Category Archives: Film

Us (2019)

As foretold in prophecy[1], I have gone forth and seen Us, so that you don’t have to!

And, okay, it’s no surprise exactly for me to end up thinking you probably should see it anyway. But the uncomfortable squirming in the seat as the plot unfolded that is always what I’m looking for as a bare minimum for horror is exactly what most people want to avoid in the first place, so I should say more.

Thing one: despite what I thought going into the movie, the previews did not spoil the whole thing. They were stage-setting to provide enough knowledge and no more, exactly what a good preview should be. There’s a lot more meat here than I thought, and that is great news.

Thing two: this is not as good as Get Out. Which is okay, that movie was downright fantastic. I will say[2] that it did a thing I found pleasing and a little impressive, especially for the genre. The thing about Get Out is that it is a specific kind of horror, that only a black man (well, okay, person, but I do think it was a little more specific than that) in America can experience. Sure, it’s amplified to make its point, but its point is a distressingly common one that shouldn’t need to be made, and yet here we are. So, all of that said, a thing that I especially liked about Us is that it is not specific to race. This story could have had any characters in the main roles and had the same effect. No, bear with me, I’m not saying what you think I’m saying about “Good job, Jordan Peele, for appealing to a whiter wider audience.” Screw that, a) he can appeal to whatever audience he wants and b) white people have more to take away from Get Out than black people do in the first place; they already live there, like I was saying earlier.

No, my point is this: even though this movie could have been about anyone, it had four black people in the lead anyway, and that’s awesome.

Thing three: all that said, yes, it was creepy and squirmy as all heck, but it fell apart in the final act, both structurally (relying on ten minutes of exposition to explain how all this happened is never a good idea, and way less so in horror, where frankly no reason is usually the best reason) and thematically (it would change so much of the rest of the movie to get a different ending that it would only superficially be the same movie at all, but man did that ending undercut almost everything else that happened), and that just makes me sad.

Mostly because of how good the first two acts were.

[1] Well, in the comments section of someone’s social media account. Close enough.
[2] Content warning: white guy talking about race stuff.

Captain Marvel

I’ve tried to stay away from reviews of Captain Marvel, much as I try to stay away from reviews of most movies before I see them, but a little moreso this time. There’s too much going on for me to not want my opinion to be unadulterated, and especially since I didn’t see it for nearly a week. That said, I saw a couple reviews, and sure enough, this will be somewhat in response to those.

The first review was effusively positive, putting this near or in the top tier of Marvel movies over the past 11 years. I do not find that I agree with this, from a structural perspective. The origin story was approximately by the numbers, and the fish out of water elements that would have made it unique were blunted by a ’90s greatest hits soundtrack that pulled me out of the story every ten minutes[1]. There were twists, some predictable and some not, there were cool fight scenes, there were cool character beats. I absolutely liked it, but on the whole, it was merely fine.

Except. That’s not perfectly true, because context does matter, and boy does this movie ever have context. It’s the first Marvel movie (and nearly the first superhero movie; I can only think of one recent example[2]) with a female character in the lead. The other review I saw was mostly[3] talking about Brie Larson’s flat affect and not very sexy outfit. I cannot decide whether it’s sadder that the affect comment is factually incorrect, in that she laughed and smiled and got sad and angry pretty regularly, or that this was complained about in a published review even though the script lampshaded a “you’d be pretty if you smiled more” scene, right at the beginning of the second act.

My point is this. Captain Marvel is a great movie and a great Marvel movie, not because of the plot or the acting or the effects, but because Carol Danvers is unapologetically powerful and (this is separate, trust me) unapologetically strong.That shouldn’t be enough to elevate a movie from fine to great, but until the proposition stops being a controversial one, it will be.

[1] It’s not even that I dislike ’90s music. It’s good! But it was presented as “look how ’90s this music is! Because we’re in the ’90s and this is a prequel. Set in the ’90s. Get it?!”
[2] Hmmm. There’s also Tank Girl and arguably Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It depends on how narrowly you proscribe the genre, I suppose. This is where years of Marvel comics reading is making me accidentally snobby, it seems.
[3] To be fair, which I’m somewhat disinclined to do, it may not have been mostly. It’s possible I got fed up and quit reading instead.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

A thing to know about the Fantastic Beasts sequel is, it has no sympathy if you don’t particularly remember (or especially none if you didn’t see) the first movie. This message brought to you by my attempts to penetrate the main focus of the action for about the first half of the movie.

See, there’s this guy that everyone is trying to find (Grindelwald and cronies, American and British aurors, young Dumbledore and our hero Newt) in Paris, and that was fine as far as it went, but it would have been nice to have any idea why he mattered. Eventually, I remembered dim spoilers for the previous movie that brought it into focus, but like I said, the script for The Crimes of Grindelwald did absolutely nothing to help me in that quest.

In the pros column, I enjoyed seeing the wizarding world of France, more beasts = cool, and the picture was beautiful (thanks, new 4K TV!). Also, the movie was significantly better than I expected. In the cons column, to form a real opinion, I need to rewatch it with a better idea of what’s going on the whole time, and probably to rewatch the first one right before that. Which is annoying, but not the worst thing that has ever happened.

Anyway, if you’re still into Harry Potter and especially if you liked the first movie of this… trilogy? Let’s say trilogy. Well, if those things apply to you, you already saw this, since it came out months ago. But, you were correct to do so! (And you’re welcome for the validation.)

Happy Death Day 2U

At the very beginning of Happy Death Day, while the Universal logo is appearing, they did something clever. It hitches like a record scratch and restarts, twice, before proceeding. Just enough to let you know what you’re getting into, right?

Happy Death Day 2U starts with a mild similarity, in which the hitch splits the screen in two, and then in three. Which, if you don’t know what they’re going for, I guess it would be a spoiler to tell you? But anyway, my point here is mostly to say that I believe the science fiction slasher movie is wholly untrodden ground, and they deserve props for this alone.

Except for the slight genre shift, though, the movie follows an extremely important rule of horror movie sequels, first spoken by Joe Bob Briggs more than thirty years ago[1], and here I am paraphrasing: Just make the same damn movie as you did the first time. (In some ways this movie takes the advice even more literally than is typical, but that stands to reason.) But yeah. Starts on the same day the last movie ended? Yes indeed. Follows (mostly) the same characters who are faced with (essentially) the same problems? Aye. Rule: followed!

The plot is so full of holes that it would more properly be referred to as a colander, but neither movie takes itself very seriously, so that’s fine. Plus, the more serious parts are actually thoughtful and touching, which gives them even more leeway as far as I’m concerned. As long as they keep the same cast and (I presume) writers/directors, I will cheerfully watch (and probably rewatch) these movies in perpetuity.

[1] Citation needed.[2]
[2] Haha, beat you to it. It’s possible I could find it, if he was writing for the Dallas paper that still exists and if they have internetted their 1980s archives. I first read it in a book of collected columns, so.

Fido

First things first: ugh, commercials. Like, I dislike them, sure, that’s fine, so does everyone. But there’s a qualitative difference between a show made with commercial breaks in mind, and a movie. Hell, even old school movies on network television, they had people with talent who selected break points as naturally as possible. Modern streaming services with commercials, though… man. It’s just so bad.

Anyway, though, I did watch a movie, despite the many travails involved. Fido exists in relatively unexplored territory: this is the zombie post-apocalypse. Humans won, at least sort of? According to the instructional film at the beginning of the movie, our species continues in walled safe zones, controlled by ZomCon, who has also developed a collar to keep zombies under control. Upshot: sure, the world’s a mess, but in the places where people are alive, they’re thriving. Zombies keep the houses in order, they keep the factories running, they keep the parks clean, and so on, leaving everyone else free to live out their 1950s utopia.

Enter one lonely neglected boy and one newly acquired zombie manservant, mix in a few hilarious mistakes, and there you have it. Black comedy, with zombies! But seriously, it was pretty funny. It was for sure the funniest Carrie-Anne Moss has ever been.

It Stains the Sands Red

Obviously, they can’t all be winners. But what hurts is when I can see the way to… okay, that’s an unfair claim. It Stains the Sands Red was never going to be a winner. Let me start over.

See, there’s this zombie apocalypse in progress, as usual. And there’s a Vegas stripper who finds herself crossing the desert, trying to reach an airplane to a beach in Mexico, where for some reason things are safe? Best not to dwell on that part, I’m sure. The thing is, there’s a zombie following her across the desert, for the reason zombies do such things.

All of this is the core of a pretty good movie, right? Minimalist cast: one protagonist, two foes (the zombie and the desert), and from there it’s just endurance and determination. Whoever has the most, wins. And if they had made a 70-75 minute movie with that core, I think I would have gotten past my first act eye-rolling and accepted it for what it was.

Instead, they added a pointless plot complication in the second act, and also a pointless third act to resolve the complication. So, on the whole, ugh. And while that’s not my only complaint, it’s the only one that doesn’t have big spoilers. So I’ll leave it here, wishing they’d made the movie I can see in my head instead of the one I could see on the screen.

