Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Three Movies & A Gimmick – The Hive, Unfriended, Dark Places, Bone Tomahawk

I don’t write movie reviews as often as I used to. Heck, I don’t write anything as often as I used to.

Since I started the Needless Things Podcast I’ve discovered that I like talking a lot more than I like writing. Or, more to the point, I like interacting a lot more than I like writing. As I’ve pointed out several times over the years, doing stuff on the internet is often a lot like yelling into a void. I just throw it out there and hope that people read it and like it. Who knows?
Anyway, This past weekend was a lazy one. The Troublemaker family pretty much just sat around the house enjoying one another’s’ company. And watching TV and movies. Here are a few that I want to comment on. I’ll keep things as spoiler-free as possible.

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"The Hive Poster 2015" by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Hive_Poster_2015.jpg#/media/File:The_Hive_Poster_2015.jpg

The Hive

I’ve been wanting to see this forever!

And by “forever” I mean something like a year or so.

I don’t remember exactly what the image was, but one of the artists that I follow on Instagram posted something from The Hive that intrigued me. He said something about it being awesome, as well. Since then I have been wanting to see it, but it’s been unusually elusive for an independent horror flick. Nerdist.com recently distributed it as their first-ever movie, so it’s finally available On Demand. Since that Instagram post, though, it has gotten a lot of hype.

The Hive is a solid, competently crafted movie. The cast is fantastic and the effects are made all the more great for being so simple. Pacing-wise things move right along. From beginning to end there was no filler. I felt like I was watching the narrative move forward with every frame. So this thing covers the basics.

Here’s the thing – I felt like that was all it covered. This is a slick, competent flick, but there’s not much compelling. I sat there and watched it and enjoyed it, but there was nothing remarkable or particularly interesting. It told a solid story and it felt like everyone did their jobs and went home. I didn’t feel any soul from this movie. The love story is fun and the leads have great chemistry, the mystery of the virus that’s afflicting the characters is interesting until you figure it out, but there isn’t much here.

The Hive isn’t a bad movie by any means, but it doesn’t do anything particularly new or exciting and it certainly isn’t one to own.


Unfriended

If you had told me a few months ago that I would be far more excited about the experience I had watching this than I was by The Hive, I would have laughed in your face. But that’s exactly what went down.

I feel bad for people that saw Unfriended in the theater because this is not a theatrical movie. We watched it in the TV, and it’s fine that way, but if you really want to get into this one I recommend you watch it on your computer or laptop or even tablet. This thing is all gimmick, and it is so perfectly executed that days later I am still marveling at how well the filmmakers pulled it off.

This is not, by the way, a great movie. It’s a typical, hacky story about teenagers getting killed by a mystery entity. But the presentation is so clever and unique that I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. The whole thing takes place on the screen of the main characters’ laptop and is told through use of Skype, Facebook, YouTube, and various messaging services. The key thing is that the film licensed all of the actual services for use, so you don’t have stupid stuff like a “YouFace” logo taking you out of the story.

Speaking of, the story isn’t bad. Just because it’s clichéd doesn’t mean it isn’t good. There are some nice little twists and it is certainly executed well enough to keep you invested. The cast is as good as any teen horror cast, but you don’t necessarily get to know them beyond their archetypes, which doesn’t matter too much because the whole point of Unfriended is to immerse yourself in the chosen medium of storytelling.

Everything is perfectly executed. Watching the user click from window to window or switch services or even just mistype something is very real. The interaction between all of the kids and their various devices and programs is incredibly fluid and was clearly directed by someone that is familiar with the technology. There were many moments where I related to what the characters were doing, if not the characters themselves.

As someone who spends more time Skyping and whatnot than I particularly want, it was effective for me. I think if you’re a teenager or someone that uses a lot of social media and networking you’ll get a kick out of this just like I did. I don’t know that I’ll ever watch it again and I don’t think it calls for a sequel (which it is getting), but I enjoyed the experience of something fresh and different.


Dark Places

I’m glad that I hadn’t heard of this one, because apparently it tanked and I probably wouldn’t have watched it if I had known that.

We turned it on for two reasons – the description on Amazon sounded good and just about anything Charlize Theron chooses to be in is at the very least interesting. Here’s that blurb:

“From the best selling book by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), Charlize Theron stars in this acclaimed thriller about a woman investigating a family murder with the help of a secret society obsessed with solving notorious crimes.”

That sounds awesome. It falls far short of describing the actual plot and actually overplays the secret society thing a bit, but we were intrigued and put it on.

The thing that all of the movies that I’m talking about today have in common are dynamite casts. This one stars Theron, Christina Hendricks, Nicholas Hoult, Chloe Moretz, Drea de Matteo, and some very strong supporting actors.

The story is about Theron’s character, who physically survived the murder of her mother and two sisters but is emotionally devastated. Over the course of the film we learnt he circumstances of the event and it is some truly compelling stuff. The backstory takes place in the 80s and involves the media frenzy surrounding Satanism and cults. If, like me, you grew up then you will remember the feelings of the time all too well – the fear and paranoia whipped up probably rivaled the McCarthyism of the fifties. Dark Places captures that well and shows how small town fear can destroy people and drive them apart.
I don’t want to give anything more away, because I enjoyed how the narrative unfolded so much. I have no idea why people didn’t like it, but I can see revisiting it from time to time, possibly even as a double feature with the much better-received Gone Girl (which I bought and loved).
Oh, and I feel that I should point out that this isn’t a horror movie. It’s really more of a drama. But I dug it a lot.

Bone Tomahawk

On the one hand this is a badass movie starring a badass Kurt Russell and if you loved him in The Hateful Eight, then you’ll love him in this. Tonally it is something of a cousin to that movie since it’s a violent western with a cast of archetypal characters. That’s why I wanted to see it.

On the other hand, if you watch it proximal to Tarantino’s film, you are going to be absolutely smacked in the head by the obvious budget and style differences. I loved Bone Tomahawk, but I had to get past what I consider to be some shoddy filmmaking and poor decisions to get there.

I am fed up with shaky cameras. It’s one thing when it’s an action scene and the filmmaker is trying to convey a sense of action and kinetic movement. I still don’t like it and find it hacky and lazy, but I can accept it. But when Patrick Wilson is laying in a bed talking to Kurt Russell and neither man is moving, KEEP THAT FUCKER STILL. It is so annoying to have the camera bobbing around all the time. Are these directors putting their camera people on skateboards or in floats in kiddy pools or something? What the fuck is going on here?

Bone Tomahawk’s sole failing is shitty camera work. And by the time the action got going, I was honestly too enthralled to be mad and was just occasionally annoyed.

There’s something that’s slightly too modern about the way the movie looks. The sets and costumes are great, but the visual quality is just off, somehow. If I were more educated about filmmaking I could probably tell you what it was, but there was just something about the look of it that took me out of the story a bit. Like the camera work, though, once things got going it didn’t really bother me.

The story is about four men who venture into the desert wilderness to rescue kidnapped townspeople from savages. I say “savages” not as a pejorative against Native Americans, but because the villains in the film are truly savage. You’ve never seen anything like this. I don’t want to spoil a thing because I had a blast discovering just how far Bone Tomahawk would go and which genres it dipped into.

Kurt Russell was obviously fantastic and Patrick Wilson does his thing that he does (I mean that in a good way – perhaps someday I will write a post attempting to explain the magical acting phenomenon that is Patrick Wilson). The other cast members were all very good. The one I enjoyed the most was Matthew Fox. He plays a cocky, arrogant gunman named John Brooder and he’s one of those characters that you just can’t wait to hear speak again or see what he’s going to do.

Bone Tomahawk has its limitations, but in the end it tells a unique and original story that combines devotion, partnership, and horror set against the bleak realities of frontier life.



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