Movie Review: Oculus

oculus coverTitle: Oculus
Rated: R
Genres: Horror, Suspense
Director: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff
Rating: 5 Stars

After the violent deaths of Kaylie (Karen Gillan, Doctor Who and Guardians of the Galaxy) and Tim’s (Brenton Thwaites, The Giver and Maleficent) parents, young Tim is blamed and sent to a mental facility for treatment. Kaylie holds on to the truth though: The mirror caused those and many more deaths before them. With the intent to clear her brother’s name, she tracks down the mirror and sets up an experiment to capture its evil. But the mirror is ready to fight back.

The remarkable thing about Oculus is how it wonderfully executes concepts that could easily fall into the realm of B-movie. The mirror is inhabited by an evil, ghostly woman, but rather than relying only on typical and stale imagery, she has her own personality and extremely creepy vibe going on.

oculus karen gillan mirror

One of the main concepts is that the mirror can warp perception. The characters, and viewers, can never be certain what’s real. But we definitely know the motives which gives us direction and context: the mirror’s self-preservation and utterly destroying the living. This builds a lot of tension, as how they react to perceived dangers can have huge consequences in the hidden reality.

The filmmakers were also to expertly utilize flashbacks within Oculus. Kaylie and Tim are brought back to their childhood home where the original incident occurred. Emotions are high and the threat is clear. Is it a storytelling mechanic? Are the characters just remembering? Or are the flashbacks the mirror’s doing, putting them back into a scared and helpless state of mind? Or maybe it’s a mix of all three that feeds into the uncertainty of reality.

oculus kids in front of mirror
While the ending could have gone a couple different ways, I was okay with where it ended, though I can see it ruffling a few feathers. There is also sequel, and pre-sequel, potential here, especially with Jeff Blum (Paranormal Activity and Insidious franchises) as executive producer. I would definitely would be all for more Oculus films if they’re as good as this one!

Oculus has jumped straight to the top of the list of my favorite perception-based and horror films. I highly recommend it!


FIND OCULUS ONLINE:
Website | IMDB

Movie Review: I, Frankenstein

Title: I, Frankensteini_frankenstein
Rated: PG-13
Genres: Fantasy, Action, Supernatural Thriller
Director: Stuart Beattie
Writers: Stuart Beattie, Kevin Grevioux
Stars: Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Miranda Otto, Jai Courtney, Yvonne Strahovski
Rating: 2 Stars

Ever wonder what happened to Frankenstein’s monster after the book ended? Well, I, Frankenstein will let you in on how the creature, now called Adam (Aaron Eckhart), is pulled into the war between demons and gargoyles. It seems the supernatural  creatures want to know what keeps his formerly dead heart ticking and use that knowledge for their own means. Or at least kill him so others don’t find out.

First reaction: This is Underworld meets the plot of Van Helsing. . . with a new crop of supernatural creatures. It’s not surprising that there are similarities since Grevioux has had a hand in writing every Underworld film to date. Unfortunately, I, Frankenstein was dropped into it’s franchise formula. While the action scenes are wonderful, as expected, this film just lacked the originality that could’ve made it a fun addition to the genre.

ifrankenstein-nighyLet’s take a look at those similarities:

  • Two supernatural, warring factions 
  • Dark and atmospheric, set mostly at night
  • Stunning fight scenes and VFX
  • Villain played by Bill Nighy
  • Outsider protagonist
  • Top notch soundtrack
  • Themes of betrayal, humanity, good vs evil, and fighting for oneself
  • Humans are oblivious to the unseen dangers and impending doom
  • Unlocking physical traits means salvation or damnation, depending on your supernatural affiliation

Even though I went into this film expecting very little but a supernatural slug-fest, I am still extremely disappointed by the unoriginality and some of the blatant, yet ill-fitted hypocrisy from the characters. Queen Lenore (Miranda Otto, Lord of the Rings) drove me batty the entire film. “Our war is fought in the shadows,” then immediately after has an all out gargoyle vs. demon war in the streets. Also, this war has been waging for how many centuries and you didn’t have a contingency plan for when they attacked your HQ? Ridiculous and irresponsible.

So, what did I like about I, Frankenstein? Clearly, I enjoyed the battle scenes and VFX, especially the transformations of the gargoyles to human form and back which can be seen in the trailer above. I’ll always love seeing Bill Nighy at work. It was also great seeing some newcomers to the genre—Aaron Eckart (The Dark Night, Battle: Los Angeles) takes up his first role as a supernatural badass; Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck) plays leading scientist and sometimes damsel in distress; and Jai Courtney (Divergent) was that obligatory ‘now where have I seen him before?’ character that looks a bit different without his dystopian style from Divergent.

All in all, if you just want some pretty fights starring fun actors, by all means, catch this one on the cheap. Otherwise, pass it up and look for a strong plot elsewhere.

Find I, Frankenstein online:
Website | IMDB

Music Monday: Lindsey Stirling Concert

First and foremost, Lindsey Stirling is ADORBS! She, of course, utilized her quirky ballet inspired violin dancing at the June 3rd concert at Myth Live, but she was also able to connect with the audience throughout the evening. Stirling was very thankful to her fans, especially when not that long ago no one believed there was much of an audience for her style. Tied into that sentiment, she promoted accepting one’s self and doing what you love with a level of sincerity that many performers don’t achieve in between songs. Topping off the list of adorbs, she showed a home movie reel during one of the longer transitions featuring baby Stirling doing cute kid things.

The performance was excellent as well. She was accompanied by her longtime bandmates, Drew and Gavi, as well as two background dancers. Building the visual experience, a giant screen inside a stone-looking circle brought the backdrop to life with different images, including fire, water, and even a couple of Stirling’s music videos.

After a pretty long wait at the merch booth, I snagged a tour shirt and the new album. But the long line was worth it. As I walked towards my car, which happened to be past the tour busses, she had started signing merch for her fans. Perfect timing.

photo (3)

Overall, I highly enjoyed the evening, but there were a couple situations that detracted from the night’s fun. The biggest annoyance was the number of people. Okay, okay, it was a sold-out show. And yes, I didn’t show up early to get that prime spot by the stage. However, I have been to sold-out shows at the Myth before and at none of those shows did I find it impossible to walk to 1) the bathroom, 2) the bar, 3) a decent sightline as at Stirling’s show. I don’t know whether people had not shown up at those previous shows, or someone flubbed on the ticket amounts that night, but Stirling’s show definitely felt oversold. Enough so that some people were continually going up and down the stairs so they could get a glimpse of the stage.

The next issue I encountered is a bit more of a social commentary that I’ll keep brief. When I finally found a spot in the crowd where I could see a fraction of the stage’s action, the surrounding smart phones became reverse telescopes. The young ladies in front of me felt the need to record almost every song played, or take a bajillion photos. I’m totally cool if someone wants to record their favorite song or a fan favorite (Stirling did beautiful covers of John Legend’s “All of Me” and the Legend of Zelda theme), but I don’t understand why people want to watch through their phones instead of with their own eyes. And I surely didn’t appreciate seeing 75% of the show minimized on a screen.

TLDR;

  • Lindsey is adorbs
  • Performance was incredible
  • Venue felt overcrowded
  • Please don’t make me watch the stage through your phone

FIND LINDSEY STIRLING ONLINE
Website | Youtube | Soundcloud

Movie Review: My Soul to Take

Title: My Soul to Takemy soul to take
Rated: R
Genres: Horror, Suspense
Director & Writer: Wes Craven
Stars: Max Thierot, John Magaro, Denzel Whitaker
Rating: 3.5 Stars

The Riverton Ripper’s murder spree came to an end 16 years ago. He didn’t go without a fight. No, the Ripper is the type of villain who doesn’t stay down, no matter how many wounds he’s taken, and then makes an oath to kill the people left alive. Well, surprise surprise, after an impressive attempt by police officers and paramedics, the Ripper’s body vanishes.

Each year the teens who were born the day the Ripper died perform a little ritual to keep the murderer from fulfilling his murderous vow. But during the sixteenth year, they’re prevented from completing it and the murders begin anew, starting with them.

My Soul to Take has a lot of the classic horror tropes including the villain that just won’t die, a ritual, teen protagonist, a curse, and questionable sanity, as well as many of the ‘high school’ tropes. I loved this. While I enjoy many modern horror films, I find more often than not that they shy away from the psychological horror and jump straight to the gore.

my soul to take bug

The best part of the film for me was the main character, Bug (Max Thierot). He’s very timid, shy, and innocent, but with an underlying darkness. He’ll fall into moments where he acts very strangely and doesn’t even know he’s creeping out the other characters. He actually grows throughout the film too. He sheds those innocent and shy tendencies as the film progresses.

Even though I had fun watching My Soul to Take, it did have its flaws, mostly in the form of ‘could-have-beens.’ Craven sets up an interesting connection with the teens and the Ripper, but he doesn’t go very far with it. The Ripper seemed to have been collecting the souls of his victims and housing them in his body. The teens seemed to reflect some of those soul’s characteristics. It doesn’t go much further than that set up, nor do we really get an explanation of why. There could have definitely been some amazing plot if it was explored further.

Generally, it watches as a fairly mediocre horror flick, especially if you compare it to most of Craven’s other films. Despite that, and the less-than-stellar critic response, I enjoyed it and can see myself watching it again when I need a fix of teen horror.

