Monday, September 11, 2017

Movie Review: It

When it comes to horror, the genre was reinvented, in print form, by Stephen King. It felt like a rite of passage for most of us growing up to have read at least some, if not most of his books. King had a way of spinning stories that were grotesque but also had elements of sexual tension that made anyone uncomfortable. That was one thing I never understood the need to incorporate. In many, if not most, horror movies, there is always some allusion to a hero/heroine losing their virginity and this making them able or unable to defeat whatever is coming. In the movie It Follows, this was a central premise of the movie (almost a literal, physical STD).

If you’re not familiar with the story of It, in a tiny town in Maine (where King grew up), a little boy goes missing, as well as others, and after the school year, the big brother of the missing kid and his friends try to find some clue as to the brother’s whereabouts. The book had a long drawn out depiction of the bullies in the town making everyone’s lives intolerably harder, but the movie shows the kids all banding together against the bullies, and even one of them going missing, though no one seems all that concerned. The kids are all haunted by any number of things, none looking exactly the same, all of them terrifying and unseen by others. There is always a clown somewhere in the mix. That is Pennywise, whose origin is unknown. The chubby kid (whose name I’ve forgotten) does research in the library and discovers that every 27 years, kids start disappearing. Somehow the kids conclude that whatever is doing this disappearing appears once every 27 years and eats kids and they have to kill it.

Amongst all the gore and mayhem is a nice coming of age story, one that surprisingly doesn’t end in more death. There may be some SPOILERS ahead. The book spent a lot of time talking about a lot of issues. The book is also a thousand pages long. I can’t imagine being an editor for Stephen King, or if he even uses one. I really tried to remember the book as I watched the movie, and only a couple scenes stood out, the scary ones. I don’t even remember some of the tenser sequences. I stumbled upon an article today that talked about a sex scene that I don’t even remember from the book (with all the kids, glad that didn’t make the cut!). While I’m sure King had a reason for putting such things in there, it was grotesque. I also wondered, at the very end of the movie, when the kids swear a blood pact, how they don’t all contract Hep C or something. I mean, they also ran around a sewer and crack house and didn’t get seriously ill, seems surprising. 

I wouldn’t say this was a good movie. I wouldn’t say it was a bad movie. It felt like it just was. This rush for 1980s content is both fascinating and frustrating. I grew up in the 1980s. It is just plain weird to see these kinds of movies being considered as period pieces, but they are. Overall, this movie captured the King mythos of It well. It took me back to that time, the time when talking to strangers was something explicitly warned about. Not now, where it is assumed that people you don’t know can’t be trusted. It did bother me that there was exactly one minority character and one girl (this fails the Hina test), and that is accurate for the 1980s. It was the same complaint I had while watching Stranger Things. Why is diversity such an issue? Just because the times have changed doesn’t mean those people didn’t exist.

Much like It, this review rambled about as much as Stephen King did. I still can’t believe my parents let me read that book.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Movie Review: Terminator 2 Judgement Day 3D

The streak continues! I managed to drag someone to this movie (thanks, LaToya!) and I ate a lot of her popcorns. If you are unaware of this movie, somehow, then there might be SPOILERS ahead, however, the movie was modified, I’m told, though I’m not such a huge fan that I’d be able to tell the difference. The premise of all the Terminator movies is that machines are going to take over the world and the resistance keeps sending people/machines back in time to try to stop the machines from trying to kill the human leader, John Connor. The concept from the first movie seems pretty crazy, but the opening sequence with the second movie gives a visual representation of what that war between machines and humans might look like.

From a nostalgic point of view, other than the antiquated technology, the movie feels like a solid snapshot in time, a good illustration of a future demise. It was campy when the movie referenced dates that had already passed, and the machines had not taken over. Additionally, from the Hina test, diversity and strong female characters, this movie actually has mostly solid representation considering the one African American man dies a hero, sacrificing himself and the one woman in the movie is a complete badass. I would like to have seen more diverse characters, but I can’t argue with a twenty year old movie that did such a good job on diversity, something a current movie couldn’t boast.

