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52 reviews in total 
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Wish Upon (2017)
Worst (fictional) horror of 2017, 8 November 2017

In this endeavor, a perfectly attractive and ordinary teenage girl is menaced by the stunt doubles of the cast of "Mean Girls" until she finds a magical Asian music box/wish machine that looks like a slide projector and... not much changes. See as how she's already cute and not really an outcast, and the popular boy has already asked her on a date, the whole wishing thing kind of seems like a joke. After the first wish for the ersatz Mean Girl to "just, like, totally rot or something," the wishes don't really seem to do much. She wishes to be popular and this manifests itself as her getting invited to a party and somebody mentioning she looks cute. She wishes for her father not to be embarrassing, and lo and behold, her father is Ryan Phillippe (which he has been all along), only one of her friends notices that he's hot all of a sudden. They don't even do us the courtesy of giving the characters glasses and then removing them to reveal themselves as babes or studs. For each wish, the magical Asian slide projector takes a life in a very Final Destination fashion. Two deaths are outright Final Destination ripoffs. I must mention that our heroine is totally useless. Two suicides happen directly in front of her, and she doesn't even try to approach the person. She just stands there sobbing and yelling, unconvincingly at that. The final death is meant to be shocking, and it might have been, were it not totally laughable. Some of the above 10/10 reviews seem to have been professionally written. The filmmakers ought to have saved their money on fake critics and put it onto screen. Or spent it better, as I believe this thing cost 12 mil.

Wilson (2017/I)
7 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
A meandering character piece, 25 March 2017

In the beginning of "Wilson," Woody Harrelson's loser character laments the rise of people on social media and zoning out listening to earbuds, mourning the death of human interaction. Then, he shows us the reason why people listen to headphones in public: so they don't get in inane conversations with people like him. As with Ghost World (and Art School Confidential, less successfully) Daniel Clowes adapts his basically plot less comic into a feature length film, shoehorning a plot into what was just a character piece. Really, this is just the misadventures of a socially awkward, overly truthful, but extroverted person. But the pinned on plot concerns Wilson reuniting with his troubled ex, finding their bullied daughter who'd been adopted away, getting in trouble for contacting said daughter, and forming a new relationship with a yoga instructor. When his reunion with his daughter goes south, this previously lighthearted movie becomes too serious. The audience, who was all chuckles before, suddenly didn't know how to react to violent situations and dangerous people. I can't say the movie would have been successful without this situation. IT still concerns a man who it is hard to like. But adding dark elements to a comedy and then returning to the comedy does not seem to work. The seemingly upbeat ending, too, seems fastened on. The filmmakers wanted to end on a note of hope, so they stuck in a rather cliché sentiment that does not add much to either the story or the overall theme. I have enjoyed many movies about oddballs and social outcasts, but this one just does not manage to reconcile its story elements and its themes. I wasn't crazy about the source material either.

PS: Who came up with the advertising image of two men at a urinal? What are people making of it?

2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Beautiful and compelling, but weakens toward the end., 14 March 2017

