5. The 5th Wave

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The most important thing I want to say is that, even though I’m a math guy, I did not deliberately arrange my viewing schedule in such a way that my fifth movie would be “The 5th Wave”.  But it doesn’t upset me, either.

Anyway, I knew I wanted to see this one once I saw the first trailer because I’m a Chloe Grace Moretz fan.  After getting her start in “Kick-Ass” as Hit-Girl (still one of the greatest characters ever created.  I have a love/hate relationship with Mark Millar, but I’ll always love him for that one.), she got a lot of attention and hasn’t been at a loss for work at any point since.  I’ve liked her in everything she’s contributed to (except for her odd cameo in “Muppets Most Wanted”, though I really liked that movie) and I feel that, even if the movie she’s in isn’t great (“If I Stay” was a bore), her presence alone elevates the production.  (Here’s another parenthetical aside, just for fun.)

That holds true, here.  From the opening scene – itself powerful and memorable – she projects an air of accessibility.  She’s the likeable girl next door who’s been placed into an impossible situation.  She gets to go to a few different places within her range throughout the film and she goes there effortlessly, as usual.  Nothing stretches her or puts her to the test, but I can see why she was cast and I can see why she accepted the role.  She was due a fairly high-profile starring vehicle and she did her part, without question.

The film, as a whole, was a small-scale alien invasion picture.  Think more along the lines of “Signs” and less along the lines of “Independence Day”.  But mostly only in terms of scale and an underlying theme of family.  This movie wasn’t as contained as Shyamalan’s and had a much more proactive antagonist.  But it was still a tale that was motivated by personal interests, rather than a desire to save the world.

For the most part, it worked, especially for the first two acts.  There was nothing groundbreaking, here.  Nothing jaw-dropping.  Nothing that makes it absolutely must-see.   Virtually all of the story and character elements have been done before by bigger and better films.  But that doesn’t mean those elements weren’t applied well, here.  Generally, they were put to fun use, if nothing else.  There were a couple of really transparent “twists”, though, that are pretty easily called about halfway through the movie.

I appreciated that director J Blakeson placed importance on character but his inexperience showed as the balance and pacing was off.  It did start to drag, a little bit towards the end of the second act, but thankfully picked up just in time.  But, once that happened, what came with it was truly distressing.

Suddenly, the characters start behaving and thinking in the most absurd ways.  And Deus ex Machina kicks into full gear.  And when I say that they start behaving absurdly, I don’t mean that the characters suffer from poor judgement.  One of my pet peeves when faced with other people’s thoughts on movies is that they ridiculously expect all movie characters – regardless of age, experience, background, physical capabilities, medical history, education, taste in music, political affiliations, country of origin, and on and on and on – to make the most appropriate, intelligent, effective, logical choices at all times, forever and ever, amen.  That’s unbelievable to me.  That’s not how people work.  In stressful situations, people don’t think as clearly as they normally would.  And neither would you.  You likely would do no better than the character you’re calling “stupid” if you were in their position.  And you would likely write a much crappier movie than the movie you’re criticizing, too, because you clearly don’t have a firm grasp on truth and reality.

So, no, that’s not what I mean.  I mean that they start behaving unrealistically for human beings.  They think and act in ways that real people just don’t think and act, in the worst cases, and simply behave uncharacteristically based on their earlier, established personalities in some other cases.  That’s maddening because though, as I mentioned, it wasn’t particularly fresh or original up to that point, it had carried some weight and held together pretty well.

Also frustrating was a completely forced and unnatural love story that was suddenly crammed in during the third act that was clearly there to pander to the unrealistic fantasies of the One Direction crowd.  I don’t mind love stories.  Love is part of life, life is explored by art, films are art, and therefore love has a place in film.  It just has to be believable.  And, folks, love doesn’t work the way this movie claims it works.  For example, one character explains why he can’t love and then says that he loves, anyway, in the very same breath and it blew my mind.  Write for honesty, not for demographic appeal.  You had that group, already, just by casting Chloe.

