Thursday, July 28, 2016

Horror Movie Master-Post!

I’m currently in a long-distance relationship with Renee, and whenever we get to spend time together (usually summers and Christmas breaks when we’re not working), we love watching horror movies together. That being said, instead of doing my typical one-movie-per-post write-up, I’m going to lay out this horror movie master-post to give a quick rundown of the movies we’ve viewed throughout this vacation.

The Conjuring (2013)
Director: James Wan
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Vera Famiga, Ron Livingston

I had heard so many good things about this movie that I had to watch it. The Conjuring follows two paranormal investigators, a husband-and-wife team (Wilson and Farmiga), to an old swamp house where mysterious things start happening—specifically involving the mother of the family who resides there. This was a pretty decent movie: the pacing was really good, the effects were interesting, and the acting didn’t put me off like so many horror movies do. What I get really interested in, however, is sound—nothing makes a horror movie for me more than sound. From the creaking sound of a noose swinging on a rafter to off-key piano notes, the sound in this movie made it scary. Overall, the plot seems a bit run of the mill, but it’s a solid movie.

The Hallow (2015)
Director: Corin Hardy
Stars: Joseph Mawle, Bojana Novakovic

This title cropped up on Netflix, and the movie poster drew me in. A young couple (Mawle and Novakovic) and their infant son move to a secluded house on the edge of an Irish forest, but things begin to go bump in the night. As I watched this with my girlfriend, we immediately made the connection of Ireland and changelings, monsters that steal babies, and we were both surprised—I couldn’t tell you the last time I’d heard of a horror movie based around Irish folklore. This plot was quite original, and we both enjoyed that part of it, but where The Hallow really shines is in the make-up and creature design. The monsters from the forest all take on an earthy tone: most of the monsters seem vaguely humanoid, but they’re made from sticks, leaves, and mud. For what seems like a low-budget movie, having (I think) three characters with speaking roles, the movie is worth the watch.

They Look Like People (2015)
Director: Perry Blackshear
Stars: MacLeod Andrews, Evan Dumouchel, Margaret Ying Drake

This is another Netflix pick that came up out of the wild blue yonder, and again, it surprised me and Renee with how good it was. Christian (Dumouchel), an up-and-coming employee at a design firm, runs into an old, mysterious friend, Wyatt (Andrews). Wyatt is convinced that a war between good and evil is coming, and the story follows his prep-work and armament—but is the war real or only in his head? While this movie smacks of a student film, it felt very tense the whole way through the story because of Wyatt’s paranoia: the whole idea here is that the evil creatures are taking over people’s bodies—they look like people—and he can’t tell who is good and who is evil. That tension builds even more as Wyatt gets eerie phone calls in the middle of the night; and we watch Wyatt prepare weapons for the (maybe fake, maybe real) coming apocalypse. On top of being a very tense movie, the film also explores the meaning of masculinity, which definitely piqued the interest of me and Renee, since we’ve both done research in gender and masculinity studies. This movie is definitely worth a watch because it's just so simple.

We Are What We Are (2013)
Director: Jim Mickle
Stars: Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner

Another Netflix pick, We Are What We Are explores the relationships between Frank Parker (Sage) and his two daughters, Iris (Childers) and Rose (Garner), who must carry on the family tradition after their mother’s death—a tradition that involves eating people. This movie was based off of a Mexican horror movie of the same name—Somos lo que hay—and it seems like a more original story than most horror movies tell because it adds the family dynamic to the cannibalism. That being said, there wasn’t enough tension to really hold our interest during this movie; we didn’t care about most of the characters, and personally, I didn’t feel like I was rooting for anyone to survive. The movie pokes at the theme of “traditions” and questions why we do the things we do, as a culture, but it didn’t really work for me. You aren't going to miss much with this movie, and it was one of the least favorite ones out of this list because the characters didn't really mean much to me, and it dragged on so long. 

Would You Rather? (2012)
Director: David Guy Levy
Stars: Brittany Snow, Jeffrey Combs

Iris (Snow) needs a significant amount of money to pay off her brother’s medical bills until Shepard Lambrick (Combs) invites her to a very special dinner party where she and the other contests play a game—to the death. I added this movie to my Netflix queue months ago, but I never got around to watching it: whenever I scrolled over it, it piqued my interest enough to not remove it from my list, but it wasn’t interesting enough to watch. Now that I’ve watched it, I feel like my actions were justified. It was okay, but it wasn’t really anything groundbreaking. Renee described it adequately as “torture porn,” which is a trap that many horror movies fall into: the story doesn’t need to be good, but the visuals have to be gory enough to keep audiences on edge. If this review were based entirely on the “torture porn” aspect of this movie, I’d be writing a great review, but horror movies shouldn’t be based entirely on how gory they are and how queasy they can make audiences. Again, this is another one you could skip, and it's another of my least favorites in this list: there was just too much imbalance in the character development, story, and torture porn. 

Come Back to Me (2014)
Director: Paul Leyden
Stars: Matt Passmore, Nathan Keyes, Katie Walder

The thing that drew me in about this movie was the poster, and that’s sometimes how Renee gets drawn into movies, too. Come Back to Me delves into the sudden night-terrors of Sarah (Walder) after a creepy neighbor named Dale (Keyes) moves in across the street; Josh (Passmore), Sarah’s husband, tries to support her through her horrifying dreams, but he works night shifts in a casino—meaning that Sarah is alone and afraid throughout most of the movie. Let me get this out right away: the acting in this movie is terrible. The only one who I found believable was Dale, because he’s supposed to be a socially-awkward weirdo neighbor. The rest of the cast was very meh—Josh’s character felt wooden most of the time, and Sarah’s character seemed to overdramatize everything. The movie fell short in a lot of areas, but the ending caught me be surprise. I'm not going to say that this is a "must see," by any stretch, but it's a poorly-acted movie that has a fun idea, and that's kind of worth the watch.

Starry Eyes (2014)
Director: Kevin Kolsh, Dennis Widmyer
Stars: Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segan

It wasn't so much the poster for this movie, but the Netflix thumbnail of this movie with a woman with pentagrams drawn over her eyes. I really like movies about demonic possession, and I thought that this would be up that alley--I was a little off, but it wasn't bad. Sarah (Essoe), an actress in Hollywood looking for her break-out role, finds an opportunity at a highly-regarded yet mysterious production company...but she doesn't understand what she has to trade to reach fame. Essoe does very well in her role, and she's very believable throughout the movie; on top of that, the makeup used on Essoe's character is pretty good (though some of the blood in the movie looks like red-tinted chocolate syrup). I did like this movie, because it tapped into my feminist side: Starry Eyes highlights the distinct differences between men and women in the film industry by suggesting what a woman must do to get a break...a break that isn't necessary for a man in the same position. The biggest thing that stuck out to me was the storyline: it's an interesting storyline, but it quickly turns into a Faustian bargain where Sarah more or less trades her humanity for beauty and fame. The plot, especially where she fulfills that Faustian bargain, made me raise an eyebrow, and I'm not sure where the writers were going with some of the unnecessary torture porn that ensues. Despite the oddness in the plot, I'd still recommend this movie.

Sinister (2012)
Director: Scott Derrickson
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone

This is our second go-around with Sinister, because I honestly didn't remember a whole lot from it the last time we viewed it about two years ago. Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) needs to write a new best-seller crime novel to keep his family from drowning in debt; a quadruple homicide case in Pennsylvania might be the answer to his family's problems--or it might cause more. Sinister has incredible work in sound design that definitely makes things more tense, such as the whirring of a video projector after Ellison finds a box full of Super-8 reels...that show various murders. As we watched this movie, we realized that we liked the first two-thirds of the movie; after that, the filmmakers decided that the story was too complex, so they felt the need to "dumb it down," like the audience wasn't quite following things well enough. Renee even said toward the end of the movie, "They could've ended this movie five minutes earlier and it would've been way scarier." I completely agree that the ending dragged on way too long and explained things that didn't need explaining, and there was one sequence where Ellison scours the house after a mysterious noise only to be followed by spoopy ghosts--but in horror movies, less is more. What we can come up with in our own heads is often more scary than what's shown to us on the screen. This one is a cool movie, one that you should definitely watch, but don't let the ending turn you off from it. 

Any horror movies that we should tackle? Have a different opinion on one of the movies I’ve listed here? Write a comment below!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Warcraft: Stay home and play World of Warcraft instead


Director: Duncan Jones
Stars: Travis Fimmel, Paula Batton, Ben Foster

You know, at this point in my life, I should know that I shouldn’t watch video game movies. I shouldn’t. I just should not. The issue is that Blizzard’s World of Warcraft (WoW) video game sucked me in when I started college, and I got caught up in the nostalgia of that universe—and I actually paid money to watch this movie. I was not impressed with the film at all. Did it touch me in the Department of Nostalgic Feels? Sure. Did it make me want my money back? Hands down, yes.

Warcraft seems to take place in the time before the events of the video game WoW, which is where most of my knowledge of this universe lies. Gul’dan, an evil orc sorcerer, builds a massive, magical gate by which to send himself and his orc brethren to Azeroth; the issue is that Azeroth is already inhabited by humans, night elves, and dwarves—a group that normally goes by the title of the Alliance. As Gul’dan leads a war party of orcs through the portal to Azeroth, the captain of the humans’ forces, Anduin Lothar (Fimmel), seeks counsel from the Guardian, a powerful magic user known as Medivh (Foster). Lothar and Medivh attempt to protect Azeroth from the orcs’ onslaught, but that onslaught is reconsidered by Durotan and Orgrim, two orcs who realize that Gul’dan’s magic poisons and destroys the lands it touches—and that’s the reason why Gul’dan moved the orcs through the portal in the first place, since he basically usurped the orcs’ original home. Gul’dan must be stopped before all of Azeroth suffers the same fate.

I have to ask, dear reader: were you able to follow that last paragraph? There’s a ton of stuff happening in Warcraft, and the movie seems like more of a nod to WoW players than a real narrative. Even as a player of WoW, I recognized a lot of the names mentioned, but I was still miffed by quite a bit of it—it seemed like that one friend of yours who makes a joke and then smiles really wide and asks, “Did you get it? Huh? Right there? Huh?” There were mentions of Elwynn Forest, the beginning area in WoW for the human characters, Goldshire, another part of the humans’ starting area in the game, and even Dalaran, the floating city where magic users gather and study together—again, how much of this are you actually following if you’ve never played the game? There’s an awful lot of fan-service going on, and I suppose that’s to be expected in a video game movie—but this was piled way too deep.

In addition to the overbearing fan-service, the themes presented in this movie were mostly forced. One theme dwelled on racial issues, though this use of “race” refers more to the different kinds of beings in Azeroth, such as the “race of Men” (to steal Tolkien’s terminology), the “race of night elves,” etc. One character, Garona (Patton), represents a mixed-race being: half human and half orc; at one point in the movie, three main characters sit around a campfire and tell their backstories in an attempt to make viewers make deeper connections with those characters, and I still didn’t care about Garona (or anybody else, for that matter). Really, it seems like Garona’s only purpose in Warcraft was to sneakily add in a sexually-appealing orc character for—you guessed it—more fan service. Even the theme of fatherhood is tacked on, like the writers were trying to force the story to be deeper than it was. All of a sudden, Lothar’s son pops up in the movie with little to no backstory—and then he dies. Okay, well, sorry (not sorry), I still didn’t care about this character, but he’s gone now…so there’s that. If they really wanted to play up one particular theme, they should have stuck with the idea of a “homeland”—the orcs are trying to find a new homeland, and the humans are trying to defend theirs. Yes, it does come up that Lothar and the humans are fighting for Azeroth, and “For Azeroth!” does become a battle-cry here and there, but again, most of the themes in the movie are just thrown in for no reason.

Don't even try to tell me Garona is in here for anything more than fan-service sex appeal. Come on.
I know I’ve ragged on this movie a little at this point—okay, a lot at this point—but the shining point was really in the CGI. This movie shows us the height of motion capture technology, since several characters—and I think all of the orcs (except Garona)—are CGI. These shots are masterfully done, and I was truly amazed by how far CGI technology has come over the last few years. Before seeing Warcraft, I watched a Youtube video that helped explain how motion-capture CGI works, and it was fascinating. In the same vein, Gul’dan and Medivh using their respective magic spells was equally amazing. It didn’t take me out of the movie when I saw characters lobbing spells or opening huge portals to another dimension in a stone gateway. These instances of CGI felt very natural to the movie, and they helped make a very pretty movie (at times).

With that small glimmer of light, most of the budget was spent on CGI (I’m guessing), since the costuming was absolutely terrible. As I watched the movie, I could tell that the costuming wasn’t all that good, but I was trying to go along with things while sitting in the theater—you have to give things a bit of a chance, right? When talking to my partner about this movie, she pointed out that the CGI looked incredible, but the physical characters’ costumes—especially the soldiers’ armor—looked like cheaply-made plastic from a Halloween costume shop, and I’d have to agree. The WoW universe is quite stylized, such as the Alliance shields that have high-relief lions and eagles on them, and for as stylized as this movie tried to be, the costuming took me out of the movie way too much to enjoy things.

Watching people fight in that armor was also pretty awful, but I blame that more so on fight choreography. People who are supposed to be wearing heavy armor aren’t going to have much mobility in real life—but this isn’t real life. If you watch any of the WoW cinematic scenes that begin each new expansion of the game, there are incredible fight scenes, but Warcraft’s fights seemed bland, almost like they were done in half-hearted slow motion and sped up in post-production to make the fight scenes more fast-paced. I love watching escapist movies with interesting and different worlds, but all of these factors made it hard to watch Warcraft, as nostalgic as it felt to be placed in that universe again.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this movie--again, except for the CGI. If you’re looking to get that same nostalgia you felt from the vanilla WoW game, you’ll probably find it here, but If you’ve never played WoW before, you’re not going to have a great time. Even if you have played WoW, don’t hope for much. Before I gave up WoW, I think I’d logged about a thousand hours in-game, which is a pittance compared to many other players, but I feel like you need to play the game instead of watching the movie: the game has so much more content to get that immersion in the universe that Warcraft lacks. I’d love to see Assassin’s Creed, the new video game movie with Michael Fassbender that’s coming out soon—but do gamers expect too much from video game movies after logging extensive hours in the actual video games? What do you think?