The Wicker Man

“Classic horror has such a different vibe than current horror. Current horror tends to rely on suspense and big scream inducing moments. Classic horror goes for the slow burn. You might not be jumping out of your seat, but you’ll feel like you want to slither out of it. Things get weirder and more uncomfortable until you realize what it’s all about and then you’re scared. Or just weirded out. The Wicker Man is no exception.

A cop is sent to a small island to investigate a missing girl. He finds this strange community of seemingly pagan devotees, preparing for their spring festivities. It’s practically a musical, as the residents are often found singing songs that sound joyous at initial glance, but are really kinda twisted once you pay attention to the lyrics. And they’re obsessed with the ideas of sex and fertility.

Things just get weirder and weirder as we fall deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. Who is the missing girl? What happened to her? And what the heck are all these crazy people doing? It’s a pretty well known spoiler by now what happens, but I’ll refrain from saying it, just in case. I already knew when I first saw this (it’s actually why I wanted to see it), but I can only imagine how jarring it must be to find out while watching”

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

“With every passing Marvel movie, it gets harder and harder to write them up. That’s not to say they’re not awesome (because they totally are awesome), but by now we know what to expect. And by now, you have opinions on the franchise in general, so it’s not like I need to per(or dis)suade anyone.

Even this one had a bit of a feeling of, we’ve been here before. When the first Avengers came out, it was something that had never been done. All these incredible stand alone movies were being knitted together and we had an insane cast with everyone we’d known and loved. Now it’s like, oh it’s time for this again?

But you know what? It still works. Even though we’ve seen various characters pop up across other’s films, it’s still exciting to see multiple stars team up or secondary characters from each series brought in. The Avengers are all about teamwork, and that’s what’s really on display here. From the way that Thor and Cap can use their hammer and shield together in brilliantly time fight choreography, to Widow and Hawkeye’s BFFF status, to Stark and Banner science-ing together. That’s what’s at the heart of this movie.

Writer/director/demigod Joss Whedon has said that the plan with this one was to tone it down a bit more, get to know the characters moreso than the big action wow factor. He really delivered on that. We got some backstory into some of our lesser explored Avengers, and more emotional insight into those whose stories we know but haven’t dived into as deeply. He also brought in a couple new characters, mostly to add in new visual elements (he claims the existing core all have similar “”punching”” type abilities). I think Scarlet Witch is my new favorite Avenger. I’m considering Halloween costumes. (Side bar: Apparently there was much confusion on set because the two most prominent females were an actress named Scarlett and a character named Scarlet, not to mention the various body doubles for the former).

For two and a half hours, I was transported to my happy place. Yes we’ve been here before, but there’s a joy and comfort in the familiar. We also got some set up for some of the places phase 3 promises to go (infinity stones! civil war! Black Panther!). The middle installment of a trilogy is often the low point, and while our days of watching the current Marvel Comics Universe have certainly come to a middle, we’re certainly not low. On to phase 3!

The Avengers: Age of Ultron – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Saturday Night Fever

“You would think that as a dancer and a film aficionado I would have seen this movie, possibly many times even, but you’d think wrong. It just never really got on my list, until I found it for five bucks at Best Buy a couple weeks ago.

I actually enjoy disco dancing. A couple of my cardio dance DVD’s have disco routines, and I find them quite fun. They’re simple and quick, and not too far removed from jazz, which is my preferred style. The music on the other hand…Well, they’re classics, but only meant to be heard in moderation.

Not a whole lot going on here. John Travolta’s Tony is a dissatisfied teen whose only joy is in dancing (I can relate, but I’m not a teen). It’s mostly just a portrait of life in the disco era. I find it kinda dull, but then again, I’m not of that era. I’d bet lots of people find American Idiot dull, but that’s the angsty tales of my youth.

At least the dancing’s pretty cool.

Oh wow things took a dark turn in the backseat of the car towards the end, and beyond that.”

Strangers on a Train

“I actually watched this over a week ago (longer by the time this future dated entry posts), and I’ve flip flopped the whole time about whether or not I’m going to write it up. The intention was to do so, but I was too lazy to do it in real time. Then I was just lazy.

So I actually sought out this old Hitchcock classic because I’d just finished reading the book a few weeks prior. The book is by Patricia Highsmith, who’s also responsible for The Talented Mr Ripley series. It’s not every day you come across a female writer who’s capable of such dark and twisted (for the time at least) stories. I realize as I say this that I’ve been reading some Gillian Flynn, who is a female writer capable of incredibly dark and twisted stories (Gone Girl anyone?).