If I was going to use a baseball analogy – and I am – I’d say “The 5th Wave” is a solid base hit with two strikes.  It had enough good to keep it from being any sort of failure, but it also never really attempted to break new ground or reach any towering heights.  The filmmakers seemed to be leaning on Chloe to get them through and she manages to.  But she could have used a little help to turn it into something special.  But that didn’t appear to be the goal.

NEW FEATURE!!!

Notable audience members:
1.  Some elderly lady a few rows up decided to open her tasty cellophane-wrapped treat . . . for seven #%&*-ing minutes.  People, if you have to open your snacks, it’s better to do it quick and loud than it is to do it slow and almost just as loud.
2.  The girl three seats to my right was very polite, cute, and alone.  She laughed at all the right places and her laugh was as adorable as she was.  I shall never see her again.

Okay, I’m on a roll, now!  I don’t expect to see any new ones until next weekend, if I can squeeze it in while I try for the third consecutive weekend to visit my nieces (snow and sickness have been getting in the way).  I may post some other movie-related interludes between viewings if I find a chance and feel so inclined.  Also, I went ahead and bought my ticket for the movie that will likely either be number seven or eight on my list.  Bet you know what it is!  Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

5. The 5th Wave

4. Jane Got A Gun

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I’m not sure if there has ever been a movie plagued by more production troubles than this one that actually ended up getting made.  Three years ago, the problems started and they almost never stopped.  I won’t get into those details (here you go) but I applaud everyone involved for seeing it through and getting it done.  And it’s easy to assume that a film with so many troubles is going to expose said troubles for all to see right up there on the screen.  Oftentimes, they do.  But not always.  And most of the time, the audience can’t even tell that a production had problems if they aren’t aware of them going in.  I think this movie fell somewhere in the middle.  But I never decide before seeing a film if I’m going to like it, no matter what I’ve heard.  (With one exception.  Yep.  That’s you, “White Chicks”.)

So, I went into “Jane Got A Gun” open-minded (though unsure about how to interpret the title, grammatically speaking.  Is . . . is that in the past tense?).  And I haven’t typically been a “western guy”.  I always tended to go for more contemporary stories as they were easier for me to relate to.  Then, over the last five years or so, I came to realize that genre is irrelevant.  In fact, there’s a strong argument for the idea that genre is an illusion.  Any film is essentially about characters going through a story.  Those characters and stories can be adapted for any time, place, and so-called genre.   This idea first occurred to me as I watched the Jet Li/Bob Hoskins feature “Unleashed”.  During that film, I had the nagging feeling that I’d seen it before.  It continued to persist and it really began to nag at me.  Eventually, it dawned on me that I had seen it before; it was essentially a re-telling of “Lilo & Stitch”!  The same basic story and characters told as both an animated family film and an R-rated martial arts action film.  So, yes, in my mind, genre is an illusion, only adding an attractive sheen to a film and no longer carrying any real weight.

But back to the movie at hand, one of the huge issues facing this film was the revolving cast.  Natalie Portman was locked from the get-go but her male supporting cast was in and out more than Wilt Chamberlain at his bachelor party.  Ultimately, this had no negative effect in my opinion.  In fact, I think it worked out well as Joel Edgerton’s performance was my favorite aspect of the film.  He was subtle and raw, quietly looming over all of his scenes with a just-under-the-surface edge.  He felt real and honest, especially for a man of that time period.

Ewan McGregor was good but there honestly wasn’t much asked of him.  I like Natalie Portman and liked her here for the most part with the exception of one particular moment, where she just exploded in an exaggerated burst of emotion that didn’t sit right with me, at all.  The moment certainly called for strong emotion, but the choice she made in the performance struck me as being way too unnatural, with no consideration for the way the human brain and body both process and express emotion.  It was just one moment, and I hate to put too much emphasis on it.  But it was a critical moment and she took me out of it by making me question if she fully thought it through.

