Category Archives: Review

The Wicker Man: The Good and the Bad

Happy belated May Day, everyone!

The twist to The Wicker Man (1973) is not all that surprising. It’s essentially given away in the name, and you can take your best guess at who its intended victim is.  But where The Wicker Man shines is also where it is most problematic: its demonizing fear of Paganism.

The basic plot is this: upon receiving an anonymous letter about a missing child, Sergeant Neal Howie ventures to Summerisle to investigate. All that he knows about the remote island initially is that it is famous for growing delicious apples, but upon arriving, the pious policeman finds an isolated community deeply entrenched in Pagan practices, and surprisingly short on apples for the coming year. The people behave strangely when questioned, offering various unhelpful answers about the child’s whereabouts, almost as if they are trolling him. Some even say that she is dead. But Howie is particularly disturbed by the traditions he witnesses, some of which are related to the upcoming May Day celebration.

Everyone in the tavern sings bawdily about having sex with the landlord’s daughter, and it is presented as a rite of passage into manhood. Children talk about the phallic significance of maypoles in school, and dance naked and jump over fires to increase fertility. People have sex in open fields and breastfeed their babies in the cemetery. Frogs are even stuck in your mouth to cure a sore throat. Everything seems to be very old and based on old-world beliefs and superstitions.

 

The cinematography shoots everything from the perspective of an outsider, with many shots cutting back to Howie’s stern, unamused, or horrified face. The camera lingers on the taboo and strange to emphasize how alien and uncivilized it is, and yes, even for a bit of scandalous titillation. Despite his revulsion, Howie is somewhat tempted by the shameless, uncomplicated society that Summerisle has cultivated. If most horror movies represent a cultural anxiety of the times in which they are made, this complexity in the main character may represent the mutual disdain and desire to return to a life of ignorance, where people can live, at least in part, as animals.

That said, much like with A Quiet Place, I think this film would be better suited by the Suspense-Thriller genre label, as most of it is more unnerving than outright, in-your-face horrifying. At least in comparison to most horror films.

Lord Summerisle, played by the immortally awesome Christopher Lee, explains that his grandfather bred new strands of apple trees while encouraging the island’s inhabitants to practice their beliefs, saying that their old gods would help them grow and prosper. It is unclear how much he personally believes, but he clearly benefits off of the people’s labor and happiness, so he encourages them as well. In addition to the mystery of potential child murder, this lends an extra layer of creepiness to the island, as if it is a hive mind with a conniving, manipulative puppet master.

 

I find this somewhat funny as a modern-day Episcopalian who sees elements of manipulation and ignorance in Christianity, as well as all other organized religions. The Wicker Man is not subtle in its condemnation of Paganism as a whole; we are meant to side with Howie – despite how prudish he is shown to be – and be horrified by the archaic, bizarre activities we see on the island, as if Christianity has no repurposed Pagan traditions and celebrations incorporated into its own, and many of its ministers don’t also encourage blind faith and adherence to rules over critical thinking. But then again, this movie came out in a different era, and we still live in a time in which many people refuse to examine their beliefs and doctrines, so who am I to judge?

Christianity is not the oldest religion alive, but given its age, it is funny to me that it would be presented as the “modern” and “proper” world fighting against the old, “lawless” world of Paganism. Is this meant to be a change vs rigid tradition story? That’s a laugh. And hey, unless Lord Summerisle’s grandfather kept the people completely in the dark about his agronomy, which is not explicitly stated, we can assume that the island’s people are not completely against innovation. It gave them new trees off of which they could profit.

In fact, Howie is shown to be the person who cannot tolerate differences, the “changes” he sees from his life on the Scottish mainland. So is it just “Christianity good, anything else bad”? Because even if Howie is laughed at by his coworkers, being too Christian is shown to be better than too Pagan. We don’t even see a middle-ground Pagan, unless you count Lord Summerisle, who may or may not believe anything that he’s selling.

But I digress.

 

The main tension of the film comes from what happened to Rowan Morrison, the child in question, and whether or not she is dead or being held somewhere, perhaps waiting to be sacrificed, and it is very effective. A secondary tension arises from the strange words and actions of the people, whose suspiciousness feels increasingly deliberate as Howie explores Summerisle. Even knowing that the wicker man is going to come into play, you just want to know what makes them tick, why they live and behave so differently than what you, the viewer. It’s a very Alice in Wonderland kind of story, in which the effect can sometimes be that, despite being told that the answer is ignorance and madness, you can’t help but think there has to be another reason there. It can be just as fascinating as it is creepy, at least to a person like me.