I would say, if you were ever a fan of the Terminator series, then this is a movie you should see. If you never saw the movie or don’t remember it well, this is one that you should see. I do appreciate that James Cameron is not someone I could ever root for, but he occasionally makes good movies and this is one of them.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Movie Review: Wind River

I had a streak going where I’ve seen a movie every weekend for almost a month and thought, let’s not break the cycle. I’d heard good things about Wind River, but the story lacked a certain resonance that I will put into words towards the end of the review (if you have any political sensitivities, just stop now).

Wind River takes place in a frozen reservation in Wyoming, one of the only places the US did not steal the land from the Native Americans. The movie opens with an unseen hunter sniping a wolf as it eyes a group of sheeps. The hunter is Jeremy Renner and he is supposed to be this ace tracker (hunter), who is also estranged from his family. He is tracking a lion family that attacked someone’s cow and stumbles upon a woman, dead, in the snow and ice. The FBI come to investigate in the form of Elizabeth Olsen (the two are in the Avengers movies together). The story revolves more around the characters than the mystery itself. The twists and turns are not wholly unexpected, but the way the truth is revealed is still a mystery. I’m still not sure how Jeremey Renner’s character knew what was about to happen, save that the movie portrays him as a master tracker.

The scenes were really breathtaking. If the movie was really filmed in Wyoming, on a Native American reservation, the place was beautiful. The contrast the movie gave, of course, was that amidst this beautiful place, awful people are still capable of awful things. In most cases, I wouldn’t feel compelled to comment on the overall whiteness of the movie. There may be SPOILERS ahead, and if you are interested in seeing the movie and don’t want to be surprised, STOP READING.

As you may know, Jeremey Renner is white. He is also immortalized in my mind as the man who dismissed fighting for equal pay for his female costars. It’s hard to ignore this point. That isn’t to take away from how good an actor he is, but it makes him, as a human being, harder to watch and cheer for. In many ways, to me, Jeremey Renner is a lot like Tom Cruise. Both are in movies that they seem to want to be the down-and-out guy who is the only one that can save the world. This is not unique to them, but in cases like this movie, they are often the only white face that is supposed to be redemptive. I think of Cruise in countless movies where he wants to be something else, but ends up coming off as just a white dude appropriating someone else’s culture. And that is what Renner’s character does. The movie would have been better served, but never made probably, with a primarily Native American cast, save for the token FBI agent and of course the bad guys. And this leads to a second sort of point, the guys that end up raping and chasing a girl into the cold are all white. Those white men work at an oil rig that is on a Native American reservation. Whether they are there legally or not, the movie clearly portrays both them and the company as evil.

On the surface, one could argue that the movie is about one white guy saving us from most bad white guys. I felt that the movie did a huge disservice to the Native American community, yet it did portray their plight, their situation under the boot of the white oppression perfectly. But it was in that conflict that I found Renner’s character so confounding. Yes, I understand the movie would not be made without a white face in it. But for the movie to additionally make Renner the hero, as a white man, in a Native American world, almost seemed offensive. I felt dirty watching him play the hero. It was as if the movie were trying to state, yes, white men took all that the Native Americans, but this one is like them and only he can do what they can’t. The overt whiteness and almost white worship in the movie was additionally atrocious given the current climate of Nazis walking freely on American streets. Why is it so impossible for Hollywood to see this? It seems so ridiculously obvious.

The fact that all of this continues to flow through my head, instead of the actual plot or compelling characters throughout the movie is that much more dissatisfying. Don’t get me wrong. The movie was good, the story had its moments, but I wouldn’t consider it to watch. A friend, who is a huge Renner fan, saw it and loved it, but I can see why she would. He is very good in it. His character is fully developed, if a little bit of an archetype. This version of Renner seemed little different from Hawkeye from the Avengers movies. And then I wonder, why did they have to white-wash the movie? Why did they make the Native American cops seem so inept, as if they never could have solved the mystery without the white man to come save them? I realize this is a take that is a little extreme, but in a movie that has only dead Native American women in (basically), it makes you wonder about what the purpose of the movie was except to add to the growing number of movies that are led by a straight, white male lead.


