Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Movie Reviews: Ready or Not

Ready Or Not
directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
This horror/dark comedy movie has a lot in common with a movie previously reviewed here, You're Next

Both films invoke some pretty common horror motifs before simultaneously upending them or playing them for some twisted laughs. 

If you're not a horror film fan then this movie is simply not something that you should be watching. If you are among that group of people who enjoy watching such movies then this low budget but high quality film is definitely something that should be on your to watch list.

As with You're Next, Ready or Not imagines that a young woman, Grace (Samara Weaving) of modest means has gone to her fiancee's venerable family home, actually a mansion. Yes I know there are some people who would never ever do such a thing. Grace and Alex Le Domas (Mark O'Brien) are to be married. They are in love you see. And Grace not only comes from modest means, she grew up in foster homes. 

Grace is eager to become the latest official Mrs. Le Domas and do the do. Grace also wants to get acquainted with all of Alex's oft eccentric relatives, many of whom don't exactly appear too welcoming to their formerly impoverished new in-law.

But you don't grow up in foster homes without learning to quickly adapt to new situations and turn the other cheek to snarky comments or pointed snubs. The wedding completes without a hitch. Grace is heads over heels in love with Alex and can't wait to show him how much in a suitably private suite.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Movie Reviews: Cast A Deadly Spell

Cast A Deadly Spell
directed by Martin Campbell
Cast A Deadly Spell is an older HBO movie that I decided to rewatch. It is a rare example of a film that mixes two different genres and mostly gets things right. It's also interesting to see some people (Julianne Moore) just before they became superstars. Cast A Deadly Spell takes itself seriously but not too seriously. 

You can always see the tongue firmly planted in cheek. There is some humor but it's not usually slapstick. It's not everyone who can mix a hardboiled noir detective story with a bit of fantasy but Campbell did it here.  

This movie references the works of H.P. Lovecraft but not too much. Other than the name of the hero (slightly different than the author) and a few of the author's creations this story is not that much in Lovecraft's debt.

In 1948 Los Angeles, magic is real. Not only is magic real but almost everyone uses it for the most mundane tasks. All sorts of supernatural creatures exist and interact with humans, some more peacefully than others. Like the technology of our time that would be considered magic to a human living two thousand years ago, everyone in this world takes magic for granted. Someone who refuses to use magic is considered to be a Luddite. 

One man who refuses to use magic at all is private detective and former cop Harry Phillip Lovecraft (Fred Ward). As he explains to skeptics, his reasons for not using magic are personal and thus none of their ever loving business. Be that as it may, a detective who doesn't use magic in a world where everyone else does is at something of a competitive disadvantage. This means that Lovecraft's paying jobs are rare. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Movie Reviews: Gretel and Hansel

Gretel and Hansel
directed by Osgood Perkins
The thing about folk tales is that they always mutate in response to the fears and concerns of the people retelling them. The reader or viewer may feel different ways about this, depending on what their preferred version of the tale is. 

One person's reimagined tale or different emphasis on a story's theme is another person's politically driven social justice warrior sacrilege. It is what it is. 

I would guess that almost everyone knows the Grimm Fairy Tale, Hansel and Gretel, which is for most Westerners is very firmly rooted in medieval German stories and legends. The story may or may not have originated in Germany. The tale does touch on some darker concerns about parental abandonment, resulting homelessness, and what would today be recognized as child abusers/serial killers. Heavy stuff for kids. 

This  story version, as you might guess from the reversed names, puts more emphasis on the female sibling. In this movie, Gretel is the elder sibling. The film attempts to tell a story about female empowerment and its costs in a cold cruel patriarchal world. I didn't like this theme, not just because I'm not a feminist, but because a cannibalistic witch is not exactly the best spokeswoman for "You go girl!" messages of independence and self-actualization. 

Friday, May 15, 2020

Movie Reviews: Dracula (1979)

directed by John Badham
I am fascinated by how different people can pull wildly varying interpretations from the same material.  

Despite what some originalists would tell you, complex source materials, whether 18th century constitutions or 19th century novels by Bram Stoker can often support very diverse readings. 

Stephen King was famously inspired to write his vampire novel Salem's Lot after teaching Dracula to high school students and wondering what it would be like if Dracula came to 20th century America. 

King's novel has themes of waste, loneliness and decline that certainly would have resonated with people in 1970s America, dealing with oil crises, the  Vietnam War aftermath and other system shocks. King expands greatly on the horror of the un-dead expressed so strongly in Stoker's novel. I appreciate and respond to that theme of vampire lore and novels.

But there are plenty of other themes. In Stoker's novel, Dracula lives with --well perhaps exists with is a better term-- at least three female vampires. By their descriptions, two may be his daughters. He may have a harem. He may have turned his family. Either way it's a perversion of normal family life that likely would have scandalized the Victorian audience who first read Stoker's work.

Stiller and Meara: Hate

The actor and comedian Jerry Stiller recently passed away. I was familiar with him from his work on Seinfeld, King of Queens and some cameos or roles in films featuring his son, Ben Stiller. But one of my aunts mentioned Jerry Stiller's comedic work with his wife Anne Meara. That was mostly before my time so I looked some of it up. I thought that this skit was pretty funny. It was interesting that fifty some odd years ago Stiller had perfected the choleric personality that he used to such impact in the works I saw.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Day 50 of Quarantine

My major concern about stay at home orders, working from home and quarantines is that my employer's underlying business model lacks the capacity to deliver profits if the public remains at home. So it's just a matter of time before more pay cuts or layoffs occur. That's unfortunate if it happens to co-workers. It's a disaster if it happens to yours truly.

