Monday, June 19, 2017

The Curse of Sleeping Beauty (2016)

There are a lot of movie based on some sort of source material.  Comics have been popular for a while.  Many movies are based on books.  Then, there’s the occasional remake or sequel.  Occasionally, someone tries to do a loose interpretation of something.  Sometimes it’s called a reimagining of a classic tale.  Sometimes, it’s presented as what really happened or is viewed through a different filter.

We all know the story of Sleeping Beauty, even if only peripherally.  A woman has a curse put on her by a witch wherein she falls asleep.  The spell can only be broken by a kiss from that special someone.  The Curse of Sleeping Beauty takes that basic premise and puts it in modern times.

The movie begins with Thomas Kaiser having a nightmare.  He’s had this recurring nightmare all of his adult life.  In it, he approaches a sleeping woman.  When he goes in to kiss her, the nightmare intensifies and he wakes up.   He’s been to several psychiatrists with no luck.

Out of nowhere, he inherits a property from his unknown uncle Clive.  All he gets is the deed and a letter with a vague warning about not exploring the basement.  If anything is sealed, leave it that way.  Oh, and the family line is cursed.  Good luck!

He leaves his apartment to size the place up with the hope of selling the property.  When he gets there, he finds the place basically in ruins.  He’s met by a real-estate agent named Linda.  She seems a little too interested in the property.  All he wants is to be rid of it.  When he spends his first night in Kaiser Gardens, the nightmare changes.  The woman is now awake and talking to Thomas.  He realizes that her physical body is somewhere on the property and they can communicate through dreams.  He has it within his power to break the curse that’s keeping her asleep.

This is where it gets strange.  It turns out that the curse goes back to The Crusades.  The curse seems to bind one male member of the Kaiser family to the body, although it’s not made clear to what end.  Is he protecting her?  Is he protecting the world from her?  Either way, if he’s away from the property for more than a few days, Thomas gets sick.

Similarly, it’s not clear why someone has to be bound to the property.  Even if charged with a task, it would make sense to let the person roam, even if it’s to have a job or to meet a potential mate.  There’s no mention of Thomas getting any money with the estate.  You’d think that there’d be an endowment or at least a cushion that would allow Thomas to get a job if he didn’t have one.  (Which he doesn’t.)  Clive was even said to be a shut-in.  There’s no mention of how he afforded the property taxes, if there were any.

My biggest question is why Thomas isn’t given more than the vaguest of instructions by Clive.  Instead, Thomas gets a cryptic book written in Aramaic.  If something is important enough to have been kept up since The Crusades, you’d think there’d be easy instructions, like exactly what is expected of Thomas.

Sleeping Beauty leads Thomas to believe that he is to wake her.  Thomas never questions this.  He has the help of Linda and a paranormal expert, Richard.  Neither one of them asks why, if it’s so easy to wake her up, no one has done it in a thousand years.  It’s up to Linda’s ex-boyfriend to decode the book and realize what Sleeping Beauty really is.

The movie is kind of like a Hallmark horror story in that the entire plot is one cliché after another.  A man inherits a cursed property.  He knows nothing, but is assisted by someone that knows a good deal of information on the property.  All of the important information is kept from them until it’s either too late or almost too late.  In the end, you realize that the main characters are idiots that could have prevented all of the troubles in the movie.

I think part of the problem is that this may have been a backdoor pilot.  The ending is left unresolved.   Where most similar horror stories would have most or all of the main characters die, this one leaves them all alive.  It would make more sense if a sequel or TV series were planned to follow the movie.  IMDb doesn’t seem to have any movie connections, but there is a Fangora interview that would indicate a TV series, assuming that they can find the backing.

One explanation I’d like is how Sleeping Beauty got to Kaiser Gardens.  If the curse did start during The Crusades, we’d assume that it was cast in Europe, Asia or the Middle East.  The main location of the story would appear to be in the United States, so she would have been moved at some point.  A lot of my issues look like questions that would be explained in later canon.

The biggest question I have is using a family line to carry the curse.  It seems odd to me that all of the affected family members had the same last name.  Are you saying that it has to be direct male lineage?  It can’t pass from grandfather to grandson?  What happens if the line ends?  For that matter, how is Thomas the only one left?  Thomas said that his mother didn’t want Thomas to have anything to do with his father’s side, but that doesn’t mean that some distant cousin wouldn’t come knocking on the door to warn Thomas.  That aspect of the story was very unclear.

On a technical level, the film looks good.  Picture quality is what you’d expect of a major production.  It’s just that it lacks other things you’d expect, like a better story.  It was a little too thin for me, even knowing that there might be a TV series coming eventually.  This is one of those cases where a binary recommendation is hard to give.  It’s not bad enough that I’d steer people away from it per se, but it’s not really good enough that I’d want to endorse it  This has the look of an origin story that got made after the TV series had been running for a few seasons..  I’d say that if the TV series does get made, watching the movie would probably be worth it.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Spectral (2016)

I had heard that Netflix doesn’t actually produce stuff in house.  Rather, they contract with studios to make stuff.  Apparently, Spectral is a bit different.  Universal Pictures had produced the film for another distributor.  When that deal fell through, Netflix saved the day and brought the movie to their streaming service.  In some ways, this is good.  Someone gets to see their script make it to a screen, even if it’s not the big screen.  The bad news is that it has the reputation of essentially being direct to video.  In the case of Netflix, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  They’ve had some offerings I’ve liked, such as The Little Prince and The OA.

The movie starts with Clyne debating the use of technology as weapons while working at DARPA.  Since he’s no longer necessary for the project he’s working on, he can be sent to a war zone in Moldova.  Why Moldova?  Clyne has to sign a nondisclosure agreement to find out.  The military there is fighting an enemy that’s invisible and has taken out every military person sent at them.  The hypothesis is that the insurgents there have some sort of invisibility cloak, but that doesn’t explain how bullets pass through them or how the enemy can pass through walls.

What they do know is that the enemy does show up on goggles and Clyne has a very powerful version of those goggles, which he brings with him.  When they go out, Clyne gets a good look at the enemy, which appears to have human features, like a face.  The scary part is that they can jump from third- or fourth-story windows without being hurt.  No one has any idea how to stop them.

So, how do you stop the perfect enemy?  It’s by chance that Clyne picks up on several clues that let him figure out what’s going on.  He’s able to modify his machine so that it emits light to make the ghosts visible.  He’s also able to make weapons out of parts he happens to have available.  He and his military escorts even figure out where the specters are coming from.  He’s able to save the day rather efficiently.

There was a line I saw once:  I’m not sure if you have too much medication or not enough.  That’s the case here.  I’m not sure if the movie runs too long or isn’t developed enough.  If the running time was shortened, you could have a nice episode of an anthology series like The Outer Limits.  If the plot was developed enough, you could have a better feature-length film.

The movie was good on a lot of technical points.  The effects are great and the basic plot is pretty solid.  It’s just that there are very few side stories.  We don’t have Clyde talking with any of the military people about their childhoods, for instance.  There are no bonding moments.  The story is a straight line from Clyde going to Moldova to Clyde saving the day.  There is a sort of beginner feel to the story.  It’s like you put a first-person shooter fan in a room with a Final Fantasy or Resident Evil fan and told them to come up with a script.  I’m not saying that I could have done much better.  It’s just that the story lacks a certain depth.

It’s not exactly a war film, as it doesn’t deal with war directly.  It’s a sci-fi/horror film that uses a war zone as a backdrop.  If you’re into sci-fi or horror, but not that much, this is a pretty good film for you.   The story’s easy to follow, at least.   It’s not particularly scary for most adults, but is not a movie for children.  The ghosts are pretty scary, as they look vaguely like people and tend to kill many of the secondary and background characters.  It’s also set in a war zone, so there’s that.

