Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Curse of Sleeping Beauty

So... I accidentally watched a horror movie. This Sleeping Beauty modernization is Fairy Tale meets Doctor Who meets Supernatural. With all the originality that should entail, plus maybe slightly too much of the campiness, and a large bonus of extra super creepy. I didn't realize how scary it would be at first, but I guess the fact that I didn't turn it off, but watched all the way through all by my lonesome, is a testament to its decent amount of quality.

At the very least it was visually memorable.

With a elegantly creepy look, and an involving plot, my interest was kept up until the end, but then the ending was disappointing. It could have used another act; 20 or 30 more minutes to finish everything up. It was a hour and a half only if you tack the credits to the number... and then round up a bit. And as freaky as it was (with me being alone and not used to fantasy horror flicks as I am) it was also very enjoyable for the most part, and by the end I was already invested enough that I wanted it to keep going. The ending was too open to be good; leaving off with a twist as most horror movies do, but this one wasn't unforeseen enough to be satisfying on its own. Before the ending came along however, it was a surprisingly well-made movie. Beautifully filmed, very unique visually, and just the right amount of absolutely terrifying.

(It might be worth noting that I might be over-exaggerating the scariness of this film. After all it doesn't claim horror as a genre, and after all, I'm not used to watching scary films, let alone all by myself. Just something to consider.)

The unknown actors were good and believable in their roles. Bad acting was surprisingly absent, and only snuck in when the script got cheap too. The main character was compelling but the rest lacked almost any amount of real depth. They were there to be a sounding board though, and they served their purpose. The lead was the prince character, named Thomas, and played by . I enjoyed his lead and I really enjoyed that the main character was the "prince." I've always thought since reading the Grimm tale that the prince would be the better character to focus on, seeing as how Briar Rose spends most her time, you know, sleeping.

Like does as her here! Although they do meet in dream sequences.

The plot started out very interesting, modernizing the story and building mystery, but threw a lot of that away when the third act started. Things got really dicey for a while and then wrapped up to absolutely no satisfaction. The modernizing of the Sleeping Beauty story was perhaps the movie's biggest recommending factor. I would have loved it if they had stuck to the traditional story even more -- adapting it to a modern setting. The horror elements we're well done and sufficiently freaky but I think the movie makers were carried away with them, and the original idea that was so interesting was lost in the shuffle. I don't even mind that it was a horror film. I thought the tone was very fitting; but once the plot was influenced by horror pitfalls, things derailed fast.

The dream sequences had a nice style to them; very fantasy, and creatively done. I really like the visual aspect of this movie all around. It was very memorable and very indie but felt high quality. The movie knew how to deal with its small budget by limiting special effects and working with practicals. And of course the practical effects helped with the horror's believabillity factor as well.

Here are secondary characters/sounding boards and .

Going in I knew that this movie was not very highly rated among viewers and for the longest time I could not figure out why -- but then the movie ended. That really is where it all fell apart. Even the strange stuff that happens around the beginning of the third act could have been easily forgiven if not for what they led to. I don't even have so much of a problem with what happened as I do with what was left out. The movie definitely feels incomplete, like the first film in a three-part series. But I seriously doubt this one will get a sequel. Which is too bad; I might have watched it. If only to get my happy ending.

Friday, October 21, 2016

ARQ

Spoiler-free.

Can there ever be too many films with a Groundhog Day premise? The answer is no, there cannot. But at the same time you can't expect all time-loop movies to achieve the same level of brilliance as Groundhog Day did. For one, Arrow's cousin is a far cry from Bill Murray no matter how you slice it.

Written and directed by .

The Netflix original film ARQ really has more in common with Edge of Tomorrow anyway. It's heavily focused on the sci-fi. It differs from Tom Cruise's alien invasion flick though, by being very small-scale and intimate. Only six or seven characters exist in the whole film, and 97% of the movie takes place inside one small building.

