Monday, July 25, 2016

10 for 10: let's see how it goes edition

10 for 10... that's 10 movies which we give ourselves 10 minutes apiece to write about.  Part of our problem is we don't often have the spare hour or two to give to writing a big long review for every movie or TV show we watch.  How about a 10-minute non-review full of scattershot thoughts? Surely that's doable?

In this edition:
What Happened, Miss Simone (Netflix) - 2015, Liz Garbus
Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation (Netflix) - 2015, Christopher McQuarrie
Cooties (TMN on demand) - 2014, Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion
Saint Vincent (TMN on demand) - 2014, Theodore Melfi
All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records (TMN on demand) - 2015, Colin Hanks
Pitch Perfect 2 (TMN) - 2015, Elizabeth Banks
The Night Before (TMN) - 2015, Jonathan Levin
Everest (TMN on demand) - 2015, d. Baltasar Kormákur
Macbeth (2015 TMN on demand) - 2015, Justin Kurzel
Midnight Run (Shomi) - 1986, d. Martin Brest


What Happened, Miss Simone is the Oscar award-nominated (won? I don't have the time to research things) documentary on the life on Nina Simone.  She was a superstar in the music industry in the 1960s and yet by the time the 1980's hit she was almost unheard of.  I personally hadn't heard of her until the early 2000's when an ex introduced me to her.  She led a very tumultuous life, and had a difficult career, especially at the hands of her husband/manager who was very jealous and controlling.  Her career took a drastic shift when she started aligning herself with the Black Panthers, a move that proved divisive and alienating for not just her crossover audience but even friends and family.  The movie features a tremendous amount of archival performance material and interviews from all stages of her life.  She is a fascinating persona who led a difficult life, in part because of race and in part because of her relationships, but also because of pressures of society to conform to standard norms of servitude, beauty and behavior.  Her past would haunt her up until her death, the scars of abuse and the wear of performance pressure broke her in a way she never really could mend.  She wound up living a fairly reclusive life in her later years, performing in small establishments to appreciative crowds.  Powerful.  (9:55)


I think David and I have both spoken in the past about the disposability of the Mission Impossible series, and the latest on, Rogue Nation (as per David's review) is no exception.  What I remember most about this film was the feeling that it was probably going to be the best of the series, the one that I will want to go back to, the one that will stick with me.  Turns out, five or six weeks later, I once again really don't remember it at all.  Rebecca Ferguson is obviously the big highlight of the film.  She's a badass British secret agent who teams up with Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt to...well, do whatever it is they need to do.  There's some stuff about shutting down the Impossible Mission task force, but Ethan managing to finagle Simon Pegg's Benji into being his right hand man.  Pegg gets a bigger spotlight here than any in the series before it, and yet despite the great turns from Ferguson and Pegg (and great support from Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, and Jeremy Renner) this still feels 100% like the Tom Cruise show, and because of the series' inability to make a true team out of the IMF, I think that's why it suffers from such forgetability.  Ethan Hunt has never been Bond-like in charisma or distinctive charm...he's a "master of disguise" which means he's supposed to be able to blend in and be unseen, which honestly makes for a bland character in the end.  Give Ferguson's character her own movie (with the same support cast) and you're laughing.  It would be fantastic.  This one looked good, sounded good, had great action, a decent bad guy in Sean Harris and is probably worth watching again.  (19:49)


Horror was being taken over by zombies a decade ago.  Zombies are still a dominant force but horror has recouped to include ghosts and demonic possessions and witches and mystical creatures and slashers and body modders and cannibals and all sorts of grim gruesomeness.  The difference between now and, say, 15 years ago is so much horror used to wind up in the direct-to-video market, where as now, in surprising numbers, horror winds up in first run cinemas, if only for the shortest of stints.  Horror is bankable.  It's cheap to produce since all the devotees really care about is the gags, the plot and acting are secondary.  It's only those that wish to cross over into larger box office terrain that hire bigger names for their casts.  But hiring name actors is hit an miss in terms of getting that crossover.  Far too often bigger does not equal better for horror movies.  Cooties has an impressive roster of known faces (Rainn Wilson, Elijah Wood, Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer, Jorge Garcia, Nasim Pedrad) as teachers in a public school where an experimental chicken-turned-chicken nugget has caused a "cooties" infection (which, basically, means another zombie outbreak).  This is of the horror-lite variety.  The focus isn't so much on the gags, or even the apocalypse... it's character-centric, even if the characters aren't exactly the most appealing (they're not bad people, just not all that lovable). (29:30)


I didn't manage to see a trailer for Saint Vincent until long after its release on video, which means it kind of came and went from theatres without much attention, at least from me.  The trailer highlighted Bill Murray's curmudgeonly neighbour to Melissa McCarthy's newly divorced mother and her pre-teen son.  Murray, as the titular Vincent of the film, has had a hard time adjusting since he's started living alone, and is taking his frustrations out on everyone, including himself, drinking excessively and getting into deep debt gambling.  McCarthy's suddenly single and moves in next door finds a reluctant willingness from Vincent to look after Oliver (as Oliver takes a curious interest in Vincent).  Of course, Vincent isn't a great role model, except when he is.  He cares in his own way, and he has a curious cast of loved ones whom he supports or who support him.  The supporting cast is rounded out by Chris O'Dowd as Oliver's Catholic School teacher (Oliver's Jewish), Naomi Watts as the pregnant hooker/stripper that Vincent's sleeping with (but it's not his kid), and Terrence Howard as the bookie Vincent's in debt to (he's nice to a point).  The film is actually very funny while being very solemn and touching in points.  The climax is just shy of being corny and manipulative, but is nonetheless satisfying.  It's sweet and rewarding. (38:40)


When I moved to Toronto there was a Tower Records on the corner of Queen and Yonge.  It was three stories of music and videos, and I could lose hours in there browsing...but before I could really settle into any routine going there, it was gone.  Tower Records was a major force in music retail for the better part of 30 years, and then they disappeared almost overnight.  This documentary from Colin Hanks, All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records, is surprisingly interesting investigation into how Tower changed the face of music retail and distribution, and made being a snobby record store clerk a thing for the masses to aspire to.  It starts with its origins as a side offering in a pharmacy and how it grew into a multi-national chain.  Its distinctive yellow and red logo and unique displays, its warehouse feel, at once unassuming and cool, were all selling points.  It was a permissive work environment which seemed to encourage partying and maintaining an aura of cool and tastemaking.  Its business model was unconventional, dubious even, but it was working.  It was really expansion into foreign markets, without enough research into those markets, that overextended to company's resources and took it down.  Even if you're unfamiliar with Tower Records, if you're a music nerd, this is a fascinating doc that shows the awkward and forced transition between music format and provides a unique slice of music history. (47:44)


Indeed I liked Pitch Perfect, far more that I probably or logically should.  But we have to allow ourselves these somewhat guilty pleasures.  Pitch Perfect 2 eliminated the most detestable element of the previous film (not entirely, but mostly), the aggravating Skylar Astin, but then doubled down on its use of Workaholics' most unlikable member Adam Devine and introduced Ben Platt (like Skylar Astin-lite) as the love interest of new Barden Belle Hailee Steinfeld.  The focus of the movie is on the Barden Belle's and their pursuit of the World Championship (or ruin) but these romantic side stories with thoroughly unlikable actors (or, at least, characters) as romantic leading men just bog the film down.  This feels like an 1980's style sequel, one that tries to repeat the format of the first but going bigger, and offering diminishing returns in the process.  It's still funny, in parts, but the jokes are more 60/40 this time around, with more than one sequence built around a leaden joke.  It's decently directed by Elizabeth Banks, not too flashy, (though sometimes it's very underwhelming, such as the big finale) it's a solid chick-flick-that-isn't-a-chick-flick that has broad appeal.  The songs aren't quite as good this time around either, though. (58:50)


The Night Before reteams Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen with Jonathan Levin, their director from 50/50, add in The Avengers' Anthony Mackie as the third in a trio of best friends who are putting their last traditional pre-Christmas outing to rest with one big blowout.  Rogen has a baby on the way, and Mackie is a football star riding a career peak, but Levitt, a struggling musician is feeling left behind as the wounds of his last relationship refuse to heal and he refuses to really take ownership of his life.  The film wisely finds a heart to the hedonistic journey of these guys, but thankfully the stakes aren't all that high (no pun intended)...really only the fate of their friendship lies in the balance.  Jillian Bell is awesome as Rogen's all-too understanding wife, diffusing that conventional one-dimensional-female-character-in-a-comedy trope very, very nicely.  Mindy Kaling (who should be Rogen's next costar in a buddy comedy) also puts in a terrific supporting character performance.  It's surprisingly Michael Shannon who steals the show as the all to sage pot dealer, Mr. Green, but that would be forgetting Rogen's brilliant trip-out sequence, a fun cameo from Broad City's Ilana Glazer, and an unforgettable James Franco cameo.  There are some huge laughs here (perhaps the best texting/sexting joke put to film) and it works great as a seasonal comedy or a summer comedy. (1:09:29)


At the start of Everest the climbing guides explain to the tourists they're escorting up Mount Everest all the various dangers that could occur when they go up the mountain.  As if you couldn't guess, every worst case scenario occurs, and then some.  Everest could have been very cleverly staged as a horror film, but instead it's a strictly matter of fact account of a real-life ill-fated trip three tour groups took up the mountain in 1996.  There seemed to be, on the part of the filmmakers, a strong desire to try and portray events as true to how they happened, which is something people complain most docu-dramas don't do enough of.  The reason for that, though, is clear... it's kind of boring.  There were countless possible ways to ratchet up the tension in this film, but it never is as pulse-pounding as it could have been.  The filmmakers are way too focussed on the human drama.  Unfortunately there's too many players to fully invest in the human drama.  It's sad to see people die, and to know they're true-to-life analogs makes it even more so, but there's not much investment in most of these people as characters.  A focus is put on Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) in that we jump back to their families, but the story on the mountain doesn't focus on them as jump between them and everyone else.  It's a good looking film, but given the subject matter it should have been far more engaging. (1:19:20)


Macbeth is that Shakespeare play I always think is Hamlet, until 10 minutes into it when I realize it's not Hamlet and I don't exactly remember what it's all about.  I find enjoyment of Shakespeare comes from familiarity.  It takes countless reads or views of the plays to really, truly feel comfortable, and even study may be required to actually get the most out of them.  I find modern adaptations, where they take the general plot structure and character outlines and apply them to modern situations with modern dialogue to be generally more appealing.  Shakespeare knew how to craft a story, for sure.  His olde English puts me to sleep.  This Michael Fassbender-led rendition of Macbeth wasn't much different.  It's a lavish look at the Scottish countryside, for sure, but it's droning, ambiant score, and the director's penchant for slow motion, and everyone's utter lack of emoting throughout the bulk of the picture make for pretty dire entertainment.  My wife's the English major and Shakespeare buff, and she said this wasn't a very good rendition.  I would say you can take her word for it.  Skip. (1:25:59)


There are classics of cinema, and then there are just great movies.  They can be mutually exclusive or one and the same.  Classics are movies that are important for their time, and great movies are those that hold up regardless of when they were made or when they are being watched.  Midnight Run may not be a classic, but it is a great movie.  Given how many comedians I've heard on countless podcasts talk of their love for this movie, I was expecting a comedy classic.  I was surprised that it wasn't really that funny, but it had me rapt.  It's not a drama, by any means, it's sort of a crossroads between action, comedy and drama, just a light, romp-y, unconventional buddy road movie, a straighter counterpart to Planes, Trains, and AutomobilesRobert DeNiro is a bounty hunter who's given the task of bringing a high-profile mob accountant (Charles Grodin) back from LA to New York, with other bounty hunters, the FBI and the mob hot on their tails.  The film lives and dies by its characters.  It's a story that serves them, not action or comedy like most of today's movies.  It's about digging into DeNiro's troubled history, solving the mystery of what happened to him when he was a cop in Chicago.  Likewise it's about understanding who Grodin's accountant is.  Is he just a crook, or is he a nice guy who go into a bad situation and tried to make it better (at least on his conscience).  It's their interplay, which leads to a tense partnership, and even an almost friendship, that's totally worth the journey.  The late, great Denis Farina is at his best here, perhaps the funniest aspect of the film.  Yaphet Kotto is the lead FBI agent, and likewise shows some pretty fantastic comedic chops. Then there's the always fun Joey Pants (Pantoliano) as the bail bondsman desperate for the return of the accountant or he's in ruin.  Just a 100% solid cast, a fully engaging chase/road movie, and a fantastic character study.  Yeah, a great movie, if not a classic. (1:38:53)

Tenuous Ties: Ryan Reynold's Brain

Welcome to "Tenuous Ties", where we take two completely disparate movies, and write about them together because of some small thread connecting the two.  We're just trying to stay awake here.

Yay! Graig made a new blog post theme!

And my first entry to it may be an even more tenuous connection but this place is all about pushing boundaries, right?

Self/less, 2015, Tarsem Singh (Mirror Mirror) -- Netflix
Criminal, 2016, Ariel Vromen (Rx) -- download

Back in 2014 I saw a movie called The Anomaly, which is about a dying man seeking control of another person's body to prolong his life. The story switches control of the body back and forth between the original owner and black-outs where the new owner asserts control. When I saw the trailers for this Ryan Reynolds / Ben Kingsley I assumed pretty much the same would happen. I was rather pleasantly surprised that it's more about Reynolds channeling Kingsley, to mostly successful results.