It‘s interesting to think that this could have been released in theaters.  It used to be that Syfy was known for bad movies.  I’m not saying that Netflix will pick up this honor, but it seems that Netflix can afford to be less selective.  They have had some good titles, such as The OA and The Little Prince.  However, this one is maybe less so.  It’s enjoyable, but isn’t really that dynamic.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Little Prince (2015)

I used to work at Wolf Camera years ago.  One thing I remember was the mantra “Give yourself a raise.”  It meant that you could always be selling more of the things that got you sales incentives or commissions.  You could always sell more extended warranties or loyalty cards.  You could always sell more accessories.  Basically, it felt like I would always have the carrot of better numbers in front of me.  There had to be a point where it stopped.  (If I sold everything in the store with the maximum warranty, would they have me special order stuff?)

Such is the world of The Mother and The Daughter.  The Mother is anxious to see her daughter get into a good school.  They even have an answer for their expected Big Question.  However, when she’s asked a different question, The Daughter gives her rehearsed answer anyway, oblivious to the fact that it doesn’t make sense.  This necessitates a move to the same neighborhood as the school.  The cheapest house happens to be next door to The Aviator, a man that the neighbors (and police) seem to avoid whenever possible.

The Daughter and The Aviator become fast friends, as The Daughter tries to avoid her rigorous schedule.  You see, The Daughter has a lot of studying to do if she wants to do well and eventually get a good job.  The Aviator is an adult, but hasn’t grown up yet.  He sees in The Daughter someone he can tell his story to.  That story is the story of The Little Prince.

Never having read the book, I’m not sure how well the movie stays faithful to its source material.  In the movie, The Aviator tells of meeting The Little Prince, who claimed to be from an asteroid.  The Little Prince tells of his life and some of the people he’s met, like a businessman.  While on Earth, he meets a fox and a snake.  He has a good time, but eventually has to go home, which saddens the Aviator.  However, The Little Prince tells The Aviator to simply look up at the stars to remind him of their time together.

In the present timeframe, The Aviator tells The Daughter that he’s happy that they met, as he now has someone to pass along the story.  The Daughter infers that he may be leaving or even dying, which The Aviator denies.  She even gets upset with him for having such a sad ending.  When The Aviator is taken away in an ambulance, The Daughter takes it upon herself to find The Little Prince so that The Prince might help The Aviator.

The tale of The Mother, the Daughter and  the older Aviator seems to have been made for the movie.  From what I can tell, the book was meant as a children’s book for adults, warning of forgetting how to be a child.  The Mother and the other adults seem to have forgotten this, but The Aviator hasn’t.  He sees in The Daughter the opportunity to let her be a little girl for a few minutes.  The Mother means well, but she doesn’t seem to see that her daughter might want an hour or two to play.  (Isn’t hard work what being an adult is all about, though?)

It’s appropriate that the film uses CGI and stop motion.  Animation is typically seen as being for children.  Many adults seem to have forgotten how to enjoy an animated movie.  For years, I’ve been trying to get my parents to watch movies like Up and Zootopia to no effect.  I don’t know that they’ll ever take the recommendations seriously.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Young Frankenstein (1974)

It’s not uncommon for someone to go into the family business.  Some companies are family owned for several generations   You may even see a company name along the lines of Smith & Sons.  Likewise, you may find police officers that have siblings, aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents that are also police officers.  (At least, that’s the way it is in television and movies.)  Normally, no one would think anything of someone doing what their family does.

Things are a little different for Frederick.  He’s a doctor, like his grandfather.  Frederick doesn’t want the association, though, as his grandfather is none other than Dr. Viktor Frankenstein.  Yes, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  The idea of reanimating a nervous system is ridiculous.  I know it.  You know it.  Frederick knows it, too.  Yet, everyone keeps pestering him about it.

