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.

Movie Review: The Darkness

It isn’t even horror movie season and I’ve been overloading on the stuff. I decided to take in a double feature this weekend, perfect timing at AMC between The Darkness and Conjuring 2. For a blisteringly hot Sunday, this was an excellent use of my time.

The Darkness starts out slow and builds like a wooden roller coaster. Two families take a trip to the Grand Canyon area. Of the three kids, only one is quite young and he is a little off. It isn’t until almost halfway through the movie that the parents state that he is autistic. I thought that slow burn was well worth the wait, and the child was played by a familiar face, David Mazouz, Bruce Wayne from Fox’s Gotham. I spent most of the movie trying to figure out why I recognized him. He has a Shia LaBeouf sort of look to him, but let’s hope he doesn’t have the same dark turn ahead of him.

Back to the movie, the family, helmed by Kevin Bacon and always impressive Radha Mitchell (see Silent Hill), the family try to ease back into normal life. The father is an architect, the wife a photographer. Considering their occupations, I was impressed that the drove a Porsche (the small SUV, Cayenne) and lived in a pretty expensive neighborhood. You know the movie isn’t keeping my interest if I can see these sorts of details. While on vacation, the youngest of the family, Mazouz’ Michael has brought something home with them and things start to get kind of crazy before culminating in an ending that could have been played far better, but still had the presumed effect.

There are two sort of distinct, main storylines in the movie. One is the obvious supernatural one. The second one, that could have been brought more to the forefront, but was still blaringly effective, was the effect that an autistic child’s needs might be on a family. At one point, we learn the father had an affair, the daughter is bulimic. It isn’t enough that the family is feeling the effects of the supernatural that before any of it started, at one point or another, everyone indulged in self-harm. Even the mother at one points turns back to alcohol for comfort. Is the movie saying that having an autistic child too much to bear? In the end, of course, it is because the child is autistic that he is able to save the day, so to speak.


I won’t spoil the end, though I sort of did that already, the movie is solid in the story it tells. Is it a story that you would want to see? I wonder. The movie somehow managed to stay in the theatre for almost 4 weeks, which to me, is pretty impressive. I wouldn’t say I was disappointed, but it certainly made me reflect on autism and why horror movies haven’t ventured down this path before.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Movie Review: X-men Apocalypse

For a two and a half hour movie, I felt like I’d been sitting in that theatre for days. I would remark on the combination of comic to film and how that adaptation went, but Bryan Singer really didn’t seem to reference the comic book as source material, but as a way to make more flashy sequences and misuse one gloriously shirtless Hugh Jackman.

The story, and I use the word loosely, is based on some age-old mutant, Apocalypse, inadvertently being awakened and wreaking havoc all over the world. There are so many areas of the movie that meandered through thick junks of action and made it seem pointless at the same time. Unlike The Nice Guys, this movie seemed to be moving slower than it seemed possible. The movie combined a few different storylines into as small a space as possible. There were snippets of great filmmaking, the sequence with Evan Peters running through the school to save people while ‘Sweet Dreams Are Made of These.’ That was pretty much the highlight of the entire movie for me, aside from the aforementioned shirtless Hugh Jackman.

The acting was passable, but even the big names, Jennifer Lawrence and James McAvoy didn’t seem to want to be there. Michael Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult carried their scenes well, until the fighting started, then everyone was pretty much the same. The kid who played Nightcrawler was entertaining, but the conflict of the character was swapped out for bizarre humour that doesn’t fit the character. Olivia Munn was great as Psylocke, but had all of three lines. The girl who played Storm was also good, but her character seemed overly one-dimensional until the very end. The idea that Magneto would follow Apocalypse, no matter what tragedy he’d endured, is wholly implausible. Magneto does not follow, he leads.

This is how I felt after watching this travesty of a movie.

The movie was cramped and the story, in the end, made no sense. It seemed obvious that the movie was made to make money, not to tell a story or further the X-men lore. Why is it that Marvel can get Avengers so right but can’t seem to make one quality X-men movie since the first one where the world was introduced to Hugh Jackman, the quintessential Wolverine? I really mulled this over as I watched the movie, as watching the movie had no value. There are big actors/big names in both franchises. The scope of each character and each story is beautifully rendered in Avengers, even with small-time characters like Ant-man. With X-men, they take on the whole instead of looking at the pieces. I wonder if X-men would be better served by showing how the team works alone before it can work together, even if that isn’t how it was originally written. At this point, they are taking such artistic license that is shouldn’t really matter what they do now. Is it bad that I want them to reboot the series again?


X-men Apocalypse disappointed me on so many levels. The dialogue felt forced, the cast didn’t seem to want to be there and appeared to be not enjoying themselves. I should have known better and I regret having wasted my time and money to see this joke of a movie.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Netflix and Amazon Horror Movie Binge

It isn’t often that I have time to just sit and do nothing but watch movies on Netflix or Amazon. Over the last two weekends, I’ve been flying to weddings (none of them my own), and have had more time than expected to watch some movies. While watching on a tablet isn’t quite the same as watching on a screen, the movies were ones I’d wanted to see and there were no TV shows calling my name. There are probably more movies I watched, but these were the ones that stood out, for better or for worse.

