Monday, March 30, 2015

3 Short Paragraphs: Texas Killing Fields

2011, Ami Canaan Mann (Morning) -- Netflix

I didn't realize I was merging Eric Bana and Sam Worthington together in my head, until I started thinking about this movie and was picturing scenes from Deliver Us From Evil, Bana's latest cop movie, reviewed in this post. If I recall correctly, they are both Australian imports, but both carry that frowny, growly persona that lends itself well to beleaguered cops. In this case, Worthington is the younger frowny cop to Jeffrey Dean Morgan's older, more frowny cop. It would have been interesting if Bana had been in Morgan's role.

Texas Killing Fields takes a very real, very chilling instance of crime from recent American history and tries to build up a dark, muddy, eerie crime drama much in the vein of True Detective. It only somewhat succeeds. It's set against the Calder Field, a moorish tract of land dubbed Killing Fields, in Texas City, Texas. Since the 70s, numerous bodies have been pulled from the field; most of the murders remain unsolved. In reality, the field is not very big but in the myth of movie making, its a massive expanse of swampy, bracken covered land too far from anywhere for anyone to be heard. Its not just a place where people can be taken and murdered without notice, but the murderers can hide and not expect to be found.

Morgan and Worthington are cops in the neighbouring jurisdiction where Jessica Chastain finds the latest body. She wants Morgan's help because he is the seasoned NYC detective, where Worthington is her ex and he is happy to focus on murders in his own county. I liked Chastain here, enjoying her in these smaller roles, where she doesn't do anything extraordinary but is a hard-working, capable actor. Unfortunately, the movie is not much above a mid-level TV series, with the investigation of the murders being sloppy, tainted by emotion and personal attachments, like in all standard crime fiction. Everyone is solidly acting, but there is no range in the story. And that it sums up a daunting case so quickly, and easily, is kind of emasculating to all the police forces involved.

Friday, March 27, 2015


2011, Mike Flanagan (Oculus) -- Netflix

Ohhhhh, he did Oculus. Now I know why he got the budget and casting for that movie. Here it is just over 2 weeks later, and I am still thinking about Absentia, a very basic, low-budget horror movie with no faces at all. But it stuck with me.

Absentia is about a man who has disappeared, reported missing, and seven years later, his wife Tricia is having him declared death in absentia. She is not dealing well, still walking the neighbourhood replacing the posters and still has their room filled with his possessions. Her sister Callie arrives to help out, a sister who has been missing on her own terms for much of the past seven years, as a runaway and drug addict. But Callie has come to support her sister with the declaration and the coming baby. Baby? How did that happen? No, nothing spooky seven year conception, just normal mistakes (or not) made in the chaos of her husband's disappearance.

The movie focuses its horror specs on something mundane, a pedestrian tunnel that goes under the highway to a nearby park. It immediately made me think of Let Me In (the remake of Let The Right One In) and the vampire child hiding in its shadows, as well as another horror movie where hoodied thugs crouch at its entrance intimidating everyone who comes by, but whose title escapes me right now. Citadel ? In their purest form, even during the day, those tunnels always make people hesitate. Could there be someone in the shadows at the far end? If not someone, something?


At first, we think the movie may be running the path of ghosts. The husband's eerie phantom appears to Tricia, seen only by her, in dreams and eventually during the waking hours. Stress? Probably. Ghost? Maybe. Meanwhile Callie is seeing her own ghosts, the homeless man (Doug Jones) found in the tunnel who we recognize immediately is not homeless at all, but someone returned from... somewhere. And the trinkets and traded items that appear out of nowhere. I loved, just loved, how the movie took a horror trope -- where something weird happens to someone and they keep it to themselves -- and turned it over. Callie calls the police, after finding the trinkets in her bed. The police investigate, but at the same time are trying to connect it to the husband's disappearance. Stress upon stress, and Tricia is seeing more phantoms until, one is not. Husband Daniel has returned.

Its been seven years. He is in the same clothes as when he left. He is battered, abused and malnutritioned. He is pale, deathly pale. Where has he been? Who had him? The cops are suspicious, but strangely don't ask the right questions. One is more suspicious than he has the right to be. And more protective of Tricia then he should. Daniel is traumatized, muttering to himself and withholding ... reasons. After finding he is basically healthy, they send him home.