With respect to my beloved Hina test, measuring diversity, this movie failed. It failed in spectacular fashion. If all my previous comments weren’t enough, you have some people who aren’t white, but they are all portrayed as inept or aimless or unable to do anything. Only the white man, Jeremy Renner, can save them. Add one, exactly one woman into the cast, and guess what, she’s also inept, but thankfully Jeremy Renner is there to save her. This movie felt like a self-indulgent tour for Jeremy Renner, staring Jeremy Renner, produced by Jeremy Renner, with special thanks to Jeremy Renner.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Movie Review: Annabelle Creation

I’ve been a busy movie-going Hina! I hadn’t planned on twice, in two weekends, seeing movies both Saturday and Sunday. This weekend was a little better overall. I gave both Detroit and Annabelle Creation 4.5 stars. Both were good movies in their own ways. There were a lot of things they could have done better. In this case, I’ll open with, this movie had a hard fail at the Hina test, which, as a reminder, is a measure of a movie’s diversity and female representation. This movie was all white, all the time, save for one African American girl and a nun of somewhat questionable descent. That is one thing all of these movies (made at some point by James Wan) have in common, zero diversity, and the women are always barely escaping. There is something to be said about this overall notion. In an unrelated horror movie, The Skeleton Key, with Kate Hudson, one of the characters points out that African American girls avoid them, thus perhaps laying credence to the idea that minorities know to stay away from something that’s clearly sketchy.

Back to the actual movie that I watched. In the world of The Conjuring, the viewer usually follows Ed and Lorraine Warren, played perfectly by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. The two are picture perfect, not replicas, but embodiments of the support and understanding that is seen from the Warren family. Being the nerd that I am, yes, I have seen haunting shows with them in it. The two actors are marvelous. The Conjuring began with a family being haunted in a newly purchased super old house that was the site of some scary stuff. In that movie, there is a glimpse of a room with a creepy doll in it. The doll is Annabelle. The subsequent movie in the ‘series,’ so to speak, was Annabelle, which follows how the Warrens ended up with the doll. In this movie, we see how Annabelle was created (a real stretch considering the title).

I was excited in the trailers to see Miranda Otto (shield maiden of Rohan!), but sadly, she was not as Eowyn as I would have liked. She and her husband have a small child, accident happens, wackiness ensues – fast forward 12 years and the family, for some unknown reason, decide to take in a bunch of orphans, and one that can’t walk all that well. The plot sort of gives itself away, but at the same time, it keeps everything so closed off, you can only sit back, watch, and occasionally (or if you’re me, constantly) cover your eyes or cringe.

I would hate to SPOIL a horror movie, half the fun is in the mystery leading up to the big, usually terrifying reveal. I will say this, it has been a long, long time since I’ve been to a scary movie and was genuinely scared. I was, at one point, trying to climb further into my chair (there was dumbwaiter on screen), but this didn’t make the little girl move any more quickly. The scenes were chock full of tidbits to dissect. One thing you can always count on with these horror movies is that there is a lot to process, a lot to see, if you dare see it a second or third time (not me!). For example, when we first meet the doll, after it has been compromised, it is locked in a closet with what looks like newsprint all over the walls. It isn’t newsprint, it is pages of the bible glued to the wall. This knowledge, unknown to the kids, is actually used, in theory, to save one of them (it doesn’t work). 

Some people might say this movie doesn’t bring anything new, but I wondered about all the things it introduced. In the last Conjuring movie, there is a painting of a nun that sort of comes to life and I was worried the nun in this movie would end up being that nun (jury is still out). The very end of the movie really sort of kicked you in the teeth, circling everything back. It was creepy and well-paced. Say what you will about these movies, but I never regret seeing them and I doubt you will either.

