Autumn is my favorite time of year. One of the many things that makes it great is getting your fill of scary movies. I do love a good chill every now and then. The trouble is (and this is common to many of my fellow scaremongers out there) there aren't really that many good scary movies. You kind of have to forget your normal movie standards for the sake of cheap thrills. But there are really excellent ones, every once in a while, that make the rest worth the time.
So I went to see Carrie. To be honest from the get go, it wasn't great. But it wasn't not worth it, either. The good parts and the faulty parts kind of balance each other out in the spirit of the season and it was entertaining enough for a weeknight I might have otherwise spent reading for my British Lit class.
Carrie asks what happens if that one person you don't know how to get along with and therefore avoid and ridicule develops telekinetic powers. It was originally the book that put Stephen King on the map, and is pretty iconic on its own. So I think the group of filmmakers who decided to adapt it again had their work cut out for them. In that sense I pity them, and even wonder "Was there no other project to do?"
The movie's one big problem from which every other disappointing thing stems is the writing. The performances (considering what the actors are given) are fair and even good, and the technical aspects of it are strong. It just wasn't sketched out well beforehand. The dialog is weak and sometimes tacky. The characters feel like they've been reduced to their basic elements and left that way. They are often only caricatures drawn with wide lines and colored crudely. The lapse in writing also effects the film's overall structure, not leaving enough time for it to rise and only letting it partially cook.
On the other hand, it does try to offer a fair thematic update. We commonly deal with things like cyberbullying and there are more and more people we can't fit into a mold and therefore don't know how to deal with. If every emotional outburst from one who feels mistreated resulted in telekinetic destruction, maybe we'd treat them a little more seriously.
In the end, I will say that it might be more worth it to rent it next year at Halloween, as part two of your double feature with Hocus Pocus or something. But what is your favorite scary movie? What says Halloween to you?
Carrie features Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, and Judy Greer, and is rated R because, well, it's Carrie. What did you expect?
It seems the season is upon us now where movies really want to be awarded things. Sometimes this means we get really great stuff, like Gravity. Other times it means we get good-but-not-spectacular-and-therefore-kinda-deceiving stuff like Captain Phillips. As a story it is one of the great maritime episodes of recent history. As a movie, it is competent but not really special, combining a solid performance by Tom Hanks with an all right rest of it overall.
Captain Phillips' titular character is played by Hanks. He is a commercial freighter captain shipping cargo around the African horn. This of course goes wrong when a band of Somali pirates boards their ship.
The movie has two main problems that are sort of the same problem: this is a story that we know the ending of specifically, and a genre we are overly familiar with generally. Therefore, most of the work put into making it suspenseful is kind of wasted. Director Paul Greengrass is good at this (he gave us two Bourne movies) but it doesn't have the effect here. But even if you don't know the specifics of the story, you are acquainted with the rescue movie genre and its conventions. The movie goes willingly along with all of them, and results in a lot of ill-spent energy.
There is an attempt to get around all this, to a certain extent, but I don't think it quite makes it. We get to know the four pirates pretty well, and they seem to be our outlet into something a little different. Their leader especially has an interesting relationship with Phillips, and there is an attempt to make something of this. They are both captains, but they differ radically with how they act in relation to their crew. This is kind of neat, but ultimately doesn't pan out to much.
The movie, notwithstanding my comments above, is pretty watchable. There are even some tense moments even though we pretty much know the outcome, so chalk that up to Greengrass' skill. The movie's best part by a long stretch is its last fifteen minutes or so. As it wraps up there are some interesting little threads of moral ambiguity--nothing inflammatory but enough to remind that there are multiple sides to every story. There are also some powerful moments showing the trauma experienced by some characters that really bring the movie down to the level of real-life, rejecting any action-movie similarities there might have been.
So I say that Captain Phillips is good but not necessarily noteworthy. In other terms, it is more worthwhile as a weekend rental than as a show with paid admission. As always let me know what you thought about it.
Captain Phillips features Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, and Faysal Ahmed, and is rated PG-13 for some violence.
Writer: Billy Ray
Director: Paul Greengrass
I have a new favorite movie this year, and it is called Gravity. The word "favorite" implies that the other movies I liked are inferior to it, or that I don't like them any more. That isn't true, really. Movies like The Kings of Summer and Pacific Rim still stand out, but Gravity is on a different plane. It is overwhelming and beautiful, terrifying and intimate, a consummately fine film.
The movie is about Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a scientist in space for the first time working to install an experimental device on a satellite. With her is Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who is on his last mission. Together they survive a terrible accident that leaves them floating in space, hundreds of miles above the earth.
Part of what I love about the movie is the entirely realized vision of director Alfonso Cuarón. It makes no concessions in its portrayal of the story, and results in an entirely unique viewing experience. The movie opens with a seemingly continual shot that lasts for minutes, immediately immersing us in his world. His distinctive use of the camera throughout enforces the illusion of being in space with the characters, making it one of the most beautiful pieces of cinematography I've experienced. This adds a certain level of both intimacy and terror, since in large part we are on stage with the actors. The movie feels like it is encircling the audience. Perhaps a better analogy is that the audience is the roaming camera, finding action as it happens. It is really one-of-a-kind.
The visual effects are also a key element to the movie's success, and are actually more essential to the "camerawork" than the actual camera. The sound design is also incredible. All of the technical aspects working seamlessly together allow the artistic and thematic elements to really shine. That is the other part of what I loved about it: it isn't simply the disaster/survival movie it easily could have been. It certainly has those elements, but it adds up to more. It almost seems like a combination of Castaway and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The movie is consciously philosophical, even spiritual. It deals powerfully with concepts of mortality and rebirth, of guilt and forgiveness. Indeed, it is almost a grand parable for the entire cycle of life, ironically told where life cannot possibly exist on its own.
This all plays out with essentially two characters. This may be one of the film's biggest risks, but it is certainly one of its greatest payoffs. Sandra Bullock especially carries the emotional weight of the movie, and she does so quite well. This was pleasing to me, since she has always been inexplicably irritating to me in movies. She was my only qualm going in, but proved me wrong as soon as it got going. She brings a down-to-earth (excuse the pun) sensibility to it that brings all of us non-astronauts along for the experience. Her part is as crucial to the film as anything else.
And so I say without reservation that Gravity is worth it, all the way. It is certainly tense enough to merit watching merely for thrills, but its soulful depiction of humanity and life makes it special. I saw it in regular old 2D, but I think its 3D treatment would be worthwhile as well.
Gravity features Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, and is rated PG-13 for some scary things and understandable swears.
Writers: Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
by Chase Harrison