Callie is even more suspicious, as she has been doing some research. Many many people have gone missing in this area. Some have returned, others are just gone. She does the full investigation trope on the Internet finding unrelated stories, global stories, but connecting them through... a nearby tunnel. And she adds in some myths and we get the origin stories behind trolls under bridges, as well as many other, "there are scary things in the dark crawlspaces". Of course, she is a drug addict so who would believe her?

This was the part that connected for me, that spun my brain off in so many directions. My go-to imagining for most horror stories, is to envision the RPG heroic side of things. What if someone came in at the last second, hunting down the serial killer, banishing the demon or tracking and killing the monster, because they are aware of such things. I imagined an organization that is tracking these events, has been for years, seeking out those weak spots in certain tunnels that allow the monsters to steal people and for some people to return, given the right circumstances. They have all the lore, all the needed weapons and have delved into the real dark tunnels beyond the ones connected to on our side. In a world where monsters are real, we need monster hunters.

Now for the even geekier part.

If we have always had a fear of tunnels, investing it into tales and myths of monsters in caves, mines and under bridges, what if we invested as much mythos in conquering those monsters? What if Beowulf and its lasting popularity is an attempt to solidify it in our collective minds, so the things beyond don't have as much ability to use tunnels against us? Without the fear, we are stronger. And what if someone in the 1960s decided it needed to be even wider established, and began working on a game where bold heroes would go into tunnels to defeat monsters? He wanted it so embedded in our psyches that the tunnel creatures would be weakened worldwide.  I think you know where I am going. D&D was a tool against a very real dark, and also, maybe a bit of a recruiting forum.

Yeah, thats the way my brain goes.

The movie itself takes a darker, blood tinted stance. There are no (successful) heroes. But it doesn't diminish Callie's heroic attempt. She faces the monsters, trying to bargain with them. Alas, all we get are more missing persons posters. The monsters are never revealed, the world beyond the tunnels never explored. The mystery and emptiness are all we are left with. Questions. Fears.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

3 Short Paragraphs: Beasts of the Southern Wild

2012, Benh Zeitlin -- Netflix

There is a fault in waiting so long to see movies I was anticipating, but never got around to watching. It is a deflation of expectations, expectations that likely inflated with time, as actual memory of why I was anticipating it was supplanted by a simple, vague recollection. That was a rather wordy way of saying I wasn't as intrigued and impressed by this very very indie movie, as I hoped I would be.

Its a fairy tale in the near future where the oceans rise. Its the American south, called The Bathtub. Hushpuppy lives there with her dad Wink, in a subsistence lifestyle that most would view as extreme, utter poverty, the kind we see on TV depicting poor Africans. But they don't live a hopeless life, as there is plenty of food and there must be some money, as Wink never seems to be without booze. Hushpuppy is the innocent, very in tune with her existence and all the lives and creatures around her. She is aware the waters are going to rise, but like her dad, she lives a happy go lucky life. When it happens, it happens.

And it happens. Even in this fairy tale of innocence, there is darkness. The rising oceans kill the land. The rich people behind walls want to forcibly relocate the people of The Bathtub. And really, she doesn't live in an idyllic place -- its all garbage and Wink & his friends are almost always drunk. They aren't the most responsible protagonists. But despite all this crassness, this unseemly characterizing, this movie is incredibly novel and new. The actors are almost entirely non-actors, real people acting as real people do. You will never see a setting so intricate and authentic. I guess I just wanted the story to be more subtle, more intriguing. And for the beasts to play more than allegory come to life.

3+1 Short Paragraphs: Dracula Untold

2014, Gary Shore -- download

Dracula Untold is the Dracula movie for D&D players. Its a prequel exploring the origins of Vlad Tepes, or as they call him in the movie, Draculovich or something like that. Basically, that opening sequence from the Gary Oldman movie? Yes, its made into an entire movie. Luke Evans armor is almost as cool. Its also a superhero origin movie, with the creators amping up the vampire powers to the Nth degree. I never knew bats could be such a destructive force.

Vlad is the Prince of Transylvania, sometime in the Middle Ages. He was one of a thousand children given by the King, to the Turks, in exchange for not wiping out his people. Each of these kids are trained in the art of killing, likely being dwindled down to a ruthless few, one of which is Vlad himself, by way of the The Impaler reputation he gains while killing for the Turks. As reward he is allowed to return to Transylvania to take up the throne from his father. Years later, the Turks return to take another thousand sons. Vlad refuses.

