Sinister 2 Review

Posted: September 1, 2015 in Movies
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Sinister 2 opens with the deputy from the previous film in a Church confessional booth. He asks the priest about evil, and is warned to stay away from it, saying you can’t defeat evil, you can only survive it.

Cut to Courtney, a single mother with two young boys Zach and Dylan are secretly staying in a farmhouse to hide from her abusive ex husband. Turns out one of the boys is being visited by ghosts at night. The ghosts have him watch old 8 millimeter films of families getting murdered.

The deputy did not heed the priests advice, and instead is finding houses across the country that Bughuul, the ghostly entity from the first film, has had children commit murders. He goes to Courtney’s home, thinking it’s abandoned, with the intention of burning it down. Upon realizing it is not he investigates and abandoned church on the property where a heinous crime previously took place.

From here the two plots of Courtney’s ex and Bughuul nicely intersect, both allowing for dread, tension and mistrust. Sinister 2 seemed more scary to me than the first one. However I found this is one sequel that really seems to rely on seeing the first one. I did see Sinister, but I still forgot a few things like who the deputy was. Also Courtney’s boys seemed interchangeable, I couldn’t remember which one was which at times. That did hurt on of the good plot points of tension with the boys over which one Bughuul was going to choose. Both seemed willing participants.

Still I enjoyed it overall and would look forward to a Sinister 3.

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Straight Outta Compton is a biopic about Ice Cube, Eazy E, and Dr. Dre, who started the gangsta rap group N.W.A. and changed the face of popular music.

Clocking in at over 140 minutes, Straight Outta Compton has a lot on its plate. It mainly focuses on Cube, Dre, and Eazy, but also includes DJ Yella and MC Ren. Ice Cube is a young poet, Dre is starting out as a DJ, and Eazy E is a legitimate gangbanger. Having all grown up in Compton California, the three end up meeting, and Eazy E helps them start Ruthless Records. It’s interesting to see how, according to the movie, the original plan was for Eazy to provide the financial backing, Cube was the lyricist, and Dre would lay down the beats while they would hire other rappers to do the vocals. There’s a scene where the hired rappers walk out of the studio, not wanting to do the hardcore lyrics. Eazy E reluctantly fills in the vocals, along with Dre and Cube, and the rest is history.

After some initial success they get the attention of music manager Jerry Heller, who does bring them to a national stage, but at the same time is cheating the members of N.W.A., having favored Eazy E. This is a running plot point throughout the movie.

From the films beginning we see the hard life people in Compton live, including racial harassment by the police. After one scene where they are harassed at the studio, Cube writes the song Fuck tha Police, causing a national controversy. During once concert the police warn them not to play that song, so they do and a riot starts.

Tensions between the group, mostly around the management, come to a boil, and Ice Cube breaks off on his own and makes a solo record. The remaining members of N.W.A. diss him on a song, but are no match for the gifted lyricist as Cube fires back. Perhaps the funniest scene of the movie is the N.W.A. crew listening to the diss track, which is so good that even their own groupies are laughing at it.

Cube however ends up having his own problems with management as well, and in one scene trashes his management’s office over a dispute over money.

Dre too eventually leaves and starts Death Row records with the infamous Suge Knight, Comic book fans might see Suge as a real life Wilson Fisk, as he has violent outbursts over minor infractions like someone parking in his spot. Suge clashes with Eazy E over Dre’s contract, leading to a clash of ideologies between the thug culture these artist have come from, and the business world of contracts and lawyers. In one interesting scene Eazy E talks about killing Suge, but Jerry talks him out of it, explaining if Suge is killed his problems are over, but Eazy E’s would be just beginning.

Toward the end of the movie it is suggested that the N.W.A were talking about getting back together. However, throughout the movie it is hinted that Eazy E is having more than his share of women, and subtle hints are dropped that he is getting sick. In a very moving scene a Dr. reveals that Eazy E has contracted AIDS. Dre goes to visit him in the hospital, but at this point Eazy E is unconscious. Eventually he passes, and we see the outpouring of grief from his fans.

The film ends with a montage about the success of Cube and Dre. Dre particular has brought a lot of rappers to the forefront, like Snoop Dogg and Eminem. Probably no one person has influenced popular music in the last 30 years as Dr. Dre.

On a personal note, I watched this movie as an outsider, not having listened to N.W.A. as a kid, and not knowing much of the story. I’ve had conversations with friends who know the story more about how accurate the film was, but as a movie itself it was very effective. It has a lot of plates spinning with different plot points and characters, but manages to keep them all afloat.

Straight Outta Compton is the best movie I’ve seen so far this year. It makes me want to see other music bio pics of acts I’m more familiar with like Black Sabbath and Guns and Roses. There’s already talk of doing a follow up movie about the rise of Snoop Dogg and Tupac (who both appear briefly in this film). If the Straight Outta Compton film crew were to produce this, that would surely be a great film as well.

The Gift: Short review, non-spoiler.

Posted: August 11, 2015 in Movies
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The Gift is a thriller about a young upper middle class couple in California named Simon and Robyn. Upon moving into a new neighborhood they have a chance encounter with Gordo, an old school mate of Simon’s. Gordo soon makes a few visits to the young couple’s home. He appears friendly but socially awkward, and Simon soon feels uncomfortable with his visits. Not too far into the film, Simon asks Gordo not to visit anymore.

Robyn is not as leary of Gordo, and upon his absence begins to learn that there is a dark past between her husband and Gordo, dating back to their childhood. As the plot unfolds it appears that everyone, Robyn included, has something to hide.

The Gift does a good job of balancing tension and intrigue, keeping us guessing as to who is telling the truth and who we should have sympathy for. For example at one point the couple’s dog disappears. Simon suspects Gordo took the dog. A few days later the dog returns, and the audience is left to wonder, did Gordo take the dog or did it really just run away? This reflects a general theme of “maybe I did maybe I didn’t,” along with issues of bullying, lies, and forgiveness.

With a movie like this, you wonder what the end game is going to be. The way the Gift handles it’s third act, in regards to body count and ultimate climax, is fairly interesting. Definitely one of the great thrillers of our era.

As I did with Phase 1, I’ll be ranking Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Below that I’ll list all the MCU films from least to most favorite.

Iron Man 3

The only film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I generally didn’t like. It starts out with a deadly serious tone, superheroes dealing with real world issues/international terrorism. This part was great, but then half way through the tone switches to outright goofiness. Plus Tony’s house get’s blown up but he’s still able to make an army of suits? Ok

Ant Man

Perhaps Marvel’s greatest risk. In my opinion Ant Man was even more of a risk than Guardians of the Galaxy. The basic concept is pretty off the wall, yet they still managed to pull it off by doing what they do best, having great character relationships and mixing in some humor. Still, it doesn’t quite feel like the heist film it was billed to be. Oddly enough, Ant Man is the one film I’m more interested in seeing a prequel for than a sequel.

Guardians of the Galaxy.

Marvel’s take on Star Wars took the world by storm last year by giving us a talking raccoon and made “I am Groot” part of the global vernacular. This movie opens up the MCU like no other film before it, giving us a glimpse of the wide range of alien races that exist out in MCU space. Still, there’s always that thing in the back of my mind of why/how do all these aliens speak English, and why do so many of them just look like humans?

Avengers: Age of Ultron

This Avengers film hits the ground running with action right away. Hugely ambitious, globe spanning, it introduces new characters while still taking the time to explore those we already know. The highlight of the film is not the action, but the break during the second act, where we see tension and secrets among the team members. Black Widow’s dark revelation about her past is truly heart breaking, and perhaps the MCU’s most haunting moment.

Ultron is one of the best MCU villains we’ve seen so far, with his child like curiosity of the world around him. His not knowing his own strength and his puzzlement over finances are laugh out loud moments, but Ultron still manages to convey a chillingly creepy presence.

Still, this movie takes on a lot. It mostly manages to keep all its plates spinning, but, like the last Avenger’s film, Thor’s role in figuring out what was going on seemed to come out of nowhere, and in this case was just about literally dues ex machina.

Thor: The Dark World

Perhaps unprecedentedly merging Star Trek with Lord of the Rings, Thor blends fantasy and science fiction while still maintaining tropes of a sequel. An ancient enemy returns in an adventure that gives us more of a glimpse of the 9 realms of Asgardian mythology while further exploring the relationship between Thor and Loki. The Dark World has real consequences as actual characters die (Looking at you Iron Man 3). Also noteworthy is that Thor legitimately couldn’t defeat the villain without the help of his human friends. If Thor 3 is anywhere close to being this good, than this might be the best trilogy of the MCU.

Captain America: Winter Soldier:

The best film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Winter Soldier exemplifies the strength of the MCU. It is, first and foremost, a political thriller. Timely and topical with its theme of privacy vs safety, Winter Soldier gives us the best action scenes of the series, expands the political side of the MCU, brings back characters from the last film in ingenious ways, and gives us a bombshell that shakes the entire MCU. Winter Soldier is also noteworthy for having an impact on the up to then rather boring first season of Agents of Shield.

Rankings of the MCU as a whole.

12. Iron Man 3
11. Ant-Man
10. Guardians of the Galaxy
9. Iron Man 2
8. Hulk
7. Avengers
6. Captain America
5. Thor
4. Avengers Age of Ultron
3. Thor the Dark World
2. Iron Man
1. Captain America: Winter Soldier

Having praised Winter Soldier, I still have to say that the best single unit of storytelling from the MCU is still Netflix’s Daredevil.

Ant Man opens in a flashback scene to 1989 where Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas, resigns from Shield because they want to recreate his Pym particle/shrinking technology. And aged Peggy Carter appears in this scene, as does John Slattery playing Howard Stark, who he also played in Iron Man 2.

Cut to the present, Pym is retired, having long ago picked a successor to run his tech business. However, his successor Darren Cross is working on a breakthrough in Pym tech, and plans to sell it to the military.

Meanwhile, Scott Lang, a sort of thief with a heart of gold character, has just been released from jail and wants to see his young daughter and be a part of her life. Still down on his luck, he gets roped into a plan by Pym to steal the new tech from Cross.

Ant Man is billed as a heist movie, but it gets slowed down by a long training sequence in which Lang learns to fight, control the suit, and use Pym’s other ability. Pym developed a way via electronics to communicate with ants. This is one thing I never liked about comics, how they use science. Talking to ants and shrinking molecules are two totally different branches of science. At least he didn’t also create Ultron, as he did in the comics. In this movie universe Tony Stark created Ultron, which makes much more sense.

Anyway once Lang learns about the three kinds of ants and how to fight and how to use the suit the heist begins. First there’s a scene where he steals something from the new Avengers training center, as seen in Age of Ultron. Ant Man ends up fighting another Avenger in this scene, and then we get to the final heist.

Refreshingly the stakes here are not global, as they tend to be in superhero movies. The stakes are more personal, and through the inherent ridiculousness of the basic concept, it manages to pull of a story about family and redemption. We get some interesting tidbits about the fate of Pym’s wife, and are introduced to some other concepts that are sure to play out in future films.

The heist stuff is effective, and Lang has a good supporting cast. However, as much as this is billed as a heist film, the Avengers scene and the last scene are settled more via action/combat than whether or not he gets away. The conceit of shrinking and growing objects is used well in the action scenes, Pym’s use of his tank keychain is sure to be a crowd favorite.

Last year there was a lot of talk about how Guardians of the Galaxy was a big risk for Marvel. In retrospect I don’t think it was such a risk. Sure it was unknown characters, but so was Iron Man, and Guardians was basically Marvel’s take on Star Wars. Ant Man, with it’s off the wall concept, is a much bigger risk. While enjoyable, it would have been more effective as the heist film it promised to be.

There are both mid credit and post credit scenes. In closing, Ant Man is the one movie with as much potential for prequels as it has for sequels, and I’d have to say I’d be much more curious to see a prequel.

The Gallows is a found footage film about a high school Nebraska and a terrible tragedy that took place their. It opens with a viewpoint from a parents home movie camera in 1993, as the school is putting on a play called the Gallows. In the play a character is to be hung, and a tragic accident happens where the student actor gets hung for real on stage and dies.

Cut to the present day, the same school is attempting the same play again. Ryan, a football player, is taking the required Drama class and his job is to video tape the play. Using a camera he decides to tape everything, and the opening act shows us life in the school, the different friends, relationships, banter etc. It’s a nice set up for the story that allows us to get to know the characters.

Events unfold where Ryan and a small group of his friends go into the high school at night, and strange things start to happen, the first of which being that the door they came in locks, and none of the doors anywhere to the outside will open. So they are effectively trapped in the school. As time goes on they hear strange noises and experience other weird phenomenon, and slowly but surely the students are picked off one by one.

The villain of the story has a nice look with his hangman’s mask a noose, and is actually seen very little in the film, usually lurking more in the shadows and being up close. The story is definitely supernatural in nature, across between a slasher character like Friday the 13th’s Jason Vorhees and a ghost story. I’m not sure if that combination has ever been done before.

The found footage route does the angle of the camera/phones etc running out of battery. I’m not sure if that has been used much in other films. It also maybe the first found footage film to actually have a flashback in the narrative.

There actually is a little bit more plot that includes a nice surprise at the end. However as I’m writing this I realized that raises some questions on the timing of the film.

Seeing this film with an audience was really fun. There definitely are some scary moments, including a rather off the wall one early on. The audience screamed and jumped a lot during this. The Gallows maybe the best scary movie I’ve seen in the theater.

Insidious 3 Review

Posted: June 13, 2015 in Movies

Insidious 3 is a prequel to the first film. Set a few years prior, but not too far back as it still seems to be set in the present day. A young teenage girl named Quinn with aspirations to drama school recently lost her mother. She desires to contact her on the other side, and in the opening scene goes to visit Elise, the psychic from the previous films. Elise says she does not do that kind of work anymore.

Quinn’s desire to contact her dead mother put her in contact with an evil demonic spirit. Meanwhile Elise has visions that Quinn is in danger, and gets reluctantly pulled into the situation. Along the way we get some backstory about Elise, with her own tragedies and her own personal fears. There’s also a good supporting cast including Quinn’s dad, father and brother, her best friend and a boy neighbor that has a crush on her.

There are some good scares throughout, and the struggle against the demon, as well as other spirits, involves more physicality and actual fighting than other possession movies, setting it apart a little. We are also introduced to the two men that assist Elise in the first movie, and it’s amusing to see how they present themselves at this period of time. If nothing else this movie gets props for the one guy wearing a Dolph Lundgren Masters of the Universe movie T-shirt. Seeing He-man on the big screen was not something I expected going into this.

The climax involves something slightly dues ex ma china that you can perhaps see coming, but still manages to have some emotional resonance. Overall I’d say Insidious 3 was a satisfying horror flick. I’d be interested to see more from this franchise, whether they continue to move back in time or forward.