This mini-history of lgbt civil rights begins in 1971 with a young Cleve Jones along with two other activists' story in San Francisco, as they attempt to create a safe space for the gay community, elect Harvey Milk, deal with the AIDS crisis, and finally help to usher in gay marriage. The beginning is quite compelling as we are thrust into the epicenter of late 60s/early 70s activism not only with the gay rights movement, but civil rights and feminism. While it is odd that it did not begin with the Stonewall riots a few years earlier, we do get the impression that we are following the right people at the right time to get a bird's eye view of the struggle. The actor playing the young Cleve Jones, upon whose memoir the story was based, does a wonderful job playing a charismatic young man. His older version, played by Guy Pearce, is equally convincing, though the passage of time and changes in his life have made him a less intriguing character. The young actress portraying Roma Guy, a community activist and feminist, suffers from unfortunate hair styling and a bit of shyness, which is corrected in her older version well-played by Mary Louise Parker. Ken Jones, no relation to Cleve, is first portrayed as a soldier, then we follow him as he loses a partner, contracts HIV, succumbs to drugs, then finds God and himself (and some bad hair choices). Dustin Lance Black, who created the series, is best known for the film Milk, and fortunately/unfortunately, the best elements of the story of When We Rise were also contained in that film. The history of San Francisco through the assassination of Milk is fascinating in and of itself. Then, we go in descending order. The history of the early days of AIDS told in the second two episodes is nearly as compelling (as presented here) but begins a slow descent in quality (needless to say, And the Band Played On, presents it better). By the time we're arguing for gay marriage, we wonder if perhaps focusing on different characters for each segment might have been a better plan. While the three leads are center to the action early on, they drift out of importance. The story begins following dramatic story lines that can seem melodramatic. As soon as a good thing happens to a character, you can be certain that something is coming to take the good thing way by the next scene, if not later in the scene itself. It gets a telenovela quality where anything that happens in the life of the characters is mere grist for drama. I am the sort of viewer who loves stories of protests and human rights struggles, and was nearly crying during the first four parts (or first two in their 90 minute versions). It is a great human story and tragedy, very compelling and very modern. It teaches you things you may not know, even if you consider yourself well informed. The last two episodes, perhaps because they are so recent, just are not as compelling. It seems very few compromises were made to put this show on ABC. I was greatly impressed that it didn't seem heavily censored for heterosexuals who might not even watch it. One of the concessions did seem to be that though Democrats have been better on gay rights issues, the series couldn't take sides. Much is made of Clinton not saying a certain phrase in a speech that the activists wanted him to make. This is a real letdown from the high stakes of earlier struggles, and makes you wonder if that scene was just in there to show that Clinton wasn't perfect on the issue (we all know he was not). Overall, I do wish that perhaps we had a new narrator or narrators for each of the two part portions of the series. And that it had started earlier, in the late 60s perhaps. But as a portrait of this particular civil rights struggle from the 70s until roughly today, this manages to well surpass expectations. It's entertaining, educational, and inspirational.

31 (2016)
An ugly, cheap version of Suicide Squad, 13 January 2017

You'd have to imagine that Rob Zombie knew Suicide Squad was going to be big in 2016 when he decided to write about a warped tramp in Daisy Dukes with a baseball bat fighting with a meth addict clown with metal teeth. To avoid a lawsuit, he instead borrowed plot elements from The Purge and The Running Man to create a no rules game show where ugly hillbillies, gangbangers and sluts fight other similar people with bad circus makeup. All the characters communicate entirely in the f word, sometimes mixed up with similar words in untranslated Spanish and German. For a fight movie with a pro wrestling sensibility, it works. It's not dull. But that's it. The era and camera work evokes Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but in this version it's like the crazy cannibal family is fighting each other: no heroes, no themes, no messages, not much of interest.

La La Land (2016/I)
8 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
Return of the unabashed musical, 6 December 2016

I've been waiting for a return of the unabashed musical, and this one announces from its opening scene that it's a movie where actors burst into choreographed song and dance routines on the spur of the moment. This is a good thing. Part of the death of the musical involved the casting of actors who could not sing and/or were wrong for the part. Naturally, I was nervous about the casting. Gosling and Stone are good actors; as singers, they're effective, her more so. As a dancer, Gosling is a little clunky. You get the feeling Channing Tatum might have done it better. The plot echoes a 30s musical with Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler; though not quite as artificial and stylized. There are also elements of Gene Kelly, including a 50s style ballet sequence. Plot-wise: A struggling jazz pianist and an aspiring actress are looking for a break in Hollywood, fall in love, and struggle when they begin to find success. The romance and much of the comedy echoes Woody Allen's screenplays, especially Annie Hall, and his own musical Everyone Says I Love You (luckily the actors don't _act_ as if they're in an Allen film, no matter how much the script sounds like they should). Story and plot don't tend to matter much in a musical, but the lead characters and the love story works. The style and design are mostly spot on, though it's not a showcase of costume and sets. The editing is a bit odd, and sometimes it seems that the singing is not quite matching the lip movement. When John Legend sings, though his songs are not good, we hear what a polished singer sounds like, and can clearly match his mouth to the sound. None of the songs in the movie are breakout hits exactly. Emma Stone's audition song is the most effective, and/but it heavily echoes Paul Williams (I could hum Rainbow Connection over it). Overall, despite criticism, I think it's a great movie for the present time. It may succeed better as a gimmick, given that this type of musical is so seldom made now. In a year with multiple musicals, I'm not sure how memorable this one would be. I will say, in almost all respects, it's well worth seeing, and probably seeing in a theater for full effect.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The most sensible thing is to split up, 3 December 2016

