytale stories from my youth.  Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel (sort of) and a variety of others are repurposed.  While not one really stands out over another, the amalgamation of all of them is a bit much, making the movie feel even longer than it might have been.  The singing was, in a word, excessive.  There seemed to be more singing than speaking and while some of the stars shined, I was startled by Emily Blunt’s ability to sing, quite unexpected really, for the most part, everyone was quite able, though I felt like a musical in a movie allows the sound folks to scrub everything clean, whereas live, there is nowhere to hide.

I don’t know that I can say I enjoyed the movie.  At times I felt bored and the new versions of the stories didn’t bring me anything that made me think, oh, that’s neat. It was fun, interesting to see actors in different roles.  Chris Pine as a shallow Prince Charming was interesting, but that’s the best I can say.  At some points, it felt like the movie was making fun of itself and if that had been consistent throughout, I might feel more confident thinking that was deliberate.  It was an uneven movie, at best.  For seven dollars, I won’t complain, but I won’t be buying it on DVD or opting to see it a second time.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Movie Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings

If you’re anything like me, every year, you were forced/treated to The Ten Commandments over Easter weekend.  A few years back, I stopped telling my father when it was airing so I wouldn’t have to watch it yet again.  If given the option now, of this new version or the old one, I’d pick the old one, and I’d happily pay the $12 I paid today to see the classic rather than suffer through the new one a second time.  Like Noah from earlier this year, or last year, I can’t even remember, Hollywood has made a failed attempt at rewriting and creating a new version of what was already done as well as it could be done.  That’s like saying someone’s going to film the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Even with all the special effects advances, the story doesn’t change and the execution of it from Ridley Scott was confusing at best, offensive at worst, more so when you look at the number of white actors playing roles that could have just as easily been played by people who were closer to the Egyptian ethnicity.

I will never understand the rave reviews around Christian Bale.  He plays the exact same person in every single movie he’s in.  He delivers a handful of lines in his gravely, angry voice, perhaps to depict conviction, then he looks quiet and then he’s been overcome with emotion.  More than that, how is he supposed to be an Egyptian prince who is really Jewish with that mix of English vs. cockney accents?  I was so distracted by his accent alone I couldn’t figure out who he was supposed to be.  At some point here, someone in Hollywood has to stop buying into this.  It isn’t acting, it is playing the same character the same way over and over again.  Instead of always playing the brutish bruiser, perhaps Bale could try acting like something else, just once.

The casting of the rest of the movie was quite curious.  Everyone was white, whiter than white and it seemed out of place.  All the accents were all over the place.  I love Sigourney Weaver, I do, I’m a huge Ghostbusters fan, but why was there a random American in a movie set in Egypt who is supposed to be playing the mother of Ramses II?  Joel Edgerton seemed out of place from the beginning, but his performance, the only really stellar one, really won me over by the end. Again, though, he was almost wearing brown-face, if there is such a thing, to look Egyptian.  Am I the only one who finds this mildly offensive?  I mean, when do African American actors put on white makeup to look white?  They don’t.

While the movie had moments that were visually stunning, more so in 3D, the story brought nothing new to the Biblical tale and the delivery of Christian Bale detracted more than enhanced the movie.  Ridley Scott has had some misses lately and I can’t even think of a movie he’s done recently that isn’t basically Gladiator all over again.  This one follows suit.  Don’t waste your time or money on this.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Movie Review: Penguins of Madagascar

It is amazing to me that a standalone movie wasn’t made for these characters sooner, more so given the popularity of the TV show on Nickelodeon.  I always get a little nostalgic when I see the show on TV, and it always gives me a jolt hearing the voices that don’t match when watching the movie.  I am more familiar with the TV show than the movie version of the characters and that is mostly about the voices.

The story is absurd, at best.  The most I remember is that my mom made enchiladas last night and that was what I had before I went to the movies.  That’s right, the plot and story are that forgettable.  Did I laugh?  Of course.  Did I cry?  This is Hina we’re talking about, I cry watching feel good commercials.  That’s a yes.  The animated versions of the penguins are, of course, adorable, but the story is barely passable.  This had a mix of for kids and for adults content, but overall, it never really came together in a meaningful way, which is about what I expect from Dreamworks.

The origin story of the penguins is where the movie starts and it goes through a somewhat laughable plot of a jilted Octopus (played by John Malkovich) who is trying to make all penguins ugly so he won’t seem as grotesque in comparison.  Along the way, the penguins meet up with another covert team led by a dog (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is only mildly amusing.  I thought the whole additional team was boring and I’m not sure why everyone raves so much about Cumberbatch.  The best I can say is, if you’ve got kids, you’ll probably end up seeing this.  If you’re an adult, then you can probably wait for the DVD or TV showing of it.  I enjoyed some of the jokes, but it just felt forced throughout.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Movie Review: Hunger Games Mockingjay

Books turned into movies have a funny way of either breaking your heart or surpassing your mildest expectations.  This one didn’t really do either for me.  While the book was mediocre (to me, think Breaking Dawn level of story), the movie pulled away from that, delivering a mix between chaos and organized annoyance from the movie’s marque characters.  With weak source material and flimsy premises, this movie still delivered some type of punch while still making women seem both weak and in need of being saved.

