Saturday, December 17, 2016

Rogue One: We're Going Rogue!

Full disclosure: I love the Star Wars series and I think that they're great movies (with the exceptions of stories I-III because Hayden Christianson cannot act, I don't care who you are). But I have only seen them each once or twice. That being said, from where I'm standing Rogue One is an incredible addition to the Star Wars canon.

This. Chick.

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) has had a troubled life. Witnessing the death of her mother and the capture of her father by Imperial forces; getting raised and trained as a soldier by a half-crazy rebel; getting captured and sent to a work camp. It hasn't been great. But when she's rescued by the Alliance, she learns that she's of use to them. Jyn's father, Galen Erso, is an engineer working for the Empire on a new super-weapon called the Death Star. Hoping to leverage Jyn's parentage, the Alliance sends her out too meet with Saw Gerrera, her father's old friend and the man who raised her, with the ultimate goal of gaining intelligence about the new weapon. The film then follows Jyn as she joins Cassian Andor (the beautiful Diego Luna) and the rest of the Alliance to capture knowledge of the Death Star and defeat the Empire.

Wow. It's been a minute since I saw a two-hour movie that kept me captivated. What a great standalone. Rogue One does a fantastic job of bridging the gap between introducing us to a new storyline and new characters while keeping the original world of the films intact. Everything fits spectacularly well. We're able to follow a new story with new characters that perfectly fits the vein of the entire series without compromising quality. It somehow manages to keep itself current while also paying due homage to the films from the 70s and 80s.

And some familiar faces. And breathing patterns.

The movie also does a fantastic job of balancing humanity, humor, and the realities of rebellion. While the charismatic characters and post-rebellion context of The Force Awakens kept its mood a little lighter (in general), the mood of Rogue One is far more heavy, showing the human impact of the Empire's efforts to snuff the Alliance. Children being raised in politically tumultuous times, and the violent instability as the two sides fought, are really clearly portrayed by the two mains Jyn and Cassian. And the things that we're witness to in the original series gain new context as we get a closer look at the people that made them possible.

This stone-cold pack of weirdos.

It's also interesting to see such an objective-driven storyline. They need to get the Death Star plans. That's the goal. And their will to complete that goal encapsulates the whole rebellion. The themes of hope when all is lost make it truly memorable. "Rebellions are built on hope." Hell yeah.

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

I also really liked how neatly this film wraps itself up. Despite the possibility that there is for these heroes' stories to continue, there's a reality in the ending that I wasn't expecting. Sometimes greatness has to occur at the cost of great sacrifice, and the idea of serving a greater good is something that really resounds at the end of Rogue One.

OKAY! OKAY! OKAY! OKAY! OKAY! OKAY! OKAY!

All in all, Rogue One is a fantastic addition to the Star Wars canon that pays homage to its predecessor films while remaining currently relevant. Great characters, great story, great cinematography, great film.

9.5 outa 10. Must-see.


Friday, December 16, 2016

Wintry, Not-Christmas Movies for Scrooges Like You

I don't know what it is about the Christmas season this year but I'm just not feeling the Christmas movies. This could of course also be because I've seen every (good) Christmas movie at least 4 times and I'm kind of over it. I have seen White Christmas and Christmas in Connecticut both once, and Muppet Christmas Carol only four times this December (this may seem excessive, but trust me, this number is low for me), and none of my Christmas movies are appealing to me. However, being raised in a household where summer movies in the winter was strictly verboten, I feel that while my movies this December don't have to be especially Christmassy, they have to at least be cold.

SO! For those of you out there who can't stomach another rendition of Dickens' Christmas Carol, or who feel their eyes start to roll at the thought of watching A Christmas Story for the 37th time, here's some cold-weather, wintry movies that are either only marginally Christmassy or just happen to take place in cold weather. Bah humbug, everyone!


Moonstruck

Okay. This is one of my favorite movies of all time. And it takes place in the winter. So. Here we are. Loretta (played by the illustrious Cher -- just go with it) is an accountant who lives with her parents and grandfather in Brooklyn. When she decides to marry Johnny Cammareri, her family is less than pleased with the match, especially since Johnny jets off to Palermo to attend his dying mother. Before taking off though, he asks Loretta to settle some "bad blood" with his brother, Ronny -- and things happen. Also tangential to Loretta's story are those of her family members, who are having some crises of their own. A beautiful tale of drama, romance, family and the power of a full moon. Some of the best dialogue and characterizations of anything I've ever seen. And I'm not exaggerating.



Sleepless in Seattle

Horses horses horses horses. Annie Reed (Meg Ryan) lives in Baltimore, but she's driving to her family's house for Christmas when she hears a talk radio host get called by a 10-year-old named Jonah who asks how his dad can find a new wife. After Jonah's dad (Tom Hanks) hops on the show to talk about his late wife and his current life, Annie can't get the two of them out of her head. The rest of the movie shows them both as they grapple with relationships, question fate and dissect An Affair to Remember. Hanks and Ryan have such a wonderful romantic chemistry -- worth watching if you haven't.



Bridget Jones' Diary

Ah, my spirit animal. Dear Bridget Jones. Bridget (Renee Zellweger) is a publicist at a publishing house who desperately wants a boyfriend. But will she end up with her charismatic boss Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) or the enigmatic Mark Darcy (Colin Firth)? I don't know what I sympathize with more: trying to navigate a love life living in the city or belting random 90s songs alone in your apartment.



Fargo

Let's swerve away from romance shall we? Besides featuring one of the best intro tracks known to man this movie has a mesmerizing balance of humor, empathy and darkness that keeps it compelling without getting too bleak. When Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) gets into some financial trouble, he goes to some lengths to try and get out of it without ruffling the feathers of his terrifying father in law. But staging a kidnapping with some random thugs (incredibly) does not go as planned, and after people start running their mouths, Lundegaard learns the hard way that he may have chosen the wrong way out. Investigating the case is the persistent, pregnant Margie Gunderson (Frances McDormund) who serves as a perfect foil to weakling car salesman Jerry Lundegaard in a way that has you inexplicably sympathetic to them both. And what's not intriguing about a foiled, staged kidnapping?



Misery

Speaking of kidnapping, who wouldn't love to be a writer who gets kidnapped by his biggest fan, right? That's what happens to Paul Sheldon (James Caan) when he gets into a car accident in the middle of snowy Colorado, he is taken in by kind nurse Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) who tells him she's his number one fan. As Paul's condition improves, however, Annie reveals herself to be far from kind, and as Paul's captivity veers into a living nightmare, only he can figure out how to save himself. Watch out for the scene where she talks about "hobbling." You might throw up.



The Shining

Speaking of Stephen King (this list is really becoming transitive isn't it?), The Shining is another atmospheric horror guaranteed to fill that absence of Christmas spirit with heebie jeebies. Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) has just taken a job at the Overlook Hotel in Colorado with his wife (Shelly Duvall) and their son. But there's an evil sort of energy at work at the Overlook, and when Jack starts falling prey to the hotel's mind games, it's only a matter of time before he becomes dangerous to his wife and son. Kubrick's atmosphere of isolation really gets driven home by the creepy sound design and cinematography.



The Thing

Speaking of isolation (just go with it), another creepy, unsettling winter scene is The Thing. Loosely based on 1951's The Thing from Another World, a group of scientists at a research base in Antarctica are taken by surprise by an alien that can assume the appearance of anything that it wants. As the thing becomes harder and harder to keep track of, the small group of researchers must decide for themselves if there is an impostor among them and, if so, who (or what) it is. Suspenseful to the very end, a great atmospheric thriller, and amazing practical effects!