Movie Review: Detroit

When I first saw trailers for this movie, I thought, maybe. As things go down a troubling road, politically, morally, in this country, it almost seemed like something I needed to do. Sadly, the people who need to see this movie, people who don’t want to see diversity in anything, will not benefit from this movie. It almost reminds me of a scene in American Horror Story where the Kathy Bates character is trapped, forced to watch the entire Roots series. At the end, she still learns nothing. That is basically where we are, as a people. What was most troubling about this movie was that, while it was set in 1967, forty years have passed, and nothing seems to have changed. Cops killing people and getting away with murder is still going on.

The movie is set during the riots of 1967. The city had forced most African Americans into tight living conditions, while the white population moved to the suburbs. The police (much like today), is mostly white. In 1967, civil rights weren’t really a thing. Throughout the movie, I kept asking to my friend, “is that legal?” and she was like, “No, Hina.” The movie follows a couple of storylines: a trio of white cops who shot people in cold blood, an African American security guard working two jobs to get by, a singer and his friend who end up in the wrong place and a variety of other random characters who stroll through, some more bloodied than others.

With respect to the Hina test, hard to give this one a passing grade. There were lots of African American characters, all of them male, pretty much, and two white women who were used as pawns. Not much to appreciate there. I should have a half passing grade. There was some diversity, but it made the diversity a bad thing, to some degree. I’m still conflicted on this point.

This isn’t a movie about feeling better about social unrest. This isn’t a movie with a happy ending. This isn’t a movie that should make you feel like things are changing, things are getting better. It is quite the opposite. People still hate other people for the color of their skin. People still assume things based on the color of someone’s skin. The movie, by itself, was just a movie, but the thoughts and feelings that it should evoke will sit with you. When I got home from the movie, I heard what had happened in Charlottesville, VA and it seemed like nothing had changed, and indeed, some days it feels like nothing has changed at all. As a person of color (I’m Indian), I have a hard time seeing people who are white, who I don’t know, and not being a little nervous, wondering if they hate me as much as other white people hate me, if they plan to kill me.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Movie Review: Despicable Me 3

I must have had a lot of time on my hands this weekend. There was a showing of this pretty early yesterday, so I thought, I have been meaning to see this and just haven’t gotten to it. In all honesty, this is something that is fun, but hasn’t really built on the brand too much. In typical serial fashion, Gru discovers that he’s got a brother and the brother wants to be a super villain. Wackiness pretty much ensues shortly thereafter. I’m not sure I’d say any of this is a SPOILER, but the movie is pretty predictable, and yet I still found it fun. After watching the standalone Minion movie, I can see why their part has been minimized here. Without Gru, or even the kids, the minions are tough to figure out.

The movie starts off with Gru being a good guy now, working with his wife, whose name I’ve already forgotten (Kristen Wiig does the voice). They get outsmarted by a 1980’s villain and from that point on it really starts to feel more episodic vs. a movie. Shortly after getting fired Gru is approached by a man who says he has a twin brother that he never knew about. Turns out the brother is a failure at being a villain, while Gru is not. It was the wrong child-swap, I guess. I have to be honest, I sort of glazed over a bit after that. 

With respect to the Hina Test, this gets a hard fail. There were pretty much only white people in the movie (or European of questionable descent) and the female characters were there mostly to move the plot forward, save the youngest kid finding a unicorn. I don’t understand why it would have been so hard to add a little bit of racial diversity to an animated movie. I get that Despicable Me is about Gru, but he’s married and has three daughters, why aren’t they more at the forefront?

Was I amused? Sure. Was it the best movie ever? No. There were moments of heart, like Margo and the step-mom having a moment, or the littlest kid finding a goat with one horn (in her mind, a unicorn), but overall it was just amusing, but it didn’t have much staying power. For $7, it was worth watching.

