Tag Archives: Films

Dodging Doppelgängers: A Review of Us

Film poster for Us. Image on poster is a photograph of one of the main characters holding a mask that is identical to their face. Their real face is crying. Content warning: mental illness, blood, violence, and trauma.

Us is a 2019 American horror film about a family who was terrorized by their doppelgängers while they were on what was supposed to be a peaceful beach vacation.

It was directed by Jordan Peele, the same director who released Get Out in 2017.

This is one of those films that works best in my opinion if you know as little about the storyline in advance as possible.

For this reason, my review is going to skirt the fine line between avoiding all spoilers and still managing to discuss the important social messages in this story.

Save this post to read after you’ve finished watching Us if you’re the sort of viewer who wants to know nothing at all about it in advance.

For everyone else, this will be a 99% spoiler-free review.

Characters

Lupita Nyong'o as Adelaide Wilson (née Thomas)
Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide Wilson (née Thomas)

 

Adelaide had never fully recovered from a traumatic childhood experience she had at the same beach her family now wants to visit on their vacation. Her hyper-vigilance and flashbacks were now threatening to derail the cheerful trip her husband and kids had been looking forward to for so long.

She was an intelligent, dedicated person who always thought through every possible scenario before making a decision.

 

Winston Duke as Gabriel "Gabe" Wilson
Winston Duke as Gabriel “Gabe” Wilson

 

Gabriel was Adelaide’s fun-loving husband. He had a trusting, kind personality and usually looked for the best interpretation of possibly unsettling events.

Shahadi Wright Joseph as Zora Wilson
Shahadi Wright Joseph as Zora Wilson

 

Zora was Adelaide and Gabriel’s exasperated teenage daughter. She was just a little too old now to still fully enjoy family vacations, especially when they involved a cottage that didn’t have Internet access.

Her hobbies included jogging and googling everything before she believed it.

 

Evan Alex as Jason Wilson
Evan Alex as Jason Wilson

 

Jason was Adelaide and Gabriel’s son. He was approximately ten years old and still thought family beach vacations were the highlight of the summer.

His hobbies included practicing magic tricks and pushing the limits on which words his parents would add to their list of forbidden swear words if he said them with the right intonation.

 

Elisabeth Moss as Kitty Tyler
Elisabeth Moss as Kitty Tyler

 

Kitty was Adelaide’s saucy childhood friend who always spoke her mind. Her hobbies included finding the humour in everything and dreaming of what her life would have been like if she’d waited until she was older to become a mother.

 

Tim Heidecker as Josh Tyler
Tim Heidecker as Josh Tyler

 

Josh was Kitty’s husband. Finding the right drink for every occasion was his favourite hobby. I understood him as someone who genuinely enjoyed alcohol but who did not have an unhealthy dependency on it. He simply loved the challenge of matching drinks to people’s moods and current activities.

My Review

Some of the films I’ve reviewed in the past can be watched while doing other things that briefly take your attention away from the screen. The first clue about what was really happening here technically popped up before the first scene even started, so I strongly recommend giving this your full attention from beginning to end. In other words, grab your snacks and mute your cellphone ahead of time!

Adelaide clutching her children in fearOne of my favourite type of horror is anything that comes embedded with a social message. The preview for this film makes it look like a slasher flick. While there were certainly elements of that horror genre, there was a lot of thought-provoking material that couldn’t be included in that clip for spoiler reasons.

I find it difficult to say much about what that social message was or why it was so thought-provoking because of how late in the storyline it was fully revealed. What I can say is that it is a good idea to have a basic grasp of U.S. history before watching Us if you’re not already familiar with it. Don’t worry about memorizing dates or names or anything like that. Just get a feel for how that country was founded and how it’s developed over the past few hundred years.

This was the sort of story that can be interpreted in multiple ways. There are at least four of them, and maybe more than that depending on which viewers are polled. Don’t worry, I won’t be listing those theories here. What I will say is that the plot gives varying levels of evidence for all of them and I personally suspect more than one of them is right. (Maybe all of them are right!)

The doppelgängers were simultaneously frightening and fascinating. Yes, there were  logical reasons given for their existences. Somehow figuring out what those reasons were only made them scarier to me. I really liked the way they quickly evolved from generic bad guys into something much more than that.

Gabriel and Adelaide singing in the car. There was one subplot that I wish had been given more attention and development. It involved the inclusion of rabbits of all things. I still haven’t been able to figure out why that particular animal was added to such a dark storyline. It’s a minor criticism of something I really enjoyed, but I do wish they’d either been cut out of the plot altogether or, even better, given more opportunities to get tied in with everything else.

