THE OTHERS (2001) review – Halloween Special

Hey there, folks. Due to some personal matters, I’ll likely be taking a break from doing theatrical reviews for awhile. But because I am by my very nature, a writer, I can’t just not write. So in spirit of the encroaching holiday of Halloween, I have opted to use this month to write reviews of my favorite movies to watch this time of year, basically horror films, or Halloween-themed movies. For those of you that don’t know, I generally hate horror as a genre. Far too often the movies follow a very specific formula: stupid character making stupid decisions getting other stupid characters killed. By the day’s end, there’s nothing to invest in. It’s just violence porn, which I’m not a fan of. It’s too cheap and easy. But for this month, I’ll be writing about the ones that I think break that formula and actually look like they gave a shit about making a good movie, with good characters, good scares, and above all else, a good story. At least, for the horror films. Like I said, I’ll be touching on Halloween-themed films that could be for kids. So sit back, relax, and enjoy my opinions.

THE OTHERS

Starring: Nicole Kidman (THE BEGUILED [2017], THE GOLDEN COMPASS [2007], BATMAN FOREVER [1995], and the upcoming AQUAMAN [2018]), Alakina Mann (GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING [2003]), James Bentley (THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS [2004] and 1 episode of TV show THE DEFENDERS [2010]), and Fionnula Flanagan (THE INVENTION OF LYING [2009], YES MAN [2008], and TV show LOST [2004 – 2010])

Support: Charles Eccleston (THOR: THE DARK WORLD [2013], G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA [2009], and 28 DAYS LATER… [2002]), Eric Sykes (SON OF RAMBOW [2007], HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE [2005], and TV show SYKES [1972 – 1979]), Elaine Cassidy (THE LOFT [2015])

Directing: Alejandro Amenábar (REGRESSION [2015]). Writer: Alejandro Amenábar (REGRESSION and VANILLA SKY [2001]). Composer: Alejandro Amenábar. Cinematographer: Javier Aguirresarobe (THE PROMISE [2017], FRIGHT NIGHT [2011], VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA [2008], and the upcoming THOR: RAGNAROK [2017])

It actually took a long time for this movie to really sink in. Not because I didn’t understand it or anything, but remember when I said that the horror genre wasn’t my thing because of the formula it follows? Well, there was a time when horror movies weren’t my thing because I just simply didn’t like to get scared. I’m nightmare prone. What can I say? In fact, there was a good long time where after I saw it as a kid, I never thought about the movie again. In fact, it was maybe a year ago, around October no less, where the movie came back to my mind.

THE OTHERS is a brilliantly crafted ghost story. Set in 1945, a little after World War II, the story is about a religious mother, Grace (Nicole Kidman), trying her very best to raise her photosensitive children, her older daughter Anne (Alakina Mann), and her younger son, Nicholas (James Bentley), in the confines of their large and empty house. Three former occupants show up to her house in regards to seeking employment to help around the house, the wise and comforting Bertha (Fionnula Flanagan), the oddball Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes), and the young and mute Lydia (Elaine Cassidy).

As they all get acquainted to the new adjustments in the household, we learn what we can about the characters. Grace is a strict Catholic with a strict upbringing for her kids and what must go on in the house. She’s obviously very stressed due to her previous servants leaving without a single notice, and to top it all off, her husband Charles (Charles Eccleston), has not returned from the war and fears he may have died. Nicholas is a young a naive kid, easily frightened by Anne’s stories of ghosts. He just wants to be a good kid and get by, but Anne makes it hard for him. Anne, while not a bad kid, is certainly the more troublesome of the two. She alludes to a “that day” when their mother went “mad,” but never really explains what it was that happened, so there’s always a disconnect between her and her mother. Things are never helped when Grace catches wind of the ghost stories she tells Nicholas.

But as it turns out, Anne’s stories may bear some truth. Grace hears the crying of a child that never came from her children, as well as ominous footsteps from upstairs, Nicholas hears Anne talking to a boy that he can’t can’t see. These are some of the best moments in the movie. The echo of the crying child throughout the halls is chilling. The whispering between Anne and the ghost boy Victor, it’s all wonderfully executed and leaves you pretty uncomfortable. I also love the scene involving Grace’s first real encounter with the intruders. At first, she thinks that the incessantly loud footsteps on the second floor are from Lydia. Requesting that Mrs. Mills tell her to keep it down, she does so, but the footsteps don’t stop. Having enough, Grace is about to give Lydia a piece of her mind, but sees Mrs. Mills talking to Lydia outside. Suddenly, we know something’s going down. Grace heads into a bright room with a ton of white sheets covering a slew of knickknacks. She hears both footsteps and voices, which causes her throw the sheets off of everything in hopes to find the intruders, obviously still not believing that they’re ghosts. But as much as she searches the house, she can’t find anyone.

This movie is one of the most perfect examples of a horror film with good scares. They’re subtle. It’s not about jump scares to wake you up from dozing off. That’s cheap. You can have someone follow you around with a blowhorn and have them scream through it in your ear at random intervals and get the same effect. It’s about leaving you in a state of vulnerability, isolated, claustrophobic, no help, all of this accumulates into a fantastic horror. But in my opinion, what makes this particular scene so great, the scares are happening in a room that’s brightly lit and during daylight. Any lesser horror film would constantly keep the horrors at night. Well, okay, to be fair, the darkness is definitely creepier to shoot scary scene in, and it’s not like this movie doesn’t do it either, but it’s still a brilliant feat to have in a bright setting and make it legitimately uncomfortable, and far more memorable.

The acting in this movie is phenomenal. Kidman delivers probably one of her finest performances of her career and reminds me why I had the biggest crush on her for the longest time. Awe hell, who am I kidding? I still do. I still think Kidman is beyond gorgeous and impossibly talented. You really feel for Grace who is thrust in this supernatural situation that goes completely against her beliefs as a Catholic. Religion and otherworldly encounters certainly intersect in horror films a lot, but I feel like Grace is played into it much more effectively. It’s not just a simple denial of the evidence right in front of the protagonist’s face, Grace has legitimate reason to not believe in anything that’s happening. She’s a die-hard Catholic who believes that God wouldn’t allow the world of the dead to collide with the world of the living. While it still is a denial of something that can’t be explained, her lashing out at Anne, and by extension, furthering the disconnect between the two characters, is completely understandable. Grace doesn’t believe in fantasy stories and Anne really is seeing and interacting with ghosts, you can see where this created brilliant drama. But Grace isn’t completely devoid of rationale. When it becomes clear, too clear to ignore, she does eventually take action and decide to leave for the church to bless the house. It doesn’t end up happening, but it’s still a nice moment to know that she isn’t that character that is either coincidentally not around for the supernatural occurrences, or is frustratingly closing her eyes and covering her ears, denying the obvious. Characters like this are always easier to identify with.

Speaking of the child actors, both Mann and Bentley are terrific and it makes me sad that talented young actors like them didn’t quite pursue acting. Yeah, we get weirdos like Lindsay Lohan and Macaulay Culkin, but those with actual talent like these two fade from memory. Why, God!? Anyway, Anne can be mean-spirited at times, but the reason why you buy it and still sympathize with her is because she is just a kid, and an older sister. It’s always that pecking order among siblings; the younger one is always going to get teased. But not only that, she is raised in this spooky house. She and her brother are forced to stay confined and can’t go outside, lest they break out into sores, suffocate, and die. When you have that kind of upbringing with zero interaction with the outside, no electricity to listen to a radio or a television, I would accept that she’ll look for entertainment in any possible form. No friends, no extended family, it’s really more of a surprise that she’s as well-adjusted as she is. But there are quick subtle moments that are pretty heart-warming. As previously mentioned, Anne and Nicholas are both photosentive, so Grace covers all the windows in the house with curtains that are always closed and the only lighting that exists is a candle flame. There’s a scene where Anne wakes from sleeping and sees that the curtains have been ripped off the windows. The next time we see Anne and Nicholas, they’re taking over next to their beds, but Anne is holding her brother, trying to shield him from the light. It’s quick and probably easy to miss, but having it in there makes for a great little sisterly-love moment.

