Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Wrinkle In Time


When it comes to movie adaptations of books, I do feel like there's sometimes somewhat unfair expectations from book readers. Basically all the time, book readers go to see the movie and end up saying "the book was better" and trashing the movie. This is not to say that the books aren't better, because they usually are. But I think people just have their expectations too high sometimes for the movies. I've generally come to expect that the movie won't be entirely like the book, and try to enjoy it on its own merits. This usually does work. But one expectation that I do think is definitely fair is for the movie not to be a complete piece of crap that is almost completely irredeemable. 

If you're not familiar with the book, it centers around two children (Meg and Charles Wallace) whose father is missing; and they get visited by three mysterious beings who also want to find him, and in order to do so they must "wrinkle" through time and space to a different part of the universe. Oh yeah, and there's an evil being called "IT" spreading through the universe. Here, it's called "The IT," which is unfortunately probably due to the existence of that other "It" movie with the evil clown.

Here's the thing: if all of that sounded like a bunch of nonsense, don't worry too much about it. Things do actually (mostly) make sense in the book. There isn't nearly as much luck in the movie. There are a whole host of problems with this movie, some related to the book, some not. I hardly even know where to begin.

Let's start with the characters and this movie's interpretation of them, and tie that into the casting. Because that's one of the biggest problems; some characters are butchered from how they originally were from the book, personality-wise. Some are just cast poorly (regardless of some of the ethnicity changes that characters had). At least one is *both.*

Let's start with Meg. The interpretation of her is a little weird. In the book, she's a little bit emotional and definitely quite the vocal person. Here? Uh... not so much. At least for the first part of the movie, anyway. If anything, she's oddly emotionless at times early on. This improves as time goes on, but Movie Meg just does not feel quite like Book Meg. Unfortunately, the cliched treatment her character is given in the grand scheme of the script does not help her out (more on that later). Storm Reid's performance of her neither really stands out nor induces cringes; it's just kind of there. Unfortunately, "just kind of there" isn't a good thing either when we're talking about the lead role.

Then there's Charles Wallace. He gets the worst treatment out of all the characters. The unusually serious six-year-old is turned into something closer to a normal six-year-old; more smiley, outgoing, and annoying. Deric McCabe was definitely a serious miscast there, but the way the character is written kind of makes that a wash anyway. And given the character's importance to the storyline, this *alone* puts the movie in serious trouble.

Elsewhere, you have a more oddball and sometimes unaware version of Mrs. Whatsit (though Reese Witherspoon was actually a decent casting), a Mrs. Who played by Mindy Kaling (aka Kelly, arguably the most annoying regular character on The Office), a mysteriously 50-foot-tall Mrs. Which (at least they wrote her character right otherwise), a non-threatening version of the Red-Eyed Man, and a Happy Medium that is so unrecognizable in every possible manner from the book character that shares its namesake that I don't even know why they bothered naming it the "Happy Medium."

And then there's the messy manner in which the script is written. Seriously, this script is pretty bad. Filled with cliches and things that make no sense (even in the book's universe), I wouldn't blame people who hadn't read the book if they had no idea what was going on. It feels like pretty much everywhere they could screw things up, they did. Even "The IT" (as it's called here) is not really done quite proper justice.

I could go on and on about things that are bothersome about this movie. The ridiculously stupid pop soundtrack that gets thrown in at random points. The fact that the ending part (after the climactic act) is an unnecessary ten minutes long (keep in mind, this movie is only about 105 minutes). The awkwardly put in "run from the storm" scene with the dumbest use of the "do you trust me" cliche that I can remember in a while.

But the deep heart of the matter--the main reason why this movie is so bad--is because of the way it was written and the target audience it was intended for. For some reason, they wrote this movie pretty strictly to pander to 10-to-12-year-old girls and basically no one else. The dialogue, as such, is a bit loaded with self-esteem and empowerment references that pretty quickly just become silly and ham-fisted. When this is what you base the writing of your movie around (especially when this was *not* the sole target audience of the book), it's probably not going to end well.

As depressing as it is, A Wrinkle In Time is the worst book-to-movie adaptation in recent memory. What separates it (in a bad way) from its peers is that even some other movies that were not faithful to their book counterparts were still at least somewhat enjoyable in their own right. This one is not. It's just a mess. A Wrinkle In Time deserved better. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

A Quiet Place


I think this is the first actual horror film I've ever reviewed on here. If it wasn't obvious, I'm not a fan of the genre. I never saw the appeal in getting your pants scared off, and even less in the appeal of the gorefests that most horror films these days have become (Saw, anyone?). 

