Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Crawl (2019)

Haley Keller is still recovering from a loss at her swim meet when her sister calls, worried about their father. A category five hurricane is going to hit his town and no one has heard from him. Haley reluctantly searches for her father and finds him in the crawlspace underneath her childhood home with a broken leg and a giant alligator hunting them. As the crawlspace fills with water and more alligators, the hurricane comes closer and closer, making it less and less likely they will get out alive.

Crawl is a basic animal attack movie with a healthy dose of family drama. Haley is close to losing her scholarship by underperforming at swim meets. She used to be close to her father and bonded over swimming when she was growing up, but they have recently fought and become estranged. This extreme event forces them to work together and realize that their fight was insignificant. They support each other completely and go beyond their limits to help each other. It gives the whole film some heart.

The rest of the film is mix between a basic animal attack plot and a disaster plot. Crazy agile and fast alligators keep coming in larger numbers as the water rises and the storm draws closer. The alligators infest the waters and can't truly be escaped and the storm causes extreme flooding, heavy rains, and fast currents. As the film goes on, it gets less and less likely the two will survive. The moments of action and quiet are well plotted and the jump scares are effective and well earned. The gore effects impressed me, especially the father's broken leg. The biggest disappointment is how fake the alligators look at times, especially when their eyes glowed. Maybe if they were kept more hidden like Jaws, it would have been more effective. As it is, the cartoonish creatures brought me out of the film because they are frequently front and center.

Crawl is a fun movie if you aren't expecting much depth or complexity. It has twists and turns, kills galore, and a touching family story at its core. The only things that take away from the film are the horrible CGI alligators at some points and the super abrupt ending. I love that the ending credits has the song "See You Later, Alligator" playing. The acting from the two main characters is believable and their plight tugged at my heartstrings. Overall, Crawl is summer watch worthy of a trip to the theater.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, July 12, 2019

Gantz Omnibus 1 by Hiroya Oku

Kei Kurono and his childhood friend Kato are coincidentally on the same subway station platform years after they've seen each other. A homeless man falls onto the tracks and Kato tries to help him, but isn't strong enough to lift the man to safety on his own. Kato spots Kei and calls over to him. Kei reluctantly helps because he's been called out in front of a crowd. Together, they save the man but are hit by the train and appear in a room with several other people. They are given a second lease on life if they follow instructions to defeat various alien threats with incredibly powerful weapons and high tech suits.

I quickly realized this series isn't for me. Kind of a bummer since I had been gifted the first three omnibuses. Kurono is the worst guy. He has a running commentary of the most insulting, arrogant thoughts but has nothing to back it up. At his core, he's just a pathetic, horny high school student. The minute a nude girl (also named Kei) who had killed herself arrives in the Gantz room, he's all over her, kissing and groping her unconcious body. Later, this same girl stays at his home and he pressures her sex. Kurono makes my skin crawl and the fact that he's supposed to be the hero is even more disgusting. I'm sure he probably gets better over the course of the series, but it's pretty hard to stomach.

On top of that, Kei is the only female character and doesn't have any dimensions beyond being naked and objectified. Kei is threatened or outright attacked by almost every male character in the book, including Kato, the nicest guy in the series. Her body is shown in minute detail from every angle while Kurono's nudity is censored. Her only purpose is to love Kato when Kurono wants her and be naked in almost every frame of the story in addition to full page pin-up style pictures at the start of each chapter. Even the Gantz machine depicts her topless and calls her "Boobs." It's terrible writing and all of this distracts heavily from an interesting story.

Random people who die are picked by Gantz to fight the alien enemy with appropriate weapons and armor. If they accomplish their goal within the allotted time, they are rewarded points and if they don't, they die for good. There's no instructions of any kind, so they just have to stumble around, hoping what they're doing is right. The creature they fight is weird and the fights are the goriest I've seen in manga form. Kurono and Kato repeat the process with different people replacing those who died with a different enemy and they act as guides with what they've learned since the first time. Too much time in my opinion is spent on if this is a game show or not. It's clearly real when everyone starts dying.

