Movie Review: Thrown for a Loop

My beloved wife and I sat down this weekend to catch a few movies. The cold front moved in and high winds and icy temperatures kept us pinned down, so we took to Vudu video service and dished up a few we thought we’d enjoy.

The one we picked for Friday night was Looper, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, with a side dish of Emily Blunt thrown in.

LooperLooper is a throw back movie. Oh, I know it’s sci-fi and future-set and all of that, but the fact is, this is an old fashioned noir movie. No gumshoe in a zoot suit, but plenty o’ guys gettin’ a trimmin’ from th’ boss. Smoky bars and nightclubs, dames and dopes galore.

In the future, time travel is only thirty years away. It’s outlawed, which means only outlaws time travel. To eradicate their enemies, people disappear in the future, materialize in the past, are assassinated by Loopers, and their bodies are disposed of. Clean. Simple. Untraceable. And when the assassin has worn out his usefulness, the mob “closes his loop” – which means he is kidnapped and sent to the past to be eradicated by … himself.

It’s a clever premise. And it’s well written, well acted and even though it suffers from some of the same problems any causality loop plot device brings with it, the movie is in many ways riveting. Since he left Third Rock from the Sun, I haven’t seen much out of Gordon-Levitt, but he does a decent job in this one. Willis I never appreciate, but my wife and I both felt a snide chuckle escape at certain times.

Think about it: What would you say to yourself thirty years in the past? If I could meet myself thirty years ago, I’d have so much to say. Problem is, I probably wouldn’t listen to myself. Not even to myself. And I wouldn’t much like me either. Heck, I don’t like me now.

So Looper has some moments of real charm, and is a story worth sitting through. Yes, it’s predictable. Yes, it misses and violates some of its own rules. But it was an entertaining ride, and wasn’t quite as dystopian as I initially thought.

Overall, I gave Looper four stars on Vudu’s rating service. It was really fun, and I’m glad I saw it. I’m also glad I only paid five bucks to see it.

Then again, that’s usually the case for me.

What did you do this weekend?


Movie Review: Hereafter

Over the weekend, my loving wife and I sat down to watch a movie. We chose Hereafter, starring Matt Damon and a bunch of other people I’d never heard of. And that guy who used to be in the Pepsi “Brown-‘n’-Bubbly” commercials and was in The Ghost Whisperer. Remember him? (His name’s Jay Mohr, if that helps you. It wouldn’t help me, I can say that.)

hereafter-movie-image-0It’s about a series of events which lead to the lives of George Lonegal, a gifted psychic, and Marie Lelay, a French journalist and newscaster, intersecting. George only needs to touch someone for a moment or two (ala The Dead Zone, IIRC) to get a “connection” with them. And that means a link to their dead loved ones, who will then speak to the person via George (which is more like The Ghost Whisperer or Medium than a psychic, isn’t it?).

Sometimes things are exactly what they should be. The person is told they’re forgiven, or they hear the encouragement to pursue something they couldn’t before, or they hear they’re going to be all right.

Other times, though, George has to deliver a shocking blow. Something deep and hidden, something the person receiving the reading didn’t want anyone – including George – to know. And despite warnings from George, and despite his insistence that he doesn’t do that anymore, he doesn’t want to do that anymore, they just keep coming to him. Especially after his brother Billy (Jay Mohr) can’t take the hint and keep his big mouth closed. See, Billy wants George to go back into the “business” of being a psychic. But George doesn’t want anything to do with that. He just wants to live his life – a normal, regular-guy, I-drive-a-forklift-in-a-sugar-factory normal.

And as for Marie Lelay (Cecile De France), well, she’s got an interesting story. She was a hot commodity, a famous journalist and newscaster on the rise, with many bright options in her future. But on December 26, 2004, her life changed forever. And on the encouragement of her boyfriend/producer, she steps aside to write a book and take some time to deal with what happened to her. But that turns out to be both a horrible mistake – and a blessing in the long run.

There’s a third story about Marcus, a twin with brother Jason, who lives a tragic life with a drug-addicted mother and social services breathing down their neck. When tragedy strikes, Marcus goes on a quest to find someone – anyone – who can help him deal with his loss. His final destination will lead him to George.

Hereafter is interesting on a few fronts. First, because Clint Eastwood also wrote the original music for the movie. Second, because the whole thing is backstory, pretty much. It’s like the entire movie is set up for the final act, rather than the first act being set up for the rest of the movie. (That’s not actually true, if analyzed correctly, but the movie can be viewed that way easily.)

