Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

From Halloween to Easter

A lot of science fiction and horror this time around!

Hellraiser: After so many people complimented my Twitter Halloween name of "Patellraiser," I felt like a Fake Horror Boy unless I actually watched Hellraiser (which I had been wanting to watch anyway). All I really knew was Pinhead and Cenobites and like an S&M hell dimension and maybe a puzzle box. And, yes, all of that is there, but to my surprise, the worldbuilding is largely in the background, with very little explained. The main plot is about a skinless dude trying to become less skinless with the help of a little murder. Unlike some horror movies, this one does take time to establish actual human characters with motivations, which grounds the movie even when you have a skinless dude and nightmare creatures (made with practical effects) and silly special effects coming off a puzzle box that is incredibly easy to solve. This movie is full of gore and blood and sex and hooks and skin being ripped and it sure is something. It starts with a bang, slows down considerably, then gets fucked up, and finally just goes for broke, which is when it's most fun. What is your brain, Clive Barker. B/B+

Exam: Eight candidates walk into a room to take an exam for a highly desirable position at an unnamed company doing unnamed things. They have eighty minutes to answer one question. Ground rules are set. The timer is set. And the game begins! Answering one question in eighty minutes seems pretty easy, but this is one of those fucked-up exams that's just mindgame after mindgame, and if you are into that shit, then this is the movie for you. It's a bit overly slow and plodding at times, streeeeeeeeeetching moments out for tension, but it's never boring because the clock continues to tick down and the candidates are still attempting to succeed in any way they can. It's fairly clever, and I liked that there was some neat worldbuilding woven in eventually. Characterization is a bit sparse, but the actors do most of the heavy lifting. This is a fun, low-budget, locked-room psychological thriller that twists and turns and delivers on its premise. Some may find the ultimate resolution disappointing, but it worked for me. B+

Talvar: My goodness, it's a Bollywood movie that's not a musical, that's shot and acted like a regular movie! And it's a twisty mystery based on an infamous double-murder case. A fourteen-year-old girl is murdered in her home, and LOGICALLY the parents are the prime suspects...according to the inept-ass police department who can barely recognize a bloodstain. Enter Irrfan Khan from the CDI (Indian equivalent of the FBI, I think), who puts forth another theory. Basically this whole movie is hardcore investigation and detective work, complete with interviews of witnesses and the media having a field day with this sensational case. Meanwhile we see hypothetical scenarios of how the murder could have gone and what the possible motive might have been. As in the real-life case, we never find out the truth, left to wonder whether justice has been served. Also there's something about Irrfan Khan getting a divorce or something, like that's relevant. Overall, a gripping, well shot, documentary-esque film. B+

Star Trek: Generations: The first Star Trek: The Next Generation movie serves as a transition from the previous generation of movies...poorly. Since only Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov show up. And Scotty and Chekov disappear after the first fifteen minutes or so. See, the movie begins with the maiden voyage of the Enterprise-B, and, well, three whole members of the Enterprise-A crew deign to show up, and then disaster strikes. Flash forward 78 years to a bizarre and unnecessary holodeck scene that's basically there for me to go HI SPACESHIP BABIES I MISSED YOU. And then Data finally puts in his emotions chip and it's annoying and weird and has no point except to give him something to do (not that they bother giving anyone else anything to do), and they find Malcolm McDowell, and of course he's evil because he's Malcolm McDowell, and then...things happen and it's so plodding and boring and this movie has no story you guys. It's all just an excuse to get Kirk and Picard together after ninety minutes, and it's fun to see them together (and I find Old Kirk interesting and different from young, spry Kirk), but it's mostly a complete waste. The movie feels like an extended episode of TNG, and not a very good one. B-

As Above, So Below: A horror movie filmed in the Catacombs below Paris? That sounds awesome, right? Sure it does! Wait, apparently it's about some woman looking for the Philosopher's Stone, following all these bizarre clues left by Nicholas Flamel with rhymes and acronyms that work IN ENGLISH. I kind of enjoyed National Treasure: Nicholas Flamel Edition in all its ridiculousness, but the movie never strikes a good balance between that movie and the horror movie it's supposed to be. There are some minor creepy bits early on, but it takes an hour for it to go full-on horror (as they basically go to hell or whatever???), and while there are some cool scary moments, none of it ever makes any goddamn sense. And also it's frequently unclear what's even happening. It's a mess, which is sad because it's trying to be something kind of interesting, and it had some potential. Also the only black guy is behind the camera most of the time and never gets any characterization, so way to earn that representation cookie, movie. B