El Cadáver de Anna Fritz

You know those movies where people make one or two bad decisions, and things spiral irretrievably out of control?

The Corpse of Anna Fritz is just such a movie. See, there’s this really popular young actress, and she dies at a party. Later, a morgue attendant lets his truly douchetastic friends know that her body has arrived at his hospital, and they of course want to see her. Once they do, well, mistakes are made, and then that spiralling out of control thing happens.

It’s difficult to say anything else, because spoilers for the journey really removes any need for this movie to exist, and everything vague I can think of to add is either too clever by half or unintentionally offensive to myself, and therefore probably others. Possibly both at once.

I will say, although this has probably already been covered in paragraph two despite my vagueness toward the end, that if you don’t like things that are disturbing, this is not for you.

Happy Death Day

I haven’t rented a movie in, seriously, I don’t know when. But for some reason that does not appear to be network-related, I cannot stream 4k content from my media server to Plex on the Roku, and Google Play Movie’s rental price for 4k[1] was 99 cents, which is basically at the can’t be beat level. And most importantly, I really wanted to get this in before the sequel.

All of which is to say I saw Happy Death Day last night. This is a movie with a stone simple premise: what if Groundhog Day was a horror movie? Otherwise, it’s got all the standard slasher movie tropes. Creepy mask? Mystery about who the killer is? High body count? Check, check, (sort of) check. There are one or two glaring plot holes, but, well: check, right? It comes with the territory.

I know I just bagged on another movie for being a rip-off, but this worked. Mainly I think because it was a rip-off into a new genre, while Bird Box was a rip-off in the same genre. Either way: worthwhile. Also, I fiddled with the settings a little more, and I think I fixed my 4k Plex stream. So that’s awesome! Plus, new experience, I have now had the movie I was reviewing playing in the background while I was reviewing it. ….which, come to think of it, is particularly apropos for this use case.

[1] Except, haha, not actually 4k because the Roku I have doesn’t support 4k for Google Play, even though it does for other channels. (Or else maybe Google Play doesn’t support the Roku I have. Potato, it’s annoying either way.)

Bird Box

An unfortunate true thing about Bird Box is that it is highly comparable to A Quiet Place. Both are post-apocalyptic, both deal with unknowable, alien(?) menaces that cannot be opposed, both focus on a small number of survivors plus children trying to find a way to improve upon the new circumstances that they have already survived.

The reason this is unfortunate is because A Quiet Place is so much better. I mean, that’s fine for me! But it’s unfortunate for Sandra Bullock and Netflix. Because the thing is, Bird Box isn’t bad. The wrapper story about a woman and two children blindfolded in a rowboat going down a river is creepy as all get out, in part because there’s no way to tell what the hell is going on and in part because Bullock really pulls off her caretaker on the edge of terror role well. You can’t even really tell if she likes the children, only that she’s going to keep them alive if she can, even though there’s no threat the camera can see that would explain why she’s worried. Which adds to the creepiness, like I said.

But where Bird Box really shines is the main sequence, told in flashbacks as they drift downstream, where first the apocalyptic incident is revealed, and then a group of people hunker down in a house to try to wait it out. It is… huh. I just realized that it’s basically an extended homage to[1] Night of the Living Dead. Which is even worse news for Bird Box, because now it’s a mash-up of two superior movies, and it really serves no purpose at all.

I still liked it, but… man. That’s harsh.

[1] or rip-off of, if you prefer
[2] Man, people knew how to write movie taglines in the ’60s.

Night of the Living Deb

I’m not sure how I waited so long to start paying for Shudder.

This is not to say that Night of the Living Deb was some kind of revelation. It really was, just as you would guess from the title, mostly a cheap knockoff of Shaun of the Dead. There’s this cute redhead total spazz[1] out on the town for the night, right? And she meets an engaged hottie in the midst of a break-up, and wakes up the next morning with no real memory of what happened, only now she’s in his house, and it’s super awkward, but also, oops, the zombie apocalypse happened overnight.

The biggest problem, I think, is that every actor who was not one of the two leads was at best phoning it in and more commonly just really bad. Also, the plot took a while to find legs enough to differentiate itself from Shaun beyond the “but with a lady!” twist that is I’m sure what got the investors (and lawyers!) on board. But by the beginning of act three, I actively enjoyed it instead of benignly tolerating, mostly because of Maria Thayer as Deb, who deserves a better career than she apparently has; I guess America gave away the spazzy redhead slot to Ellie Kemper before she knew there was only one such slot available to compete for.

[1] Which is to say, my type. I think this probably helped my overall opinion.