The premise, in my opinion, doesn't need much explaining besides the time-loop part, but it follows , who wakes up to his home being invaded by a group of men and is killed trying to escape them -- only to have it happen again, and again, and again. He (along with his ex, , who is unaware of the time loop) must figure out what the men want, how to stop them, and what in the world is causing time to loop in the first place. The result is a twisty, winding thriller flick that keeps things fresh in spite of its repeating events.

As Edge of Tomorrow proved, the ability to kill off your main characters and effortlessly bring them back is a huge win-win situation.

This film is small budget, so the best things it has going for are the things that separate it from other films of its kind. And it doesn’t have the wow-and-dazzle element of a big production, so it’s forced to be smart to keep the plot moving. It is smart, giving out plenty of neat plot twists along the way. However, it’s clear that it wants to be a bigger film than it could be. It’s set in the midst of a post-apocalyptic war, which is talked about as if it’s a huge thing, but we never get to see that side of things. And the world is used to try and push the steaks up higher than they probably needed to go. The plot worked out well; that didn’t need a change, but the focus was spread too wide by then end, when it probably would have been more compelling if it had stayed intimate and personal. Instead it didn’t quite land solidly on either front.

I don’t think the film was successfully made to be exactly what it was meant to be. It isn’t that drop-everything-and-watch-right-now Netflix-produced entertainment that we’ve tentatively come to expect, but those are high standards. ARQ still has plenty to recommend it – even if it just comes down to its premise. The actors give convincing performances, and create characters that are worth rooting for. Thrills are delivered in good quantity via the fast-paced script that seems dead and determined to not just copy other time-loop tales. And just enough explanation is given along the way to keep us interested and not too confused. The R rating doesn’t go over the top and sticks with a handful of language and violence.

Not so smart that you can't understand it, but not so dumb that it gets boring. A nice balance on a small scale.

There’s really nothing about this film that makes it unmissable, but neither does it have any glaring failings to make it not worth recommending. For sci-fi fans who are not content to stick to the mainstream of action-heavy science fiction thrillers and crave a movie that makes you think a little, this is definitely a worthy trip to take.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse

Some spoilers... though there's not much to spoil.

I've finally had to admit to myself that I'm just not a fan of the rebooted X-Men franchise. It seems crazy. How could I not like a superhero franchise? That has so many favorite actors in it no less? I look at that cast of the new X-Men films -- particularly this one -- and think there's no way I could possibly not love the movie they all inhabit. Not to mention they all play such cool characters. Yet, here I am again, underwhelmed after an X-Men movie -- and this one more so than ever.

"What does this button do?" "That makes the movie more interesting. Never push that button Hank."

This time steps up to the plate as the villain: Apocalypse, an ancient, powerful being -- the original mutant, who had been slumbering for the past couple thousand years, but has now been awakened. (Side point: was it actually 's fault he woke up? Cause those men were doing the chanting, but it seemed like to me it only worked because she forgot to close the door and sunlight got in. Like, they've been going down there and chanting daily for hundreds of years, and this is the first time someone accidentally left the door open? Anyway...) Apocalypse doesn't exactly like how earth has changed since he ruled it and means to do some spring cleansing before he takes office.

The most disappointing aspect of this film might actually be that Oscar Isaac is unrecognizable in his role. And I get that in his normal state he doesn't exactly exude the kind of power and menace a character called Apocalypse would require, but seriously, covering his face in prosthetics and digitally changing his voice was not the answer. Cast someone else. Or just let him act. I spent the whole movie trying to recognize him (knowing that it was him!) and it only came through in a brief glimmer one time -- in his voice. He didn't even get to do any acting; he just delivered a bunch of speeches in a deep, digitally altered dramatic voice. Anyone could have done it! The final blow was of course that he didn't have the superpower to grow into a giant like the trailer implied. Turns out the most powerful mutant ever needs others to do everything for him, and can't take on more than one person at a time in a fight.

The only thing he really has is good persuasive skills, to convince people to work for him.