If you aren’t familiar with Hunger Games, the premise is pretty simple, on the surface.  The world was torn apart by war years ago and to teach those that had rebelled a lesson, the victors hold an annual ‘game’ in which children from each area of the world ‘volunteer’ to play in a fight to the death.  As you might expect, the character we are introduced to defies all odds and manages to subvert the government and win, possibly winning her freedom.  It isn’t that simple, of course.  The government thinks she has become a symbol for being rebellion and does what they can to eliminate her, even to have her return in a second game even though she should never have to.  The second game doesn’t see an outright winner, but she survives and is now being used as a tool for the rebellion to overthrow the government.

Seems dense?  Yeah, try nonsensical.  What makes the movie compelling also makes it unattainable.  At every turn, something unrealistic gets in the way, a contrivance that gets more and more unbelievable as the story progresses.  To me, what makes it worse, is that the movie does stick to the book, which is really a blueprint for what, exactly?  I don’t’ know what ‘we’ as a society are supposed to take away from this movie.  Katniss (the main character) only seems to show strength at prescribed moments and it feels so reactive.  While I do realize the character is being portrayed as mentally drained, having lived through two life-death situations, at the tenth breakdown of the movie, it just got old and annoying.  I argue that if Katniss had died, the movie and story would have been better off.  A martyr for the cause would have been much more effective than the loose cannon that Katniss is.

The movie has merit, don’t get me wrong, but from a story perspective, it was maddening.  The mother of four kids who sat next to me seemed to have the same opinion as we glanced at each other periodically as Katniss had one of her dozens of meltdowns.  If you’re a fan of the Hunger Games, you’ll like this, if not, then save your money and go watch the Hungry Games with Cookieness Evereat.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Movie Review: Whiplash

I don’t always find time to see those ‘off the beaten path’ movies and this is one of them.  The story isn’t one that we encounter in real life, perhaps.  I feel like most of us are happy with continuing with the status quo, pushing to a place of comfort and then coasting along, as needed.  This story places an aspiring drummer, who wants to be great, against a teacher who will stop at little to push him past any sense of self to be something more, no matter the cost.

On the surface, it seems like it might be one of those feel-good movies, but with the first profanity laced tired from Fletcher to young Neiman makes it clear to the viewer that the road will be anything but smooth.  The story quickly devolves into a struggle between Fletcher being almost inhuman in his attempts to push Neiman, though in the context of the story, it looks like a terrorization and little more.  What makes the story come together is how Neiman begins to respond.  Both he and Fletcher share the belief that to be great, you must push yourself, push yourself past any reasonable line that most of us back off from.  Fletcher finds a way to, ultimately, make Neiman better, even if it looks terrible and Neiman borders on all kinds of troubling personality traits.

While I didn’t intend to spoil the movie, I do feel like the movie can connect with a wide audience.  What would you risk to be great?  If there could be a guarantee to be the best of this generation at something, anything, what would you be willing to give up?  Neiman is faced with this quandary throughout the movie and at every chance to give up, he doesn’t, he never backs down.  That dogmatic persistence makes the movie churn, more so as JK Simmons chews everything up in his wake in what is by far the best performance I’ve seen from him next to his stint as J. Jonah Jameson from the ‘original’ Spiderman movies.  Miles Teller plays a quiet character, but there are a lot of little things he does that make you somehow root for him and against him for Fletcher.  The entire movie set me on edge in a way I hadn’t been thrown for quite some time.  This movie is one you do not want to miss.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Movie Review: Nightcrawler

The first time I heard about this movie, I thought, wow, Jake Gyllenhaal doing a stand-alone X-man movie?  Yup, nope, that wasn’t what it was.  Not at all.  The first trailer didn’t really give me a good idea of what I was getting into until the very first scene finished.  The story is one I couldn’t quite get the scope of until about halfway through the movie, when the lead character truly reveals his life vision.  If nothing else, this movie will make you begin to question your own motives and the motives of others.  And for those who work with me, the lead character resembles a certain someone we work with – quintessential sociopath.  POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD

The movie begins with Gyllenhaal’s Lou Blume stealing fencing from one site only to attack the security guard, steal his watch and sell the ill-gotten goods to a construction site.  It is clear that Blume has no actual job, doing whatever he can to get by.  After witnessing a man recording a fiery crash, selling the footage for a tidy sum, Blume decides this is the next way to make money.  He steals an expensive bike and pawns it for a video camera and a police scanner, now trying to make easy money.  Blume finds a way to get his footage onto the morning news and he becomes consumed by this goal, a goal to sell his footage, have a reputable business and will seemingly stop at nothing to see this dream come true.

After hiring a man who was practically homeless, Blume has a corporation and starts to see the fruits of his labour.  Blume is befriended, to some degree, by a local news director, Nina, played by Rene Russo.  Blume goes to great lengths to manipulate all those around him, soaring higher and higher, making more and more money and making questionably ethical decisions.  It is that latter starts to make the movie almost uncomfortable at times.  Blume has little to no regard for anyone else, using people, as the character even states, “he doesn’t like people.”  The idea that his business is something he stumbled upon makes him that much more despicable.

I can’t quite put into words how turned off I was by Blume, yet Gyllenhaal kept you engaged, almost rooting for this ne’er-do-well character.  It also kept me fascinated that someone would live his life with no sense of how to live among people.  His only goal is to get ahead, there is no concern for anything else.  Currently, I work for someone like this and watching this movie was quite a clinic.  No matter what you do, it will be wrong because it wasn’t the sociopath’s idea, or isn’t directly related to the sociopath getting ahead.  That sort of lifestyle is foreign to most of us and for good reason.  The movie is well worth a watch, no matter the price.  The only detraction I had was that I really disliked the lead character, as I was supposed to.