Oculus: Ah. Hell. Yeah.

Oculus

Tagline: You see what it wants you to see.

Year: 2013          Runtime: 105 min

Director: Mike Flanagan

Writer: Mike Flanagan (screenplay), Jeff Howard (screenplay)

Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff

Synopsis (from IMDb): A woman tries to exonerate her brother, who was convicted of murder, by proving that the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon.

It’s nice when a movie surprises you with multiple levels of meaning. Oculus is one of those films.

Oculus is the story of a young man, Tim, and woman, Kaylie, siblings, who suffered a terrible tragedy when they were children. It opens with Tim being released from the mental institute where he’s been receiving psychotherapy for the past ten years. Kaylie is there to pick him up. Before anything else she reminds him of their childhood pact: to destroy the evil that ruined their family.

Kaylie, who has had to fend for herself all these years, i.e. without psychological help, has decided to go one step further. Instead of simply destroying the mirror, which houses the evil spirit, she plans to scientifically prove that it was responsible. What she proves is far more disturbing than she could have imagined.

The way the back story is laced with what’s happening contemporarily is mesmerizing, and because the mirror is using their memories, it’s confusing and terrifying, really setting the mood for the film. What’s real? Memory? Fantasy? Oculus keeps you guessing until the devastating Stephen King style ending.

Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan, young Kaylie and Tim, are EXCELLENT actors. A lot of times children actors tend to stick out, unable to fully convince with their emotions. That is not the case here. I could really feel their horror.

This is a great horror flick, intense, chilling atmosphere, blood without going overboard, mind fuck, the works! (I mean, look at that picture of Katee Sackhoff. CREEPY!) If you’re looking for a good scare, look no more. Oculus is what you’ve been waiting for.

Trailer:

The Raid 2: Berandal: Too Damned Long

The Raid 2

Tagline: It’s Not Over Yet

Year: 2014Runtime: 150 min

Director: Gareth Evans

Writer: Gareth Evans

Starring: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra

Synopsis (from the official website): “Following immediately after the events of THE RAID, RAMA (Iko Uwais) is forced to reinvent himself as an undercover cop in order to provide protection for his wife and child. Working for the anti-corruption taskforce led by the one person he can trust, BUNAWAR, he is given a mission to engage himself as an enforcer for a local mob boss, BANGUN. Finding a way in through BANGUN’s son UCO, RAMA must hunt for information linking BANGUN with police force corruption. All the while, he harbors a dangerous and personal vendetta for revenge and justice that threatens to consume him- and bring both this mission and the organized crime syndicates crashing down.”

It’s not over yet is a double entendre. It partially speaks to the fact that this is a continuation of The Raid: Redemption. Mostly it’s  because you’ll keep asking yourself, “Are we done?”

The movie suffers the same problem that the Ang Lee’s Hulk did, it tries to create art with a story that’s smash and crash. The Raid 2 wants to be an epic Godfather type film, and while it is possible to make such a film with awesome fight sequences, that’s not what The Raid 2 is at it’s core. It’s a giant, rage-monster, kick-ass Kung Fu flick. Why do I say that? (Slight Spoiler) Because of the final showdown: 30 minute action sequence where Rama kills two gangs, every last man and woman, single-handedly—AFTER 15 minutes of car chase fighting.

While I can’t say I dislike The Raid 2, I can say I want to like this movie more than I do. Iko Uwais choreographed some bitchin’ fight scenes. And that’s what you go see this film for. Unfortunately there’s an extra hour of unnecessary story that really slows the pace and ultimately kills the movie. In other words: cool fight, blah-blah-blah-blah-blah, cool fight, blah-blah-blah-blah-blah, cool fight, blah-blah-blah-blah-blah, cool fight, car chase, final boss. Roll credits.

If you are a fan of Kung Fu films check this out when it drops on Netflix. Chapter jump to the good stuff: the prison mud fight, the porno pit fight, the crazy, long-haired man fights (there are 2), baseball bat guy and hammer girl (which are their names in the credits), and the insane final boss fight wherein Rama wrecks shop, literally. Otherwise, give this one a skip.

 

Trailer:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Better Than the First One

Captain America The Winter Soldier

Tagline: In heroes we trust.

Year: 2014          Runtime: 136 min

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Writer: Christopher Marcus, Stephen McFreely

Starring: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlet Johansson

Synopsis: (from IMDb) Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.

Better than the first one. That doesn’t say much at all, does it? Let me be more specific. Captain America: The Winter Soldier managed to stay true to the logic of the universe it created. My biggest gripe, which completely took me out of the first movie was Nazi having laser guns. Not the fact that Nazi (in the real world) didn’t have laser guns ‘cos that’s stupid. I can suspend my disbelief with super soldier serum but not lasers? The problem was this: the world went from having lasers in WWII to regular old burlet guns in 2011?