Out of all three of the rebooted X-Men films, this one is oddly the least epic and on the smallest scale. That really surprised me. It's called Apocalypse; shouldn't the scale be, I don't know, apocalyptic? The final battle took place within about a square block -- making the Avengers and Superman jealous I'm sure -- and was so sadly static. It bothers me when superheroes destroy entire cities carelessly, but at least other films do a lot of moving around to produce the destruction. Here, we have the worst of both worlds, with Erik just sitting there and whoom -- everything's destroyed. Then they just kick back and have a battle that would have done very little damage otherwise.

That's the brunt of my complaining. Then there's a few things I'm more neutral to, and a few things I liked. On the neutral front come Charles and Erik. They're the main characters, but they never have interested me much as such. I like and I like what was done with the character of Charles under in this film, but it really seems like they're only the main characters because only gets a cameo. X-Men films are best when they're led by Wolverine, and that's a fact. So the movie spends a lot of time focusing on Charles and Erik, doing the same things they've always done, and while it's not exactly bad, (except for that super unlucky accident that started Erik up on his "villain or no?" arc yet again -- that earned a hearty "come on!" from me) it's not exactly compelling to me either.

You know, now that the timeline has been changed, you don't need to contrive reasons for Erik to be a bad guy...

What I did find compelling was, amazingly, one of the things I was most looking forward to. That is, playing Scott/Cyclops and playing Kurt/Nightcrawler. I was looking forward to them because they're talented actors and since I've already enjoyed the older versions of the characters, I thought it would be neat to see them take the parts. I underestimated how good this aspect would actually be. Firstly, Tye Sheridan was perfect casting for Scott. I actually saw James Marsden in him, like he could actually grow up into him. Characterization could have used so much more, but at least that's a testament to how much potential he had.

And Kurt was even better. He got a small arc, but it was complete and interesting. And seriously, the kid is so charming. He was by far the funniest character (even though Quicksilver was there) and had that adorable naivete and a tragic but unexploited backstory. Right now I just wish this had been like a teen comedy where Scott, Kurt, Jean, and friends do typical high school things with a super-powered twist and then in the end have to go save the day like they do (in the best part of the movie I might add) and that's it. I would watch the heck out of that movie!

The trio. Why couldn't they be the movie's main characters?

I should mention while I'm on the subject that as Jean Grey is very good too. I've never felt the biggest connection with the character, but this version of her is sympathetic and as good as ever. Also as Quicksilver; the problem of his being too powerful to participate in the climax they cut off at the pass, but then they had to backtrack a little, because they didn't want him to actually tell Erik he's his son? Whatever. I still like the characterization, but his big scene felt very much like "Quicksilver Saves the Day: The Sequel." It was bigger, and longer, but by no means better.

It's a strange day when there's a movie starring and and I spend all my time talking about everyone else, but as cool as these two are, they spend this movie treading water so there's not much to say. It's also pretty sad that the politics of the X-Men movies is usually what annoys me, yet this one had next to none and I didn't like the film any better. My overall experience was just enjoying the characters as they came in small doses -- particularly the Scott/Jean/Kurt trio -- being mildly bored in between, and then being underwhelmed by the smallness of the ending. There wasn't a whole lot to hate, and neither was there a whole lot to love.

Quicksilver attempts to save everyone from the movie's wreckage. It's unclear whether he is successful.

Since I'm big on characters, the film manages to tip to the positive side. The plot in uninspired, and a lot of characters were only there because they could be, or because it is expected, but there was enough that was worthwhile to bring the rest of the film along with it. So I guess I'm not an X-Men fan, but right now, that's working out for me. I can still enjoy what I can out of the films, but I'm not invested enough to care when there's failings. The X-Men -- the characters and the talent that portrays them -- deserve better films than ones like this, but until they get them, I'll be taking them as I can for what they are.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Magnificent Seven

Spoiler-free!