It doesn’t get any easier when Frederick inherits the family castle in Transylvania.  So, the young Dr. Frankenstein goes to see what he’s inherited.  When he gets there, he’s greeted by Igor, also the grandson of the corresponding character in the book.  He introduces Frederick to beautiful lab assistant Inga and the horse-scaring Frau Blücher.  Frederick wants to find his grandfather’s work, but Frau Blücher denies any knowledge of the work.  It’s with the help of Inga that he’s able to find a secret passageway and, eventually, a book called How I Did It by V. Frankenstein.

After reading the book, Frederick realizes that it’s not so far fetched.  He might actually be able to reanimate a corpse.  So, he and Igor rob a grave.  Igor is also sent to get the brain of a noted scientist.  The townspeople, however, are rightfully concerned.  Yes, he’s a Frankenstein, but there’s no proof that he’ll follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.  That is, until he reanimates the corpse.  Now, it’s up to Frankenstein and Company to protect the new life.

The movie is in black and white.  It’s even set up like Ye Olde Horror Filmme of Yore, with credits in the beginning.  (Having seen some older movies, I get the reference, but I’m not sure how many references I’m missing.)  With Frankenstein being something that everyone knows about, even minimally, most people will get many of the jokes.  There’s the obligatory angry mob waiting to happen, for instance.

The book doesn’t seem to parody the book directly, but seems to use the story as a backdrop.  It’s almost like an unofficial, comedic sequel of sorts.  Probably the one scene I remember best is where Frederick tries to show off The Monster by having him do a demonstration that ends with a performance of Putin’ on the Ritz.

This ultimately leads to The Monster being taken away by the police. The Monster eventually escapes and meets some people while on the run, like a girl who doesn’t seem frightened by him.  There’s also the blind man who desperately wants company.  The Monster doesn’t hurt anyone unless provoked, which usually involves someone taunting him.

This isn’t the kind of movie you’ll watch week after week, but it does hold up after repeated viewings.  Some of the humor is meant to work as a surprise.  Other jokes, like Putin’ on the Ritz, can be viewed multiple times.  It’s the kind of movie you’d watch when you catch it on TV or maybe watch in class the day before school lets out for break.

The movie is rated PG, mostly for sexual references.  Frederick mentions huge knockers, referring to a door.  There are also a scene where The Monster has sex with Frederick’s bride to be, although no nudity is shown.  There are also scenes of violence, like The Monster choking Frederick.  It’s a comedy, so there’s little threat of the main characters being permanently harmed.  The worst of the violence is seeing a man hanged. It’s generally safe for teenagers and above.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

Sometimes, having interconnected stories can work.  Usually, this involves having a single narrative with several different aspects.  It tends to work best when it’s done subtly.  A Christmas Horror Story isn’t such a movie.  I’m not saying that it’s not entertaining.  It’s just that you have four stories that probably started out having nothing to do with each other.  Someone apparently got the idea to put them together when they probably would have worked better as four short films.

In one story, you have Santa Claus battling undead elves.  There’s no explanation where the infection came from, but one elf dies and reanimates.  Elves aren’t supposed to die.  They’re cheerful and immortal and they definitely don’t refuse Mrs. Claus’s cookies, at least not in such a vulgar fashion.  Yet, Mr. Claus has to rid his workshop of his undead helpers.

In a second story, a family of four is going to visit the father’s Aunt Edda.  The wife, son and daughter see it for what it is: a chance for dear old Dad to hit her up for an investment in his company.  After promptly being kicked out, the car gets stuck.  This makes it easier for Krampus to pick them off one at a time.

In the third story, three filmmakers go to a school’s basement to make a documentary.  Two girls were murdered ijn a gruesome manner.  One of the police officers had to go on medical leave because of it.  (The daughter from the second story would be joining them if not for her father’s dragging her along to Aunt Edda’s.)  They get locked in and have to hope that someone finds them in time.

