Monday, May 22, 2017

Movie Review: Alien Covenant

I really don’t know why I choose to see this movie. I’d seen Prometheus a few years back and didn’t really enjoy that. Something about space horror movies often gets my attention and this seemed to be no exception. I’m not sure if AMC tricked me with their movie times, but I just grabbed the earliest showing and ended up in fancy reclining chairs and spectacular surround sound. That was worth the $12 alone, even if the movie was a bit of a slow burn.

If, for some reason, you’re utterly unfamiliar with the premise of any and all Alien movies, fast forward a thousand years or so, space travel is normal and people are always searching for either new resources or new places to live. Without fail, the people end up finding some spooky abandoned something or another and end up getting found and attacked and ultimately killed by the Alien. In the first few movies, the ones from the 1980s, a lot was left to the imagination. There was no origin story for the Alien itself, which made for an even scarier premise. If you’re a video game fan at all, think the first Dead Space game vs. the third one. This is a similar de-evolution as the further the story goes into the lore, the less scary it becomes and more campy it becomes. This is very true for this movie.

Covenant is set ten years after Prometheus and there may be moderate SPOILERS after this. The new ship we’re on is a colony, looking for some far flung planet that people can move to. On the way there, they hit some sort of solar flare and have to stop to do repairs, overhearing a transmission that they decide to investigate. Needless to say, I’m like, no, how about you just stay on course and get going, but they decide the planet should be investigated since it is hospitable. Once they land, we see the space ship that crashed there during Prometheus and you pretty much know where the story is going.

The predictability of the story was really what made the movie drag. I almost enjoyed the slow burn of the beginning of the film, being introduced to all the different characters. I did find Katherine Waterston only slightly less likable than Rooney Mara, from the first movie. I am still waiting for a strong Ripley-like character to emerge from the lore, but so far, sad substitutes. The opening sequence with the crew was filled with senseless death and more of that followed. If anything, this movie played more like a slasher movie than an Alien movie. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll want to see it, but otherwise, I’m not sure there’s much to see.

As for the test of diversity and strong female characters, I’m going to have to give this movie a soft fail. Yes, the main character was a woman, but she had to be saved, more than once, by the straight white male characters. There was hardly any diversity, or at least the few people that weren’t white didn’t have too much to say or contribute. At least they weren’t the first to die, but it was close. Ultimately, having only white characters survive is also a sure sign that the writers/directors didn’t concern themselves with diversity. Overall, the movie was a disappointment.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy 2

A sequel can rarely, if ever, live up to the original. The fact that the source material for this piece is so little known helps with the overall effect. I didn’t know anything about Peter Quill and crew until seeing the first movie and was pleasantly surprised where the second movie picked up where the first one left off. If you’re unfamiliar with Guardians of the Galaxy, you might be missing out on a diamond in the rough of oversaturation of comic book movies. On the one hand, I do wonder if Marvel and ABC are just bringing anything and everything out because they can make it marketable. On the other hand, the movie is well done and the characters are fully developed, even if we don’t always know as much as we would like of them.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 picks up with the group working for some superior alien race, protecting their batteries from another alien. It isn’t long before wackiness ensues and the team breaks up into smaller groups, only to be reconnected later in the movie. I will do my best to avoid any SPOILERS, but there could have been far more scenes with the core cast than there were, yet still, the breakoff groups were equally effective. It was nice to see more from Drax and a newcomer, Mantis. Together, those two were quickly stealing the scenes that were previously stolen by Rocket and Groot. Seeing a baby Groot made things cute, but also made me wonder about the whole BB-8/Groot dynamic, having a character that can’t really communicate but is cute. Isn’t that a staple of everything Disney?

