Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Why is Every Movie a Thousand Hours Long?

I've been noticing an increasing trend in Hollywood to make every movie a million years long.

What's up with that.

Seriously, most movies before this millennium clock in at a reasonable time. An hour and a half, two hours tops. Storylines were concise, characters were maybe a bit more simple, but endings were firmly closed and didn't remain ambiguous in hopes of spurring a franchise. I feel like we're wandering away from that beautiful world of short-but-good movies.

Full disclosure: I don't write about every single movie that I see. Despite the serious lack of posts in November, I actually went and saw about three movies. Granted, sometimes I am too busy being an adult to take the time to write a review, but sometimes I opt out of writing reviews if I think my opinion has been skewed for some reason. Example: I did not write about the second Hobbit film because I fell asleep for a few minutes in the middle and struggled through the ending with a bouncing foot and an impatience to go home.

"Giant spiders, eh..?"

And I've been having this issue a lot more often lately. Like, okay, that's enough, time to end your tale, let's wrap it up now please.

It's not that I have a short attention span. Honestly, I'm a huge fan of long movies that are actually good. Gone With the Wind is nearly 4 hours long -- but Vivienne Leigh as Scarlet O'Hara is captivating. The Fellowship of the Ring is about 3 hours long -- but isn't bulked up with things that happen in The Silmarillion. And sure, there are tons of great movies that are longer than two and a half hours.

But can we stop acting like every movie is going to be the next groundbreaking piece of cinematic art?

Maybe directors are getting self-important to the point that they think every film they make is going to be of 7-hour-long Lawrence of Arabia quality or something. Maybe they think that a top quality movie HAS to be long in order to be as in depth as it needs to be. Or maybe we're so caught up in the minutiae of "authenticity" that we spend more time on subplot and characterization than is really necessary.

Take Interstellar. That was a very intriguing film that was very well put together and different. But they add an entire subplot that didn't have to be there in the first place and, as a result, the ending gets short-changed because you're like "Okay, let's wrap this up, McConaughey." Now, I'm sure that the director/writer had a reason for keeping the subplot in there (maybe it gives us a better look at human isolation or something), but honestly, by cutting that out, the movie would end at a much more comfortable pace.

The Hobbit franchise, as well, is getting into hot water for just being too damn long. Who wants to go to the theater to sit a through a mediocre movie that ends up being nothing like the original book it was based on? While I was happy enough sitting through the first film, they become so beefed up that the whole point of Bilbo's journey gets lost in the attempt to tie it to the Lord of the Rings story. In the interest of streamlining the story and keeping it a little more loyal to the book, they could've kept it as one film (or, dare I say it, even two) and probably would've done much better at the box office.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Pretty Much Every Geek Ever

Now, maybe I'm biased. I'm prone to migraines and 2.75+ hours staring at a giant screen in the dark is asking for trouble. In fact, the reason I didn't write about Interstellar was because for the last half hour of the movie I was having trouble caring about Matthew McConaughey's character through my brain pain and nausea. But medical reasons aside, I really don't think that most movies have to be that long.

I guess that's what I'm getting at. No movie has to be super long. If you're going to make a movie long, it should be because each scene is indespensible to the plot, to the characterization, or to main message of the story. Or because you're following an original work and want to remain faithful to it. Those should be the only two reasons that you have an ungodly long film. Otherwise, all you're doing is dragging your audience through an afternoon and making it that much less likely that they'll come back to the theater at all.

I'm a huge movie fan (obviously) but life is too short to be spent staring at a mediocre film for more than two hours.

Mockingjay Part 1: Hunger Games Again Again

It may be hard to believe, but I continue to get blown away by this franchise. Mockingjay Part 1 presents us with an increasingly dark storyline that holds our interest and provides us with a scary look at how revolutions play out.

When last we saw our heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), she had just gotten airlifted out of The Games and was separated from Peeta. Mockingjay Part 1 starts off with Katniss in District 13, a part of Panem that was previously thought destroyed. Untouched by the increasingly violent battles between the various Districts and The Capitol, they hide and build a propaganda campaign. The leader of District 13, and of the revolution itself, President Coin (Julianne Moore), has grand plans for Katniss as The Mockingjay and the head of their efforts towards the revolution. But Katniss is reluctant. Unwilling to see more harmed by The Capitol, she agrees to help the revolution if they rescue Peeta, who has fallen into President Snow's clutches and is spearheading the Capitol campaign for a return to "peace." The rest of the movie follows the results of each side's efforts.

This newest installment is much more akin to a political thriller or even a war movie than the previous action-packed movies -- but that doesn't make it any less engrossing. While it clocks in at more than 2 hours long, there wasn't a moment towards the end where I got impatient for the ending. 

Also they blow up way too many things for you to get bored.

Honestly, I think that there are two things working for this franchise that Divergent and others don't have going for them: Jennifer Lawrence as a main character and the fact that she's an actually strong heroine.

First of all, whatever your feelings may be on J-Law in real life, you really can't deny that she's a fantastic actress. She plays the character of Katniss in a way that's totally believable. Katniss isn't some damsel in distress waiting to be rescued, nor is she some terrifyingly aggressive character out for revenge. Katniss has a duality that is incredibly believeable. While she doesn't want to be in the spotlight for a revolution that begets death and destruction, she sees the bigger picture of the ends justifying the means. Lawrence plays Katniss with a steely resolve and a hidden vulnerability that makes sense. And while she's awkward at times, it's not the ham-handed nonsense that we get from actresses like Kristen Stewart. Basically, I guess what I'm getting at is that Lawrence plays the character in a way that prevents her from being a caricature of herself. It's very understated and very well done.

I don't care who you are, girl's got skillz.

Second of all, what makes this series so cool is the fact that Katniss is a true hero. She doesn't rely on Peeta or Gale to keep her safe (in fact, she keeps herself pretty occupied in the first two films trying to save both their asses), she doesn't shy away from combat or conflict, and she doesn't revel in vanity or appearance.  In fact, in this movie we see her basically stripped of all makeup and costume. She's purely consumed with a desire to make life better for the Districts, taking her memories of the Hunger Games and using that horror to power through to a better future.

8.5 outa 10. Really well shot, well acted, and well done.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Exodus: Another Biblical Blockbuster

The boils. The frogs. The flies. The locusts. It's a pretty well-known tale. Between Judaism and Christianity, the story of Moses lays some pretty thick groundwork conveying the strength and power of the terrifying God of the Old Testament. (Homie did not mess around.)

For those of you who might not know this story, skip on down to the bottom and enlighten yourselves.* For everyone else, let's stay up here and talk about the movie.


