Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Movie Review: The Vatican Tapes

I can sum this movie up in a couple words: don’t waste your time.  The found footage movies have a certain flare to them, but in this case, some lazy producer and director, maybe writer too, threw together what I can only imagine is the loosest plot I’ve ever seen.  The acting was not even passable, even Dougray Scott (dude, what happened to him, right?) couldn’t carry scenes.  The boyfriend was almost okay, but I expected more from Michael Peña.  The guy was even in Ant-man (Lay, you were right about that!) and he seems to have such comedic timing, but the drama of the horror movie seemed to elude him at times.

What frustrates me about horror movies is that the idea, the concept is sound.  The idea that the Vatican would keep a repository of instances of the Devil on earth seems reasonable.  To make a movie about it also seems reasonable.  To make this movie leaves me wondering what intern dropped the ball on getting the writer a latte at the right time or what.  This movie was lazy in every sense of the word.  The situations were tired and overused and there was not one original element in it.  If you saw The Last Exorcism, you’ve basically seen parts of this movie, as well as any other exorcist-themed movie.  I feel embarrassed for Hollywood.

On a related note, Dougray Scott, are you really lamenting missing out on X-men right now?  I mean, he was in line to play Wolverine if not for Mission Impossible 2.  Looking back now, I bet he is regretting that choice every millisecond, more so if he sees the amazing success Hugh Jackman has had.  Really, don’t we all remember the Drew Barrymore movie we were introduced to Scott in, Ever After.  I feel sad for Dougray Scott, even if he’s certainly making more money than me.  This movie was an embarrassment and he should never have been in it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Movie Review: Ant-Man

Well, I guess I’ve hit my limit for Marvel movies this summer.  This movie was amusing and instantly forgettable.  For $10, seeing it in 3-D was a little more entertaining, but I think Marvel is really starting to scrub the bottom of the bucket with stories and super heroes.  I like a good superhero movie, sure, but at some point enough is enough.  I had zero expectations going in and came out wondering if I should have found a better use for my time and my $10.

The story of Ant-man is like most other superhero stories.  A ne’er-do-well type gets out of jail, after performing some sort of Robin Hood like crime, and can’t find work because he’s an ex-con (I did have an Orange is the New Black – Tastee moment, but let’s not add something to the movie that isn’t there).  Ultimately , he ends up turning back to crime, but lo and behold, the person he planned on burgling ‘let’s’ him steal and he’s been chosen to be the new Ant-man.

The story could not have been more tired.  Sometimes, like with Chris Pratt, an actor can make something feel interesting and new.  Paul Rudd and Evangline Lilly are not those actors.  I really struggle with the latter, as I loved Kate from Lost, but the last few movies I’ve seen Lilly in, she’s been just bland.  I’m not sure what to attribute this to, but I just didn’t feel any of her performances resonated.  Bland is probably the best word to use.  More than that, she and Rudd were just uninteresting, even if he had some witty lines.  The supporting cast stole the scenes they were in.
Marvel has really contrived this story out of nothing, more than Guardians of the Galaxy.  A different cast might have had a different outcome, but for the most part, I want my two hours and $10 back.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Movie Review: Minions

This should come as no surprise that I opted to see this movie, in 3-D, but that didn’t actually work, but at least AMC gave me my money back.  The trailers really delivered basically what was going to be in the movie. There isn’t really a plot for me to spoil.  The story is supposed to be an origin story, leading the audience through the Minions finding Groo.  What happened was really an hour and a half of slapstick, sometimes crude adult jokes and little else.  For an adult, it was entertaining, for a kid, it will be memorable for doing physical comedy with others and little else.

What made the first two Despicable Me movies so memorable wasn’t the Minions by themselves, but the family factor from Groo and the girls.  Without that, the Minions are truly sidekicks, as the movie shows.  It isn’t that the Minions aren’t fun, they are.  A movie where they are front and center, with their piecemeal language, is impossible to follow.  The movie never made sense.  My cousins and I spent much of the movie trying to figure out whether they were speaking Spanish, Italian or French and the consensus is that it was a mix of all three.