Still, at its core, this really isn't strictly a horror movie. It's also a post-apocalyptic, somewhat sci-fi thriller about alien monsters that have decimated most of the human population... and it focuses strictly on one family trying to survive in this world. Yes, it makes use of horror cliches. But it's certainly not like most horror films these days, which are often one of two things (or both): slasher flicks where the idea is to see how many gallons of blood can be spilled, or films involving demonic supernatural stuff. This film is neither of those. To describe all the genres in one sentence: it's a post-apocalyptic family-survival monster horror/thriller. Oh yeah, and it's directed by Jim Halpert from The Office--oh excuse me, John Krasinski. (He also stars in it.) 

To go further into the premise without using spoilers, these monsters are rather unique ones in that they get by on basically nothing but sound. They're totally blind, but their hearing is way too good--meaning that you have to stay silent at basically all times (there is a caveat or two), or the monsters will hear you. And if they hear you, then they come for you. And when they come for you... well, you can guess what happens next. So this movie isn't kidding about the "quiet" part of the title. Much of the movie is spent in near silence (with most of the actual noise being the music soundtrack or the monster's roars), and basically all communication is via sign language. No one actually speaks out loud until almost halfway through this 90-minute movie. 

And as for the family themselves: we have Lee (Krasinski) and Evelyn (Emily Blunt) as the parents; then there's the children, Marcus and Regan (the latter of whom is deaf). Given that they don't speak a lot, one would think it'd be hard to get much character development. But there is some. And it helps that the two parents are both cast quite well.

This movie is actually pretty good. It's got a quite unique idea, and the whole concept of focusing on one family's attempts at survival during a big-picture situation is one that is sadly lacking in cinema. Sometimes it's better to have more characters; other times a more simplistic approach like this really does win. And although it is a tense movie, it's not nearly as much so as one might think from some of the reviews (although it helps if you don't go in knowing literally nothing about it). Another thing I feel this movie does well is that while it does make use of some horror elements/cliches (sometimes to its detriment), it doesn't rely on them; it's merely more of a tool. In that respect, it's not too different from a movie like the original Jurassic Park or maybe Jaws.

The small cast also deserves some attention. Emily Blunt is as good as one would expect by now. However, John Krasinski--who hadn't done much beyond comedy roles like the one in The Office--also really stands out here. He shows some excellent range in this movie (and he does a pretty good job directing too). Also, the more unknown Millicent Simmonds stands out as one of the children (and like her character, is deaf in real life); for someone who's still technically a child actress, she's quite good.

Still, as impressive as this movie is at times, it's still got some flaws. As I previously stated, it does not rely on horror cliches too much; but there are a few that come up (namely lights flickering for no reason a couple times) that made me roll my eyes a bit. Also, the cold opening before the title screen is a bit brutal (psychologically more so than visually) and could easily start some more sensitive viewers off on the wrong foot. Also, the ending is rather abrupt and arguably even somewhat inconclusive. Interestingly enough, a sequel is happening... although I'm not sure they could do a whole lot with that.

Even with those issues, A Quiet Place is still a pretty well-done piece of work. It's arguably one of the better original movies we'll see out of Hollywood all year. It's honestly kind of difficult to pull off a movie without much dialogue and still make it enthralling, but these guys did quite well. I am quite interested to see what Krasinski does next as a director, because it's pretty obvious this guy's got talent beyond his acting abilities. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018



Here's something interesting: a video game movie based on a video game that a lot of us probably haven't heard of. Or at least, I barely knew about it anyway. The idea of the video game pretty much laid in the title: you rampage, only as a mega-sized animal. Apparently in the original game the monsters were actually transformed humans, but that's ditched here and instead switched to mutated animals. 

The premise here is that some typical evil movie corporation has been practicing genetic editing on animals... for some reason (never really given, other than it's supposed to make them money... somehow?). Anyways, they're doing these experiments in space and after one of them goes wrong and their space station explodes, three capsules of pathogens from their research crash onto the Earth. And when inhaled by animals... well, the effects aren't pretty. 

One of the three mutated animals in question is George, a rare albino gorilla under the care of Dwayne Johnson--oh excuse me, Davis. Anyway, this gorilla is a pretty smart one that's learned sign language; only he's a bit more goofy than Caesar of the rebooted Planet of the Apes. So when he inhales the pathogen and mutates, Davis is determined to fix him... somehow. In addition to George, we have a mutated wolf and crocodile. Together, the three will do quite a bit of... well... rampaging. 

Obviously, this isn't the kind of film that's meant to be an Oscar-winner. What helps set it apart (to a certain degree) is that both director Brad Peyton and The Rock seem to get that, and so they just work to give us a fun popcorn action movie that doesn't take itself too seriously. And this works, for whatever that's worth. It's better than some of its peers in that it's not insultingly dumb, and in that it does not waste time on material that has no business being part of the runtime. 

And the action is quite fun, indeed. Most of it takes place during the second half in Chicago, where the actual rampaging takes place. Sometimes the bounds of suspension of disbelief get stretched a little bit (namely when The Rock's character gets shot in the stomach... but shrugs it off later and continues fighting like nothing happened). But when your movie is about genetically mutated animals, you already have to suspend it a little bit anyway. 

As can be expected, Dwayne Johnson is pretty much the star of the movie. While he's never really been in any truly great films, few action actors are as charismatic and fun as he is. And at times, it does feel quite a bit like the script was written around a character that would be played by The Rock. Case in point: one character tells Davis that "you know there are other ways of dealing with people, right?" after he expresses regret in not being able to punch somebody. His response? "I do know that, yeah, but that's not fun." There's not much talent in the cast beyond Johnson, but Jeffrey Dean Morgan does pretty good at hamming it up. 

Rampage obviously is only going to appeal to certain people who are willing to put up with action films like this that just aim to be more fun than anything. In that regard, the film's better than most in its niche. Again, it helps that the film doesn't take itself too seriously. It probably won't be seen as memorable or anything, but if one is able to put up with this kind of movie, they'll probably have a pretty decent time. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


The Harry Potter filmmakers decided to do kind of a bizarre thing when it came time to do the fifth book/movie, Order of the Phoenix. This was the longest book in the entire series (around 850 pages).... and they decided to make it the shortest movie thus far at 138 minutes. Makes sense, right? Actually, kind of sounds like a recipe for disaster. Particularly considering we had already seen one movie (Prisoner of Azkaban) struggle to tell the story in a relatively shorter amount of time. 

Somehow, it actually kind of works. Or rather, it doesn't fall apart at the seams at least. To be clear, there's still some problems with the way they cut down the book while making the movie. But they got most of the important stuff in there, added a couple of interesting new bits here and there and managed to make the product as a whole flow properly. Unlike Prisoner of Azkaban, it doesn't feel like they just shoved important/random bits from the book and just rolled with it. 

One thing to note about this iteration, though, is that there's considerably less actual action scenes than in previous installments. That's not to say there's nothing happening; on the contrary, we get to deal with the Ministry of Magic turning into semi-dictators as they try to pretend Lord Voldemort's return never happened. But there technically is a somewhat slower pace than in some previous films. 

Still, when the action does happen (most of it being in the final act), it does work just fine. It's a little frustrating that they cut down the Department of Mysteries battle from the book into about a five-minute skirmish, but they do make up for that by having arguably the best magical duel in the entire film series later on (between Voldemort and Dumbledore), and then extending the "possession" scene, which only took up about half a page in the book. 

There are still indeed problems. As previously stated, the fact that the thing's been trimmed is still noticeable. Harry and Cho's relationship is given so little screen time that one would be forgiven for forgetting often that they were even a thing. The Quidditch subplot is cut out completely. And the fact that the rest of the Professors or the school itself try to work against the scummy Professor Umbridge is not given much time either, which would've made for some good comedy in places. (Snape still gets a pretty hilarious deadpan moment with her, though.) And while David Yates' direction is for the most part pretty stylish, some of his depictions of magical spells are a little confusing; as is having some of Voldemort's Death Eater minions just fly around in smoky mists during the final act, which does not help when one is trying to tell who's who.

Something that does help the film out, though, is some of the new castings. We always get a couple to enjoy each movie, but some of the most "nailed it" ones in the series are introduced here. Evanna Lynch couldn't be a better Luna Lovegood. And Helena Bonham Carter is excellent as well as the more insane Bellatrix. And the usual returning stars do great as well (by this point, I probably don't need to name them all). 

Overall, Order of the Phoenix is an enjoyable Harry Potter adaption; even if this version cuts a lot of stuff out. At any rate, it's a lot better than it has any right to be. As previously stated, making the longest book one of the shortest movies just should not work. But it does, and while not many may find the film version of Order of the Phoenix to be one of their favorites, it probably won't show up on their least favorites either.