All in all, the film is pretty neat if a tad long. Since Scott chooses to go very introspective and very modern with the personality of Moses, we see something much more realistic than Moses as he's portrayed in The Prince of Egypt or The Ten Commandments

At the risk of repeating everything that I said in that other post from September, I find this new trend in biblical movies pretty fascinating. For any person that went to church every Sunday as a child, it's interesting to see the stories you've heard 10,000+ times reimagined and made realistic. Such is definitely the case with Exodus: Gods and Kings, Ridley Scott's version of the famous Old Testament tale of plagues, miracles, and freedom.

Much like Noah of last year, Exodus is an interesting watch in that it takes the biblical story and then builds on it and gives it depth. If you've ever read the story as it is written in the book of Exodus, things can be a little sparse on detail. You see the words on the page that Moses trusted God to do the right thing but a lot of times you forget how emotional Moses's ties were to Egypt. Seeing the film unfold is a great reminder that these weren't made-up characters, they were human beings with thoughts, feelings, and opinions.  From his personalized sword, which was given to him by Ramses's father, to the fact that he was basically Ramses's right hand man for the first half of his life, them ties are deep and hard to cut.

lolz totes broz

Another thing that I found interesting was the fact that in this movie Moses isn't always unflailingly accepting the things that God was asking him to do. He weighs possibilities and discusses things with him, and God even seems to ask his input on things. God seems a little more on our level than he does in the bible. Scott chooses to make Moses an atheist at the beginning of the movie which I also found interesting.

Now, this is a little different than what I learned and a little different from what's in the bible. We don't really get a glimpse of what Moses's personality was like, nor do we learn from the actual book of Exodus what he was at the time of his banishment from Egypt (Prince of Egypt has him as the chief architect and Exodus portrays him as one of the pharoah's top generals of war), so there's a lot of wiggle room for creativity. But I found that kind of cool. When you're taught these lessons as a kid (and honestly, the way that Exodus is written reflects this as well) it's very God-is-omnipotent-so-we-do-what-he-says, but Exodus portrays this relationship as more two-sided than that, and by the end scene we see that not only do God and Moses respect one another -- they're kind of buds.

I was a little bummed out by the fact that God is kept more mysterious in this version of the story -- and honestly if you're cynical enough you could make the argument that Moses suffers a massive concussion and that is why he goes through this whole ordeal to free the Hebrews. When you read it, God is with Moses almost constantly, telling him to turn his shepherd's staff into a snake, making the Egyptians uncomfortable, and all kinds of other direct God-to-Mo contact. Moses shouts at one point in the film "I'm tired of speaking to a messenger!!" but this is not so in the bible. We know that God originally appears as the burning bush but after that he pretty much is talking to Moses one-on-one.

"Yo, Mo, lemme part that sea for ya right quick."
"Kthanks, God."

The only qualm that I have with the movie is that I only wish Scott had chosen a bit more of a racially diverse cast, and that he should've added some more character development. In scenes where major Egyptian and Hebrew characters share the screen, there's no markable difference between them besides cleanliness. And honestly, characters range from being bizarrely super-white (Sigourney Weaver???) to wearing too much bronzer (yes, you, Ben Mendelsohn). The only ethnic characters that we get to see are the wives of Moses and Ramses and, while they do a terrific job, they make the major casting even more obviously whitewashed.

The accents, too, are a little weird. I think Americans have a tendency to be like "Well obviously we can't expect everyone to learn a foreign language so let's slap the audience with some British accents. That'll make it fancy." Weaver's heavy American accent is a bit of a jolt next to the clipped British tone of the film (I mean, come on, even Aaron Paul pulled it together and sounded okay). While the casting is a little weird, though, if we're being honest, Christian Bale has a hell of an audience draw and such a decision, while regrettable, is obvious in the eyes of stupid studio execs. Kind of a shame, but they do have to make a profit and it makes sense why they chose the stars the way they did.

All in all, I enjoyed Exodus: Gods and Kings. If the whole bible thing doesn't appeal to you, go and see it for the special effects. Between the shots of ancient Egypt and the different plagues that we get to see realistically, it's pretty damn cool.

6 outa 10. Refreshing perspective, beautifully shot, contemplative movie; but a little long and would've been nice to see a more ethnic cast.

Also, it must be said that Prince of Egypt wins Best Moses Story for tunes:

*Moses was a Hebrew baby at the time the Hebrews were enslaved by the Egyptians. He was sent down the Nile in a basket by his mother to save him from being killed. The pharoah at the time had heard a prophecy that a Hebrew baby would be born that year and basically screw up everything that they had built. Ironically, the pharoah's servant/wife/somebody found Moses in his basket and they decided to raise him in the palace. When Moses grew up he fled Egypt after killing an Egyptian who was beating a slave. After hearing a message from a burning bush telling him that it was time to go set his people free, Moses set out for Egypt to bargain with the pharoah he grew up with as a kid. Long story short, the pharoah was not willing to free the Hebrew slaves. As a result of his stubbornness, God, working through Moses, hit the Egyptians with ten awful plagues. Livestock died, people grew boils and sores, there were unspeakable swarms of locusts and flies and frogs, there was hail the size of softballs, it rained fire, and (most horribly) God decided to kill the oldest child of every Egyptian family. (Fun fact: this is why Jews celebrate Passover, because God passed over the houses of the Hebrews and let their eldest children live. Hey, I told you he was terrifying...) After this, the pharoah finally let the Hebrews go. Then he changed his mind and tried to chase them and kill them all, but Moses parted the Red Sea and they got away, free to wander the desert for 40 years. But that's a whole other tale.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Best Scary Movies of All Time -- Of ALL Time. (Part 2)

Well, I hope you made it through the beginner movies, kids, because horror movies these days are a bit more of a step up. As I stated in my last post, I'm not big on gore (which is even more gross these days) so I am not a fan of the Saw series or Hostel or any of those gross-for-gross'-sake movies/franchises. That said, I now present to you the scariest movies from 1990 onward.

(PART 2)

1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
One of the best horror films of all time, I've seen this one for countless film classes and still love it. The story follows Clarice Starling, a student at the FBI Academy who becomes a key piece in solving the abduction of a state senator's daughter, whom the police believe was taken by serial killer Buffalo Bill. Enlisting the help of a convicted serial killer named Hannibal Lector, Clarice needs to find the missing girl before it's too late. The only major American horror movie to win an Oscar for Best Picture, the way that it's edited, acted, and executed is really just impeccable. Might be a little too intense for some, but the perfect scary movie.

2. Scream (1996)
Classic slasher film that brings all the unspoken tropes of horror movies to the surface. Teen Sydney (worst name ever) is a student at a local high school where her friends have mysteriously started being murdered by a man wearing a mask. Tongue-in-cheek but still pretty scary, this film is great for horror movie fans and newbies alike.

3. Blair Witch Project (1999)
The one that started the found-footage trend. A troop of college kids are making a documentary about a local witch and hike into the woods to get footage of some local stories. They soon lose their map, get disoriented, and start to find and hear strange things around their camp sites. Wierd bundles of sticks and circles of rocks might seem relatively nonthreatening, but added to the tension and hopelessness of being lost in the woods, this movie has you on edge throughout. Still one of the best found-footage movies out there.

