Insidious: A well made retread

I feel like since I was given tickets to a pre-screening the movie Insidious, I have an obligation to review it. 

When I first saw that scary lady, she made me laugh.

Insidious does something very few horror movies tend to do: it doesn’t hit an extreme.  I tend to absolutely love horror movies because they do what they wanted to do well, or I think they’re terrible, although often to the point where they are still funny.

Insidious didn’t blow me away, but then again, it wasn’t a bad movie.

Horror is a strange genre: everyone likes something different.  So let me list my favourite horror movies, to give you an idea of my taste:

  • 5 – Child’s Play
  • 4 – The Ring
  • 3 – The Omen
  • 2 – The Grudge
  • 1 – The Exorcist

So, if they had put “the” in the title, it probably would have knocked Child’s Play off the list.  Seriously though, I tend to go for more of a quiet but epic menace over a slasher.  I liked the first Friday the 13th, but after Jason Vorhees became real in Part 2, I lost interest.  I enjoyed Halloween and Halloween 2, but after that they stopped exploring the mythology, and I stopped caring.

I seem to remember liking Scream, but not enough that I remember ever going back.    I also remember liking I Know What You Did Last Summer, but I don’t know if that was about the movie…

There's a killer in this movie, right? Something is happening to make her run? Meh, who cares. Run, Jennifer, run!

But this isn’t about how I feel about all horror movies ever.  It’s about Insidious.

So, there’s nothing really new or unique about the story of concept of this movie.  It is a mish-mash of Amnityville, Poltergiest, and The Exorcist.  Those are all great movies, and even Shakespere didn’t have original ideas.  I don’t really fault them for that.  For me, it’s not about how original the idea is as how well it’s pressented.

The visuals in the movie were top notch, and I’m not just talking about Rose Byrne.

Although she certainly didn't hurt the film

It looked good.  The shots were well composed, the sets were beautiful, and the monsters, except for the old lady, were great.  The Man with Fire on His Face was the best, and they never showed you all of him at once.  You got a good look at his eye, or his claws, or a quick shot of him, but never enough to ruin his mystery.

The sound design was great too, and one of the movies greatest strengths.  The movie kept setting the atmosphere with expertly composed and placed music and sound.  It could spin the mood like a bad feeling in your gut, or make the world seem surreal.  It was unobstrusive, and you had to almost be listening for it.

One of the best things the movie did was it showed you exactly how it was going to do its jump scares, those moments where it suddenly shows you a horrifing image to make you jump in your seat.  The first several were done exactly the same way, and you fell into a pattern.  You knew when the were coming.

That’s when they changed.  They would come sooner or later than expected, and it worked so well.  Kodie jumped, and he hasn’t jumped at a scary movie since 1985.

But if you are like Kodie, and you’ve been watching horror movies since VCRs were new and neat, then you may have limited milage in this movie.  You’ve seen all the individual pieces before, in better, tighter movies.  There’s nothing wrong with Insidious, but it doesn’t really add much to the genre’s landscape.  People won’t be talking about this for years to come.  It’s going to fade into the same sort of obscurity that Bless This Child reached.  There’s nothing about it that will stay with you.

If you’re a horror fan, you’ll enjoy it, but you may not remember it.

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Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

 

 

I went to see Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World this weekend with Kodie and Shawn.  Because it was opening weekend, we went rather early.  Shawn is now pretty deep in the world of comics these days, and in case you didn’t know: 

 

Scott Pilgrim was a comic first.  Shawn was pretty certain with the limited screens playing the movie, it would be tough to get tickets. 

These fears turned out to be unfounded.  The audience seemed made up of two groups: fans of the indy comic it was based on, and Michael Cera fans.  Michael Cera has a lot more fans than the comic, because who hasn’t seen Juno, or have some friend that constantly bemoans the cancellation of Arrested Development, like it was the holy grail of television programming, and there has never and will never be a better sitcom. 

Didn’t they ever see News Radio? That’s the best sitcom ever.