Vlad enacts his secret weapon -- a deal made with the ghastly vampire lord who lives in the mountain. The ancient creature gives Vlad a taste of his blood, but as long as he kills no man before the end of three days, he will return to life as a human. Vlad has three days to defeat the army of the Turks. And wow, does he do so. Vlad not only has sunlight aversion and blood drain, but he can turn into a swarm of bats, clothes and all, superhero change style. And he can control bats, BIG  bats that while in their own swarm, seem to act as a single, massive force. Their impact on the battlefield sends soldiers flying. But can Vlad do it before the end of the third day? No, of course he can't. Not without a sacrifice, that of his family and that of his mortality. Thus the vampire lord wins the bargain and Vlad becomes Dracula.

*spoilerific schtuff*

Its a very formula actioner.  There is nothing novel or overly exciting about the movie but it fills a niche, an Avengers style tragic heroism. And of course, superhero style, its only an origin story. The real movie is being setup where we see Vlad in our time running into the reincarnation of  his wife, now a lovely young lady named Mina. And that vampire lord, the one from the cave? Now he is suit wearing, suave Charles Dance, ready to play more games with Vlady, the totally not-villain of a movie I doubt will ever be made.

Monday, March 16, 2015

3 Short Paragraphs: Vice

2015, Brian A Miller (nothing anyone heard of) -- download

Wow, again I am astounded by the genre of Straight to X being alive and well. I bring this up rather a lot. In the video store days, I guess I was able to avoid them knowing the style and substance from the back of their video boxes. In today's world of movie blog snippets and trailers and downloads, I guess I let a few slip past. Some are definitely worth it, as they fit more into the indie movie, where a director or writer passionate about their material produces something less than polished but still enjoyable. But then there are these -- done solely to pander to a genre and a paycheck. This is about overseas distribution & on-demand sales and nothing else. The number of production companies attached to the opening credits should have been my warning.

Vice is a movie about AI, but you would never really guess it. There are a few off-handed references about it having been invented but frightened the populace, and therefore made illegal. Then the rich guy who was funding the research came up with a brilliant idea -- turn self aware artificial intelligence into fuck and murder toys. Steal a bit from Westworld and a bit from Fantasy Island and a whole lot from the GTA video game series, and you get the business model in Vice. Its a city populated almost entirely by "artificials", where real humans can act out every fantasy, with no repercussions. And apparently, almost everyone wants to rape, murder and torture. But as long as they keep their sadism to the non-humans, its OK. But Thomas Jane, the badly dressed, terribly groomed cop believes they get amped up by their fake-crimes and go into the real world, to cause real havoc. Because, you know, video games cause people to commit crimes.

This is just a save-the-pretty-girl movie. Nobody seems at all astounded, that she has full self-awareness. Nope, they are just more concerned that the pretty, demure blonde girl needs help. Her creator wants to run away to a tropical island with her, having already abandoned her to that fuck city run by Bruce Willis. And Thomas Jane just wants that place to fall, thus abandoning all pretense at actually investigating a crime. He spends the latter half of the movie just shooting down security guards. No, not the black clad homicidal paramilitary force from earlier in the movie, but run of the mill gray clad rent-a-cops. They probably see some nutcase shooting up the place, but that doesn't matter, he kills them all. Meanwhile "got an upgrade" robo-blonde does exactly nothing with her upgrades, other than slick back her hair and put on more eyeliner. She still has to be saved by Jane. So we ignore the fact she cannot really die, as that is one of the purposes of these bloody machines !! Oh, this was infuriating, even more so that it was done with a decent budget.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

xBox One: Far Cry 4

This falls under the "...and other stuff" category that sub-titles this blog.

Just around the Canadian Black Friday of last year, I acquired an xBox One after noticing I had a bit of excess in my bank account. That doesn't often happen and I haven't treated myself to anything for a couple of years, so I took the opportunity. Who am I to deny myself the never ending cycle of living paycheck to paycheck? Now, I was a bit frugal as I made use of a great sale they were promoting, and after a bit of back-and-forthing with Microsoft Store managers, I got the version of the console I wanted -- the Sunset Overdrive Edition, white with the include game of its namesake. Combine that with a $100 trade-in of my dust gathering xBox 360, and a free copy of Far Cry 4, and I was a happy gamer.