Beyond this, I felt the film struggled to wade through a bland, soulless script.  I wish I didn’t feel that way as the basic story had promise.  And it started well, with a tender moment featuring Jane and a child, followed by the title card ominously foreshadowing that “Jane Got a Gun” (present tense?).  What happens to Jane that requires her to brandish this gun?  Well, stuff.  And, again, the ideas aren’t all bad.  They’re just executed with the energy of Eeyore in a yoga class.  Based on the events as they played out, my emotions should have been all over the place.  But I felt nothing.  Not a single moment of excitement, happiness, sadness, suspense, humor, dread, heartbreak . . ..  Nothing.  And as I’ve said before, the point of art is to elicit feeling.  With such a strong cast, I was hoping for something that they could really dive headfirst into and mold into something memorable, such as the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit”.  But there’s only so much even the greatest actors can do with lifeless dialogue and uneventful exposition scenes.

Too many story elements were clichéd tropes of convenience, as well.  Apparently, the villainous gang went to target practice with the Stormtroopers, luckily for (some?  most?  all?) of our heroes.  And Jane’s plan to survive her predicament was frightfully short-sighted and she was undeservingly satisfied with it.  Maybe it was a deliberately understated complacency, which would have made sense within the story.  But based on her behavior once the time came to enact the plan, that was not the case.  Too bad, as it would have added a soft and subtle touch to the proceedings and a tragic complexity to her character.

But let’s stop relying on these tropes, okay, everybody?  They’re tired, they make no sense, and more discerning audiences hate them.  Yes, they’re convenient and easy – especially for a troubled production.  But it’s a creative person’s job (and it should also be their desire) to find a way around these sorts of devices and elevate the level of their piece by doing so.

Maybe the hot potato of the custodianship of this picture was, in fact, to blame for the utterly mediocre (at best) result.  Perhaps everyone who at one point had creative control all wanted the film to be something different from the others and, as a result, it became a Brunswick stew of all of it, which meant we got very little of any of it.

However, I can understand the pride that those involved in the final product might have.  It’s like a student who struggles and struggles in a college course, always on the verge of failing, but manages to just pull it out in the end.  Getting a D isn’t anything to brag about but, under the right circumstances, it can feel like a victory.

And that’s a final line, everybody!  I feel like I’m finally off to the races on this little venture, after several delays throughout January.  So, if all goes to plan, I’ll see you again, soon!

4. Jane Got A Gun

3. The Boy

The Boy poster

“The Boy” is not what you think it is.

I mean that in a good way.  This is going to be a tough one to write, though.  Much of what I both liked and disliked will have to be painted over in broad strokes because I refuse to spoil anything.

But there are different ways in which a film can end up being something other than what you expected.  One way is in tone or genre, and that’s a regretful occurrence.  This is almost always the fault of the marketing department, making a choice to advertise a film as what they think the audience wants rather than as what the film actually is.  That’s not the case here.  You’re getting a creepy, atmospheric horror movie.  No rug pulled out from under you there.  This isn’t “Crimson Peak”.  In fact, the marketing department for “The Boy” deserves a bonus or a plate of cookies or something because they managed to completely hide the third act while not compromising the picture, itself.  Tough to pull off.  I applaud them.

Another way has to do entirely with the audience (as unique individuals) and their personal expectations that they have projected onto a film.  You hear it all the time: “It wasn’t as ______ as I’d hoped it would be.”  I can’t speak to that for you.  For me, this movie attempted the two standard types of scares – jump and suspense – and was much more successful at one than the other.  The jump scares – where something sudden happens, usually accompanied by a loud, fast blast of soundtrack – generally fell short for me with maybe one exception.  They were predictable and clichéd, easily anticipated several seconds in advance.  And the fact that a scare was coming wasn’t the only predictable aspect; it was also clear exactly what would happen to generate the attempted scare.  In fact, the film even takes an oft-used trope that was obviously coming and then reused the exact same device later in the film!  I can imagine reasons why this choice was made, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth.

The second type of scare – the suspense scare, where the tension and atmosphere build minute after minute, scene after scene, until you realize that you’re just generally feeling unnerved and in need of some relief – is much better executed.  I had that feeling for almost the entirety of the film.  And, for me personally, I prefer that type of scary to the jump scare.  It permeates the film and sits with me for much longer afterwards.  And often, it makes me reflect back on the film with more fondness if it was able to maintain that feeling.  And, in my mind, “The Boy” succeeded here.  Make no mistake, that doll was disconcerting as all crap.  I’m already picturing full-sized replicas and Re-Action figures being manufactured and sold if it catches enough of a following.

So, when it comes down to it, I don’t think the movie will fall short of your expectations in that regard.  It has a good mood and atmosphere if you let it take you where it wants you to go.

Where this movie truly surprised me was in the story and the characters – where it matters most.  It reels you in and makes you think it’s trying to be just another “Conjuring”/”Annabelle” or “Dead Silence”.  The filmmakers want you to think that.  But it’s not.  It’s its own thing and that pleasantly surprised me.  They thought outside the box and it seemed to me as if they saw the other haunted doll films and said, “Okay, what if it was a haunted doll like those but this is the story behind it?”  And I like that.  It’s not a rip-off.  It’s another take on the premise and – guess what? – ideas are allowed to be inspired by other ideas.  It’s happened since writing began.  And that’s what this is.  And I liked their ideas.

Where it lost a little bit of steam for me is in its failure to fill those ideas out and give us a more complete picture behind the events in the film – why they were happening and even how.  We get a little of that, but not quite enough.  And I am not one who needs everything in every movie explained.  In fact, I don’t want that in most cases.  And I love devices like ambiguous endings, in certain films.  And while an ambiguous ending is not what I’m getting at here, I feel there were just two or three too many unanswered questions that have to do with elements such as character motivation and the logistics behind the story.  These things don’t always need to shine in a horror movie, but they at least need to connect and they don’t fully connect here.

Aside from that, Lauren Cohan gets to have fun, here, and gets enough opportunity to show off that it made this project worth her time.  Sadly, she still plays an American so we don’t get her natural British accent even though that’s where the film takes place.  But she’s one of the few “Walking Dead” stars who have nabbed a starring role in a motion picture and she did as much with it as anyone else could have, if not more.  She also gets to play a logical character who behaved in a believable way given the events she was experiencing.  If you say you would have behaved differently, I’m going to call you a liar.

All in all, I had fun with it.  I liked the atmosphere and the fact that it subverted some clichés even while falling face-first into others.  There were things that bothered me, as I mentioned, but they didn’t bother me enough to make me overlook the things that were done well.  I imagine these flaws will frustrate some of you to a greater degree but never let the bad things blind you to the good.  So, for me, this was like a frozen pizza that I can enjoy once I pick off the olives.

Trying to pick up some momentum in my March so I hope to be back, tomorrow!  The snow storm, last weekend, slowed me down, so I have work to do!  Have a good one!

 

 

3. The Boy

2. Dirty Grandpa

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The second most surprising thing about “Dirty Grandpa” was that I was seeing it, at all, tonight, as this wasn’t my original intention.

The very most surprising thing about “Dirty Grandpa” was how much I actually enjoyed it.

My original plan for this weekend was to go out of town to visit my nieces, tomorrow (Friday), and see “The Boy” on the way.  Then, the threat of snow happened.  I’m supposed to have 12″-18″of snow in my town, tomorrow.  That eliminates any chance of going anywhere out of town and even going anywhere *in* town, this weekend.  So, plan B: see the Thursday preview of “The Boy” and check that one off my list.

Except there was no Thursday preview of “The Boy”.

So, see “The 5th Wave” or “Dirty Grandpa”?  I had a long day at work and I’ve been seeing a lot of heavy-handed Oscar bait films, lately.  Of those two choices, “Dirty Grandpa” was both the shortest and the lightest, so my choice was made.