1: . 2: . 3: . 4: . 5: . 6: . 7: .


The gang's all here. Left to right: 6, 5, 3, 1, 2, 4, and 7.

Hired by the recently widowed to help the people of her small western town by getting rid of , who has taken their land and killed anyone who stood up to him, this group of mismatched men leading another unnecessary remake do something unexpected, and make the unnecessary worthwhile. 

I've not seen the original 1960 Magnificent Seven, but from what I heard the plot plays out quite differently in this film. And that was probably the best decision made regarding the film. What has stayed the same this time is that classic cowboy movie tone that was so popular back in the 50's and 60's, but has since lost its light campiness and been built into something much more serious. Here there are those long, dramatic build-ups to quick-draw shootouts, complete with close-ups and finger twitching and sweat-dripping. There are classically-shot introductions for characters; focusing on their backs or their boots until the cool reveal of their face. Everything milked for all it's worth. And even the plot plays out an old western -- it's a serious situation, but it's meant to be fun for the audience, and that it certainly is. 


Cool dudes and cool gun play. What's not to like?

Instead of re-shooting the same plot in a modern style, what the filmmakers behind this film did was revert back to the classic western method while using modern techniques. The result is a big film, realistic and blockbustery on the action-side, but old-fashioned and nostalgic in its storytelling. The mashup is not without flaws, but it's also something you haven't really seen before, and that's what makes missteps forgivable.

The balance the characters find between classic and contemporary leans mostly to the classic side. They're very simply but uniquely characterized and arcs are tried and true if somewhat predictable; but the performances do cater well to a modern audience. Denzel Washington is an excellent lead, and gets the least complaints. The rest seems to suffer slightly from lack of development, which is understandable considering the cast size. Chris Pratt is always good, and it was fun to see him playing a cowboy. He was cocky and funny with just the right amount of heroism. Ethan Hawke was a surprise favorite. I found his arc very compelling at first, and was a little disappointing that it wasn't more complex in conclusion. 

I'm glad the characters were interesting, but at the same time it only made me wish they were even more interesting.

Vincent D'Onofrio was brilliant and a riot. An epic character, that could lead is own solo movie, but his introduction was so good it was hard to top later. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo I liked immediately, but he faded a little too much into the background later. His character was one of the more grounded ones, but didn't get a distinct arc; as if he were one of the larger-than-life characterized characters who didn't need it as much. Byung-hun Lee had the larger-than-life thing down pat, and so did Martin Sensmeier. Neither had much to say, but had great physical presence. They were also the most engaging to watch fight.

Haley Bennett as a sort of honorary eighth member gets the ball rolling, but then doesn't back off after that, and she's just as good and developed as the rest, if slightly more typical. Peter Sarsgaard saved the villain from being forgettable by playing him well, and not phoning in. For what it is, all the characters were good. They were well-defined and didn't bite off more than they could chew. But this isn't a character movie. It's an action movie with a nice cast of characters on the side. 


I always want there to be more out of the characters, but sometimes (like here) that could just make things worse.

The action itself veers heavily toward modern-day blockbuster stuff, but happily avoids most of the pitfalls that make many actioners these days boring. Even though the entire third act is a battle, there are different things happening in different places featuring different characters that keeps us engaged. And the battle was planned out in detail, so it's easy to tell what's going on. The quality of the action is sometimes lacking -- by today's standards anyway -- with only a handful of memorable stunts. Mostly it's just a lot of well-aimed gun-shooting. But that's when the side of character becomes useful to fill in gaps. 

Undeniably, this movie is silly. It embraces both the cheesiness inherent in the western oldies and the campiness ingrained into modern fun action thrills. It takes it all together, and the silliness becomes a part of the charm. Yes, it is a flaw that a charge of galloping horses would take fifteen seconds to travel twenty yards, but I found it equally as true that the movie needed to milk moments like that for the extra drama in order to live up to its potential. So those moments happened, and were done wholeheartedly, for fun and for entertainment. 

The Seven Who Worked Together to Make a Remake Worthwhile.

The Magnificent Seven never really had potential to live totally up to its name. Magnificent is just too high a standard -- and who needs magnificence anyway, when you can fill your black five-gallon hat up to the brim with classic charm and humor, and cool heroes on a mission to save the day instead? Not magnificent; but everything it needs to be? Absolutely.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Upcoming Movie Roundup - October

As I predicted, I didn't go to the theater in September. I am still interested to see The Magnificent Seven and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children though, in spite of the not-fantastic reviews, and Deepwater Horizon a little more than before, because of the not-at-all-bad reviews.

I may not get to the theater again this month, (unless I make a point to go, which I may try) as there are no must-see-in-theater releases, but there certainly are a few very interesting releases that may become must-sees if they turn out as good as they look.

Did you see anything in September? Anything look good to you in October?



The Girl on the Train
Oct 7th; R
I read the book. And I enjoyed it, which was nice since I've been having bad luck with books lately. But after reading it and rewatching the trailer, I have very little interest and very little confidence in this film. Emily Blunt and Haley Bennett are well-cast I think, but otherwise -- even though I love Luke Evans and Rebecca Ferguson -- it's kinda off. Also the film isn't set in England, but NYC, which takes away a LOT of appeal for me. And what's the point of doing that, anyway? Unnecessary changes are indicators of bad adaptations for me. They've also amped up the sexiness a whole lot. So maybe they're trying to increase appeal and tweak it to be more exciting. It is an introverted story, and the book's strongest aspect was the writing style, which can't translate. If it releases to acclaim I'll probably watch it someday, but as of now they've lost me. We'll see if I'm the only one.



The Accountant
Oct 14th; R
This is an excellent trailer. And it looks to be a very unique story, and Ben Affleck is always at his best when he does the trifecta of writing directing and starring, so I'm pretty confident about this film's quality already. Based on the title only I was wondering how exciting it could be, but after watching the trailer, I think it's got that covered too.Very interested to see how this does.




The River Thief
Oct 14th (limited); NR
Ever since I saw Super 8 I've been waiting for Joel Courtney to be in more movies, and finally one has crossed my path. You can't tell much about plot from this trailer, but the write-up makes it out to be interesting and promising. And it certainly has a beautiful look to it which you can see from the trailer -- lots of great shots. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Mud, which is very appealing to me, since that one of favorite films. If it turns out half as good a Mud it'd still be a good movie!




Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Oct 21st; NR
(I can't find a MPAA rating, but I'm assuming it'll be PG-13.) The first Jack Reacher film didn't impress me much, but right now the sequel's actually looking to be an improvement! Firstly, Tom Cruise doesn't just do sequels for the sake of doing a sequel. The way I heard it he wasn't even interested in a sequel until he had a good idea for one. Then there's the addition of Cobie Smulders who is excellent at being an action heroine. She might be the biggest appeal of this actually. And of course there's the fact that there's no Mission: Impossible film this year, so why not? You gotta have you Tom Cruise action flick fix!




Keeping Up with the Joneses 
Oct 21st; PG-13
I'm gonna go ahead and include this movie since I've watched the trailer twice now, though I'm not very interested in the film. And by "not very interested" I mean "really really not interested almost at all." The most interesting part is Gal Gadot who is cool, and it would be neat to see her play a spy... and comedy for that matter too. The premise is not bad, if typical, and could make for a fun action comedy, but based on the trailer, it's not gonna be of good quality in either the comedy or the action sides.




In a Valley of Violence
Oct 21st; R
I like the look of this movie. The trailer is very simple, exposition-heavy, and not terribly eye-catching, but that is actually what got my attention. It feels classic, like an honest-to-goodness straight-forward western tale of old. Ethan Hawke is the lead, John Travolta is the baddie, and Karen Gillan's there too. Yeah. I'm liking the look of this movie. A lot.