FIND MY SOUL TO TAKE ONLINE:
Website | IMDB

Book Review: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

hyperbole and a half cover

 Title: Hyperbole and a Half

Author: Allie Brosh

Rating: 5 Stars

Genres: Humor, Memoir

During one of my trips to the local bookstore, I noticed Hyperbole and a Half’s bright, yellow cover surrounded by the muted greys and blacks of other recent titles. As a fan of the website with the same name, I knew I had to pick it up. Especially when the back cover’s description reads as magical as this:

hyperbole back cover

For those not familiar with her blog, Allie Brosh irreverently depicts her life’s events and situations with illustrated stories in a purposefully simplistic style. Pro-tip: Because of the simplicity, she’s possibly the best at bringing the young, stubborn, and frequently one-track child perspective to life convincingly.

The Hyperbole and a Half book mixes both new and previously featured stories. A couple of my (and fan) favorites that made it in include “The God of Cake,” “Dinosaur (The Goose Story),” and “This is Why I’ll Never be an Adult.” My favorite book-exclusive story is titled “Warning Signs,” in which Brosh hilariously replies to a letter she wrote as a 10 year old to her adult self.

godofcake”The God of Cake” has an almighty NEED

While one of my favorites, “The Alot is Better Than You at Everything,” didn’t make it in, that just makes me hope there will be a sequel. *Fingers crossed* Either way, I’ll be revisiting the book and blog quite a few times.

Also good to note, this book is printed on wonderful paper! It’s meant for images. It isn’t your low-quality, sometimes-smudgy paper that will die unless carefully preserved in plastic. No, this paper will last a long time. Bonus: The paper makes the book hefty so you can bludgeon anyone who makes the mistake of trying to destroy you laughter times by stealing it.

Allie Brosh

FIND HYPERBOLE AND A HALF
& ALLIE BROSH ONLINE:
Blog | Facebook | Twitter

Game Review: BADLAND

BADLAND-worlds
Title:
BADLAND
Type: iPhone app
Genres: Side-scroller, action adventure, puzzle
Developer: Frogmind
Rating: 5 Stars

I was instantly drawn to the atmospheric art in BADLAND. It’s as if a space station crash landed and a few hundred years of forest growth had taken it over. Yet, there are still functioning gears, saws, and exploding elements. And a host of silhouetted bunnies that stare creepily at you from the background.

And then we have our character, a pudgy thing that flies. I’ve taken to calling them ‘hedgies’ since they look remarkably similar to a squeaking hedgehog toy my dog gets overly possessive about. The hedgies move in response to screen tapping—if you hold your finger down, he flies to the top of the screen, let go and he falls to the ground. A multitude of things can happen to the hedgies from power ups: grow, shrink, multiply, spin, or get super sticky.

Pretty simple, yeah? Well, some of the puzzles and obstacles become quite difficult. Bombs sometimes look like just a normal part of the scenery; other times spiky balls of death look like a bomb that might propel hedgie through the landscape. Some puzzles take two or three plays just to find out what you need to do. Then getting the timing and luck right may take 5+ more.

While some of the trickier puzzles make me want to throw my phone across the room (a desire I have so far kept at bay), I cannot stop playing. I become a little masochistic with difficult, yet simplistic puzzles—playing until I’m a fuming ball of hate, and then I keep going. Yet despite that, these are my favorite. It’s a gorgeous challenge with a mix of thinking, timing, and dexterity.

badland multiplayer

Not only can I become a fuming ball of hate in single player, but I can also attempt to ruin my friendships with multi-player mode! A player wins if their hedgie survives the longest or they have more points from course time and clones saved. Levels are filled with the same tricky traps as single player, but now opponents can kill their rivals by pushing them off screen, squishing them, and knocking them into traps. At least with consoles there is a slight distance, but on the iPhone or iPad the potential ex-friends are huddled close with easy elbow jabbing potential.

Despite all of that, I love this game. I highly recommend it for fans of Portal, Jetpack Joyride, Limbo, and Super Meat Boy.

Find BADLAND online:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | App Store

Music Monday: Zombies!

This past weekend I participated in Run For Your Lives, a zombie-themed 5K obstacle race. Instead of running, I chose to be a zombie, staggering after racers. After I checked in, workers custom shred my clothes, gave us the undead look, and literally threw handfuls and buckets of fake blood on us.

It was tons of fun. I even found a zombie Goku! So of course I had to take advantage of this photo op.

Zombie Goku Fusion

FUUUUU-SIOOOOON-HAAAAAA!!!!

In honor of this undead experience, I present to you six songs that feature zombies.

1. “Zombie” by Family Force 5

 

2. “Stagger Slide” by Dance Band

 

3. “Zombie Jamboree” by Jack Jeans (Harry Belafonte Cover)

 

4. “Zombie Prostitute” by Voltaire

 

5. “Zombie” by The Cranberries

 

6. “Zombie Dance” by Escape the Fate