  

I absolutely loved this movie, but I doubt that will be common.  As we were walking out, people all around us had a great time, but also seemed confused.  I over heard three separate hipsters mutter about how they didn’t get it.  How often do hipsters admit that?  Even Kodie had a little trouble wrapping his head around it. 

While I haven’t read the original comic, I did spend a lot of years at University studying English, so I’m pretty good at understanding how a story works.  I’m not saying I’m smarter than people who didn’t get it, just that I have the training to spot what was going on.  See the movie worked on a conceit, an extended metaphor.  What happened on screen meant something else, and it never explains itself explicitly.  

The basic plot is that Scott, a slacker bass player in a no-name band, starts dating Ramona Flowers, who is the girl of his dreams.  Literally.  The first time he sees her, he’s dreaming and he hasn’t met her yet.  In order to date her, he needs to defeat her seven evil exes, and each one is like a boss battle out of a video game. 

The movie is beautiful, the fight scenes are great, and it’s really funny.  Even if you don’t entirely get what’s going on, it’s a hell of a fun watch.  Kodie’s favourite part is that it’s set in Toronto, and very Canadian, from CBC t-shirts to the self-depreciatory national humour.  They also do a very cool thing with the pacing of the movie.  How Scott feels about things changes the way the cuts are done.  When he’s spaced out and ignoring the world, you’ll suddenly be snapped into a situation, and Scott is more confused than the audience.  When things are great for him, days fly by in seconds.  When things suck, time drags itself out.  I do recommend it to anyone. 

While this is kind of a romantic comedy, it’s great in how human it remains.  See, Scott is kind of a douchebag.  He has major flaws, and the reason he doesn’t have a girl friend is because he fucks things up.  He’s not the standard Michael Cera character who’s a great guy who chicks just don’t notice.  He says and does stupid things, and a lot of his problems are his own fault. 

Now, this next part isn’t really spoilers.  It’s my explanation for that extended metaphor, and if you’d rather watch the movie and try and figure it out for yourself, stop reading here. 

Okay, so here’s how it works; every battle is Scott dealing with his issues.  He’s got to overcome how he stacks up with her first boyfriend, the boyfriend who does all the things he can’t, the boyfriend who does everything he wants to do better, and issues like that.  The magnitude of each fight is based on how much trouble he has overcoming the problem.  Usually, Ramona needs to explain herself for him to move past an issue, but even that isn’t always enough. 

I think I know how I got this, when a lot of people seemed to miss it.  It’s not just the English training.  It’s also the fact that I process emotions in a similar way.  Lina often laughs at the way I apply rules and systems to a chaotic world to make sense of things, as if there’s an underlying order if you can just figure it out through the static.  Scott does the same thing by looking at his problem through the lens of a video game, where there are bosses to beat, points and powerups to collect, and a set end point he believes he can achieve to have beaten the game. 

I’m not saying that I ever imagine fighting my girlfriends exes in my mind’s eye, or craft huge narrative in the back of my head.  I mean, that would be crazy, right?  I certainly don’t do exactly what Scott’s doing in the movie.  At all.  That would be weird.  Right?  Cause I don’t do that. 

And the fights aren’t awesome and epic.  I don’t feel so good when I finally trounce those opponents, usually when I don’t care about who or what they were.  They totally don’t make amazing stories I wish I could represent visually, or even share without a whole bunch of masking so that no one nows. 

…AT ALL.

Miniblog: Inception

Amos might be a bit of a movie snob.  He doesn’t think D.E.B.S. is a good movie.  Sure, the box art doesn’t lead you to expect much:

Is this porn?

And sure, it might look like porn.  In fact, the first time I watched it, about 5 minutes in, I was disappointed that it wasn’t.  But then it turned out to be good, and everyone but Amos agrees.

Amos is the sort of individual who can tell you who won what Oscar in which year.  Off the top of his head.  Movie snob…

When he was excited about Inception, I was worried.  Maybe the movie was too much for my pop culture riddled brain.  But then again, it looks so cool:

YES!

If you haven’t seen a trailer for this movie, go watch one.  Trust me, it won’t give away anything.  The basic concept of the movie is hard to explain in a trailer, so you won’t end up spoiling the best parts.

Basically, the film is about people who steal from dreams using some kind of briefcase macguffin they never really explain, but for once they’re planting an idea instead of taking one.  There’s more to it, and all the ideas are pretty solid, as long as you accept that for this movie, you can go into other people’s dreams.  As it goes on, it get’s cooler and cooler.  Leonardo Dicaprio is the lead, and characterwise is probably the least interesting, but his plot makes up for his dullness.

The kid from Third Rock From the Sun (you’d have to ask Amos his name) does a great job.

But castwise, my favourite part was Ellen Page playing an adult:

Not a minor!

That is a beautiful woman, and even though she’s of age in say, Juno, there’s still a level of creepy when you’re attracted to her and she’s pretending to be 16.  So, as a college student, I don’t need to feel bad about the fact that she’s hot.

But the strength of this movie lies in the plot and its perfect execution.  The ideas are really interesting, and they show them in a visually stunning manner.  I don’t want to give this movie away.  You have to see it.  Imagine the Matrix was actually deep, or if Donnie Darko had zero gravity kung fu fights.

Go see this movie.

The Last Airbender

The Last Airbender

 I was so excited for The Last Airbender, based on the cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender.  It was something I wanted to see live action so badly, because the story and writing in the original were so great, and to see the special effects based on that animation would be incredible.

Then I found out this douche bag was the director

M Night Gofuckyourself

 M. Night Shyamalan used to be cool.  I mean, Sixth Sense was great, Unbreakable was cool, but the more we got to know him and his style, the worse he got.  The Happening was absolute shit, as he’d gone too far into his own wierd world of mopey, misunderstood protagonists who are the only ones who know some vital truth that everyone else just needs to get.

The Last Airbender is the first movie he has directed that he didn’t write.  Well, I feel he didn’t write it. Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko wrote the original cartoon, which he adapted.  It would have been fair for M to take the screenwriter credit, but his ego got in the way and took it all.  He did say it was “based” on their series, but that’s like saying Taco Bell is based on Mexican food. 

Actually, that works pretty well.  Technically, everything about it should be Mexican food, but really, it’s kind of shit in the shape of Mexican food.

After seeing The Last Airbender, I owe Michael Bay an apology.  I’m sorry I said all those mean things about you missing the point when you adapted Transformers, Michael.  Maybe you focused a little too much on the humans, instead of the robots.  Maybe it was hard to tell who was fighting who.  Maybe there were major plot-holes.  But when I said you entirely missed the point, I was wrong.  I didn’t know what entirely missing the point was.

I am comfortable with the fact that when you adapt something to a new medium, it changes.  You have to choose to cut out some things.  Harry Potter sometimes misses the coolest things from the books, but it’s okay, because they get the point across.  Lord of the Rings knew exactly what to leave out, and I find the movies to be tighter than the novels.  Dexter, as a TV series, changes major plot points, and I actually love it, because the basis of the characters, and the ideas and themes are the same.

But not with The Last Airbender.  Let’s get the good things I need to say out of the way.  The casting was good, and I feel that M. Night Shyamalan’s choice to change the ethnicities from how they were drawn in the cartoon was fine, especially because he introduced more minorities than the show had, and had a wider range of actors than having strict ethnic requirements for people from fictional nations would have allowed.  The special effects were cool, even if the bending styles weren’t as unique as they were on the show, and you had to wait for the CG to tell you what style Aang was using. 

Now, it hit the major story points from the Book of Water, but that’s really not enough.  Avatar: The Last Airbender, was character driven, with the plot supporting the changes in people.  Shyamalan’s screenplay was more worried about “This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened” than how people changed and learned and grew.

