Upgrade (2018)

Upgrade Movie Poster

★★★½

In the tradition of Robocop, Universal Soldier, and Elysium, this movie takes a pretty standard plot and tweaks it enough to spice it up a tad, and it tackles trends in tech in an interesting way. It has a slick look, and some fun camera tricks, plus one chase sequence felt like an homage to the ending of The Matrix.

Sometimes it seems like the movie is cleverly parodying action movie tropes–one character will speak in generic, cryptic nonsense and Marshall-Green will react humorously nonplussed. Wannel’s dialog is fun–you can tell this is the guy that writes Specs and Tucker from Insidious–and Marshall-Green’s performance is very good and surprisingly subtle at times.

At other times, the movie seems to be embracing action tropes with open arms–isn’t that refrigerator getting awfully full of dead women?

There are other things that got in the way of me getting fully onboard–a nonbinary character is introduced, which is nice, but the fact that they’re nonbinary is the joke, which sucks. And, of course, it seems like the only time we tell stories about paraplegic people is to cure them, which isn’t necessarily this movie’s fault, but it certainly doesn’t buck the trend.

With a standard plot comes a certain level of predictability that this movie doesn’t do quite enough to shake, but it does put in some fun twists with the “upgrade” plot device, and Marshall-Green sells it well. All in all, I found the movie pretty enjoyable. Don’t go in expecting it to rewrite your worldview, but it’s a fun way to kill 90-ish minutes.

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Breaking In (2018)

Image result for breaking in poster

★★★½

Went to go see BREAKING IN. It was enjoyable, pretty standard, but it looked nice and had decent performances all around. I Googled one of the actors and noticed it had a 25% RT, which…it does not deserve at all.

I looked at the reviews on Letterboxd and I haven’t seen that many white dudes shitting on something since the last time I used a Chipotle bathroom.

I was guaranteed to find the movie at least somewhat enjoyable because Gabrielle Union and Billy Burke are amazing. I want more movies with them, please.

Although, quick complaint: there are 4 bad guys that attack Union. 3 are white, and one is Mexican. It really bugged me that the white guys were overall reluctant to do any real violence and the unhinged guy that goes too far is the Mexican guy.

A Quiet Place (2018)

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★★★★½

I love a good monster movie, and while I tend to like them rubber, make-up, and with gooey effects, this movie’s heart is more than enough to make up for the chi monsters.

John Krasinksi is a new comer to the horror genre, but he is clearly a quick study as he manages to nail a great, fun, tense romp. Set in a world in which aliens incredibly sensitive to sound begin hunting down and slaughtering anything above a soft whisper, we follow a family’s struggle to survive. I’m a sucker for fantasy/sci-fi movies where the creators have clearly put thought into their world, and Krasinksi clearly has. The lengths the family goes spans from the obvious to the ingenius.

The story itself doesn’t hit any surprising beats–i had this movie’s number from the jump–but it does it very well, and I don’t think it’s trying to surprise you. It’s trying to make you care.

All in all, highly recommended, and a special shout out to Millicent Simmonds, who turned in a wonderful performance, and I hope she continues to see success.

The Houses October Built 2 (2017)

houses october built 2 poster

 Watched 25 Mar, 2018

I quite like the first Houses October Built. It was problematic, but a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the sequel tosses out the uniqueness and ingenuity, then takes all of the problematic elements and doubles down on them. Characters that were somewhat insensitive or occasionally crass have become full-blown monsters. It’s hard to believe that these people are friends given how manipulative, duplicitous, and selfish they are.

The five friends somehow survived the events of the first movie, and exactly how is left vague for most of the runtime. It’s actually a spoiler, but the mystery is so distracting, it effectively kills the setup of this film from the jump. Based on what we know, based on how the last movie left off, none of the actions of the four male friends make any sense.