The characters occasionally pivoted from terrifying experiences to brief moments of humour. That was a pleasant surprise, and it was one of the many reasons why I enjoyed Us so much.

So long as none of the content warnings involve things that you personally avoid watching, I recommend Us to all adult viewers.

 

Us is available on Crave and Apple TV.

Love and Regret: A Review of The Curse of La Llorona

Film post for The Curse of La Llorona. Image on cover show La Llorona holding the hands of the main character's two children in a candlelit room Content warning: deaths of children. I will be discussing this in my review. 

The Curse of La Llorona is an American 2019 supernatural horror film set in 1973 about a mother who tries to save her children from a malevolent spirit who is trying to keep them for herself.

La Llorona, or The Weeping Woman, is a famous spirit in Mexican and Latin American folklore.

She was a spurned wife who got revenge on her philandering husband by drowning their two young sons. After she died, she was refused entry to heaven because of this act.

I will make no comment about the rest of her story or any similarities or differences between it and this film. Feel free to read more about the legend of La Llorona ahead of time or start watching this with no additional knowledge of her tale at all. The plot works nicely either way.

The Curse of la Llorona is also part of The Conjuring universe, but it is a standalone tale in that series.

Characters

Linda Cardellini as Anna Tate-Garcia

 

Anna was a young widow who was raising two children as a single parent. A social worker by trade, she was well-versed in normal child development and how children react to frightening experiences.

Roman Christou as Chris Garcia
Roman Christou as Chris Garcia

 

Chris was Anna’s imaginative and impressionable son. He loved pretending to chase away bad guys.

 

Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen as Samantha Garcia
Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen as Samantha Garcia

 

Samantha was Anna’s independent daughter. She loved dolls.

Patricia Velásquez as Patricia Alvarez

Patricia Velásquez as Patricia Alvarez

Patricia was the mother of two of the children Anna had on her caseload. When Patricia was accused of abusing her children, Anna attempted to figure out what had really happened.

 

Raymond Cruz as Rafael Olvera
Raymond Cruz as Rafael Olvera

 

Rafael, a former member of the clergy, was the person Anna turned to for help when all of her other attempts to figure out what really happened to Patricia’s children and why her own children were in danger had failed.

 

Marisol Ramirez as La Llorona
Marisol Ramirez as La Llorona

La Llorona was the spirit who had killed her own children in a fit of rage.

Her identifying features are obscured for spoiler reasons.

Sean Patrick Thomas as Detective Cooper
Sean Patrick Thomas as Detective Cooper

 

Detective Cooper was a police officer who sometimes worked on cases with Anna. He had also struck up a friendship with her and her children over the years.

 

Tony Amendola as Father Perez
Tony Amendola as Father Perez

 

Father Perez was a local priest who had experience with La Llorona.

My Review

I had mixed feelings about this film.

The foreshadowing was strong and easy to spot. If not for the grim subject matter, this is something I’d play for young film buffs who wanted to learn how to pick out clues about future plot twists early on in a storyline. There were plenty of examples of this scattered throughout the early scenes.

Obviously, La Llorona’s story must involve the deaths of children given the legend that inspired this film. The backstory of why La Llorona began killing other people’s children after she died was shared with the audience clearly. I’m being a little opaque on the topic for spoiler reasons, but know that much of it was implied instead of outright shown. Honestly, murdered children is a grim enough topic that I’m glad the filmmakers stopped where they did.

I wasn’t a big fan of the way the plot ignored previous character development and rules that had been set up earlier on about how this haunting worked.  For example, one of the minor characters developed a grudge against someone else in the storyline. This conflict built up for a large part of the storytelling process only to be suddenly abandoned for reasons that were never explained. It lead to plot holes that I found unhelpful.

There was also  contradictory information about what the living could and couldn’t do when interacting with La Llorona. Sometimes she was written as a spirit so consumed by rage and regret that every shred of rational thought had been torn out of her centuries ago. In other scenes, she behaved in ways that directly contradicted that character development. Either interpretation of her could have worked, but it was confusing for me as a viewer to never know which Llorona we were going to get.

With that being said, this was a wonderfully scary and atmospheric tale. There was never any doubt in my mind that La Llorona was a malevolent spirit. Her intentions were straightforward and easy to understand even if her cognitive abilities were not. This was refreshing, especially in a genre that sometimes veers too far in the direction of romanticizing ghosts.

It would have been nice to have stronger character development in general. No, I wasn’t expecting the characters to spend the first half hour talking about their hobbies or dreams. This was a heavily plot-based story, and I respect that. But knowing about who the characters were as individuals would have made the storyline more memorable.