Kingsley is Damian, a real estate mogul of great skill & wealth and few moral compunctions. He's not an evil man but he does what he has to, to gain power -- screw the little people. When he discovers he's dying, he enlists a scientist to grow him a new, younger body into which he will transfer his core being. Damian never questions where the body comes from, assuming it to be a willing host. That body is Ryan Reynolds's younger body. Damian is thrilled, and while his "own" body has died and had a funeral, Damian has set himself up for life. A new life. A life of parties and sex with younger women, well at least to start.

But then pesky memories start appearing, memories of another life, one with a wife and daughter. If Damian just kept on taking the red pills, the memories would fade. But he doesn't and he proves himself troubled by his own history of unscrupulous behaviour. He decides to investigate where the body actually came from. Of course, it was acquired by the unscrupulous scientist who came up with the mind transfer process. The whole growing bodies to order was not working out. Damian is not happy with this revelation.

Reynolds is quickly becoming one of my favourite straight-man actors, despite his comedic origins. He has had a lot of time playing smaller roles. What was his break-out role? The disaster that was Green Lantern? Or was it Deadpool? I think we will see his rise to the ranks of Tom Cruise, or Kevin Costner in his day, before long. This is not a big movie, but he really does sell his character, absorbing some mannerisms of Kingsley in order to play the part.

Unfortunately this movie is a rather generic thriller than scifi actioner but you can see the little bits of light shine from Tarsem's skill. He knows how to layout a scene that makes me smile and obviously, he and Reynolds worked well together. Good enough, is the mantra of Hollywood, as I imagine its a calculation of investment vs return.

Speaking of smaller roles, Reynolds comes along with an uncredited, but more than a cameo role, in another scifi thriller starring Costner himself. Costner's star is waning, but he still seems to want some action leading roles. Where Liam Neeson's finding a second life with his action pieces, I think Costner should let his old-man status take over. He should exude wisdom, not brute strength.

In Criminal Costner plays Jericho, a man with frontal lobe damage and an extreme sociopath personality. He is not without emotion, just without compassion or empathy, and an inability to understand basic social behaviour. He does want he wants, screw the consequences. It has left him in prison most of his life. But it also leaves him a prime candidate for brain infusion.

You see, in that cameo, Reynolds is a CIA agent in London who dies before he can find the location of a terrorist that has captured control of the US nuclear arsenal. Well, technically, the terrorist's hacker has control and the CIA needs to find said hacker before the terrorist locates him. The hacker wasn't pleased with what the terrorist wants to do, i.e. blow the world up. The only known clues are in Reynold's head. So they implant them into Jericho's head.

Honestly, while the movie really was just a low rent Bourne Identity, in look at feel, I really enjoyed the way Costner allowed the parts of Reynolds brain integrate into Jericho's personality. He went from a being a bit of a raving loon with low vocabulary to a man obviously struggling with the new emotions bouncing around inside his skull. He spoke better, he paused to consider actions and in the end did the right thing. And saved the world.

The tie is pretty obvious -- Ryan Reynolds is a dead man, whose memories and his wife (Natalie Martinez is one wife, Gal Gadot is the other) & daughter influence a bad man to do right. But the real tenuous tie is the loving wife bit part. Both Natalie and Gal play wives who have lost their husbands, both recognize bits in the leading man -- Natalie literally, Gal recognizing mannerisms and little secrets they kept. What bugs me is that both wives need their husband back so much they accept the man that is not theirs. For Gal, it's even more jarring as she accepts an obviously violent man that doesn't look at all like her Ryan Reynolds late husband.

I wonder, would Hollywood ever allow a man to get wrapped up in that desperation? Probably just have him jump into bed with the body of his late wife. These wife roles always serve a purpose in the plot, but always at the sacrifice of a good actress having a good role.

Footnote. I rather like that poster for Criminal. It is a good example of that latest to-be-emulated-to-death design style of double-exposure / superimposed photography. But a bit of Googling shows they created ALL the common thriller design choices for this movie. Even more amusing, the South Korea version moves Reynolds to the Big Head place on the poster, despite only having an uncredited role. He Who Sells, I guess.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Independence Day(s)

Independence Day, 1996, Roland Emmerich (Stargate) -- download

Despite my love of bad movies, I never liked the original one when I saw it in the cinema. Despite my love of disaster movies, this one never was added to The Shelf. In 1996 I was at the height of my Movie Snob era and the unbelievable nature of this movie ruined it for me. It was just so Hollywood, it was just so over the top. Despite some of the best destruction sequences of the time, I was soured by the rah-rah Americans Save The World aspects.

I have softened as years have gone by. But it is still not a very good movie.

Aliens invade, in big space ships smacking of flying saucers. But bigger; MUCH bigger. One cannot deny a certain amount of awe as those big things come pushing through the atmosphere, catching clouds on fire, looming over all the major cities. Obviously, Emmerich was a fan of the V series from the 80s. Even more impressive, when that big, pretty, blue blast takes out the tallest structures in LA and NYC, as well as The White House, I was blown away.

And then the response. When all seems hopeless, when the aliens seem impervious to everything behind their deflector shields/force field, the Misunderstood Scientist comes up with A Plan. I am an IT Guy and while I am used to the idea of technology being represented as a sort of magic for modern movies, the idea that a man on a MacBook could hack the network of an interstellar species was astoundingly ludicrous. The best explanation I ever heard connected all current microcircuitry and software technology back to that original crash-landed alien craft sitting in Area 51. So, that assumed, it was not surprising that a system based on the same architecture could hack into it. And what was the virus they installed?  Microsoft Windows --- the worst implementation of the original alien software OS. IT Joke. Tee hee.

The Speech done by Bill Pullman, Mr. POTUS, is still rather impressive in that flag waving inspirational sort of way, but the idea that only the US is doing anything about the aliens still bugs the @!#$ out of me. Sure, other things may have been going on which we are in the dark about, but its all presented as if the US is the only country with smart people. Or resourceful people.

One bit was rather prescient --- that Randy Quaid would play a wigged out nut suffering from a very real conspiracy theory.

Independence Day: Resurgence, 2016, Roland Emmerich (Godzilla) -- cinema

Twenty years later, the new movie is answering a lot of questions left by the first. The fun questions! The parts I believe should be part of all sequels to genre movies. Do the world building! What was the impact of the events from the first on the entire world? What would a post-alien invasion world be like 20 years later?  The obvious bits are there -- the stealing of the technology, the united world under a single government, expansion into space, advanced defense weaponry. But there was another bit I loved, where they travel to Africa and discover an untouched aliens ship settled down in a desert. The warlords who run the country have kept out the rest of the world. They have been in a running war for 10 years, fighting the aliens who spilled out of the ship. Remember, just because they defeated the original invasion force, doesn't mean there were not hundreds or thousands of surviving aliens. This small country stood apart from the rest of the world, fighting a war and defeating the invaders on their own terms. It was great background material, that while didn't contribute much to the overall plot, was a great addition.