I'm not all that worried about the social isolation effects of working from home as I'm not outgoing anyway. But being related to or friendly with some people who do need social engagement the way I need air, I can sympathize with those who have discovered that their tolerance for strict stay at home orders has just about ended. It's also true that people will have to get rid of some "bad" habits if or when this pandemic ends.


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Movie Reviews: Bloodshot

directed by David Wilson
This new film unfortunately was released right around the same time that Americans realized that the coronavirus made large gatherings in film theaters a pretty bad idea. 

Some people might argue that global pandemic or not this film was a bad idea. I wouldn't go that far but it is a film which tells a story that you've seen before. 

Again, some creative people I respect claim that there are only a few meta-stories which are told over and over again in different ways by different people. Perhaps they are correct. I can't call it. This film is based on a comic book which I have not read. I need to check with my brother to see what he thought of the source material. The story felt very familiar to me. Bloodshot referenced films like Inception, The Matrix, The Punisher, Universal Soldier, Robocop, and Total Recall among others. I was somewhat surprised to see that Bloodshot was rated PG-13. 

Either the studio has pull with the ratings board or mores have really changed since I was young. This is a violent film and some blink and you'll miss it female toplessness. I would have rated it R. It's not the goriest film I've ever seen but I wouldn't think it appropriate for young teens to watch. Or to put it another way it's not something I would watch with younger relatives.

Ok, my hang-ups aside what's it about? Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) is a US Marine who has just completed a successful mission in Kenya where his team has rescued a hostage and killed some bad guys. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Armed Citizens Escort Black Michigan Legislator to Work

One would imagine because of the ugly history and current situation of Black Americans: Slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, pogroms, constant police brutality and murder, genocidal hate groups, Confederate apologists, etc, that Black Americans would be the biggest and most vociferous proponents of the Second Amendment and armed self-defense that one might find in any nation in history. 

Well one would be wrong. Still, eventually, I suppose it finally might get thru to folks that when you're dealing with hateful irrational unstable armed people, it's in your best interest to be armed as well. 

You may recall that the recent anti-shutdown protests in Lansing, Michigan saw mostly white armed individuals enter the Capitol building, shrieking and yelling. Some had Nazi flags, Confederate Battle Flags and nooses.

Despite all this, given that Michigan law allows open carry (and that the protesters were Caucasian), the Michigan State Police refused to take any aggressive action against the protesters. Somehow other various police forces haven't always shown such restraint when a Black person has attempted to exercise his or her right to open carry in Michigan but I digress.

Anyhow, either to make a point or because she was honestly scared, Michigan Representative Sarah Anthony accepted escort by armed Black citizens. 

WEDNESDAY, May 6 — After a horde of armed and angry protesters swarmed Lansing last week, State Rep. Sarah Anthony brought some extra protection on her way to the State Capitol today.

Movie Reviews: Look Away

Look Away
directed by Assaf Bernstein
This 2018 movie is something that was another take on a very old idea-what if, tired of not getting what you want out of life, you could unleash all your darker instincts to attain all of your deepest desires? 

Would that be a good thing?  What if your deeper desires include things that actually disgust or horrify you? 

This goes back at least as far as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The viewer must decide whether this is a psychological thriller of a repressed id given free reign or something actually supernatural unleashed from beyond the grave. Either way there are some very HEAVY Freudian/Elektra overtones, so if you don't care for or can't stand that sort of thing in your viewing entertainment then this film won't really do much for you. 

All the pervy psychological stuff aside, I thought that this movie was a little too heavy and dark. It moved slowly and ponderously because it had a lot of points to make. The director apparently doesn't believe in "show don't tell". Along with the moral darkness of much of the story the film itself is quite often physically murky. 

Maria Brennan (India Eisley) is an introverted shy "loser" high school student. Maria's on the verge of an eating disorder. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Movie Reviews: Midnight Special

Midnight Special
directed by Jeff Nichols
For older people such as myself this 2016 movie may bring to mind the film Escape to Witch Mountain, the original that is, not the remake with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. 

Midnight Special also referenced films such as Superman and Firestarter

Most good parents will do anything for their children. Midnight Special has a theme of parental sacrifice. The film also raises the awesome power, both legal and logistical, of the Federal government. There are so many Federal laws on the books that a determined and motivated Federal prosecutor can often easily, if he or she so desires, transform a law abiding person into a hunted fugitive with one click on a keyboard.

And even in a continental sized nation, it's hard for anyone to disappear when the full machinery of the United States government is repurposed to searching for that person. At its core this is a chase film. The hook or problem with this is that both at the beginning and the end of the film the viewer may not be sure who's the hero.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Movie Reviews: Human Capital

Human Capital
directed by Marc Meyers
This is a remake of an Italian movie. I decided to watch this because of what looked like a frontline cast. That was a mistake. 

This movie had a decent plot, which seemed incredibly familiar to me for some reason. 

It touched a little bit on class differences and could have with some reworking gone down the same path as Parasite, Crash, or other movies that examined familial, class, racial, or social conflicts. Human Capital also made a nod to Rashomon, with several different narratives exploring the same events from different viewpoints or different times. 

But all the same, despite the cast, the writing and therefore the story drags. The writer(s) and director chose to spend a great deal of time of storylines and subplots that I thought were uninteresting and in some cases almost irrelevant. 

There's almost too much going on in this movie. When you have Liev Schreiber and Marisa Tomei as leads why not let them carry the story a little more? I thought there were missed opportunities galore in this film. Large portions of the film are dull. The first third of the movie showed promise but I just didn't feel the same about the rest of the movie.