Star Trek: First Contact: I saw this movie in the theater when I was a teenager, but I had never seen the show so I had no context for anything! Now I do, and it's even better! The Borg are back, baby, and by back, I mean we basically ignore every Borg story after "The Best of Both Worlds." The Borg decide to time travel and fuck up First Contact, so the Enterprise must time travel and save First Contact, and this results in a dual storyline. In one story, Riker and Troi and Geordi try to ensure that one of the most important men in history becomes one of the most important men in history (despite the huge burden they put on his shoulders), and in the other, BORG BORG BORG BORG BORG. This is TNG as a big-budget sci-fi action thriller, and it's very fun and very well paced and things explode, with little touches of humor. Picard, having a personal connection to the Borg, has the most compelling story, of course; meanwhile, Data also gets a...personal connection...to the Borg...and it doesn't really make a lot of sense. Speaking of not making a lot of sense, hello, Borg Queen, why are you so sexy, why are you sexy in any way at all WHY DO YOU EVEN CARE ABOUT GENDER OR SEXUALITY. Regardless, though, this is a hell of a big-screen outing for the TNG crew that succeeds both as as a movie-size episode as well as an accessible and entertaining movie. B+/A-

The Final Girls: It's like Pleasantville but a horror movie! Five friends get sucked into Camp Bloodbath, a Friday the 13th-esque cult classic slasher flick from the '80s. One of them, of course, is the obsessive fan who knows every line of dialogue and can explain to them the Rules, which they will need to know if they're going to survive till the end credits and get back home. This is already a fun concept, but what elevates the movie is this little twist: Max, modern-day girl, is the daughter of one of the actresses in the movie. Spoilers, her mom's character dies pretty early on. But now...but now...now maybe Max can save her?? The mother-daughter relationship grounds the movie, and it is never played for laughs, and it leads to lots of real emotional moments. Somehow the movie strikes a tricky tonal balance: though, as a loving homage/send-up of slasher flicks, it's filled with creative gags, it manages to make you care about the characters (even the relationships between the friends have some depth to them). I wasn't sure, however, how to feel about a lot of the deaths: was this a horror death (NOOOO!!!) or a comedy death (HAAAAA!!)? A bit of both? It was unclear whether there were stakes for the "real" people or not. But the real fun of the movie is in the way that the characters basically WEAPONIZE TROPES in order to survive. In the end, I'm left pretty damn impressed with how "Pleasantville but a horror movie" was so well handled. B+/A-

Rocky: With the release of Creed, I thought it was high time I see Rocky, which was apparently a Good Movie and not the cheesy schmaltzfest I assumed it was thanks to the endless parodies. It is one of the greatest sports movies of all time, and that's because of its keen focus on character: with the exception of two or three scenes, Rocky is at the center of the story every minute. He's just like his country, he's young, scrappy, and hungry, and he is not throwing away his shot! Rocky is a small-time boxer, and he's a sweet lug of a guy, who has fish and turtles and tells girls not to act like whores. The film follows his small-time life for a while, and he's endearing as hell, why wouldn't you root for him. He has a crush on the shy pet store clerk! Whose brother is a fucking asshole, God, Paulie is the fucking worst. But he and Adrian have a cute romance. The plot, however, is set into motion when Apollo Creed, heavyweight champion of the world, decides to give a local boy a shot, and he chooses the Italian Stallion. Creed's a smart, charismatic guy, and I like that the movie doesn't demonize him. Rocky trains to beat the guy, and he doesn't think he has a chance at winning, but all he wants to do is go the distance, that'll show everyone. We care about his personal journey and his personal victory. B+/A-

Spy: Holy crap! Everyone who actually saw this movie said it was fucking great and they were right. Melissa McCarthy is the voice in Bond-esque Jude Law's ear, feeding him all the intel and giving him the instructions but never going out into the field herself. But then she's the only one who can go find out who has a portable nuke, so it's off to Europe with her! Spy is constantly funny, with tons of great performances and laugh-out-loud lines; it mines humors from its vibrant characters as well as the spy movie genre in general. Jason Statham plays a parody of himself and it's hilarious; the trailers made it out to be a McCarthy/Statham buddy comedy but it's not—she's on her own and he keeps getting in the way. It's a good spy movie and a good making-fun-of-spy-movies movie. And it never makes a single fucking fat joke, believe it or not; the jokes at McCarthy's expense are about how she acts and presents herself, not her weight. This movie surprised the hell out of me, it's so wildly entertaining. It's a fun-as-hell spy comedy where women are awesome and men are relatively useless macho assholes. A-

Inside Llewyn Davis: Llewyn Davis is a folk singer trying to go solo after making it "big" (not really) as a duo. He has nowhere to live and he just crashes on people's couches. His life sucks. And he's looking for a cat. That's it, that's the movie. Inside Llewyn Davis is pretty subdued for a Coen Brothers flick, with only the occasional moments of their trademark quirkiness. We basically just follow Llewyn around as...nothing good happens to him ever. And yet, even though there is no plot, I wasn't bored because I liked Llewyn and found him interesting and likable and flawed and compelling, plus he was Oscar Isaac. Who can sing, goddamn. The movie doesn't really offer satisfying resolutions to anything; pretty much everything is a loose thread by the end. So it's more like Portrait of the Artist as a Sad Sack (and although it's about folk music, it speaks to artists in general), but somehow it still works. B+

What We Do in the Shadows: Five minutes into this mockumentary, it was already the greatest vampire movie I'd ever seen. It takes a fairly simple premise—four vampires share a flat in modern Wellington—and mines an incredible amount of humor from it. It has such a delightful sense of comedy, not only about vampires in general but about its characters. Each one has a distinct personality that creates a fun dynamic. Viago is fucking adorable, Deacon is a bit of a prat, Vladislav is an old-school Dracula parody, and Petyr is eight thousand years old, they're not going to wait for him to come to the flat meeting. It packs in many short character-based stories, and the plot is fairly loose as it flits among them, but it manages to resolve everything satisfactorily by the time the credits roll. Well, by the middle of the credits. The movie is relentlessly funny; I have not laughed out loud at a movie this much in quite a while. And there's an underlying sweetness to it that's quite endearing. Unfortunately, it's also super SUPER dudely, like dudely to the max. The movie does acknowledge this, and the fact that it's exploring bro-y relationships works for it. Having more focus on women would be a different kind of movie, but it is a movie they could have chosen to make and didn't. A-

Meet the Patels: It is an odd experience to watch a documentary about someone who is not you but basically IS you. Ravi Patel embarks on a quest to get married at the behest of his parents, and his sister films the journey. I have had these conversations, I have done these things, and I have never seen them so accurately portrayed onscreen before. For someone outside the culture, it is a window; for someone inside the culture, it is a mirror. The doc focuses on various aspects of Indian arranged marriages and Indian culture in general, and it effectively conveys the culture clash between the parents, born and raised in India, and the children (Ravi and Geeta), born and raised in America. They don't want to lose their roots, but they know they have an American way of thinking. Although it's very focused on Ravi's search for a wife, Geeta is also unmarried, and she brings her own perspective at times, though more would have been welcome. It's very entertaining and it moves swiftly, bolstered by cute animation and insightful Talking Heads. I laughed through most of the first hour and cried through most of the last half hour, as the disappointment of Ravi's parents really started to hit home. In the end everyone learns a lot, and thankfully the narrative of real-life events is satisfying. I can only hope my own narrative finds its way. A-

Trainwreck: Amy Schumer bravely plays a character named...Amy, who has no last name, maybe it's Schumer, who knows. I am only slightly aware of Schumer as a comedian, so I have no idea how closely this character is modeled after her or her persona, but THIS Amy writes for a fashion magazine, and she is the titular trainwreck. She drinks, she gets high, she sleeps around—a habit she learned from her father, who inculcated her with the idea that monogamy is not cool, although her sister managed to make it work. But now she meets Bill Hader, and he's the sweetest guy, and can they make this monogamy thing work, who knows, who cares. I just could not get into this movie, like for two hours I could see the movie trying to be funny and compelling and everything bounced off of me except for John Cena as a musclebound lug who has trouble with dirty talk and insult talk and LeBron James as a concerned friend. Also there's an intervention scene later that's pretty great. But I never laughed out loud, only gave the occasional chuckle, and I guess I'm not Schumer's target audience; I've enjoyed Judd Apatow's work in the past. There's a lot of "awkward relationship humor" that some people maybe relate to a lot but did nothing for me. Amy tries to work through her relationship issues and her life issues and it's okay I guess. The movie eschews the usual rom-com tropes for the most part until the end. B-/B