Most of the movie is comprised of stories which lead each of the characters on a journey that brings them to the same place, for vastly different reasons. A very interesting format.

I felt it dragged a little at 2:09, but honestly, this isn’t a movie with much for pace. It has to unfold. And I was interested most of the time. Most.

I gave it four stars. Well acted, well written, but a bit slower than it had to be. I think some celluloid could have been saved and still gotten the movie across. Then again, I’m working for a living instead of making movies, so what do I know?

Before we closed out of Vudu, we rated Hereafter 4 stars. Your mileage may vary, but if you’re into paranormal movies more about character than ghosts, this is your ticket.



Exsanguination Proclamation

Late Wednesday night, my loving wife and I sat down to watch a relatively new movie. We’ve really been enjoying Vudu video service, though not the cost associated with movie rental. Still, we’ve been ‘round the horn on the Netflix offerings and haven’t had our fancy tickled much. There are a few DVD rentals we’re looking forward to, but they’re still a way off yet. And since we’d like to see something more current, we have to look elsewhere once in a while.

We settled on Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter as our choice for the late show. And what a good choice it turned out to be! My love is not a fan of the horror genre, and we certainly don’t like what’s been happening with vampires of late (you know, vampires being sexy and suave and charming rather than the blood-sucking demons of hell), but we thought we’d give it a try and see what we could see.

It was a fun romp. Abraham Lincoln loses his mother as a boy and his father reneged on a debt he owed his employer. The employer threatens the Lincolns with other ways to extract the debt. And from there, the story is off and running.

I’ve heard the novel upon which the movie is based – the author was also the screen writer, by the way – was slow-developing and required patience to stay with it. Not so the film, however. From the outset there’s a lot of movement and the story kept the audience entertained throughout. There was just enough real history thrown in to make the movie fun, and enough artistic license to bring a smile. And of course, the vampires were evil, scary, and vicious. Abe wasn’t as honest as we might’ve learned in school, and he was a mean man with an axe. Before it was all over with, the steampunk version of Lincoln is a new kind of action figure, and my wife and I both left the movie behind with smiles on our faces and wishes we could somehow get the kids to watch with us.

I recommend AL:VH for pure entertainment value, and while the very nature of the film leaves you with foreknowledge of the ending, it’s still a lot of fun. The effects weren’t bad, the story was pretty good, and so was the acting. I rated it 4 out of 5 stars, and would see it again (when it’s free, of course) given the chance.

Hop over to either Vudu or (I think) Amazon Instant Video service for a peek. It’s more than worth $3.99 (and I think I paid $4.99 for the HD version). I think you’ll like it.

Tonight, I check out Outcast on Netflix. Something of a werewolf offering, if memory of the trailer serves.

If I don’t talk to you beforehand – and I won’t – have a very happy New Year, and God bless you all.


A “Splice” of Life

Because my darling loves me, she allowed me to watch one of my silly horror movies the other night. Unable to find anything to really float my boat, and believing full-heartedly she wouldn’t enjoy anything I chose anyway, I settled on Splice, a Sci-Fi/Horror entry from 2011 starring Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley.

Splice is a take on the classic Frankenstein tale. Elsa and Clive, two scientists bent on the creation and harvesting of medicinal proteins from new, spliced organisms, have created life. They believe they can boost the discovery and output by adding in a bit of – wait for it! – human DNA to the mix. Their first two organisms, named Fred and Ginger, are already producing the protein in their slug-like carcasses, but it can’t be harvested in any serious quantities while the organisms still live. And the pharmaceutical company paying for it all, who own the patents on those two little slime bags, are eager to move on to the chemical synthesis of the protein. So…they’re going to convert the lab to a chem lab and get the ball rolling that direction.

Elsa and Clive decide to defy the ruling of their benefactors and add human DNA to the mix anyway. Along with several other animal genes, they splice (see what I did there?) themselves a new creation, and guess what? It’s alive.

Don’t expect to see any Jacob’s Ladders or Tesla coils in this one. It’s all subtlety and CGI in this one, and the sex scenes actually have a point. Splice turned out to be kind of a nice one, not because it wasn’t predictable – it was painfully so – but because it had some interesting creep-factor moments. Some of them involved those sex scenes. The CGI wasn’t bad, not terribly, and the story was… well, let’s just say the story could’ve been handled better, but could also have been much worse. Over all, I rated it three and half out of five stars, and while it had moments, some of them were dropped irreparably, especially in the final act.