They’re once again exploring haunted houses, and given that previously doing this nearly cost them their lives, it doesn’t make sense that they would jump right back in only a year later. This time, it’s not even for a documentary. They’ve become famous for having survived Blue Skeleton, and video of them, or rather Brandy, went viral. Now everyone wants her stamp of approval to certify that their haunted houses are the real deal. The guys want to exploit this for money, but Brandy is traumatized, and rightfully so. She refuses to join them at first, but Mikey, the bearded friend, somehow convinces her to join them later. How he does this is not shown, and one of the characters even wonders about it aloud, which I suppose is good because I wondered the same thing.

There’s strange attention paid to establishing a therapist that specializes in fear and overcoming trauma that gets hired to help Brandy while she’s on the road with them, but it goes nowhere. If there’s meant to be some sort of revelation about her identity or motives, it never happens.

I was mildly irritated during the first half of this movie. It’s boring, repeating the same plot points as the first, but without the built-in concept of the documentary. There’s really no reason for them to be filming this, except, I suppose, as advertisements so they can show that Brandy approves of the attractions? But that’s not really made clear. It’s just sort of accepted that they’re filming it.

The first film was certainly a slow-burn. We’re introduced to who will eventually become the villains relatively early on, but we’re not aware that they will become villains. The slow reveal as they pop up again and again, escalating their interactions each time, is very effective in building tension. Instead, this time we keep cutting to someone from Blue skeleton filming them…and that’s it. For most of the runtime. It’s extended sequences of them exploring haunted houses, no interviews because there is no pretense of a documentary, then random shots of Blue Skeleton filming them. There is no escalation, there is no building of tension, it’s just haunted house, shot of blue skeleton filming them, haunted house, shot of blue skeleton filming them, rinse, repeat.

If this were an unnecessary retread of the first film, I wouldn’t have given it such a low score. Not that it would have a high score, but unnecessary sequels happen all the time. This film pulls some nonsensical turns that piss all over the first film, its plot, and its characters. We guessed the final revelations pretty early on, but couldn’t believe it to be the case because it was too stupid and repugnant.

Do yourself a favor, pull up the Wikipedia article and read the spoilers if you’re curious. If you like the first one, just pretend this one doesn’t exist. For two-thirds to three-quarters of the movie, this is a boring, needless rehash of the first. The last act is a bizarre takedown of the original. It’s not only bad as an ending to this film, since it raises a lot of questions and makes certain scenes nonsensical and confusing, it also ruins the first movie, and I don’t say that lightly.

The Houses October Built (2014)

houses october built poster

★★★★

I watched this movie last year in October on Netflix as part of my Halloween horror watch-fest. It had some flaws that occasionally grated on me, but I was struck by its unique concept and surprisingly effective use of found footage.

Found-footage movies have a central flaw in that, without a traditional camera, characters must pick up the slack, absurdly filming events far past believability. The best found-footage movies work around this in some way. This movie is less innovative than some, but it its making-of style feels less forced than usual, and I think that’s helped by its slower pacing.

The plot mostly focuses on a group of friends investigating various haunted houses for their documentary, following up on rumors of haunted houses becoming more and more extreme to cater to modern audiences. Although the editing can be sporadic and choppy at times, this feels like an intentional decision to keep the audience off balance and uneasy, much in the same way that the haunted houses they feature do. Its narrative strength comes from their previously completed real documentary about haunted houses that they used as a foundation on which to build this movie. However, that does leave the ending feeling a tad rushed.

The biggest flaw lies in the characters. They’re not the worst I’ve ever seen in a horror movie, but like many before, the men are portayed as horny, sex obsessed, and immature. Sometimes the presence of their sole woman lead, Brandy, feels like a way to have their cake and eat it, too. They can include things like going to a zombie strip club and use her irritation as a shield. “See? We’re commenting on the guys’ behavior. We know it’s not okay.” Thankfully, as the plot begins to unfold, they tone a lot of that down and the characters become a bit more sympathetic. I just wish they had used Brandy more effectively rather than for cheap tension building, such as being cornered in the bathroom by a group of gropey hillbillies.

With 5 main characters, it’s easy for one or two to be under served by the narrative, and this is far from the only horror movie to indulge in this type of writing, but it was disappointing to see nonetheless.

The climax and final sequence are really well done and very effective as the group finds themselves in over their heads. While not one of my favorite movies, it’s enjoyable and unique and a fun one to pop in around Halloween. The ending, in particular, is chilling and probably why I favor this movie in spite of its flaws.

Unsane (2018)

unsane poster

★★★★

This movie is an intense ride. It doesn’t necessarily throw in a bunch of plot twists to surprise you, but it does what it sets out to do very well. The initial setup is strikingly similar to Victor Lavalle’s book THE DEVIL IN SILVER, which, if you haven’t read it, is highly recommended. Thankfully, this movie eventually goes off in its own direction.

We have had some issues medically in the past, and this movie at times rang very true to chilling effect. Medicine is one of those things that is great for horror. It takes a colossal amount of money and education to understand it well enough to make actually informed decisions, so we’re forced to take the word of experts whom we trust not to lead us astray. Everyone gets sick, and everyone eventually has to deal with doctors, which means surrendering some of our control of our lives over to someone else. That is where this movie succeeds, by revelling and taunting us with our hopeless lack of control in the face of experts telling us what to do.

Aesthetically, this almost feels like a 70s exploitation film at times. Part of that is due to it being shot entirely on an iPhone. It gives the film a cheap, almost grainy quality, like an old sleazy VHS tape.

The iPhone makes the aspect ratio a little off–not quite as wide as the typical movie, which leads to the sides of the frame looking cropped. Often there’s a warping effect to shots that distort the picture, and create a bubbling similar to that of a 360 degree camera. This bothered me at first, but it puts the beginning in a much more voyeuristic frame. Typically, even though we are watching movies, we expect to slot into the main character’s perspective and assume their POV. Instead, this film is shot in a way to keep us distant from the main character, to make us feel like we’re spying on her, which is a great effect considering the character’s history.

This is a cheap, dirty movie, and while not necessarily mold-breaking, is very effective and creepy.

Thoroughbreds (2017)

thoroughbreds poster

★★★★½

I’ve seen this movie compared to American Psycho, and I see the comparison–the tone is darkly humorous and offbeat–but unlike AP, we don’t get a lot of internal insight into the girls like we do Patrick Bateman. Instead, the movie takes an objective POV, only showing you what’s on screen and letting you make your own conclusions. A quiet, quick little movie that says a lot about what we value in people and who we consider monsters. Both lead actresses are wonderful, and I can’t wait for more from them.

This is also Anton Yelchin’s last movie, so a special shoutout to him–he’s a lot of fun playing a washed up nobody with big dreams and no ambition.

I’m glad I went into this with very little info. There’s not much plot in the traditional sense, but I’m grateful the trailer I saw gave me a vague sense of the tone and not much else. It was fun to just experience this movie on its terms.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more impressed I am and the more I like it. Characters are not necessarily what they appear and you’ll leave with a lot to chew over. I feel like this one will stand up well to repeat viewings.

The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018)

the strangers prey at night poster

★★★½ 

10 years ago, I watched the first movie, and I was struck by the bleak, unflinching way Bertino dealt with violence. It wasn’t a fun movie like Friday the 13th or Saw, where the violence is spectacle. The original was somber.

This movie is…strange.

On the one hand, it makes sense to push the aesthetic to more of an 80s slasher vibe. The original evoked 70s exploitation, so a decade later, this one evokes 80s slashers–in all the ways you might expect.

I’m curious how the writing was changed between the original draft by Bertino and the subsequent draft. In some ways, this is almost the exact same movie as the first one, but with a higher body count. At times, the way the movie will hang on someone suffering for several minutes is very in line with the original, and it tries, at times, to recall the nihilistic themes of the first. (In fact, there is one plot point that I’m 90% sure was going to cpmpletely copy the first, but either got changed in reshoots or changed in a later draft.) But, in the last act, it pivots from basically the same as the first to deploying 80s slasher tropes so fast and heavy, it’s like they had a list and were checking boxes to fit them all in before the credits rolled.

This was more fun to me than the first, but that’s almost part of the problem. As a sequel to a movie that seemed to be making a point on how unpleasant and senseless violence is, this movie eventually revels in it, each plot twist upping the ante, stacking crazy on crazy until I was howling in the theater.

This one finishes like a rollercoaster. Not an original one, but a sort of fun one. However, it’s odd for a sequel, and seems to contradict it’s predecessor, and itself.

The Strangers (2008)

the strangers poster

★★★½ 

When this movie came out, I remember being horrified by it in a way that a lot of horror movies hadn’t. It unsettled me, shook me. I hated it. It wasn’t very gorey. It wasn’t as violent as the Saw movies. In fact, the plot of this movie could really be described as “Liv Tyler screams for 80 minutes.” So why was this so affecting?

I think this movie showed violence in a senseless, nihilistic way that I hadn’t seen before. It was bleak, and it’s a movie that doesn’t glamorize the violence or make the killers into joking cartoons, superpowered behemoths, or even surprise plot twists that reveal Jigsaw-esque master-planning. It’s just a quick, ugly movie, albeit with very nice cinematography that somehow feels very of its time while also calling back to 70s exploitation films.

Seeing it again 10 years later, there was something enjoyable about the bleak, frank message that I couldn’t stomach when I was a 19 year old pup. It was slow, deliberately paced, and a little quaint given jow much the horror genre changed over time.

Not a fun movie, not something I’ll own or watch often, but it was okay.

 

My Comics Project Update: June – December 2017

Jan2018 DC Comics.jpg

Hey, folks. It’s been a minute since I’ve done one of these. Money and time got in the way, but this is the perfect opportunity to finish up my updates for 2017.

First, if you’re new to these parts, here’s the backstory to these weird little posts: a while back I was trying to find a good Superman run to start collecting because the Snyderverse Superman bummed me out. I settled on Kurt Busiek’s run because I’d read good things about it online. Busiek’s run was part of DC’s “One Year Later” initiative where all of their titles jumped forward a year after the events of Infinite Crisis. That inspired me to create a spreadsheet placing the trades I owned in chronological order.

Over the next several weeks, I kept adding to the list, starting with the books in my Amazon wishlists, then cribbing from other lists I found online. My goal with the list became to create a reading list where one could start at the beginning of the DC timeline and read their way through to present day in roughly chronological order. The focus here is on readability over chronology, however, so I try to keep as many books in a run together as possible, doubling back if multiple books cover the same time span from different perspectives. The exceptions to that are typically if something big happens–like someone dying or a new character being introduced.

I came up with the order of my trade timeline from this comment of all the Batman trades in chronological order (up to Flashpoint), this trade reading order list for Superman, and this reading order list for Batman. Where the lists didn’t have information, I judged for myself based on the release dates of the original issues and the storyline descriptions.

Below you’ll see the list of all canon DC titles that I own at this point. The ones in bold are the ones that I got this month. The ones underlined and in italics are big events that drastically altered the timeline and/or the universe in some way (usually a reboot).

  1. Blue Beetle: The Charlton Files
  2. Crisis On Infinite Earths
  3. Batman: Dark Victory
  4. Batman: The Killing Joke, Deluxe Edition
  5. Justice League International, Vol. 1
  6. Justice League International, Vol. 2
  7. Justice League International, Vol. 3
  8. Justice League International, Vol. 4
  9. The Death of Superman
  10. Batman: Knightfall, Vol. 1
  11. Impulse: Reckless Youth
  12. Justice League: A League of One
  13. JLA Titans: Technis Imperative
  14. Young Justice: A League of Their Own
  15. Birds of Prey, Vol. 1: Of Like Minds
  16. Birds of Prey, Vol. 2: Sensei & Student
  17. Birds of Prey, Vol. 3: Between Dark & Dawn
  18. Superman/Batman Vol. 1: Public Enemies
  19. Superman/Batman Vol. 2: Supergirl
  20. JLA: The Hypothetical Woman
  21. Teen Titans Vol. 1: A Kid’s Game
  22. Teen Titans Vol. 2: Family Lost
  23. Teen Titans Vol. 3: Beast Boys and Girls
  24. Teen Titans Vol. 4: The Future is Now
  25. Teen Titans/Outside​rs: The Insiders
  26. Teen Titans: The Death and Return of Donna Troy
  27. Secret Six Vol. 1: Villains United
  28. The OMAC Project (Countdown to Infinite Crisis)
  29. Infinite Crisis
  30. Teen Titans Vol. 5: Life and Death
  31. Supergirl Vol. 1
  32. Batman: Face the Face by James Robinson
  33. Teen Titans, Vol. 6: Titans Around the World
  34. Teen Titans, Vol. 7: Titans East
  35. Superman: Up, Up, and Away!
  36. Superman: Back in Action
  37. Superman: Last Son of Krypton
  38. Superman: Camelot Falls, Vol. 1
  39. Superman: Camelot Falls (Vol. 2)
  40. Superman: The Third Kryptonian
  41. Superman: Redemption
  42. Superman: Escape from Bizarro World
  43. Superman: Shadows Linger
  44. Blue Beetle (Book 1): Shellshocked
  45. Blue Beetle (Book 2): Road Trip
  46. Blue Beetle (Book 3): Reach for the Stars
  47. Teen Titans, Vol. 8: Titans of Tomorrow
  48. Blue Beetle (Book 4): Endgame
  49. Blue Beetle (Book 5): Boundaries
  50. Blue Beetle (Book 6): Black and Blue
  51. Batman: Batman and Son
  52. Batman: The Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul
  53. Batman R.I.P.
  54. Final Crisis (New Edition)
  55. Batman: Battle for the Cowl
  56. Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds
  57. Teen Titans, Vol. 9: On the Clock
  58. Teen Titans Spotlight: Raven
  59. Wonder Woman: The Circle
  60. Wonder Woman: Ends of the Earth
  61. Batman: Time and the Batman
  62. Batman & Robin, Vol. 1: Batman Reborn
  63. Time Masters: Vanishing Point
  64. Birds of Prey Vol. 1: Endrun
  65. Superman: Action Comics, Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel
  66. Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin (The New 52)
  67. Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls
  68. Batman Vol. 2: The City of Owls
  69. Batgirl Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection (The New 52)
  70. Batgirl Vol. 2: Knightfall Descends
  71. Batwing Vol. 1: The Lost Kingdom
  72. Justice League Vol. 2: The Villain’s Journey
  73. Justice League International Vol. 1: The Signal Masters
  74. Aquaman Vol. 1: The Trench (The New 52)
  75. Aquaman Vol. 2: The Others (The New 52)
  76. Aquaman Vol. 3: Throne of Atlantis (The New 52)
  77. Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family
  78. Batgirl Vol. 3: Death of the Family
  79. The Movement Vol. 1: Class Warfare (The New 52)
  80. Justice League United Vol. 1: Justice League Canada
  81. Justice League United Vol. 2: The Infinitus Saga
  82. Batgirl Vol. 4: Wanted (The New 52)
  83. Secret Six Vol. 1: Friends in Low Places
  84. Bizarro
  85. Cyborg Vol. 1: Unplugged
  86. Midnighter Vol 1: Out
  87. Midnighter Vol 2: Hard
  88. Wonder Woman Vol. 1 (Rebirth): The Lies
  89. Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Path Of Doom (Rebirth)
  90. Trinity Vol. 1: Better Together (Rebirth) * 
  91. Superman Vol. 1 (Rebirth): Son of Superman
  92. Superman: Action Comics Vol. 2: Welcome to the Planet (Rebirth)
  93. Superman Vol. 2: Trials of the Super Son (Rebirth)
  94. Superman: Action Comics Vol. 3: Men of Steel (Rebirth)
  95. Superman Vol. 3: Multiplicity
  96. Superman Reborn
  97. Detective Comics Vol. 1: Rise of the Batmen (Rebirth)
  98. Batman Vol. 1: I Am Gotham (Rebirth)
  99. Batman: Night of the Monster Men
  100. Detective Comics Vol. 2: The Victim Syndicate (Rebirth)
  101. Batman Vol. 2: I Am Suicide (Rebirth)

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As I said in my last update, I’m keen to explore more comics about gay men, so I bought the two available trades of Midnighter. At first I was reluctant because the way I kept seeing the book pitched online was “a more violent Batman that’s gay,” which is a terrible pitch. Batman can already be gross and overly violent when written by the wrong writers, so the last thing I wanted was something even worse.

Still, he’s one of the few gay men in cape comics with his own series, so I sampled the book at Barnes and Noble before buying it. The opening fight was confusing and didn’t do a good job establishing who Midnighter was or what his powers were, and I don’t know if it was more violent than Batman as much as Midnighter takes perverse pleasure in beating someone’s face in. However, early in the first volume, Midnighter goes on a date with some guy and ends up beating the fuck out of some Russian homophobe before taking his date back to his place.

He was surprisingly charming. He didn’t bother with a secret identity. He literally uses his identity as Midnighter to pick up men in bars. Imagine Bruce going to bars and using that he’s Batman to pick up women. Plus, in the quiet moments when he wasn’t gleefully pounding a bad guy’s face in, he was very sweet. I was quickly won over by him. Where Batman uses his caping as a smokescreen, Midnighter uses it as a frame. He knows he’s damaged, and he thinks he doesn’t deserve good things because of that damage.

After that first confusing issue, things really do improve, and I highly recommend picking up the first two volumes. Plus there’s a crossover in one of the volumes between Midnighter and Grayson that was sexy as fuck and made me want to pick up the trades of Grayson when I’ve never really been interested in that character before–as a secret agent or as Nightwing. And, of course, I plan to pick up Midnighter and Apollo (the sorta third volume, sorta spin-off) as soon as our money stuff settles down a little.

Besides Midnighter, I decided to focus on collecting Rebirth the rest of the year. I couldn’t help myself–I wanted to read the Superman stuff, and people kept raving about Tom King’s Batman. I did grab a couple more volumes of Grant Morrison’s Batman run, and I always get some of Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman when I can find them cheap.

I haven’t had the chance to dig into King’s Batman, but I did read the Rebirth Superman and it’s actually really good. I prefer Superman to Action Comics so far. Tomasi has a way with writing the Dad of Steel that really understands the family dynamic of Superman. Action Comics is more, just…punching. It’s fine, and there’s some decent stuff in those volumes about Superman coming to terms with the possibility that Lex appears genuinely want to do good. That said, Jonathan is awful in Action Comics, although he does become much more tolerable in the second and third volumes.

Superman Vol. 2 stands out as a highlight because it features a team up between Batman and Superman…and Damian and Jonathan. Damian came across as insufferable as always, but Tomasi was able to draw some sympathy out of him that reminded me why I like the character even if he can be a huge pain in the ass sometimes.

Superman Reborn was okay for what it was–a zany, Silver Age inspired Superman story. I don’t mind those, but I don’t feel like it meshed with the tones setup in the preceding volumes. The ultimate resolution for there having been two Loises and two Supermen works okay, but the mystery behind the unpowered Clark Kent was a pretty big let down, and overall the antagonist didn’t jive with what had already been set up. It wasn’t properly set up, so it’s a twist that’s sort of meaningless.

Want to discuss books I’ve recently purchased or read? Any suggestions for books not on the list? Questions about the order of books? If you have any thoughts about this project at all, please drop me a line in the comments. I’d love to geek out about comics with you some more. Just please, no spoilers.

Happy reading!