Sergeant Howie is a compelling character in some ways, but he’s also a stick in the mud who has to speak up about every little thing that he doesn’t agree with. The problem with having your main character be a “straight man” reacting to weirdos all around him, especially one as strict as Howie, is that sometimes, that character ends up with no personality as a result. We know that he loves God and that is about it. Unless you’re onboard with his one character trait 100%, it’s hard to form a strong connection with him, so you only want him to escape this endeavor alive is because…he’s a person. On a basic level, human beings don’t want other human beings to die, but if you don’t feel connected to him (or worse, find him actively annoying or unpleasant), he may as well be some random guy in a crowd, about to get stomped on by Godzilla. Sure, it sucks, but you’ll get over it quickly.

He also doesn’t bring any backup with him to the island, which, even for what might be a short-staffed police force, seems glaringly unwise on his part. At least in this day and age; maybe it was totally different in the 70’s.

 

As I mentioned, a consequence of this movie is believing that all who identify as Pagan are backwards, immoral, and scary, and that they endorse animal or human sacrifice. This is, of course, not true, and I doubt that many Pagans appreciate the fear mongering. In reality, Paganism is vast and diverse. It is just another group of beliefs that people choose to follow in the course of their lives, and those individuals are no more prone to immoral or violent actions than anyone else.

Unfortunately, some downsides of the horror genre are that some people either miss the nuanced commentary, or they interpret it correctly, but it’s only real message was “othering and fearing this person/group is justified!” Not every director chooses to criticize and challenge societal paranoia, and while the resulting movies like The Wicker Man can still be good movies on their own, they then encourage or exacerbate trends that are problematic and potentially harmful to real people. For a similar example, check out Lindsay Ellis’s video essay My Monster Boyfriend, in which she talks about the racial coding of monster movies, dating all the way back to Birth of a Nation.

So yes, while I think The Wicker Man does a good job maintaining some suspense and tension, despite giving a lot away in its title and DVD box art, I also think that it presents an overblown, unfair stereotype of Pagans. And some things that the movie wants you to be unnerved by are less evil than they are just generally frowned upon in a prim and proper society with Judeo-Christian roots. Willow, the innkeeper’s daughter, is painted as an evil siren seductress, and we’re supposed to be shocked by how much sex she has. I’m sorry, but isn’t this taking place in the 70’s? Wasn’t there a big sexual revolution around that time? I mean, how dare she be active and consenting in her relationships with men and like it as much as she does!

I watch this movie once a year, usually on May Day itself, and I think it is worth watching because it’s more complicated than it appears. Also, Christopher Lee is arguably the best thing about the whole production. He even gets a song in the extended version!

 

7/10

*Note: None of the images used in this post belong to me.

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A Quiet Review

 

A good horror movie knows how to set an atmosphere. It doesn’t rely solely on jump-scares, loud noises, and manipulative music. A good horror movie knows that fear of the unknown and things that we do not see can be much more effective than overly-creepy imagery shoved right in your face.

A Quiet Place feels more like a suspenseful thriller than a horror film – more akin to Jaws and Cujo rather than A Nightmare on Elm Street or The Exorcist – but even so, John Krasinski and his team make it wonderfully creepy as well.

The premise is simple: aliens that hunt almost exclusively by sound have landed on Earth, decimating most of the U.S. population in a matter of days. It is unclear how many other countries around the world have also fallen. One small group of survivors is the Abbott family, and they adapt to the new, hostile environment around them by making as little sound as they possible can. Luckily for them, they are all fluent in ASL, as the daughter Regan is deaf.

This leads to the most interesting aspect of the film: 80% of the dialogue is unspoken. Background music is also used sparingly, at least in comparison to most other movies.

Admittedly, this is somewhat of a gimmick. Regardless of genre, most movies have speaking all throughout, so A Quiet Place stands out and markets itself on that standing. But the reason for the silence in the film’s universe doesn’t feel cheap or poorly thought-out. Rather the reverse; I think its implementation is actually very clever.