(Embedding was disabled on the clips I found, for a scary scene go here)

4. The Sixth Sense (1999)
The original DAFUQ!? plot twist ending, this movie follows a psychologist as he attempts to help a kid who tells him he can "see dead people." (Come on, had to put that in there.) Some seriously jumpy scenes, and the plot is sewn up so tightly that you have to watch it a few times to really appreciate it. The best ever from M. Night Shamalan (although I wanted to put Signs on here and everyone at my office got belligerent at me...still think it's pretty good, but that's apparently just me...).

5. The Ring (2002)
The first terrifying movie I can recall having seen, I'm pretty sure I watched the bulk of this from underneath a blanket. A weird video tape has been circulating and once you watch it you only have seven days to give it to someone else -- or else you die. When a reporter tries to get to the bottom of these seemingly mysterious deaths, she discovers the disturbing story behind the tape and tries to figure out how to stop them. Based off of the original Ringu, The Ring is still plenty terrifying.

6. The Grudge (2004)
Ahhhhhh, that creepy girl and her child and those noises that they make with their mouths!! Help! Another based on an Asian original (in this case, Ju-On), The Grudge actually takes us over to Japan where a young American woman is studying and living with her boyfriend. After becoming an in-house caretaker for an old woman, she begins to feel like she's being followed by something sinister, as are those around her. The Asians really have a way with the supernatural and this remake is pretty near to the original in its scary originality. These aren't your evil, grinning spirits, but tangible, blue things that pop up out of NOWHERE. Still scares me. (Disclaimer: if you thought you could hide from ghosts in your bed, this movie will destroy you. See above scene.)

7. The Descent (2005)
AWESOME creature feature, and very original. Instead of zombies, ghosts, and werewolves, The Descent rigs up some original and pretty scary cave creatures. After a group of thrill-seeking girls decides to take on an uncharted cave, they are unpleasantly surprised when they are met with a small population of cave-people that slowly pick them off, one by one. The central character is a total bad-ass, and it's one of the (SPOILER ALERT) few scary movies that ends with closure (depending on which ending ends up being used. I've seen both and I much prefer one over the other.).

8. [REC] (2007)
Best. Zombie. Movie. I've. Ever. Seen. This Spanish horror movie is much better than the American remake (Quarantine) and much more unsettling. A reporter is covering a local apartment building when all of a sudden the building is quarantined. But one by one, each of the residents of the building starts turning into zombies. Just wait for the scene with the little girl. And the end scene. Scary stuff.

9. Paranormal Activity (2007)
Um, yeah. The first time I saw this movie, I was so on edge that I had to sleep over my friend's house. With the lights on. And I was 19 years old. Another successful found footage movie, this one will either bore you to death or scare the shit out of you. Something deeply disturbing about being stalked by the intangible, and everything seems SO normal in this that it's even more unsettling when things start to happen to this couple. If you like this one, be sure to catch the second and third ones, not bad considering they're sequels.

10. Orphan (2009)
Okay, I hear you laughing, but Orphan is a pretty well executed horror flick and the first time I saw it, I didn't anticipate the ending at all. Originality in scary movies is always delightfully welcomed (there are only so many movies that you can make about serial killers and zombies) and this one is a unique spin on the usual "bad seed" kind of films. After a couple is still reeling from having a relatively recent stillborn baby, they decide to adopt from a local orphanage. Seeing something special in a little girl who is a bit apart from the others, they decide to take her in. But Esther proves to be quite the sadistic daughter; torturing her siblings and giving due payback to bullies at school. Great character development for a horror movie, especially from the ever classy Vera Farmiga. Good ending and pretty creepy how well she knows how to torture her new family.

11. Insidious (2010)
The notorious. Some love this one and some don't, but I still love Insidious, stylistically and plot-wise. A boy falls off a ladder one night and then never wakes up the next day. His parents find out that (SPOILER ALERT) he is gifted at astral projection, or projecting his soul outside of his body. Ghosts, demons, and everything in between then show up, seeking to possess the kid's body for themselves. Notable soundtrack ups the creep factor tenfold for Insidious, which has jumps, creeps, and a unique plot. What more can you ask for?

12. The Innkeepers (2011)
While I'm not a huge fan of Ti West's other horror film House of the Devil (really sharp esthetically but just takes to long to get moving), The Innkeepers was freakin' terrifying. Another case of "Everything is normal -- NO IT'S NOT!! -- Okay, now it's normal again...Or is it?" West takes his time delivering the scares, and by the ending you're jumping out of your seat. Help.

13. The Possession (2012)
Another interesting spin on a typical plot, The Possession is basically a Jewish spin on the traditional possession tale. A little girl finds a mysterious box at a garage sale and accidentally opens it up. Insatiable hunger, aggression, and an uncanny ability to move things with her mind alert her parents that something may be wrong with the girl. An interesting casting choice with Matisyahu as the rabbi that tries to help the girl, the rest of the cast delivers a pretty believable film.

14. The Woman in Black (2012)
Okay, ignore Harry Potter up in here, but this movie is chilling. A woman in black haunts the house isolated at the end of a swamp and picks off little children in the village below. Trying to crack the case is a young lawyer, who is met by more than one instance of inexplicable phenomena. Scary stuff and lots of jumps.

15. Cabin in the Woods (2012)
In the same sort of wheelhouse as Scream, Cabin in the Woods pokes fun at the stereotypical horror genre. A group of teens decide to vacation at (you guessed it) a cabin in the woods, but the longer they're there, the more differently they begin to act. As they begin to morph into the stereotypical horror movie roles (jock, nerd, slut, stoner, and virgin), we begin to learn more about why they're changing and what the bigger picture is behind all the horrific things they see throughout the night. Scary enough but also really great fun! (See: the merman.)

16. Mama (2013)
Two baby girls find themselves alone in an abandoned house in the woods, but are astonishingly discovered there years later and restored to their existing guardians. But they are far from normal. Growing up far from socialization, the girls are taciturn and skittish. As they begin to warm up to their new "parents," the thing that took care of them in the woods isn't too happy at being replaced. Despite "showing the monster," I still really like the bulk of this movie. And seeing Jessica Chastain as a punk rock chick is pretty interesting in its own right.

Can't even bring myself to inflict the red trailer upon you all...

17. Evil Dead (2013)
HAVE A DRINK HANDY WHEN THIS ONE ENDS. I was so shaken up after seeing this in theaters that I came home and had a whiskey. A group of teenagers go to a cabin in the woods to help their friend go through detox. After discovering a basement full of dead cats, one of them discovers a book wrapped in garbage bags and barbed wire (clearly just screaming "READ ME!") and -- get this -- reads from it. Unleashing the EVIL DEAD (see what I did there?), the girl starts acting crazy weird. Thinking that she's just going through detox, her friends don't worry seriously at first...until the blood starts to flow. Good god. This movie is (and I say this in all seriousness) horrifying. Gore, gore, gore, gore, gore. Far less cheesy than the original, this one had me INCREDIBLY on edge.

