Nov 17, 2017

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Friday Night Movie: Spiderman: Homecoming

I am probably the last person in the world to see Spiderman: Homecoming and so will probably have nothing new to say in terms of a review. Just in case you haven’t seen it, if you like action or superhero movies, you should. It’s a good take on Spiderman (92% on Rotten Tomatoes), with a teenage Spiderman and the troubles that go with that premise. We have an actually age-appropriate Aunt May and all that jazz. Plus, no rehashing of the origin story that we’ve all seen a thousand times by now.

What I’m actually interested in, is the villain; Adrian Toomes aka Vulture. (Spoiler warning). For a superhero movie, the villain’s motivations are built almost intricately. Firstly, it starts with an acknowledgment, not just in an abstract sense, that the large-scale battles that we see in every movie come with consequences. There are cleanup companies and construction companies all over that are getting lots and lots of work out of all this. But then there’s also all of that alien tech that needs to be accounted for. And when some dickhead SHIELD (or similar) agents come to take Adrian’s big break contract away from him, it’s not a huge surprise that he decides to go rogue with the alien tech he’s managed to stash away. Seriously, there was no reason for that agent to taunt the guy whose business he was just party to putting a coup de grace to. He deserved getting punched. And, you know, when you get desperate enough, robbing a bank seems like a reasonable thing to do. But that’s just the thing; he wasn’t really that desperate. He has an expensive, gas-guzzling car that doesn’t make sense for his business, which means that he probably has at least one other car, like a pick-up, a giant house in the suburbs (although the house he lives in does seem out of place with the rest of the houses in that part of the suburbs) and a wife who wears designer clothing for just hanging out around the house. This is not someone who’s hurting for money. Sure, he’s not Tony Stark rich, but he’s still fairly well-off. Sandman Vulture is not.

And that in itself is a kind of sad commentary on the state of his life. And I’m not entirely sure if it’s his morals or if he just really feels so pressured to be the good provider that he never feels like he can reach out to his wife, who’s supposed to be a partner to him that maybe they should scale back on things at least for a while until he can pay off for the investments he’s made into the business to allow for it to grow. I mean, sure, there has to be something a little wonky inside him and the people working for him for the crime spree to happen and for them to decide that selling terrifying weaponry to local drug dealers is a good idea but ultimately he’s not a terrible person. Except for the murders. The murders are obviously bad.

All of this makes Vulture, for me at least, ultimately more of a pathetic figure or poorly thought out than a lot of the other superhero villains. He’s too much of a coward to have a difficult conversation with his wife, so instead, he chooses to risk his life over, and over, and over again. In a way, it’s a neat turn-around on the Spiderman of this movie, who’s hiding his activities from Aunt May not to keep her safe, but because of how afraid he is of how she’ll react to the fact that he’s Spiderman. And then, of course, echoed in Tony Stark who’s too afraid of what Peter will do if given full information of the situation he’s already involved in. I feel like none of this movie would have happened if any of these conversations had taken place and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. And much of that indecision stems from the fact that I don’t know if all of this lack of communication is intentional or not. It could be a commentary on the way modern Western society teaches men that it’s not okay to communicate about any other feelings than anger or lust. Or it could be just a factor of just how steeped in that culture the 8 different men credited for the screenplay are in that culture that they didn’t even realize that was what was happening. And maybe that sort of exploration isn’t even the job of a superhero movie. It sure would be interesting to find out though.

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Nov 10, 2017

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Friday Night Movie: Colossal

Technically, I’m in NaNoWriMo land, but my partner and I decided to keep up the movie habit we started in October, just scaled way back. So on Fridays we’ll be watching various movies. This time it was Colossal.

Anne Hathaway is Gloria, an unemployed reporter whose life has slipped into alcoholism and partying. She comes home from another night of partying to find that the boyfriend she’s living with has had enough and is dumping her. She moves back to the small town (for some reason I have it in my head that it’s somewhere in New Jersey but I couldn’t confirm it) she’s moved away from where her parent’s house is standing empty. At her lowest, most embarrassing moment, a former school friend sees her and takes her to the bar he owns. She spends the night drinking with him and his friends and goes home around the time that children are going to school, then passes out on the floor. She wakes up to find that the world has changed. It turns out that while she was passed out, footage began to surface of a colossal monster tearing through downtown Seoul before disappearing into thin air. As things progress, even more out of her control, and the monster keeps appearing and destroying Seoul, she finally finds a way out of her situation and starts working to make things better.