Before I digress further into a review of Captain America: The First Avenger, let me sum up the experience by saying it’s a fun, action-packed Summer film. If you like this genre, you’ll definitely want to check out Captain America: The Winter Soldier in the theaters.

Hollywood, and more specifically this film’s makers, is really thanking Snowden for revealing the NSA as ease-dropping douche bags. Lots of Summer blockbuster films, the kinds with explosions, are made using grand conspiracies as part of the plot. These themes add a bit of weight by raising questions about the moral and ethical lines of espionage, military actions, and the like. But now that Big Brother really is watching everything we do, these films feel more important, even if they are just jocks punching one another.

And then there’s Scarlet Johansson. Mmmmmm. She’s purdy.

Here’s a couple easter eggs to look/listen for: First, an up-to-this-point unnamed marvel hero is mentioned. Second, read the epitaph on [?]’s tombstone, a homage to Tarantino, which was an homage to Chiba. And surely there’s more, but the scene I’m thinking of has so many things flashing on the screen it’s hard to make any one thing out. Have to wait for the DVD to know for sure.

Finally, I do have a couple  gripey questions. Thankfully it only involves the after credits short. And no, there are no spoilers here. Why are the super secret bad guy hideouts, the one’s with the REAL super secret stuff, always in some shit-hole cave? And how are such places that better at keeping things secret than all the super advanced technology, stuff that can pin point a needle in a haystack from outer space on the opposite side of the Earth?

Oh well, it’s always sumptin’, right?

Trailer:

Sabotage: I Do Not Think It Means What David Ayer Thinks It Means

Sabotage

Tagline: Leave no loose ends

Year: 2014           Runtime: 109 min

Director: David Ayer

Writer: Skip Woods, David Ayer

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard

Synopsis (from sabotagethefilm.com): In Sabotage, Arnold Schwarzenegger leads an elite DEA task force that takes on the world’s deadliest drug cartels. When the team successfully executes a high-stakes raid on a cartel safe house, they think their work is done—until, one-by-one, the team members mysteriously start to be eliminated. As the body count rises, everyone is a suspect.

Quitting time Friday Guy asked me, “Got any plans this weekend?”

“I’m going to see Sabotage.”

Sabotage?”

“The new Schwarzenegger film.”

“What’s it about?” he asked with a wry smile.

“It’s the re-imagining of the Gandhi story, like the new Noah film. They sexed it up for the couch potatoes in Peoria.”

Of course, I was pulling Guy’s leg. Noah’s story oozes machismo and sex appeal, no zazz necessary. Peoria standards be damned.

Strangely enough though Sabotage was not what I was expecting it to be either. Yeah, Schwarzenegger blows shit up, but the trailer is deliberately misleading. Exactly how so, I’ll leave it to you to discover. No spoilers.

What I will say is the fact that the story plays out differently than we’re set up to believe was a good move. I think most people will see the ending coming, I did. Yet, while it’s not The Usual Suspects, it does a decent job of misleading the audience, i.e. keeping things interesting for the 109 minute runtime.Hmmm. Now that I think about it, Ayer tied the room together with a pretty rug and then yanked it out from underneath me. Maybe he does know what sabotage means after all. Well played, sir. Well played.

And speaking of play, at 67 Schwarzenegger is showing his age. Not just the grey hairs and wrinkly skin, but in the choice of movies. Like Sears, he’s more than power tools, there’s a softer side. I doubt he’ll transition into Oscar territory like Clint Eastwood, but Sabotage is a step above the corny one-liners from his heyday.

Trailer:

Divergent: Dear Christ What a Horrible Vision of Post-Apocalypse Life

Divergent

Tagline: What Makes You Different, Makes You Dangerous

Year: 2014           Runtime: 139 min

Director: Neil Burger

Writer: Evan Daughterty (screenplay) & Vanessa Taylor (screenplay)

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet

Synopsis (from divergentthemovie.com): Divergent is a thrilling action-adventure film set in a world where people are divided into distinct factions based on human virtues. Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is warned she is Divergent and will never fit into any one group. When she discovers a conspiracy by a faction leader (Kate Winslet) to destroy all Divergents, Tris must learn to trust in the mysterious Four (Theo James) and together they must find out what makes being Divergent so dangerous before it’s too late.

I have watched, and enjoyed, my fair share of post-apocalyptic films. None have been as distressing as the one portrayed in Divergent: after all the mess shakes out “civilized society” will be a reversion to high school cliques. How depressing is that.

Just. Fuckin’. Kill. Me.