Movie Review: The Lion King

There was a rare treat at the AMC this week (and you can still catch it for the rest of this week), but Disney’s Lion King is playing in theatres again. I was really astounded how well the animated classic really held up to time. It didn’t look like it had ages. Some of that could be that the movie is centered around animals, not people, so there is no technology to get bogged down with. I honestly haven’t watched the movie in quite some time, but having watched it over and over again when I was a lot younger made everything familiar. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It reminds me what made Disney so great back before some of their lesser movies. Something about Lion King just resonates on a different level than some of the other Disney movies from the same generation. As I watched the movie, I tried to put my finger on it, but to no avail.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all positive. Given the state of the world now, and my new Hina test, I have to admit, if you were looking at racial or gender equality, this movie has very little for you. This movie gets a hard fail at my Hina test. There is really no diversity, it is almost implied that everyone is categorically white, even though they are animals. The use of light and dark (Scar/Hyenas) makes that even more clear. The few female characters are just used as pawns, pieces to move the story forward, nothing more. It was almost painful to witness now. I wanted to go back to those thoughtless, worry-free (Hakuna Mattata anyone?), but that was just at the periphery of my mind.

To make matters worse, the movie was playing in a small theatre, but there were three kids in there that made it near impossible for the movie to be really enjoyed. One kid, clearly under two, could not sit still or not make noise. His older brother was equally restless. The parents were trying, but they refused to leave the theatre, thus subjecting the rest of the movie goers to two hours of these disruptions. As the movie got close to the end, a third, unrelated child joined in. At no point did an usher from AMC come through, so there was no oversight. I’m proud of myself for not saying anything, but I still need to get to the point where it shouldn’t bother me. I didn’t pay to be annoyed by someone’s children. I don’t understand why the parents didn’t just leave. They both knew what they were allowing and didn’t care. To be that thoughtless and self-involved really speaks to who they are. If they hadn’t been white, I doubt they would have stayed.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Movie Review: Atomic Blonde

The summer of women empowerment movies seems to continue, though this one didn’t resonate quite as much as Wonder Woman did. This movie was very much a spin on James Bond, but with a strong female character in the lead role. The story is not as strong as it believes it is. There is a lot of action and that takes away from the hollow takeaway. The star of the movie is Lorraine, an otherwise unnamed spy who works for British intelligence. She is tasked with acquiring a list of all spies ever during the falling of the Berlin Wall in Berlin itself from a Russian defector and a fellow British spy. There are tons of things that get in the way to getting the list out, but ultimately the spy overcomes all obstacles to succeed.

I’ve never been a huge fan of spy movies. While I do love action movies, the predictability of knowing there are going to be dozens of betrayals makes the movie tiresome, and there might be SPOILERS ahead. I wonder if I’m just burned out on the idea. Charlize Theron is stunning as the blonde bombshell that beats the stuffing out of her attackers. I do find it interesting that the movie takes a page from Daredevil and the pummeling scenes continue for quite long periods of time, no enemy going down with just one hit, either from a fist or a bullet. James McAvoy plays opposite Theron as another spy, one who’s allegiance we’re constantly reminded need to be questioned. She also meets a French operative played by Sofia Boutella. There is a calm humanizing aspect to Theron’s interactions with Boutella, but the pairing still seems strange and caustic. There is a particularly graphic bedroom scene shared between the two that is jarring to watch. It also minimized the impact/effect of Boutella on Theron, more on that later. While I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the movie, it had little staying power and didn’t inspire me as Wonder Woman did. However the two movies could not be any more dissimilar save for the fact that both are led by strong female characters. 

With respect to the Hina test, this movie gets a barely passing grade. Yes, the movie had a strong female character in it. Yes, there was one minority character in it, but she was (SPOILER) killed during the movie, bringing some question to the fact that either the director thought he would vary the concept of ‘bury your gays’ in his movie. It was commendable to see Theron’s spy played as bisexual. It brought that decision into question by killing off the love interest. Most spy movies do this, though, so then I’m not sure if this is falling into a trope, or into an inevitable trap for the story itself. I kept thinking, after McAvoy kills Boutella, how interesting it would be to see Theron reunite with her somehow. To me, that would have made the movie, the story, more interesting. A missed opportunity. This movie is entertaining. For $7, it was well worth seeing.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Movie Review: Wish Upon

I might be trying to get back into going to the movies on a regular basis (hey, I have $15 in AMC bucks – very exciting!). As I’ve said countless times before, horror movies are pretty formulaic. Part one, establish a lovable loser type character. Part two, let lovable loser see a glimpse of what it would be like to not be loser through some sort of supernatural means that said loser doesn’t understand. Part three, everyone dies/suffers consequences. This is pretty much that, but slightly worse because the teen actors are kind of annoying, except it was nice to see Barb from Stranger Things alive and well!