I really enjoyed this movie but it’s touted as a hilarious comedy and it didn’t work for me as such. There are funny and heartfelt moments in there, for sure, but overall the movie read to me as a drama. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. I hadn’t seen or heard anything about it before we watched it so I didn’t know what to expect and as such this might have been a disappointment if I had seen the marketing material. And to explain why, we veer into spoiler territory.

So that former schoolfriend, Oscar, played to perfection by Jason Sudeikis, gave me a creepy vibe from the very first moment he pulled up next to Hathaway’s Gloria, walking with a very obviously heavy thing in her hands (and on her back, to be honest). I mean, it might have been just movie physics, but given how deliberate the rest of the movie felt, him recognizing someone he hadn’t seen in 10 or 15 years, walking down the road, heading the same way he was in his car felt suspect. And the veneer of friendship suffered another blow when, instead of offering to help, he was so delighted at Gloria being forced to move back to an empty home that he asks her to hang out. At a bar. Then proceeds to give her drinks until she’s so drunk she doesn’t remember anything about what happened or what they talked about that night. And when he turns up with a GIANT tv to just give to her, I was convinced that he was not a good guy. To the credit of this movie, I never even suspected that it was anything sexual, more along the lines of “I’m miserable, you’re miserable, so let’s make sure that you’re content staying miserable” And what do you know, that’s exactly what ends up happening. Like I said, it all feels very deliberate and it’s kind of brilliant.

I loved the way the movie used the gimmick of Gloria being the monster of Seoul (oh I see what they did there) to parallel her journey of going out of control with her alcoholism and her life, in general. The monster is used as a way to show her just how out of control she is and it’s kind of beautiful. I mean, Hathaway has always been a great actor, but that moment of muddled, drunken realization that she had killed someone really hit me in the feels. And the way they draw attention to that change is through Oscar’s temper tantrum about Gloria being about to put her life on track. After she sleeps with one of his friends and has the gall to not be ashamed about it, is when the claws come out. And again, it’s beautifully done. He doesn’t actually care that she slept with the friend (Joel, played by Austin Stowell), just that she did it deliberately and had fun instead of shame. So he uses the threat to Seoul as a bargaining chip to try to get her drinking again, trying to make his own choices be her fault unless she chooses to inhabit the same messed up headspace he does. And I know I’m getting repetitive but it’s beautifully done. But none of it was actually hilariously funny to me. More of a sad jaunt through the mind of an abuser. All in all, though, I have no doubt I’ll watch this movie again.

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Oct 31, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 31: Alien³

Once more (and as far as I’m concerned, for the last time) we follow Lieutenant Ellen Ripley into danger. Alien³ starts as the EVV Ripley and the other remaining survivors escaped in crashes into a mostly abandoned prison planet housing only male prisoners (“double Y -chromosomes” which doesn’t seem to make much sense). This time, the chestburster comes out of a water buffalo, which changes the way the xenomorph ends up moving. It soon starts eating the inmates. For fans of the Alien franchise, the movie proceeds apace.

Although I feel like I must have seen this movie before, I could not remember anything about it, except the last image. As such, it’s not all that surprising. Ripley here doesn’t seem consistent with the Ripley of movies past. The Weiland-Yutani Corporation’s higher-ups finally make an appearance. The movie is a solid addition to the Alien franchise and a fair ending to the trilogy that never got any more movies. Nope. Never. There’s a lot of worldbuilding silliness going on but mostly it’s fine. Ultimately, this movie doesn’t really work on its own and it doesn’t need to be as long as it is but it’s still an enjoyable way of spending a couple of hours.

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Oct 30, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 30: Aliens

Aliens begins pretty much where Alien left off, just 57 years later. Ellen Ripley and the cat, Jones, have been asleep all that time and the Weyland Yutani Corporation has managed to find terraforming colonizers to send on LV-426. They get Ripley to agree to go back with the promise of killing basically everything that isn’t human. She joins a bunch of marines when the colony stops responding with the hope of finding out what happened, although by now, everyone can probably figure out what happened. What follows is a breathless jaunt through xenomorph infested environs where a lot of people die gruesomely, surrounded by many, many xenomorphs.

I saw this for the first time when I was about 9 or 10. Some little shits in my class convinced the teacher that it wasn’t that scary. I had nightmares for weeks afterward. It took me years before I could watch it again. And I’m glad I managed to come back to it. Just like Alien, this is still and will remain, a perennial favorite. It’s one of those things I can’t really be objective about.