The idea of the movie was great, and I do love the Minions, but for $15, I’m not sure this movie is worth seeing in the theatre.  It had a few good laughs and the main Minions that are followed are very entertaining, but they can’t hold the loose plot together much, if at all.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Movie Review: The Gallows

Here with another horror movie review.  It seems like I average one a month.  I have been watching a few horror movies on TV, like As Above, So Below and Paranormal Activity 5, neither of which were groundbreaking movies, but diverting.  The Gallows, like most horror movies, has some promise, but the ending saps any value from the movie at all.

The movie opens with the tragedy that occurred twenty years prior and picks up with the school performing the same play (which befuddled me as no school should be performing a play that had an accident that killed a kid).  The cast is unremarkable, with the jock turned actor, the pedigree thespian, the jokester and his blonde girlfriend.  I was really convinced there were more kids based on the trailers, but only four in the chaos actually does serve to make the scenes tense.  The jokester convinces his jock friend to destroy the set because the jock can’t act and when they go to the school with the girlfriend in tow, they run into the thespian who the jock kind of likes.  It is the formulaic horror movie, never deviating from the well-worn script.

There are moments where the story almost could have been something more, or the middling acting of the kids could be tolerated, but the heavy handed story really doesn’t give much room for enjoyment.  AMC dropped their prices, so I feel better knowing I paid less to see this movie than usual.  The concept was solid, and that’s what frustrates me.  The idea of being locked in a school with an unseen killer who is recreating his own death had a lot to offer.  Yet, at the end of each sequence, you could have predicted the outcome.  Despite that, I did jump, a lot, and the main ‘villain’ did wear a hangman mask, adding to the scares.  Overall, I can’t, in good faith, recommend this movie to anyone, unless you’re just really bored or don’t have anything better to do.  I should have seen the Minion movie instead.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Who is Piper Chapman?

Throughout the course of books, TV shows and movies, characters that audiences fall in love with, or love to hate, often evolve.  In a strange series of events on my part, I’ve been clearing my DVR of Fortitude (I’ve still got a ways to go) and I’ve been reading The Hunger Games and Philosophy.  On the same night, I viewed the Fortitude episode in which one character (POSSIBLE SPOILER if you’re planning on watching or if you haven’t seen/read Hunger Games or plan on watching Orange is the New Black or Fortitude) states that she’s not the same person she was seven years ago because over the course of seven years, all the cells in your body are replaced.  In her definition, she is focusing on her physical presence, not her spiritual or emotional one, which one could argue isn’t just housed through the cells in your body.  Later that night, I read the essay Who is Peeta Mellark in the aforementioned Hunger Games book and it discussed the transformation of Peeta from the sweet boy who is in love with Katniss into the disillusioned one at the end of the book.  The focus of the essay was on both the emotional Peeta as well as physical.  Peeta was tortured by the Capital to forget the positive things he knew about Katniss and believe she meant him harm.  The boy that is rescued from the Capital bears little resemblance to the boy we first met, yet it is the same person.  This had my mind rolling in a few directions and as I thought about it, it lent me to the character evolution of Piper, and Alex, in Orange is the New Black and the relationship between the two.

In the beginning of Orange is the New Black, the audience is introduced to the affluent Piper Chapman who is incarcerated for the part she played in carrying drug money through customs for her then-girlfriend Alex Vause.  The timing of the offense occurred ten years prior and the audience witnesses Piper’s transition into being a free person as being someone who can work within the system of the jail.  The contrast from seasons one to three are quite stark, the tipping point being the end result to fellow inmate Stella.  Is the Piper the audience first meets the real Piper, or is the Piper at the end of season three the real Piper?

The sense of self is a long-argued point amongst philosophers.  There are many branches to this argument and the one that makes the most sense for the aforementioned characters to me is the idea promoted by David Hume.  In his writings, Hume asserts that there is a bundle theory of self.  The idea being that a person today and a person a few years prior may be drastically different, but is the same base person.  In a way, or the way it helps me to understand this concept, is like a painting, you have a base layer and you may add or subtract, but at the end of the day, even if the painting isn’t complete, your idea of the painting is still the same, the product is still the same product you had when you started, even if elements of it have changed and may yet change again and be weathered and worn over time.  Hume (from A Treatise of Human Nature) phrases it as follows:


We are never intimately conscious of anything but a particular perception; man is a bundle or collection of different perceptions which succeed one another with an inconceivable rapidity and are in perpetual flux and movement


The sense of self is a combination of many varying elements and despite what Alex says to Piper in season one (while they’re playing cards), she probably isn’t nearly as consistent as she believes herself to be.  The Piper and Alex that the audience meets before the series started (through flashbacks) are not the same pair we meet in season one nor the pair that ends up in two very different places at the end of season three.  Each action and interaction affects them both in different ways.



When Piper first arrives in prison, she has a very naïve outlook on life, wary of everyone at prison, but still not smart enough to be silent when she needs to be.  Some of her first interactions with the other prisoners are cringe-worthy, like her foot-in-mouth insult of Red, the prison chef.  And while Alex tries to help her (and is punished for offering said help), Piper quickly learns and adjusts.  Even after one day, the Piper the audience meets is vastly different than the Piper from the second day.  Which Piper is the real one?

Hume asserts that both are Piper.  A person grows each day, adding something to their outlook on life, their behaviour.  Even if Piper, when she rekindles her romance with Alex, states that she “feels like 23 and no time has passed.  I’ve changed so much.”  Alex counters that she hasn’t changed at all, which the audience also learns is false as Alex dabbles in drug use and learns from it.  Change is inevitable, but does that change make you a completely different person?



Another great philosophical reference is the Ship of Theseus analogy.  In the story, a group of Athenians were keeping a boat from breaking down by replacing the boat piece by piece as it needed to be repaired.  Each piece was replaced with an identical piece, yet one could argue the boat that set out was not the same boat when it returned as all the pieces had, at some point, been replaced.  

When we are introduced to Alex, through the lenses of Piper’s prejudice, she is untrustworthy and unscrupulous.  By the end of season three, Alex is a lot more honest with Piper, at least, despite the ending of their relationship.  Through flashbacks, we see Alex as being somewhat naïve, even if she was knowingly working for a drug cartel.  The fear and paranoia she exhibits are wildly drastic from the untroubled Alex viewers met in season one.  In a way, Alex and Piper move in two opposing directions, the control between them shifting between them like a wave.  If the characters are meant to be together, I expect the waves to settle in the upcoming seasons, which would be a nice contrast to the contrivances we’ve endured over this last season.



A different way to view this would be an eye-test of sorts.  Would Piper from season one even speak to Piper from season three?  The two may share the same history and backstory, but once Piper enters prison, she ceases to be the never-incarcerated Piper.  To some degree, I believe that when your worldview begins to change based upon your surroundings, the chance is so profound that you truly are a different person, a person the previous you might not be able to identify with on any level.

In essence, the Piper from season one to season three is a completely different person.  The same can be said about Alex, though for slightly different reasons.  The character development for Piper, as the central character, was far greater than any other character.  As the show has progressed, each of the characters have been fleshed out, and the strong, sarcastic Alex has been boiled down from her high, looking very much human.  It does say something about both characters that neither are pleased with the change in the other, stating that neither is pleased with the new “version” of the other.  The recognition of the versions belies itself to my theory.  They recognise the change and realise they are two different people.  I’d like to believe, at the core of their relationship, they still do care about each other, as Alex states in season one “When you have a connection with someone, it never really goes away…you snap back to being important to each other because you still are.”  Despite the changes the two characters evolve into, maybe they are the same and we’re the ones who’ve changed our views.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Why You’re Not Watching Orange is the New Black (But You Should Be!)

