Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ouija (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie "Ouija" (USA, 2014)

1. This is basically just another lazy, uninspired jump flick. In fact, I finished seeing it 30 minutes ago, but I have to hurry up and write these Nine Things because I’m already starting to forget it.

2. It’s painfully obvious how this movie was made: The producers got together and said, “We need to get some Halloween dollars from the kids. Let’s make a movie about that game, the Ouija board. It hasn’t been the subject of a major Hollywood movie since ‘Witchboard’ back in ‘86, so kids today will think it’s fresh. Who has the rights to the Ouija board now? Hasbro? The ‘Transformers’ people? Ok, somebody call them.”

3. So that’s what we have: a generically random script with generically attractive actors who wander around getting scared (and sometimes killed). When the “plot” needs to move along, a prop or character will suddenly appear and provide enough information for everyone to move to the next period of wandering around and getting scared.

4. If you really need to know the plot, it’s about a girl that kills herself after playing with the Ouija board. Her best friends think it’s a good idea to find out what happened - by using the same Ouija board.

5. This is the first horror movie I’ve seen where the evil spirit tries to be scary by writing “Hi friend” everywhere.

6. I know characters in horror movies are supposed to make stupid decisions. That’s part of the genre. But the characters in this movie make so many stupid decisions that I started laughing in the theater.

7. News flash, Hollywood: making people jump doesn’t mean you made a horror movie. I can suddenly scream ‘Boo!’ in front of a friend to make him jump. That doesn’t mean I just made a horror movie. Even if I charge him for it.

8. What’s funny is that a small scene actually explains how the Ouija board works - the ideomotor effect. The movie debunks itself, and then goes on to pretend it’s real anyway.

9.There are a few individually interesting scenes that prevent it from being the worst movie of the year, but it’s definitely not good. If you’re desperate to throw your money at a horror movie, then I’m not going to stop you. Otherwise, go buy your own Ouija board from the toy store, get stoned, and scare yourself instead.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Dear White People

Nine Things About the Movie "Dear White People" (USA, 2014)

1. This brave, thoughtful firecracker of a movie sits right on the nexus of racism, classism, and homophobia. It opens a Pandora’s Box of issues and identities in contemporary society.

2. It is set in a mostly white, success-obsessed Ivy League college, and follows four black students as they try to figure out what they want from life - and what life wants from them.

3. Each of the four main characters are well-played and embody various perspectives of young black culture: Samantha is a hell-raising protester. Troy is the guy that has it all made - as long as he can be a trophy. Coco is the one that wants to be famous. But I think the best performance of the movie comes from Tyler James Williams, who plays Lionel, the black gay guy that can’t seem to find his place anywhere.

4. The movie is kind of a hodgepodge of scenes at the beginning, as if the film doesn’t know quite what it wants to be. But as it moves along, it begins to sort itself out.

5. The movie is really funny, both in a satirical way, and in a “oh-no-they-didn’t” way. But it’s humor with a point, and the movie bites you while you’re laughing.

6. While the movie is told mostly from the black perspective, it doesn’t let anybody off the hook. First-time writer/director Justin Simeon knows his stuff, and is perfectly willing to aim some jabs squarely at the black community.

7. The movie as a whole isn’t quite as coherent as perhaps it could have been, but that can be forgiven when you consider what Simeon is trying to do. And there are some amazing individual scenes that have both the guts and sensitivity to push the topic way past the level of polite conversation.

8. The movie raises more questions than it can possibly answer. It actually doesn’t answer any of them, but that’s ok. It’s function is not to solve the problems, but to make sure we can all admit they’re there. The real brilliance of the movie is not just in its ability to illustrate the frustrating, vague tensions between the races, but in its ability to show the frustrating, vague, symbiosis of the races.

9. This is a rare movie that I like more and more each time I think about it. It’s not perfect, but it’s important, and necessary. When it comes to the culture wars, this movie is going to leave a mark.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fury (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie "Fury" (USA, 2014)

1. One of the best movies of the year, this is a film that lives up to it’s name. It is a bitter, gorgeous, violent, post-patriotic, post-moral examination of war.

2. Set in Germany during the last month of WWII, it’s about a group of five men and their Sherman tank. A rookie typist is randomly selected to join the crew when one of the five is killed. He is a gentle and religious man, and the movie follows him as the war warps and destroys everything he has believed about the world and about himself.

3. I’ve never seen a war movie focused on tank divisions before, so the battle scenes are not the typical “run up the hill and shoot the bad guy” scenarios we are used to. The fighting is chaotic, suspenseful, and yes, furious.

4. Between the war scenes are battles of a different sort, as each member of the crew tries to maintain their sanity, if not their humanity. They each have different defense mechanisms to deal with the horrors of what they experience. Shia LeBeouf is great as the religious one who tries to increase morale by convincing the crew that they are on God’s side.

5. Did I say this movie is violent? Well, it’s violent. Like, really violent. But it’s war, so it’s ok, right?

6. All five of the main actors totally inhabit their characters - there is not a weak performance anywhere. But Brad Pitt deserves to be nominated Best Actor of the Year for his role as leader of the group. He really straddles the line between hope and despair, and watches over his crew like a tired father who knows more than he can ever talk about.

7. The movie drives home the point that idealism is all well and good, but if those ideals are to be maintained, someone has to betray them. The movie deliberately moves past the discussion of good versus evil - such distinctions are for people sitting at home, safe. The soldiers are here simply to kill as many people as they can before they themselves are killed.

8. There is a smoldering, smoky rage that drifts through all the characters in the movie. Rage at the enemy, rage at the war, rage at the world… and rage at themselves.

9. I don’t think this is a movie for the patriotic “Team America” crowd. It’s a beautiful, merciless, tour of duty that makes you wonder whether war destroys our humanity, or if war destroys our carefully constructed polite exterior and lets humanity express its natural brutality.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Gone Girl (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie "Gone Girl" (USA, 2014)

1. One of the best movies of 2014, this multi-layered, wickedly brilliant film is a great adaptation of the 2012 novel.

2. It was directed by David Fincher. He collaborated with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross again for the smoothly foreboding soundtrack. Fincher has developed a unique cinematic style, and this movie is a showcase of it.

3. The heart of the movie is a mystery - a wife disappears from her home on the morning of her anniversary. But not only do we not know who did it, we don’t even really know what happened.

4. The movie flips back and forth between the husband’s perspective and the wife’s, slowly unfolding its secrets like a black, poisonous flower.

5. Besides the core mystery, the movie is also a commentary on media hype, and trial by popularity. Nancy Grace probably wishes she could sue somebody for this movie.

6. Perhaps more chilling than the mystery is the depiction of what has to be the most dysfunctional marriage in cinematic history.

7. The movie is almost 3 hours long, but it doesn’t feel like it. The plot is tight - no scene is wasted. The dialogue is snappy and razor-sharp. The acting is awesome, from the main characters all the way down to minor roles.

8. Part of the reason the movie works so well is that the author of the book also wrote the screenplay. It’s set in Missouri and feels fairly authentic, probably because the author is from Kansas City.

9. A movie about passion, lies, obsession, the death of love, and living with sociopaths, this is a remarkable movie. It also reinforces my belief that I never ever want to get married.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Dracula Untold (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie "Dracula Untold" (USA, 2014)

1. This is yet another version of Dracula, that gets yet another origin story. But it’s pretty decent, if you know what you’re getting.

2.This is not your regular blood-sucking movie. This Dracula takes the semi-historical Vlad the Impaler route. Vlad is a prince who grew up captured and fighting for his enemies, the Turks.

3. Now back at home and ruling Transylvania, Vlad is threatened once again by the Turks. In order to save his people, he finds an ancient master vampire living in a Transylvanian mountain.

4. Vlad accepts a deal from the vampire, and begins his descent into darkness.

5. Vlad/Dracula is not evil in this movie, though he is an antihero. He is a physically and mentally traumatized man that feels a sociopathic duty to protect his people.