18. The Conjuring (2013)
THIS ONE TOO. One of the best formulated scary movies I have seen in years, The Conjuring features a family of girls who have moved into a new house that doesn't want them there. After being tormented in innumerable ways by the spirits that infest the house, the family enlists the help of Ed and Lorraine Warren, two mediums who try to cleanse the house. But this exorcism is far from easy, and as the group wanders deeper into the mystery of the spirits of the house, things get more and more extreme. This movie has all the things that scare you: murder, ghosts, possession, demons, and a nostalgic set that hearkens back to the 1970s. Well acted and well executed, The Conjuring is a new classic.

Honorable Mention:

Signs (2002) I don't care what you say, I like this movie so shut up.

The Others (2001) Great plot twist at the end still keeps this one pretty fresh. And those pale children that can't go outside and talk to the disembodied Victor? Um yes, still super creepy.

28 Days Later (2002) Great zombie movie but I got REALLY annoyed with two things that happen in this: that drop of damn zombie blood falling in that poor man's eye and the weird thing that happens with the soldiers at the camp. Other than that we good, 28 Days Later. You do you.

An American Haunting (2005) This one, to be perfectly honest, isn't incredibly scary, but it has a few moments that stick with me. There aren't a ton of scary movies that take place in colonial America (which, quite frankly, is a bit surprising because being in an undeveloped country actually sounds pretty unnerving if you ask me...). Scary scenes get a little blurred by the ending, which isn't my favorite, but up until that part seeing this poor girl get tortured by the intangible is creepy enough.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Best Scary Movies of All Time -- Of ALL Time. (Part 1)

Norman, I'ma let you finish, but...

Taking note of this year's severe lack of scary films that actually look worthwhile, I've decided to compile a list of my favorites of all time. Now, I use the term "scary" pretty loosely. These are thrillers, slasher flicks, campy horror, creepy classics, and regular ole scary movies.

This started off as one list, but there are so many good ones that I wanted to include (and since imbedded YouTube videos can make the page lag pretty bad), I split it up into two lists organized by year. This list rightchere is the best horror flicks up until 1990.

SO! Here we go!


1. Cat People (1942)
Had to watch this one for my first film class in college and it still sticks out as one of the best examples of Don't-Show-the-Monster, possibly leading the forefront behind this kind of shadowy suspenseful editing. The story follows an American guy who marries a Serbian girl only to find out that she is terrified of a family curse that causes all of the women to be jealous ladies who can turn into (you guessed it) Cat People. It sounds cheesy, and it's admittedly pretty dated, but watch it to see the earliest examples of sharp editing creating suspense. I still find the pool scene pretty creepy (yes they had pool scenes even in the scary movies of the 1940s).

(Cue the hokey old trailer)

2. The Uninvited (1944)
Probably one of the first scary movies that I've ever seen. I don't know when renting movies from the library became gauche, but in our family The Uninvited was a damn staple and the local library had the only copy that I have ever seen. Seriously, I've actually never heard anything about this movie ever again and find it hard to believe that more people haven't seen it. Might've been the crappy quality of VHS tapes, but I vividly remember thinking "Holy crap, for the 1940's, that ghost looks REAL." Pretty creepy, even for the 1940s, and definitely an underrated horror flick.

3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
I haven't seen any of the remakes of this one, but the original I found to be pretty good, enough to not explore the other ones. In a small town, a raving lunatic (presumably) is picked up off of the streets for ranting about aliens. Telling his tale to the police, the movie unravels and we learn that he was a doctor, and that he uncovered a bunch of different patients who came to him seeing changes in the ones closest to them. While nothing was ever clearly wrong, they were noting that their loved ones seemed distant, and blank. After a time, the doctor uncovers the reason: aliens have been making copies of people, growing them in pods, and doing away with the originals. Be careful; they come for you when you're sleeping.

4. Psycho (1960)
One of the best early examples of effective psychologically-imbalanced-people horror, we follow Norman Bates and his murder of a young woman at his family hotel. Still creepy even now, the black and white creates a high contrast backdrop for the multiple good vs. evil battles highlighted in the film. Still unnerving to see Norman run into the basement dressed as his mama in the final scene. And the above scene still seriously gives me the chills. The direct eyeline into the camera. Good job, Hitchcock.

5. The Birds (1963)
This was another library staple (why did we rent so many old, old scary movies when I was little...?). The special effects, the character development (that's Jessica Tandy as Mitch's mom, btw), and of course, the man with the pecked-out eyes. Pretty visceral stuff for the 1960s, and what's scarier than getting attacked by a gigantic flock of birds? I freak out when a pigeon flies too close to my head; the nightmare of them intentionally flying at me (see: the phone booth scene) is damn scary.

6. Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Oh nbd, you're just pregnant and your baby happens to be a demon. This one is particularly scary for women; new moms might want to stay away. Rosemary's just moved into a lovely NY apartment with her new husband and shortly thereafter finds herself pregnant. But her pregnancy is going rather strange. She's in nearly constant pain, looks awful, can't sleep, and is developing some bizarre eating habits... The neighbors across the hall aren't helping much either, giving her strange herbs and shakes and being a bit more concerned about the baby than they should. Creepfest in the extreme, especially if you're seeing it for the first time. Sharp editing and multiple twists keep it a classic.

(NSFW, as if you needed warning.)

7. The Exorcist (1973)
Well duh. Only (arguably) the scariest movie ever made. Some of the special effects are a bit dated, but damn. This one still terrifies me. Regan and her mother are in London for her mother's acting career when the little girl starts acting weird. Weird being the understatement of the century. I'm not going to go on about everything that happens in this movie because you've probably heard it already, but rest assured it's still super-effectively horrifying.

(Not for the faint of heart.)

8. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Gross. Ah. Help. My sister and I rented this YEARS ago and the image of Leatherface hanging a perfectly fine, conscious person on a meathook by her back still gives me the chills. The terrifying thing about this movie is actually the way that it's edited. Not a ton of closeups or unrealistic blood spurts, this seems horrifyingly realistic. I'd never want to see it again (not a fan of torture movies) but that only stands testament as to how incredibly terrifying this movie is.

9. Jaws (1975)
Don't go into the water!! Oof, born and raised in a coastal town, this one just hits a little too close to home. Not so scary now, as it's a little dated, but this age-old tale of a town terrorized by a giant great white is still enough to make me a little skiddish about swimming in the ocean. And it's Spielberg. So that.

10. Carrie (1976)
This movie has it all: a psychotically religious mom, telepathy, and pigs blood. Carrie's the school nerd that everyone hates for no reason. A quiet kid, she comes under the scrutiny of her classmates after they get in trouble for aggressively bullying her. Things come to a head at the notorious prom. A good look at the consequences of bullying and of having a freakin' insane mom (really, when you think about it, it's a wonder that Carrie ends up as normal as she is before the prom scene). Skip the remake and watch the original.

(Couldn't find a good scene that didn't give something away, so this dated trailer will have to do.)

11. Alien (1979)
You're trapped in space with an aggressive alien that you can't kill. Scary? Um, yes. This is where it all began. While the effects are (to use the word again) a bit dated, the suspense of not knowing where the alien is coupled with the two big plot twists are enough to allow this one to stand the test of time. To be honest, I like the effects in the second one better, but it becomes (as most sequels do) a bit of a caricature of the first one (especially with the addition of the stereotypical soldier people. yawn.)

12. The Shining (1980)
Creep, creep, creepy. A man takes his wife and clairvoyant son to become the grounds keeper at an isolated Colorado hotel for the entire winter. Is it the isolation driving him crazy or is there something seriously wrong with this hotel? Kubrick delivers an unsettling film with an even eerier soundtrack. Not downright terrifying, but definitely delivers an unrest that stays with you for a little while. (If you like the movie, try reading the book. Excellently written and, in my opinion, even scarier than the movie.)

13. Poltergeist (1982)
"It knows what scares you. It's known since the beginning." I would argue that Poltergeist is one of the best executed scary movies. Even if you take out all of the scary bits, the acting in it can stand by itself. One of my biggest qualms with the horror genre in general is that characters are consistently underdeveloped and unrealistic. In Poltergeist, the family reacts understandably when their house turns on them and abducts their youngest daughter. Not just scary, but incredibly well edited and acted, I still think that Poltergeist is one of my favorites. (And seriously, if that clown scene doesn't freak you out, there's something wrong with you.)

14. The Thing (1982)
Along the same vein as movies like Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, The Thing follows an arctic expedition camp who have uncovered a strange creature. As it begins picking off members of the team, they begin to realize that not only does it kill these people, but it assumes their identities. Scary in the "I don't know who my enemy is" sense, The Thing is eery beyond all reason. Perfect example of well-executed practical effects as well. (CGI be damned!)

15. Hellraiser (1987)
A man opens a puzzle box and all hell breaks loose. Literally. After summoning the Cenobites, Frank is literally torn apart in a weird sadomasochistic labyrinth of chains and hooks. But after discovering that blood will ressurrect him, Frank employs his former lover (who's sporting some of the most hilariously awful makeup I've ever seen) to kill randos on his behalf. The only person who can stop him is his neice. Some really incredible practical effects. Big fan, very creepy even now.

(Ones I Didn't Include, And Why)

Halloween (1978) I'm sorry, but I can never get into it. I've tried to watch it several times and walk away kind of like "Meh." I get more annoyed with all the characters that can't outrun Michael than scared about how he's stalking them. I dunno. Say what you will. It's too slow and it doesn't hold up with dis critic. Sorryyyyyy.

Suspiria (1977) This one was mentioned on several lists I found, but I've seen it and I'm just not a fan. Anyone who reads this thing with any regularity will also know that post-dubbed sound drive me nuts.

Don't Look Now (1977) Another critically acclaimed horror movie that I just didn't get. Full reason why located here.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Kudos for a scary plot (you're not safe when you sleep, etc.) but I just hate the main character way too much in this. She's so incredibly annoying. Honorable mention for special effects though.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Annabelle: Possessed Doll Disappoints in Latest Horror Movie Let-Down

For some reason the association that the movie has with The Conjuring was enough to draw me in for this one. It's hard to find a well-made horror movie these days, and this actually looked intriguing -- especially building off of the character of Annabelle from The Conjuring, which was damn scary. But, after walking out of the theater, it became clear that this was just a regular movie about a possessed doll, and the fact that it was associated with The Conjuring was mere coincidence. $18 later.

Disregard "The Conjuring" part.

Annabelle begins in the California suburbs with a young couple who are about to have a baby. Mia and John are as happy as can be -- until two cultists come along and murder their neighbors and try to stab Mia in the stomach. In the haze following this hubbub, one of the serial killers shuts herself in their baby's soon-to-be nursery and kills herself while holdling the Annabelle doll. After the couple returns to the house, weird things (of course) start happening. When a minor fire forces Mia into labor, the baby is born and things are looking up when they move to a new home. But the weird things aren't stopping, and they're getting more serious. Can Mia save the life of her baby before it's too late?

I dunno, probs.

So. Okay. As previously stated, I had high hopes for this one. It's not that Annabelle is bad, it just tends towards other mediocre horror movies more than I would like. For example, things getting really blurry about what/who is actually possessing the doll. Is it the serial killer? Is it a demon? Is the serial killer now a demon? Why does the serial killer keep showing up? Where'd she go? Who's this new demon guy you're showing us? What's going on? As stupid as it seems to pick apart the logistics of a supernatural movie -- come on. Either simplify your plot or make the complicated-ness airtight so that people later can go over it and figure it out, instead of going over it and thinking "wait...what?"

The main characters were also disappointing. While Annabelle Wallis (hilariously, this is the actual name of the actress that plays Mia) holds her own pretty well, her scenes with John read pretty stiff. For a young, married couple in love, they have almost zero chemistry. And John also fulfills that age-old, B-horror movie role of guy-who-thinks-everything-is-fine-and-his-wife's-crazy to an annoying degree.

"Everything is fine, my wife is just hysterical. Let's give her 
a tranquilizer. It's the 60s."

(Parenthetically, Annabelle Wallis also looks and talks a LOT like Dianna Agron, and I spent half the film trying to figure out whether it was actually her or not.)

But the film's not ALL bad.

For one, it's interesting to see another horror movie that plays itself out in the past. Set in the 1960s, Annabelle has some amazing sets that really suck you in. I don't know if it's the similarities between Annabelle and Rosemary's Baby but the dilapidated apartment building that they move into seems appropriately creepy. Not bad.

Also, I'd be lying if I said I didn't jump out of my skin a fair amount of times. This isn't the kind of movie that's going to leave you deeply unsettled, but it is successful in delivering a number of jumps and screams. While I'm very much against the fact that they decided to "show the monster demon," I ended up jumping out of my seat (against my will) every time he showed up. However, I do think that they could've picked some scarier effects to their advantage. Like simply having the doll possessed by a serial killer a-la Chucky and leaving the demon bit out of it. Or even something as simple as making the doll itself move a little bit more; isn't that fundamentally what makes Annabelle so creepy in the first place??

You have this creepy doll!! At least make it move its head or something!!!

5 outa 10. All said, it's not bad. But if you go in expecting a film as polished as The Conjuring, you're going to be disappointed.

(Disclaimer: Most of the scary bits are in this trailer)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Best Shorts of the Ottawa International Animation Festival

I've gotta say, I totally slacked off on my coverage of the Ottawa International Animation Festival. But better late than never right?!

Here are a few of my favorite shorts from Short Film Competition 5 at the Ottawa International Animation Festival:

1. Butter Ya'Self (Julian Petschek): Of all the things that I was expecting from these shorts, I was actually surprised by this stand-out piece. A stop-motion music video that also featured food as the artists and subjects was not something I was expecting to see -- or to like either, for that matter. Still, Butter Ya'Self creates a hilarious, and surprisingly catchy, music video that mimics and parodies legit rap videos. "We on a roll...bitch, I am a roll."

2. 365 (The Brothers McLeod): This short was like nothing my brain has ever had to process before. Each day of the year 2013, The Brothers McLeod made one second of animation to reflect something about the day, whether an event, a dream, or something random. Consequently, the short moves so quickly and so that it's like nothing that you've ever seen before. While it takes a bit for your brain to adjust as the animation zips along, it's a pretty cool project, and definitely something I had never seen before. (Actual short unavailable, but here's a taste.)

3. The Terror Pulse (Christopher Mills): While this short is technically a music video, and not really my favorite kind of music, I liked how multi-media the animation is in this. Mills employs stop motion, pastels, CGI, and even a live action overlay. Points for creating an interesting story with a lot of different animation techniques. Very cool.

4. Somewhere (Nicolas Menard): Between the animation style and the sound editing, this short really creates a sad and haunting tale in a matter of a few minutes. An armless astronaut lost in space and the woman he's left at home become realer than real without help from any dialogue.

5. Supervenus (Frederic Doazan): A disturbing look at how women are pressed to alter their bodies (with horifying results). Wish the below video were in better focus, but...damn. Effective. 

6. Stop the Show (Max Hattler): I mean, really. It speaks for itself.

7. Crazy Little Thing (Onohana): Creepy, creepy vignette of a little girl who kills her father. But interesting mystical realism with the tree, and I like the pencil-drawn animation.

8. A Tale of Momentum and Inertia (Kameron Gates and Kirk Kelley): A much-needed playful short after a handful of scary ones. This was short and sweet. Really nice CGI as well; very finely detailed.

Gone Girl: Woah.

It's hard to make a movie that's as good as a book. Books rely on our imaginations and so it can be hard to see something on screen translated differently than the way you saw it in your mind.

Such is not the case with Gone Girl.

I can't remember the last time I saw a movie and thought "Wow, this is better than the book," but I found myself thinking that through this whole film.

The plot centers around Amy Dunne and her husband, Nick. Amy has gone missing and Nick has no idea what has happened to her. As more and more evidence comes to light about the nature of their unraveling marriage, things are looking grim for Nick. Seemingly cold about the disappearance of his wife, he is not gaining any popularity. But as the plot unfolds, we begin to question whether maybe we're wrong about Nick's character after all. Maybe Amy's disappearance isn't what the public thinks it is. And maybe nothing is as it originally seemed after all. Prepare yourselves for some shocks and thrills, kids.

Oh she's gone, girl.

This is a hard review to write if you haven't read the book, but here goes nothing:

The acting in this is insane. For a story that relies 1000% on character development, Affleck and Pike do not disappoint as the mesmerizing Nick and Amy. I've got to be honest: I don't usually like Ben Affleck. He's never struck me as a very poised actor before. Most of the roles that he plays are very average-Joe ish and I never really buy his emotions. That being said, Affleck is absolutely stellar in this role. For a character who you aren't sure whether to trust, Affleck is amazing. Seriously. We're talking Oscar-worthy. The same can be said of Rosamund Pike's portrayal of Amy. While I've only seen her in a few films, she's incredible in this. The way that she captures Amy's incredibly complex character is damn impressive. And that's not something I say lightly. I think I liked their screen counterparts better than the characters written on the page.

The other thing that I love about Gone Girl is its aesthetic, and really its feel in general. From cinematography to soundtrack to sets, this is an extremely well-polished piece of work. Crisp images of suburban normalcy pop out of the screen and fluctuate between the gray, well-decorated interiors of the Dunne house and the bright green-and-blue wilderness of the outside. There's something about the cinematography that makes you totally uneasy, as well. Flipping back and forth between the present reality of Amy's disappearance and her past journal entries (as happens in the book), things happening in the present seem too quiet set against their original, whirlwind romance. The soundtrack has that dichotomy too. Always sweeping, emotive songs, but with minor notes lurking underneath creating slight disharmony. Very well done, and very subtle.

In terms of the actual story, I was shocked at how much remains unchanged in this movie adaptation. There were hardly any characters cut out of the script and next to no scene is cut out. Maybe (dare I say it) to its detriment. While allll of the tiny details of the book remain intact (and really, I mean, the structure of the story itself leaves little room for edits), the only bad thing i would have to say about Gone Girl is that it's long. Especially since I had read the book and knew how it was going to end, I spent the last 20 minutes of the movie tapping my foot waiting for the damn crash-bang conclusion. If you can hold out for the length of the movie, the climax towards the end is pretty damn crazy. But I wouldn't step into this theater running on less than 8 hours of sleep.

Really excellently executed. I'd say 9 outa 10.

(I'm sure you've all seen this trailer by now, but just for good measure..)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Why the Nostalgia Sequels Need to Stop.

In recent years the market for nostalgia has gone further than any of us really wanted it to go. With things like high-waisted shorts, vinyl LPs, and -- dear God -- even the scrunchie coming back to life, it was only a matter of time before this spread to other things.

Like film.
And pogs.
(Only a matter of time...)

In the past few years, there has been a scramble by media executives to pump out sequels to beloved characters and films of decades gone by. Capitalizing on a public crazy enough to revamp the pop beverage Surge in the name of feeling like it's 1995 again, studios have begun an insane race to see whose "where-are-they-now?" movie can cash in the most at the box office. From Dumb and Dumber To, to the recently dropped sequel to Mrs. Doubtfire, to the most recently released news of a Bill and Ted sequel, these movies are popping up out of the woodwork.

But in creating these harebrained, half-planned sequels the movie industry is destroying the original essence of the movies that we hold closest to our hearts. 

Let me tell you all a story. It's about a time I went and saw Eddie Money in concert.

The Eddie Money I knew.

Once upon a time, I was (and, let's be honest, still am very much) in love with 80s rock. After hearing tales that Eddie Money was going to be performing a free(?!) concert at a local sports bar for Labor Day, I harassed my best friend into going with me. Arriving a bit later than anticipated, we both half-sprinted to the venue to be sure that we'd catch the rest of the set. Grinning like an idiot, I walked up to where the stage was for his last three songs, one of which was "Two Tickets to Paradise," a personal turn-the-volume-all-the-way-up car jam of mine. But when I got to the stage I realized that the man in front of me was:

1. Very drunk
2. Very old
3. Very over the song
4. And very over being there.

The Eddie Money I got.
Sweet Jesus...the Eddie Money I got...

While I was still pretty happy to be enjoying one of my favorite tunes (something to be said for jumping up and down to 80s rock with your best friend), it was clear that the glory that was once Eddie Money was no longer there. After the song ended, the man before me started blithering about some tee shirt that his wife bought at a Rolling Stone concert and how we should buy some of his tee shirts too. And things became weird. And we left.

I still seriously enjoy "Two Tickets to Paradise" and "Take Me Home Tonight" every time I blast them in my car, but there's something to be said for letting glory stay immortalized in its original nostalgic time frame. For example, which would you rather hear on your radio: "Two Tickets to Paradise" original studio version? Or "Two Tickets to Paradise" live version circa 2014 by the half-terrifying old, drunk man in the above photo? Yeah.

Half of the reason that things are nostalgic is the knowledge that we can never really fully return to the time and place that they were originally. Yeah you can buy Dunkaroos, but you're not gonna turn into a 12-year-old the minute you pop them into your mouth.

May they rest in peace.

The same goes with these movies that are trying to recapture their former glory.

Watching Dumb and Dumber To is not going to transport you back to the 90s to see what Harry and Lloyd were up to the day after they started walking back to Rhode Island. It's picking up in present day. And while that gives you an interesting perspective on what has happened to them in the past 20 years (although it doesn't look like they've been doing much judging by the trailer) it's not going to be like the first experience you had watching the first film. 

For one thing, humor is relative. Jokes that worked 20 years ago won't necessarily work today. While slapstick is the most constant of most forms of humor, as is idiocy, the best selling comedies in recent years have been self-depricating and goofy. It's an uphill battle for movies that were successful decades ago because outside of the 80s or 90s, that kind of humor is just going to
That bowl-cut looks a little weird outside of 1992...

For another, these nostalgia sequels hit familiar territory hard, hoping to capitalize on the audiences that are attending them. As a result, most nostalgia movies take whatever the audience relates to most in their originals and turns it into a caricature of its original greatness. The resultant flicks then end up being strange, warped versions of the characters and situations that we originally loved so much.

If you're going to revisit something beloved and try to make it as good as it was the first time, here's some advice: you can't.

(Even the trailers are totally different...)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Lisa Limone and Maroc Orange: A Rapid Love Story

When life gives you lemons, maybe don't make a nonsensical musical about them and their immigrant orange slaves.

Huh. I was pretty disappointed by this one, especially because it was the only feature-length stop-motion film (and y'all know how I love me some stop motion) and its plot looked really interesting.

The film (inexplicably) begins with a tomato-man who promises to tell his audience the story of Maroc Orange. Maroc Orange and several others are sneaking into a foreign country by way of sailboat. When the boat is attacked by sharks, only Maroc survives, and is mistakenly apprehended by Mr. Limone to become a worker in his tomato fields. Limone's daughter, Lisa, is a bratty teenager who's looking to find love, and is sent to Maroc's rescue by his friend, an opera-singing seashell. Their fates are held in the air as things come to a head at the plantation.

Well I can't read Estonian, but it probably says
"Lisa Limone and Maroc Orange: Totally Armulugu"

Gaahhhh, it just sounded offbeat enough to be really freaking cool! But Lisa Limone and Maroc Orange ends up just being a jumble. There were so many confusing elements that I'm not even 100% sure of where exactly to start critiquing. So let's start with what I liked:

1. The first scene is pretty insanely moving. This is not a film where cartoon logic exists. After a very realistic look at these poor oranges taking flight by way of sailboat in open water, we are next greeted by the harsh reality of their shipwreck. While the images are made of clay--and yeah, they're also oranges--there's something about the realistic fantastical gore of these poor things that makes the imagery effectively disturbing. Whereas human gore is a bit of a shock and 2D imagery might not be as effective, this opening scene really set the film up to be something hugely different.

2. I really liked the tunes. Each character has a different style of voice and song. Maroc's songs are very clear and natural, Lisa's are very pop and up-tempo, then there's the robotic songs of the lemons, and the operatic voice of Maroc's friend the seashell. I kind of wish they had broadened the songs to be about wider themes rather than honing in on an unimportant character's life (i.e. the lemon guard) or just cut down on the characters, but what can ya do.

3. I liked the stop-motion. While it's not as advanced as some of my faves (see Coraline or Paranorman) it's always refreshing to see someone who has the time to finagle a movie like this, so hats off to them for that.

Taking off for a foreign country in a boat does not look awesome.

Other than that, I found the movie to be a bit confusing. I'm a huge fan of magical realism done right, but there are so many elements of this that it weighs down the plot and becomes bewildering. Like okay, there's a tomato-man telling us this story. Cool. Tomato man talks about a ketchup factory. A little weird, since that forces the audience to reconsider what is considered a tomato in this framework. Are all the tomatoes sentient? If not, then why is this one? Continuity.

Same thing with the seashell. For some reason, the filmmakers made it so that all seashells in this unnamed place can play pop music. Why? No idea. This does create a distinction for the opera-singing seashell. But at that point the could've eliminated all of the shells and just had that one guy and still have the stoy make sense.

Another thing that bugged me was the story structure after Maroc is apprehended by Limone's Ketchup Factory workers. I'm not sure if it was time constraints that held them back or if it was an overactive imagination, but having Lisa Limone pursue Maroc with the notion in her mind that she'll finally have a teen love who will appreciate her seems weird. Points for going outside the box and maybe trying something more realistic. (Let's be real, people marry for the wrong reasons all the time in real life.) But within the framework of the story it just seems weird. After hearing the seashell's sad song of Maroc's past in his native country, Lisa seems more compelled to help him because it would be like a storybook than actually having compassion for his situation.

Yeah, she sucks.

The whole movie is just very odd. And while I'm a fan of things that go outside the norm, this was not in a good way.

5 outa 10. Would be lower, but I do admire stop-motion and this movie is pretty well-made on a technical level.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Until Sbornia Do Us Part: A (Pretty Funny) Commentary on Cultural Appropriation

I wasn't expecting much going into this film, honestly. I thought it would be one of those straightforward, preachy pieces; a clashing of cultures that didn't necessarily bring anything new to the table. But the comical nature of the film, along with some great characterization and funny cultural misunderstandings, really won me over.

The story takes place on a land mass called Sbornia. Sbornia is connected to what they call The Continent by a small strip of land, but is kept completely isolated from it by a wall made out of volcanic rock. (It should also be noted that Sbornia is home to a huge volcano that makes up over half of its mass.) One day, during a Sbornian game of Axe Ball, the wall comes tumbling down, and in come the opportunists from the mainland. Taking advantage of a little-known beverage that the islanders drink called Bizuwin, The Continent then moves in to reap the one natural resource that Sbornia can claim as its own -- with disastrous results.

