Sunday, May 24, 2015

Movie Review: Poltergeist

A horror movie is really the same beast, just dressed up in different clothing.  I keep trying to convince myself that I’ll see something new or amazing, some new angle for a story that makes me stop and think.  It happens once in a while, I’d say one out of every ten horror movies I see something interesting.  This was not one of them, and not surprisingly.

If you’re born in the 1980’s, or a horror buff, then you’ve certainly seen the original Poltergeist movie, featuring Coach, or Craig T Nelson, as he might be known by.  This movie didn’t have any known names and the story was a retelling of the original with a few slight changes, a few interesting mixes of the modern horror genre mixed with this classic.

The Poltergeist movie centers around a family that moves into a new home and strange things quickly ensue.  In this iteration, the father has lost his job and is looking for work and the mother is an author who isn’t writing.  This leaves the family open to the desperation you might see if you watch A Haunting, which is a really solid one-hour show on Destination America, if you’re interested.  In so many of those episodes, the hauntings are exacerbated by the fact that the family is trapped both by the entity as well as the inability to move out, financially.  This holds true for this movie as well.

The hauntings in the story escalate faster than it did in the original and the story is also focused on the little brother more than the rest of the family.  Possible SPOILERS ahead.  Once the youngest daughter vanishes, the story shifts to the little brother realizing he should have protected the little sister instead of being a coward.  Much of the story, and the changes to it, unfold around that caveat.

Overall, I can’t say this was a bad movie.  It kept my interest and had a good number of scares that were wholly unexpected.  At the same time, it felt like I’d seen this before and in a way I had, because I’ve seen the original and some of the sequels.  

The one difference I feel worth noting was the inclusion, for the youngest daughter, of this stuffed animal, a pig-a-corn.  There is a point in the story where one of the academics who is helping the family is trying to explain, to the son (again), how his sister is both here and not here, by drawing a circle on two sheets of paper and overlapping them.  In some sense, a pig-a-corn is a lot like that, it is two things at once, though neither can exist.  You can tell how engaging this movie was if I was able to come up with this observation.

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.