Meanwhile the aliens have returned. In a bigger ship. One that settles down over the Atlantic Ocean.... ALL the Atlantic Ocean. Again, a bit ridiculous in how it is presented, but it is rather awe striking. Big landing feet come crashing down on the shores of Europe and the US washing away the coastline cities forcing people to flee inland. The annoying thing? They don't show it! There is a brief washing away of boats but then they are back to the reaction shots, as the US once again gears up to go against the aliens.

This time they are prepared. They have the technology. And it doesn't help.  Bigger alien craft, badder motherships and a Queen! And a new time-based threat to the planet, as the big alien ship drills a hole into our core to suck out all its glorious energy. This is what they normally do, but last time we interrupted their armada before the real mothership could arrive. Now the Queen is here and poking a hole in our mantle. And we have to stop her.

Another fun action CGI spectacular for the summer, is what we get. It looks spectacular, which of course always makes me wonder how dated it will look 20 years from now. The aliens have updated their fuzzy CRT screens for floating, 3D holography displays, as have we. The big plastic aliens were replaced with computer generated monsters who were just... bigger, meaner, nastier. Still not sure why they wear an environment suit you can punch them through. There is some token disaster footage as the gravity of a 3000 mile wide ship sucks up most of Singapore, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, etc. and then drops it on London, and likely most of Europe. And yes, they answered my "they like to hit the landmarks" question.

Part of the marketing campaign had posters looming over local well known landmarks, like the CN Tower here in Toronto. But if all the major cities were destroyed 20 years ago, why would we rebuild them? The movie avoids it entirely by toning down the destruction but for the few aforementioned locations. Since the London Millennium Wheel was raised three years AFTER the aliens originally invaded, it gets screen time destruction this time round!

An amusing side-bit is the obvious pandering to China. The leader on the Moon is Chinese, not Chinese-American, and when they introduce the hot-shot pilots of our new inter-orbital fighter ships, flying beside Will Smith's son is a pretty, young Chinese pilot. Yay! They considered they rest of the world in the defense of the planet? No! They just stuck in China because it will sell well over there, in the largest after-market in the world. And again, the rest of the world is ignored in the planetary defense. Unless you include the token badass African warlord, who comes along to kill aliens with his swords.

The cast? Updated. Jeff Goldblum is back, no longer just running tech support for a TV station, but leading the world in technological defense initiatives. Bill Pullman and Brent Spiner are still suffering the woes of alien mind meddling. First Daughter has grown into Brie... wait, that wasn't Brie Larson? Hmm, Maika Monroe. Sorry, the current generation of Blonde It Girls all look alike to me. Liam Hemsworth (the non-Thor brother) and Jessie T Usher play the fighter pilots, but Hemsworth gets the lead billing role, despite Usher's character being Will Smith's (who is deceased in the movie) son. William Fichtner gets to play a good guy this time. Sela Ward runs the planet long enough to get spectacularly blown up. Vivica A Fox is no longer a stripper, but looks to be running a hospital, before it falls down. And there are some kids protected by Levinson's dad, again played by Judd Hirsch for the laughs & feel-goods.

All in all, it is a fun popcorn movie. Unfortunately, nothing is so spectacular as to be really memorable. There are no really incredible scenes, like that blowing up of the Chrysler Building in the original. The effects are great, but Ender's Game showed we cannot rely entirely on them to make a movie have impact. It hits all the familiar rah-rah notes, we even get a new speech from Pullman, but even they seem sort of tired, after thoughts. So, again, fun to watch while you are in the moment but not much else.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


2016, d. Paul Feig -- in theatre

Let's get this out first: I am a cis white male who was a pre-teen when the original Ghostbusters was released... and I didn't love this movie.
I wanted to, though.
Let's talk about it.

The online reaction to this "all-female" Ghostbusters has been unwarranted and utterly abhorrent, and the attention paid to those reactionaries, a focused group of "men's rights activists" (code for "raging misogynists" and equally likely to be flagrant racists), has been far too excessive.  The more attention paid, the more power they gain, as every news or media report on their campaign of hate only serves to give their voice some semblance of credibility. 

An "all-female" Ghostbusters may seem like a pointed assault against them, and in a way it is.  It is, in fact, a pointed campaign against the typically patriarchal, straight and white Hollywood system.  Change cannot be made without changes actually being made.  If it means casting four women as the leads of a remake of a beloved franchise where men traditionally held the lead, then that's what it takes.  Like Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens it sometimes takes wholly intentional shots at diversity and gender representation to stir up the audience, expose the bigotry and sexism that is buried in a shallow grave in our culture, and hopefully move on to acceptance.  Each of these steps is not in fact a step, but a bold leap.  The more big tentpole franchises feature women, LGBTQ, and minority leads, the more it will continue to happen, the more opportunity for people young and old to see someone like them and also not like them as a heroic figure or inspiration, and the more those who don't like it have the opportunity to accept it, or at least realize their campaigns are fruitless and perhaps not worth the effort.  For these loudmouth sexist bigots are the minority, and unlike skin colour or sexual preference, they can choose not to be that way and that ugly minority can actually disappear without any ill effect upon society.

So, as far as having an "all-female" Ghostbusters movie, I'm in favor of it, strongly without even a moment's hesitation.  Which isn't to say there wasn't any hesitation about a new Ghostbusters film generally, because reboots/remakes are always something to be wary of.  One of the areas where I had hesitation was in the casting.  Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy are easily bankable and have an already tested and agreeable rapport from Bridesmaids, and with director Paul Feig so that was a slam dunk.  The hiring of current Saturday Night Live cast members Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnen were interesting choices, not because they're both not excellent comedic performers... they are, but with an asterisk.  Jones is notorious for stumbling over her lines on SNL, which is less of a concern when not in a live environment, plus she has film experience, so her hiring was an astute one.  McKinnen is the breakout performer of the current SNL cast but she doesn't have much experience outside of sketch, so putting her in as a major player of a major summer blockbuster was risky.  Jones acquits herself nicely as Patty, a character full of energy and curious mix of confidence and reluctance (she's very much the common sense in the film).  She's an amateur historian which comes into play appropriately throughout the film.  McKinnon's Holtzmann is a living cartoon, wildly mugging and gesticulating from her first moment on screen.  There are times where her performance feels too large or distracting for what's going on elsewhere on screen, but the character herself is a social oddball and a bit of a mad inventor, creating all manner of ridiculously dangerous contraptions for the team to bust ghosts with.  I liked the Holtzmann character but it felt like McKinnon needed time to settle the character into the film.  By the end, though, I was completely back on board.

Another area I had hesitation was in the film being a remake instead of a sequel.  The cast aren't playing female versions of the original Ghostbusters (so no "Rayanne Stanz", or "Petra Venkman"), and the plot wasn't going to be a redo of the original, but Feig felt that it was important that the women of the film are seen as creators and innovators of their technology and paranormal science rather than having it handed down to them.  I understand this intent, but I still feel like it was the wrong one, that there were any number of ways to handle giving the characters initiative and onus (perhaps starting the film where there's been no paranormal incidences in 30 years, with the Ghostbusters a kitschy or forgotten memory, characters can independently investigate and discover the paranormal, and allowing Holtzmann to improve upon the proton packs and build new contraptions doesn't diminish her accomplishments in the least).  Rather than having the film winking at a reality that doesn't exist (with nods to the previous iteration) it could actually acknowledge it as part of the same universe.  It's a slight change that would have allowed the majority of the script to remain the same and given fans a sense of inclusion, of carrying on, rather than starting again.

Being a sequel would have made for less comparisons to the original than being a remake.  As a sequel, a new Ghostbusters film would be compared not against the original, but against the franchise, and in comparison it is a far better film than Ghostbusters II.  But as a remake it's only compared against the original, and it falls quite short.  For starters, it feels like a film made for younger audiences, not older ones, where the original was targeted at the more mature, grown up fans of SCTV and SNL, fans of Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd.  McCarthy is notorious for her ad-lib takedowns and Wiig is an ace improviser but they feel somewhat neutered here, and at times the films editing seems to be less around a scene transition, instead jarringly cutting away from improvisation that either was inappropriate for the MPAA rating or ran on too long.  I bet there's a superb R-rated version out there that will never see the light of day.

The script serves the characters well, but the story itself, the bad guy's motivations and the denouement aren't quite so pleasing.  The film's ghost problem grows too big, and the film's Ghostbusters don't grow in skill and experience in parallel, leading to a situation that doesn't feel comfortably handled or adeptly resolve.  The fact is the film turns into a day-glo barrage of ghosts running rampant on New York City in the third act, the villain of the piece becomes a literal cartoon, and the rules of the universe don't feel sufficiently set-up for how it ends (nor really, even, how it begins)...again, something that could have been shorthanded by being a sequel instead of a remake.

What makes the original such a standout is part cast and part story.  The core cast of this remake I feel is as comedically capable and enjoyable to go toe to to with the originals, but the remake falters somewhat in its supporting cast.  While Chris Hemsworth's hipster meathead secretary carries some of the film's best jokes, and Andy Garcia's mayor is great, there's no comparable Rick Moranis, no analogue Sigourney Weaver, no bad guy besides the Bad Guy like William Atherton (they have The Wire's Michael K Williams and Veep's Matt Walsh but they're not even close to the seething weasel of Atherton's deputy mayor).  The bad guy of the picture, Rowan (Neil Casey), was a bullied kid who never got over being bullied and now is taking it out on the world.  He feels like a villain for the cartoon Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters and not so much the main bad guy of a major motion picture (like, if this were a sequel, it would have been amazing were Casey a fan of the original Ghostbusters, and hated this new crew and started exacerbating the new ghost problem rather than causing it outright, thus leading the sequel to deal with what caused the reemergence of the ghost problem in the first place, being both meta commentary and tie-back).  There's lots of great comedic talent in small roles, and quite a few good gags emerge, but I feel like this film should have been tremendously funnier than it was (far too many "that's gonna leave a mark" or "oh, hell no" moments which feel like sanitized reactions from the cast rather than natural comedic impulses).  As the story progresses, the focus becomes more on action and special effects than comedy and seems to leave less room for humour to be added.

What also felt diminished was the sense of discovery.  That may be the fact that I've lived with Ghostbusters for 30 years so I know some of the rhythms already, but this film doesn't quite walk you through the world where ghosts can exist and, simultaneously, where people who capture those ghosts figure out how to do so.  It feels at times like the solution is already there for them (wouldn't be a problem as a sequel, but as a remake it leaves the accomplishments feeling rather empty).  As well, there was a sense of mystery to the original (and even the sequel), a kind of deduction that Egon, Winston and crew needed to employ to understand how to defeat their enemy.  There's a little of that here as well, but it's not something the characters nor the film are too focused upon... they seem more interested in showing off Holtzmann's new (incredibly fun and dangerous) gadgets.

In the end, it's ultimately the cast that carries the film.  There's a palpable team dynamic, and they play genuinely likeable characters, to the point that I want to see another Ghostbusters that will hopefully provide a better story for them, and more comedy (I feel like the comedy of the original was more scripted, which meant editing was tighter too). 

While I came out of the film entertained, I was mildly disappointed that it wasn't as good as I felt it could have been, given the talent involved.  I think anyone going in ready to hate this film won't have their minds changed, but anyone looking to enjoy themselves or any new, younger viewer is going to have a great time.  In that respect it will probably work well as a remake.  Younger audiences are going to appreciate this greatly.  I can see pre-teen kids (boys and girls) watching this obsessively over and over, just as kids my age did with the original.  It's certainly of enough quality to support that kind of obsession (but older fans are going to probably stick with the original, at least until the next one comes out).

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


I watch a lot of zombie movies. I didn't realize how many till five queued up in my To Be Written list. Some are good, most are bad. Very very few are great. The genre is mostly played out but it will always linger in the back of the horror genre, at least until The Walking Dead finishes its run. Until then, media will continue to milk its inky black blood.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, 2016, Burr Steers (17 Again) -- download

P&P&Z tackles something most zombie fiction doesn't even attempt to -- what were the creatures before they died / changed and how much of them is left over when they become such? Oddly enough, it is often the comedies that explore this aspect. The serious ones always stick to the unsettling aspects of the horde.

The movie, one that Marmy hates in concept but will never see, comes from the book which is a tongue in cheek retooling of the Jane Austen novel.  It was literally developed title down -- here's the title, write a book for it! Insert zombies & ninjas into the Austen milieux! While definitely full on rotting tongue in decaying cheek, it is a serious movie; not comedy.

Like in World War Z, the apocalypse begins in China. And spreads quickly, on trade ships, around the world. Post war, England has to be ever watchful of another rising and has trained its youth in the art of combat. Wealthy go to Japan, while the middle class only get Chinese training. The poor get eaten.

The movie intertwines the core Austen story with an uglier plot, one where someone wants the rise of the undead to succeed. As I mentioned, the zombies retain their memories and intelligence; they just are overwhelmed by a desire to eat your face and yes, they rot. Some worse than others. Some people believe the undead can be redeemed, through religion or reason. Others believe they are the next step in mankind, and are leading the dead to organize. Thus we get an OK action movie, to foil the evil plot, mixed up with a love story.