I really had little to complain about. I would say, as far as the Hina test goes, this barely gets a passing grade. Most of the movie centered around white men. There were other alien races, but for the most part, they were either wearing tons of makeup or looked white/gold. The Alt Right was perfectly represented by the golden aliens from the beginning. Even if Gamora had a prominent role, it still felt like she was firmly in second place to Peter Quill. I couldn’t tell someone not to watch this movie, but by that same token, I couldn’t tell you it was must see either. I enjoyed it and that’s really all I can take away from the experience. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Movie Review: The Fate of the Furious

A prescient disclaimer: I was forced to watch this movie. My cousin was dying to see it and I just wanted popcorn. If you haven’t seen any of the previous iterations of this series, you’re not the target audience. The basic premise is: fast cars go fast. I have been an avid fan of seeing these movies. Something about the latest trailer, about the movie going forward without Paul Walker, doesn’t sit well with me. While I always applaud the movie for featuring diversity, in almost every form and fashion, this edition just felt hollow and forced.

Without divulging too many SPOILERS, the story brings together varying factions to work together to stop Dom, the main character, from doing illegal things. He has been duped by a newcomer, Charlize Theron, who is forcing him to work for her in some plot that seems crazy. The best I can say about the story is, by the end, it sort of made sense and came together nicely.

As far as the Hina test goes (don’t worry, I’ll be adding that to the last two reviews I forgot to add it in), this gets a half passing grade, overall pass. The cast is diverse, there are strong female characters all around. It was really at my cousin’s comment that made me add that last part. If not for Leddy, this movie wouldn’t have one truly positive female character. Michelle Rodriguez may not be the most likable person off-camera, but her delivery of hard-nosed driver is perfect for any young girl who probably shouldn’t be watching a movie like this. If not for Leddy, this movie would just be a bunch of boys running around in fast cars. She gives the movie a much needed heart now that Paul Walker’s character is gone. If you like big budget movies, you’ll probably see this. It was just okay.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast

If you’re not familiar with this story, where have you been? I don’t feel like I should do a synopsis, but just in case you’ve somehow managed to avoid seeing this movie, or the TV show, or the classic cartoon, then I will give you a general idea. Girl lives in small town in France. She likes to read; people think her odd for it. Her father is an inventor and goes off to the market, gets lost, ends up in an enchanted castle. Owner (monster like beast) decides that he’ll imprison the father. Girl finds out, swaps places with the father and slowly discovers the monster isn’t so bad after being imprisoned with him for what seems like days. The two fall in love and it breaks the curse and they live happily ever after. It is better than it sounds, at least the cartoon was. There may be SPOILERS ahead.

Fast forward to 2016. The fact that I’m writing about anything not about the actual movie tells you a lot. For reasons unknown, Disney decided that they should make life-action versions of their animated classics. They started the process with Maleficent. This was a masterpiece. Angelina Jolie was great and it brought something new to the story that had never been seen. In the past two years, Disney has released Jungle Book and Cinderella. This should have been a sign, as neither of those were really anything new, just repaints of the classic. Sadly, this movie falls into the latter, but instead of adding even the tiniest detail that enhances the story, the additions are distractions.

The cast is acceptable. The long-running question I have is, if the movie is set in France, why is Lumiere the only one that speaks with a French accent? Are we implying there are no French actors that could have been in this movie? Also, Ewan McGregor, God love him, his French accent was not great. Him singing with said accent was also not great. Among the assortment of additions, making Gaston less dislikable was, but if he was an honored captain, how could he be so cruel? I mean, his villainy made more sense without the change. The movie decided to give Belle the inventor status and make her father an artist. While it was a slight change, it made Belle seem like a hybrid between the original and Hermione. The death of the mother was explained. I almost prefer not knowing, but that might just be me. Le Fou was made to be openly gay. This was sort of implied in the cartoon. I didn’t find this nearly as distracting as I thought I would, but that might be due to Josh Gad not really being in a ton of the movie.

I want to break the movie up into different pieces, to justify my overall impression. Visually, the movie had a lot to offer. I found the ‘Be Our Guest’ sequence too much. I had no idea what I was looking at. I did like that Emma Watson did a great copy of what Belle had done in the original cartoon, amused and also trying to eat. The CGI was kind of crazy. Everything was CGI except a handful of actors. Nothing ever seemed fake, yet I never felt the same familiarity with it as I did with the cartoon.

The singing was passable. I’m sorry. I know there is going to be a lot of talk about one specific person on the cast (who was incredibly sexy while riding on horseback to save her father, I’m big enough to admit that!), but everyone was mediocre. Maybe Dan Stevens is supposed to be a great singer, but his solo song was just okay. The main Beauty and the Beast songs we all know so well were good, but some were not so great. I was not a fan of Ewan McGregor singing ‘Be Our Guest’ with a French accent. I couldn’t hear some of the lyrics due to the toxic accent. The best singer was the wardrobe, Audra McDonald. The few times we get to really hear her, she knocks the songs out of the park.

That last part leads me to where I’ve been veering. If Disney is hell bent on recreating every one of their animated masterpieces, here’s a thought, look back at Maleficent. Bring something new to the story and you justify recreating it. Why didn’t they do this movie in a different setting? Imagine an all-African American cast? Imagine how well the songs would be sung. This movie gave me nothing new, and that is what I felt so frustrated with. And for the young star, Ms. Watson, to argue that this wasn’t Stockholm Syndrome is really reaching. I’ve loved Belle because she was more like me, but I would hope that I’d realise that neither the Beast nor Gaston were good enough. This movie is a meh, at best.

I forgot to add the overall Hina test score on this when I first posted it. This one gets a fail, I’m afraid. There is a surprising lack of diversity. While there are a few people that are not white in the movie, for the most part, all of the critical roles are played by white actors. Even if the movie centers around a woman, and despite Ms. Watson’s arguing, Belle is suffering from some form of Stockholm Syndrome. The few scenes we see of the eventual couple do not paint a picture of change in Beast, but promote the tired belief that he changed for her or that women can change their man. The showiness of the movie can’t overshadow this glaring issue.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Movie Review: Get Out

It has been over a month, almost two, since I felt the urge to actually go to the theatre and see a movie. What makes me sad is that there were movies I wanted to see, I just never felt like going. I could comment on the overall movie-going experience, but at the end of the day, we all hit phases. I probably saved a hundred bucks not going in that time.

I had debated seeing this movie opening weekend, but I have to be in the right mood to see horror movies. After the reviews came out last week, I figured this was one I didn’t want to miss. I didn’t find the plot twist to be all that surprising, once it was revealed, but the build-up and the tension throughout the movie was quite interesting after you see the ending. I will do my best not to SPOIL the movie, but you’ve been warned.

Get Out centers around Chris, an African American man who is dating a white girl. Amazingly in 2017, this is still very much an issue. As they embark on their trip to visit her parents, you see his clear discomfort at going, but being a good boyfriend, he goes along. The apprehension doesn’t fade, even though the girl’s family seems quite kind and good natured. The family has two servants, both African American. Their behavior is also strange, to say the least. The weekend continues with a big party that Chris is told happens every year at the same time. The mother is a hypnotist and the father is a neurosurgeon. The mother somehow manages to hypnotize Chris, helping him to quit smoking, but also face his past and perhaps something more. The party progresses the next day and all of the patrons, save one, is white, and older. Everyone takes a special interest in Chris, as if it were unusual to see an African American person.

Chris’ anxiety increases as he sees a young man who seems familiar. When he sends the image to a friend (a TSA agent), the man is recognized as someone who had gone missing six months prior (in the movie, he is in the very first scene). After this, Chris knows he needs to leave. He stumbles upon a box full of photos of people with the girl he is dating. Two of them are there, the two African American servants. While this clearly raises an alarm, Chris doesn’t suspect his girlfriend until she refuses to relinquish the car keys. The brother (who is played by the same kid who played the brother in The Last Exorcism) easily overpowers him and he’s then revealed what the end result of his visit will truly be.

On the surface, the movie is a classic commentary on racial stigmas. By virtue of being born a different color, Chris is subjected to a very different way of life than the rest of the cast of the movie, save his TSA friend, for the most part. The experience for Chris is, of course, not normal, but the subtle nuances of how people treat him and act towards him are very telling of what a few minutes in the life of an African American person must be. The very first sequence and the very last are telling. In both cases, just by being African American, the two men in those scenes immediately assume they are at fault or need to remove themselves from a situation solely because they know they won’t be treated fairly. In this day and age, this is becoming more and more apparent, especially with the current rise of the white nationalist movement in the White House. A movie like this might open a conversation, but from my experience, those that are racist and bigoted will not see past their own perspective. In some ways, this movie might do the opposite of what it hopes to just by placing all white people as evil (within the context of the movie). If there had been one redeemable white character, the narrative would be vastly different. Towards the end of the movie, one of the white characters claims he’s color blind, but what he is really saying is that he doesn’t care about people of color, not that he cares about them. At one point the girlfriend also states her family isn’t racist, but then why would they only target African Americans? I almost feel like I have more questions about the decisions made by the writer and director. At the very least, no matter your perspective, the movie will make you think.

I forgot to add the overall Hina test score on this when I first posted it. It is hard to argue the diversity in a movie that centers the plot around diversity. It is also hard to argue with strong female characters when the mother of the girl the main character is dating is the one who is masterfully hypnotizing everyone. The girl in question has also been playing the main character perfectly. If you’re looking for diversity, this movie has it. If you’re looking for a movie with strong evil female characters, this movie is for you.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Movie Review: Hidden Figures

I’ve been in quite the ornery mood lately. I haven’t seen a movie, it seems, since November. I really haven’t been motivated to do too much. I hadn’t really seen a ton of trailers for Hidden Figures, but given everything that’s happening in this country (post election 2016), this seemed a movie I had to see. The movie is based on a book about three African American women who were integral in getting John Glenn to orbit the Earth. This was the time when the US were in a tight race with Communist Russia to get into space. The 1960s setting seemed to be more familiar than not. Take away the segregated bathrooms and that movie could be taking place now. The cousin I went to see the movie with commented that this could be a glimpse into the future instead of a story of triumph from the past.

The movie follows the story of three African American women, all of whom, from an early age, excelled at either science or math. Any woman, let alone a minority, would not be welcome in these fields. The fact that these women were African American, before people decided everyone should have equal rights, doesn’t accurately display how hard their struggles must have been. There are microcosms of incidents where the superiority of the white co-workers is used to show how different the world was then. In truth, those situations are very much still alive and well. I noticed that the woman who the main character is based on is still alive and I wonder what she would think about how little it feels like things have changed.

I digress. The story starts with a young African American family getting money that had been collected in the community to send their child, a kid, not a young adult, to college. The girl, Katherine Johnson, turns out to be a complete math whiz. The African American women are placed in a part of the Langley campus that is far removed from where their work needs to be done. There are dozens of scenes where Katherine is running across the campus to use the bathroom. The culmination of that scene was the perfect slow burn, a mere snapshot of everyday life for those who are not born with pale skin.

The narrative is nothing new, yet the story seemed somehow fresh. Each of the three characters had distinct storylines, distinct hurdles they had to overcome to be successful. Janelle MonĂ¡e stole every scene she was in. Kevin Costner was surprisingly accessible, where I expected him to be another hurdle, instead he worked towards equality, stating something along the lines of ‘wanting whoever could do the work’ to be involved. That shattered much of the boys club that existed within NASA. The often unlikable Kirsten Dunst was true to form, being unlikable, on purpose, and being put in her place by Octavia Spencer’s firey Dorothy. All in all, the hype is well given and the story is absolutely one you will not regret seeing.

As for the Hina test, it would be hard for me to find something amiss in this movie. The three main characters were African American women. The white characters were evolving to accept that being different wasn’t a bad thing. The sole criticism I could give this movie is that other than African Americans, there were no other minorities represented. I find it hard to believe there were no Asians or Hispanics at all in Virginia in the 1960s. However, at this point, that would really be quibbling with what delivers a powerful message to those that believe white supremacy is the only way forward. If not for this unknown story, our space program would have been leaps and bounds behind Russia.