6. If you look at it right, this version of Dracula can be seen as a metaphor for war veterans with PTSD, trying (and ultimately failing) to keep their inner demons at bay.

7. A few characters from the original story make appearances in this movie; Mina appears briefly, and Vlad’s gypsy servant Shkelgim is clearly the Renfield character.

8. The movie’s atmosphere and cinematography are great. There are a few scenes that are absolutely, gorgeously gothic.

9. The movie touches on some deeper issues, but never explores them. So in the end, there’s nothing about this movie that makes it particularly memorable. You watch it, then you go on with your life. But as an entertaining dark fantasy adventure, this is worth a look.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Annabelle (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie "Annabelle" (USA, 2014)

1. The doll that opened the 2013 film “The Conjuring” gets its own origin story here. This movie starts with the same opening scene as “The Conjuring”, but then goes back to a year before, so we see how Annabelle came to be so scary.

2. It was directed by John Leonetti, who is mostly a cinematographer and TV director. From what I can tell, the only other movies he’s directed are “The Butterfly Effect 2” in 2006 and “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation” in 1997.

3. The movie doesn’t suck, but you need to know what it is. The movie would have been better if it was actually about Annabelle. But the doll is hardly in it. When it is on screen, we usually just see the doll sitting there, not doing anything, while creepy music plays in the background.

4. It’s really about how a nice couple get attacked by Satanists, and then move to a different town. The blood of a Satanist falls on the doll, and then weird things start to happen.

5. When the nice couple meets a used bookstore owner - who also appears to be the only black person in town - you know this lady is going to have some spiritual knowledge of the situation.

6. There are some good moments, and some legitimate jump scares.

7. In the end, it’s really just another generic haunted-house-demon story, with the doll thrown in as a hook. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I was really disappointed with what Annabelle turned out to be.

8. Similar to “The Conjuring”, when you actually try to make sense of this story, you realize how dumb it is. The ending just doesn’t work.

9. I love scary doll movies. But this isn’t one. Yeah, the doll looks scary, but it doesn’t act scary. If you want a good scary doll movie, then watch "Dead Silence".

Friday, October 3, 2014

Detention (USA, 2011)

Nine Things About the Movie "Detention" (USA, 2011)

1. This cult classic independent comedy-horror-science fiction film mixes “The Breakfast Club” with “Mean Girls” and gore films. It’s a postmodern, post-ironic, pop-cultural mash-up about identity and fear of the future.

2. The plot (or really, plots) about high school, serial killers, and time travel, is extremely generic and overused. And everybody knows it. So it becomes fresh again. I mean, this movie deconstructs the deconstructors.

3. It’s kind of about a group of teenagers that wrestle with prom and popularity while a masked slasher from a popular horror movie series kills them. Plus it’s about time-travel, body-switching, and aliens.

4. The movie is a whirlwind of cultural references from the past thirty years. You could make a game out of just trying to catch them all - some are pretty obscure, and require you to have lived through the 80’s and 90’s. Some references are aimed directly at the Twitter generation.

5. It was directed by Joseph Kahn, who is already known in bad-movie circles for “Torque”. But don’t worry - he actually insults “Torque” in this movie, so it’s all good.

6. The cast is fairly unknown, except for Josh Hutcherson, who went from this movie to “The Hunger Games.” Oh, and Dane Cook plays the principal, if anybody still cares about him.

7. The fact that the movie makes several direct references to one of my favorite bad movies, the Patrick Swayze classic “Road House” (including the famous line about pain), just sealed the deal.

8. The pace and editing are very fast, and you hardly have time to catch a joke or a reference before it’s on to something else. It might be a little more gory than some people were expecting, too.

9. It’s really hard to make a movie that knows it’s making a movie about generic things, and yet stay fresh and sharp. This is not “Sharknado”. A meta-meta film with cheap but charming special effects, “Detention” hits so many notes that even if a few of them are out of tune, the whole thing is a crazy-ambitious symphony that is endearingly brilliant.