Pandemic, 2016, John Suits (The Scribbler) -- download

Meanwhile this gives us just another tired concept zombie flick. The concept at play? The video game motif -- we see everything through helmet cams, all the action at the end of a FPS gun. There's never been a good use of this. I will tell you how well Hardcore Henry does it when I finish watching that movie.

The sub-genre is infection with defined stages. Stage one is common cold-like symptoms; the final stage has a raving eating machine awakening from a death-like coma. There are no walking dead, just people with a disease. This is the most tragic of the zombie sub-genres, as so many have to die just so uninfected humans can stay alive.

This is a terrible movie that badly mixes personal drama (i just want to get back to my daughter!) with... wait, that's not this movie that is the last bad zombie flick I watched, Re-Kill, which also had a tired concept at the core of its plot.  So, this movie IS about personal drama and that's pretty much all. Dr. Lauren, who is really not a doctor at all but someone who stole the credentials of one to join a team, to hunt down her family, sacrifices all of said team (including Alfie Allen, redeemed villain is his schtick now) to reunite with her daughter. Considering she pretty much destroys the protective detail of the place she wants to get her daughter into, there is not very much hope in the end.

I was never sure why the movie spent so much time on the prologue scenes, setting up the stages of infection and some mystery around the final stage. Sure, we get some [REC] style night-vision camera shots of a monstrous final form that sniffs us out, but it's not really at the core of the movie. Other than the title, the pandemic is barely explored. This is the issue of low budget Straight To movies, in that there are ideas but nobody has the money nor the inclination to explore.

And gawds, I hate when the posters have nothing to do with the movie.

[REC] 3: Génesis, 2012, Paco Plaza ([REC]) -- Netflix

Speaking of [REC], I did [REC] 2 back during this blog's first run of 31 Days of Horror.  Paco, co-director along with Jaume Balagueró, did all three movies. The third is considered the "origin" movie, thus the tag Génesis. As in, the genesis of the infection, not biblical reference to Genesis, despite what the character in the movie says. Really, this is more a Revelations thing.

The last movie ended revealing demonic influence on the evil zombie virus thing. It's rather unique in current zombie fiction but was the primary source back in the 80s/90s proto-zombie movies.  At a wedding, inside a walled compound, the infection, or demonic influence, slowly takes over the uncle of bride Clara until the dancing is in full swing. Then he bites another and BOOM, raving, biting, killing monsters in bad wedding attire. There is a mix of the sub-genre -- are they dead or merely infected? Well they are getting their throats torn out, before they turn, so a little of column A and a little of column B ? The fun thing is when you look in the mirror and see demonic, cadaverous creatures!

Yeah, this movie is fun. It tosses the tense, paranoid aspects of the first two movies on its head for a butt-kicking zombie-killing romp, including gearing-up scenes. Clara only wants to be reunited with her new husband Koldo. And no bloody scary wedding attendee will stop her! Chainsaws, swords and guns are picked up and dropped as the two wedded ones, and their tag-along crew of survivors, attempt to reunite. Meanwhile, a priest has discovered if you read prayers over the loud speakers it disables the zombies. Not that it really helps people much, but it does move the plot along and expand on the core conceit of the sub-genre. And, alas, it does not help the two lovers after they find each other.

Cell, 2016, Tod Williams (Paranormal Activity 2) -- download

This one was based on the only real zombie fiction that Stephen King did, but it approaches the genre in much the same way Guillermo del Toro did vampires -- through the use of a unique viral infection. The virus in question is passed through the cellular network and leaves behind only violent, mindless creatures. King wrote this over ten years ago, just before the era of touch-screen smartphones, but after the full assimilation of cell phones in general. It's not a comment of the overabundance of cellular communication, but a blatant exploitation of the paranoia around it.

The movie follows a handful of survivors, people who were not using their phones at the time the infection was transmitted. Clay Riddell, played by Straight To king John Cusack only wants to get back to his wife & son. We get a typical road story with not so typical infection background material. We also get a muddled ending without any closure.

It's a terrible terrible movie. Cusack and Samuel L Jackson *ahem* phone in their acting and the convoluted & mysterious conspiracy plot by Stephen King is inserted between incredibly boring scenes of people walking in silence or babbling on about stuff we are supposed to care about, but really don't -- character development!  The director almost seemed to think he was directing The Road, but without the great weight of the source material. But are we surprised? There is already a track record of terrible material being spawned from Stephen King books. For every five that are rotten, we get one that is OK and even rarely, a great one.

P.S. What is up with the movie posters? They are all uniformly terrible. And why attack choppers?

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) -- Netflix

Pulling a night of video store movie flipping on Netflix led us to this one, which is weirdly called Scouts vs Zombies on their titling. I guess the actual title is too much of a mouthful? Anywayz, this is mid-budget comedy hinged on the idea that if they are always prepared, are they prepared for the zombie apocalypse? Short answer -- no. They require a butt kicking cocktail waitress in a pushup bra to encourage them.

This is a movie meant for teenage boys. Along with the core idea of long term friendships, there are tons and tons of immature references -- some funny, some cringe worthy but most just *yawn* on the level of fart jokes. The cocktail waitress is supposed to be some sort of empowerment of women comment, but the actress can barely run in her boots and once her shotgun runs out, she depends again on the teen boys. Really, she was just an excuse to look at cleavage. And a pseudo older woman fantasy?

The zombies in question? Boring, run of the mill fast moving, eating machines. Like most of the low grade examples of the genre, they really don't matter, as the are only antagonist fodder around the jokes and action scenes. But the idea that a bunch of teenage boys would have no issues destroying the entire class of bullies gone zombies is worth a smirk or two. At least they do attempt to rescue some of their classmates.

It makes you wonder why I am watching these movies, when I am pretty assured most will be terrible. I guess, even at their worst, I am comfortable enough and familiar with the beats and tropes of the genre. I know the rise of the tension well, and even at their worst, they touch on it. At my core, I am terribly frightened by the horde but aside from The Walking Dead few examples of the genre touch on this horror for me.

Am I looking for jewels in the trough? Or do I just like what I like...

Friday, July 15, 2016

Tenuous Ties: 22 Jump Street / Hail Caesar!

Welcome to "Tenuous Ties", where we take two completely disparate movies, and write about them together because of some small thread connecting the two.  We're just trying to stay awake here.

22 Jump Street -- 2015, d. Phil Lord and Chris Miller -- TMN On Demand
Hail Caeser -- 2016, d. Joel and Ethan Coen -- VOD

21 Jump Street was a film that, on paper, shouldn't have worked.  Two somewhat marginalized actors, often dismissed as dumb or one note, starring in a comedy reboot of a (ridiculously silly, in hindsight) 1980's undercover cop drama set in high school?  It had "nice try" written all over it.

The curious thing is, though, it did work, thanks in large part to directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller.  The duo wasn't very widely known at the time, but they had a small and loyal cult following from their delightfully absurd, and endlessly quotable high school-set animated comedy about clones of famous world leaders (eg. Ghandi, JFK, Cleopatra) in their teenage years in the modern day.  Clone High was a perfect set-up for 21 Jump Street, since it spoofed a lot of the tropes of teen dramas (and over an all-too-short single season, many other television cliches as well).  Lord and Miller's stock-in-trade is playing off the humour of cliches, of the expected.  They expect an audience to be savvy enough to know where a typical plots twists or where the usual melodrama manifests, and then exploit that knowledge by either playing into the twist or melodrama to surreal levels, or by veering drastically away from it.

The posters for this movie are kind of
terrible though.  The fake posters for the
fake sequels are much better.
In 22 Jump Street they continue to do both those things, but here they also do a lot of metatextual references to sequels and sequel production, but keeping it in-scene or in story, sometimes confounding logic for the sake of the joke.  This gag is wound up to the nth degree during the end credits where the cast and crew present a few dozen possible sequels (with one of the better gags being the replacement of Jonah Hill with Seth Rogen due to contract disputes).

If the story of 21 Jump Street was about the nerd and the jock finding common ground and a dependency on one another as a team, the story of 22 Jump Street pushes that dependency into the analogy of uncomfortable clinging in an unhealthy romantic relationship. Channing Tatum's Jenko and Hill's Schmidt are put back in undercover in a college to uncover the source of a new and dangerous drug that led to a girl's death on campus.  Along the way, Jenko gets recruited by the football team, reverting back to his jock mentality, while a rejected Schmidt retreats into the school's art scene.  There's no "gay panic" here, as would've probably played out in a 1980's interpretation of this kind of story, but there's a fantastic therapy session (with John Hodgman as the therapist) which tackle's the troubled relationship spin head on.

22 Jump Street is a warped delight.  Everyone seems game, in roles large and small.  Some gags Tatum absolutely goes for.  I completely underrated him as an actor for years when he emerged as the hunky new romantic leading man, but in the past four or so years, he proved he has dramatic, comedic, action and romantic chops.  Hill likewise has shed his foul-mouthed, abrasive Cartman-in-real-life image after a strong series of dramatic performances, and so he can be a bit softer, more likeable in a comedic role without being caustic.

The two, in fact, are able to balance both the dramatic and the comedic well enough that the Coen Brothers (no slouches in meting out comedy and drama in equal measure themselves) tapped them for their latest farce, Hail Caesar!  Hill and Tatum are not brought in as a comedy duo, but as players in the Coen's usual sprawling ensemble.

Hail Caesar! follows Josh Brolin's Eddie Mannix, a studio "fixer" in the 1950's who keeps the stars in line.  His studio is undergoing their most expensive and expansive endeavour, a sprawling historical/religious epic, but its star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) has been kidnapped by Communists days before the film's conclusion.  Mannix must juggle this crisis with an unexpected pregnancy from Scarlett Johansson's Ethel Merman-esque synchronized swim-film star DeeAnna Moran, and a studio mandate to change the image of its crooning cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) into an all-around leading man, much to the chagrin of the studio's main artiste director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Feinnes).  Meanwhile, Mannix is entertaining an offer from Lockheed as an executive sales manager, but every incentive they offer seems less enticing.  He thrives under the pressure and believes in what he does.

The film sprawls around the studio, LA nightlife, film premiers and the oceanside home where the Communists are holding Baird.  There are many supporting players: the aforementioned Hill is featured as fall guy (the studio pays him to take the fall for a celebrity) as well as a certified accountant and all around professional; Tatum plays the studio's Fred Estaire-esque song and dance star (with a great cameo from Christopher Lambert as the director of his latest dancing sailor picture); Frances McDormand as the studio's tough-as-nails film editor; Tilda Swinton has dual roles as twin sisters writing gossip columns for competing papers; Dolph Lundgren as a Russian submarine captain; not to forget the gaggle of familiar faces as the group of communist screenwriters who've kidnapped Baird, and the counsel of religious elders the studio's called in to review the screenplay for their epic to ensure it's not going to offend anyone.

As much as the Coens may have had an actual story in mind for this, the real purpose seems to be giving the writer/directors the opportunity to shoot in earnest a synchronized swimming sequence, a singing cowboy by the moon, a song and dance number with sailors, and a huge 50's style epic that looks both fake and awe-inspiring equally all through the semi-ironic filter of looking at it all from the outside (the sequences are as real as anything from the era, but as viewers we're looking at them from Mannix's perspective, from "behind the scenes", which makes them humorously charming in their retro-ness, "oh the things that used to entertain us...").

There's a lot of star power here, but it's actually Ehrenreich that completely steals the picture.  He adopts the cocked smile and doe-eyed charm of Gene Autrey, with a thick southwestern twang that supposes naivety and dimness, but his simplistic speech betrays a rather smart and observant individual who basically saves the day for Mannix unexpectedly.  Given what's coming next, this is obviously his breakout role.  He manages that accent for both comedy, charm and sweetness, he sings, has a tough-yet-romantic charisma to appease the guys and the ladies (and vice versa), and even performs a number of stellar lassoing tricks that look effortless on his part.  It's is all part of an incredibly impressive, and noticeable performance.  After watching this movie, I honestly can see him as Han Solo.

And back to that tenuous tie (bet you thought it was Hill/Tatum, but no!), with Lord and Miller on board to direct the solo Han Solo Star Wars film and Ehrenreich in the title role (not to mention a script from Laurence Kasdan with some brush up from Lord and Miller) I've turned the corner from being completely against a solo Han Solo movie to being about 99% on board.  I'm always going to have some hesitation but I think they've absolutely cast the right actor and have found the exact right directors to make a funny, exciting, charming, romantic, swaggering, loveable nerf-herder of a movie.

And Ehrenreich has a distinctive mole under his lower lip, which, while not a scar on his chin, creates a defining characteristic that Han should have.  Just sayin', I think it works.

Monday, July 4, 2016

3 Short Paragraphs: Gods of Egypt

2016, Alex Proyas (The Crow) -- download

I already started the conversation of this movie when I rewatched Clash of the Titans. Gods of Egypt was pretty much the product of safe, studio executive machinations --- if the former made a good amount of money, based on Greek myths, then this one should as well. But it didn't. Not only did the whitewash controversy taint the release of the movie, but it also did terribly at the box office. Proyas should be a solid choice for a mythological, CGI spectacle, but it didn't help this time. Even being a fan of his, I am not sure what I entirely think of it -- it has hints of Proyas, but somehow seems outside his usual realm. Entirely too much studio oversight is what I once again blame.