But if you’ve got three bucks laying around, and you don’t have anything better to do (which wouldn’t be hard to come up with, really), then you might spend an evening with Splice.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Woman in Black — Movie Review

Well, lookit that! It’s the End of the World today! Woo!

So, in honor of the coming apocalypse described by the Mayans – now extinct as a race, if you hadn’t noticed – so long ago, I decided to do a little research on the alignment of the galactic core, the Earth (and yes, unless you’re using that word to describe dirt, it’s capitalized), and the Sun. You know what I found out?

Those three things align every winter solstice. Every one.

So, I guess I’m going to have to get up when my alarm goes off on January 2, 2013.

Grumpy Cat 1 - still here worst apocalypse ever

Well, thanks Mayans. Well played; make everyone run around being all apocalyptic and whatnot, while you laugh at us from the dim and savage jungle-y past.

‘Course, you’re extinct now…

Anyway, I also decided I’d like to watch a ghost story. On the off chance the Mayans were wrong, and I wasn’t going to miss Christmas due to world termination after all, I wanted to honor the ghost story traditions of the holiday and see a really good ghost movie.

Easier said than done. I’m also hankering for a good rendition of A Christmas Carol, so I’ll be scouting for that next.

Nevertheless, I wanted a good one. And that’s no mean feat. Most ghost movies are either farces or were too far ahead of their time for the technology to keep up with the stories. But on Thursday night – to close out my first day of vacation – I surfed through Vudu and found a “meh”-rated ghost story which, when I viewed the reviews, came up with one word which caused me to go “Hmm…”

That word: “Creepy.”

Okay, so into the queue it goes. After all, I just sat through Bad Moon last week. See my thoughts on that here, if you’re interested. What harm could it do to sit through a movie a horror site or reviewer called “creepy”?

But, to work up my horror hackles first, I sat through the cult-popular Ginger Snaps, because I’d seen the others but not the original. And I wanted to know what that was all about from the get-go. It was fun. Sorta. Not horrible. But it got ratings from the Vudu viewers similar to the movie I’d chosen, so I thought I’d get prepared.

With no expectations of a good story, acting, or movie of any kind in mind, I asked my beloved to sit and watch with me. She agreed, and after finishing some last minute kitchen chores, we dimmed the lights and sat down to watch a movie.

womaninblackposterThe title is The Woman in Black, and it features Daniel Radcliff (of Harry Potter movie series fame) as a 19th century lawyer based in London who travels to a town in the far northeast of the country to settle the estate of a manor for his firm. It’s his last chance before being terminated from the outfit, because while they understand his situation – a single father after the death of his wife during childbirth four years before – he simply doesn’t do enough to be considered for further employment. So this task is a last chance at redemption in the firm’s eyes for the young man.

The backstory unfolds with grace and only a touch of ham-handedness on occasion. And let’s face it, backstory’s not easy anyway. It’s hard to tell someone – viewer, reader, story observer, whatever – everything which led to this moment, the story’s moment, but this one did all right with flashback memories (eh – what’re you gonna do? these are clumsy), and casual conversation (very well done, I thought).

The movie opens with a fairly chilling scene, cuts to Radcliffe and gives us part of his tale, then goes on to the relationship between he and his son, and then the story’s off and running. It’s not a terribly long setup and isn’t at all boring, and once the young man arrives at the seaside town far to the north, things get rolling in no time.

The story’s a little predictable. Most ghost stories are. But it also had its share of starts (my wife leaped from her seat at least three times in the movie’s first half hour), and had fabulous creepy moments tossed in throughout. The tension builds nicely as the story unfolds, and at the movie’s climax, the twist, while not completely unexpected, certain is different for a movie like this.

I rated The Woman in Black five stars. I rated Daniel Radcliffe five stars as well. He did an amazing job and shows his acting chops. I’ve never seen a Harry Potter movie – and never will – but the boy can act. He did a good job and the movie was very, very good.

The film gets highest marks from me for being atmospheric. The setting is amazing, every inch the 19th century ghost story, with great homage to the spiritism so prevalent during the Victorian era. It’s an excellent visual feast, I thought, and superbly done.

I’d recommend this movie to anyone who wants to see a well made, well written, well acted ghost story. There haven’t been a lot of those in my experience over the last fifteen years or so, and this one shouldn’t be missed. And, in the grand tradition of Christmas ghost stories, it was perfect for the season.