He also changed the names of several characters.  Mostly the ones he ruined.  They are, as follows:

Aang

Aang is the central character, the Avatar and the Last Airbender.  In the cartoon, his name is pronounced so that it rhymes with boomerang or tang.  In the movie, for some reason it rhymes with gong or tong.  If it was a book that was adapted, it would be one thing but there’s three seasons of the show establishing the pronunciation.  But maybe it was supposed to be Ong in the movie, and he was someone different.

I mean, look at that picture.  See how the cartoon is smiling?  That’s because Aang’s journey is that of a happy, joyful pacifist who needs to stop a war in a world that has been solving its problems with violence for one hundred years.  Ong, from the movie, spends the whole time deciding if he can mourn his lost people.  He never laughs, never tells jokes, and never has fun.  It’s not the actors fault.  The kid who played Ong was amazing.  He played the role as written, and directed, and did an incredible job of the stunts.

It’s M. Night Shyamalan who decided to take out Aang’s soul and murder him on the big screen.

Then there’s:

Sokka

In the cartoon, his name rhymes with Chewbacca, or someone missing the ‘r’ on the end of soccer.  In the movie, it’s more like Soakka, like a super-soakka water gun.  Sokka was the indomitable human spirit, able to keep going and overcome adversity through perseverance, planning, and adaptation.  In one episode, the characters are without food, and he tires to trap something.  He ends up trapped himself, and starts praying to the universe.  He offers to give up meat.  Then he offers to give up sarcasm.  “That’s all I’ve got!” he cries to the heavens.  “I’m meat and sarcasm guy!” 

If you took all that away, he’d be Soakka.  Soakka has no motivation.  He just … goes on, sad about the world.  Instead of someone doing their best in a difficult situation, and looking after those around him, he’s … he’s a whiny bitch.  Again, I don’t blame the actor, because Soakka is Mel Gibson in Signs, or Bruce Willis in Unbreakable or Sixth Sense.  Soakka is a guy trapped in a shitty situation, and he just whines his way through it.

Finally there’s

Uncle Iroh

In the cartoon, Iroh rhymes with pyro.  In the film, it rhymes with Nero or Hero, so I’ll spell it Ero.  The animated version is a retired general who has lost his taste for war, and enjoys the simple pleasures in life, from tea, to games, to simple jokes, and makes the most out of every second.  Ero, meanwhile, has lost his taste for war and picked up looking sad in the background to fill his time.  Again, the actor nails what Shyamalan obviously wrote for the role, but seriously…

He took all the joy, and all the humour out, and made sure he didn’t miss any of the big fights.  The actors were good, visually it was good, but it’s hard to watch Shyamalan so completely miss the point.  This was like the first time you watched Phantom Menace, and were expecting Star Wars.  Dolph Lungren was a better He-Man.  Michael Bay’s Optimus Prime didn’t lose his compassion and become a murder bot.

Honestly, it’s so painful to watch Shyamalan rip the souls out of happy, worthwhile characters so that he can paint them with the sadness he feels every day when he walks up and realizes he peaked at Six Sense and will die alone and then I’ll shit on his grave like he did on Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Iron Man 2

Usually, I don’t need to be the first person to see or do something.  I tend to be a patient individual, waiting until the things I wanted are undefended, and then I take them. 
 

   

   

Like this pie

Like this pie...

   

Iron Man 2 was the exception.  I rarely see movies in theatres.  I don’t take extra thrill from a larger screen or bigger sound.  As long as I can see everything on my TV, I’ll save $12 on the movie and $15 on the snacks.  If I go to a movie theatre, it’s generally more about the social side than the particular movie.  There’s only one reason I ever need to see a movie in theatres; the rare occasions where I can’t wait.  

Mostly because I loved Iron Man.  Not the comic, but the original movie.  I mean, my obsession with Batman is well-known,  

So cool

and I think Dark Knight was the best comic book movie ever.  It was superior as a work of art, and complete as a story outside the genre.  I think it’s better than Iron Man.  