 

It reminds me of what I learned in school; when it comes to human beings communicating, about 93% of what we convey, intentionally or not, is non-verbal. It’s very engaging to watch, and I’ll tell you why:

The tension in every scene is organic, as even the most minor things can draw the creatures to the family. Regan is particularly at risk because she can’t hear her own noises, let alone those of the approaching aliens. A toy falling off of a shelf could result in an attack, so the father, played by Krasinski, is almost constantly alert, trying to keep his children out of danger. They can’t even eat with silverware anymore, out of fear that the clinking could attract attention.

The setup and other little details in the beginning are given to viewers though visuals; newspapers, scribbled notes, actions, etc. The film requires the audience to pay attention and deduce things on their own; what does this information mean for the characters in the moment, and what does it mean for them in the long run? Even small things like what the kids have replaced their original Monopoly tokens with shows you how fearful and devoted to safety they are. As always, some things are up to your individual interpretation, but the story is by no means unclear as it unfolds.

The characters are likeable. That seems like a weird compliment, I’m sure, but you would be surprised how many horror films within the last decade have boiled down to “stupid, rude teenagers or twenty-somethings go somewhere secluded to party and something comes after them.” Despite speaking very little, the actors conveys a lot of emotion with facial expressions, body language, touch, and proximity. Krasinksi is particularly good at this; it’s what made him a fan favorite on The Office.

 

This is not to say that the characters have no negative traits. They are just very sympathetic, portrayed in a very human and understandable way. It is easy to believe that they would feel or react the way that they do, especially for the kids. They are clearly mature for their age, and even more for this apocalyptic situation, but not so mature that they understand and support all of their parents’ choices. Everyone has a hang-up of some sort, just like in real life.

The Abbott family is not quiet Spielberg-ian, but I like them and want to see them survive, which I would argue is damn near crucial in a good horror film.

Also, it’s interesting to me that John Krasinski and Emily Blunt are actually husband and wife. They have really good chemistry onscreen, so their married life must be pretty good as well. I guess if you’re not an actor though, it’s probably not a good idea to cast family members in leading roles. Right, Kevin Sorbo?

And speaking of “Christian films”, there is at least one religious theme that gets brought up in A Quiet Place. It seems to be very pro-life, but it’s not explicit or in-your-face-preachy about it. That’s exactly what I want from a movie: subtlety. Nuance. Almost a suggestion, but it makes you think, rather than just shouting down opposing opinions and definitively saying that yours is “right.” Again, looking at you, Kevin Sorbo and Sean Hannity. Let There Be Light was pure, propagandistic crap, and I say that as a self-proclaimed Christian, your target demographic.

But I digress. That film was unintentionally horrifying.

 

A Quiet Place is a thrill in theatres. It left me wanting more when it was over, but better that than wanting less. Just make sure you find a quiet place to watch it. Talking is super disruptive and annoying during a movie like this.

 

8/10

*Note: None of the images used in this post belong to me.

A Few Thoughts on Star Wars and The Last Jedi

The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi both receive ample criticism. The first new film was panned for being just a retread of A New Hope with fresh paint, while The Last Jedi was panned for being “too different” from all previous Star Wars installments. I won’t pretend that either of these movies is without flaw, but I liked that The Last Jedi felt challenging and self-critical. Not to mention stressful, with the Rebellion constantly a hair’s breadth away from total annihilation.

But one criticism that remains consistent with both films is that Rei, the main character, is a Mary Sue. Guys everywhere love to hate on her because she’s just so perfect and talented, whereas Anakin and Luke had to work to master their Jedi powers.

Well first, how does one define a Mary Sue? According to Wikipedia, “A Mary Sue is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character. Often, this character is recognized as an author insert or wish fulfillment. They can usually perform better at tasks than should be possible given the amount of training or experience.” As a connoisseur of bad fanfiction, I would also add that any flaws, imperfections, or tragic backstories displayed by a Mary Sue are usually exploited as ploys for sympathy, or pithy attempts to hand-wave away complaints of said perfection. And to be clear, the perfection is often relative to what other characters in the story think of the character; ex. the only people who don’t like the Mary Sue are either villains or portrayed as being bitter, immature, what-have-you.

I would argue that if Mary Suedom is true of Rei, it would be equally true of Luke and Anakin, but whatever. I’ll play your game.

Rei is impulsive, impatient, and honorable to a fault. She is also somewhat naïve regarding the First Order, while Finn is presented as something of a grounded coward. He knows the capabilities and cruelties of his previous employer, whereas Rei does not. Rei has an immediate, admittedly somewhat questionable aptitude for the Force, but the only difference between her and the Skywalkers, confirmed by The Last Jedi, is that she is a nobody. Her abandoning parents don’t pay off as great Jedi warriors; she’s not part of the grand space soap opera that somehow always designates Skywalker descendants to be chosen ones who are great at everything.