About the only person that doesn’t get much development is Nicholas. He’s sort of just there to be abused by the circumstances. If it’s not him being teased by Anne, he’s at the business end of a haunting. The poor kid barely ever gets a scene where he can laugh or smile. The closest to real development we get is when these ghostly figures are slowly approaching him and Anne and she’s trying to convince him that they’re ghosts, but because they don’t fit the profile of “bedsheets and clanking chains” that she’s always told him, he doesn’t know if he believes her. That’s about it.

The side characters are sadly pretty hit or miss. The best is obviously Mrs. Mills. Like most older women in horror, she’s kind of creepy, like she knows more about the intruders than she’s letting on. But she’s also so comforting and honest toward Grace and her children, so there’s this brilliant ambiguity that you never know what exactly she knows or doesn’t know. The mystery surrounding her is downright masterful. Sadly, the others don’t get enough of that. Mr. Tuttle is pretty much just another person in the house. He doesn’t interact with the family much, or really with his servant compatriots either, same with Lydia, who could have been a little more interesting, seeing as she’s mute. But sadly, she’s succumbs to that bit of writing where quirks replace identity.

***SPOILERS***

 

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Fans of TV show DOCTOR WHO (2005 – ongoing) will likely recognize Eccleston as Charles, Grace’s long lost husband. This is probably the cardinal sin of the film. Everything involving his character is pure, concentrated fluff and could have been taken out of the film and you wouldn’t have missed a beat. After the piano scene and acknowledging that there’s an otherworldly presence in her home, she leaves to look for a priest to bless the house. But of course, before she gets that priest, she suddenly meets up with Charles on the road. The film takes a hard stop for this. Grace brings him home, he says “hey” to his kids, but then spends a majority of his screen time not interacting with his family, but rather moping in bed. The best scene we get is the final scene with Eccleston, and it’s Kidman that steals the show, not him. Grace is trying to rationalize why he went to war instead of staying home with his family and coming to the realization that he wanted to leave her. But what does the audience learn about him? Sure, we can probably guess that he’s just suffering from PTSD, but that’s only speculation, considering that he does eventually “leave” them after the final scene. And once he does leave, the movie gets right back on track with the missing curtains and what not.

If I were to change anything, I wouldn’t have Charles show up at all. He was completely unnecessary to the plot and leave his fate ambiguous to the family. Just have the piano scene, have her sleep the night off, and in the morning as she leaves, that’s when the kids wake up screaming and just go from there. Later on, Anne could easily decide to run away because she doesn’t want to live with her crazy mom anymore, instead of looking for her dad in the woods. Sure, the movie would probably be fifteen minutes shorter, but with a 101 minute run time, an eighty-five minute length wouldn’t be that noticeable to the common audience.

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***END SPOILERS***

Overall, this film definitely holds up as not only one of my favorite Kidman performances, but as one of my favorite horror films of all time and I am so happy to have it back in my life. It’s not perfect, but it comes pretty damn close. Close enough that I’ll watch it once a year around Halloween. Honestly, even if you’re not a fan of the horror genre, I really recommend giving this a shot. The scares are more subtle than over-the-top, or certainly annoying. It’s an expertly crafted story with great acting from adults and kids alike. It’s smart, it’s scary, it really is one of the best of its class.

My honest rating for THE OTHERS (2001): a strong 4/5

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BROOKLYN (transfer) review

These “transfer” reviews are from when I only did reviews on my Facebook page back in 2015. Bare in mind when reading these, I didn’t have the same formula in my review writing that I do now, and my usual “who starred and who directed” information is completely absent, so everything “italicized” is new. With that said, enjoy this review from 2015.

I can’t tell you how much I’ve wanted to see this movie. Aside from the fact that it was being labeled as one of the best movies of the year, I’m also a relative fan of Saoirse Ronan. I also have to be honest, that was as far as my enthusiasm went. I guess I’m just a sucker for what people tell me. Someone tell me I’m a gopher, I’ll probably believe you. In any case, FINALLY made time to see this movie.

Starring: Saoirse Ronan (LOVING VINCENT [2017], HANNA [2011], ATONEMENT [2007], and upcoming films LADY BIRD [2017] and MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS [2018]) and Emory Cohen (WAR MACHINE [2017], THE GAMBLER [2014], and THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES [2012])

Support: Domhnall Gleeson (GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN [2017], THE REVENANT [2015], ANNA KARENINA [2012], and upcoming films STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI [2017] and PETER RABBIT [2018]), Jim Broadbent (THE SENSE OF AN ENDING [2017], HOT FUZZ [2007], THE BORROWERS [1997], and the upcoming PADDINGTON 2 [2018]), Fiona Glascott (THE DEAL [2008], RESIDENT EVIL [2002], and the upcoming FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM 2 [2018]), and Emily Bett Rickards (FLICKA: COUNTRY PRIDE [2012], and TV shows ARROW [2012 – ongoing] and THE FLASH [2014 – ongoing])

Director: John Crowley (CLOSED CIRCUIT [2013], BOY A [2007], and INTERMISSION [2003]). Writer: Nick Hornby (WILD [2014] and FEVER PITCH [1997]). Composer: Michael Brook (STRONGER [2017], TALLULAH [2016], and THE FIGHTER [2010]). Cinematographer: Yves Bélanger (SHUT IN [2016], DEMOLITION [2016], and DALLAS BUYERS CLUB [2013])

(SUMMARY)

Set in the 1950’s. The story follows a young Irish woman named Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) who has been set up with a new life in America, Brooklyn to be exact. She has a difficult time adjusting at first, what with being homesick and all, but all of that changes when she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), a young Italian romantic who quickly falls for the Irish girl, whom eventually falls for him too. Life gets much easier… until Eilis gets word of tragic news that must bring her home.

(REVIEW)

Great. A nearly flawless movie and thoroughly heartfelt.

Ronan delivers probably her career best. That’s possibly not saying much considering how little she’s done, but there’s no denial that she plays her role as Eilis so straight and convincingly. Every step she takes throughout the film is completely felt. When she gets seasick on a ghetto-looking boat, you feel her agony as she tries to simply find a place to vomit, the heartache when she’s homesick, the happiness when she’s with Tony, Ronan is every bit engaging from the beginning to the end. If she were nominated for best actress at the Oscars, I wouldn’t be surprised (nor would I be surprised if she didn’t win, what with the way that shit’s ran).

The supporting cast isn’t lacking in enjoyment either. Eilis’ romantic-interest, Tony, is indeed a very likable character. He’s a gentleman, and maintains his down-to-earth demeanor and treatment of Eilis. Although I do have to ask why he has a stereotypical Italian accent when none of his family has one. Same mannerisms, maybe, but not the same accent. That was weird. Or maybe their accents were too subtle by comparison to Tony’s over-the-top accent. Who knows?

And, this took me by complete surprise in the most wonderful of ways, Emily Bett freakin’ Rickards of TV show ARROW (Felicity Smoak) popularity was in this movie. She, as well as the other girls in the boarding house, were absolutely charming. Bitchy, but in that hilarious kind of way. I wish I could more about her in this movie, as I do love her acting in ARROW, but her role is so minor here that I wish I could just dock points for that alone: not enough of her.

***SPOILERS***

 

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If there was a complaint I had about this movie, it’s a minor one, which is weird because I just praise him, Tony. He was almost perfectly written, up until Eilis finds out Rose (Fiona Glascott) dies and she must go home. Tony, while comforting and supportive of her decision to return home to say goodbye, he has this scene where he admits to her that he’s scared of losing her: in that if she goes home, she won’t come back. That kind of got an eye-twitch out of me because, if it were me writing the character, he would instead just full-on support her going home and try to figure out how to get her there faster. He could still be scared of all of that, but subtlety would have been preferred in this regard. Focus on the eyes, hold a shot on a remorseful face, admit it to someone else later on, but never let her see that regret. And even if Eilis does stay there, it’s for the best. That’s her home, that’s where her family is, that’s where her life was, and many opportunities will eventually open up for her. What kind of boyfriend wouldn’t be supportive of her decision to stay. Obviously, it would end in heartbreak, which is obviously not where the story ended up, but that’s the tweak I would have made. The rest of the story is fine.

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***END SPOILERS***

This is definitely one of the better films to hit the cinemas this year. Might not be my favorite, but it’s certainly a wonderful romance tale with some powerful acting by Ronan, a great and funny supporting cast to keep the movie entertaining, it’s an emotional powerhouse that’s well worth the admission and highly recommended.

My honest rating for BROOKLYN: a strong 4/5

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CAROL (transfer) review

These “transfer” reviews are from when I only did reviews on my Facebook page back in 2015. Bare in mind when reading these, I didn’t have the same formula in my review writing that I do now, and my usual “who starred and who directed” information is completely absent, so everything “italicized” is new. With that said, enjoy this review from 2015.

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. What a powerhouse team up. Both women are fantastic actresses and their names alone would be enough to get me into the theater as well as the incessant declaration that this movie was in the running for being the best movie of the year helped a little. Of course, I’m going to take a minute to let my primordial-man to come out, so picture me with a club over my shoulder, dragging my knuckles on the ground, and building a fire in a cave: “pretty naked ladies kissing makes Daniel happy inside.” And that’s it. No more. Back to being a strong-willed human. So, is the movie as fantastic as everyone’s been saying?

Starring: Cate Blanchett (SONG TO SONG [2017], ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE [2007], ELIZABETH [1998], and upcoming films THOR: RAGNAROK [2017] and OCEAN’S EIGHT [2018]) and Rooney Mara (A GHOST STORY [2017], HER [2013], YOUTH IN REVOLT [2009], and the upcoming MARY MAGDALENE [2018])

Support: Kyle Chandler (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA [2016], THE KINGDOM [2007], KING KONG [2005], and upcoming films FIRST MAN [2018] and GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS [2019]) and Sarah Paulson (REBEL IN THE RYE [2017], THE SPIRIT [2008], WHAT WOMEN WANT [2000], and upcoming films THE POST [2018] and OCEAN’S EIGHT)

Director: Todd Haynes (I’M NOT THERE. [2007] and the upcoming WONDERSTRUCK [2017]). Writer: Phyllis Nagy (theatrical film debut; congrats, miss). Composer: Carter Burwell (GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN [2017], NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN [2007], FARGO [1996], and upcoming films WONDERSTRUCK and THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI [2017]). Cinematographer: Edward Lachman (WIENER-DOG [2016], I’M NOT THERE., SELENA [1997], and the upcoming WONDERSTRUCK)

(SUMMARY)

It’s the 1950s, and the story follows a young woman named Therese (Rooney Mara) who almost instantly falls for an older woman named Carol (Cate Blanchett), who is in the middle of divorcing her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler), whom she has fallen out of love with despite his fighting for his marriage. Carol is, however, incredibly loving to her daughter Rindy (twins: Sadie and Kk Heim). As their relationship blossoms, and Therese’s own unhappy heterosexual relationship begins to crumble, Carol and Therese leave town together and begin a passionate affair. But as Harge’s desperation grows, he goes to extreme measures to keep his family together at any cost.

(REVIEW)

Thank fucking God, I’ve been going absolutely insane with the Netflix movie’s I’ve been watching lately, I NEEDED this movie. While I might not agree that this is the BEST picture of the year, it does certainly have a lot going for it. Admittedly, my main problems with the film are purely nitpicks.

You know what, let’s get those out of the way before going into what’s great.

The beginning just really felt really pretentious. Therese works in a… high end toy store I guess and is constantly surrounded by dolls and toy sets, even lingering on a shot of her with a toy set. I can only assume that this was done as additional character contrast between her and Carol… which is pretty unnecessary, the age difference and style of clothing summed it up enough. No need to hammer it more into our minds.

Now, before I get into the next plot-point that I wanted to address, I want to make something clear to everyone. I will not be pointing this out because of some segregation toward the homosexual community. I think it’s about time that America evolved a bit with legalizing gay marriage. I do not care if you are gay. I care about whether or not you are a good person who tries to do right, and is respectful toward me and others. In turn, I will be a good and respectful person toward, and do right by, you. I have always and forever will treat everybody equally.

So, on to my biggest problem with the film, and this is even commented on in the movie, “You barely know her!” Yeah… that’s a good point. This was basically the “love at first sight” cliché. Literally, Carol walks into the store and Therese is just FIXATED on her. How long have you been out in the real world, woman? What, have NO other attractive women passed by in the store. Somehow Carol is the hot woman to end all hot women? She’s gorgeous, don’t get me wrong, I don’t disagree with her eventual feelings, but it’s the kickstart that I take issue with. I think it’s nice of Therese to mail Carol’s gloves back to her, but she literally just asked her out to dinner with very minimal interaction when the two first met. She’s still a stranger and she barely put up resistance to saying yes to having dinner with her. Remember when I said “equal treatment?” Well, how would it look if Therese was being asked out by a guy? In real life, a woman could easily feel uncomfortable and VERY easily make a declaration of the guy being a stalker or creepy. Why does Carol get a pass for being a lesbian? I disagree with this cliché no matter who the characters are.

But I’ve ranted about these nitpicks long enough. Time to rave about what’s good.

Blanchett is PHENOMENAL. She delivers a performance that is beautifully nuanced and powerful. Carol is a wonderfully confident character and isn’t afraid to speak her mind, but not unaware of the idea that certain things shouldn’t be said. She’s careful, but not paranoid. She knows what she wants, but also isn’t unaware of her limited influence, especially compared to her bully of a husband, Harge. This might be my favorite performance by Blanchett, which is saying something because the nerd inside me LOVES her as Galadriel from the Lord of the Rings franchise.

Mara’s no different. I have to express my absolute delight that PAN (2015) didn’t make a dent in her career. I guess being in a Fincher film will do that to a person’s career, and it’s not like anyone really saw PAN to begin with (myself excluded, I know, shut up). In any case, I’m ecstatic to see her in a role that showcases her acting at its finest. Therese is so wide-eyed and innocent, but she’s no push-over either. She’s uncertain of her sexuality, but knows she doesn’t live in a society that can accept who she is, or is even certain if she herself accepts who she is. But there’s genuine empathy when you see Therese interact with Carol and how free and happy she really is with her.

Of course, when reality sets in and circumstances tear them apart, you feel their anguish, making it truly awful to see the two of them unhappy. What an accomplishment to be this consistently moving to yank at every emotional string I have.

I want to say that I can overlook the logic of the film, as I do believe it could have been easily remedied with at least five minutes to illustrate a passage of time so a glorified road-trip could be more plausible. But the presence of such a cliché prevents it from being truly great. Having said that, the performances themselves and just how visceral the movie is prevents it from being more than just “good.” I may not agree that it’s the best movie of the year, but I do say it’s one of the best.

My honest rating for CAROL: a strong 4/5

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THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US quick review

Should Kate Winslet just stop traveling in the company of men? She always finds herself royally screwed in some way. Luxury cruise ships, airplanes… or maybe… she’s the problem? *pondering* Maybe men should stop traveling with her… hmm…

Boy howdy have I been seeing this trailer and a certain level of anticipation always bites at me when I see it. I love Winslet and I… well, I never watched any of Idris Elba’s most celebrated TV shows (IE: LUTHER [2010 – 2018]), but I have seen the Thor movies and I rather enjoy him in those, so I’m down to see these two work off of each other.

Here’s the cast. As previously mentioned, starring, we have Kate Winslet (COLLATERAL BEAUTY [2016], REVOLUTIONARY ROAD [2008], TITANIC [1997], and the upcoming AVATAR 2 [2020]) and Idris Elba (THE DARK TOWER [2017], PROMETHEUS [2012], 28 WEEKS LATER [2007], and upcoming films MOLLY’S GAME [2017] and THOR: RAGNAROK [2017]). In support, we have Beau Bridges (THE DESCENDANTS [2011], MAX PAYNE [2008], and TV show BLOODLINE [2015 – 2017]) and Dermot Mulroney (SLEEPLESS [2017], GEORGIA RULE [2007], and MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING [1997]).

Now for the crew. Directing is Hany Abu-Assad, known for foreign projects that I’ve never seen or heard of. Co-writing the screenplay are J. Mills Goodloe (EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING [2017], THE AGE OF ADALINE [2015], and THE BEST OF ME [2014]) and Chris Weitz (STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE [2016], THE GOLDEN COMPASS [2007], and ANTZ [1998]). Composing the score is Ramin Djawadi, known for THE GREAT WALL (2017), CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010), and BLADE: TRINITY (2004). Finally, the cinematographer is Mandy Walker, known for HIDDEN FIGURES (2016), RED RIDING HOOD (2011), AUSTRALIA (2008), and the upcoming MULAN (2019).

Overall, I know early ratings aren’t being too kind to this film, but… I can’t help it, I like the core stars, it looks like it’s got some chilling moments, and I ain’t just talking about that snow, I don’t know, I think I might like it.

This is my honest opinion of: THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US

(SUMMARY)

Alex (Kate Winslet) and Ben (Idris Elba) are two strangers who meet at an airport. A storm is approaching and their respective flight was cancelled. Alex knows how to get in touch with a pilot, Walter (Beau Bridges), who is willing to fly her to her destination and upon overhearing that they have the same destination, she offers him a ride. However, en route, Walter suffers a stroke and their plane crashes. Stranded with limited food and supplies, they venture out into vast, punishingly cold and unforgiving wilderness to find help and their way back home.

(QUICK REVIEW)

Mmph… while I won’t necessarily argue the negative reviews, I don’t think I agree.

Let’s tackle the problems first. For one thing, the set-up is pretty forced. Basically, what you saw in the trailer, two strangers meeting and she offers to help him along since they share a common destination, that moment in the trailer isn’t any different than in the movie. Look, even the best of samaritans have a knack for walking past people with problems, even if they have problems that they could technically help with. But things like hitching a ride with you on an airplane, that’s pretty out there. There’s no real reason for them to meet like they do. It’s just… he’s on the phone, she overhears, she offers that ride, and he accepts. Cue the plot. That simple.

I also knew the problem would be the romance in the film, and it gets pretty painful, especially in the last fifteen minutes. For one thing, I’m not sure how realistic I would find it. Alex is married, to a wonderful man according to her later in the film, and just because Ben, who is beyond emotionally unavailable, is a fellow survivor of a plane crash, they have a romantic connection? Especially with Alex. She’s got all this optimism about making it off the mountain alive, so why would she even have urges like that? Ben, I could understand, possibly, but not Alex. The romance is pretty forced.

***SPOILERS***

 

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In retrospect, a forced romance can still be good if the chemistry is enough to hold the relationship together. However, nothing excuses the completely different movie that takes over. Now we have this horrible melodrama involving the two characters now separated into their respective lives, but can’t stop thinking about each other. He’s been a dick and not calling her back because he thinks she’s a married woman. She doesn’t get married to Mark (Dermot Mulroney), visits Ben in London, and after a heart-to-heart in a restaurant, they decide to part ways. But in about the cheesiest crap that this movie could have possibly inserted, as the characters walk away, they start crying, and then AT THE SAME TIME, turn back around and run toward each other and leap into their arms. Oh… my god, I think movies from the 1950’s would have called this moment trite!

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***END SPOILERS***

But it’s not all bad.

Elba and Winslet are both pretty solid. When their scenes require them to be at odds with each other, you feel that tension. When he gets upset with her decisions, you believe he’s an asshole. And when she believes that she’s not dying on this mountain, you legitimately want her to get out of this alive. So while their romantic chemistry isn’t believable, their chemistry as a pair of survivors is solid. The cinematography is gorgeous to look at, the death-defying scenes are tense, and certain resolutions by the end feel natural enough.

What would I have changed? Well, I would probably have Alex and Ben have some sort of chemistry before she offers that plane ride with her. Like, they both stood in line at the airport front desk, or at the bar and had a basic, nothing conversation. Just something to establish some kind of relationship, weak as it ultimately is anyway. Get rid of the obvious romance and make it a little bit more subtle, more like a “will they or won’t they” scenario and leave the emotions ambiguous to interpretation. Oh, and get rid of that last ten fifteen minutes when they’re at home, or make it incredibly brief.

Overall, the movie’s okay, leaning more toward the bad side. It’s not devoid of good things in it, but it’s not enough to elevate it very high. It’s not a good movie. I may not agree with current ratings, scores, and reviews that trash it, but I don’t plan on defending the film either. The set-up is contrived, the ending is a mountain of cheese, and the romance in the middle isn’t compelling. But the acting is good, the scenery is gorgeous, and it’s got its visceral moments. It could have been worse, but it could have been a lot better. Not the worst watch, but I’m not recommending it. At best, a rental.

My honest rating for THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US: a weak 3/5

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PARANORMAN (2012) review – Halloween Special

Hey there, folks. Due to some personal matters, I’ll likely be taking a break from doing theatrical reviews for awhile. But because I am by my very nature, a writer, I can’t just not write. So in spirit of the encroaching holiday of Halloween, I have opted to use this month to write reviews of my favorite movies to watch this time of year, basically horror films, or Halloween-themed movies. For those of you that don’t know, I generally hate horror as a genre. Far too often the movies follow a very specific formula: stupid character making stupid decisions getting other stupid characters killed. By the day’s end, there’s nothing to invest in. It’s just gratuitous violence, which I’m not a fan of. It’s too cheap and easy. But for this month, I’ll be writing about the ones that I think break that formula and actually look like they gave a hoot about making a good movie, with good characters, good scares, and above all else, a good story. At least, for the horror films. Like I said, I’ll be touching on Halloween-themed films that could be for kids. So sit back, relax, and enjoy my opinions.

PARANORMAN

Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee (X-MEN: APOCALYPSE [2016], LET ME IN [2010], THE ROAD [2009], and the upcoming X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX [2018]), Jodelie Ferland (BIGGER FATTER LIAR [2017], THE CABIN IN THE WOODS [2012], and CARRIE [2002]), Tucker Albrizzi (MONSTER TRUCKS [2017] and ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED [2011]), and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (TROLLS [2016], PITCH PERFECT [2012], SUPERBAD [2007], and upcoming films THE DISASTER ARTIST [2017] and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 3 [2019]).

Support: Anna Kendrick (TABLE 19 [2017], THE ACCOUNTANT [2016], INTO THE WOODS [2014], and upcoming films PITCH PERFECT 3 [2017] and NICOLE [2019]), Casey Affleck (A GHOST STORY [2017], GONE BABY GONE [2007], and GOOD WILL HUNTING [1998]), Leslie Mann (THE COMEDIAN [2017], KNOCKED UP [2007], GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE [1997], and the upcoming THE PACT [2018]), John Goodman (VALERIAN [2017], EVAN ALMIGHTY [2007], THE BORROWERS [1997], and upcoming film CAPTIVE STATE [2018] and TV revival ROSANNE [2018]), and Alex Borstein (ANGRY BIRDS [2016], TED [2012], and TV show FAMILY GUY [1998 – ongoing]).

Directors: Christ Butler (directorial debut, and only directed project) and Sam Fell (THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX [2008] and FLUSHED AWAY [2006]). Writer: Chris Butler (KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS [2016]). Composer: Jon Brion (WILSON [2017], THE OTHER GUYS [2010], PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE [2002], and the upcoming LADY BIRD [2017]). Cinematographer: Tristan Oliver (LOVING VINCENT [2017], FANTASTIC MR. FOX [2009], CHICKEN RUN [2000], and the upcoming ISLE OF DOGS [2018]).

LAIKA has quickly become a popular name when it comes to animation. While claymation and stop motion similar to NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993) aren’t exactly unheard of, they’re also not often done. But LAIKA has certainly made its career on that and they’ve certainly done a memorable job of it. From their debut in CORALINE (2009) and their most recent KUBO, they’ve done a wonderful job in creating worlds that feel surreal, dark, creepy, but overall touching and beautiful.

I actually never saw LAIKA’s second venture, PARANORMAN until later. I have no idea why, but when I finally did see it, it left a pretty decent impact on me. The story is about an eleven-year-old boy named Norman (voiced by Smit-McPhee), who sees dead people, pun intended. Thing is, while these spirits are benevolent, no one else sees them but him, and has a bit of a nasty habit of getting bullied at school and his parents being a little nasty about it. But then one day, his uncle, Mr. Penderghast (voiced by Goodman), is the only one who has the same gift and has spent decades keeping the ancient witch’s curse from wrecking terror on the town. But he dies and tries to convince Norman to take his place. But not given the best information, the witch comes back and wrecks that terror by unleashing her zombie horde.

The opening scene’s twist still takes me by surprise. As well as makes me laugh. The screaming woman and the brain stuck to her foot as she runs away from the zombie attacking her; priceless.

But more than that, this movie could almost be a spiritual successor to THE SIXTH SENSE (1999). What if Cole Sear ended up accepting his gift of seeing dead people and even embraced it? It’s a stretch in logic, sure, but it’s a fun comparison. Norman is a slightly mixed bag for me as a character. On the one hand, he is sympathetic and you feel for him for the way he’s treated. He’s a good kid and means well, doing his best to not make a scene. He’s a kid, so when it’s time for him to do something bigger than life, he’s scared, but he finds courage to do what’s necessary to save everyone, even if it means getting hurt, or worse. But my main issue with him is that he constantly tells people that he sees ghosts. At least, it’s implied that he does. Why does he do that? He’s eleven. He should be old enough by now to understand what adults will believe. At the very least, if they didn’t believe him the first time, he should be smart enough to know it won’t fly if he opens his yammer twice. Maybe if he was a few years younger, his behavior would have been more understandable, but as it is, it’s a little frustrating to watch.

The side characters are about on the same level too. Courtney (voiced by Kendrick) pretty much acts like a standard teenage girl who wants nothing to do with her brother. She does eventually go through a character arch of protecting Norman, but honestly, that arch kind of comes out of nowhere. Even when the zombies are attacking, she still treats Norman like he’s responsible for it. Never mind that zombies exist, which she barely has a reaction to, but she still treats Norman poorly, eventually abandoning him to his plan with dealing with the witch’s curse. It’s only when Norman figures everything out that she stands with him, but it happens pretty suddenly. Thank heavens this character is voiced by Kendrick, as she brings a charming energy to Courtney, otherwise I’d straight up dislike her.

Neil (voiced by Albrizzi) is mostly likable, being the only person that believes in Norman and what he can do, and does his very best to stand by him during the worst that the curse has to offer. My issue with him is that he is kind of a stereotype by constantly showing how obsessed he is with eating. And for every funny joke that he’s a part of, like refusing to leave Norman when the zombies attack in the town hall, but his muscular brother picks him up under his arm, he’s also part of an unfunny joke, like when he’s playing with the ghost of his dog and starts kissing his butt instead of his face. It’s… really strange how this pattern is repeated in the movie with the side characters.

So the characters are hits and misses. What’s legitimately good about the film. Almost exactly where it counts. For one, the animation, like all of LAIKA’s work, is spectacular. From the visuals, to the CG incorporated visuals, it’s all a wonder to behold. Norman’s home town bustles with activity and fills the streets with crowds. The yellow clouds that show glimpses of the witch’s face, those are particularly spooky and threatening and I never get tired of watching it. But above all else, my absolute favorite stuff comes from the witch herself.

***SPOILERS***

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Agatha, or Aggie (voiced by Ferland) brings home the emotional weight. Aggie was once just a little girl, but was accused for being a witch and was killed. But before her death, she placed a curse on the people that did her harm. The way she’s animated in her ghostly form is unbelievably unnerving, and is far more scary than half the things I’ve seen in legitimate horror films. An eerie yellow glow, electricity flying around, and constantly twitching like a glitch in video game graphics. Her face and the way it contorts, it’s all pretty frightening in its own right. But then you see her in her human form and you see a scared little girl who was just being a little girl and murdered for it. She was bullied, and she become angry, vengeful, wanted to hurt those that hurt her just as bad. She’s a victim who doesn’t want to be a victim anymore. You totally understand and empathize with Aggie. She was wronged. No one agrees with her causing chaos and destruction, but anyone can understand why she resorts to these measures. The way that she connects with Norman is the highlight of the film. In many ways, I would actually have preferred to see that she was calmed down and would come back in a possible sequel, but that would leave the ending less powerful and meaningful.

***

***

***END SPOILERS***

This movie is absolutely wonderful to watch around Halloween. Sure, it’s got its flaws in the characters, but it’s got more than enough charm, likability, and great visuals and animation to make it worth a watch. It’s not just good enough for kids, it’s good enough for adults as well. It’s a little scary, but that’s all subjective, isn’t it. Some kids will watch this and be totally fine, others could possibly get nightmares. But as with all horror-type movies for kids, they should know that there is a happy ending and that it’s okay to be afraid. Hence the theme of the movie and the most poignant quote of the film. How did that go again, Grandma (voiced by Stritch): “There’s nothing wrong with being scared, so long as you don’t let it change who you are.”

My honest rating for PARANORMAN (2012): 4/5

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THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012) review – Halloween Special

Hey there, folks. Due to some personal matters, I’ll likely be taking a break from doing theatrical reviews for awhile. But because I am by my very nature, a writer, I can’t just not write. So in spirit of the encroaching holiday of Halloween, I have opted to use this month to write reviews of my favorite movies to watch this time of year, basically horror films, or Halloween-themed movies. For those of you that don’t know, I generally hate horror as a genre. Far too often the movies follow a very specific formula: stupid character making stupid decisions getting other stupid characters killed. By the day’s end, there’s nothing to invest in. It’s just violence porn, which I’m not a fan of. It’s too cheap and easy. But for this month, I’ll be writing about the ones that I think break that formula and actually look like they gave a shit about making a good movie, with good characters, good scares, and above all else, a good story. At least, for the horror films. Like I said, I’ll be touching on Halloween-themed films that could be for kids. So sit back, relax, and enjoy my opinions.

CABIN IN THE WOODS:

Starring: Kristen Connolly (REVOLUTIONARY ROAD [2008], and TV shows ZOO [2015 – ongoing] and HOUSE OF CARDS [2013 – ongoing]), Chris Hemsworth (GHOSTBUSTERS [2016], THOR: THE DARK WORLD [2013], STAR TREK [2009], and upcoming films THOR: RAGNAROK [2017] and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR [2018]), Fran Kranz (THE DARK TOWER [2017], ORANGE COUNTY [2002], and TV show DOLLHOUSE [2009 – 2010]), Bradley Whitford (MEGAN LEAVEY [2017], THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS [2005], BILLY MADISON [1995], and GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS [2019]), and Richard Jenkins (KONG: SKULL ISLAND [2017], THE KINGDOM [2007], THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD [1995], and the upcoming THE SHAPE OF THE WATER [2017]).

Support: Anna Hutchison (TV shows ANGER MANAGEMENT [2012 – 2014], SPARTACUS [2010 – 2013], and POWER RANGERS JUNGLE FURY [2008]), Jesse Williams (BAND AID [2017], THE BUTLER [2013], and THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS 2 [2008]), Brian White (12 ROUNDS [2009], BRICK [2005]. and TV show CHICAGO FIRE [2012 – ongoing]), Sigourney Weaver (A MONSTER CALLS [2016], HAPPILY N’EVER AFTER [2006], ALIEN: RESURRECTION [1997], and upcoming films THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES [2017] and AVATAR 2 [2020]), and popular mocap actor/stuntman, Terry Notary (WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES [2017], THE INCREDIBLE HULK [2008], HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS [2000], and upcoming films AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR [2018] and an untitled Avengers movie [2019]).

Director: Drew Goddard (4 episodes of TV show THE GOOD PLACE [2016 – ongoing] and the upcoming X-FORCE, no release date announced). Writers: Drew Goddard (THE MARTIAN [2015], WORLD WAR Z [2013], CLOVERFIELD [2008], and the upcoming X-FORCE) and Joss Whedon (AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON [2015], SERENITY [2005], TOY STORY [1995], and upcoming films JUSTICE LEAGUE [2017] and BATGIRL, no release date announced). Composer: David Julyan (THE PRESTIGE [2006], THE DESCENT [2005], and MEMENTO [2000]). Cinematographer: Peter Deming (NOW YOU SEE ME 2 [2016], THE JACKET [2005], AUSTIN POWERS [1997], and the upcoming THE NEW MUTANTS [2018])

For those not in the know CABIN IN THE WOODS was actually a creation of Joss Whedon. Yes, the same Joss Whedon who gave us TV shows BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1997 – 2003), FIREFLY (2002 – 2003), and films THE AVENGERS (2012) and AVENGERS: THE AGE OF ULTRON, and briefly took over filming for the upcoming JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017) and is slated to make a Batgirl movie that may or may not have anything to do with the DC Extended Universe. My point is, Whedon is one of the most celebrated names in Hollywood, for his smart stories, brilliant direction, creating some of the most kick-ass women on screen, he’s an all around icon in geek culture.

I bring this up because this is weirdly enough one of his films that got pushed to the wayside. Yeah, though I don’t know the full history, CABIN was originally made years before. Hell, I have a theory that the only reason it was released was because of the success of Marvel’s THOR (2011) and the popularity of Chris Hemsworth, whom is in this film. Kind of funny how things turned out. The common person is probably still looking at this title and wondering why they haven’t heard of it. If it had such big names attached, why aren’t more people talking about it? Well, the sad fact with Whedon is that many of his projects in the past, post-BUFFY and pre-AVENGERS, weren’t always given the best chances, likely due to marketing failure. FIREFLY, for example, is considered to be one of the greatest sci-fi TV shows of all time, but much like CABIN, not many people have heard of it, and seemingly fewer have seen it. So what does that usually mean? Popular, fresh, different, and amazing work that goes completely over mainstream becomes, what else, a cut classic. There’s plenty who talk about these slices of celluloid wonder. You just have to look for them. That was the case for FIREFLY, such is also the case for CABIN.

So what makes CABIN IN THE WOODS so special? Well, take a look at the trailer when this movie first came out.

 

Doesn’t seem too special, right? A generic horror film about a group of teenagers that get out of town to get high, get drunk, have sex, and an all around good time in a cabin in the woods. But then shit starts to get real and they start getting picked off, one by one. Yup, it’s about a generic as it looks, right?

HA!!! Fools, the lot of you!

The film lets you know exactly what kind of movie you’re really in for in its opening sequence, which is what threw off more than a couple people who saw this. It’s a comedy. A horror-comedy, one of my favorite mash-ups when it comes to the horror genre. The very first set of images we get are of ritual sacrifice from ancient civilizations and then cuts to a pair of business suit-wearing men, Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), who talk about their normal everyday lives combined with some ominous talk about something something or other. It’s a lot funnier than I’m making it sound.

Then we get right to the traditions of horror: the five victims of circumstance. Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Holden (Jesse Williams), and Marty (Fran Kranz). Though the difference here is that unlike most horror films, as generic as they appear, there is a likability to each of them. They’re written in such a way that you may not be able to talk about them very much, but they still have some charm to them. Marty is probably my favorite character, being a pothead and a conspiracy theorist, but he’s so damn funny and barely takes what he himself says seriously that I can’t help but laugh my ass off.

On the surface, the film is about a super secret organization that periodically must sacrifice at least four of five victims to giant ancient gods to keep them in their slumber. A slut, an athlete, a scholar, a fool, and the optional virgin. They lead the young people to this cabin in the woods and basically rig this system in a way that these young people choose how they die. How do they do that? By making them curious enough to go into the creepy basement and fiddle with a bunch of knickknacks that will ultimately trigger a horror that ultimately kills them, like, a conch shell will decide on a merman that will kill them, or a creepy journal that if read, will trigger a zombie torture family to kill them. Things like that. What’s hilarious is that the people in suits take bets on what will be the horror that the teens face. At this point, the teens must die in a specific way. The whore dies first, then the others, so long as the virgin is last. There’s also clichés that are played with. You know that age old “let’s split up, we can cover more ground that way” bullshit that even Scooby Doo made a career out of doing that? Well, this is addressed in brilliant way. At first, one of them will say that they should stick together at all costs. But then the guys in suits will release a tiny amount of gas that fucks with their brains and then that same teen will say, “On second thought, let’s split up.”

However, things go wrong when one of the deaths doesn’t happen as intended. Marty, the fool, was originally thought to be killed, but ended up surviving and accidentally stumbled upon an elevator that would them to the underground facility of the people that have been doing this to the teens. It’s here that they discover all sorts of horrors, the list of which is too great to go through. But eagle eyed fans of the video game franchise Left 4 Dead may notice a boomer, a tank, and a witch in the cubes. Upon entering, the organization desperately tries to nullify the situation by sending their own personal SWAT guys after them, but equally desperate to stay alive, Dana and Marty unleash the monsters upon the SWAT guys and it’s a shit load of gory fun, from giant snakes, giant a giant octopus, ghosts, and . They navigate to the heart of this facility and discover where the leader of this crap is, The Director, played amazingly by Sigourney Weaver, and basically reveals everything, only for her to die in a climactic fight and dooming the world to extinction because Marty was unwilling to die for humanity and Dana sorta failed at killing him. The gods rise up and the movie ends. Just like that.

Well, alright, that can sound like a bit of fun, right? But what makes it such a modern classic, aside from the video game and countless pop culture references, like THE EVIL DEAD (1981), which heavily influenced this set-up? Because it’s social commentary, specifically about horror fans who love the formula of bad and repetitive horror films. Really think about it. The Old Gods that are referenced in the movie represent those audiences who need that formula. See what’s happening? When you go to a horror movie like this, you expect the whore to die, you expect the asshole jock to die, and because these movies are bought and paid for so frequently with no wide-spread demand for diversity, these movies become “another day at the office,” getting the same ole routine down to appease you, the audience, that demands this formula, and any deviation or defiance of it results in y’all being angry and shunning it. The perfect example that I read about that the movie uses is in the line, “We haven’t had a glitch since ’98.” If it’s not too far off the mark, this line references the movie THE FACULTY (1998), in which none of the young people die by the end of the movie. And if I’m not mistaken, it wasn’t the best received by viewers.