The plot of the story is pretty simple. Young girl walks in on her mother committing suicide. Fast forward and her dad, for some reason dumpster dives as a career (Ryan Phillippe, what happened to you?) and finds something that he cleans up and gives to her. She can’t open it, takes a pic of it to school to her Chinese teacher (her high school teaches Chinese?) and ends up making a wish while holding it. Wackiness ensues. 

Some slight SPOLIERS ahead. Let’s face it, horror movies have a tough act to overcome. At some point, most scares have been done. Jump scares still get me to jump, but the cumulative effect is long gone. The rules of the movie didn’t seem to make sense either. The music box the dad gives his daughter is supposed to provide seven wishes (with no catches, which is kind of nice), but requires a blood price, ie, someone you care about/know dies. The variety of people who are killed strained the rule quite a bit. 

From the perspective of the Hina test, the lead was a girl, however selfish and stupid she was. Her friends comprised of a wide variety of people. It frustrated me that the friend who died was an African American gamer and a friend of a friend who helped her translate the Chinese, Asian, was killed. But Barb, from Stranger Things and the boy who she wanted to love her (white) were unharmed. I’m giving half points for having the diversity, but then killing off said diversity. It was cool to see Art from Orphan Black as the friend of the dad. I was worried Art was going to get killed. 

The movie is something you might watch on TV, but there is no staying power. The main girl doesn’t evoke any sort of real sympathy. I don’t want to be That Person, but I also found her not attractive at all. A movie like this would have been slightly more interesting if the main character had been a person of color. The movie had potential for something more and clearly just gave up.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Movie Review: Spiderman Homecoming

I believe this is the fourth or fifth reboot of Spiderman I’ve seen. There were at least two cartoons and three different movies. While we were teased this Spiderman in the last Avengers movie, this was the movie that let him stand on his own two feet. Before getting too far, I would like to point out, why is it the last two onscreen Spidermen were both British? Both Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland are Brits. Are there no American actors that can embody the wall crawler?

Unlike most super hero movies, this one does not open with an origin story. In this iteration of Spiderman, the fans are treated to a seeing Spiderman/Peter Parker after he has teamed up with the Avengers. The first sequence follows Parker as he is anxious to leave school and get out to be a super hero. It is a really cute sequence and proves how young Parker is compared to all the other super heroes. The only part of the origin story that the audience sees is his close friend Ned, finds out about him and tries to help him (the formulaic buddy part of the movie). 

While there is nothing really new that this movie brings to the table, it tries new things with mixed results. There may be SPOILERS beyond this point. There was a lot more diversity to be seen. The friend group at Peter’s science school was made up almost exclusively of minorities. It was a nice change of pace. Considering it was a special science school, it isn’t a reach to believe that the student body would be more diverse than your average school. I did find it slightly frustrating that Peter, the white kid, was of course the smartest and best at everything. I realize that is who he is in the comics, but it would have been a nice opportunity for the movies to diverge a little. Having said that, the friends surrounding Peter were well placed. I expect to see a lot of humor in Spiderman movies. I did wish that this version had Spidey himself being slightly funnier, but given that he’s new at super-heroing, it isn’t really surprising that the wise cracks weren’t constant.

There were quite a few cameos. The best was Captain America, by far, in this videos being shown at Peter’s school. Iron Man appeared a few times, but was more of a scolding figure than a guide. It set the tone that Peter was on his own, not a part of the Avengers, but someone who could assist them as needed. The stage has been set, another superhero for the Marvel Universe. After Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, the debacles of those two movies, this was a breath of fresh air. The movie and story were both enjoyable. We saw the movie in one of those fancy Dolby theatres and I was surprised the surround sound didn’t blow me out of my chair. The Marvel movies are always great and this was no exception.

With respect to my Hina test – the movie passes, but not by much. The movie centers around two white men, Spiderman and the Vulture. To make matters worse, so to speak, the guidance Peter gets is either from Happy, Tony Starks’ assistant or something, or Tony himself, also, all white men. The supporting cast is wonderfully diverse and it gave me hope for future movies. The female characters, especially Michelle, were strong, not always in need of Peter’s help, certainly not as Peter. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Movie Review: Wonder Woman

The last DC Comics movie I saw was one of the Batman movies with that awful Christian Bale in it. I had debated seeing Suicide Squad, but the reviews kept me away. I’ve always been a Marvel fan (X-men mostly), but Batman was always interesting. I’ve never read a Wonder Woman comic, or really any comics that are female-centric, mostly because there really weren’t any growing up. I didn’t know the origin story for Wonder Woman, but I didn’t know the origin story for most of the Avengers characters either. While Wonder Woman is an absolute powerhouse of a movie, lots of action, lots of conflict, it lacked heart. I just never felt invested in the movie. The characters were real enough, though I felt more connected to the minor characters than the major ones, such as Wonder Woman herself and Chris Pine’s character, whose name I think was Steve, and thus got me confused with Steve Rogers, aka Captain America. There may be some SPOILERS ahead.

The story starts out with Diana getting an aged picture from Bruce Wayne. The movie shifts, without much of a transition, into the past, into Diana’s youth. The audience is treated to the island of the Amazons. There are no men and the women do everything. Diana is set on training to be a warrior even though her mother doesn’t want this. Ultimately, she gets the training and shows off things others can’t do. The island has been hidden from the world and a lone man comes crashing into the surrounding area (Chris Pine). He’s saved by Diana and a fleet of German soldiers are after him. They kill quite a few Amazons, including Diana’s aunt, who had been training her.

Of course, Diana’s mother forbids her to assist, but she defies her, joining Chris Pine to go back to the War (World War 1). Interestingly, Diana never seems to get cold even though she’s hardly wearing anything. There is a particularly humorous sequence with Chris Pine’s secretary Etta Candy (played by Lucy Davis, and she stole every scene she was in), where they dress Diana in regular clothes. Chris Pine’s character defies direct orders about the impending armistice and goes off to find a crazy scientist who is creating some toxin that will kill anything and everything it touches. The movie continues with a rapid pace through action sequences with a couple quiet moments before the main battle sequence occurs.

Visually, the movie was quite stunning. The special effects were quite impressive. I particularly liked the effect of the lasso that Wonder Woman uses. The acting was solid. I felt like there could have been a better balance between humor and action, or even humor during action sequences, but I guess that isn’t something DC comic movies can do. The story flowed fairly smoothly. I thought it surprising that Chris Pine’s character would sleep with Gal Gadot’s character, it didn’t really make sense and was only implied. For someone who is supposed to be a gentleman, that took me by surprise.


The real elephant in the room has to do with quality, I think. I’ve been struggling to put into words why I felt sort of unaffected by this movie. After most super hero movies, especially the Marvel ones, I feel better when I leave, inspired. I don’t know if I never felt drawn into this story. There was something about it that felt out of place. In my mind, I tried to compare it to Captain America, which was set in a similar time period (ie, the past) and things just stood out. While Diana was alone, Captain America knew the people he was working with, so the buddy part of the story worked differently. The romance between Diana and Steve Trevor (maybe?) vs. the romance between Captain America and that one agent was not at the forefront. I wonder if the writers made a concerted effort to put romance for all to see, since it has a woman lead. Why couldn’t Wonder Woman be awesome without having a guy in the picture. And really, was Steve Trevor the hero because he sacrificed himself to save those people, whereas Steve Rogers sacrificed himself to save the world. It isn’t a level playing field and that frustrated me. If this is the first step to women super heroes, great. But female super hero movies should be just as strong, the heroines just as strong, as their male counterparts. I don’t know what other people thought. This movie did not inspire me to want to see other DC movies, but it did give me hope that the next Wonder Woman movie might be better.

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.