Gantz had so much promise. It is a fast paced manga with amazing fight scenes and excessive gore. However, the characters are just too awful to root for (even the supposedly nice ones) and the treatment of women is horrifically misogynistic. I will be reading the next two omnibuses since I have them and they take about an hour for me to read. I don't expect these problems to get any better, but it might surprise me.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Midsommar (2019)

* major spoilers *

Dani Ardor is used to putting aside her own feelings in favor of others. The first scene of the film has her holding back tears and desperately trying to sound casual while asking her dismissive boyfriend Christian for emotional support. Then she experiences an unimaginable loss. Christian is physically there, but she is constantly bottling up her grief and panic attacks by herself. At every turn, her own needs and feelings are put aside for others (usually Christian). When she finds out from his friends that he's going to Sweden for a month and a half and already has a ticket, Christian spins it as an attack on him and she ends up apologizing just to get him to stay. When they arrive in Sweden and she doesn't want to take the psychedelics right away, Christian and his friend Mark pressure her into taking it right away. Dani spends much of the film saying things are ok when they're not and explaining away Christian's bad behavior. The one support that she has is in an unnamed friend who gives her good advice, but it's one phone call before the tragedy and she doesn't appear again.

Christian and his friends aren't the best people for Dani to travel with. Christian constantly gaslights her and browbeats her with his wrong opinions until she agrees. He has no direction in his life and is only still in a relationship he's clearly not interested in because he might regret it later. Halfway through the film, he gloms onto Josh's dissertation topic and claims it as his own, acting as if he had no idea. Mark only views women as objects and doesn't care about anyone else. The rites of the Harga hold no interest for him beyond ogling beautiful women and greatly offends the community with no remorse. Josh has some respect for their culture, but only to the point where it benefits him. His dissertation is partly on the community and it doesn't even occur to him to ask for permission to write about them. When denied pictures of their sacred book, he sneaks in the middle of the night to get the pictures anyway. He also knows about the suicide they will witness and doesn't bother to warn Dani, who is still in great emotional stress. The main theme of these men is selfishness.

The Harga are the exact opposite of Dani's world. Where her world is shown as industrial and impersonal, theirs is almost supernaturally sunny and bright, every experience is communal, and everyone seems happy. Underneath the politeness and pageantry, lies a layer of self sacrifice. These people believe so much in their faith and community that they would literally give their own lives for a newer generation and for prosperity. The Harga take advantage of their visitors' politeness and purposefully keep them off balance until they are used for whatever purpose the community needs. These methods seem well practiced and the Harga have no remorse or uncertainty about their practices. Everyone is complicit and supports their ideals completely, which makes the next layer even more disturbing.

Underneath that layer is another more insidious layer of white supremacy. The first clue is a book in Pelle's apartment about a secret Nazi language, buried but visible on his coffee table.  The Harga employ eugenics by only approving certain (white) outsiders to mate with and "keeping their bloodlines pure." I went to Sweden a month ago and the Harga do not represent the country's population. Outwardly they welcome everyone, but people of color and people who insult their ideals only serve as sacrifices. Although the Americans all transgressed in some way, the British couple Connie and Simon were innocent yet dispatched first. Ingemar brought them as revenge after being rejected by Connie and in his mind replaced by Simon. They went on one date which Ingemar put way more significance in, showing his toxic masculinity and incel interior. Furthermore, the spiritual enemy of the Harga people is the Black One and everything they do is in defiance of him. Their policies and beliefs consistently lure in and kill people of color. They only welcome white people to take part or assimilate into their community.

Dani experiences a spiritual journey from completely bottling up her emotions to being crowned May Queen and being embraced by a crowd of women feeling her emotions with her. She finally has power and these people revere her. After immolating her toxic boyfriend, she finally smiles and experiences freedom. However, that same event shows that the Harga also lie to their own people. The two willing sacrifices are given tree sap to feel no pain in the fire, but die painfully and horribly. Like the promise, the community is hollow and just more toxic than the relationship she just left. Dani is used to feeling less than and gloms onto the first thing that makes her feel like a person. For her, and many white women today, that thing is rooted in white supremacy. It's easy to turn a blind eye to the deaths of people you don't know or like when that same system makes you feel special for the first time in your life. It's phenomenon seen over and over in US politics as well.