Personally, this makes Rei a more compelling character for me, and it makes sense that the Force would be less picky, and possibly more hurried, in this new Jedi-less era. Just like the darkness keeps coming back, the light side needs to regroup and come back as well, with or without practiced, spiritual trainers. Maybe Rei’s talent is all her own, or maybe the Force feels a sense of urgency in keeping the light’s influence from being effectively snuffed out forever, what with the First Order constantly bearing down on the Rebellion.

Either way, at least Rei’s not being hailed as a Messiah, and especially not before she’s even really done anything yet. *cough cough* Anakin *cough cough*

“I’m a pilot and a slave and a builder and a dreamer and poor and a racer and a Jedi and a chosen one who can’t act like any of those things!”

In the expanded universe, there exists the concept of the Light Sith; members who still supported the Sith cause while also caring about light and balance. There were also the Gray Jedi, who toed the line between light and dark without falling to the dark side or sucking up to the Jedi Council. Now in the movies, we are seeing a “good” character who can also lean towards the dark side, similar to Luke, and a “bad” character who struggled with being called to the light side, similar to later films’ Anakin. I like that it feels a little more fleshed out than the previous films’ general take of “light always good, dark always bad.” Not completely new, but heading in the right direction.

I think people get upset about Rei, Finn, Rose, and the trajectory of the new Star Wars films in general because they’re becoming less of a “boy’s club.” Outside of the expanded universe, female and other minority characters in the movies didn’t get a lot of lines or things to do, and now they’re taking the center stage away from overpowered white boys, who are basically there by the providence of Divine Right. The Skywalkers are cool because they just are, damn it, and no one else can be cool unless they know or are related to the Skywalkers in some way!

…Except for Leia, I guess. And sure, Leia saving herself from being blasted into space was kind of weird and awkward, but she’s a Skywalker and has been established in previous films as having a strong gift as well, even if it wasn’t really shown. Couldn’t Luke have given her some pointers before he ran off to be a hermit? Couldn’t she have possibly trained herself, or at the very least, have her great power triggered by distress or pure survival instincts?

I’m not saying that implying things offscreen can’t be cheap and lazy. I’m just saying that it’s odd and somewhat suspicious how so many people immediately got upset by a woman, even of Skywalker blood, displaying a mere moment of powerful Force ability, as if this came from absolutely nowhere.

Speaking of coming from nowhere, there’s a line in Rogue One about hyperspace tracking becoming a future possibility, so that wasn’t just a dramatic asspull either.

The prequel films, for all of their terrible writing, dialogue, story structure, direction, and overreliance on CGI, at the very least continued the story of the Skywalkers, and praised the Jedi blindly despite their many, many flaws while portraying the Sith as unambiguously evil and corrupt. The new films are still trying to capture the magic and fun of a galaxy far, far away, but they are being more inquisitive and critical of their own universe, and asking the audience to think a little bit. And also to be less exclusionary, guarding their precious franchise from newcomers and Disney! Oh, the horror!

So Luke made a mistake and became an old, grizzled bastard hermit to try and escape his failures. People try to downplay or escape their failures in real life all the time; it’s not just a dramatic plot device. So what if the casino scene ended up amounting to nothing? Not everything in life gets rewarded, even if you try really, really hard. So what if Porgs are annoying? They’re no more or less distracting than the Ewoks were.

At least the dialogue isn’t cringey. At least the new main characters only really whine when they have a reason to whine. At least Jar Jar Binks is gone.

So to those who say the prequel films are better than The Last Jedi, I’m going to have to disagree. Vehemently. Those things are terrible, and I can only look at them now as a cautionary tale about making men bury their emotions. Anakin’s whiny teenage impotence and sudden transition to violence is almost understandable when you look at it that way.

Black Panther Review

 

Warning: This post is political. This movie is political. If that bothers you, feel free to say so or go quietly away. No name calling will be tolerated.

Black Panther is spectacular. That is the gist of my assessment.

As a white woman, I feel very ill-equipped to talk about how many boundaries this film breaks and why; my personal experience with racism is limited or non-existent, and it’s small potatoes. Like, one lady at a restaurant being rude to me because she didn’t like white people…probably.  Outside myself, I only know what I have heard and seen from others, and it’s not very much even then.

