Sunday, March 27, 2016

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2: Like the First One, Minus the Magic

Oh MBFGW2. My sweet baby child. I've gotta be honest, the speed with which Hollywood studios are cranking out sequels to beloved "new classics" didn't have me optimistic when I was walking into the theater. Frankly, the only reason I decided to see it was because my best friend and I have both seen and quoted the original more times than is feasibly countable. "There is a hole in this cake." "Iss okay, I make lamb." "There you go." "E-yahn Meeler." (Literally any time I've met anyone named Ian. Sorry to all you Ians out there.) Anyway, this seemed like more of an obligation than anything else.


The plot (somehow) begins 17 years after Ian and Tula have gotten married. Their kid Paris (worst name ever) is in high school, where Ian Miller (John Corbett) is now the principal. Tula (Nia Vardalos) is still working at her family's restaurant, and is taking care of her parents as they advance further into old age. The main story follows both Tula and Ian as they work on their marriage, Tula and Pairs as they try to deal with her going off to college, and Gus and Maria as they decide to make their marriage legal (due to a paperwork flaw).

I feel like the paragraph above should sum up how all over the place the movie is. Honestly, all that MBFGW2 is is a vehicle to further the personalities of the original film. But in this sequel it simply doesn't hold water. Whereas in the first film there were regular insights and heart to each of the characters despite their overblown obnoxious qualities, the second film forgets itself and decides, instead, to stock up on cheap laughs. This works for some of the characters (Aunt Voula literally saves this entire film from being boring, and Gus delivers some sweet feelings in some parts), but for the most part the lack of central narrative is distracting.

I'd rather have seen Aunt Voula's Big Fat Greek Opinion on Everything

There is a weird mixture here, too, of amateur actors vs. old hats. While the characters of Gus, Maria, and Aunt Voula (played by old pros) can give some depth to the story working with what they've got, a subpar script makes the work by the newbies gratingly abrasive. Even Nia Vardalos who played the role of Tula in the first film so embarrassedly and so sweet seems to have turned a corner in which all of her bits scream "I AM ACTING. THIS IS ACTING. LOOK AT ME ACTING RIGHT NOW." I couldn't figure out if it was her trying to convey that the old "frump girl" Tula was gone for good, or whether she's become so self-aware that the role completely lacks the authentic vulnerability of the original. (Hint: I'm pretty sure it's the latter.)

Also, I'm so sorry, but I felt the part of Paris (played by Elena Kampouris) was done horrendously. While the acting by the original cast is a little clunky, the character of Paris falls completely flat. With hairstyles that rival the Lizzie Maguire 'dos of 2001 and the emotional depth of an emo 12-year-old, Paris's annoyance at her family is her only quality. We never learn another single thing about her. What does she want to go to college for? What does she think about her parents' marriage? Why these puzzling hairdos? Instead of focusing on the new idea of being a first-generation kid with a mixed heritage, the film cheaply compensates with the leftovers of the original. There could've been a cohesive plot there, Vardalos! What were you thinking!?

Like, what is this. What's happening here.

5 outa 10. A handful of laughs, but I'm tired of these dumb sequels that just sell off the bits of the original and fill the rest in with fluff.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Witch: Well Done, Different, and Horrifying

I haven't seen a horror movie this well-made, or this depressing, in a very long time. Honestly, when I saw the trailer, I thought it was going to be a lofty, artsy kind of horror, more along the lines of It Follows (which I wasn't very fond of) than The Conjuring (which I loooooved). But I got the pleasant surprise of discovering that it's sort of a mishmash of traditional horror and something a bit more artistic.

"Dear Lord, lmk if my daughter's a witch, kthanksamen."

Here's our plot:

The movie starts off by showing us a family leaving their home at a colonial plantation. There's a mother, a father, two girls, and three boys. After making a home for themselves in a random field, things are not going in their favor. The corn crop is no good and they're having trouble trapping animals for meat. Soon after these things come in succession, the family's eldest daughter, Thomasin, is playing with her baby brother outside, when suddenly he's gone, disappeared. While this is viewed as a strange tragedy, and one that the mother never seems to recover from, the family can never find closure on what actually happened to him. Then stranger things start to happen. Caleb, the second oldest child, gets lost in the woods, and the parents are distraught. With one coincidence piled on top of the other, the idea crops up whether they have a witch on their hands causing them all of this pain and suffering. The film then speculates whether the family will believe the truth on faith alone.

Can you handle it? I pose that you cannot.