Going in, I knew that I liked De Niro as well as most everybody else does, I knew that Aubrey Plaza makes me laugh when she appears on “Conan”, and that I had no particular opinion about Zac Efron, one way or the other.  I also don’t typically see a lot of comedies in the theater.  I have no issue with comedies, as a rule, or anything.  But most of the time, I just don’t find them all that funny.  There are certainly exceptions, but I’m a pretty tough laugh, so they don’t come all that often.

I saw “Dirty Grandpa”.  And I laughed.

I like wit.  Wit and originality is what works for me when it comes to comedy.  And, for the most part, believe it or not, that’s what this film delivers.  When it goes too big – too high concept – with the attempts at humor, it mostly falls flat.  And there was one particular character who I got and knew in my head should be making me laugh, but it just wasn’t happening.  Also, drug humor has never really worked for me (mostly because it’s almost always just a variation of the same “somebody who normally doesn’t do drugs does drugs and does crazy things” joke and there’s one scene of that here).  And, finally, there are a few instances in which a (good) joke is made using some sort of reference (an older movie, perhaps) and then, later, a completely unrelated joke is made using the same reference, taking a bit of the bite off of the second joke.  But those things all make up maybe 25% of the movie.

The rest of the film is primarily comprised of fantastic dialogue and one-liners.  And you’ll love them as long as you aren’t too uptight and understand that comedy generally isn’t meant to be taken seriously.  This movie and these characters aren’t trying to send any messages or make any statements or exist as a meta social commentary.  They’re just saying really witty things that – if meant to be taken seriously and aimed at real people – would normally be horribly offensive.  As it stands, they’re just hilarious, outside-the-box ways to insult different people and pretty much the entire world.  And no harm is meant.  If you’re offended by everything and everyone around you, don’t bother seeing this one.

And the added value element, here, is just seeing Robert De Niro in this kind of role.  He’s obviously done comedy before but nothing like this.  At least not to my immediate recollection.  And he nails it because he’s De Niro.

If you want to get Film Snob about it, the story plays out using typical and predictable clichés for these types of movies.  But, honestly, so what?  Why should anybody care?  People aren’t seeing this and hoping for a gripping tale of heroism, spiritual growth, and an allegory for the meaning of life.  They want to laugh at a (mostly)smart, (completely) raunchy comedy.  Unless the jokes go over your head or you’re a prude, then that’s what will happen.

Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to see “The Boy”, next week.  Until then, stay safe and warm if you’re joining me in the battle against the elements!

2. Dirty Grandpa

1. The Forest

natalie-dormer-the-forest-poster-01Here we go!  I kicked off my crusade with “The Forest” on January 16.  A little late to get started, I know, but January is typically a slow month for movies and I was out of town, last weekend.

Anyway, my thoughts:

I don’t have a lot to say in great detail  The movie sure didn’t get great reviews.  Personally, I had no major issues with it.  It’s a horror movie.  I tend to prefer PG-13 horror over R-rated horror.  Oftentimes, R-rated horror films use gore and violence as a crutch to sell the film as “scary”.  I have no problems with gore and violence, but they don’t make a movie scary.  Atmosphere, music, cinematography . . . these make a movie scary.

I liked it well enough.  It’s not going down as one of my top-tier favorites (my two favorites are “The Ring” and “The Conjuring”) but it had enough well-timed scares, frightening imagery, and slow-build tension to give me the vibe that I look for when I sit down to watch a movie like this.

It also managed to subvert a few clichés, which I appreciated.  I like being put in a position of mistrusting other characters in the film but I get tired of the mistrust always falling in the same direction at the end.  “The Forest” played out a little more believably than many comparable films in this regard.

Also, I’m a Natalie Dormer fan.  She won me over in “Game of Thrones” and didn’t disappoint me, here.

So, to put it simply, if you like atmospheric horror and/or Natalie Dormer, there’s enough to enjoy here.

One down, 99 to go!

1. The Forest