But the fun-poking doesn’t stop there. I think the corporation represents the producers that finance these movies, as represented by the betting pool of what horror the teens will face and who makes the profit, and the teens represent the minority of audiences that want change, that want an overhaul of the system, but either succumb to the will and demands of those more powerful and in control, or die trying break the mold. All of this is just the tip of the iceberg of what people can extrapolate and it’s a load of fun to read other opinions… except from those that didn’t like the film. Fuckin’ old gods. GO BACK TO SLEEP, YOU FORMULA-LOVING BASTARDS!!!

About the closet thing to a problem that I have with the movie is of the playful variety. Like, now that Whedon and Goddard have incepted this into my brain, you know what, you forward-thinking genius bastards, I want to see a merman killing spree! Fuck the sequel that people have been asking for- how would that even work, dumb-asses? – I want a prequel with the merman! If you can find a way to make space cowboys work, the you can make a god damned movie about a killer merman! Get on it, Whedon and Goddard, or I’ll… I’ll… bitch and moan online some more?

Overall, I think this is probably one of the best and most unique films of its class. It’s hilarious, it’s intelligent, it’s a brilliant love-letter and middle finger to the conventional. I say if you haven’t seen this film, you’re doing yourself a grand disservice. This is one of my favorite movies to revisit around Halloween, so get together with some buddies and have a magnificent time with it.

My honest rating for CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011): 5/5

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BLADE RUNNER 2049 review

Hang on. *Grabs my helmet, body armor, and riot shield*

I am not fan of BLADE RUNNER (1982).

It’s true. Despite being a mega lover of sci-fi, the genre’s most celebrated films, such as BLADE RUNNER and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), are my least favorite of them all. In all likelihood, I saw BLADE RUNNER at a time when my brain wasn’t quite ready for something so nuanced and layered. I figured it’d be a grittier and darker Star Wars with lots of action and what have you. Turns out, it’s closer to a sci-fi noir film and I was probably not ready for something like that. I looked at it like THE GODFATHER (1972) of sci-fi films, slow and forgettable. I wish I had the time to revisit the film to see how it holds up with my current tastes, but… day job. What can you do?

The story looks like it’s about a cyborg manufacturer who wants to… I don’t know, take over the world, I assume. But a dude locates the protagonist from the previous film and holds the key to either stopping him, or making things worse. I don’t know, once again, it’s pretty shrouded in mystery.

Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Ryan Gosling (SONG TO SONG [2017], BLUE VALENTINE [2010], MURDER BY NUMBERS [2002], and the upcoming FIRST MAN [2018]), Ana de Amas (WAR DOGS [2016] and HANDS OF STONE [2016]), and Harrison Ford (STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS [2015], INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL [2008], AIR FORCE ONE [1997], and the upcoming untitled Indiana Jones Project [2020]). In support, we have Dave Bautista (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 [2017], SPECTRE [2015], THE SCORPION KING 3: BATTLE FOR REDEMPTION [2012], and upcoming films ESCAPE PLAN 2: HADES [2018] and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR [2018]), Robin Wright (WONDER WOMAN [2017], UNBREAKABLE [2000], THE PRINCESS BRIDE [1987], and the upcoming JUSTICE LEAGUE [2017]), Sylvia Hoeks (a bunch of projects I’ve never heard of), Jared Leto (SUICIDE SQUAD [2016], MR. NOBODY [2009], FIGHT CLUB [1999], and rumored to be in upcoming films SUICIDE SQUAD 2 [2019] and GOTHAM CITY SIRENS, no release date announced), and Mackenzie Davis (THE MARTIAN [2015], THAT AWKWARD MOMENT [2014], TV show HALT AND CATCH FIRE [2014 – ongoing], and the upcoming TULLY [2018]).

Now for the crew. Directing, we have Denis Villeneuve, known for ARRIVAL (2016), SICARIO (2015), and PRISONERS (2013). Co-writing the screenplay is Hampton Fancher (BLADE RUNNER) and Michael Green (ALIEN: COVENANT [2017], LOGAN [2017], GREEN LANTERN [2011], and the upcoming MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS [2017]). Co-composing the score are Benjamin Wallfisch (IT [2017], ANNABELLE: CREATION [2017], and LIGHTS OUT [2016]) and the living legend, Hans Zimmer (DUNKIRK [2017], THE SIMPSONS MOVIE [2007], and THE PEACEMAKER [1997]). Finally, the cinematographer is Roger Deakins (HAIL, CAESAR! [2016], JARHEAD [2005], and THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION [1994]).

Overall, I’m not sure how to feel about this movie. Early reviews seem to be praising the fuck out of it and declaring it better than the original. Well… since I didn’t like the original all that much, I might not think that’s a very high bar to set. Oh well, in time, I’ll rewatch the original, but for now, I’m going to judge this movie for what it is. And… yeah, it looks atmospheric, like it’s got some decent action, but… just taking a shot in the dark, is Ford going to be a glorified cameo? I don’t know, I just have that feeling.

This is my honest opinion of: BLADE RUNNER 2049

(SUMMARY)

Set thirty years after the events of the first film. Replicant blade runner, K (Ryan Gosling) has successfully hunted down and killed another older model of replicant named Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista). But buried beneath his farm, K finds a buried box containing the skeletal remains of a woman. But not only that, the woman was a replicant. And not only that either, but she was pregnant, and the child is still out there. K is then tasked by his superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), to hunt down and eliminate this replicant before anyone finds out about it.

(REVIEW)

Apologies for the delay on this review. I technically saw it opening night, but the film is so intricate and there’s so many layers to peel back that I couldn’t finish writing unless I saw it a second time to full comprehend certain things that I didn’t… well, comprehend. Having now seen it twice, I can finish.

I think while I still need to revisit the original film to get a full and complete understanding of the film presented here, this movie is… pretty damn awesome. I’m not sure if I agree with IMDb’s 8.8/10 (as of 10/6/2017) and find myself leaning more toward RottenTomatoes’ 89% (as of 10/13/2017), but I agree that this film is very much a great film.

Before I go into my opinion, I think I should probably drop a quick disclaimer. Much like the previous film, don’t go in expecting an action film. That’s not the genre. This is a straight-up thriller, but set in a sci-fi genre. I won’t say there aren’t action scenes at all, there are, but they’re pretty far in between. This film is pure atmosphere, visuals, and story. This isn’t a dark and gritty Star Wars with Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford.

And speaking of Ford, I was kind of right. He’s not exactly a glorified cameo, but out of this two and a half plus hour film, he’s only in the final hour or so.

So with that in mind, here we go.

This is probably the most nuanced sci-fi that I’ve seen in years. Hell, I’m not even sure when I last saw a sci-fi film of this caliber. Eh, okay, ARRIVAL, but outside of Villeneuve’s résumé. Why do I think so highly of it? One perfect example, which probably only scratches at the many layers this film has, is one brief exchange between K and Lt. Joshi.

LT. JOSHI
You’ve been getting along fine without one.

K
Ma’am?

LT. JOSHI
A soul.

