Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Shutter Island

U.S. Marshal Edward Daniels investigates a missing person case at a mental hospital.  However, as he digs deeper, he becomes convinced that something unsavory is happening at the hospital;  he begins to think that patients are being experimented on, and later that experiments are being done on him as well.

This is a good psychological horror thriller, but like some films of this genre, it is full of disturbing images.  This is where I have a problem with the movie, because I find this aspect of the film bothersome.  Many people would find this entertaining in a nightmarish horror picture kind of way, but I simply wasn't in the mood for it.  The movie made me gloomy.

The closest film to this one that I can think of is Jacob's Ladder, which is an even more disturbing film that I actually liked.  It also reminds me of the 2005 psychological thriller Stay, which I found so depressing that upon getting out of the theater I immediately bought a ticket to Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit just so that I could watch something more uplifting.

The disturbing aspects of this film are necessary, otherwise the surprise ending wouldn't make as much sense or have as much impact.  However, the ending seemed a little contrived to me, and it is not very different from the endings of Stay and Jacob's Ladder.  I could tell you how these endings are similar, but that would give away the surprise.

Shutter Island is an extremely well made film that is entertaining, so despite my reservations, I am giving it three stars.

Rating:  * * *

Friday, September 18, 2015

Love and Mercy


The Beach Boys were founded in 1961 by the brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love and their friend Al Jardine.  They had their greatest success from their inception up to 1966 with their Pet Sounds album, which was an artistic achievement but commercial failure, but also with the song Good Vibrations in 1966 which was their greatest selling single.  From this point on the band was plagued with nothing but problems.  Brian Wilson, who was the songwriting genius of the group, mentally broke down due to schizophrenia and drug abuse, and for the remaining decades would only occasionally have anything to do with the band.  The Beach Boys failed to keep up with changing music styles, failed to have any new successful songs until the 1988 Kokomo, and only found commercial and touring success with their old material.  The last 40 years have seen the original and new members come in and out of the group, and multiple lawsuits between various members over song rights, royalties, and the legal use of the name "The Beach Boys."  Dennis Wilson died as an indirect result of drug abuse and Carl Wilson died from lung cancer due to his heavy smoking.  Today, of the surviving original band members, all of which are in their 70's, only Mike Love is keeping the band going along with some of the children of the original band members.  Since about 2000, Brian Wilson has had a semi-successful solo career and very little interest in rejoining the group.

Love and Mercy focusses on two parts of Brian Wilson's life:  His creative genius and eventual breakdown in the 1960's, and a difficult period of his life in the 1980's when he was under the care of psychotherapist Eugene Landy.  The movie portrays Landy as being abusive and totally controlling of Wilson.  Landy eventually lost his psychotherapy license in the state of California due to ethical violations in his treatment of Wilson.  Despite these problems, Brian Wilson thinks that Eugene Landy helped him.

The movie portrays Brian Wilson's early romantic relationship with Melinda Ledbetter, who helped him break away from Landy, and later became his wife and manager.  The couple adopted five children.

Paul Dano and John Cusack both give great performances as Wilson.

This is a very good biopic, and mostly accurate according to Wilson.  The movie provides insight into The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, and the creative process.  The film makes you want to download The Beach Boys songs.

I wanted to see Love and Mercy when it came out in the theater, but I got busy and it didn't stay in my local theater very long.  Afterwards, I didn't want to drive 50 miles to see the movie, so instead I watched it the first day it came out on DVD.

 Rating:  * * * .5

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Age of Adaline


I have not yet done a review of Spider-Man 3 from 2007, but that movie was pretty good for the first 90 minutes, and then terrible for the last 25 minutes.  The Age of Adaline almost follows the same pattern, but not quite.  The last 25 minutes teeters along a cliff edge where it threatens to fall into a pit of terribleness without actually doing so.  The problem with the last act is that it feels awkward.

The story is that a freak accident stops Adaline from aging.  After a 107 years, Adaline is afraid to get close to anyone, but she falls for a handsome young man named Ellis Jones.  However, things get complicated when her past catches up with her.

There are some interesting performances from Harrison FordEllen Burstyn (who is looking quite old.  She was youthful and terrific in the 1980 film Resurrection), and Anthony Ingruber.  Ingruber convincingly plays a younger version of the Harrison Ford character, and this is has lead to an internet campaign to have him play Han Solo in an upcoming Han Solo movie.  He has also done some impressions of Han Solo on Youtube.

Overall the movie seems pretty entertaining.  Rating:  * * *

The Age of Adaline has a 54% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Signal


If science fiction movies had hearts, then the heart of every science fiction movie would yearn to be Star Wars.  What makes Star Wars great is that takes us to another world full of wonderful things.  The trouble with low budget science fiction movies is that there may be something wonderful in the movie, but it might occur briefly at the end of the film after the audience has endured a really long build up.  This is the problem with "The Signal".

For example, the first 15 minutes of the movie is about three MIT students crossing the country.  There is a story here about relationships, but more importantly, someone is hacking into their laptops.  The students trace "the signal" to someplace in Nevada, so they are determined to go there and investigate.  When they get there, they find a creepy shack in the middle of the desert.  Then, jarringly, at least one of them appears to be abducted by aliens from another world.  Then our heroes wake up in an underground hospital/bunker where people are asking them questions and doing experiments on them.

Where the movie succeeds is that it creates a level of suspense of not knowing what is going to happen next.  The characters don't know what is happening to them, and we don't know anything more than the characters do.  What we sense is that this is leading to something; we only hope that it is something good.  So I like the movie for the suspense that it creates.  (In this respect, the movie is a clever exercise in low budget filmmaking.)

There is also much misdirection, since the whole film seems designed to conceal the ending from us so as to keep it a surprise.  However, for me this made the ending a little less logical.  When we do get the pay off at the end, the final scene goes by so quickly that I had to watch it again to understand it, and even then I had to do an internet search to confirm that I understood what I saw.  Had I seen this in the movie theater, as opposed to video, I might have been confused and disappointed.

Movies like this end with something wonderful, which is where movies like Star Wars start.  It would be nice to see where the ending takes us, but no, the movie just ends.

So that is the problem with low budget science fiction movies.  I think that this one is well worth watching because it really does create an interesting and suspenseful story.

Rating:  * * *

The Signal has only a 59% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Constantine vs. End of Days vs. Legion

Imagine a science fiction movie where alien beings were invading our universe from another dimension.  The aliens look human and only a few rare talented human beings can see the aliens for what they are, like in They Live.  A few of the more powerful aliens enter our universe inside the body of a human being and try to tear their way out of the body, like in Aliens.  The protagonist specializes in either killing the aliens with much violence, or using special high tech equipment to send the aliens back to their original dimension.

Constantine is not a science fiction movie, but the details are essentially the same.  In my description above, change every occurrence of the word "aliens" to the word "demons" and this is what the movie is about.  It is really a religious fantasy/horror film, but to me it is more like a science fiction movie enveloped in a bunch of religious mumbo jumbo.  Constantine has a rich and complex mythology, but this probably doesn't match anything you learned in Sunday School.

And this is the problem why I think that the movie only has a 46% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  This an interesting and exciting film, but there are going to be many people who simply don't get it, or aren't interested in this genre.   Roger Ebert called it one of his most hated films.

The acting by Keanu Reeves at times is little wooden, but I like many of the supporting actors.

End of Days has the same problem.  The movie could be summed up as "Arnold Schwarzenegger versus the Devil before Y2K."  The plot is a little sillier, where the Devil needs to mate with the "chosen" female one hour before the end of the millennium to create the anti-christ.  Had I seen the movie in the theater I would have considered it just a borderline good movie, but it makes a good $1 movie rental.  It has only an 11% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

These films require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief.  To enjoy these movies you have to accept the rules of the universe that these characters live in.  They are best enjoyed with a bowl of popcorn and an open mind.


Charlie: "When I was a little girl, my mother would remind me each night before bed, to open up my heart to God, for He was kind, merciful, and just. Things changed when my father left a few years later, leaving her to raise me and my brothers in a place on the edge of the Mojave Desert. She never talked of a kind and merciful God again. Instead she spoke of a prophecy. Of a time when all the world would be covered in darkness and the fate of mankind would be decided. One night, I finally got the courage to ask my mother why God had changed, why He was so mad at His children. 'I don't know,' she said, tucking the covers around me, 'I guess He just got tired of all the bullshit.'"

Legion is not your typical horror movie.  God sends an army of angels to wipe out mankind.  One archangel, Michael, rebels and tries to save mankind.  The story goes that if one special child, a savior figure, can be saved, then so can humanity.  The showdown to save or destroy mankind takes place at a run down "gas and eat" on the edge of the Mojave desert.

Michael (The Archangel): "The last time God lost faith in Man, He sent a flood. This time, He sent what you see outside."
Percy Walker: "Are you saying this is the apocalypse?"
Michael (The Archangel): "I'm saying this is an extermination."

I love the performances by Paul Bettany as Michael, Kevin Durand as Gabriel, Dennis Quaid, Charles Dutton, Tyrese Gibson, and Lucas Black.  The movie is also full of great quotes:  

Percy Walker: "When I was a kid, my father would sit by my bed every night before I went to sleep.  And he's say to me, 'Percy, if you don't wake up tomorrow, if it turns out that today is your last day on earth.  Will you be proud of what you've done in this life?  Because if you ain't, you better start getting square.'"

Bob Hanson: "You know this is crazy, right? I mean... I don't even believe in God."
Michael (The Archangel): "Well, that's just fine, Bob. He doesn't believe in you either."

Michael (The Archangel):  "When God chose your kind as the object of His love, I was the first in all of heaven to bow down before you. My love, my hope for mankind was no less than His. But I have watched you trample that gift. I have watched you kill each other over race and greed... waging war over dust and rubble and the words in old books. And yet, in the midst of all this darkness, I see some people who will not be bowed. I see some people who will not give up, even when they know all hope is lost. Some people, who realize being lost is so close to being found. I see you, Jeep. Fifteen years old, your mother leaves. Your father withdraws from the world and you spend the next five years of your young life helping him find his way home. You love a woman who bears the child of another and you love her with no thought of yourself, even though you know she may never love you the way you love her. You, Jeep... you are the reason I still have faith."

Gabriel (The Archangel): "This is not your test, Michael. How dare you presume to know His heart?"
Michael (The Archangel): [putting a hand to his chest] "Because He made this one. And it tells me He shouldn't lose faith now."

Gabriel (The Archangel):  "I would not have shown you such mercy."
Michael (The Archangel): "I know. That's why you failed Him."

When I compare Legion to another apocalyptic horror film, The Mist, I think that Legion is a hundred times better.  Both movies belong to a genre of movies called Siege Films, where a group of people are inside a house or a building trying to defend themselves from something evil outside.  This may have started with westerns, but one of the most famous examples is Night of the Living Dead.  Another famous example is Assault on Precinct 13.

Legion's showdown in an old gas station/restaurant also reminded me of an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer called "Spiral".

I think that the film has shades of Terminator, with the end of the world theme and the way the archangel Michael arrived on earth reminded me of how Kyle Reese arrived in 1984.

Why it is only 19% or Rotten Tomatoes I can't understand.

The movie has inspired a new TV series which I like.

Ratings:
End of Days * * *
Constantine:  * * * 1/4
Legion:         * * * 1/2