Strangers on a Train deals with two men, Guy and Bruno, who meet on a train (Oh I get it now!). In the course of conversation, Guy talks about his wife who is being difficult about getting a divorce while Bruno talks about his controlling and unbearable father. Bruno proposes that he kill Guy’s wife, and in return Guy kills Bruno’s father. The lack of known connection between the two men would make it nearly impossible for anyone to solve. Guy doesn’t take the suggestion seriously, but is just enough weirded out by Bruno to try and stay away from him. Bruno goes ahead and kills Guy’s wife anyways. And this is the point when the movie which had been closely following the book (minus details like altered names, locations, and occupations), deviates in its own direction.

Am I allowed to give spoilers on a film and book that are both over 50 years old? In the book, once Bruno kills Guy’s wife, he hounds him and threatens him until Guy eventually gives in and murders Bruno’s father. The two men are now tied together, and Guy is unable to escape the guilt, especially as Bruno embeds himself deeper in Guy’s life. In the film, Guy goes to warn Bruno’s father, but is caught by Bruno. Bruno then hounds guy, threatening to implicate him in the murder. So in both cases, the suspense is built around Guy, coming from Bruno, but with different intentions. The book was more of an internal conflict and dove deeper into exploring that, shades of gray abound. The black and white film goes more black and white with the characters, painting Bruno as the unequivocal villain. Personally, I think Bruno’s just not the brightest guy (in both instances). Especially in the book, he makes it a habit to hang around and become part of Guy’s life, which negates the perfect alibi he’d hoped to establish. Still, by changing things around, Hitchcock is able to present a more streamlined suspense, that does play better on screen, even if it felt a bit thin as someone who had read the novel”

Unfriended

“I gave myself a week after it’s release to decide if I really did want to see this. Reviews weren’t as painful as I feared (some even positive, as it’s holding at 60% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), and God knows I’d rather see this than Age of Adeline.

I’ve said many times that I love horror, but I’m picky about it. I wrote about that as recent as It Follows a few weeks back. The (admitedly gimmicky) set up for Unfriended is what caught my attention, despite the bad title.

Trying to use some of that currently technology that all the kids are using these days, the whole thing plays out on a high school girl’s computer screen. She’s Skype-ing her friends, getting Facebook messages, playing music, etc. Oh and she (and her friends) are also being cyber haunted by the ghost of a girl who killed herself exactly one year ago, the result of cyber bullying.

I was actually kinda surprised as how well the format worked. I typically don’t care for found footage, and I may not have found the film to be particularly scary, but it was an interesting and different take on a genre that’s been done to death. The limited viewpoints (completely with screens freezing and not loading properly) was effective in creating a sense of fear of the unknown. Where found footage usually falls flat for me, is that there’ll be times when it’s hard to believe that someone was still filming something, or that certain angles just happened to be caught. The kids all on their computers got around that issue (good job, team), but that just meant that the feasibility dropped elsewhere for me. I could completely go with the idea of a ghost in the internet controlling everything. How she was able to then manifest and hurt people IRL, yeeeaah not so much.

Unfortunately, the biggest point against the movie (and the one that I most feared) was that the kids were so annoying. I don’t like high school kids, particularly high school girls. I say this having been one. We’re awful. The way she’d whine if her boy didn’t respond to a message within ten seconds, the catty-ness between the characters, the bitchy self assurance. Ugh. Could not stand. That said, as someone who was a victim of constant bullying in high school, there was some satisfaction gained in seeing the cool clique get their comeuppance. While it was fun to see how the youngun’s use their various apps and devices, I am beyond thankful that such tools weren’t as widely used when I was their age. For me, at least the bullying stopped when the bell rang. It didn’t continue into cyber bullying when I got home. Maybe this movie will be a lesson to those kids who terrorize others? Probably not.

Unfriended – \m/ \m/ \n

Ex Machina

“Sometimes, I wish I didn’t know how good or bad a movie is before I see it. I generally like to know a simple thumbs up or thumbs down, especially if it’s something I’m on the fence about. But I find that when I hear something is really good, it sets my expectations too high, I end up being overly critical, and I don’t enjoy it as much as I feel I may have if I went in blind. That was sorta the case with Ex Machina.

The subject matter, artificial intelligence specifically in the form of a humanoid robot woman, was enough to peak my interest. In a month that was otherwise lacking viable options, this is one that I was anxiously awaiting. As the release came closer, I’d heard more and more positive things, so by the time I was sitting in the theater, I expected to be wowed. I wasn’t really. I’m not saying it wasn’t good, I’m just saying that it wasn’t all I thought it could be.