What I really loved about this film is that it's so original. We often see horror movies where people get killed off and you're left to sit there wondering who the murderer is, but rarely is there a well-made horror film in which the characters seriously accuse one of their own of being possessed. And the isolation of the family makes the film even more dreadfully horrifying. With no one to bear witness to what's happening besides themselves, and with a zealous faith that defies reason, it's a breeding ground for paranoia.


The other amazing thing about this movie -- which I wasn't expecting -- is that there is an actual witch. I feel like so often anymore, it's an infuriating habit for films to be like "Idk, WAS she a witch? I leave that to interpretation." That drives me insane. Was she or wasn't she. I don't want to have to read through a 30-page analysis of your film before I learn that it was about the gas crisis in the 1970s and not about witches at all. Yes. There is a real witch in this. And the film makes it a point to show her early-on so that we have no doubt as to the foul play. But it also takes careful time to make sure that you can see how the family would think Thomasin is a witch, too. And that's what makes it good. Thomasin isn't crazy religious, she is so unfortunately present when each tragedy strikes, and messing with her siblings really comes back to bite her in the ass. But the question lingers in the back of our minds how the movie will end. Is she really a witch after all? That duality plays out so incredibly well. It's impressive.

"God, srsly, is Thomasin a witch or what."

Actually, this movie ended up reminding me a lot of The Shining, where you have a family in an isolated situation that could tempt insanity, but where evil is also very clearly present. Would the family accuse their eldest daughter of being a witch if they were back in England? Is there a spell over the woods too? The soundtrack seems to suggest so! (Side note: the soundtrack and a bunch of other shots seriously reminded me of The Shining as well, maybe it's an homage.)


The only bummer of this movie is that it's so damn depressing. Colonial times were rough enough without having to wonder whether your kids were possessed by the devil. And it's not like there were any psychiatrists around to talk you down when one of your kids went mysteriously missing. The movie is incredibly bleak, but because of this the scares really do scare a bit more effectively than they might've otherwise.

Set-wise this was also very different. The last colonial horror movie I remember seeing is An American Haunting, and the setting alone makes things incredibly creepy. Makes evil seem so ancient and unconquerable compared to slasher or supernatural films that are set today. At least we can call a priest when we need him!

8.5 outa 10. Incredibly creepy -- and this movie doesn't rely on cheap jumps, it messes with your head.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Deadpool: The Superhero Flick We Didn't Know We Needed

Remember when Guardians of the Galaxy came out? What a time to be alive, right? A superhero movie starring Chris Pratt that was super self aware, wasn't afraid to make fun of itself and its genre and was just good, old-fashioned, self-depricating humor.

Well then Deadpool comes along.

And while Guardians of the Galaxy is your new-wave family comedy, Deadpool is the adult comedy that we've all been waiting for.

Hi, I'm here to make super hero movies bearable for people your age.

Deadpool follows Wade Wilson, a (sort of?) hit man who now begrudgingly helps the weak. But he's no little bitch (his words, I'm sure, not mine). Life seems to be going pretty well for Wade, especially after he picks up a hot chick at a strip club and they discover that they're soul mates. There's one bummer though: Wade gets cancer. No, this is not a Fault in Our Stars scenario. In fact, Wade tries to think of ways to dodge this illness and comes up empty, until he's approached by a government man who says that he can cure him by causing his body to mutate. (Side note: this story takes place in the X-Men universe, so mutants are a thing.) After abandoning his girlfriend until he can cure himself, Wade goes through an excruciating process that's meant to pump his mutant genes into action. Needless to say, there's a nefarious head doctor. He ends up torturing Wade to the point that he gains insane healing powers, but at the cost of his dashing good looks. Wade then makes it his mission to seek his revenge on the doctor to get his looks back to normal, and ultimately marry the girl of his dreams.

But will he do it!?

So that's the plot, but I feel like I'm not doing justice to the tone of this movie.

It's like Ryan Reynolds was born to play Deadpool. The character is such a smart-ass, hilarious, lewd guy, and that is totally unexpected from most of the super hero movies that we're used to. Not to say that we don't get quips from Iron Man and or that most of the superhero movies that we've seen lately haven't stepped their game up in poking fun of the genre, but this takes it to a whole new level. Deadpool slays any expectation that the audience would've had at seeing a decent, upstanding citizen on the screen -- and the audience has been more than happy to root for an anti-hero that isn't plagued by alcoholism or inner demons or other things that bring down the mood (see: Jessica Jones or The Dark Knight).

To add to this unusual bundle of traits, Deadpool also has a tendency to break the fourth wall*. The character reveals plot holes, mentions budgets, and talks to the audience in a way that is so unusual, yet so refreshing. We know he's in a movie -- and so does he! (Side note: Deadpool is also notorious for doing this in the comics, if you care to look up some examples.)

Get it?

Honestly, one of the things that makes this movie so successful is that it's completely self-aware. It reacts to stereotypes in superhero tropes, making fun of them while simultaneously admitting that they're pretty f***ing cool. And it has fun. It's like hanging out with your older brother's hilarious, douchebag best friend for an hour and a half. Like, is he pretty gross and lewd? Sure. But is he real as hell and quick with comebacks? Hell yeah. Do you admire him for reasons that you don't understand? Exactly.

9 outa 10. Deadpool is refreshing and completely current for an audience who's tired of tropes.

Side note: ALL of the 90s R&B in this movie alone makes it worth seeing. That is all.

*Oh hey! Welcome to learning more about "breaking the fourth wall." "Breaking the fourth wall" is a term for when characters address an audience, or otherwise allude to the fact that they're in a work of fiction. This happens a lot in theater, when characters ask audience members for advice, or talk to them directly, before retreating back into the world of the work. Click here for examples.

Carol: Not Bad, Even Though It Didn't Win Any Oscars

In a classic Annie J. move of seeing an Oscar film when it's no longer speculative who's going to win which awards (by the way, Mad Max was an amazing film and deserved those 6 Oscars, just sayin), I went and saw Carol this past Sunday.

To be perfectly honest, I would've much rather have seen Room or Spotlight but as I have no access to OnDemand stuff and I hate watching things on my laptop (stared at Room on iTunes for a good 2 minutes before exiting the program) Carol was what I was working with. Also I love Cate Blanchett and the sets and costumes in this looked incredible.

Just look how pretty. LOOK.

Here's our plot:

Therese (Rooney Mara) is just a regular city girl: she works in a department store, she has a boyfriend, and she isn't really anything special. But all of that changes when Carol Aird walks into the toy department where she's working. After asking for Therese's advice on a Christmas gift for her daughter, Carol leaves her gloves on the counter. Womp womp. But Therese tracks down her address and sends them back to her. To say thank you, Carol invites her out to lunch. (This isn't central to the plot but I must make a note of this: they eat poached eggs with creamed spinach -- is that not the most 1950s meal you could ever imagine? Anyway..) Things start to get a little out of the ordinary, though, when Carol keeps on pressing Therese to meet with her -- though Therese is more than happy to oblige. Going to her house, asking if she can go to hers, etc. And they start to get to know each other. The whole time this is happening, Carol is going through a messy divorce with her husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler), who's aware that she's dated women in the past and isn't thrilled about her fling with Therese. The rest of the movie follows the two women as they begin to understand each other and as their romances comes up against the expectations of a 1950s society.

Spoiler alert: 1950s society isn't thrilled.

First of all: this movie is gorgeous. The colors are rich, the setting is spot-on, and the costumes are beautiful. And the whole feel of the movie comes to life under the cinematography of Edward Lachman, who also did The Virgin Suicides and, most noteworthy as of late, HBO's mini-series Mildred Pierce. Under his eye, there's a beautiful mixing of the real-life, wintry and cold-bright New York City and the muted tones of the softly lit interiors where Carol and Therese get to speak to one another one-on-one. Interesting perspectives make this too, as we look out of a foggy window in a cab, hover outside an apartment building as youth party inside, and hear a lot of off-screen dialogue while the camera meanders to show us where it's coming from.

So. Yes. Beautiful.

Where I ran into trouble with this film was in the acting. While Carol seems to be attempting to live her life the way that she wants, and that's reflected very well in Cate Blanchett's portrayal of the character I think, there's a wooden quality to Therese that I had a hard time sympathizing with for most of the movie. While Carol is treading carefully, there's a certainty to her actions that makes them unmistakeable. Therese, however, is more watery, happy to float along in Carol's wake while somewhat lacking in her own personality. As a result, I found their chemistry a little hard to believe. Therese seems entranced by Carol and befuddled by her own actions, like a minnow bewitched by the light of an anglerfish.

Anglerfish. For reference.

I will say, though, that what plays out well is the movie's tone. There is an air of caution to everything that they do, which I think reflects the attitudes of the era pretty well. It isn't an exploitation film that centers on how repressed desire plays out in the bedroom (please see: Blue is the Warmest Color). Rather, it contemplates how cautious 1950s queer women had to have been to make advances towards other women, even when you knew they were interested too. The muted tone here is very well done. I just wish there'd been a little less caution and a little more chemistry. Especially when they're alone. Natural chemistry is finding easy conversation and laughter, and I found that to be absent here.

7.5 outa 10. Long story short: Beautiful movie, but a little self-contained, even for the era that it's presenting to the audience.

Let's see if this trailer is vague enough for you...