In case you are one of those few readers who are in the other camp, wondering, "Why not a PS4 ?" One simple answer. No media centre. My PS3 is my media centre, even more so since I cut the cable years ago. We pump all media through it -- music, TV and movies. From the legal uses of Netflix and disk media, to the *cough* less  than legal download TV and movies. I want my consoles to be more than just games and the while media capabilities of the xBox One may be curtailed by me not having digital TV, at least its possible. I am not having a PS3 sitting next to a PS4.

Far Cry 4 is the latest in the series which, so far, have been entirely unrelated to each other. In fact, the only real thing that has connected the games, other than FPS genre, has been a revolutionary use of foliage. The engine behind these games is impressive, even looking back at the first 11 years ago, I remember marvelling as my crouched character moved through the tropical undergrowth, fern fronds moving separately and hiding me, as I snuck up on bad guys. Far Cry 2 abandoned the story of genetic monsters and tropical island bad guys for the African savanna. But it introduced an open world style that set the tone for the rest. Far Cry 3 expanded upon the game play style but was back on an island -- no genetically enhanced super soldiers though, just red bandannaed bad guys who oppressed the countryside. But still, throughout them all, I was marvelling as I crept through the underbrush.

The new game looks remarkably like the previous one. It runs on the "if it ain't broke..." mantra. The game play and look & feel are very familiar, but we toss Ajay Ghale into a remote mountain Tibet analog called Kyrat. Ajay is returning home to deliver his mother's ashes when he gets mixed up in the civil war between Kyrat's usurper, Pagan Min and the rebel Golden Path. We are exposed to Min's leadership in the opening sequence when he stabs someone to death with a gold pen. And then we are rescued by the rebels, and asked to become one of them. Ajay's father was a founding member of the Golden Path and they expect his son to take the mantle.

Like the previous game, this one wants us to take on the role of a protagonist not familiar with warfare and its moral dilemmas. Like with most FPS games, you start off rather weak and progress into a killing machine. This is entwined into the story that you are to be the rebirth of a mystical figure from Kyrat's past.

The game loves its moral gray zones. The rebels are led by two people, each with their own idealistic views and immense failings. You are expected to choose sides. Meanwhile Pagan Min, ever cheerful and maniacal, continues overtures to you while seeking to eradicate the rebels. But he is very honest that things are not quite what they seem. As the story progresses, you trust your allies less and less and you might just be charmed by Min's antics.

But its a game. You are molded into a ruthless killer. And like all  these games, you slaughter hundreds if not thousands of enemy soldiers. And animals. And the occasional peasant. You move from hesitant American uncomfortable with the guns in his hands, to an expert with heavy weapons and the skinning of countless rare animals. Even so, I never felt comfortable shooting rhinos, even after they constantly tossed me into the air in a fit of rage -- rhinos were easily enraged. But not honey badgers; no remorse there, the goddamn motherfucking honey badgers can all die. Yes, the game was liberally sprinkled with meme references.

The play does become a bit repetitive as you get deeper in, being that it has tons of side quests and collectibles. That is sort of intentional, not only for a full game feel but also to impress upon you what you are becoming -- a bored killer of men and beasts.

In the end, you are left with the decision of which side to take. Do you kill Pagan Min or do you accept the truth in what he is saying, that you were just a pawn in many people's hands. There are no good choices here -- Pagan as the psychopathic usurper? One Golden Path leader who wants to become a drug lord? Or the other, who believes in the old Kyrat, but that also means oppressing women and slaying anyone who disagrees with him. But I committed to my perceived path and slew Min. I doubt I left my father's country in good hands.

I really enjoyed this game, as much as the previous. I would have preferred a bit more radio content (as you drive around, you listen to a loon of a radio DJ) as that became 4th wall breaking repetitive. There was almost too much to do, and after I finished the main story, I realized I had some lingering questions with the side stories. But by then, I was over it. I will have to return and find out what the mask wearing killer was up to, and see the rest of the mystical otherworldly stories. And I was disappointed with Pagan's lieutenants, as their interaction was very minimal until you hit the cut scenes. Still, a solid game that looked great on the "next gen" hardware.

Monday, March 9, 2015

We Agree: Jupiter Ascending

2015, The Wachowskis (Speed Racer) -- cinema

"Remember when I said I couldn't quite define what kind of Space Opera I enjoy, if Guardians of the Galaxy was not it?  Well, this is it. This is my kind of Space Opera," I said, basically, to Kent as we exited the movie.

Yes, we still do occasionally see movies together.

And I hate to do it, but I am going to have to start with a comparison to my other favourite Space Opera, Star Wars. What I remember the most from originally seeing Star Wars, was that there was a big big world (which was far far away) behind the simple story in A New Hope. It was alluded to in barely scratched minimums, in references and comments by characters and then never expanded upon again, in the names of things, in backgrounds and locations. Combined with the awe striking visuals and 11 year old me was overwhelmed, filled to the brim with possibilities and stories happening off screen. This is what I felt when I watched Jupiter Ascending. Its big, and likely too big for most people. I cannot help but think of much of the current commentary on Jupiter as mirroring Pauline Kael's review of A New Hope.

'“Star Wars” is like getting a box of Cracker Jack which is all prizes. '

While she was intimating that it was all candy, no substance, I think it was also an unintentional praising of how much of the movie was a sugar rush. This is what Space Opera should be, to me, a big world, a big universe, full of unanswered questions and fleeting details. The story has to weave around the world, through it, sometimes being lost to the background. It should be overwhelming, it should be high inducing.

Even said, Jupiter Ascending starts with a quiet, small, bittersweet sequence, meeting the Jones family Max & Aleksa, star crossed lovers torn apart by violence. Jupiter is born crossing the Atlantic, hidden in containers of illegal immigrants. She is of no country, no real homeland.

I love the name Jupiter Jones. It smacks of 70s super heroines and space action movies. Its prophetic and grand and electric. Jupiter hates her life, scrubbing toilets for people with more money than she ever can have. Her family is just her family, a little bit condescending, a little bit manipulative but caring in their own dysfunctional way.

And then, boom, we meet Mr. Caine with his pew-pew laser guns and space skates, squaring off against Grays (you know, greys), evil aliens out to do Jupiter harm. We jump right into the action, dragging Jupiter out of her boring, monotonous world into one with aliens, spaceships and laser guns! Once safe, Caine tells her that there is a bounty on her head and he has been hired by a member of a royal family to save her. He soon finds out it is because she is also royalty.

Royalty? No, not ruling family royalty but just genetic royalty. This is a family so wealthy, so powerful, they are basically considered the rulers of the universe. There are still laws, and still rules they have to follow, but you know how it is when you have more money than God. But bureaucracy seems to trump even that. Mr. Caine and Stinger (Sean Bean in a familiar, yet non-lethal role) discover that Jupiter is the genetic descendant of this Abrasax (which I kept on hearing as a mispronunciation of abraxas) family, in fact, their matriarch. In a world where they extend their lives for tens of eons, genetic reincarnation is a possible thing and has cultural and legal impacts. Hers in particular? She owns Earth.

The rest of the movie is about keeping Jupiter out of the hands of the Abrasax family while attempting to validate her claim on Earth, which will not only give her some more control over her life but also protect the planet. From what, you ask? From harvesting. The word, when applied to an entire planet, is icky to an n-th degree, even if you don't know what it inevitably means. That is big, almost too big for Jupiter, so in the pop culture outre connection, it ends up coming down to not focusing on saving the world, but just saving her family.

The plot is pretty basic, but that is what is needed. Its because everything else is so so big! We connect to her namesake, being used as a refinery, protected by gravity repelling generators so everyone and everything is crushed by the gases. Crushed by gases? Such a simple sentence but so science fiction illuminating! And the supporting cast is almost entirely made up of uplifted species, not just weird alien ones. There are dogs and lizards and mice and Terry Gilliam. OK, the last is not as uplifted, but so exquisitely added --- Terry Gilliam in a Terry Gilliam sequence. Brilliant!

I was overwhelmed. Enthralled. Absorbed. And also a little lost in Mila Kunis's anime eyes.

Kent agrees here.

Monday, March 2, 2015

3+1 Short Paragraphs: In Your Eyes

2014, Brin Hill -- download

In Your Eyes is the relatively unknown romantic flick written by Joss Whedon and released entirely, and solely, online.  I am not sure if it ever hit any cinema chains. Its part of a new generation of movies & TV that launche via new media, and kind of doesn't care much about the old media. No, don't include it in the Straight to X bucket of eras past -- these are people producing A Grade product but just releasing it via different means.  It was also produced by Whedon's company Bellwether, known for the great Much Ado About Nothing.

The movie is about Rebecca and Dylan, who have a connection. She's a upper crust young woman from New Hampshire; he's an ex-con from New Mexico. They can see through each other's eyes and hear through each other's ears. They can feel what each other feels. They misunderstood this connection almost all their lives but now, at a point of importance in their lives, they make the connection and actually begin communicating. Its not Romeo & Juliet, but more than geography is keeping them apart.

This is a love story seen not only through strangers' eyes but through a soft focus lense. They fall for each other when nothing about the two would ever connect them in real life. He lives in a trailer, she in a McMansion. He cannot keep a job and she's a socialite, married to a doctor. But connect they do, like penpals but with a supreme amount of intimacy. And yes, it leads to that kind of intimacy. They can share like no two strangers can.

It is very possible the story could have severed their connection or explored the whys and hows. But no, this was about the intimacy and tenderness shared. They meet, they learn about each other and they fall in love, but with a hint of magic not needing explanation. It was lovely.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

I Saw This!! OK, Bloody OK

I Saw This (double exclamation point) is our all-too regular feature wherein Graig or David attempt to write about a bunch of movies they watched some time ago and meant to write about but just never got around to doing so. Now they they have to strain to say anything meaningful lest they just not say anything at all. And they can't do that, can they?

Arthur Christmas, 2011, Sarah Smith, Barry Cook (Mulan) -- download
The Equalizer, 2014, Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, King Arthur) -- download
White House Down, 2013, Roland Emmerich (Stargate, Independence Day) -- download
The Boxtrolls, 2014, Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi -- download
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 2014, Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) -- rental
Savages, 2012, Oliver Stone -- Netflix
Deliver Us From Evil, 2014, Scott Derrickson (Sinister) -- download

Its about time I cleaned out some of these, because I am again using it as an excuse to just not enjoy movies. Besides, I have to cover the movies seen recently, so I can blather on about some video games I recently finished on the xBox One.

That said, I am thinking of trying an experiment for one month. Watch all the movies I want, but only review the ones that strike me enough to actually say something about them. I can say something about any movie I see, even if it is only "yawn" but some I actually have something tangible to say. And some I just enjoy with little thought one way or the other. Those usually end up here.

Now that said, you would think, "Its your blog (yours and Kent's), why do you feel compelled to write about every movie? You make the rules don't ya?"  Yes, I do. But there is something productive in setting guidelines to follow. Hell, I have already re-written those guidelines by reducing most of my 'reviews' down to 3 (Not So) Short Paragraphs.  And then there is this format.

OK, that is said. Onto the actual post.

Arthur Christmas should be a proper X Days of Xmas post but again, we attempted, we failed, we only saw a couple. But this is a good Xmas movie! So it deserves some commentary. Also, see above. The movie is done by Aardman Animations, so I am rather surprised we didn't see it out of simple loyalty. We were huge fans of Wallace & Gromit. But honestly, we haven't been all that loyal if you check the catalog --- the only thing we had seen recently in the cinemas, was The Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists which I have no clue as to why there is no post here on this blog. I loved it, I am kind of surprised I didn't write about it.

Arthur is one of Santa's sons. The whole Christmas Santa concept is represented as a family deal, a massive expedition done each year full of hundreds of support elves and high technology, currently run by the other son, the useful son Steve. His dad does the deliveries but Steve runs the night in the command centre at the North Pole. Its a precision exercise that compensates for his dad's doddering mistakes. Meanwhile Arthur is just assigned to answering the Letters to Santa.

Essentially, its a wonderful tale of saving Christmas, finding the real meaning of the commercialized version of the holiday (as opposed to the Christian one) and recognizing that Arthur is the best choice all along. Its hilarious, incredibly wonderfully animated and even visits Toronto for a misinterpreted flyby in an old broken down sled. Grandpa Santa has some issues. I might even add it to our repeat watching next year.

Next up, we have The Equalizer, a rather forgotten actioner from last year that was pretty much ignored in the cinemas but I still consider as rather enjoyable!

Full disclosure, I was a big big big fan of the TV show, The Equalizer. The idea of a retired CIA shadow man placing an ad in a local newspaper saying he can help with things that the police cannot was the perfect premise to my heroic Mary Sue mind. It was procedural, villain of the week and spy mystery wrapped up in one. I would easily compare Person of Interest to the feel I got from it then.