Although Midsommar is a complex, well made film, some things marred the experience. Some of the foreshadowing is more like a truck to the face because it's so obvious. I love how you see everything that will happen if you look carefully on the walls of the building where they sleep. However, panning slowly over a five panel "love story" makes it completely obvious it will happen later in the film. I found the flowery plateaus reminiscent of Hannibal and the overall vibe of a secret, exploitative religion with performative, communal rituals as reminiscent of the new Suspiria. I also find how Ari Aster chooses to use disabled people in his films troubling. Through Midsommar and Hereditary, the disabled characters are played for scares and don't really have character arcs of their own. It's worse here because Ruben, the oracle, has no lines and only serves to unsettle the audience despite being revered by the Harga. We should have moved well beyond this type of ablist horror and it's disappointing.

Midsommar is an impressive folk horror film with layers upon layers of themes, symbols, and foreshadowing to wade through. The pace is in no hurry and reveals its secrets in due time. Even at two and half hours of runtime, I would have easily sat for an additional half hour to see more of this world. I had to watch it twice to formulate my opinions and truly dig into the material. The details of the Harga culture and their artwork alone is so rich and expansive. The visuals are gorgeous and unsettling, even in something as typical as a travel sequence is literally turned upside down and feels new. However, the treatment of Ruben was so unnecessary, disappointing, and rooted in ablism. I do recommend this film with this one caveat. Midsommar defies expectations of the horror genre by rooting it in flowers, sunlight, and friendly white people.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Child's Play (2019)

Single mother Karen and her son Andy move to for a fresh start after a messy divorce. She starts a new job at a deparment store while he struggles to find friends and escapes into his phone and games. One day, Karen brings home a defective Buddi doll as a peace offering and an early birthday present for Andy. They have a rough start, but Alex warms up to the doll and makes some human friends. Andy tries to get rid of the doll when it becomes violent, but it seems to have a  mind of its own.

Child's Play is updated for the technological age and changed so it's almost unrecognizable. Honestly, it could have easily been an original AI or evil Siri/Alexa movie without treading into a beloved franchise. The focus goes from a murderer using voodoo to an AI doll with no safety protocols and the corporation that made it. From the time it's turned on, Chucky is learning from Andy and his new friends how to act, what's acceptable, and how to make him happy. Through weeks of experiences, the doll learns that violence is entertaining and a method to get people and animals that upset Andy out of the way. Things get even worse when Andy pulls away from the doll and tries to put more energy into his human friendships. This fresh new take paired with gruesomely fun kills made the film a delight to watch. Mark Hamill is brilliant as the voices of Chucky, which starts as childlike and innocent and then transitions over the course of the film to a deep, threatening voice.

The Kaslan corporation makes everything from self driving cars to Buddi dolls. Although it's in the periphery of the story, the implications speak volumes. The company seems to monopolize the market to the point where no other brands are seen. Chucky can also connect to any other Buddi product, making everything in their home, and by extension their neighborhood, a possible death trap. The defective doll was created because an exploited worker in Vietnam was fired, removed the safeties from the doll, and then killed himself. In such a small scene, it speaks volumes about the company's outsourcing, avoiding American labor laws, and exploiting workers with poor working conditions, abusive bosses, low wages, and impossibly high expectations. This corporation and the commentary on it gave the story extra depth beneath the expected killer doll story.

Although I enjoyed this remake, two things stood out as flaws: Andy and the look of Chucky. Andy is a teenager who has no friends as a result of moving to a new town and putting absolutely no effort into making new ones. He would rather sit in the hallway playing video games and make people think he's neglected than meet new people. Chucky becomes his first friend and the catalyst to human friends. Once the doll kills his cat, that should have been the moment when he drew the line and got rid of the doll. He waited until the doll stabbed him, killed his cat, and then killed someone else until he even thought about it. If Andy was going to be this dumb, he should have been much younger. Also, who would buy this Buddi doll? It's so creepy to start with that I wouldn't want it anywhere near my home. Big eyes don't make it cute. Other than these two flaws, the movie truly impressed me.

I wasn't expecting a lot from a remake of Child's Play that deviated so much from the original and was released while the original franchise is still going strong. It does leave a bad taste in my mouth that Don Mancini was completely ignored even while he's developing a TV show. To avoid this weirdness, it could have easily been an original film and not part of this franchise at all. Despite all this, Child's Play made me laugh out loud in the theater by balancing the horror with dark humor. I can't to watch it on movie nights at home with friends.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins