Saturday, April 12, 2014

Oculus (USA, 2014)

Nine Things about the Movie “Oculus” (USA, 2014)

1. This smart, dark film was quietly released in theaters with almost no publicity. It had only been seen at a couple of film festivals. The movie takes bits of “The Shining”, and mixes them into the cursed-object/haunted house genre.

2. This movie was obviously influenced by “Paranormal Activity”. But “Oculus” is a much more intelligent version.

3. It’s about a young man, Tim, who was sent to a mental institution because of a childhood trauma where his father tried to kill his family. Tim is released and goes to join his sister Kaylie.

4. Kaylie is convinced that what happened to their family is because of a demonic mirror that was hanging in their house. She tries to get Tim to help her face the demon and destroy it. But Tim is convinced that there was nothing supernatural going on. He believes that they were exposed to a real trauma, and that their minds converted it into a story of demons so they wouldn’t have to face the truth about their father.

5. Tim tries to humor Kaylie’s plan, and also to get her to understand she has false memories of the event. They spend the evening in the house with the mirror, and the movie begins to flip back and forth between the present night and the night of the trauma.

6. The movie weaves between present and past, the supernatural and psychological. It really plays with your mind so that you aren’t quite sure what’s going on and who to believe.

7. The movie is shot and acted very well, especially for an independent horror film. It has a great creepy and tense mood that ratchets itself up steadily, until the ending that made a lot of people in the audience (including me) gasp.

8. This movie does move much more slowly than other horror films, though. By adding in some actual science and psychology, some horror fans are going to find this movie slow and boring.

9. This is a thinking person’s horror film. If you like a plot that you can’t predict from the trailer, if you don’t need mindless jump scares every ten minutes, and are willing to expand your definition of a “horror” movie a little bit, this is a great piece of work.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (USA, 2014)

Nine Things about the Movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier

1. I didn't really like the first Captain America movie. I thought he was a goofy, generic, and one-dimensional character. But they fixed that in this movie. This movie is much grittier, and Captain America has some good character development, as he is forced to grapple with modern political realities, where it's not so easy to figure out what being a "good guy" means (in a nice symbolic touch, his cheesy American-flag uniform in the first movie has been replaced by a darker uniform with a lot more shades of gray).

2. The movie is surprisingly complicated for a superhero movie - it's a conspiracy thriller that kind of feels like the old 1970's political/conspiracy classics. Casting Robert Redford in the movie helped with that.

3. As the Marvel universe expands and overlaps each other in various movies, it gets harder to keep up with what's going on. In order to really understand everything in this superhero mythology, you need to make sure you've seen not only the first Captain America movie, but also "The Avengers".

4. Scarlett Johansson is one of the best parts of the movie, as she continues her Black Widow character from "The Avengers".

5. The action scenes are well done. Some are also pretty unique. This movie ranks fairly high on the kick-ass scale.

6. For some reason, it's refreshing to see a superhero that doesn't always need to hide his identity. Captain America is Captain America whether he's in uniform or not, which gives him more flexibility to handle situations.

7. His shield is kind of cool to watch, but it's still stupid, though. And it completely defies the laws of physics.

8. The final confrontation between Captain America and The Winter Soldier was a little too melodramatic for me. And it features one of those cheesy, played-out "countdown clock" sequences. So I think it kind of wasted part of what it had built up along the way.

9. While this isn't the best superhero movie ever made, it is in the top half. It's relatively smart, with characters that are starting to feel more real. It's fun to watch, and is a nice addition to the Marvel mythology.