The second viewing does this movie a lot of favors. Much of the hate comes from diminished expectations, coming off two good movies in the series, and famously not featuring much of Jason "taking" Manhattan. If you can ignore this, and many glaring errors - geographic, spatial, logical - this is fun trash entertainment, and the last slice and dice Jason formula movie until the reboot. The movie is basically shot well, keeps up pace most of the time, features an attractive cast, and - for the modern viewer - lots of fun nuggets of late 80s culture. The filmic portrayal of pre-Giuliani New York always fascinates. Where the film goes wrong are those areas that could have made it more entertaining for what it was: a slasher on a boat. Many of the kills underwhelm. Some go on for so long, we expect more. Some don't quite seem logical: Jason is portrayed as superhuman, yet struggles to strangle or stab pretty easy victims. For a lumbering zombie, he is able to sneak up on victims with no sound, smell, or bodily residue giving him away. This is made plainer by the kills that do work, like the character who boxes Jason, gives up and says "take your best shot." Or the rocker guitar kill. These are like a B on a bad report card, showing it could be better if they tried. When Jason does get to Manhattan, he ignores a plethora of victims to go after the main characters, who don't even have a direct connection to Camp Crystal Lake. His "death," via some whacked out perception of toxic New York, is made more ridiculous by the fact that later sequels deviate to the point where this could be considered his final death scene in the Camp Crystal Lake Paramount octet. It's still better than parts 5 or 9, and still an enjoyable diversion.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
a good start and finish filled out with many plot holes, 18 April 2015

Although the ending was original enough, this movie gets so bogged down in plot holes, bizarre character traits, ideas that don't pan out, scenes thrown in for no reason, etc., that it lost me. After an introductory scene with an episode of family violence, which I thought to be a dream, we meet a vanilla, sexually frustrated couple living in Las Vegas, for no particular reason. Although the couple is not social and doesn't appear to have much to do with their neighbors, they insist on meeting a new neighbor who has creep written all over him. The husband is a croupier, the wife a Masters student studying online porn. Neither point is relevant. The wife begins suffering night terrors, and calls her only visible friend, a pregnant doctor, who looks about the same age, yet has a higher degree and hates hospitals. She is pregnant to an unknown father, previously suffered night terrors, and previously knew the creepy neighbor. These two geniuses cannot put two and two together. Normally both women in a good thriller might suspect something supernatural or alien had happened, and when the doctor advises to get a camera, I think we will get bizarre found footage that will deepen the mystery. Instead the terrors are blamed on her marriage and lack of a child or dog. Don't ask why an ambitious student and her low paid husband think it's a good idea to try for a baby. When the found footage scene finally pays off, we have solved most of the mystery with one tape. Then comes the obligatory newspaper search and the visit to the insane asylum. This movie is set in tract housing, and has no Gothic elements except the first scene, and the asylum scene, filmed like any horror movie asylum scene. While some elements are eerie, it provides no suspense and little mystery. I'm somewhat interested to see if the book did it better, because the ending does get points for originality, for the why and the what, not the who. But I can't get behind two highly educated women, as the script tells us, who cannot figure out something as glaringly obvious as the Vegas Strip.