We are given the lands of Egypt during the reign of the Gods. The opening sequence and monologue almost had me feeling this was another planet, or alternate dimension, where Egypt is the centre of the world. Perhaps this is the equivalent realm for cosmic gods, like Asgard was for Thor and the gang from the Marvel movies? The Gods rule, benevolently but firmly. They are 10' tall creatures of magic with blood of gold. They are not all powerful, but piddly little humans do not stand a chance against them. Gerard Butler, playing Set the warmonger, murders King Osiris (Bryan Brown; holey crap where has he been?) during the coronation of Horus (Jaime Lannister) his playboy son. Mixed into the intrigue are humans, street thief Bex and his love Zaya (last seen as Cheetoh, ahem Cheedo the Fragile, in Mad Max: Fury Road).  Bex sets out to convince the maimed Horus (Set takes his eyes; which become magical artifacts upon extraction) to stand up to his brother and save Egypt.

I didn't dislike this movie. It heavily, and intentionally, smacks of my other swords & sandals movies from The Shelf in light tone with comedic notes. It looks incredible, the transforming Gods becoming grand magical creatures with starting powers. It is most definitely not our planet. In fact, father god Ra rides his boat on the river of the cosmos above a disk shaped world. All in all, awe striking and fantastical but it lacked a certain, Proyas something. Perhaps it was too light? Perhaps it was too bright? Horus is the main character but not relatable, and Bex as the token human is so bland he's forgettable. Another viewing will be required before it joins The Shelf.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Watcher in the Woods

1980, d. John Hough, Vincent McEveety -- DVD

An elderly woman has given up her estate home to live in the smaller servants quarters in the British countryside.  A family moves into the house, but Mrs. Aylwood, looking at their teenage daughter, is reluctant.  Something about Ellie disturbs the old woman.  Jan, for her part, is likewise unsettled.  Then strange things begin to happen.  Glass cracks, mirrors shatter, wind howls, lighting strikes, horses run wild.  Voices.  Jan's little sister, Ellie begins hearing voices.  There's something wrong in the woods, and a mystery. 

The Watcher in the Woods is a particular subgenre of film that doesn't really exist anymore.  It's an all-ages suspense/mystery.  These were quite prominent in the 1980s,  before frightening children seemed to fall out of favor.  But Watcher isn't horror as it was becoming at that time, it's not gore and disturbing scenes, it's the thrilling intensity of the unknown. 

Watcher is a bit of a cult film, but obviously not one of the larger ones, since I hadn't heard of it until recently. It's a Disney horror movie, and that intones almost a certain level of cheese, which early moments with Bette Davis as Mrs. Aylwood seem to uphold. But it doesn't take long for the rather earnest tone of the film to win over the viewer and invest them in the mystery that Jan investigates (and seeming supernatural abilities she appears to manifest)  Once one mystery is revealed, the film keeps the viewer rapt as there's still another to discover in order to bring about a resolution.

The finale of the film comes in multiple varieties.  The first brings a happy ending, revealing the supernatural to actually be something more cosmic in design.  It's blindsidingly bizarre and yet absolutely, fantastically 1980 in its execution.  Though enjoyable, the ending skips over addressing some rather important consequences of the events that transpired...what is the fallout on the people who were involved, now that they know what they know?

The DVD has three alternate and extended endings.  The first is shorter, and darker.  It keeps more in the spirit of the horror aspect of the movie, foregoing the cosmic bait and switch.

A second ending pads out the one that accompanies the feature, with more special effects, and a visit to "the Other World".  With more time, it has a more logic to it, however it's less satisfying in a way, it feels more disjointed and separate from what came before.

A third ending, the original ending when the film was rushed into theatres, was reshot to exclude the unfinished special effects.  As a result it's very disjointed and virtually breaks the movie.

Three of these four endings actually work well enough though.  Like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" the film is kind of made better for having all these alternate ways of interpreting what happened.  It allows the audience to have a more visual ending, a darker ending, or one that allows the viewer to use more of their imagination.

I wasn't sure what to expect out of this, but I rather loved it.  It's not campy like I was expecting, and it fuels my jones for 80's aesthetic quite nicely.  It may not be classic cinema, but it is thoroughly entertaining.

3 short paragraphs: Nightcrawler

2014, d. Dan Gilroy -- Netflix

 It's been quite some time since I watched this film, so the finer details are pretty fuzzy. is a powerful film.  It's the proverbial trainwreck, difficult to watch and just as hard to turn away.  Jake Gyllenhaal is Lewis Bloom, a smart man with poor social skills.  The first question is whether he falls on the spectrum somewhere, but it turns out he's just a sociopath... dangerous things to get confused to be sure.  Lewis looks for work and hustles when work doesn't come through, petty criminal acts like lifting scrap metal from a construction site and selling it.  When he witnesses a car crash, it doesn't prompt Lewis into action in any way to assist, his only reaction is to watch.  He watches the scene unfold, including Bill Paxton's camera crew who arrive before police and paramedics to capture the scene with a self-certified impunity.  Lewis sees not only is there money to be made, but a job he seems adequately equipped he doesn't have the camera, or the police scanner, or any video skills, but he has the temperament, the tenacity, and the ruthlessness to be successful.

Lewis Bloom is an awful, awful person, but not unwatchable (like his videos, he's too fascinating not to pay attention to).  He gets on the scene and in personal spaces far beyond the comforts of most, doing whatever it takes to get the goods.  If it bleeds, it leads.  Renee Russo is a nightly news manager of a program on decline.  She enables Lewis' actions because it's good for her.  Lewis winds up blackmailing her into both a business and sexual partnership, one that benefits them both but puts one in control of the other in unsettling ways.  Russo's given the role of both a desireable woman and a character her own age, uncommon for Hollywood films, not that we're rooting for her and Lewis as a couple.  If anything it's cringe inducing his manipulation of her.

He takes on an apprentice whom he can barely contemplate paying, and expects complimentary ruthlesness, which obviously cannot be met.  This is a film in which the stakes escalate, dramatically so, some by Lewis' own design.  If there is no news worth selling, he's going to manufacture it, at whatever cost.  Gyllenhaal creates an unemotional figure in Lewis (not emotionless, but he just doesn't really react strongly unless it benefits him to do so).  He's not still or robotic, but he's dead behind the eyes...there's a soullessness that Gyllenhaal disturbingly and effectively conveys.  He doesn't allow anything but ambition to drive him.  It's finely crafted film that is both distressingly enjoyable and disturbing.  If it speaks to anything it's that humanity's peculiar desire for Schadenfreude is perhaps better left underserved.

(we agree - David's take here)