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Oct 29, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 29: Alien

Another old favorite, Alien has managed to live up to time. The tech is shitty, as only for a movie released in 1979. There’s a fair number of jump scares but most of the horror comes from other things. Nevertheless, the actual story has held up through the decades.

The mining and processing ship Nostromo is coming back from a job when the crew are woken up much earlier than expected. This is because there’s an unclear beacon, and the only thing that’s clear about it is that it was started by an intelligent being. They go in and find a massive skeleton and a whole bunch of leathery eggs. You know, at that point, I would have gotten the fuck out of there but it’s also sort of understandable why they didn’t. And when they break quarantine procedure, which is also sort of understandable.

I love that Ripley doesn’t stop to say “I told you so” when people start getting dead. I don’t think I’d be a big enough person to omit the finger wagging. Ripley as a character has a lot more agency than a lot of women characters these days. The action is compelling and people act according to character, if not always very smartly. I still love it and will probably continue loving it for a long time to come.

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Oct 28, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 28: Event Horizon

Event Horizon has been one of my favorite horror movies for a long time. I didn’t see it in theaters but a couple of years after, around the time I turned 18. I haven’t seen it in years. It seems that sometimes, you can’t go back.

It starts when the crew of rescue ship “Lewis and Clarke” get ready to make a high thrust trip to Neptune. They’re going there because the ship, Event Horizon, which vanished seven years earlier has suddenly reappeared. Here, the sequence of events is weird. Everyone gets introduced only AFTER they get to Neptune. Anyway. They receive a message that sounds like a lot of people shouting and screaming and someone saying “save me” in Latin. So, of course they head inside. And find out the ship is alive.

Watching it this time around, there were a lot of things that annoyed me. The crew make stupid decisions that are only very superficially motivated. Sam Neil’s character turns from a meek scientist into a cocky scientist, into an aggressive bro dude, and finally into a creepy nightmare guy controlled by the ship. But despite being on the trip because he’s the scientist who designed the ship, he doesn’t ever actually do anything useful. There are other inconsistencies in characters and motivation. The main execution mode of terror is the jumpscare. The action is still compelling and the reason I used to love this movie so much is still there underneath all the bullshit. The shine, however, has worn off by watching it again.

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Oct 27, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 27: Life

Life begins our final countdown of space horror! I have a soft spot for space horror that probably ties somehow into that little-examined part of my brain that makes me love science fiction in general so much. Life is a very, very good space horror movie. It begins with the crew of the ISS frantically getting ready to capture a capsule with samples from Mars. Lo and behold, they find a single-celled organism in deep hibernation. They manage to get it moving again and it starts growing at an exponential rate, becoming a multi-cellular being without specialized cells. Because of a breach in the lab, the creature, still small, goes into hibernation. Instead of waiting and giving it nutrients and favorable conditions, like before, the xenobiologist decides to give the creature electric shocks instead. Understandably, the creature gets pissed and that’s when the murders begin.

There are several worldbuilding failures in this movie, but I honestly didn’t care even a little bit! All the characters are operating at the top of their game and the few stupid decisions they make are thoroughly motivated with character-based reasons. Even as I was shouting at the xenobiologist (“Don’t do it! DON’T YOU DARE DO IT!”), I still knew that I might have ended up doing the same thing in his place. The action is exciting, and the space-component well integrated. The alien life form is cool and strange enough and the ending just predictable enough to be satisfying. And did I mention that everyone was acting competently and to character? That doesn’t happen nearly often enough. <3

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Oct 26, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 26: The Invitation

Just so you know, this is all spoilers. Other people really liked this movie, I did not.

I’m not sure what I think of The Invitation. You know going in that it’s a horror movie. But the actual horror really only starts 15 minutes before the movie ends. So what it ends up being is an almost two-hour-long exercise in gaslighting. Hooray! Or really, really not. The tension builds beautifully and the performances are all great but all it amounts to is a two-hour-long exercise in gaslighting. And I cannot figure out why the filmmakers chose to do it this way. The actual horror portion of the movie is so short that it’s barely there. You know that it’s coming all the time but the movie keeps telling you the main character, and by extension you, is wrong and there’s nothing wrong with anything. Everything is just great when really you’re having dinner with four members of a murder-suicide cult. So yeah. I was not a huge fan.

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