If you really love ghost stories and can overlook a few plot holes, I would recommend The Curse of La Llorona.

The Curse of La Llorona is available on Crave and Apple TV.

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Favourite Movie Quotes (and Why)

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and here to see the full list of topics for the year.

Four blocks that spell out the word hope I narrowed down this week’s topic to movie quotes only.

 

“Just keep swimming.” -Finding Nemo (2003)

Why I Love It: Sometimes this is the best advice for a hard day, week, month, or year!

 

“If you build it, he will come.” – Field of Dreams (1989)

Why I Love It: I’ve had multiple experiences in life that showed the value in putting in hard work long before you have any inkling if, how, or when that effort will pay off. More often than not, you will be rewarded when you least expect it.

 

“Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.” – Back to the Future (1985)

Why I Love It: This makes me giggle. It’s as simple as that.

 

“There’s no crying in baseball!”  – A League of Their Own (1992)

Why I Love It: Not only does this make me giggle, the context gives me hope as well. This film was loosely based on the first women’s baseball teams in the United States during World War II. The players dealt with many naysayers who thought women shouldn’t play baseball, especially professionally. I truly enjoyed seeing how they and their coach responded to that and rose above everyone who tried to stop them.

 

“This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” – Casablanca (1942)

Why I Love It: There’s nothing like meeting someone and realizing that you two would make excellent friends.

 

When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it, always.” – Gandhi (1982)

Why I Love It: Hope is something that should always be cultivated.

Come Tell Me Which Thanksgiving Films to Review

An overturned tub of popcorn and some gummy bears lying on an opaque surfaceToday’s post is going to be short and sweet because I will (hopefully) be following up on it at least once this autumn.

Over the past few months I’ve been working ahead on blog posts as ideas pop into my mind and I have the time to write them.

Right now I’m thinking about Thanksgiving films. I’ve reviewed many stories set during Halloween and various winter holidays, but I haven’t done the same thing for Thanksgiving yet.

This is something I want to change in October for Canadian Thanksgiving or November for American Thanksgiving. Maybe I’ll even be able to review films for both of these holidays!

The rules are simple.

Rule #1: The film should be at least loosely related to any speculative fiction genre: science fiction, fantasy, horror, paranormal, alternate history, etc. so that it will fit the theme of this blog. I am willing to stretch these terms to include films that might only brush against these genres lightly if you say they’re great stories.

Rule #2: The film should be something I can access legally by either purchasing it online or watching it on a streaming service. This isn’t something I’m ethically comfortable compromising on.

The films I’m currently considering, assuming I can procure copies of them, include the following:

  • Addams Family Values (1993) 
  • Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow  (2015)
  • ThanksKilling (2009)
  • A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973)
  • A Thanksgiving Tale (1983)
  • It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)

As you may have noticed, the year a film was originally released doesn’t matter. While everything on this list happens to be in English, I also have no problem watching something with subtitles if someone recommends a film that includes that.

I have two questions for my readers as I work on this project.

Which of these films did you enjoy the most?

What other Thanksgiving films can you recommend? 

Thank you all in advance for your input!

Extraterrestrial Discovery: A Review of Life

Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, and Jake Gyllenhaal in film poster for Life. All three actors are dressed in space suits. Content warning: blood and death of an animal. I will make one brief reference to the former and will not discuss the latter at all in this post.

Life is a 2017 American science fiction horror film about a six-member crew of the International Space Station that discovers the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars.

Unlike Europa Report, this film makes very few assumptions about what its audience already knows about NASA, space flight, or what life might be like on other planets. This isn’t a criticism, but I’d classify it as something closer to the horror or thriller genres than hard science fiction.

Characters

Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. David Jordan.
Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. David Jordan

 

Dr. David Jordan was from the USA and was the ISS medical officer.

He was so focused on his job that it sometimes negatively affected his physical and mental health. While his bedside manner was impeccable, I think I’d want him to have a nap and a hot meal before he treated me for anything more serious than a sprained ankle.

 

Rebecca Ferguson as Dr. Miranda North
Rebecca Ferguson as Dr. Miranda North

 

Dr. Miranda North was from the UK and was the CDC quarantine officer.

She was the sort of person who would double-check even the most mundane of tasks after completing them. This was sometimes a source of mild annoyance to her coworkers, but it’s exactly the sort of behaviour I’d want to see if I were working with an alien life form!

Ryan Reynolds as Rory Adams
Ryan Reynolds as Rory Adams

Rory Adams was from the USA and was the ISS engineer.

He was the jokester of this mission. His teasing was good-natured but could sometimes push the envelope a little bit too far because of how impulsive he could be.

Hiroyuki Sanada as Sho Murakami
Hiroyuki Sanada as Sho Murakami

 

Sho Murakami was from Japan and was the ISS systems engineer.

He was a warm, kind man who truly cared about his fellow crew members. Out of everyone on the space station, he seemed to be the person who was most strongly connected to his loved ones back on Earth.

 

Ariyon Bakare as Dr. Hugh Derry
Ariyon Bakare as Dr. Hugh Derry

 

Dr. Hugh Derry was from the UK and was the ISS exobiologist.

He was a trusting man who assumed the best in himself and everyone around him. One of my favourite moments in this tale happened when he shared a story from his childhood that I can’t repeat here without giving away spoilers. It was fascinating.

Olga Dihovichnaya as Ekaterina Golovkina
Olga Dihovichnaya as Ekaterina Golovkina

 

Ekaterina was from Russia and was the ISS Mission Commander.

She was professional and shared almost nothing about her personal life or backstory during the course of this film. One notable thing I can say about her is that she took her crew’s safety quite seriously.

My Review

Raise your hand if you love imagining what life on other planets might be like!

I don’t know about all of you, but I never grow tired of picturing what we’ll see on our screens if NASA ever calls a press conference to announce that they’ve found life on Mars, Europa, or some other place in the galaxy.

So of course I had to watch and review Life when I found out about it. While the discovery in this story isn’t of a little green man, it’s still something pretty spectacular. The trailer at the bottom of this post will give you a glimpse of it. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I won’t go into much more detail about it other than to say that just because a creature is small doesn’t mean it’s harmless.

Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal in Life (2017)One of the things that I would have liked to seen done differently with this film had to do with how physically dark it was. While the plot was thematically dark, too, that’s not what I’m talking about here.  I would have loved to see more lighting in the scenes, especially in the beginning. I ended up needing to turn off the lights in my house in order to properly see what was happening in the opening scenes as the characters introduced us to their work environment and gave us the first glimpse of the little alien.

Speaking of the plot, the horror themes were strong in it even though the main storyline was definitely science fiction. The scenes involving blood were brief and only happened occasionally, but this is still something I’d only recommend to people who like horror in general because of how much it affected the way the plot unfolded.

I was pleased with how much thought the screenwriters put into how the International Space Station would realistically react to the discovery of life that isn’t from Earth. While this would obviously be an incredibly exciting discovery, it could also be possibly dangerous. We have no way of knowing ahead of time how such creatures would react to us, if they pose a threat to our health, or if we might pose a threat to their health as well.

So it was nice to see the astronauts take this discovery seriously. They talked extensively about the precautions they took to avoid unnecessary exposure to this alien until they knew more about what it was and how its body worked.

As someone who has seen countless horror and science fiction films, I was able to figure out the twists in it pretty early on. It would have been nice to have more surprises thrown in along the way, especially when it came to how the astronauts reacted once things began to go horribly wrong for them. Their reactions were pretty predictable once the pacing sped up.

With that being said, this was still something worth watching. I liked all of the characters and thought their camaraderie was written into the script nicely. They obviously didn’t have much time to do non-work activities, especially once they made their big discovery, but I did come away from this story with a sense of satisfaction. I got to know them just well enough to genuinely care about what happened to them, and that’s always important in this sort of tale.

If you love horror, outer space, or thrillers, this film might be right up your alley!

Life is available on Netflix.

4 Things That Make Science Fiction and Fantasy Shows Worth Rewatching

Raise your hand if you love rewatching your old favourite sci-fi and fantasy shows! Over the last few months, I’ve slowly become more reticent about watching new films and TV shows in these genres. I’m sure many of them are going to be amazing once I return to chipping away at my humongous to-watch queue,… Read More

Wholesome Adventures: A Review of Frozen II

Frozen II is the 2019 animated fantasy sequel to Frozen. It is about Elsa and Anna’s attempts to figure out the origin of Elsa’s magical powers and save their kingdom from being destroyed by the elemental spirits of Earth, Fire, Water, and Air. It isn’t strictly necessary to watch Frozen before checking out Frozen II,… Read More

Righting Wrongs: A Review of See You Yesterday

Content warning: death of a parent, police violence and gun violence. I will be discussing the last two items in this list in my review. See You Yesterday is a 2019 science fiction film about C.J. and Sebastian, two high school students who are best friends, fellow science enthusiasts, and inventors. Their latest invention is… Read More

A Review of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Content warning: snakes and bugs. I will not be discussing these topics in my review. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a 2017 fantasy, action, and comedic film about four high school students who were accidentally transported into a magical video game and needed to beat every level of it in order to get back to… Read More