In the fourth story, a father decides to take his wife and son along to steal a tree from private property.  (It just so happens that the father is the police officer that’s on medical leave.)  The son disappears, but is found again hiding in a tree.  It isn’t until they get home that the parents realize that something is off.  The landowner contacts the wife, telling her to bring the kid back.  She hangs up on him, but eventually comes around.

Tying it all together is Dangerous Dan, played by William Shatner.  He’s a DJ who is pulling a double shift Christmas eve to bring everyone some Christmas music.  He’s not to happy about being there, as evidenced by his consumption of spiked eggnog.  In the studio with him is Norman.  When Dan asks Norman about his impending trip to the mall’s food drive, Norman holds up a nasty note for Dan to see.

The four stories are told intertwined as Dangerous Dan plays his songs.  The result is something that’s not quite coherent.  Each story probably could have done well as a short film.  The Student Filmmaker story was what you’d expect of those teenager horror movies that are heavy on the scares and maybe even the sex appeal.  Similarly, the family trip to see Aunt Edda was your basic awkward outing movies where everyone has an epiphany and grows.  The thing is that no one really has a chance to learn from their revelation.  They admit something they did wrong and are promptly dispatched with.  In fact, the son is taken away rather quickly.

The Santa Slayer and Tree Poacher stories were at least entertaining.   Santa having to kill undead elves has the makings of a great feature-length slasher film.  There were even a few good lines, to boot.  I also got the sense that the father that sole the tree had some issues.  This also could have possibly been made into a feature-length film, or at least maybe an episode of an anthology series.  I think the only hindrance that either story had was the time constraints.

I had had this on my list of movies to watch on Netflix for a while.  After seeing Rare Exports, I thought that a movie like this could have been done well.  Instead, A Christmas Horror story wound up on the other end of the spectrum.  It’s somewhat entertaining, assuming you’re into that sort of thing.  However, it doesn’t really stand out for me.

The movie was only 99 minutes.  Had the Santa Slayer and Tree Poacher stories been developed more, the movie could have made it to two hours, but it would have been a very lopsided movie.  I think that’s the weakness of the movie as a whole.  You have four ideas that could have been contenders, but were merged into one film that wasn’t really that great.  In fact, the only character I really felt any connection to was Dangerous Dan.  I absolutely don’t blame him for drinking.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Amelia: A Tale of Two Sisters (2017)

Amelia Earhart is one of those names that was well before my time.  As such, I think the context is different for me than it was when she was alive.  Today, flying is something we take for granted.  It’s said to be the safest method of travel.  In the 1920s and 1930s, when Earhart was active, flying was still new.  Granted, gender roles were still difficult to overcome at the time.  Amelia’s sister, Grace, married and had a family.  Grace’s route was by far the more common route for women in that era.  However, Amelia was determined to fly and to do so professionally.

Amelia:  A Tale of Two Sisters does show the disparity between the two sisters, but tends to focus on Amelia Earhart, as she was the one to make headlines.  The documentary shows how she had to basically be a passenger on a flight, as she wasn’t really trusted to fly.  She did eventually make a solo transatlantic flight, something that only Charles Lindbergh had done previously.

What most people know her for, though, is her attempt to fly around the globe with Fred Noonan.  In early July of 1937, they disappeared just shy of circumnavigation.  There are theories as to what happened.  The most common is that they went down in the ocean and were never able to make it to land.  Another is that they did make it to what was then called Gardner Island, where they managed to survive for a period of time.  There’s no concrete proof of this.  A third theory is that they were captured by the Japanese.  The documentary doesn’t mention any proof of the third theory.

I watched the documentary mostly to learn a little more about Amelia Earhart.  I knew going in that it would be kind of basic, but I knew very little about her.  I wasn’t even aware that she had a sister, which is why this documentary caught my attention.  The amount of information is exactly what I would have expected from a 40-something-minute episode.

It goes into her early life and how she knew from first seeing an air show what her career path would be.  There is also material on her parents and her sister.  There are interviews from three people, including Earhart’s niece, Amy Klepner.  The other two are Ric Gillespie with TIGHAR and Dorothy Cochrane with the National Air and Space Museum.

A good portion is dedicated to her disappearance with some repetition of material.  It’s the kind of thing that a beginner to the subject, like myself, will enjoy.  I think someone looking for detailed information on Earhart will probably want to look elsewhere.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Girlfriend's Day (2017)

How do you handle something that’s mediocre?  If something is good, you can recommend it to people.  If something is bad, you can at least warn them about it.  What if a movie hits that spot between watchable and unwatchable?  I’m not saying Girlfriend’s day found that spot, but it almost seems like that’s what it was hoping for.  It’s not a great movie, but it’s not a horrible movie, either.

It starts with Ray Wentworth talking with his coworkers at a greeting-card company.   Ray is called in to see his boss, Styvesan, and promptly fired.  Ray just hasn’t been producing good stuff any more.  In fact, he’s been producing crap.  (One card holds ten dimes.)  Ray even offers to fold the cards, saying he can do it faster than the machines.  Alas, it’s to no avail.

Ray spends the next three months drinking and laying around his apartment.  He spends his time watching TV and ignoring his landlord.  He’s also had a hand injury for those months.  He cut it on a picture frame and the tendons are slow to heal.  There is hope on the horizon.  Ray’s former boss comes to him with a proposition:  Write some romantic cards for girlfriends.  Ray is even given an advance on his work.

Ray comes to realize what’s going on when a new holiday is announced.  It’s called Girlfriend’s day and is meant to revitalize the industry.  Everyone wants in on this.  Well, Ray needs some stuff from his former desk, which Styvesan agrees to let Ray get.  As Ray is leaving the building, he finds a former coworker on the floor, dying of a stab wound.  He’s hit on the head and passes out.

He wakes up in his apartment with a new, less-incriminating shirt.  Also there is Detective Miller, who has Ray’s bloody shirt.  Ray is to write a perfect card for the new holiday.  You see, Miller is on the outs with his girlfriend.  A good card would get him back in.  No card means that the evidence finds its way to the police station.

It seems everyone wants a card for this new holiday.  What’s a guy to do?  Ray was writing crappy stuff before.  Now, he has pressure coming from all directions.  Even his new girlfriend may be little more than a way to get him writing again.

The movie is listed as a drama and a comedy.  I’m not sure it works as either.  It’s not so much that I don’t get the jokes.  I do get many of them.  It’s just that the movie seems to be coming off as a satire, but it lacks the focus of a single target.  There are noir elements, like Ray finding a victim as he’s dying and subsequently making himself look guilty.  That part is at least obvious.

Some of the stuff is more obscure.  Ray and his fellow writers seem to enjoy a level of fame.  Ray is said to have been great at what he does.  I’m not sure, though, if he’s a local celebrity or of this is an alternate universe where greeting-card writers are famous.  Also, Ray watches a show called Bumfights.  On several occasions, he sees one of the fighters on the street.  I’m not sure what e movie was going with that.

Fortunately, the movie doesn’t feel long at 70 minutes.  The movie doesn’t drag at all except for one scene where Ray is led through a series of rooms.  Even there, it’s kept short.  I can see people liking Girlfriend’s Day, but I don’t think this is going to make anyone’s top-ten list.  For that matter, I don’t see it making anyone’s bottom-ten list, either.  It has its moments, but isn’t really a standout movie.

The movie seems to like contradictions.  I’m not even certain if it’s a comedy trying to be serious or a drama trying to be funny.  Take Ray.  He’s a walking sack of misery and sadness.  And he made a living writing romance cards.  Even if you do get the humor, it’s a somewhat depressing movie.