Monday, December 5, 2016

Movie Review: Maggie (2015) and the A Bit on Zombie Films

Image result for maggie 
Maggie (2015) 

Starring: Abigail Breslin, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Written By: John Scott 3
Directed By: Henry Hobson
Release Date: May 8, 2015
Rating: B

Summary: When a man's daughter is bitten by a zombie, he must decide what he has to do as she gets closer and closer into fully turning.

My Thoughts: 
Maggie does something that you don't see often in your typical zombie movie and that's what makes it so special. What it lacks in blood, guts and gore, it makes up with it's heart. However, this film is not about survival, neither is it about finding out exactly how the outbreak happened. Maggie is about the bond  between a father and daughter and what lengths we'd go through for the ones we love even though we know there's really nothing that can be done. We've seen the zombie film done time and time again, such as in the comedic form (Shaun of the Dead, Life After Beth, Zombieland), the dramatic form (The Walking Dead) and the action form (Resident Evil), but what many of these films fail to touch on is how the outbreak directly effects the victim of the virus and their loved ones and this is exactly one of the reasons why Maggie stands apart from the rest of these kinds of films within the zombie genre.
Maggie, our titular character, is played by Abigail Breslin and the film begins with her telling her father (Arnold Schwarzenegger) that she's been bitten and that he's not to come for her. However, he does. Once he finds her at the hospital, he brings her home so that she can spend her last days with her family. The most important factor of this film is that Maggie is dying and there's no coming back from that. She will turn into a zombie and it's inevitable, which is why the film is a zombie film, however, there's a bit more to this particular sub-genre than that. Zombie films, while overtly disgusting and usually un-tasteful, constantly remind us our innate need to survive as a society. While most films within the genre build their worlds around this epidemic, the fall of society and the struggle to stay alive, Maggie takes a completely different route in exploring the different aspects of the zombie film. While there's an apocalypse occurring in the film, Maggie and her family are isolated from everything going on. They're far enough from the city to live peacefully for a while. But for how long?  Zombie films repeatedly revolve around the theme of survival and Maggie could've taken the route of the typical zombie film and made itself about an impending zombie attack on Maggie and her family. But it doesn't. It's about death, but more so about the acceptance of death. We understand that death is coming and we all know that one day we have to die because this is just a fact. However, as we we sit back and watch these characters in other zombie films try to survive, we're sucked in the more they get attacked. Why? Because like them, we want to survive. We want them to survive because that need is biologically embedded in us. And it's because we're so focused on them surviving, we tend to forget that everyone eventually dies. Whether it be by a zombie bite, a gunshot to the forehead or old age, these people are going to die and Maggie, however, is based around this fact. Though Maggie still has a bit of humanity left in her as she transforms and she can function like a human, the reality of the whole situation is told to us again and again. Maggie is going to die and there's nothing that can be done. She's accepted this fact, but her family, on the other hand, has not. 

Though we know little about Maggie and her family, we can see the toll that this virus has taken on them. Throwing out the idea that this film is a character study, like most other zombie films are, the point of it isn't to know these characters personally. Why? Because they're going to die, so the film doesn't need to create these in-depth introductions.We aren't supposed to explore their lives, partially because this epidemic has fully changed them to the point of no return. They're no longer the people they were, so the film strictly focuses on their interactions in the present with their dying daughter and how she lives out her last few days as a human. We get a bit of exposition simply because we need some sort of connection with these people, but, again, it's not the point on the film. It's striving to prove that there's more than guts, blood and other horrific elements to the zombie film. And it's as Maggie becomes more zombie-like that film transforms into the horror film it's advertised as, as most, if not all, zombie films are. There's guns, violence and blood and although the film is already slow,the further along she is in her transformation, the slower the film becomes. And the more grotesque and violent Maggie becomes, the more unnerved we are as every scene is ambianced with soft, unsettling music and even though Maggie hasn't completely gone full-on zombie, we know it's eventually going to happen and the scariest part is that we don't know when it's going to happen. Throughout the first half of the film, Maggie's parents ignore her virus. They know it's there, but they cover her wounds up with bandages and even Maggie wears sunglasses to cover up her newly turned icy-blue eyes, but soon it gets to the point where we can't ignore Maggie's transformation. And as Maggie slumps around the house, we're more uncomfortable that at any moment she's going to hurt someone rather than about the fact she's going to die. 

While there's an importance on death in this film, there's more of an importance about the acceptance of death. Again, everyone knows Maggie is going to die, they just choose to try and ignore it until it happens, so Maggie takes things into her own hands and jumps off the roof. In a beautiful, fluid scene we don't see Maggie actually die, but we see the parts of her we didn't really get to explore of her life when she was alive. As Maggie frolicks through the flowers with he mother, we realize that not only is death inevitable, but there's also a beauty in it as well.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Movie Review: The Girl on the Train (2016), Gone Girl, and The Unreliable Narrator Twist

 Image result for the girl on the train

 The Girl on the Train (2016)
 Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Luke Evans, Rebecca Ferguson
Directed By: Tate Taylor
Written By: Erin Cressida Wilson
Release Date: October 7, 2016
Rating: C-

Summary: An alcoholic divorcee gets swept up in a missing person's investigation after witnessing the woman's infidelity while on a passing train.

My Thoughts:
In 2014, we were dumbfounded during Gone Girl when it was revealed that sweet Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) had faked her own death and was setting her husband up for murder. However, that shock didn’t come from the twist itself. It came from fact that everything we’d learned up to that point in the film was wrong and the person who lead us astray was none other than our narrator, the one person we'd automatically assume we can trust. In Gone Girl and many other great thrillers, the unreliable narrator is a trope that helps these movies come full circle. But is the biggest strength of all these other films also The Girl on the Train’s greatest weakness?

In The Girl on the Train, we meet Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), an alcoholic divorcee still obsessed with her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux) and his new family. Rachel attributes the end of her marriage to her excessive drinking and the violent behaviors and blackouts that would occur because of it. We slowly find out Rachel is also quite obsessed with Tom’s neighbors, Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans) and their seemingly perfect marriage. After catching Megan cheating on her husband, a drunken, angry Rachel goes to confront her only to wake up covered in blood with Megan gone missing. 

In Gone Girl, we care about Amy before we even meet her. From her narration of the story, we find out that, like Rachel, she doesn’t have the best marriage. However, she and her husband are still trying to make it work. Until Amy goes missing, that is. While a majority of the mystery lies with Amy’s husband, Nick, (Ben Affleck) and his mission to find her, another one is playing out as Amy spells out their past. Who are these people? What have they done to each other? And more importantly, what are they capable of? Though Amy is explaining to us what happened, we do still have out questions, especially towards the end the of the film when it turns out that Amy was liar and she's set her husband up for her supposed murder. It's because of that twist that we immediately believe everything Amy has told us is false, but there's still a bit of truth to every lie. Amy explains that Nick abused her and it's even more compelling when we see it reenacted on the screen, but after the twist is revealed and Amy returns after being "kidnapped" by a crazy ex-boyfriend, Nick angrily throws her against the wall. This partially backs up Amy's accusation of Nick having a violent temper. When Amy explains why she and Nick's marriage began to falter, she later on tells us that those reasons are why she planned to get revenge on Nick in the first place. He stole her money and used it frivolously when he had no job of his own, he became cold and distant towards her and most importantly, he cheated on her. While Amy is our unreliable narrator because she falsified a lot of information to get Nick indicted for her murder and her words aren't to be taken at face value because of that, as I stated, there's still some truth to every lie. If these weren't the reasons for Amy to seek vengeance on Nick, then what were they? However, no one else is there to confirm or deny Amy's recollection of the past besides anything involving her "murder and kidnapping, so her side of the story is the only one we can believe, even after the twist. And even with through all her manipulation and plotting, we still feel something for her and we're still investing in her story even after we find out a majority of what happened is a lie and that's why the twist works to well. However, in The Girl on the Train, there’s not enough there to allow us feel anything for our main character, Rachel (Emily Blunt).

The plot and star-powered cast alone are enough to get people in theaters to see The Girl on the Train. However, these things are not enough to make you feel satisfied after you’ve walked out of the theater. We follow Rachel around as she tries to piece together who Megan really was and what happened the night of her murder, but the more and more she becomes involved with the investigation, we lose sight of who Rachel is as a character. Rachel's backstory is explained, but she's not the one to tell us about herself. It's because we're simply shown what's happened and not given any other context or explanation, the depth needed to connect us to Rachel is gone. We either like her for who she is now, or not at all, but she gives us no reason to like her. While we feel sorry for her because she’s unemployed and sleeping on a friend’s couch, she doesn’t really seem to care about any of these things herself. She rides the train to no place in particular every morning even though she has little to no income, she still drinks heavily even though she knows it's the reason for her marriage ending and she continuously stalks Tom and his new wife. As she becomes more and more focused on finding out who Megan was, she really begins forgets who she is and so do we. The whole focus of the film begins to shift to Megan's story and the more we begin to understand who Megan was and what happened, the more Rachel falls to the back-burner, even though she's the one trying to figure out what happened. This becomes even more evident when the twist occurs and we find out that everything we know about Rachel is a lie, but because we never really cared about Rachael from the beginning, the twist pretty much loses its power. 

 Rachel moves on with her life pretty much unphased by her troubled past as she’s telling us what happening in the present.This is happening simultaneously as clues to the mystery seem to Rachel’s hands whenever it’s convenient for the plot. Amy Dunne places us directly in her picture perfect life and we move through her life as she does. We get a sense of not only what's going on, but how she feels as well. We don't get this with Rachel. The power of that twist remains strong strictly because not only of Amy’s manipulation, but because of the connection between us and the person we thought she was as well. While both narrators flipped the script on what we knew to be true in their tales, they did so for very different reasons. Amy was manipulative by choice. Rachel, on the other hand, was not. Her alcoholism along with her manipulative ex-husband were what skewed her vision of the past, so she didn't  know that what she was telling us was a complete lie. Typically, the unreliable narrator is a trope that works well because of our intrigue with getting manipulated by someone we thought we could trust. Amy leads us astray with a wide, calculated smile and we're mesmerized because of it. Rachel's unreliability lies comes about by everyone else except herself and because of that we don’t even care whether or not we’re getting played at all.