Domhnall Gleeson’s Caleb is a young and talented programmer who is invited to spend a week with the Bill Gates/Steve Jobs-eqsue boss of his company, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), who basically created their fictional Google equivalent. Nathan has built an advanced AI robot, and he wants Caleb to administer the Turing test to determine whether or not the bot is truly conscious.

The effects were fantastic, the acting great (I love Oscar Isaac more and more with each movie). I just felt the story was lacking a little direction. It’s like they had the basis of what they wanted to do (AI Turing test), and then had a few different directions in which to take it. They briefly dabbled in each potential storyline before quickly and tentatively choosing the one to end on. And I really mean potential, because any of the directions I thought they were gonna take would have been incredible, had it been committed to. Instead, I felt like the final act was a bit of an incoherent mess. The final ending was pretty cool, I just feel like things could have been cleaned up leading to that point.

Yet I’m apparently in the minority of that opinion, which is fine by me. God knows I end up liking movies that no reasonable person should enjoy, so it’s only fair that it goes the other way sometimes. That isn’t to say Ex Machina was bad. I just felt it wasn’t as good as it could have been.

Ex Machina – \m/ \m/ \m/”

True Story

“By now, most people know that instead of asking me if I have any plans for the weekend, the proper question is what movies am I seeing. One of the times that question arose this week, I said True Story. They hadn’t heard of it, so I began, as I often do, by listing the cast. “”It’s Jonah Hill and James Franco…”” I see a look that indicates they’ve pegged the type of movie. I quickly interject “”This is them being serious this time””. Queue the look of surprise.

I actually really like this idea. James Franco is known for all sorts of crazy things, including his comedic roles. Jonah Hill is also primarily known for comedies. Yet the two have managed (very well deserved) Oscar nominations during their career. You watch some of their typical fare (This Is the End, Superbad, Pineapple Express) and the mind boggles at the thought. But you watch something they were nominated for (Franco 127 Hours, Hill Moneyball and Wolf of Wall Street) and you forget these are typically funny and irreverent dudes. It makes perfect sense in my world that the two would choose to work on a serious film together, and it’s a thought that excited me greatly.

This is the true story (oh I get it now!) of Christian Longo (Franco) and Mike Finkel (Hill). Finkel was once a highly acclaimed writer for the NYT until an article he published with some narrative liberties tarnished his reputation. Longo is a recently captured fugitive, wanted for murdering his wife and children, who had been using Finkel’s name as an alias. Curiosity peaked, Finkel meets with Longo to find out why he’d choose to impersonate him Longo proceeds to exclusively tell Finkel his story while awaiting trial.

My main takeaway is that for a film about two men who ultimately just want to be taken seriously, the film itself tries way too hard to be taken seriously itself. There’s just some movies that have this strange I’m-very-important tone, where you feel like the filmmakers were simply after acclaim, and inevitably fall short. This certainly had that air, but it wasn’t due to the cast. I thought the boys were incredible, giving as good a performance as they ever have. The story itself was incredibly fascinating. I was completely on pins and needles waiting to see what would happen. Did he do it? Will he be convicted? What’s he holding back? That was enough to keep me captivated, even if the film itself was rather flawed.

Among the flaws was a criminally underutilized Felicity Jones as Finkel’s girlfriend Jill. (Sidebar, I’m pretty sure the first trailer I saw listed the boys as academy nominees, but failed to recognize hers. A week later when I saw it, it was either corrected or I was crazy the first time). She’s a fantastic actress and did the best with what little she could, but she seemed to be randomly inserted here and there without much reason or development.

Anyways, for me, I thought it was all worth it. For anyone else, I’d have to give it some thought

True Story – \m/ \m/ \m/”

Selena

“To most of America, Selena is the kinda cheesy biopic that put Jennifer Lopez on the map. Maybe once in a while it comes on Lifetime, and you just can’t turn away. (Jonah Hill, for one, has been known to tweet about such occurrences.) But for a Hispanic girl from a border town in south Texas, this movie is everything. Absolutely everything.

I was in fifth grade when Selena was murdered (just a couple weeks over 20 years ago). Up to that point, I can’t remember anything shaking up my community so completely. Everybody in Laredo, TX (and the rest of south Texas) absolutely loved her. You’d see her picture up everywhere, moreso after her death. Practially every Mexican restaurant you’d go to would have her framed on the walls. Maybe you’d see a mural or a cardboard standee. A good friend at the time named her cat after Selena. And of course, her music was everywhere. I didn’t pay any attention to Tejano music (which was everywhere), but I knew who Selena was. (Bidi Bidi Bom Bom was my favorite, although now I’d prolly go with Como La Flor). To this day, you don’t have to go too far to find something Selena in town.

You have no idea what a big deal the movie was for us, and that’s that Laredo wasn’t even a part of it. The local newspaper had front page updates, including a profile on a local girl that almost got the part of young Selena. The film’s release was an event itself. Everybody went. I still remember going to the current newest movie theater (every few years a new one would open, then the oldest would become a dollar theater and eventuall close) with my entire family. And I mean my entire family. In my whole life, the only time I remember my grandparents going to the movies was to see Selena. There may have also been a cousin involved. A few weeks ago, I shared an article on FB about Selena’s anniversary and my mom quickly commented about how much my grandpa had loved her music.

This movie was mainly a big deal because of how loved she was, but it was also a rare chance to see our people and our culture on film. Corpus Christi, where much of the film takes place, may be 150 miles away from Laredo, but it’s similar enough. I only now fully appreciate what that meant to see Hispanic culture displayed with such wide distribution.

As for the movie itself, some of it gets a little cheesy (particularly the romance), but overall it fit the spirit of Selena beautifully. I don’t think anyone back home was disappointed with the film. It was exactly what we all hoped it would be. The then unknown Jennifer Lopez was perfect, oftentimes indistinguishable from Selena as she recreated so many of her iconic looks. She embodied who we all believed Selena was.

Watching this movie just brings back so many memories. There may be times when I try to distance myself from my home town, but this is one of the few when I’m particularly proud of where I came from.”

Mulholland Dr

“I absolutely love this film and I absolutely don’t understand it, but I come closer with each viewing. Actually no, I do understand some of it, but it’s taken a while and the help of IMDB’s FAQ (Note: don’t go looking at it unless you really give up on solving it all yourself). For me, I categorize this along with Donnie Darko, Birdman, and Stay (among other films) where I understand just enough to be affected by it, but getting a full grasp of what happened and what it means remains and likely will always remain elusive. Like those examples, there’s such a beauty in the film and in the confusion.

I still remember the first time I tried to watch this. I knew the reputation it had, so I was determined to pay the fullest attention possible and understand it. I failed miserably. If you’ve seen this, you know the majority of the film plays out in a chronological order (with some weirdness). Then things get really weird. Then a whole other door is opened and things get scrambled, and even more weird. That first time, it had me until the scramble and then all was lost. I did some internet research (possibly looking at that same FAQ) and still couldn’t make heads or tails of it.

I watched it again some time later, with a little more info, and I could at least buy what the scenarios represented. I still couldn’t put it together to save my life. Tonight, I think it’s become clear, or at least as clear as it will ever be. I knew what to expect going in and what to look for. Reading thru that FAQ afterwards confirmed that I’d figured out most of it. There’s still a lot of detail that eludes me, but I love and appreciate this film even more now.

Confusion aside, there’s a lot of really good stuff here. This is arguably Naomi Watts’ career best performance. People talk about roles that show an actor’s range, but there’s few examples of that that come close to this. It’s the role that first got her noticed her career took off in subsequent years. Seriously, even if all the weird mysterious David Lynch stuff doesn’t do it for you, this is absolutely worth watching simply for her performance.

Now let’s just see how the drama around Lynch’s Twin Peaks revival plays out over the next few weeks!”

The Woman in Gold

“This sounded like a fascinating story. And older woman paired with a young and scrappy lawyer, take on the Austrian government in an attempt to reclaim a famous painting that had been stolen from her family by the Nazis. Add in Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds as the characters in question, and you’ve got gold. Except something about it felt sappy and trite, so I didn’t run out as quickly as I otherwise would have. I hedged a little and waited to see how it did.

As it turns out, yes the story is quite fascinating. And yes, the storytelling is a little cliche, but that was mostly forgivable due to the previously mentioned strong cast (which also included Katie Holmes and Daniel Bruhl). Sure Mirren may have been playing another version of the same formidable elder that she does so well (see also, The Hundred Foot Journey) and Reynolds may have been more reigned in than his usual zany self (still doing penance for his last few blockbuster disasters), but that didn’t make them any less enjoyable to watch.

Still the main strength was just the story itself. Even if the direction (or the writing) felt a bit emotionally manipulative at times, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this woman’s story is incredible. And not just her efforts to be reunited with the painting, but also her early life and escape in WWII, which we glimpsed in flashbacks. It different hands, it could have been a tour de force of a film. Yet sometimes it’s nice to have some light fare that’s not too demanding.

Ha, it looks like I wasn’t the only one who noticed the striking similarity in posters between this and Reynold’s Safe House a few years back.

Woman in Black – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”