What really drives this movie is its reliance on the two main characters, who foil each other perfectly. Kraunos and Pletskaya, two Sbornian musicians, have to deal directly with the consequences of The Continent interfering with their personal lives. Kraunos, a quiet and traditional man, is sent over the edge by his wife's new fascination with Continental culture. And Pletskaya, a hopeless romantic, has to deal with the very rich, Continental parents of his new love Cocliquot. Their reactions (and, in the case of Pletskaya, nonreactions) to the changes unfolding around them contrast each other in a way that keeps the story from getting too serious.

Laughs also come in the form of the cultural misunderstandings between the people of Sbornia and their Continental counterparts. Sbornian people sleep upside down, lick faces in greeting, dance by shaking their heads, and play a sport that relies on the throwing of actual axes. They really indulge the fear of completely different (yet largely harmless) cultural differences. The looks on the Continental people's faces when Kraunos hocks a loogie on some aristocrat's kid (to say hello). Hilarious.

In terms of animation style, this one stood out for its interesting color palette, made up of mostly sepia-toned red, blue, and yellow. The muted tone helps to reflect the old-timey, time-gone-by impression that the plot highlights. It's also nice to see a straight-up cartoon. Great sound editing, songs, and playful shots that really only read well through cartoons (i.e. getting hit in the face with a 20-lb. wooden ball and having it sink into the chest cavity instead of some pretty gross carnage).

A small issue that I had with this movie, was their flitting between seriousness and comedy. While the impression I got of this film was overwhelmingly funny, at times they seem to be like "oh wait, but this is an actual problem, we should take it down a notch." Because of this seeming conundrum, they get a bit caught between going for real physics and cartoon physics. At a more serious point in the story, Kraunos discovers that his wife has bought some things from The Continent and throws them into the fire, burning his hand. In the next scene, his hand is bandaged. Contrarily, another character, at one point, (as aforementioned) is hit in the head with a heavy wooden ball and hoists it off of his shoulders, completely unharmed. I get it. It's a cartoon. You can kind of do whatever you want. But have some continuity.

Really solid film, and really funny (though I'm not sure they were going 100% for laughs). 7 outa 10.

An American in Ottawa (Yes, that's apparently the capital of Canada)

Well this past weekend marked my first ever trip to our northern neighbors for the annual Ottawa International Animation Festival.

Oh. Canada.

I don’t know what exactly I was expecting. Going to the New York Film Festival last year opened a thrilling new world of brand new yet-to-be-seen exclusive films, but in hindsight, I wasn’t really that invested in exploring NYC itself. I mean, there isn’t a ton to do Uptown. (Seriously, I was hard-pressed to find a restaurant within, like, five blocks of the Lincoln Center.) But I, ever the optimist, decided “Y’know what, let’s think outside the box here. Let’s check out a different film festival.” Thinking that I was signing up for a weekend of funtimes in Canada, this year’s Ottawa International Animation Festival, held in Ottawa, Ontario. Interestingly enough, it was not quite the same experience that I had in NYC.

Now, this is not the festival’s fault. All of the screenings that I saw were amazing. It’s so hard to find new and different animated films that aren’t just made for kids. Even animated films that are made for kids can sometimes be a bit bland or just cookie-cutter. And the films that were screened were seriously anything but (we’ll get to those in the next few posts).

However, by and large, I would like to warn those looking into going next year. Or looking into going to Ottawa. Or looking into going to Canada in general.

First of all, you’re in Canada.

Now, I know what you’re thinking (those of you with consciences): “Canada can’t be all that bad! Really, they’re not very different from us Americans!” And my sweet, beloved little baby optimists, I thought that same thing. But I was unfortunately proven…wrong? Well, not wrong wrong… It’s hard to explain. Really, Canadians aren’t a ton different than Americans…that you’d find in the Midwest. The hilarious thing that struck me about Canadian culture is its lack thereof. Now, to be fair, we were situated in Ottawa, which (as it turns out) is the entire nation’s capital, so there was a palpable blend of different cultures everywhere. But, that being said…we were in the nation’s capital. This place should’ve been a hub of excitement and action. I mean, I wasn’t asking for a Washington DC or anything, but what you get in Ottawa is basically the equivalent of a glorified suburb. Or something like Puerto Rico. A mixture of different languages, a smattering of restaurants that serve generic staples like burgers and poutine, and a metric ton of retail stores. And—here’s the weird part—nothing is ever crowded. Josh and I wandered around in search of a dive bar the first night that we arrived and not only couldn’t find a regular ole bar; couldn’t find even one of the fifteen existent sports bars that was actually full.

The problem that I had with Ottawa is that it didn’t really seem to have any actual flavor to it. It’s like someone woke up one day and thought “Huh. We’re actually the capital of the country. Maybe we should have stuff to do here.” And, after consulting with some people that hailed from cities like Cleveland or St. Louis, plopped down some high-rise buildings and some shops and said “Does this look good?” and they were distractedly like “Yeah…that looks right…”

True photo.

Secondly, you are far away from everything.

While I have come to learn that that is somewhat the norm up in the northern country, I still can’t quite get over how freaking far apart everything is. Ottawa is a city that is, by and large, unto itself. It would be like the equivalent of the US sticking our nation’s capital in the middle of rural PA. Also, it took us a seven-hour drive to get there. And we were driving…pretty fast (don’t want to get implicated in any kind of legality here, but I’m pretty sure we only drove the actual speed limit about twice). I’m pretty sure that this description gives you an accurate idea of what the cultural scope is here.

Everything is bigger in Ontario. (Well...more spread out...)

And lastly, if you are from the United States, your smartphone is not going to work up there.

This seems trivial, I know. However, when you have booked half of your tickets online in advance (planner that you are), it’s going to be a real bummer when you have to launch into an explanation with these benevolent Canadians about how your phone contains the information that they need but you literally cannot access it until Wi-Fi becomes a universal thing. It is also not awesome when you are 7 hours into your road trip and your GPS app decides it has had enough, dammit, and that it’ll see you back in rural NY where it is appreciated. And you have to stop for directions. And you get lost on the way home for half an hour.

Basically, if you’re thinking of going up to Ye Olde Ottawa Film Fest next year ye be warned:

1.     Book a hotel that is close to all of the movie theaters. That way we you capitalize on screen time and spend as little time taking in the sights as possible.
2.     Fly. Don’t drive. I know that driving sounds cheaper, and it is, but you will want to stop driving and just set up house in the middle of one of the 800,000 fields that you will pass on the way. Because you will feel like you’re never going to get home.
3.     Plan on not having a working iPhone. Because then you will have researched all of the good screenings, interesting restaurants, and points of interest without having to aimlessly wander around.
4.     Also, pack an umbrella. It rained for half of the time we were there.

SO! Now that THAT rant is out of the way, let us make way for some reviews. After all, this blog is a prestigious film review source, dammit. And the movies that we got to see were actually pretty interesting (if not all wonderful).