If you know me, you know I’m a fan of all things orange, so it might surprise you that I’ve only just now started watching Orange is the New Black.  I’m not sure what exactly triggered it, but something about a commercial or teaser drew me in.  I partially blame the direction the world is going in, not as a bad thing, but with people being more open with different types of people in every way possible, a show that displays that should be lauded and not shunned.

Netflix Subscription

This was the first turnoff for me.  I pay way too much to DirecTV right now and I couldn’t begin to wrap my mind around the idea of paying for more TV.  I mean, how much TV can one person watch?  But let’s be honest, how many of those additional channels do I even watch?  Since I’m not an HBO junkie, I can clear that off my list and the rest of the movie channels really just regurgitate the same movies over and over again.  With Netflix, you get a wider variety of movies to choose from.  I already saw The Babadook (a horror movie) that hasn’t been on any of the movie channels and added a few more items to my Watch List.  For $9 a month (for the middle tier), that’s $108 a year for a few more channels and I can cut about $90 per month when I get rid of the movie channels.  Yes, that math computes.

Gratuitous Scenes



Once you’ve gotten past the cost (and you can free trial the first month), the next thing I feel like people get turned off by certain types of scenes.  I’m not going to sugar coat this in anyway, because I never would, there are a fair amount of Lebanese scenes (my Golden Girls code word).  The main storyline, for the first season centers around protagonist Piper(Taylor Schilling) going back to jail because her ex-girlfriend Alex (Laura Prepon) was a drug dealer that got caught and may have fingered her as an accomplice.  At the same time, Piper is engaged to Larry (Jason Biggs).  There is a bit of both straight and not-straight storylines and characters and if that’s something that makes you uncomfortable, I can understand your reluctance.  At the same time, I feel like opening your mind to new ideas isn’t a bad thing.  I challenge anyone who watches the show not to root for, to some degree, the rekindling of the relationship between Piper and Alex.

Depressing



Let’s face it, the show is set in prison.  But it isn’t Oz.  I feel like Mean Girls is kind of a good reference point for the concept.  Even the characters cite how prison is a lot like high school with cliques and gossip.  Everyone knows everyone else’s business.  There are no secrets because everyone is living on top of each other (not literally).  There are both uplifting and devastating moments throughout the three seasons.  The show is seen, at first, through Piper’s eyes and as an upper-class, affluent person, the challenges she faces are very realistic.  The fact that she insults the cook on the very first day and has to find a way out of it or she won’t get fed is a situation that is both dire and still somehow amusing at the same time.

There are so many instances where we are reminded how bad choices lead to consequences.  The backstories for each character are fleshed out, some more than others, and there is a character for everyone.
The reason you should be watching:

Cast



This is where diversity really hits a stride for OITNB.  I have yet to see a group not well represented, except perhaps for men, who are really painted one-dimensionally for large chunks of the story.  The main story, and the first season, serve mostly to introduce the audience to the prison and go through the ups and downs with Piper.  Throughout the course of the first season, there are a variety of characters introduced and over time, more is revealed.  No matter what race you are (save Indian, like me, no Indians in jail), there seems to be some general representation. The show even pokes fun at this through an appointed council that is basically populated by a representative from each group: White, Black, Latino, Golden Girls and Other.  If you look past the main white cast, the talent spills over with everyone else.  Uzo Aduba won an Emmy for her performance from the first season, and there were a lot of other nominees besides her.

Story



I wish I could put into words what kept me coming back, but I can’t.  At the same time, I’m already re-watching the entire series, trying to pick up on things I might have missed.  The show is rife full of pop culture references, mostly though Tastee and her love for Harry Potter and reading.  If that doesn’t do it for you, there is a story with a Latino family and an impregnated inmate, something straight out of a soap opera.  The overarching villains for seasons one and two are memorable, but more so as we watch the evolution of season one’s Pennsatucky grow increasingly sympathetic as the seasons wear on.  Her character evolution is one of the starker ones, next to Piper’s fall into darkness.

Relationships



The idea of prison is terrifying, at least to me, you might not be phased by it.  The fact that every single person incarcerated in the show, at one point or another, admits to doing something wrong to end up there, but at the same time finds solace from others there as well is what is fascinating.  Even if the groups seem separated (white, black, other, old), the groups are still mixed and the mixing creates for some very compelling viewing.  When Red loses the kitchen in season 2 and is forced to join the old people table, the viewer sees people who might be forgotten by most, but can still contribute.

Consensus

I probably have a lot more blogs in me on this subject, but this is really scratching the surface.  A lot of fans have mixed feelings about season three being slightly aimless, as opposed to the conventional narrative in the first two seasons, but I’d argue the third season ties it all together, especially if you’re just now watching the show.  A lot of loose ends are tied together and while some parts were slower than others, I still watched it without stop and could keep watching it.

Is like: Lost, Buffy the Vampire Slayer




On: Whenever you feel like watching – no waiting!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Movie Review: Jurassic World

The first trailer for this movie gave me goose bumps.  I can still remember seeing the first movie almost twenty years ago.  I remember being more terrified of the Raptors than the T-Rex.  I also remember having nightmares of Raptors coming after me.  I don’t remember being that little when seeing it, more so when I subtract twenty years from my current age, then I might seem like a scaredy cat, but it was the first scary type movie I’d really seen.  If you haven’t seen the original Jurassic Park, do take the time to see that before seeing this.  The subsequent entries did play a very small part of this movie, but it was mostly Jurassic World paying homage to Jurassic Park.

If you haven’t seen the trailer for some strange reason, the movie basically starts with the park having been open for some time and bringing in customers for years.  The place is packed and as two kids embark on a vacation with their aunt (Bryce Dallas Howard), she pawns them off on her assistant so she can do her best to sell the park’s next greatest attraction, a genetically engineered dinosaur.  I was pleasantly surprised to see Dr. Wu (from the first film), had returned, aged, but was still in charge of the genetics at Jurassic World (no longer Park after what happened in the first movie, I presume).  Unsurprisingly, the genetically engineered dinosaur surprises everyone and manages to elude any captivity and get into the park, despite the hero, Chris Pratt’s Owen.  Without giving away the rather obvious happy ending and obvious deaths, the movie is a lot of fun.

Today’s culture dictates that a movie of this magnitude is expected to meet certain needs.  Diversity in Hollywood is woefully lacking and other than the aforementioned Dr. Wu, there was only one other minority, Pratt’s sidekick, Barry, who was black.  The hero was a white guy, Pratt, and Howard played the damsel in distress who wore heels throughout the movie, in terrain that definitely required something else (I partially say this from experience after wearing wedges to the Grand Canyon and knowing how uneven the footing can be outdoors.  How Ms. Howard managed to run in heels is beyond me) and she was also white.  In this day and age, why is Howard’s character depicted as being money-hungry and work focused, unable to have a serious relationship with the charming Pratt?  Why is her ambition portrayed so negatively that you’re almost rooting for Pratt to save her because you know she can’t possibly save herself, even though she ultimately does save the day?  Why is Pratt portrayed as the Everyman character who is infallible, perfect in every way and utterly irresistible.  Pair this with the fact that it was two brothers (vs. two sisters or a mix of siblings) as the child focus, I found this bothersome.  I accepted it at face value, but it made me feel like everyone in the movie was white and male save for Howard.  What made Jurassic Park so amazing, and still outpaces this latest movie, is that it had a mix of everything.  Perhaps Crichton wrote the original book this way, but the movie makers would do well to allow some other races and genders be represented.