Advantageous: Gwen Koh lives in an appearance-focused society. Not the present, the future. Yes, it's still like that in the future, but worse, because now you have futuristic ways of changing your appearance. Director/co-writer Jennifer Pham subtly paints this future with very few special effects, and the details of the world are pretty damn vague: random terrorism here, a flying robot there, fertility issues here, something about...something there. She anchors the film on the relationship between Gwen and her daughter, Jules, who she wants to get into a good school. Which is made more difficult when her company lets her go for being too old. But there is...a new procedure. The movie spends, like, an hour or so simply following Gwen and Jules, giving Gwen a bit of time to think about her choice, and the last half hour is definitely the most interesting part of the movie, exploring concepts of identity and how we consider women's bodies (non-white women's bodies in particular), but it doesn't dig too deep. It's the sort of the movie that mostly exists to provoke discussion; it's thoughtful and contemplative rather than narratively driven. It's very slow, but it's somehow not boring. I kept waiting for it to end on some sort of ~*ambiguous*~ note, and, sure enough, it just kind of...ends, after a while, without any real resolution. It's an interesting movie, definitely notable for focusing on WOC and indirectly addressing race, but it's not an entirely satisfying one. B/B+

Tomorrowland: I was very excited for a Brad Bird movie starring That Girl from Under the Dome on a Science Fiction Adventure; I watched the initial teaser and was sold, not wanting to know any more about it. When the movie came out, it wasn't very well received...and now I know why! The movie begins with narrative hijinks, and I like narrative hijinks, and in the end the frame story makes sense, but in the middle, well...this movie is strangely obsessed with being obtuse (possibly Damon Lindelof's influence). It does not want you to know what's going on, it continually drops little things that don't make sense, and I was very confused at this technique in a PG movie ostensibly targeted to a younger audience. On the one hand, way to not dumb it down, and on the other...how patient do you think kids are? It's more interested in not telling you what the story is than actually telling you the story. We find out what's going on along with the protagonist, Casey Newton, who finds a pin that transports her to Tomorrowland, a magical retrofuturistic wonderland powered by science and optimism. Then she gets caught up in all sorts of shenanigans involving George Clooney and a badass little girl, and it's pretty fun, but the movie seems more intent on moving from one Cool Special Effects Action Sequence to the next rather than getting to the actual story. When it finally gets there, it's intriguing, and I appreciate the positive, pie-in-the-sky message, direct and heavy-handed as it is, but this movie did not need to be over two hours long. B/B+

The Big Short: This is the (mostly) true story of a bunch of white men who saw that the housing bubble was going to collapse and rather than try to help people in any way decided to profit off it. And goddamn, what a story. It starts with one man making an observation and acting on this ludicrous idea, but then it branches out, and people he doesn't even know are following suit. I love how the movie follows these three very different "factions," as it were: Mike Burry, who simply reads the numbers and knows how to make a profit; Mark Baum, who has a vested interest in sticking it to the evil banks; and Charlie Geller & Jamie Shipley, young pups who are excited about a sweet financial opportunity. And all of this is generally narrated by Jared Vennett, who speaks directly to the audience (as do some other characters). I love that shit! Throw in random celebrity cameos to explain financial complexities in layman's terms, and you've got fun, freewheeling storytelling here. Even though I didn't really understand most of what was going on in technical terms, it was amply clear what was going on in general and emotional terms (Steve Carell's Mark Baum emerges as the unexpected heart of the film). And the film wisely does not forget that real people were hurt in the housing collapse, and the last half hour really elevated the movie for me, as everyone realizes the depth of what they've been involved in. B+/A-

Overall, a very strong batch, with some notable clunkers! That's the way it goes sometimes.
Tags: making the grade, movies
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