 But I enjoy Iron Man more.  It’s more entertaining, and the lighter tone makes it easier to watch repeatedly.  Plus, I relate better to a witty alcoholic narcissist than I do to an aggressive driven obsessive. 

 Gilly sent me a message a week before the movie came out, saying it was good.  I couldn’t figure out how she had already seen it, being that for my friend she’s astonishingly non-geeky, and as such wouldn’t see things at something like a comic convention secret sneak preview.  It turns out the release was earlier overseas because Paramount personally hates me. 

 I knew what I had to do.  No one else was going to see that movie before me like that jerk Gilly. 

 Tall and I went a day early for tickets.  Since we weren’t in it for the spectacle, we didn’t need 3D or IMAX or explod-o-vision. We had no trouble getting seats for the 10 pm show.  I was confused the next day when Matt, Ren, and David were all concerned.  They wanted to be there an hour early at least, and David insisted on an even bigger head start.  He was at the theatre at 8:30. 

 We needed it.  Yeah, we had tickets, but even ticket holders were lined up in front of the screening room.  David was about 15th in line when we got there.  Line as far as the eye could see, 45 minutes before show time, and it’s the version with no bells or whistles.  I can’t even imagine what the midnight IMAX showing would have been like, but I am forced to assume it involved a couple of overweight individuals in ill-fitting costumes, and some generally poor hygiene. 

 This was all old news for the staff at Chinook.  They had contingencies in place, and ordered us around with practiced ease when they needed to do something the line was blocking.  They ushered us into the theatre at 9:40 and waited 10 minutes before starting those pre-movie trivia things that come up before the show.  We had a great spot in the centre of the theatre, and due to Matt and Ren’s planning and David’s not really having a life, no matter what he tells you. 

Batman Cool

The movie itself was superb.  It played to the strengths of the original without rehashing old plot points.  They focused on the joyous excess, the price of success, and the sharp dialogue that made the original so good.  They were telling a story that happens to have a superhero in it, instead of a superhero story, a pitfall that plagues so many comic book movies, even today.  Honestly, the strength comes from the fact that the comic fights could have been replaced by board meetings or basketball games.  Everything was so good that the hero parts were just extra cool, not central. 

It didn’t feel the need to tell the original, giving the audience enough credit to continue the tale instead of redoing the first movie.  The plot and the characters only went forward.  

The casing was superb.  Robert Downey Junior, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Samuel Jackson were all as excellent as they were in the original, and their talent adds legitimacy to what could otherwise be a silly movie.  John Slattery plays Tony’s father, which is fitting, as Roger Sterling is nearly a non-superhero Tony stark in the 60s on Mad Men. 

Tony Stark cool

  Scarlett Johansen works for well as Black Widow, especially because they didn’t have her do the Russian accent and they did put her in a leather cat suit.  

I guess I can suffer through that.

The new actor for Rhodes was good, but I find Rhodes a pretty flat character to begin with.  I also enjoy that the movie acknowledges the change, in a scene that lets us know we should just get over it.  

The villain, Whiplash, played by Mickey Rourke, was great.  He had a legitimate grudge, understandable motivations, and was a challenge worthy of a more experienced Iron Man.  Superman movies, are you listening?  Villains should be worth the hero’s time, and should have reasons for what they do.  

Fuck Movie Lex Luthor

I really enjoyed how unobtrusive the special effects were.  They served the story, and never went over the top for their own sake.  Big explosions weren’t Bay-esque, and a large effect always had an in movie reason.  

In fact, the movie had amazing verisimilitude.  It stayed true to its own reality, and anything that looked like a logic flaw had an explanation.  I’m not Kodie, and I can’t say if they were scientifically sound, but they were sound enough for a movie about an international playboy in a robot suit.  

The movie is fun, exciting, and well done. It’s an excellent continuation of a great story, and it’s worth your theatre money.  

Even if you have to wait longer than the English.  

Jerks