Die Hard

Alright, we're going to allow the Christmas in just this once, because Die Hard is one unorthodox Christmas movie. NYPD officer John McClane is going home for the holidays to try and reconcile with his estranged wife. But after he meets with her at her corporate office, the building is soon taken over by German terrorists (why not, right?). As they take hostages, it's up to shoeless hero John McClane to overtake the terrorists, enlist the help of the LAPD's Sgt. Al Powell, and save the day. Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker.



The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Again bordering on the holiday theme, C.S. Lewis's children's story gets a grown-up makeover in this Disney adaptation. Four children are transported from bleak WW2 England to enchanted Narnia, another dimension filled with centaurs, fawns, unicorns, and all kinds of enchanted creatures. But they soon find out that magic isn't always pure, and soon become wrapped up in Narnia's battle to fight the land's endless winter and terrifying leader, the White Witch. Nice effects but the children's acting chops and the set design really make this worth your time.



Frozen

I'm sure I don't even need to explain the plot of this one, but I will anyway for continuity's sake. Princesses Anna and Elsa, orphaned when they're teenagers, have grown apart over the years due to Elsa's fear of her own icy powers. When Elsa freaks out and abandons her kingdom, encasing it in a brutal winter, it's up to her sister to find her and to bring her back. An interesting case study in responsibility, being different, and in girl power, you obviously also want to watch this one for the catchy tunes.



Balto

Why not, right? Bet you forgot about this little gem. Set in tropical Nome, Alaska, Balto is a half-wolf who joins a sled team to bring a sick child medicine. Along the way he encounters push-back from the other sled dogs and has to learn to accept his wolf side. So sweet.



Last Holiday

Oh. My. God. I remember my sister telling me how great this movie was years ago and kind of brushing her off, but after watching it at the urging of one of my coworkers, I have to say -- goddamn. This movie is a treasure. Georgia (QUEEN EFFING LATIFAH) is a quiet sales clerk at a department store who has dreams of doing something big someday, just not now. But after receiving a devastating diagnosis that leaves her with only weeks to live, Georgia decides to live life as full as she can and takes off for a ritzy hotel in Europe. This. Movie. Omg. The amount of good feelings in it are endless. And LL Cool J's appearance as her crush is just the goddamn cherry on top. So much yes.


(OMG IT'S THE ENTIRE MOVIE)

Babycakes

If you've read more than two of my blog posts, you probably know that I have an irrational obsession with this movie. I sincerely do not know why. Grace (Ricki Lake) is an overweight makeup artist who works at a New York morgue with her hypochondriacal best friend (don't tell me you're not already hooked). When Grace sets her sights on a guy who looks like a movie star, she'll do anything to try and win him over -- and he is shockingly okay with it. I love this movie for how freakin' weird it is. Listen for a quote about the dinosaurs going extinct as a metaphor for living in the moment. Ah, sweet, fluff films from the 1980s.

Well we've really come full circle, haven't we peeps? Hopefully this spans the scope of your winter moods! Happy Cold Month!

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Quiet Passion: Some Might Even Say...Too Quiet...

Emily Dickinson spent most of her life in her family home, going about her business and writing. So Terence Davies' A Quiet Passion, which I caught at the Philadelphia Film Festival this past weekend, is hardly surprising in its muted tone. However, for the things that the film chooses to highlight, its "quiet passion" might be a little too reflexive to hold an audience's interest.

The story begins as Emily Dickinson is leaving seminary school to return home to her family, where she would go on to spend the rest of her life. As playful as she is with her words, Emily seems to hide a spiritedness that she's over-aware of and that she's uncomfortable showing to others. While she publishes poems here and there, as she ages she becomes more and more reclusive and bitter, a mental state that seems to be mimicked in her poetry.

Image result for ca quiet passion

I always have a problem with biopics. Especially ones like this one, which reminds me so much of last year's Mr. Turner. It spends so much time in simply following the character (or maybe its interpretation of the character) that there ends up being no room for history or context -- or even entertainment. A Quiet Passion leaves a lot to be desired. From the choice in casting Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson to the (in my opinion) overly-wrought dialogue, there really isn't a ton here to hold your attention unless you're really into long shots of completely silent rooms. We get it. She was quiet. She was passionate. Can we speed this up please.

I wish that they could've infused a little more action into the film. While Emily is a solitary creature, the only chatty relief during the film comes from her sister, Vinny (Jennifer Ehle), who treats Emily with an unending amount of kindness and restraint, and their neighbor Ms. Buffam (Catherine Bailey), who reads as the period's Samantha Jones. But even this dialogue is so laborious that it doesn't seem authentic. Where I imagine the director/writer Terence Davies thought that Emily would enjoy "sparring" with close friends and neighbors, the language is as clipped and as hard to follow as an episode of Gilmore Girls. And with dialogue that doesn't ring super authentic, it's hard to get a taste for who these characters are. As with any historical period drama, directors are left to fill in the gaps. But I'm willing to bet that one of America's most celebrated poets had to have been more interesting than this. I'm sure there must be a better balance between historical accuracy and entertainment. 

Image result for ca quiet passion
"Hang on, let's get a 15-min shot of her reading this piece of paper.
And no voice-over of what it says."

I also wasn't thrilled with the handling of Emily's death, or that of her parents. While there's something to be said for authenticity, there wasn't a ton to take away from watching Emily physically die. Bright's Disease sounds horrible, but I was more annoyed that no one seemed to acknowledge her extreme back pains and seizures throughout her life, than to marvel at everyone's devotion to her as she breathed her last breath.

All in all, I found this movie annoying (if you couldn't tell). What a fascinating life to cover, and yet her poems are read in Nixon's irritating voice with a lack of [quiet] passion. I would have liked to see someone else cast as the lead, and with more of a story to tell than just following the poet around. It's wonderful to offer a peek at the life of a person that you know, but for anyone who isn't familiar with the life of Emily Dickinson this will just read as a slow film.

4 outa 10. 

(Disclaimer: This trailer is misleadingly interesting. There was almost no music in this film.)

Monday, October 10, 2016

22 Best Spooky Flicks for Scaredy Cats

Now, dear readers, I'm sure I don't have to tell you that I like scary movies. If you don't believe me, check out the enormous lists that I made of every classic horror movie since 1942. Well, one list, divided into Part 1 and Part 2. (Oh shush, like you didn't think I'd put thought into this.)

ANYWAY! Since it has become increasingly clear to me in the past few years that a lot of people don't like scary movies, I've put together the wuss's dream list of Halloween flicks. Movies that will have you tense without involuntarily diving into your hooded sweatshirt; that smell more like pumpkin spice than rotting corpses. 

So, in order of creep-factor, here we go! 


1. Ichabod and Mr. Toad (click the titles for the trailers!)
The more festive half of this movie is the tale of Ichabod Crane, but if you're renting/buying/watching this legally this you'll probably have to sit through Mr. Toad's Wind in the Willows tale first. Just a heads-up. Anyway, this is the classic New England story of a superstitious school-teacher who hears a story about a Headless Horseman and then disappears. Did he run away? Was he taken? Who knows. But this half-hour cartoon is full of fun songs and Bing Crosby's lovely crooning so who cares? 


Linus is convinced that the Great Pumpkin is bound to appear, doling out gifts to neighborhood kids, as he sits in a pumpkin patch waiting. Another 1960s classic that Schultz wrote himself. If you want some smooth jazz with your cartoons, Great Pumpkin delivers the same kind of music that comes with its Christmas counterpart. 


Really just adorable. Overprotective, single father Dracula has made it his life's purpose to host all manner of ghosts and ghouls at his monster-centric hotel. But when his teenage daughter starts to fall for a human, he has to do his best to protect her while keeping up appearances. Really funny, and Sandler's Dracula is better than you'd expect. The sequel's on Netflix!


Louise Miller is a total nerd. But when she finds out that she's a witch on the cusp of realizing her true power, she decides to go for the hottest guy in school and become the most popular girl. Come for the hokey plot, stay for the insane late-80's outfits.


Anyone in their mid-20s probably saw this movie on the Disney Channel when it first came out. Marnie and her two siblings learn that their family hails from an alternate world called Halloweentown, and their grandmother (played by the still-incredibly-spry Debbie Reynolds) takes them there. But all is not well in Halloweentown, and the kids have to take it upon themselves to save the town and their mom before the night is over.


Such an underrated vampire flick for little kiddies! After Tony Thompson moves to Scotland, he makes friends with a young vampire named Rudolph. Together with Rudolph's family, Tony helps them search for an amulet that could turn them human -- while also trying to dodge resident vampire-hunter, Rookery. Great performances from the cute little actors and the setting keeps this one spooky without getting too scary!


Before Sarah Michelle Gellar there was Kristy Swanson. And before Buffy was a bad-ass, she was a damn good cheerleader. When Buffy is visited by a strange man (who, for whatever reason, is played by Donald Sutherland), she learns that it's up to her to keep her family's legacy and hunt vampires. A few creepy moments, but it's mostly just delightfully cheesy. Look for a hilarious performance by Paul Reubens (who you might know better as Pee-Wee Herman).


Aw, remember when Bill Pullman was in everything? Ahhh, the 90's. While the special effects might not have held up, this is still a Halloween classic. And who didn't think that Human Casper was super cute when they were like 12?


Okay, not super Halloweeny, but it takes place in fall and it's about ghosts, right? It can stay. Who doesn't know the story of the four guys who saved NYC from a spectral apocalypse? Who you gonna call!?


10. Hocus Pocus
I doubt that Disney had any idea how big a hit this would be among millennials. Two kids move from L.A. to Salem, Massachusetts and accidentally free three notorious witches, who come back to suck the lives out of children to sustain their own youth. (Jeez, when you summarize it like that, it sounds like it should be a lot scarier than it actually is...) I still can't think of another movie where I find any of these three leading actresses more hilarious and I dare you to not get "I Put a Spell on You" stuck in your head.


11. The Witches
An underrated movie adapted from Roald Dahl's chapter book of the same name, this one is a little creepier than most of the other kids' movies. A child and his grandmother go to the English coast for a vacation, only to find that the hotel is full of witches. After the little boy stumbles upon their plot to get rid of all the world's children, it's up to him, his grandma, and his friend Bruno to save the day. Creature effects from the Jim Henson lab could cheese it up for adults, but, if I remember correctly from my childhood, could also be a little scary for little ones! 


12. Nightmare Before Christmas
Ah, every emo kid's favorite movie. Jack, the Pump-kin King (c'mon, you sang it too), is a little jaded with living his life for each Halloween. After he stumbles upon the holiday of Christmas, he makes it his mission to switch things up a bit -- to the horror of Santa Claus and the world's children. An amazing soundtrack and perfect clay-mation make this one worth seeing.


13. Corpse Bride
Another Tim Burton clay-mation classic. When Victor and Victoria (hm. never noticed that before.) are arranged by their parents to be married, they are relieved to find that they are both willing to make it work. But when Victor accidentally weds a corpse bride, he then needs to find out how to leave his undead wife for his original intended. Some sweet tunes and sentiments despite the morbid setting.


14. Paranorman
In my opinion, Chris Butler takes Burton's clay-mation to the next level. Butler's incredibly detailed film follows Norman, a nerdy outsider who can see ghosts, and who lives in a town notorious for its hanging of a witch in the 1700s. Visited by his dead uncle, he's given the task of keeping the witch's spirit at bay on Halloween night but botches it. As the witch's spirit is unleashed on the town, we learn that things are not always what they appear.


One of my faves! And, coincidentally, another clay-mation movie. Coraline Jones has just moved into a new house and is not happy about her parents' lack of sympathy. After finding a secret door in her living room, however, she discovers a world of wonders, and parents who seem to understand her. But everything isn't as it appears, and it's up to Coraline to figure out the true intentions of her Other Mother before it's too late.


16. What We Do in the Shadows
This mockumentary of the lives of three vampire roommates is just what you need to keep festive without getting scared. Camera crews follow these three undead guys as they deal with trying to get into clubs by asking to be invited in, the travesty of not being able to see your own reflection, and the insanely annoying habits of their newly "turned" friend Nick. And the dialogue is amazing. "What are we?" "Werewolves, not swearwolves."


17. Shaun of the Dead
Classic zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead really set the bar for off-beat creature features. Shaun must lead his group of friends to safety after their English village becomes infested by zombies. You'll never hear Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" the same way again.


18. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
A couple gets lost on the road and takes shelter in quite the off-beat mansion. As a crazy transvestite doctor, his human creation, and his off-beat posse teach Janet and Brad their ways, things start to get pretty weird. Let's do the time-warp again!


19. Practical Magic
Two sisters happen to come from a long line of witches. After one of them gets in trouble with an abusive boyfriend, it's up to them how to figure out how to clean up their own mess and use powers they didn't know they had. A nostalgia trip from the late 90s -- velvet tank tops and maxi skirts never looked so good!


20. Children of the Corn
When a couple gets lost on the road, they stumble on a town that is complete devoid of adults. As they try to find their way out, they uncover that it's run by a cult of children, and that they aren't so happy to find adults in their midst. Nowhere near as scary as the original story from Stephen King, and cheesy enough that it's pretty free of serious scares.


21. Carrie
"They're all gonna laugh at you!" I mean, her insane mom warned her. Who hasn't felt like an outsider? But when Carrie White fully hones her psychic powers, her fellow classmates get to learn the hard way that they should've been a little nicer to her.


Spielberg at his finest. This is probably my favorite of all of his films, honestly. A family starts getting tormented by a power that lives inside their home. After it takes the youngest child into its own dimension, it's up to the rest of them to get her back. The best part of this movie is how strong the family is and how much they love each other. Great acting. Those who are afraid of clowns be warned -- I'm sure you've heard of this scene already.

Also worth mentioning if you're a bit of a wimp:

Anything old! There were seriously too many to list that are worth a watch but that happened more than 60 years ago. So, if you're into old movies take a gander at the dated beauties in Part 1 of my original list, or check out classics like Vertigo; Psycho; The Birds; The Night of the HunterLeave Her to Heaven; The UninvitedBell Book and Candle; Arsenic and Old Lace; etc. Dig around! There's a lot of good ones out there!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Girl on the Train: When Bad Movies Happen to Good Books

I keep going back and forth in my mind as to whether David Fincher's Gone Girl was a detriment for this movie. Even reading the book The Girl on the Train, there are a lot of similarities with Gone Girl in trying to find a girl who's gone missing, and having a host of untrustworthy narrators. It also doesn't help that Gone Girl is one of the best film adaptations to have happened in the past decade. By comparison, The Girl on the Train feebly delivers a watered-down narrative that could've packed a lot more punch.

The plot mostly centers on Rachel, a woman who turns to alcohol to deal with the split from her husband, who left her to start a family with another woman. To cope with her days, she rides the trains from the suburbs of New York into Manhattan, passing her old home and taking a particular interest in one of the neighboring houses, where a young couple seem to have the picture-perfect life. After seeing something from the train and going to confront the couple in person, Rachel experiences a black-out and, upon waking, learns that the young woman has gone missing. What follows is a tangled narrative as everyone tries to find her, and Rachel struggles to remember what happened that fateful night.

Hmmm, did I murder her...?