Maggie, featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin

I can rarely turn my eye away from a zombie movie, be it good or bad. This movie reminded me a little of Warm Bodies (the story being told from the PoV of the zombie). In this movie, Abigail Breslin plays Schwarzenegger’s daughter who has been bitten by a zombie and is infected. The story is a bit of a slow trudge, at times stumbling through awkward sequences and blasting through emotional ones that could have used more care. It is rare that a story about zombies ever paints the zombies in a non-lethal light, but Breslin’s zombie is turning, not yet turned and watching her, and her family, cope with the way the world works was actually worth watching. I never really knew much about Breslin before Scream Queens, but so far, I haven’t been disappointed. The story lacks a certain cohesion, but both Breslin and Schwarzenegger deliver pretty emotional performances.

The Hallow

In some cases, a horror movie is basically a worst case scenario for normal people, and that pretty much holds true in The Hallow. The movie was touted as being super scary when it came out a year ago, but I’d never gotten the chance to see it. It is streaming free, so I thought, all aboard! I was only a little disappointed. If you saw District 9, this might seem familiar.

The premise of the story is an overwrought one for horror movies, family moves to a new home and offends the locals and things go downhill from there. The use of technology in the movie was interesting, making the horror movie almost an homage to environmentalism. The father likes to explore the nearby forest and the neighbors try to persuade him that nothing good will come of this. And that’s exactly what happens. The movie uses countless jump scares to keep the audience engaged, but the crux of the story and the twists it takes towards the end make the ordeal worth it. I’m not sure I would have considered it a great horror movie, but it delivered the gore and terror.

Hush

This movie was recommended to me by a co-worker. We often lament all the bad horror movies we watch on Netflix/Amazon. There are quite an assortment. Both services are quite good about recommending more of the same.

The main character in Hush is a deaf woman. It astounds me that there has been no horror movie done like this before. The motivation for the ‘bad guy’ in the movie is nonexistent, making the whole thing a little tough to swallow, however, a man decides to terrorize this woman, only realizing while standing right behind her, that she’s deaf, do things get interesting. On the one hand, I feel like this should have been a short movie given the idea that an able-bodied human should be able to find a way to surprise a deaf person, but this guy was pretty inept. The ending is not entirely surprising, but the way the movie gets there is worth seeing. This isn’t a star-studded, Hollywood blockbuster, but it was quite good given the scope and story.

The Mirror

I would really love the hour and a half it took me to watch this movie back. Any shaky cam movies put themselves in one of two groups: good or unwatchable. This was the latter. The story was interesting, at first. College/University age kids are applying for a grant to prove that the supernatural exists and buy a haunted mirror on ebay. The basics premise seems solid, the execution was downright terrible. The actors were either working with a nonexistent script or just couldn’t muster one ounce of emotion. The main character, I guess, main white guy #1 is the first to be affected by the mirror and while there is a GoPro cam attached to him, somehow the friends never see the footage, but we as the audience do. White guy #2 is doing as little as possible to figure out what is going on. White girl is the girlfriend of white guy #1 and does nothing to further the plot whatsoever. It really was a waste of my time.

Djinn

And pair this movie with the last one and I am owed 3 hours from the world, or something. The premise of this one was also sound. If you’ve never heard of this, as Muslim, I’ve grown up knowing about Djinns. It is truly terrifying. What was done in the movie was mildly scary at times, but the story didn’t come together.

The story starts out like a fairy tale, talking about a Djinn who fell in love and had a baby with a  human (this is also something talked about it Muslim culture, while we can’t see them, Djinns can see us and fall in love with us). The baby is taken away, presumed to be killed, and the Djinn curse the village this happens in. Fast forward (unknown amount of years) and a corporation is trying to build on this plot of land. A man from America is offered a job back in his homeland, the UAE (where this building is) and the story devolves from there.

There are quite a few solid jump scares and the manifestation of the Djinns was well done, to some degree. In the Muslim folklore, Djinns are made of fire. In this movie, they resemble the Dementors from the Harry Potter movies, but smaller. Either way, it still conveyed the same sort of terror. Any being that is wreathed in black, with faces unseen, often gives me goose bumps. Having said that, I don’t think I’d recommend sitting through this movie just to see that.

The Awakening

There are some notable Hollywood stars in this, Dominic West, Rebecca Hall, but even this won’t save the story that almost, but didn’t quite make for a great horror film. The film follows the main character, played by Rebecca Hall, as a professional debunker of ghostly things. West’s character is sent to retrieve her to investigate a death at an all boy’s boarding school. The place is rife for a horror move (and, for all you Pride and Prejudice fans, I’m pretty sure it is the set of Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s home!). Something is strange going on at the school and after a red herring with a teacher, Hall’s character unearths the truth and almost dies because of it. The ending left a lot to be desired. Also, Delores Umbridge was in it and that was worth seeing.



Haunter/ Final Girl
I started with Abigail Breslin and will end with two more of her movies. Who knew she’s done so many movies? I stumbled upon two of them, but Netflix recommended Final Girl and I thought, sure, okay.