That alone drove me into a tailspin by the end of the film. Any other movie, even other great sci-fi stories, have hammered in this concept of machines having a soul for decades. GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995), TERMINATOR 2 (1991), THE IRON GIANT (1999), the Mass Effect video game franchise, all of them have tackled this subject and each offers its own fascinating and unique perspective. Even in Mass Effect, this question is literally asked by a character, “Does this unit have a soul?” Most movies ask the question and spend the film offering an answer. Some do it well, some not so much. But what I think this movie brilliantly does is not bothering to ask anything. Instead, it goes the route of great sci-fi and with Wright’s line, she’s declaring an answer. K’s never had a soul, and the movie is spent offering us evidence to believe otherwise. K is a thinking, feeling person. Yeah, he’s by his very nature, a machine, but he’s exhibited just as many human qualities as, well, any human has. He has compassion, shows fear, gets angry, gets sad, human emotion.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about K. This is a masterfully written character and… well, I’ll talk about Gosling’s performance in a bit, but first thing’s first. K is about as perfectly a written type of character like this that can be written. I have a hard time admitting it to myself, Gosling has a tendency to be a little wooden in his facial expressions. But his performances are usually nuanced enough and, depending on the role, he’s just charming enough to work past that. But here, it works perfectly. He’s a machine who seems to have found his own spot in the world. However, that spot isn’t exactly any kind of paradise. He lives in this run down apartment building filled with humans who are extremely intolerant of replicants. They shout obscenities at him and the front door to his room is spray painted with “Fuck you, skin job,” or something to that effect. It’s impossible to tell if he’s unaffected by the names and harassment, or only a little. Gosling’s performance is so subtle that you can probably look at his expressions and come up with your own conclusions.

Once he’s in his room, though, the world outside is dead quiet and it’s here where he’s free. He does what he wants, simple as his choices may be. But what I found fascinating was this relationship that he has with Joi (Ana de Armas). Joi is a kind of computer holographic companion, probably designed for sexual purposes, but K treats her like a girlfriend. He doesn’t talk to her like he owns her, or in any way that would demean her. In fact, our first scene with them is him giving her a gift. Some kind of portable device that allows him to bring her with him wherever he goes, giving her holographic form some… solidity, if that’s a way I can use that word. Basically, she can walk outside in the rain and where normally the rain would pass right through her, now it kind of bounces off of her, runs down her body, and… I guess her hair and clothes get wet, yeah, I think there’s some technological discrepancies that the movie didn’t take into account, but there is some kind of emotional weight to this. It’s… also pretty obvious that at some point, Joi’s going to go with K on his quest, but then again, the movie intelligently doesn’t make this some kind of twist and joins him pretty early on. It’s a really fascinating relationship that they share and I loved watching them interact with each other without ever feeling like it’s distracting from the story. That’s really hard to pull off too.

And yes, Ford is back in his usual gruff self, and just like K, he’s just as nuanced and subtle. You see a man who has been through a lot in the last thirty years and wants to be left alone. Because of his time away from civilization, it’s clear that he’s not good at talking to people aside from his most base instinct responses. But you understand why he is the way he is. Blade Runners hunted down replicants like crazy and he needed to protect his wife and unborn child, whom he’s never met. Anyone can understand how that’d give a person some rough, even violent edges.

If there’s anything else that I have to praise this movie for, it’s in the way that every time I think I found a flaw in the film, it makes me think about and then it doesn’t become a flaw anymore. I was about to say that I wasn’t entirely sure why a replicant born child would cause a war. I generally like to think that I’m not awful with the interpretations of ambiguous motivations and morals, but this one felt like it was shoehorned in to add some stakes that probably didn’t need to be added. But then I gave it a second thought. Then I realized, what do I know about this world? Replicants are not well-liked. In fact, it’s not dissimilar to the world of X-Men, mutants feared and hated because they were born different. The average person probably sees replicants as machines parading around like humans, are given basic rights like humans, but at the end of the day, aren’t humans. They take jobs, ones that include brandishing a firearm, own property, be it a home or a vehicle, I can definitely see how controversial their existence would be. And for there to be a baby out there, a replicant, started off as a fetus and pushed out of the vagina, like a human, there’s way too many fires that would be lit under too many asses. Machines aren’t people, so how can they procreate? What does that mean for humans? Will humans become obsolete? Are the parents both replicants? Is only one of them? Can humans and machines procreate? Can they experience sex and or romance together? Notice how many questions I’m coming up with and the movie, I think, purposely doesn’t answer them because this is that kind of world.

But for how much I could sing about this film’s praise, I do have one complaint… but I don’t know how to vocalize it, and it all centers around Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). Okay, I think I get his motivations. His replicants are instrumental in colonizing the other planets in the solar system. I would very much love to know how he managed to colonize Mercury and Venus, which are crazy close to the sun, and Jupiter and Saturn, which are gas giants, but that’s beside the point. Thing is, Earth is in the shitter, and he’s dedicated his resources to helping Earth, meaning his abundant, but still limited resources are about as stretched out as they can get. The nine planets that have been colonized aren’t enough. I love his line that goes something like, “A child can count to nine on both hands.” He wants humanity to venture further out, believing the stars should be conquered. But due to a lack of resources to make that many replicants, he needs an alternate method of creating them. He’s tried to breed them, but has constantly failed. In comes his proclaimed “best angel of all,” Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) with evidence from the LAPD that an older replicant model got preggers. Now he wants that baby to understand how it happened and duplicate it for future models and get that surplus of replicants that he wants. All of that, I perfectly understand. Capture Deckard, torture him for information on those who helped hide his baby, all of that makes perfect sense.

With that said, I find myself grossly disconnected with his character. There’s nothing wrong with Leto’s performance. Hell, he can get a little creepy with the way he stares at people through his little floating robot things. But there’s still something about Wallace that I just don’t click with and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it’s because we don’t see enough of him. How can I identify with his desires if I don’t know what he’s like as a person? How can I see the broad scope of his vision if all he does is talk about it? It’s not like we ever see the other planets that have been colonized, or the hard work that the replicants are doing on those worlds. There also seems to be a little bit of inconsistency with his character. For much of his scenes, he calls his replicants “angels.” Weird, but I guess we expect that from a character played by Leto, making his creations feel like the work of the gods, painting himself as a god by extension. But we see him kill at least two of his own “angels” and later calls them his children. Well… what kind of father would kill his own children? I can see a vengeful god blasting his angels into oblivion if they don’t live up to his vision of perfection, but he never acts like a father figure. To any of them, so that line feels awkward. Perhaps that’s one of the other reasons why I feel so “blah” when it comes to him. He’s so… pretentious. I’m sure that was intentional when writing him, but we never truly see him do anything other than acting like a man among men and I just don’t see where he’s coming from. If he’s supposed to serve as more of entity to be feared, then his looming presence should feel more threatening. I am not threatened by Wallace. If he’s supposed to be just a man who’s trying to advance humanity forward, then that doesn’t work either because he neither conducts himself, nor do we get to know him as a man.

But really, if I take a good step back and look at the whole picture, as opposed to this one… discoloration that I really had to look for, Wallace is such a minuscule character with very little impact. The story is engaging, the characters are compelling, the writing is fantastic, the cinematography, yes, I am commenting on the cinematography by Roger Deakins, is gorgeous, the ideas are thought-provoking, the visual effects are breath-taking, ladies and gentlemen, this is truly a masterwork that needs to be experienced.

I want to give a personal shout out here. Villeneuve may not have been in the directing scene for very long, but the man has incredible talent for it, especially in the realm of sci-fi. Already, he’d won folks over with films like PRISONERS and SICARIO. While I really liked PRISONERS, and I thought SICARIO was just okay, I wasn’t won over until ARRIVAL. He is now officially that name that will immediately guarantee my ass in a seat for any and all future projects, especially if he tackles sci-fi again.

If it isn’t obvious enough, I recommend everyone to see this flick. As in, drop what you’re doing and make time to see it. It’s a film of a caliber that we won’t likely get again for a long time… unless Villeneuve keeps doing sci-fi. In which case, all we have to do is wait for his next big project and see what he does with it. I’ve seen it twice now, I would love to see it again, and I can’t wait to own it on Blu-Ray.

My honest rating for BLADE RUNNER 2049: 5/5

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