I was not part of the Outrage Culture cliq that our angry internet has devolved into, upon learning they chose to cast Robert McCall as a black man (Denzel Washington), which is weird considering they had cast the original man with a British actor, only later retconning it to explain why this obvious very British man was a top agent in the CIA. Fuck the morons who felt it was a wrong choice. I thought it was brilliant, as Denzel Washington is hitting that stage of his acting career where he is beginning to be defined by his age. Not quite yet a Liam Neeson, Washington shows a bit of aging around the gills and easily falls into the role of a quiet older man working a menial job, competently and unremarkably.

This rendition of the story has him working a local Home Depot analog, doing simple things, bonding with his coworkers and leading a simple life. He is kind of OCD, doing things repeatedly, placing his flatware and books very specifically for his every night visit to the diner to eat, and read and chat with the young prostitute who stops by on occasion. He is friendly but outside everyone's lives, until... he is dragged into it.

This is not the premise of the TV show, so if for any reason, this is why I was not sure I was going to enjoy their depiction. But it is so exquisite in those quiet first-and-a-bit acts. He is precise, as I mentioned, rather OCD. He is mysterious about his past but does not rebuff people. And that mood, that tone carries itself into the action, once it starts. The young prostitute is being abused by her pimps, the Russian mafia of this area of Boston. McCall attempts to buy her contract, assuming a few thousand dollars can cover it, not really knowing how much she is worth. He is mocked, threatened and makes to leave. But in a very precision ballet of violence, that John Wick reminded me of, McCall kills all the mafiosos.

Enter Martin Tsokas as a fixer for the Russian mob, who arrives in the US to find out what happened to his key pimp. Martin Tsokas is the best of the best when it comes to playing suave, scary, evil men. And this is a prime example. He and McCall come together as fixer plays investigator, putting the details together until he finds the man who works at the Home Depot but who must be much much more.  The latter acts of the movie sort of fall into a less enjoyable, familiar pattern of blowing things up and taking down bad guys. Creative use of the tool section.

But the ending of the movie gave me quite the grin. Robert has dismantled the Russian mob, saved the young prostitute but can never go back to his job at the Home Depot. We find him at his laptop filling out a Craig's List posting:

Got a problem?

Odds against you?

Call the Equalizer

Enter squee.  Sequel please.

White House Down. You already know I saw the other Attack the White House movie -- Olympus Has Fallen.  This was visibly the lighter of the two, comedic and with brighter stars in the leads: Channing Tatum as the hero and Jamie Fox as The President. Does anyone else matter? Not really, in a Roland Emmerich vehicle, where the trauma is the main star. But it was nice to see Lance Reddick, Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Woods in supporting roles.

Its all about the take over and rescue of America's centre of royalty - the White House and its President. They are rather a package deal in the mythology of the US. The hero worship around the American President has always fascinated me. We openly loathe our own Prime Minister, and while the current American public has their "Thanks Obama" meme, that doesn't reduce the reverence they have for the White House and the Presidential office. Its no joke they consider the job as their own version of a royal family. Both the movies play on the fear of reprisals on their own soil, harkening back to 2001, but amping up the trauma.

I saw Gerard Butler as a respectable, seasoned professional doing what experience had taught him. His President was pretty much a figure head to be rescued, no matter how much I enjoyed Aaron Eckhart in the role. Jamie Fox is better here, as much comedic (less so than I expected) as a competent leader. He represents a sobre but healthy respect for the job he represents, while Channing Tatum is just the right guy in the wrong place, shooting things and wise cracking. It was enjoyable, only because I enjoy the rah-rah American ideal presented by Roland Emmerich.

This is weird. I do these to quickly sum up what I wouldn't do in three normal paragraphs but often end up writing more.

The Boxtrolls was something I enjoyed a lot but wanted to enjoy even more.  The trolls in question, named so because they wear cardboard boxes as clothes (whatever the box is adorned with is their name, i.e. box that held shoes means he is Shoe), are little pesky thieves that live beneath the city of Cheeseburg. They "kidnap" a baby and raise him as one of their own, deep in their Rube Goldberg lair.

Meanwhile, topside an exterminator has promised to kill off all the trolls should he be given the white hat of station. He believes respectability, and access to the finest cheese in Cheeseburg, comes with just bearing the hat. He ignores the fact he is horribly allergic to cheese.

While the trolls themselves were charming and funny, the rest was run of the mill cute. I guess too many of these animations are cut from the same cheesecloth. Watching the trolls clap their boxes when happy made me giggle and the revolting nature of Snatcher's allergic reaction were definitely memorable, but overall the movie was just cute.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was one of those movies that actually forced me to download a properly rented version.  Yes, I actually paid for it. OK, I did attempt to pirate it but my current setup of movie transferral does not easily allow for English movies with subtitles. You have to find the right subtitle file, which is generally not easy. And I wanted to see how the rent a download on the Sony Store, was going these days, so I tossed some funds into my wallet and rented the movie.  8 gigabytes and an overnight download later, I was able to actually watch.  Yeah, the concept of renting a decent quality movie and watching it on the same night is not possible unless you have the highest speed of fibre as your ISP.  And they wonder why people pirate 1 GB versions.

In case you are wondering, it is the apes that are subtitled, as the movies picks up from the first one years later, and they all share a sign language between them.

So, yeah, years later. Caesar and his ape buddies all escaped across the Golden Gate Bridge in the first movie into the woods beyond. I kind of suspect that there is more than a giant forest on the other side of the bridge, but it made a point. Meanwhile, the (further) genetically engineered virus that made Caesar smart jumps to humans with horrible consequences -- the Simian Flu. The opening sequence is straight out of the pandemic game Plague Inc.  -- quite literally. There was a partnership between the movie makers and the game makers. It shows the spread of the disease with overdubbed news dialogue about the end of the world.  Its now ten years laters with the few survivors of the world eking out an existence next door to the apes themselves.

Unfortunately, again, this felt more like an establishing movie. Origin story times two. The apes in the woods come into conflict with the humans in the city and only war will resolve it. We all know where it has to go, so they do their best to dramatically direct us to that ending/beginning. But its kind of limiting and really only lends itself to conflict, both emotionally and violently.

Jason Clarke is our male lead, who wants to reestablish use of a hydroelectric dam in ape territory. Its nice to see Clarke doing a non-badguy role, but all of the characters, including his, are pretty thin. I will chime in with the rest of the internet in saying the lack of female roles in this movie is pretty obvious. Keri Russell is there to just fill a quota.  Meanwhile Serkis (and CGI makeup) as Caesar carries this movie. Everyone else, ape and human alike, is divided between idealistic and self-serving asshole. Humans betray the apes, apes betray the humans and war breaks out. Insert the final movie which has a chance to do something original, in an even further future, ape controlled world.

Graig's review.

Savages really has nothing going for it but a bunch of pretty people and Oliver Stone's name. Its a crime sex drama with Blake Lively (Green Lantern), Taylor Kitsch (John Carter) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Godzilla). On the bad guy side is John Travolta, Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek. The good guy bunch run their own naive marijuana cartel in southern California, practicing fair employment, chemical analysis and generally and a good vibe in all aspects of their selling of the MJ. They buy completely into their own hype. Meanwhile Salma runs the current blend of head-chopping nasty Mexican cartel who want to buy into the pretty boys business. Things don't go well, as we would expect.

The sex comes in the fact that the three are in a love triangle. Not the jealousy and hidden agendas kind but in the fact that she loves the boys both, equally, and they share her. Its an amiable relationship. It smacks of open relationships, bisexuality and just a little of how addled years of Mj use has made them. We don't quite trust their love & peace judgement.

Stone movies are usually intricate and compelling. This attempted at intricacy but it was all TV level of crime drama and the only thing that even remotely redeemed it was decent acting on the major's parts. But entirely forgettable. And Stone has got to drop the narrator thing he loves so much.

 End of Days (he was never convincing as a grizzled cop) and we have it again with Eric Bana as one who gets mixed up with a demon possessed soldier.
New York cops and Satanist agendas. We saw it in the Arnie movie

I like Bana in generic cop roles. He just has that weighed-down, tired persona well established. The movie plays into that having him balanced on screen against Joel McHale as his ToTheExtreme Redbull-slamming partner. McHale is hilarious, a little more buff than I can accept him as but great with the levity against Bana's growl. All New York cops have a growl in them.

This is your typical possession movie that really relies on a certain amount of acceptance of Judeo Christian mythos. Unlike Constantine and his constantly mixing of mythos and magic, this movie dabbles in older cultures but traces everything back to God and Demons. The movie draws upon a "real story" to base its plot but really, who cares. That won't help us accept or dismiss any of the drama.

It solid enough for these types of movies but nothing grand, and kind of disappointing considering how Derrickson's first foray into horror was pretty spectacular, even for revisiting the evil spirit genre.

There. Done.  Some cleaned out.