Haunter

In an homage to Groundhog Day, Breslin plays a sixteen year old teen who keeps reliving her final day, only to become aware of the fact that she keeps reliving it. The story arcs between past, present and future and while it doesn’t tie together perfectly at the end, the horror of it maintains pace throughout, making it a surprising film to find that I’d never heard of. Once Breslin realizes she is reliving the same day, she begins seeing this girl. The girl isn’t haunting her, but the other way around. Once the two connect, a larger evil menace is revealed and the two work together to get the evil out of the house. While this isn’t the best or scariest of horror movies out there, it is worth a watch.




Final Girl

The picture has Abigail Breslin holding an axe. What’s not to love already? Breslin’s character is orphaned and brought up to be an assassin. Looking at her, I’m positive no one would expect it. Wes Bentley plays her mentor and the two embark on missions to, seemingly, rid the world of evil. Bentley comes upon a stor of boys killing girls and assigns Breslin to the task. She isn’t crazy about it, but manages to subdue all four of her assailants in quick time. I actually really liked seeing Breslin overpowering this guys who were so much bigger and stronger than her. The idea of the movie was ridiculous and it would have been nice to play up the humor of it, but instead the movie was played as serious, which I think is a disservice to Breslin.


All in all, I have some hits, and some misses. The moral of the story, based on my list, go watch something with Abigail Breslin in it.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Movie Review: The Nice Guys

The first time I saw Russel Crowe on screen, he was playing a hard-nosed cop in LA Confidential. Since then, I’m struggling to remember a movie where Crowe didn’t ultimately play this same sort of character. No matter where I see him, he’s using a physical approach to intimidate everyone and everything in his path. Ryan Gosling tends to play the heart-wrenching sort of character that women tend to fall for. I am imagining a Hollywood producer salivating over the box office returns for pairing these two together. And thus, I can see exactly how this movie got made.

The story was quite fast moving. The scenes were breathtaking at times. The first sequence was an interesting weave of a dream sort of becoming a reality, for at least one person in the scene. What progresses is two hours (though it felt like a lot more), of mysteries steeped onto one another. Much like LA Confidential, there were quite a few twists and turns and the ultimate ‘bad’ guy was never held responsible. The over-arching story was somewhat ridiculous in contrast to the smaller scope story of just finding a missing girl.

The true draw of this movie, the star, was Angourie Rice, who played Gosling’s daughter. Her performance outshined Gosling and Crowe. She was Penny to their Inspector Gadget. In many ways, I had wished they’d just let her run the investigation. Gosling played a drunk sort of character who had some mild competence, while Crowe was the clear muscle (as usual). It was so tired and yet mildly entertaining.

There wasn’t a great deal of diversity to speak of, but both of the non-white characters that were ‘featured,’ and I use the word loosely, ended up being ‘bad guys.’ In a movie that seemed to be contending for an award of some sort, I would have expected more attention paid to this sort of thing, but that wasn’t the case.


I’m not sure I’d recommend this movie. It was amusing, sure, but that isn’t a reason to waste time or money on something. 

Movie Review: Captain America: Civil War

While I saw this movie almost two weeks ago, this is the first time I’ve had to sit down at a computer for an extended period of time to write down my thoughts, however scattered they are at this point. If you’ve seen one super hero movie, you’ve really seen them all. Having said that, for about 2.5 hours, this was a decent use of time and money. There’s no way to have a story without conflict and the movie opens with a ridiculous fight sequence, picking up where the last Avengers movie left off. And just as happened in all the other movie, civilians get in the way, get hurt and sometimes it is unavoidable. Not so, says the government, who come in to dictate to the Avengers that they can’t run amok without supervision, a committee or something of the like. The group fractures and wackiness ensues.

The plot is hardly surprising. The ending is fairly expected. I did read a comment online stating that the costs should have been greater for the team, but I’m not sure which character would have been eliminated. Given the tenor of the world right now, unless it had been one of the two main characters, I don’t think people would have been satisfied. That didn’t happen and at the end of the day, the movie almost felt like a waste.

What I love and hate about the Marvel universe is that the scope of it has no bounds. The entire series is tied together and everyone is working towards a common goal. At the same time, it starts to feel overburdened and directionless. The same things keep happening and people continue to watch without pause. But should we pause? What is Captain America really doing? Is he not a vigilante? Sure, you could argue he was searching for the truth, but to do so with no boundaries, and near limitless power, means he is unstoppable. This is the cue that Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man came in, trying to find a middle ground. I thought it interesting that the flamboyant playboy was the voice of reason and Captain America was the one that refused to compromise.


The whole movie seemed weighted, a production that was bigger than the screen that could hold it. At each turn there were yet more heroes and more obstacles for them to overcome. When the super hero movies first started out, Batman would be opposing two bad guys. Then Batman got Robin and they’d play against more villains. It seems that Disney has forgotten how this turned out (lest we forget Batman and Robin) and we’re doomed to repeat it. I appreciate the entertaining quality to these movies, but my expectations are going to continue to lower as each new movie preens onto the screen.