First of all, let's all acknowledge the fact that it's hard to squeeze an entire novel into a two-hour film. Books are fluid in that you become intimate with lead characters: you hear their thoughts, see what they see, feel what they feel, and are easily taken into their entire world. Translating that into something that is objectively visual and audial is tricky, and that's where this movie runs into trouble.

The book gives us an intense look at the private thoughts of three very different women: Rachel, our main character; Megan, the girl who has gone missing; and Anna, the woman that Rachel's ex-husband has started a family with. For reasons that I don't really understand, director Tate Taylor decided to eliminate almost ALL of the internal dialogue from the source material. Which is unfortunate, because honestly that's what the bulk of the narrative hinges on: the fact that people keep secrets from each other, and that you never know who anyone truly is.

"Are you a murderer?"
"Idk, are YOU a murderer?"
"Idk."

Since the internal dialogue is missing, the movie then cobbles together a narrative based on the characters' interactions, which leaves the story feeling half-assed and melodramatic. It doesn't help, either, that almost everyone (except Emily Blunt, that beautiful professional) is also a little too pretty in this movie. For themes that rely on the lives of normal people, we are presented with would-be Victoria's Secret model Haley Bennet as she gives a one-dimensional performance as the mysterious, artistic Megan, and beefcake Luke Evans who does his best as her angry, domineering husband, Scott. It reads amateur, almost like a Lifetime movie, where all of the characters are underdeveloped, overly made-up, and someone is always sleeping with someone else's -- wait a second, that's like half the plot of this movie...

It's actually kind of hilarious how well this photo could fit into
the plot of The Girl on the Train. Let that sink in.

I will, however, give a special shout-out to Emily Blunt. Blunt carries the bulk of this movie with a cringe-worthy performance as the constantly drunk Rachel. While it takes a while to understand her perspective, she ends up being a pretty sympathetic lead. Also, shout-out to her cosmetic team: her smeared makeup and puffy face made it hard to believe that she didn't spend at least half of her time on set being actually drunk. So...that's impressive.

5 outa 10. If this was a Lifetime that accidentally made it into theaters, I wouldn't have been surprised. As it is, I'm a little surprised that they gave such a popular adaptation to someone as green as Tate Taylor. Come on, buddy. You can do better.


Friday, August 12, 2016

Lights Out: Horror Flick Puts Fear of the Dark in a New Light

I don't think there's a fear that's more universal than being scared of the dark. If you have a wild imagination, there's no end to the possibility of the variety of things that might be lurking in it. And while this has been a staple in scary movies for a while, Lights Out lets this theme take the lead in a creative plot that'll have you sleeping with the lights on, just in case.

Hey, you never know.

The story revolves around a mother (Maria Bello), her son Martin (Gabriel Bateman), and his half sister, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer). After the mysterious death of her husband, the mom is kind of losing it, and with a history of mental illness things aren't looking so healthy for Martin's wellbeing. But as the story progresses we soon learn that maybe it's not mental illness alone that's driving her so crazy. A thing known as Diana seems to be affecting her. Only existing in darkness, Diana tries her damnedest to monopolize the mom's time and energy, lashing out violently when she's told to share her. As Rebecca and Martin uncover more about Diana's past and try to help their mom, it's a race against time to see whether their mission will cost them their lives.

"The mom's all yours! Anyway bye!"

Other than the fantastically scary trailer (scroll to the bottom if you haven't seen it), I was drawn in by James Wan's producer credit on this movie. If you've read any of my horror reviews before, James Wan is basically my favorite scary guy of all time and his name on anything is almost a stamp of certainty that I'll see it.

I was not let down.

The movie is original, simple, and damn scary. Director David Sandberg takes something so universal and turns it into a real scare-fest. Diana is scary, and while she's lurking in the shadows, the evidence that we see of her will scare the pants off you. Lots of jumps in this, and lots of old-school horror.

