Sunday, April 20, 2014

Movie Review: Oculus

One type of movie I rarely pass on is horror movies.  For whatever reason, I find it hard to not want to feel that thrill and scare that a good horror movie can deliver, minus the fact that I jump and cover my eyes pretty much through any high-stress scenes.  This movie had a very interesting and confusing trailer.  Two kids witness something tragic and one is charged with the murder of their father.  One of the two kids is incarcerated while the other spends the same time trying to track down the ‘thing’ that caused the tragedy to occur.  This isn’t anything new, of course not, and yet it is like watching a car fire, I can’t look away.

The movie shifts back and forth between what happened in the past and what was happening in the present.  The two kids, brother and sister, Tim and Kayleigh, are reunited after Tim is released from a mental hospital for killing their father after he killed their mother.  The two, at the time, agreed that an antique mirror caused the murder to happen.  Now that Tim has been rehabilitated, he tries to reason with his older sister that an inanimate object can’t have caused those deaths.  Kayleigh has tracked down the antique mirror and goes to great lengths to prove that the mirror is indeed causing people to act and perceive things in different ways than what is really happening.  There is a great sequence early on where the two watch a recording of themselves, not realising they are doing the things they are doing.

Where Oculus makes interesting strides and keeps you engaged are in the build-up of the mystery.  The jumps in time keep the viewer engaged, trying to understand how the sequence of events leads to Tim shooting his father in cold blood, enough so to be put away for ten plus years.  The way the story unfolds, I was more interested in the mystery than the horror, but the ending left me feeling hollow and cheated.  It made me realise that movies with unhappy or ambiguous endings generally don’t feel done, as if to say, did the author forget the last few pages?

What became more interesting to me was the way the movie played the concept of perception.  I am currently reading Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, and much like the movie, the book focuses on how we perceive things the way we want to, regardless of whether or not it is true.  By that same token, the movie takes events that have happened in the past, and present, and show how things may have happened one way, but could have just as easily happened another way.  The effect of the supernatural in the story, of course, throws the entire idea off, but it is an interesting idea.  The notion that you can perceive something, believe it to be true, yet it could be false and you don’t realise it makes you stop and just wonder about everything, as this movie could have done if the ending had more closure than it did.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Movie Review: Captain America The Winter Soldier

As luck would have it, I got to see both Captain America movies back-to-back.  The first one was a primer, an introduction to Steve Rogers and the second movie picks up right where the Avengers movie stops.  Rogers is trying to assimilate back into the world, yet still not being a part of it.  Rogers is sent out on a mission early in the story, a hostage situation that he diffuses, but not without realizing that fellow Avenger, the Black Widow, was assigned to not just the strike team.  Her mission differed from his and when he confronts Fury about it, the latter doesn’t deny it, stating that he doesn’t trust anyone.

Rogers meets a fellow veteran of the army, Sam Wilson, who invites him to visit the VA to help others with their PTSD.  While Rogers is visiting Wilson, Nick Fury is being attacked and shot at by half of what appear to be the DC police.  A massive action sequence transpires and when the story returns to Rogers, he finds Fury in his apartment, half alive, getting shot as he tries to get up.  The neighbor he thought was a nurse turns out to be an agent of SHIELD and she calls an ambulance as Rogers pursues the shooter.  The attacker has the same strength as Rogers and easily escapes.  Back in the hospital, Fury dies and the jump drive he gives Rogers has to be hidden.  Rogers is cornered and questioned back at SHIELD, managing to escape and when he goes to retrieve the hidden file, the Black Widow has already gotten it.

The two go on a search to try and determine what is going on and find more than they expected.  With Fury unable to protect them, the two are hunted everywhere they go and have to enlist the help of Wilson to hide and mount a push back.  The masked attacker makes recurring appearances and Rogers soon discovers that he too is from his past.  The movie culminates with many competing elements and storylines crossing together, leaving the viewer wanting more, knowing there will be more.

Unlike the first Captain America movie, this one has a lot more going on and feels slightly more bloated in the story with quite a few different elements in the story.  The cast is bolstered with Robert Redford, who puts together quite the performance as Fury’s boss, so to speak.  If you’re a fan of the Marvel movies, this is nothing new.  While there is a lot going on, at no point did I feel overwhelmed by it.  All of the Marvel movies have these elements where there is a lot going on, but unlike the DC based movies, there are more explained with each passing movie.  After three Iron Man movies, two Thor movies, one Avengers movie and now two Captain America movies, the Marvel universe is very well stocked and very well written and acted.

Some fans might think that the concept of the Winter Soldier was minimized in favour of Fury’s storyline, but as the leader of SHIELD, and not having a movie of his own, it was nice to finally get to see more of his story and see more of some other minor characters.  I am still waiting for Marvel to make a Black Widow/Hawkeye movie of some sort, which would be amazing.

On the whole, I can’t give many, if any detractions for this movie.  At no point was I bored or uninterested.  The acting was superb, as per usual and the writing kept me engaged throughout.  I do worry that as they make more movies, each one will get heavier and heavier.  There seem to be few people who haven’t been following these movies, so it seems unlikely that a ‘new’ viewer would be lost, but that would be the only ‘bad’ thing I could say about this movie or series of movies.  Looking forward to the next Avengers movie even more.

Movie Review: Captain America The First Avenger

In the midst of Marvel’s renaissance of super hero movies, after the breakout success of X-men and Spiderman, the studio decided to release a series of movies based on individual super heroes that comprise The Avengers.  When the movies started coming out, I primarily ignored them.  I was more of an X-men/Batman fan and didn’t think much of them.  A few weeks after the first Iron Man movie was released, I decided to go ahead and give it a try.  To my surprise, it was engaging and entertaining.  Despite this, I still didn’t give Captain America much attention when the first movie came out.  Once I saw The Avengers, I had to give the good Captain his due and AMC was kind enough to do a marathon last night for the first movie and the brand new sequel.

The movie starts in the present, and we have a search team discovering something in frozen in snow and ice.  There is a glimpse of a shield with the stars and stripes on it and the story becomes a flashback.  The story of Steve Rogers is that he is a small kid with a big heart.  Even though he’s outmatched by any and all adversaries, he doesn’t back down from a fight, this stance is furthered because of the loss of his parents as a young adult.  Rogers has a stick-with-it-ness mentality that has him breaking laws trying to enlist in the army for the Second World War.  A scientist takes pity on Rogers and gets him into the army, though no one takes him seriously.

It is at this juncture that the scientist reveals that he has an experimental procedure that could make Rogers the ultimate soldier.  The risks are high, but with the chance to fight in the army, beat down a bully, as Rogers puts it, he doesn’t hesitate.  The moment the experiment is complete, he becomes bigger and stronger, the innate goodness in him compounded by the serum.  The experiment does not go on without a hitch and an agent of Hitler and Schmidt (aka the Red Skull) is there and shoots and kills the scientist.  Rogers goes after the killer and catches him, only to have him commit suicide with a cyanide pill.

While the scientist promised a chance for Rogers, the army colonel doesn’t and Rogers is relegated to a show piece, performing in a staged production to induce the masses to donate to the cause by buying bonds.  When he is assigned to speak in front of soldiers in the field, he is rebuffed and realizes his dream of being a soldier is just that.  The contingent he is with is comprised of one his boyhood friend was a part of and without orders, he takes off to try and rescue them.  The mission is a success and he is given the chance to lead his own strike team to thwart Schmidt’s forces throughout the war zone.  The movie ends in climactic fashion as Rogers is forced to sacrifice himself to save the world from Schmidt’s madness.

Looking back, I can’t for the life of me figure out why I was so turned off on seeing this movie when it first came out in 2011.  From beginning to end, the movie is compelling and well-made.  More than that, this movie is another hallmark in what I call the Joss Whedon engine of success.  I often wonder if he has had a part in each and every one of these Avengers related movies, which I am sure he has.  The vision of them, the themes they possess are both individualized for each hero and yet homogenized as they end up being put together in one team.

This movie possesses all the elements of a great Hollywood blockbuster.  Chris Evans’ portrayal of the weak turned strong hero who is held to a standard by a high moral compass is superb.  The supporting cast is equally affecting, though I found the character of Peggy somewhat unlikeable as being the only female in the movie, practically.  The way their relationship was developed was a bit of a slow burn and it evolves at a pace that makes it more interesting as it moves on.  I can’t say I had many, if any complaints about this movie.  I doubt any of you haven’t had the chance to see this, and with the sequel out now, you really have no reason to have not seen it.

I will say this, after some careful consideration, it dawns on me why I am so gobsmacked by these Marvel movies.  When I was a kid, I read X-men, Spiderman and Batman comics.  When I watch the movies, I find myself frustrated by the constant changes being made to the stories.  With these movies, I come in fresh.  I have never read any of the comics related to any of these characters and each story feels fresh and new because it is.