I don’t want to diminish the suffering of others by pretending I know exactly what it’s like. I can only say that I hope that more films like this get made (both politically and with diverse casts), and I can tell you what I personally thought after seeing Black Panther in the theatre on Friday, February 16th.

I like this film because it runs on a smaller scale than some of Marvel’s other fare. I may have said this before, but there is only so big you can go with universe-threatening villains before it begins to feel silly, or the previous movie villains look like tinker toys in comparison. Do kids these days still know tinker toys?

 

Regardless, there’s a concept called “Power Creep,” in which the constant need to one-up the last villain or super power makes earlier movies and series less awe-inspiring, and therefore they won’t hold up in future viewings.

I like that the cast doesn’t look like me. Really, I do. I don’t have an issue relating to someone with another background or skin color than me, maybe because I tend to focus more on common human experiences that we all share. I like films that try to capture those more universal topics, and people’s differences make them unique and fascinating, keeping them from being too same-y. They also provide a good learning experience, which I was told from a young age to pursue and value, even if it’s – God forbid – “outside of the textbook!”

I thought I might mention it, if only because some people can’t seem to acknowledge and relate to someone else’s basic humanity when too many differences stand in their way. Personally, I think that perspective is depressing and limiting, and in this case, they’re missing out on a great movie because of it. But c’est la vie.

I like that Black Panther is political. It really couldn’t avoid being so, from the race side of things, and I’m glad it didn’t shy away for fear of turning off the Caucasian audience.  People who complain that movies, celebrities, athletes, and other “entertainers” shouldn’t be pushing politics onto their audience are usually in a position where they can comfortably walk away from the discussion at any point, and they get annoyed when someone makes it harder for them to do so. They don’t want to accept that person’s individuality as part of their whole package; they just want a show, damn it! Why is it coming with extras that they didn’t order?

Because other people cannot escape having these discussions. Their lives and families are affected every day, and they can’t just walk away. It’s called systemic oppression for a reason; it’s so ingrained in our society that we on top don’t think much of it and don’t have to, because we benefit. We, whether by direct actions or passive complacency, force others down so that we can be raised up, and that’s not right.

That is part of the human experience I mentioned previously; just because I haven’t personally experienced things like racism, slavery, and families being torn apart, it doesn’t mean that those topics can’t resonate with me. I am an ignorant outsider, but I care.

 

I like the story in Black Panther. In short, and sans major spoilers, Prince T’Challa returns from the events of Captain America Civil War to assume his place as the king of Wakanda. Wakanda hides its technological advances from the world by posing as a third-world country, and there is friction among many citizens, whether to reveal their country’s true nature or to keep it safe and secluded, despite constant threats of theft and potential discovery anyway. They owe their success to an alien metal called Vibranium, and the Black Panther’s powers to a heart-shaped plant that was effected by the coming of said metal.

The film’s politics come from that above-mentioned tension: will Wakanda reveal itself, and if so, could it become a haven for other African countries and peoples around the world? It’s an empowering narrative, and not just because it’s a superhero movie.

I like the costume design. I’m mostly ignorant of African cultures (I’m sorry. Japan came into my heart first), but I can see how much effort was put into every piece of clothing worn in Black Panther. The fighting outfits are distinctive and visually interesting, but still practical, especially for the women. That’s rare. *cough* Wonder Woman *cough cough*

That’s another thing: I love how many prominent women are in this story. I also liked pretty much all of them as characters, even if I forgot one or two names during the course of the movie (just for perspective, I forgot Martin Freeman’s character’s name at some point too, and simply started mentally referring to him as “Secret Agent Watson.”

Some people might find this politically charged as well, having so many women in the cast, and so many of them kicking ass. I invite them to go suck their thumbs and sit in the corner. The girls on screen can hold a scene just as well as any guy. Get over it.

 

Much like The Last Jedi, there seems to be a theme about your mentors disappointing you, leading you to one day surpass them. You may also have to clean up the mess that their pride, fear, or hubris has left behind. This is becoming a common refrain in movies and television recently, particularly revolving around male characters and their pride as men. Personally, I agree with those messages, as I think that valuing pride and hypermasculinity over being a secure, healthy person with a good understanding and control over their emotions is a problem that affects all kinds of men in modern society. Depending on how those feelings manifest, it can also affect their partners and other family and friends that surround them, so I like seeing more of these stories becoming popular.