The movie is very self-aware of bringing classic horror to a new front, but does so with themes rather than messing with classic horror plot formulae. Rebecca is a strong independent female character, the story highlights mental illness, and the kid is smart as a whip. We're not feeding into character stereotypes, and that's super refreshing. Teresa Palmer is (fucking gorgeous and) powerful as Rebecca, who can't get over the early loss of her dad but steps up to plate when it comes down to protecting her family, and Maria Bello is convincing as the exhausted mother.

Like why are her eyes so giant and beautiful?? Anyway, I digress...

I can't really expand on the movie too much without giving a bunch away, but suffice it to say that this one puts a new spin on classic horror, and it's definitely a fun watch. Looking forward to where this franchise goes.

8 outa 10. Winner, winner.

(Like, seriously, how scary is this trailer though!?)


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Ghostbusters: All-Female Cast Makes Best of No-Win Situation

Honestly, when I first heard that they were remaking the Ghostbusters, my first thought was "Oh no." Another classic that was plunging headlong into unwinnable territory. And though I was intrigued by the direction that they were taking with it (better to go away from your source material than to try and copy it, especially in comedy), I'm sorry to say that my first impression was mostly right.

The plot follows three women who have always had a vested interest in the science behind the paranormal, and who are later joined by another woman who has an extensive knowledge of the city where they live: New York City, of course. As they track isolated incidents of ghosts being a little...overactive, they uncover a madman's plot to try and bring destruction to New York. It's then up to the four new Ghostbusters to try and stop him before his plan is complete.

These ladies gon' kick your ass, evildoer.

The cool thing about this movie is how hard they try to keep it contemporary while still paying tribute to the original. The ghostbusters are now four women, they're all scientists, the comedy is once again improv-based, and the story is set in New York with innumerable homages to the original film. Each comedienne plays her strengths and there's a lot of throw-away lines that keep the movie entertaining in a way that makes a little more sense for 2016.

That being said, the movie is kind of weird in deciding to be a remake and not a continuance of the original. For all the shoutouts that they give the original, it would've probably made more sense for the girls to grow up idolizing the original Ghostbusters and not just inventing a ghost-hunting business from scratch. With an audience that has grown up watching the cartoon series and sipping on Hi-C Ecto-Cooler, the idea of Ghostbusters is far from revolutionary. I would've loved to have seen a plot that acknowledged the past of the Ghostbusters while maybe growing a little more cynical -- I think that would match the 2016 mood perfectly. Also, with a continuance, they could've gone the route of having the inclusion of the old guys without having to give them obscure roles that stand out like sore thumbs. Bill Murray's role is woefully incomplete, and the others settle themselves with roles where they spit out 5 lines before disappearing from the screen altogether.

Anyway see ya later.

I also felt that while each of the four actresses are all hilarious in her own right, their individual versions of comedy have a hard time marrying well in this. In what feels like it should be another Bridesmaids, Wiig's drippy character remains drippy without really going through any kind of metamorphosis, and McCarthy's character isn't allowed the characterization of being weird, nor the whacky scenarios that are so perfect for her brand of improv. It must be said that Kate McKinnon steals that thunder for herself as the Class A Weirdo of the bunch, and Leslie Jones tries her best to balance them all out. All said, it reads a little weird. Maybe it's too many comedians? While the original had four, it was also a different, understated brand of comedy that they just can't copy for modern audiences. It's just too different.

All said, is the new Ghostbusters bad? No. Is it good? No.

Nope. Not even this beautiful specimen could make it better.

To be fair, I think that any remake of the movie would have been given a no-win scenario in which old comedy is trying to be made new. Comedy has evolved so much over the past few decades that any remakes are rendered practically impossible. Look at Dumb and Dumber, or Zoolander 2. Half the time what was funny is now not, and while Ghostbusters tries to sidestep that problem, they end up in the same cheap boat as every other forgettable remake/sequel made after a 20-30 year gap.

6.5 outa 10. A lot of funny moments, but a lack of cohesion and an over-awareness of the original material makes this a disappointingly average comedy. Sorry, ladies.