Annabelle (2014/I)
17 out of 35 people found the following review useful:
Creepy Victorian Doll: the movie, 1 October 2014

In the first, rather scary, scene in the Conjuring, featuring the Annabelle doll, I wondered, what kind of woman would ever buy a doll that creepy looking? Apparently no one. Since the real Annabelle was in fact a simple Raggedy Ann doll. This movie purports to tell the whole story behind the doll, almost none of which conforms with reality (meaning the "true" story as it was given to and told by the Warrens). We meet a bland, prosaic young couple about to have a child. The wife has a doll collection decorating the child's room (Before she knows if it's a girl or boy), and the husband buys her the Annabelle doll, which is supposedly an expensive collector's item meant to match two similar dolls. Following an attack by two cult members who lived next door, the Annabelle doll becomes possessed, doing usual ghost things like operating a sewing machine, and record player. Later, she seemingly tries to kill the baby in its womb, contradicting the later explanation that the doll is a demon host looking for an innocent soul. Luckily, a kindly mystical black woman owns a nearby bookstore with a well-stocked occult section. The wife and her friend discover the name of the cult to which the neighbors belonged, but use absolutely none of the information to defeat the doll. In fact, there are many threads that dangle and go nowhere. We meet two children who seemingly draw pictures of the baby being hit by a truck, and then the children are never seen again, and bear no relevance to the plot. The fact that the mystic new age black woman is willing to go to any length to protect this bland white family may strike some as offensive, especially since it appears nowhere in the actual story. Like most films of this nature, it is practically an advertisement for the Catholic Church and Christian religion in general. The Warrens also investigated the Amityville story, whose victims were also Catholic, and the book featured an introduction by a Catholic priest. Essentially, these stories say, for better or worse, that Catholics are the religion feared by the devil, and the only ones capable of eliminating supernatural threats from demons. The Warrens, in fact, keep the doll in a case protected with a cross, and blessed by a priest. As for the movie itself, it features a couple good jump scares. There are a couple scenes strongly reminiscent of Japanese horror (Dark Water and the Grudge especially). I've seen this type of movie done better and much worse. I have no idea why the R rating, except possibly the religious iconography and injury to a priest and pregnant woman. But honestly, this could play on television barely edited, if at all. You can definitely wait for this title on video.

6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
200 million dollar boondoggle, 13 July 2014

Like many of Disney's recent megaflops, this is creakily old fashioned in the worst possible way. The tone - varying between screwball comedy and high body count violence - is so uneven it's bipolar. Johnny Depp is phoning it in with a Willie Wonka-esque performance, all funny faces and gestures like a talking mime. Armie Hammer looks homely and ten years older than he is; they may as well have cast Cary Elwes. The only thing possible that I think the producers/director were going for was along the lines of the more current Indiana Jones films. They didn't even hit the artistry of Crystal Skull. Some of the effects, shots and scenery are great, which is a shame because if they'd told a good story, they could have halved the budget and doubled the gross.

13 out of 32 people found the following review useful:
the fault in the adaptation, 29 May 2014

One of the best things about TFIOS was the voice of Hazel. It put a great, creative spin on an otherwise common disease story. We don't entirely lose it here. It's in the narration, and in her speech. Some of the book's whimsy comes out with cute choices like placing text messages into speech bubbles above the characters' heads in the book's font. But...from the beginning, we lose the Hazel's wry commentary, and the movie treats the kids' diseases as the most pressing issues, rather than their mental grappling with them. When Augustus is introduced, he is practically stalkerish in his attention toward Hazel, which is forgivable only because of his cuteness. From here on in, it's all twee cuteness. Augustus is a wonderful, but impossibly movie-like boyfriend who would probably get on your nerves in real life, and would also probably be hiding a terrible secret. The movie is not as pressing as the book when we go to Amsterdam to meet the author that inspires her. There's very little urgency or conflict. The movie delivers sweetness and young love, and it truly is sweet, but at times it loses the flavor of the book. I will also say the wardrobe and art direction are terrible, and that I'm not sold on Shailene Woodley's star quality. Even though her man has one leg, it still seems he could do better. I'm knocking this movie a lot, but I will recommend. The preview audience seemed to laugh and cry in all the right places.

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