Again, there’s a human experience to be found there, and the smaller threat makes the story feel more personal and relatable. I actually felt bad for the villain in the end, because he had clearly gone through so much pain to become the way that he was.

Black Panther will speak to different people in different ways, but some of the takeaways aren’t that far off from each other. I didn’t feel alienated or preached at when I saw this film; I felt enthralled and spoken to, in a perfectly frank and engaging manner. I’m happy to see that the opening weekend proved so profitable, and I hope more directors will tell these kinds of stories, and many more, in the future. After all, the population is always changing, and the “small voices” are growing too loud, too numerous, to be ignored.

 

*8.5/10

Note: All images in this review belong to Marvel and Disney.

What I Liked and Disliked about Olaf’s Frozen Adventure

 

Unlike my fiancé, I knew there would be a Frozen short before Coco. What I didn’t realize was that it would last almost half an hour. So as Olaf wandered off into a wolf-infested forest, I discreetly checked my watch, balking at the amount of time this was taking.

Was it worth it? Well…

 

The Music is Instantly Forgettable  

 

I went to see Coco twice with two different people, and each time, I could not remember a single lyric or melody from the short afterwards, not even from Olaf’s sappy kiddie song. My fiancé tells me that the songs are just a reworking of those from the first Frozen, but other than themes in the background score, I didn’t notice and I can’t remember.

That should be a crime, considering how maddeningly catchy the songs in Frozen are.

 

Olaf Can Get Grating

 

The best thing about Olaf in Frozen was his innocent, giddy presentation of dark jokes. “Oh look, I’ve been impaled,” is a classic, and for me, it’s moments like that which keep him from becoming just another annoying, adorable, goofy sidekick, like the dozens of others that plague family movies these days. Not every sidekick needs to be a comedic, utterly tensionless character, but Frozen did well to minimize the focus and attention put upon him (outside of the marketing, that is).

Olaf is his usual self in this romp, but the short spends more time focusing on his cutesiness element. Depending on your tolerance level, that might make this watch unbearable for you.

 

The Frozen Retreading is Not as Prevalent

 

“Do you remember Frozen? That super popular movie? Huh? Huh? Do you? Do you? Do you?

YES. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, YES! If I want to watch the first one again, I’ll do that. I want to see the characters growing and doing new things, not just regurgitating what was popular in Frozen.

In this regard, I am happy to say that this short was better than Frozen Fever, despite also being way longer. There is a mention of “opening the gates” and “first time in forever,” but I can forgive those because it’s natural for Anna and Elsa to still be recovering from the trauma of their childhood. I’m more concerned with overtly repetitive jokes or verbatim quotes from the first movie; for example, when Elsa just had to say, “The cold never bothered me anyway,” when changing to a summery dress in Frozen Fever. That was just name-checked because it was popular; it didn’t serve the story or Elsa as a character. There was no real purpose, and it felt fake and unnatural.

I love seeing Anna and Elsa engage one another like happily-reunited sisters. I loved seeing the closed door theme pop back in a believable way, and then Elsa comes back and apologizes for shutting Anna out again. Those girls are the true heart of Frozen, not Olaf, not Sven, and not even Kristoff.

 

The Animation is Good

 

There’s not much to say here. It’s consistent with Frozen’s animation, so it looks pretty and appealing.

 

Some of the Jokes are Funny

 

Assuming the subject or the run-time doesn’t automatically suck up your goodwill, this short can be hilarious at times. And as I said above, it’s not just cribbing everything that worked in Frozen.

 

 

My only real concern with the timing and placement of this short was the implication. Other than a general “family is important” theme, the film and its short aren’t very similar. Did Disney worry about Coco’s box office, so they slapped this at the beginning to ensure turnout?

There are folks out there who will see anything with Disney and/or Pixar written on it. While I think it’s bad to be that devoted to something, regardless of overall quality, it’s not an insignificant number of people. Was this a move inspired by greed, or fear? Is either answer really better than the other?

 

*5.5/10

Note: None of the images in this post belong to me.

CftC: Corpse Bride

 

Corpse Bride is not a great movie. It might not even be a good movie, especially when compared with its predecessor, The Nightmare Before Christmas. A lot of it is weak. The plot is contrived, nonsensical, or extremely obvious with its direction and theme; the setting, combined with Tim Burton’s traditional “style” of animation, feels cliché; the music is less catchy and memorable; and the characters are not very compelling, but rather caricatures. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a case of the writers coming up with the title before the concept.

Despite all that, it’s a guilty pleasure of mine that I break out every year around this time.

 

In a small, Victorian town, everything is muted, prim and proper. A family of newly-wealthy fishermen are set to marry their son, Victor, into an “old money” family that is deep in debt. Victor’s bride-to-be, Victoria, seems nice enough, but has been strictly repressed by her disapproving parents, who pop in and ruin what little bonding time she and Victor do get.

Victor, who is mousy, passive, and wide-eyed, gives every indication that he doesn’t want to be married. His nerves lead to disaster at the wedding rehearsal, and he leaves in disgrace, wandering into the woods to practice his vows and gestures. Just as it seems that he is accepting his fate and ready to step it up, he recites his vow in its entirety and slips his ring onto a “tree branch,” which actually turns out to be the skeletal hand of Emily, the Corpse Bride. She rises from the dead and drags an unwilling Victor to the Underworld with her, claiming that they are now married.

 

As you might have guessed, the afterlife is an absolute contrast to the Victorian world above. It is a colorful, fun place full of rowdy skeletons and blue zombies. It seems that death puts an end to caring about propriety and appearances, because everyone lets loose and does whatever they want, with the exception of going upstairs and tormenting the living. I’m not sure why, though. Who makes up these rules of theirs? God? What’s the price for transgression, and why are they then allowed to go “upstairs” later in the film?

The Bride, whose name is actually Emily, was murdered when she tried to elope with a handsome stranger, so she vowed to wait for someone to “ask for her hand” and “wait for her true love to come set her free”.

 

Meanwhile, up in the land of the living, Victoria tries to get help and rescue Victor, only to be re-engaged to a man named Lord Barkis, who just strolled into town claiming that he was distant family, visiting for the wedding. Coincidence?

So yes, you can see the “twists” coming from a mile away. Some questions of note, however, are: How did Emily come up with that contrived, unlikely plan of hers? How does she qualify true love, seeing as any Joe Schmoe could just waltz up and wake her up? Why does she seems surprised that the guy who was fleeing in terror from her might not want to be married to her, and furthermore, why take that so personally? You’re a corpse, lady! Your personality is not what he’s afraid of!

On a sillier note, what determines how the dead look when they arrive? Do the blue zombie people decompose into skeletons over time, or did the skeleton inhabitants all have their flesh flayed off of them before they died? Emily has skeletal bits in her design, so what horrible things does that imply about how and when she died?

 

There is so much more about this setup that doesn’t make sense, however. There is an annoying third-act misunderstanding, in which Victor stupidly thinks that Victoria is willingly marrying someone else…despite him barely explaining the circumstances of his disappearance to her. And the fact that he knows what both of their parents are like; domineering and greedy.

But this leads him to agree to “officially” marry Emily, which involves committing suicide so that they can be together in death. You see, although he was dragged into the Underworld, he is still technically alive, and most wedding vows assert that death is the only thing that will break the union.

So Victor and Emily were never married in the first place, because he was alive and she was dead. Her plan could have never worked in the long run. Does that mean she would have to go back into the ground under that old oak tree, waiting for take #2?

 

And Victor…well, to put it mildly, when faced with the idea that the girl he’s known for barely a day might have moved on, he concludes that there is nothing more he wants or needs out of life. He might as well just kill himself and tie himself to another girl he has known for barely a day, who he has repeatedly avoided being straightforward and honest with.

Truly, this is a love story for the ages.

As for the side characters, it’s hard to really remember their names. There’s a maggot doing a Peter Lorre impression; that reference is too old for people my age to get, but you probably remember seeing him parodied in Bugs Bunny shorts like Hair-Raising Hare. Victor’s parents are cockney, while Victoria’s are classically snooty. Everyone is pretty much distilled down to one or two character traits, usually designated by their visual design.

 

The corpses are not terribly graphic or hard to look at. Danny Elfman plays a skeleton (not Jack!) with one remaining eyeball. He gets the best song in the movie, and then later makes a sex joke and creepily chases a woman…so there’s that.

But all of that said, I still enjoy the movie. It’s clumsy and silly with virtually nothing new or interesting to say, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining.