According to the founders, the best way to keep peace is to segregate everyone according to their aptitude. There are five factions:

  • Candor – lawyers busy talking shit
  • Erudite – science and computer stuff
  • Dauntless – police, sort of (more later)
  • Abnigation – missionaries
  • Amity – hippy farmers
  • Factionless – those who don’t fit in elsewhere, i.e. bums.

The segregation is so severe that the saying is “Faction before Family.” That is, if you’re in a different faction from your family you no longer interact with them. The factions keep to themselves. If there’s any trouble Dauntless steps in. Well, that is, that’s what we’re told. All we really see is a bunch of tattooed, black-wearing dare devils jumping on/off moving trains, climbing up the sides of buildings, and engaging in other parkour type stuff. ‘Cos a police force isn’t shit if they aren’t cool doods, amirite?

All things considered, Divergent is a well made hero’s journey. It’s awesome that the lead is a female. And what’s more, there’s LURV in there but not the throbbing purple puppy bullshit that one usually gets in these films.

I don’t know that I would recommend seeing this in the theater, unless you’re a teen. But if you should happen to get talked into it, or if you come across it on cable/netflix, it’s not all together bad, even if you’re a curmudgeonly old bastard.

Trailer:

RoboCop: This is How You Do a Remake

Robocop

Tagline: Crime has a new enemy.

Year: 2014 Runtime: 117 min

Director: José Padilha

Writer: Joshua Zetumer

Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton

Synopsis (from robocop.com): “When Alex Murphy – a loving husband, father and good cop doing his best to stem the tide of crime and corruption in Detroit – is critically injured, OmniCorp sees their chance to build a part-man, part-robot police officer. OmniCorp envisions a RoboCop in every city and even more billions for their shareholders, but they never counted on one thing: there is still a man inside the machine.”

I went into the movie theater thinking, “Why in the hell did I just waste my money?” From the moment I heard it announced I, and all of my friends, were beyond skeptical about this remake. I was likewise unimpressed when I saw the first pictures of the new suit. But beggars can’t be choosers, and January and February lousy for movies. So, I took my seat and prepared to be underwhelmed.

I was surprised. As it turns out RoboCop was really good. I was expecting the usual ho-hum, name recognition money-grab. Shitty remakes are most often the result of taking a franchise and slapping on a fresh coat of CGI. While the special effects are sweet, particularly the horrifying image of what’s “left” of Alex Murphy, RoboCop was the perfect vehicle to tell the story it set out to tell.

RoboCop manages its awesomeness in the same way the remake of Battlestar Galactica did—it’s relevant to us today. The film explores some  questions in our collective consciousness without getting up it’s own ass about it. Namely, what is the role and responsibility of drones? What is free will? And most importantly, what is humanity?

All the while it manages to be an entertaining couple of hours. A juggling act done well.

Finally, as any good remake should, RoboCop manages to give homage to the original without too much fan fare. I’ll buy that for a dollar. Or, with inflation, $6.50 matinee.

Trailer:

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Smaug Delivers, Eventually

The Desolation of Smaug

Tagline: Beyond darkness… beyond desolation… lies the greatest danger of all.

Year: 2013 Runtime: 161 min

Director: Peter Jackson

Writer: Fran Walsh (screenplay), Philippa Boyens (screenplay), Peter Jackson (screenplay), Guillermo del Toro (screenplay)

Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage

Synopsis: Bilbo Baggins and the thirteen dwarves continue on their quest to Erebor to retrieve the Arkenstone. Lying in wait, protecting his stolen gold, is the fearsome dragon Smaug.

Why would you want to see this movie?

  1. To see J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved The Hobbit brought to life.
  2. For the spectacle of a giant dragon wrecking shit.

If you’re going to the movie for reason #1, don’t. Splitting one book into three, three-hour movies is doing one of two things. First, it’s trying to follow the book as closely as possible. Second, it’s taking the book, ripping out some pages as source, and creating a whole new story. Having seen the first film, the second is the case. If you just want a reason to bitch because it’s not as good as the book, or because they changed things, definitely go see it. You’ll have plenty to complain about.

On the other hand, as film’s a visual medium, it’s going to tell a story in a different way than the written word. So no movie is ever going to be as good as the book. Therefore, if you are going to see The Desolation of Smaug for reason #2, you’ll be reasonably happy.

Being another three-hour Jackson epic, there’s lots of stuff to feast your eyes on, some of which could have been cut to make the film flow better: several of the fight scenes and the love story sub plot immediately come to mind. Despite the chuff, the film does deliver where the Smaug scenes are concerned.

I would definitely recommend checking this out in theaters. Perhaps not on a school night because of the runtime, but a Saturday or Sunday matinée would work nicely.

Trailer: