Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Stoker Movie Review – "We don't need to be friends. We're family."

Runtime: 99 minutes
Release Date: March 1, 2013
Rating: R
Director: Chan-wook Park

India is a quiet and somewhat creepy young woman. After the death of her father, she meets his brother Charlie. Though her mother, Evelyn, is excited when he announces that he'll stick around and help them out for a bit, India can't help feeling that something is wrong. India feels slightly better when her great aunt Gwendolyn arrives in town, but that doesn't last very long.

After India notices Charlie acting weird, she wonders what he's hiding. We learn what he's hiding when he follows Gwendolyn away from the house and strangles her in a phone booth. India later discovers another body in the freezer in their basement, and while most of us would run for our lives, she seems almost intrigued by her uncle's actions. The more time she spends around her uncle, the more she realizes that he isn't normal and that she might not be normal either.

My regular job is as a freelance writer, and I had a client ask me to write about the best unproduced scripts a few years ago, which led to me hearing about this film. Thinking that it sounded interesting, I kept checking back for more information, and I was pretty excited when I heard it finally became a film, and a film starring Nicole Kidman no less! She's been one of my favorite actresses for years, and I thought that if anyone could pull off the role of a slightly crazy mother like Evelyn, it was her.

Unfortunately, I didn't like Stoker. It's not a bad film by any accounts, but it wasn't anything at all like I anticipated. I knew it would tread more towards the drama side and less towards the horror, but it still wasn't what I expected. The best word that I can think of is plodding. The film just felt like it went on forever. I kept reaching for the remote just to see how much time was left and wondering if it would ever end.

There was something about the script that just left me feeling cold and not in a good way. Though I made it to the end of Stoker, I can't imagine that I'll ever want to sit down and watch it again.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Call – "You're an operator. You can't do this!"

Runtime: 94 minutes
Release Date: March 15, 2013
Rating: R
Director: Brad Anderson

Jordan Turner (Halle Berry, Gothika) is working as a 911 operator when she receives a call from a young girl. Fearing that someone is in the house, Jordan tells her how to hide and wait for police to arrive. When the call disconnects, Jordan calls back. The ringing phone alerts the killer, who grabs her and drags her out of the house. When Jordan later hears that they found the girl's body, she decides to stop working as an operator.

Several months later, Jordan now works as a trainer to help new workers handle calls. Though she has no plans to step back onto the phone lines, that all changes when a new call comes into the office. Casey is a teenage girl who was kidnapped by the same man who killed the previous girl. The man grabbed her out of a parking lot and tossed her in his trunk. It's up to Jordan to help Casey survive and bring justice for the man's other victims.

The Call is another of those films that I had high hopes for. I've read and heard stories from people working as 911 operators, and I don't think I could ever handle working that job. When I saw the trailer and realized that it was a horror-like film about someone who works in a 911 call center, I thought it would be interesting. While it did have some good moments, it wasn't nearly as good as I hoped.

The first half of the film is great. Jordan comes back to work but she makes it clear that she can't handle her old job. She can train other people and even briefly talk about her experiences, but the idea of sitting down and taking a call fills her with dread. Of course, that all changes when the new call comes into an operator. It seems pretty unrealistic that she would jump up and take back the job after constantly bringing up that she can't handle it.

Then we have to deal with her actually walking away from the job. I'm sure these people go to great lengths every day, but how many of those people do you think would literally get up and go on a frenzied mention to find someone. No one in the movie ever mentions that Jordan would pretty much come back to find her boyfriend/supervisor hating her and her without a job. And let's not get started on the ending. It's so incredibly unrealistic that I haven't heard a single person say that they liked it. I liked The Call when I initially saw it (or at least thought it was an okay film), but after thinking about it, I don't think I'll ever see it again.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Carrie (2013) Movie Review – "The Other Kids, They Think I'm Weird."

Runtime: 100 minutes
Release Date: October 18, 2013
Rating: R
Director: Kimberly Peirce

Margaret is one hot mess, especially when she finds herself giving birth at home. Grabbing a pair of scissors, she starts to kill her new baby before changing her mind. Years later, Carrie is a grown woman who most guys would find hot, but since this is a Hollywood film, everyone finds her weird. After starting her period after gym class, she thinks that she's dying because her mother never took the time to tell her about puberty. The other girls laugh and taunt her, throwing tampons and pads at her and chanting at her to "plug it up."

Ms. Desjardin, her gym teacher, stops the girls, but not before one, Chris, films it with her cell phone camera. During a meeting at the principal's office, we learn that Margaret home-schooled Carrie for several years before the district forced her to send her daughter to school. The principal eventually suspends Chris and another girl Sue, which means that they'll miss the high school prom. Though Sue is okay with missing prom because she realizes that it was wrong for them to tease Carrie, Chris vows revenge. She gets Billy and a few of her other classmates to help her get back at her in the middle of prom.

Sue feels so bad that she convinces her boyfriend Tommy to take Carrie to the prom. Though Carrie initially turns him down, she later changes her mind and even goes against her mother's wishes to sew her own prom dress. Once prom night arrives, Chris arranges for her and Tommy to win prom king and queen. As they stand on stage, she and Billy dump a bucket of pig's blood on the girl. Carrie snaps and all hell breaks loose.

I could probably write an entire blog post about the things I didn't like about the Carrie remake, but let's start with the casting of Chloe Grace Moretz. By the time Kick Ass 2 came around, she had already lost that gangly awkward teenage girl look that she had. Even though she's still a teenager, she looks like the type of girl every guy in her high school would want to ask to prom. Watching her trying to be awkward and unlikeable in this film just felt...awkward.

It doesn't help that the movie felt like it skipped over much of the teasing and taunting that Carrie went through. The original "plug it up" scene upset one of my friends in junior high so bad that she got up, left the room, and refused to watch the rest of the movie. With Chris standing in the background and waving her cell phone around in the air, the scene ended up feeling forced and unrealistic. It didn't seem like they disliked her as much as they did in the original or that she went through as much. It was more like two scenes of ridicule and then, boom, it's prom night.

As much as I love Julianne Moore in pretty much everything she does, she almost felt like an afterthought in this movie. I had high hopes for her, which increased after seeing the opening scene. By the time the credits rolled, it felt like she could have been just about anyone. Piper Laurie was so dark and twisted in the original film that it's hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Hell, Patricia Clarkson managed to nail the role in the 2002 remake. In this version, it almost seems like Margaret didn't need to be there. Had they left the role out completely, I'm not sure I would have even noticed.

So, was there anything I did like about the movie? Yes, and that one good thing is Judy Greer. Greer, who I always think about as Kitty from Arrested Development, can handle comic roles effortlessly, but it was nice to see her in something a little more dramatic. That didn't stop me from wishing she would crack a joke or add some comedic relief, but I still liked her as the gym teacher and one of the only few people who truly cared about Carrie.

After watching the Carrie remake with a friend, we both turned to each other and shrugged. The movie wasn't horrible, but it doesn't hold a candle to the original. It's sad that some younger people will probably see this one and never even bother with the original.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Insidious Movie Review – "It's not the house that's haunted. It's your son."

Runtime: 103 minutes
Release Date: April 1, 2011
Rating: PG 13
Director: James Wan

Renai (Rose Byrne, Devil) and her husband Josh (Patrick Wilson, The Conjuring) move into a new house with their children. Their son Dalton points out that they don't have any pictures of his dad when he was a kid, which Renai thinks isn't odd. It doesn't take long before strange things begin happening in the house. Renai sees dark shadowy figures, hears odd noises, and eventually gets attacked by one of those ghosts. She convinces Josh that they need to move immediately, but the ghosts of the old house follow them.

After talking to Josh's mom Lorraine, Renai learns that she went through something similar when Josh was a child. Dalton slips into a coma that no one can explain, and Lorraine convinces her that it must be something supernatural and suggests that her friend can help. Elise comes for one visit and instantly realizes that something is wrong. She reveals that Josh once had the ability to astral project himself and that Dalton can likely do the same thing.

Elise also explains what happened to Josh all those years ago. Lorraine began seeing the ghost of an old woman in every photo taken of him. The woman's hand kept getting closer and closer to him, and Elise basically hypnotized him to make him forget. She believed that the woman wanted to possess him, and when he couldn't use his special skills any more, the woman disappeared. Though Josh never remembered his abilities, he never liked having his picture taken after that. With Elise's help, Josh agrees to go into the spirit world and bring back his son.

I don't know if I ever mentioned this before, but I really didn't like Insidious the first time I saw it. There were so many good reviews floating around at the time that I assumed it had to be really great. I sat down to watch it with my roommate, and we both looked confused when it ended. Neither of us thought it was very good, and we both wondered why it got such great reviews. After hearing people talking about it more than two years later, I decided that I had to have missed something. When I rented it, he gave me that look, but after we watched, we both had to admit that it was pretty good.

Confession time: I actually watched this twice in the last few weeks. Once when we rented it that night and once again before I sat down to watch the second film. A review for that one will be up shortly.

There is something that is just generally unsettling about the movie. When Renai walks outside and hears the music playing before seeing the figure in her home, I almost jumped out of my seat. It doesn't help that Tiptoe Through the Tulips is one of the creepiest songs ever recorded. Insidious just has this really dark mood that leaves you wondering what will happen and realizing that anything can happen at any time.

So many modern horror movies try to force scares, which leaves me angry and annoyed. Paranormal Activity, with its clear lack of anything happening until the last few minutes, is a good example of this. Insidious is the type of film that lets you know that a scare can pop up at any moment. You find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat and just waiting for the next moment that will make you jump.

Insidious is a good example of a film that you should watch after the hype dies down. There are some films that reviews pump up so much that they can't be nearly as good as you expect. Once I sat down and watched this without the reviews in my mind, I found it much more enjoyable. I doubt I will ever say that about The Conjuring though...

You're Next Movie Review – "Our Family's Being Targeted"

Runtime: 95 minutes
Release Date: August 23, 2012 (U.S.)
Rating: R
Director: Adam Wingard

You're Next opens with a grungy guy and a woman, who is way out of his league, having sex in his home. When he comes back from taking a shower, he finds her dead and a note that warns him that he's next. A masked killed steps out from the shadow and dispatches him.

The film then jumps to the Davison family. Aubrey (Barbara Crampton, Re-Animator) and Paul eagerly await the arrival of their children. Crispian and his girlfriend Erin are the first to arrive, and when Erin offers Aubrey some help, she sends her next door to get something. We then learn that the house in the beginning is the same house next door. Though Erin knocks and hears loud music playing, no one answers the door.

The rest of the family slowly arrives, including sons Drake with his wife and Felix with his girlfriend, as well as their daughter Aimee and her boyfriend (played by horror director Ti West). As they sit down to dinner, Tariqu, Aimee's boyfriend, stands up to look out the window, and an arrow comes flying through the window, killing him in seconds. In the ensuing free for all, Drake receives an arrow to the back. Upon finding that their cell phones don't work, they decide to send Aimee for help. As the night goes on, Erin steps up to the plate to show her strength, while the killers roam freely through the house.

You're Next is one of those movies that I wanted to see from the moment I saw the trailer. Though it received a number of bad reviews, I really liked it. One of the reviews I read was from a horror fan who claimed it made him ashamed of other horror fans after seeing their reviews. Really dude? I managed to make it through The Conjuring, which I thought was a flaming pile of dog pooh, so this was like a vacation for me.

One of the main complaints about You're Next was that the characters didn't act in realistic ways. Seriously? Who can really guess what would go through your mind if you just found out that a group of masked killers wants you and your family dead? I actually thought most of their reactions were right on the nose. After learning that his wife was dead, one character in particularly fights with a few others in the hopes of seeing her, while they smartly keep him away from the body. When we learn that another character had a role in the murders, he clearly doesn't know what to do and goes to great lengths to lie about his role.

The thing I liked about this film is that it gave us some new deaths. Did I expect to see someone have his head shoved into a blender and the blender turned on when I sat down to watch this? Absolutely not. Did I think that someone would be decapitated after running straight through a well hung wire? A similar trick worked in Ghost Ship, and it worked here too.

I also really enjoyed the character of Erin. It took me some time to figure out why I knew the actress before remembering that she had a leading role in Bait, another horror film that I liked, though it was fairly cheesy. Erin is definitely the type of horror movie character that we need to see more of in the future. While strong women popped up in roles a few years ago, they seemed to die off recently, so it was nice to see someone kicking butt and not laying down to whine or cry about how life is so unfair.

You're Next was a fairly pleasing horror movie. It had some disturbing scenes, a strong female lead, and it kept me entertained from start to finish.