 

I wish Emily was a bit smarter, less love-struck, and had more screen time, because she’s the only character who really stands out from everyone else. Unlike the rest of the dead, she seems like she would have been the same in life as she is in death; naïve, but passionate and free-spirited. If Victor had spent more time with her, I could see him falling in love with her genuinely, as almost an equal. Victoria, on the other hand, is basically a female clone of Victor with slightly less personality, and I could only see him bonding with her over their mutual misery, bemoaning their sad lot in life as breed-mule pawns in their families’ games.

So no, it’s not a great or intelligent film, but it captures the spirit and charm of Halloween pretty well without bludgeoning you with so much holiday marketing. It’s a brainless affair that sadly squanders what potential it had with a short run time; contrivances; and some unexplained rules and plot points.

 

*4/10

*None of the clips, images, or audio used in this post belong to me except the title card.

Happy Death Day: Stupid, Harmless, Spooky Fun

 

If you ever wanted to see the bastard love-child of Groundhog Day and Scream, with just a little bit of Mean Girls sprinkled in, Happy Death Day is the movie for you!

…Wait, you didn’t want to see that?

…Um, well…here it is anyway! And boy howdy, is it fun! It’s got romance, suspense, mystery, horror, comedy; a little bit of everything!

The film makes a quick reference to Groundhog Day at the end, saving it from being just a shameless rip-off. I’d probably still call it that; after all, just because you lampshade something doesn’t mean the problem goes away. But at least it knows what it is and what its limitations are, which is more than I can say for most Hollywood remakes and “reimaginings” nowadays. I’d also like to point out that Groundhog Day itself is basically just a variation of A Christmas Carol, just without the ghosts and Christmas, so it’s all relative.

If you can accept all of that, Happy Death Day is a goofy, hilarious, brainless romp, filled with some genuine creepiness, but just as much with morbidly dark comedy. That title alone should tell you how seriously the filmmakers take themselves, and yet the story is genuinely thrilling and dramatic at times, as well as oddly satisfying at the very end.

 

Theresa Gelbman, nicknamed “Tree,” is a stereotypical b&$#@y sorority girl living with a bunch of other shallow, vapid girls. The only exceptions to that rule appear to be the newer members of the house, the one “fat” chick, and the medical intern who somehow gets away with never wearing any makeup. Regina George would, like, totally not approve.

As the story progresses, we learn that Tree wasn’t always this trashy and horrible, but fell into bad habits and self-pity after the death of her mother, with whom she shares a birthday. On this particular birthday, she gets attacked and killed on the way to her surprise party, only to wake up in the dorm she found herself in that very morning. The day appears to be repeating itself, resetting only when Tree is killed, and after some initial panic and anger, she gets the idea to try and solve her own murder mystery. Seeing as she seems to have an infinite number of tries, why not?

Unlike with Bill Murray, however, we start to see that her various murders are affecting Tree physically, even after the day resets. A knife to the gut will throb, ache, or weaken her completely, leading her to wonder if she truly has infinite attempts after all.

 

I don’t know why the school chose babies to be its mascot, except with the intent to make an overtly, stupidly creepy mask just for this occasion, but like I said, don’t think about that. Think about who is killing Tree and why, because the payoff is pretty good. There is a bit of misdirection involved that some people may spot right away, but for fear of spoiling the fun, I won’t say anymore.

The gore is minimal to non-existent, with plenty of flipped shots and quick cutaways, and the tone tends towards comedic most of the time. Even if horror and suspense aren’t your cup of tea, I can’t imagine most people being serious bothered by it here. You can only take it so seriously, especially when the movie breaks into a montage of Tree stalking and confronting possible killer suspects. She’ll die, then wake up the next morning with some kind of “drat!” reaction, so however painful the murder must be, she starts taking it like a pesky mosquito bite for a little bit. What’s so scary about that?

 

The only thing that really bothered me during the watch was wondering how the killer managed to track her everywhere she ends up during the night, especially during said montage. Is Tree constantly posting about it on social media? I wouldn’t exactly put it past her, and that might answer my question pretty neatly, but the film never tells you exactly how, so who knows? Maybe she was microchipped as a baby, or the Baby-faced killer can magically teleport to her location. It’s so silly that it’s almost impossible to really care.

One last thing…as someone who hates the long logo rolls at the start of movies, having the Universal logo skipping and repeating a few times is a living nightmare. Please Universal, never do that again.

 

*6.5/10

*None of the clips, images, or audio in this post belong to me, minus the title card.