Unfriended (2015)

Dave’s 3-Word Review:
Cyberbully: The Haunting

Are you afraid of the dark? Great, now…are you afraid of skype? Well you should be! In all honesty, I think it’s a great idea to take the technical side of horror and expand on that. Expand on making things as real as possible – but real doesn’t necessarily mean scary either. You need a little bit of both – let your mind do the thinking once and a while. Instead, you get something a little tame, no matter how interesting it might initially be. I’m talking about Unfriended, the horror film that came out late last year? It has such a great concept, but the deeper you get into it, the more you realize just how lame it truly is.

Unfriended takes place entirely on a high school girl’s computer screen. If you are familiar with screen capturing software, that’s exactly how this movie works. She does everything you can possibly think a teenager would do on her mac computer – click, surf the web, chat with her boyfriend, listen to music. You know? Girl stuff. She also likes to group chat with all of her friends on Skype – which is when everything bad happens. A mysterious entity of sorts begins harassing the friends on Skype, iMessage, Facebook – anything really…and it appears to be an old friend of theirs. The only problem…is that friend committed suicide before the film began. Dun dun dunnnnn!

So there are things I liked about this movie a lot, and about the same vice versa. It actually fell into the same problem many other films face, and it’s really not their fault – it’s heavy on the technical aspects, but weak in the story. The technical side of things was really spot on, a lot more than other films like it. The sounds, the progression of actions, how everything looked. I mean…there was a heck of a lot of advertisements going on in this film, but if you a tech savvy person, it’s a serious relief to see people use Google instead of FinderSpider or Facebook instead of FriendBook. I get that it’s just commercials for the actual companies, but I’d rather see them than the fake stuff any day of the week.

If you pay attention, there’s also character development for the main character specifically. It’s not the kind you’re typically accustomed to, either. It’s simply how she acts and thinks while she’s going through her computer. How she decides to talk, how she corrects what she just wrote into something more logical. How when she’s hyperventilating, she’s making typos. It’s all very technical and in my opinion, one of the smartest portrayals I’ve ever seen from a Cyber-found footage film – which is a sub-sub genre that’s starting to make a name for itself.

On the other hand, Unfriended severely lacks in storytelling. If you want to make a supernatural film about a haunting, you have to do something other than internet stalking. There’s no way the ghost of a girl can hack into accounts, and remove system coding…which is something she’d have to do to gray out options on Facebook, or remove an X button on a browser. It just doesn’t make sense, and because of that, the audience simply doesn’t buy it. They might buy that the movie was filmed in a little over an hour on a teenage girl’s computer monitor, but the rest they’ll know is a sham. What ghost would focus so much on a Skype message…and would they be so vengeful that they’d use cyberbullying as an actual tactic. Is that somehow better than just outright haunting their homes? It just doesn’t make any logical sense.

I’ll admit I wanted to know how it’d end, even though you can probably guess the actual ending – the way it gets there can always be a mystery…and for a good chunk of the movie, it did just the right thing in order to keep the audience wondering what will happen next. Before I saw the film, I knew that it could potentially be the next Paranormal Activity, but it could also be something absolutely horrible at the same time. I like to see the bright side of things and say the technical side of things was actually done well, but who am I kidding? The story was awful.

The Good:

Technical things. It’s not a complete mystery why Rotten Tomatoes has this horror flick rated as a 61%, critics love technical elements in film – which this film had an abundance of. The one thing you can’t take away from this film is how hard it tried to make this computer screen absolutely believable, and it achieved that.

The Bad:

Characters, story, concept, logic. It’s really quite dumb, no matter how you look at it.

Into the Woods (2014)

Dave’s 3-Word Review:
OMG, just stop!

I like to see myself as a musical-appreciator. I do. I’ve seen a good fair share of musicals that I have enjoyed…more so than not. However, there is a guy in the musical industry that I just can’t stand, and his name is Stephen Sondheim. For instance, I hate Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street mostly for the songs that aren’t catchy, but instead repetitive and annoying. Into the Woods, on the other hand, takes all that and kind of brings it one step further by having a workable storyline and then completely destroying it halfway in. It’s hard to explain, so let’s first start with plot.

Alright, so this is the land of fairytales intertwined…sort of like in Shrek or more so like TV’s Once Upon a Time – and of course, it is filled with music. Now, the story is more or less focused on a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) as they are dealing with infertility. That is, until a witch comes around, promising them a child if they obtain four objects for her…which they need to get in the woods.

The woods in question is basically an international highway where all the fairytales cross paths. Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, etc. That part is really cool, and probably the best part of the film – how they were able to mix, mash, and weave all of these stories together was all sort of impressive. That being said, it’s also a flaw. As far as movies go, this was really jumbled storytelling from the get go. There were far too many characters to keep track of, and in my opinion, that distracted from the Baker’s story. He was clearly the main character because he was ultimately the glue that held the rest of the story and characters together…but because of a huge, never-ending cast…he was drowned out a bit. However, out of every flaw this film held, this was the most trivial.

Next comes the music. It’s a musical and music is unavoidable, that I get. However, it’s Sondheim. That means 90% of the film is filled with music, and not even great music at that. If none of the songs are sticking in my head; if I’m not singing or humming them later on throughout the day or week, I don’t think it did its job. In fact, the only feeling I got while listening to these songs was OH MY GOD, JUST STOP! – and I actually enjoy musicals! I can’t even begin to explain how annoyed I was with the music in this film…so you can understand my absolute rage when it overstays its welcome.

This is without the doubt the biggest flaw Into the Woods has: everything the plot sets up in the beginning – through all the characters, elements, and goals – ends exactly at 1 hour 15 minutes. After that, we’re given another hour or so of bad ideas and horrible writing. The events that follow in this film do not add to the plot, but instead subtract! It destroys everything the film had already set up for itself – making us question why we watched it in the first place. Include really annoying music that never ends and you have a film that’s just plain bad. Maybe it works in the Broadway play in which it’s based, but not here. Not here at all.

That’s not to say that people here didn’t do a good job. They did. There were talented singers and actors alike, and beyond that – there are some really nice set designs and overall visual imagery. Plus, somewhere deep down lies a very interesting and smart idea as far as combining beloved fairytale characters together goes. At the same time, I’d much rather just watch an episode of Once Upon a Time, because that’s a TV show – and doesn’t restrict itself to a certain time limit…plus there’s no singing.  This was like taking 10 seasons of that TV show and mashing it up all together – and THEN adding a bunch of music that sounds like it was put together on one drunken and lonely night.

The Good:

The concept.

The Bad:

Everything else. The music was torture, the pacing is jacked, and the writing makes no sense because it singlehandedly destroys what was actually good about the movie (see above). In short, this movie makes me mad.

The Random:

Johnny Depp, no one is going to believe you’re a wolf.

Earth to Echo (2014)

Earth-to-Echo

Dave’s 3-Word Review:
It’s live action?!

Out of all the found footage movies that exist out there, not a whole lot of them are considered kids movies. At most, maybe Super 8, since most of the cast is children. However, that wasn’t really a kids movie…it worked for everyone. Earth to Echo, on the other hand, is totally a family-friendly and kids-oriented film that implements the found footage template to tell its story. Don’t get me wrong though, some kid films are also entertaining for adult audiences, and I actually think that’s true here as well.

Earth to Echo is ultimately about a group of three friends who are more or less outcasts. They are each others friends, and that’s it. When a freeway is bulldozing its way through their home town, each one of them is forced to move and get separated from one another. During the fiasco, everyone in town’s phone goes haywire, so they begin documenting the strange phenomenon to get to the bottom of everything. That’s when they discover a tiny robotic alien creature in the desert that is attempting to rebuild its spacecraft and needs the boys’ help before it can leave. However, a questionable group of “construction workers” continually try to stop their efforts and keep the alien for themselves.

I’m not even ashamed to admit that this film lured me in. Immediately. You really love these characters, they are pretty funny at times, and you feel bad for them because they are forced to leave each others’ sides, and that becomes a serious theme in the film – abandonment and misunderstandings. It actually has some really good, real world points to make about issues that face kids and sometimes parents just don’t understand or recognize the problems. These issues, of course, were blanketed under the fun adventure plot of following a mysterious map and helping Echo, the cute defenseless little alien – but they are there, nonetheless.

What really shocked me for some reason, was that this film was live action, not CGI. Maybe it’s just the fact that I didn’t watch the trailer, but the movie poster appears to be CGI…like Wall-E or something.  It’s not a big let down or anything, I was just surprised once I began watching it…and it was a pleasant surprise. The film simply gets better and better as it moves on – and its ultimately a really fun movie that I would very much recommend for kids.

How is the acting? With any kids movie, you have to ponder if they’ll get the acting right, and for the most part its touch and go here. Some of the acting is great, some of it feels forced. That can’t be helped, but the nice thing about that is the fact that found-footage usually has the ability to make bad acting just look amateur…which contradicts itself to look real. It’s hard to explain – but if I watched Paranormal Activity or The Blair Witch Project without the element of found footage, I think it would suck.

The Good:

Earth to Echo is a kids movie, okay, it’s not a movie for everyone – but even so, it’s done pretty well all around. The found footage feels fresh, the social issues feel real, and friendships all feel perfect. Above all that, I actually believed these actors were filming everything…which I have trouble feeling nowadays for found footage, so that impressed me.

The Bad:

Like I said, the acting isn’t exactly perfect, because its just kids. It’s also not meant for everyone, so not everyone will enjoy it. It also tries a little too hard to be E.T.

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

Exodus---Gods-and-Kings

Dave’s 3-Word Review:
‘Plagued’ with disappointment.

I’m no stranger to religion-themed films. Most the time, they bug the crap out of me, but there are a select few that I do typically enjoy. Specifically, I like when films have a secular take on a biblical story. Noah, for example, was done really well and took a lot of smart creative liberties at the same time. I say it all the time, the books in the Bible are actually good stories with great morals, but are constantly butchered by preachy filmmakers who focus more on converting you than they do the actual story – so they never have the guts to, let’s be honest here, be realistic. I was looking forward to Exodus: Gods and Kings for the same reason that I enjoyed Noah. Ridley Scott has come out saying he believes he is a better storyteller for being agnostic, because he has to convince himself that the story makes sense first. Does it? Sure, why not, but does it tell the story of Moses the way it should? I’m not entirely sure.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that you’ve never heard the story of Moses. It’s been told and retold seemingly a thousand times over, and it has once more been repeated…but a few creative liberties were taken in Ridley Scott’s portrayal. When it comes down to brass tax, he focused on a more realistic variation of the story that feels unique, changes things up, and still somewhat fits in with the story in the Bible. The main problem with that comes down to how they dealt with God…which like in Noah, came down to visions that may or may not be real. The problem with that, is Moses always worked hand-in-hand with God himself…and that’s not true here.

To give you an idea, instead of Moses carrying the staff of god, and carrying out all of the events in the story (the plagues, splitting of the sea, etc), God basically tells Moses to stand in the sidelines and watch it all unfold…which understandably makes Moses upset in general, because he hasn’t yet let go of his Egyptian lifestyle. I’m completely fine with creative liberties because technically speaking, it was always God that made these things happen in the Bible as well, not Moses…I mostly just had a problem with Moses being sidelined. It was like Katniss in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1. While they both played important roles in the films, they more or less did…nothing. For a 2.5 hour long film, you can’t just do nothing.

Other than that, I can completely understand people’s insistence on blaming the film on changing everything. The story of Moses is an epic one all by itself, and you could almost see him as a Superhero with powers while reading it as a kid. For Christian Bale to play Moses, sit in the sidelines, and complain for two hours…it’s kind of disappointing to say the least. Now, it’s a very pretty movie, and the way they dealt with the plagues was awfully interesting and unique, but…you know…it was a little boring.

What you won’t see me complaining about, however, is this stupid argument on an all-white cast. Could they have done a better job with appropriate actors? Maybe, maybe not, all I know is that the cast we have did a fine job as far as acting goes. They were given a script and they pulled it off. Let’s stop shaming them on it, because out of all of the flaws this film has, that has to be the least important.

The Good:

Exodus: Gods and Kings has a pretty good idea going for it, and offers its audience a brand new and unique take on the story of Moses – which all in all, isn’t as bad as people put it out to be.

The Bad:

The biggest problem I had with this film was that Moses was sidelined for most of the film because God wanted to take over and get things done…which is when Moses just starts complaining all the time. If you thought this film was boring – that’s probably why. Another reason is because the film tried to be very realistic and the things you expected to see happen…don’t…or at least not in the way you were expecting (to be fair, that could be a good or bad thing).