Last Month in Movies – August 2017

I have so many movies sitting on my “want to watch” list that I will likely never make the time for. Because when I watch a movie, it’s usually some terrible horror film that pops up randomly on Netflix. And that’s your explanation of what happened below.

Insidious: Chapter 3 – I really loved the first Insidious movie for totally playing with my expectations of what a “possession” movie could be. Plus, it had a certain video-gameyness to it that really spoke to me. Insidious 2 was almost more of a whodunit mystery than anything else, and while it didn’t hit the same sweet spots, I liked it well enough to shout at the folks who were chatting in the theatre while the movie was playing.

The third film in the trilogy is…. ehhhhh. It goes back in time to a previous case of the medium from the first two chapters. This one is about how a young girl accidentally calls forth an evil spirit when trying to communicate with her deceased mom. After our heroine gets hit by a car and briefly dies on the operating table, said spirit begins to appear to her in the real world, and all the usual wacky ghost stuff stars happening. There is a neat little twist to how it goes down, but it’s nothing especially exciting.

In the end, it was another one of those movies where I felt like nothing really happened. Because I had to pause at one point, when it felt like it was just getting going, and there was only ten minutes left. I don’t know, maybe I’ve just watched too many of these darn things. Maybe it’s just because there weren’t many scares like you would see in other horror movies. Or maybe it’s because they spent a lot of time building up the medium’s backstory, even though it really didn’t seem like it was worth exploring. However it works out, it’s the weakest entry in the series.

The Axe Murders of Villisca – And here we have a movie that doesn’t waste any time with unnecessary build-up, but remains equally disappointing. Well, I guess not exactly equally, because it doesn’t have a lineage that built up my expectations. Nevertheless, I was left feeling glad that its runtime was just barely over an hour.

This is one of those rare horror movies that is based on an actual true crime, but isn’t just a fantastical retelling of said crime. We have three teens, each with their own troubled backstory, who visit the Villisca House or whatever, where eight people were brutally murdered way back in the early nineteen-hundreds. After their scheduled tour is cut short, the three sneak back in under the cover of darkness to explore and try to communicate with the spirits of the victims.

Of course, this doesn’t go especially well, and each one is temporarily possessed by a vengeful spirit. Although, that spirit was angry because she thought it was her fault that she was murdered or something? I don’t really know. There was a baby ghost who talked sense into the angry ghost, and then a bright light comes out of nowhere and all of our main characters make it out just fine. Though the girl, of course, has her wardrobe trimmed down to only a bra and tights by the end.

Needless to say, the story didn’t make a whole lick of sense during the climax there, but the build-up was alright. Checking out the haunted house, coming to terms with our problems, that’s all alright stuff. Only, the characters were all kind of unlikable, so I still ended up not really caring. It’s just another one of those low-budget spook-’em-ups that really doesn’t live up to what it wanted to be, but at the same time, it’s not so bad that you’d want to put it on to laugh at with friends. And I just can’t get over the fact that Alex Frnka never once closed her damn mouth.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – I finally watched it! And I have a very hot take here: I think it was a lot more Star Wars-y than The Force Awakens. A better movie? I don’t know about that. But it certainly felt a whole lot more like Star Wars to me. You know, maybe I did like it better than The Force Awakens. Rey is super cool for sure, but I’m a real big fan of Jyn, too. And K-2SO beats the pants of BB-8, hands down.

If you are unfamiliar with Rogue One, it is essentially a direct prequel to A New Hope, in which the plans for the Death Star are stolen from the Empire. It literally leaves off exactly where A New Hope begins, too. There’s a lot of build-up to the point of stealing those plans, too, and Rogue One is that wonderful kind of movie where I’ll feel like “man, that sure was a great flick!” and then discover that it’s only halfway over. It’s just really wonderful in every way (as long as you don’t think too hard about the plot).

There are two major problems I have with it, and one I’m even on the fence about. Firstly: the CG’d people. Carrie Fisher was a little too old to pass for a young Princess Leia anymore, so they digitally painted over another actress to smoosh in a Leia cameo right at the end. She doesn’t look too bad, and she’s only on-screen for about five seconds. On the other hand, the fake Governor Tarkin is awful. They used a similar technique to digitally recreate Peter Cushing’s face (because he’s long dead), but he has a lot of scenes and looks incredibly fake in every one of them. It’s really too bad. I wish they had just found a different way around it.

The second thing I disliked about Rogue One is that every protagonist that is introduced in this film dies. All of them. There’s not a single survivor of the unique characters. Which makes sense, because they’re never seen in the films that follow Rogue One chronologically. It had to happen, but it’s so sad, because I absolutely want to see more adventures of Jyn Erso. However, I feel like this was a pretty ballsy move. No Massive Hollywood Blockbuster has the balls to kill off their entire cast. That never happens (and horror movies don’t count). So from the point of view of a Jyn fanboy, I’m very upset, but from the point of view of a fan of bold storytelling, I can appreciate the choice.

XX – At first I thought (and hoped, a little) that Netflix was recommending me porn, but it turned out to be “A horror anthology with elements familiar to the genre, but seen from a female point of view” Or something like that. I was so not enthused by this collection of short films that I can’t even be bothered to open the Netflix app and look up the proper description.

The Box is based on a short story, and is about a boy who refuses to eat after being shown the contents of a mysterious box. The Birthday Party is about a woman who has to hide her husband’s corpse the morning before her daughter’s birthday party. Don’t Fall is about a bunch of stoners camping on sacred ground and one of them gets possessed by an evil spirit. Lastly, Her Only Living Son is about a mother dealing with her problem child on his 18th birthday (whose father happens to be the son of Satan).

Of the bunch, I’d say that Her Only Living Son was the best. The embattled mother was a great and sympathetic character, worn down from constantly moving around the country and trying to hide from the Satanists who wanted her son. The Box will make you think the most, but it was just so boring to watch. The Birthday Party was a black comedy, not horror. Don’t Fall was the most typical horror story, but it was like five minutes long and as such, built up zero tension.

Upon reflection, I guess I didn’t really hate XX, but while watching it I was only drawn into the final story, and it was almost too little too late. Good on these women for doing their thing, but the overall product is more than a little lackluster. Her Only Living Son and Don’t Fall might be pretty decent if fleshed out to feature-length, but their stories have also been done to death, so.

Alien: Covenant – I’m not gonna lie, I’m one of those people who liked Prometheus. I know, it’s unthinkable. But that’s just the way it is. I don’t think it was especially great, and of course it doesn’t hold a candle to Alien or Aliens, but it was a damn sight better than Alien 3 and Resurrection.

Alien: Covenant, I would say, is the third-best film in the hexalogy. Like Prometheus before it, Covenant plays the part of a prequel to the original film, examining the origins of the Xenomorphs that plagued spacemen and spacewomen throughout the series.

BIG FAT SPOILER: It was genetically engineered by Michael Fassbender to be the perfect life-form and kill off all inferior species (especially humans).

Yup. That happens. But fear not! It’s also got all the Alien benchmarks that you’ve come to know and love: A no-nonsense female lead! Stuff happening on a spaceship! Facehuggers! Xenomorphs chopping people to bits! A drinking bird! Danny McBride! Oh, well, maybe not that last one so much. But he’s very good in this movie and one of three human characters (out of a total of roughly 130) that matter to the plot. Though maybe only because he’s the spaceship pilot.

And along with all those familiar elements comes a familiar plot structure. You won’t be surprised by any of the plot beats, not even a little, but it’s still an enjoyable ride. There is a massive doorway left open for a sequel, and in fact there are two more prequels intended before they finally come all the way back around to Alien and reboot the franchise or whatever. So, you know, hope you’re ready to go through it all again at least thrice more.

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