Mama’s Freaky and Creepy, but still lacks many things

mama

                Horror movies are indeed a genre that is always a hit or miss for me.  Sometimes they deliver the chills they intend, but many of the modern scary films are filled with too much cheesiness to make me jump or shriek in terror.  So once again I went to my local theater to check out the latest Hollywood horror entitled Mama, starring one of my favorite actresses Jessica Chastain.  Like so many of her films, I looked forward to being entertained by the lovely redhead and hopefully by the movie as well.  So what does this movie have in store for you?  Read on to find out.

From my experiences, many horror films today prefer to use the art of making people jump with things suddenly appearing out of nowhere.  While some directors know how to pull this off, many give away the surprise jump with camera work and audio tricks to warn you when something is coming.  Guillermo del Toro’s films though throw in some of these scenes, but instead focuses on another scare factor that affects me a little more: creepiness.  Yes my friends Mama is creepy indeed using a combination of many things to create a world that has a good chance of giving you goose bumps.  One factor that was a major contributor to the scare factor was the use of shadows.  From the very start of the movie the houses are covered in shadows hiding the mysteries from within.  In some cases, the camera is pitch black with only the haunting sounds and shifting shades to give insight into what lurks within.  Yet many scenes involve using various sources of lights to provide a false sense of security  that leaves you wondering if something will happen, which sometimes happens and sometimes doesn’t.  This unpredictable behavior kept the tension high for me and kept me wondering just where the movie was going.  Of course these techniques would be nothing if it weren’t for the human imagination.  What I mean is that hiding Mama’s true form for most of the movie allowed my mind to paint a picture of the specter that lurked within the halls and walls.  Oh sure a few glimpses of her here and there provided some input, but there was still enough mystery left to allow me to envision some horrible nightmarish creatures.

Of course once Mama’s form was revealed it didn’t agree with my imagination, but surprisingly still was quite a sight to see.  The dislocated joints, malnourished limbs, and disproportional faces were painted with a sickly brown color that gave it an added touch of realism to send tingles down your spine.  Unfortunately some of the scenes relied too much on the CGI to bring her to life and her exaggerated movements blurred into mediocre CGI effects.  What they lacked in the looks department though was made up for in the way Mama moved.  At first nothing more than distant floats and occasional bursting out of the wall, Mama’s behavior quickly evolved into something I hadn’t seen in a while.  The damage to her body gave it incredible flexibility that allowed her to contort into numerous positions that had the audience screaming in horror despite how fake it looked.  For me though the scariest movement was her rapid dislocated walk she performed as she reached out to grab the little girl at the same time.

A few additional creep factors had to be the little girl Lilly and the background music.  Lilly is the creepier of the two sisters as her silent demeanor and large eyes are a combination that will affect most.  Most of the movie involves her stalking around the house, watching from the shadows silently like a creature on the prowl.  When someone confronts her she says little as her large eyes seem to peer into your soul to shake your core.  As for the music factor, well it’s nothing spectacular, but it fits well with the scenes of the movie.  The piano in particular provides a spectrum of sounds to match the emotions sometimes implying doom, while other times giving an extra sound that somehow provides the desired effect.

Besides creepiness though, this movie doesn’t have many unique strengths that boost is score.  The acting is fine, with Chastain once again doing a nice job with her part, but other than sounding and staring creepily at the camera there wasn’t much to comment on.   Many of the characters were fine and had a little more development than I expected in a horror movie, yet their development was very linear and predictable despite the emotion they portrayed.  As for the story, it still falls into one of the tried and true plots that have been overused in Hollywood.  However, the way the story was developed was entertaining and well done in my opinion.  Instead of Chastain and the gang making random discoveries, the history of Mama was uncovered through a series of dreams, research, and hypnotic interviews with one of the girls.  While it certainly isn’t the best, I did enjoy the nice change in the delivery. Of course the ending was a little odd and took away some from the movie.  While I know it was supposed to be sort of a symbolic wrap up, but didn’t agree with the mood/setting the rest of the movie set up.  The prolonged scene also dragged on a bit too much as well, and didn’t deliver the nice wrap up I was hoping for.

Mama is a horror movie that does its job right.  Keeping it PG-13 was indeed the right decision as it allowed the crew to make a movie that could mess with your head instead of drenching the screen in gore.  Wondering if it is worth seeing in theaters?  I’ll say it is, but more for the horrifying screams and sounds, instead of actually story.  I also wish people precautions as this movie may have some flashing light moments that may cause seizures if not careful.  My scores for Mama are the following:

Horror:  7.5

Movie Overall: 6.5-7.0

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Chastain leads this Manhunt to Good Things, but lacks on others

Zero Dark Thirty

Robbie K back again with another review this weekend on the latest blockbuster film.  This time I’m covering Kathryn Bigelow’s latest project entitled Zero Dark Thirty (ZDT), the movie about the manhunt considered to be the greatest of all time.  While Bigelow’s last historical drama won the best movie category four years ago, I still wasn’t too thrilled to see this movie, since that year was more politics than anything else.  Jessica Chastain was the motivation to give the film a try though, as I have always been a fan of her work.  So what was my verdict on ZDT?  Read on to find out.

Immediately I chuckled as the message saying the movie was based on firsthand accounts appeared on the screen.  From those words I wondered just how much of this movie was going to be accurate and how much was going to be movie magic and dramatization.  Yet since I’m fairly ignorant to the news I can only speculate on such matters and how reliable these firsthand account memories were.  Putting that aside though let me continue on with the movie review.  After the message disappears, the horror of 9/11 is revisited as actual calls fill the speakers of the victims of the terrible event in an attempt to get the crowd fired up from the get go.  The first scene continues to expand on that emotion, showing the American CIA torturing a captured terrorist, taking no means to censor the inhumane treatment of a fellow human being.  While it’s not as bloody as some of the horror/slasher genres, the realism behind these scenes is enough to make any sane person cringe, or some other affect.  Don’t let this sway your mind into thinking this movie is just one big torture fest, it’s just one thing to warn you about.

ZDT is a really well done movie that has many components that make it worthy of being considered best picture of the year.  Bigelow and company planned the movie out well, bringing the evolution of the plan to hunt down Bin Laden to life.  What starts out as simple interrogation in the beginning turns into something much more complicated as the CIA agents continue to uncover the depth of the rabbit hole.  The suspense of the CIA trying to uncover clues, discover new leads, and obtain the truth is done in just the right amounts to keep one enthralled in the adventure.  Of course the adventure requires one to listen to dialog filled with military jargon, requiring one to pay attention to understand the turn events.   Should you become lost in a particular part of the movie though, don’t worry as the film is divided into chapters that are titled to sum up the theme of that chapter.  The jargon though is a necessity to fit in with the well-acted scenes of military planning and politics that agreed with my vision of how these military meetings go. 

By now you might be wondering if this movie is all about meetings and governmental big wigs arguing with each other.  While this does happen a lot in the movie, there are some other qualities to this movie that kept my attention.  As I mentioned earlier, the CIA’s journey to find Bin Laden constantly changes as more events unfold.  These events are a combination of character dilemmas, political intervention, and reenactments of some of terrorist attacks that occurred over the last decade.  While it is painful to relive these moments, ZDT has managed to recreate these events with extraordinary detail, expanding on the limited footage the news stations revealed.  Unfortunately the Arabic soldiers I felt were depicted to look like savage monsters out to destroy everything in sight, while the Americans were depicted as the heroes who could do no wrong.  Was I surprised by this depiction?  Not really, but I do worry about the consequences of such a portrayal.  Moving on though, the journey to bring Osama to justice doesn’t just change on strategy, but also the political involvement of the big wigs in Washington D.C.  At first thought to be an irreplaceable ally, the government quickly turns into a hindrance refusing to allocate the funds properly and give orders to back up the CIA’s investigations.  Fans will enjoy the pot shots the film takes at Congress and the president to state the weaknesses we already knew about.  Eventually the movie reaches a peak of suspense and excitement as the mission to bring him in begins, moving out of the meetings and video tapes, and moving into the hotspot battle zone.  Like the rest of the movie this battle isn’t the flashy explosion filled battle, but a strategic insertion with minimum firefights occurring.  Disappointed with that?  Well the realistic approach does allow one to see some pretty cool technology that actually belongs in this age.

Despite all of these great qualities though, ZDT’s biggest strength for me is Jessica Chastain’s character Maya.  The red head’s character is the central core to the entire movie.  Her character drives most of the plot, being the agent hired to look past the hard evidence and understand the mindset of a terrorist.  Instead of just taking an analyst role though, Chastain’s character plays the field on many levels collecting information herself, interacting with her fellow colleagues, and even forcing the government to do something once she gets angry.  As her career upgrades though, so too does her character.  Maya doesn’t just say a one dimensional genius through the movie, but instead develops a range of emotions that change based on who she interacts with.  While at the beginning she starts out shy and afraid of the nightmare of the mission, she gradually acquires more confidence and backbone that becomes her greatest tool.  These qualities though would be nothing without Chastain’s acting.  Once again the red head impresses me with her talent, somehow playing her character as if it was her natural self.  Not once did I see her overact or play the wrong emotion on her character.  She delivered her lines extraordinarily and not once became boring to me.  However, I felt the movie relied on her a little too much though as her character was the center of the movie.  Sure other actors were here to back her up, but many roles were brief in this movie overall.

The last part of my review talks about some of the weaknesses I haven’t already mentioned.  One weakness is the pace of the movie was a little bit slow for me.  Although I was very interested in the manhunt, I didn’t need to be subjected to almost 3 hours of political bickering.  While it did add some challenge and depth, I got tired of the arguments and constant reminders of what the problem was.  Another thing that I rolled my eyes at, was the American glorification this movie had to it.  Yes it did show some weaknesses to our proud homeland, it still made us look like we were the heroes.  Why do I care about this?  I fear it could influence the folks to select this movie for best picture for the wrong reasons.

ZDT is a well done movie with lots of great strengths and realistic portrayals.  Yet how much is Hollywood magic and how much is real I still do not understand.  All I can say is that Chastain’s performance was incredible, the constantly adapting journey was full of suspense, and I like the realism involved with the film.  However, there are still plenty of things that make this movie a little lacking for the best movie of the year for my books.  Oh well we’ll see what happens on the Oscar’s soon.  Is it worth a trip to the theater?  For me it can be enjoyed in either home or theater, but I would say probably best at home.  My scores for the film are:

Action/Drama/History:  8.5

Movie Overall:  8.0

 

Starting off the year good

Scarface, the Godfather, John Dillinger and now Mickey Cohen, these men have attempted to stand above the law time and time again.  For years, audience members have enjoyed watching the power these men have wielded as they spread a reign of terror across their cities.  Yet the organized crime world has had many dry spells in the cinema world, leaving the art of gangster tales to the television studios.  Tonight though, I was entertained by the latest action crime drama entitled Gangster Squad.

Now if you’re like me, you may have had your doubts when you saw the commercial.  The idea of a band of off the book cops uniting to take on the scourge of L.A. may have been a little far-fetched.  Sure Josh Brolin has a little bit of lone warrior in him, a.k.a Jonah Hex, but I had my doubts about Ryan Gosling’s role after seeing the movie Drive.  After all most of the roles the blue eyed, blonde hair star plays have been more about kissing than killing.  Yet the Gangster Squad seems to have opened up a new door for Gosling allowing him to finally take on the action genre.  Although Gosling still retains many of his chick flick traits, his character has some bite as he brandishes the weapon with L.A’s best.  The squad is awesome in this movie as each member contributes some quality to make it efficient, fun and colorful.  Brolin’s edge, and take no crap attitude drives the group to take risks.  Anthony Mackie provided some wit and justice, while adding some razor sharp knife throwing skills to mix up the action a smidge.  Robert Patrick and Michael Peña provide the extra gun power to the squad, though Patrick’s character has some well-timed lines that made the audience and I laugh.  Fans of the awkward Giovanni Ribisi will rejoice him again, as his character adds the intelligence and strategy to coordinate the squad’s efforts.  All of these characters had a chemistry together that complemented the chemistry these actors had with one another.  These guys were a great cast for this movie, each filling in their cop role quite well with no cheesiness or macho heroism.  Also contributing to the fantastic cast is Sean Penn, who not only looked the part of a gangster, but played the part as well.  Penn managed to don the sinister cloak, using a calm demeanor and merciless commands to get his way in the city.  Like the classic mob bosses, his actions speak louder than his words, as his soulless response to the ruthless acts makes you both hate and respect him.

Thus, this cruel tyrant’s reign and character are what set up the good plot of this movie.  Although simple and tired, Gangster Squad’s pace, action, and characters keep it fresh, fun and exciting to watch for the two hour time frame.  Unlike some crime drama movies, Gangster Squad kept a pace that didn’t feel slow to me.  One reason was the movie interlaced the plot and character development, with action that helped to break up the slower scenes used to build the tension.  The action scenes were executed perfectly to momentarily relieve the building conflict before bringing the audience into the tension of the scene.  For me the action was nicely balanced with most of the battles being longer than a minute, yet fast enough to not drag on and have you praying it to end.  I’m sure many will say the battles paled in comparison to the classic mafia films, but these battles have been some of the best I have seen in a long time.  Instead of a mindless bloodbath filled with bullets flying into and through people’s heads, these battle scenes returned to the classic style of combat.  Both gangsters and cops used the environment for cover, attempting to gain the advantage with some clever strategies.  Of course in any gun fight there are still idiots who stand in the open who can’t seem to hit anything other than the conveniently placed cars.

Have you gotten the idea that fighting makes up a good part of this movie?  Good because that is the main feature this movie has to offer.  Yet Gangster Squad does have a few other qualities that help keep things fun and entertaining.  The story is simple and easy to follow, and combined with the characters is suspenseful enough to keep you into the story.  Unfortunately the story is still cliché of a typical mob movie and is fairly predictable to determine what events are happening next.   The setting of this world is also impressive, helping bring you into the mafia world in the retro Los Angeles.  Flashy casinos, live singing, and sleazy crime joints filled with shady looking men are brought to life in this mafia underworld.  Other things to quickly mention are the camera work is good, the action is somewhat diverse, and there is some humorous dialog interspersed throughout the movie.  Yes I know it’s not much, but there aren’t too many things that stand out in this movie from what I talked about earlier.

Overall, I enjoyed Gangster Squad despite the predictable storyline and mafia cliché’s.  Yes, I’m still a little bias towards the action, but I did find the movie balanced on many levels.  I would have liked to have seen more from Emma Stone’s character, but the Squad itself made up for the lack of her involvement.  Yes there are still some things that need to be edited, but it’s definitely one of the better gang movies I’ve seen in a long time.  I feel that this is definitely one meant to be seen in the theater in all its surround sound glory.  Yet for those who don’t like mafia movies, naturally you are going to want to avoid it.

My scores: 

Action/Crime/Drama: 8.5

Movie Overall:  8.0

So until next time my friends, this is Robbie K signing off.