Posts Tagged ‘Karen Gillan’

Just when I thought the MCU might be getting somewhere —

About the only person more surprised by just how fucking much I loved Black Panther than a regular reader of this site was — well, me, but love it to pieces I did, and it’s an opinion I still stand behind 100% and then some. I’m not sure how much of the credit for its artistic success is down to the studio “suits” simply allowing Ryan Coogler to do something different, to break the mold, and how much was him actively wanting to while other directors remain content to serve up more of the same, but whatever the case may be, it was the first Marvel Studios flick that had a distinct look, feel, and personality all its own. It stood out, then, not just for its frankly profound cultural significance, but for its ambition and its quality. It wasn’t a two-and-a-half-hour episode of “Superhero TV,” it was something altogether more. Altogether different. Altogether better.

Say it with me in unison : ” but you knew it wouldn’t last.”

And maybe it couldn’t last. The strictures placed on an “event” film such as Joe and Anthony Russo’s Avengers : Infinity War are, after all, stifling at best, suffocating at worst. I mean, this is “The Big One,” right? The one they’ve all  been leading up to, and consequently (almost) all hands are on deck : Robert Downey, Jr’s Iron Man, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Chris Evans’ Captain America, Chadwick Boseman’s King T’Challa, Chris Henworth’s Thor, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, Don Cheadle’s War Machine, Paul Bettany’s Vision, Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, Robert Downey Jr. — sorry, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange (I get them mixed up because they’re the exact same goddamn character just with different powers), Karen Gillan’s Nebula, Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes, Dave Bautista’s Drax, Pom Klementieff’s Mantis — they’re all present and accounted for, as are Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel in their voice-over roles as Rocket Raccoon and Groot, respectively.

Even most of the “big-time” supporting cast members from prior films/franchises are here, albeit for pretty cursory “check-ins” : Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, Tom Hiddlesont’s Loki, Idris Elba’s Heimdall, Benicio Del Toro’s Collector, William Hurt’s Secretary of State Ross, Benedict Wong’s — uhhhmmm — Wong, Letitia Wright’s Shuri, Danai Gurira’s Okoye — hell, even Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury puts in an appearance if you hang around through the end of the credits. If you like ’em, chances are they’ll turn up just long enough to make you happy.

Which means, of course, that there’s little room for anybody new — the “Big Bad,” Thanos, has made some brief-ish some cameos in some of the lead-ups to this, but by and large this is the first time we’ve seen him take center stage (and Josh Brolin actually does some interesting things with the character, portraying him as more dispassionate and calculating than outright menacing), so I guess we can call him kinda “new,” but the only semi-major player we absolutely have never seen before is Peter Dinklage in the role of Eiti, and ya know? He’s pretty damn good. But then, he always is.

So the story goes something like this : Thanos is out to assemble the six all-powerful “Infinity Gems” so he can place them all inside this big, fancy gauntlet and wipe out half the living beings in the entire universe, thereby insuring that the half who survive can have it good what with less competition for resources and the like. But not so fat, the re-grouped Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Wakandans, and the heroes who usually go it alone are all going to join forces to try and stop him, because that’s what they do. Big fights ensue. Big moments occur. Big conversations are had. And it all leads up to a big third act that changes everything forever. Really. The whole course of the MCU is altered. It’s momentous. It’s gargantuan. It’s the most hitherto-unimaginable thing to ever go down.

Unless, ya know, you’ve ever read a comic book at any point in your entire life. In which case you’ll know that nothing really happens that can’t, well, un-happen.

The reason Avengers : Infinity War might be said, in purely technical terms, to “work” — and why so many people are leaving theaters all over the world in a state of absolute shock — comes down not to anything in the film itself, but to a clever advance marketing ploy, and that’s it. Ya see, early on it was announced that this was the first of a two-part story. Then Marvel seemed to backtrack on that and say, no, it’s not, we’ve re-worked this a little bit and now it’s a stand-alone film. And if you go into the flick believing that, then yeah, this is the gut-punch to end all gut-punches. But it’s all bullshit.

Seriously. This is no more a “one-off” than any of these things are. The status quo has been re-set in a very big way, no doubt, but who are we kidding? It’s only temporary. There’s one major-ish development involving the demise of a character (and that’s all I’m gonna say) that occurs before the balls-out climactic finale, and in theory I suppose that could stick, but everything else? Like Stan Lee infamously once said, “how much do you charge for a quick hand —” sorry, “don’t give them change, give them the illusion of change.” And that, friends, is precisely what this is. An illusion. A big, bold, brash, jaw-dropping illusion, to be sure —but at the end of the day, an illusion nonetheless.

For my part, what can I say? This hustle stopped working on me when I was about 12 years old. I need something more. And that’s simply not on offer here. This is a film that exists for the sole purpose of hoodwinking you into thinking that nothing will ever be the same again — and when you turn around in, I dunno, two years’ time, guess what? It’s gonna be like it never even happened.  So enjoy the re-arranged interiors while you can, because everything, minor window dressings aside, is gonna end up right back where it’s always been — and always will be.

This is what audiences want, though, and while that’s perfectly fine and dandy on the most obvious and liminal level — different strokes for different folks and what have you — when you spend any time thinking about it, actually it’s kind of depressing. Like Trump, Avengers : Infinity War (and, really, the entire MCU in general) is one big con job, and it’s a con job that’s winning. Once the initial shock of this film’s ending wears off, there won’t be a soul left wondering “oh my God, what did they just do?,” but there will be legions of people wondering”oh my God, how are they going to reverse all of that?” And I really don’t care what the answer to that question is.

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So here’s the thing about Oculus — like the haunted mirror that serves as the film’s centerpiece, it’s all just a reflection. But it’s a rather appealing one.

Specifically, it’s a reflection of pretty much everything else going on in horror at the moment, combining elements of the “found footage” subgenre with those of the “haunted objects” subgenre, shaking ’em all up a bit, and coming out the other end with something that’s hardly new, by any stretch of the imagination, but at least well-executed.

The project started life back in 2006 as a short film by director Mike Flanagan, and after the generally positive reviews given his full-length feature Absentia, a veritable smorgasbord of financiers (including the WWE wrestling juggernaut) came together and threw roughly five million bucks at him to go back to his earlier work and flesh it out (along with co-screenwriter Jeff Howard) into a full-length movie. The finished product does, in fact, feel a bit padded in spots, as you’d probably expect, but no moreso than anything else coming out of Hollywood these days, and while there’s (again) admittedly not much here by way of originality, some reasonably strong performances, a nifty if derivative core concept, and a heaping helping stylish atmospherics save Oculus from becoming “just another” horror flick.

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Here’s the deal : 11 years ago, a wealthy software designer named Alan Russell (Rory Cochrane) bought a haunted antique mirror, became seduced by the strange  secrets it whispered to him (not to mention the evil woman who occasionally stepped out of it), and ended up killing his wife, Marie (Battlestar Galactica‘s Katee Sackhoff) and traumatizing the shit out of his kids, Kaylie (played as an adult by Doctor Who‘s Karen Gillan and as a youngster by AnnaliseBasso) and Tim (full-grown version portrayed by Brenton Thwaites, youthful counterpart by Garrett Ryan) before Tim put a stop to it by pumping the old man full of buckshot. Here at TFG we like it when bad things happen to rich people, so hey — so far, so good.

The experience had remarkably different effects on the two siblings : Tim ended up confined to a mental institution, where years of “therapy” managed to convince him that the whole incident played out in a remarkably different way that he remembered it, while Kaylie went to work hatching a long-term plan to clear her family name by obtaining work at a prestigious auction house (and getting engaged to the owner’s kid), tracking the mirror (which had since fallen out of her family’s possession) down, researching its lurid history (pretty much everyone who ever owned it since it was first made had tragedy befall them), maneuvering to have it re-installed in her family’s former home between owners, and, the very night her brother is released back into the world. setting it back up with a video camera aimed right at it to document its “actions” before, if all goes to plan, ultimately destroying it with a complex swinging-axe contraption of her own design. Obsession or initiative? I leave it to you, dear reader, to decide.

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Needless to say, everything doesn’t go according to plan — not even close — and as our narrative unfolds over two separate timelines, we see the the mirror in both slow-burn action as it rips the family apart 11 years ago, and working considerably quicker in the present day, as it only has one evening to save its — errmmmm — life. Genre stars Gillan and Sackhoff both prove they’re ready for the big time with their performances (even if Gillan struggles at times to mask her Scottish accent), but it’s really Thwaites who operates as the audience’s central point of identification here, being called upon to both relive a past he’s done his damndest do forget/obfuscate and to save the day in the present.It’s a damn solid turn on his part, and one hopes we’ll see more of him the not-too-distant future.

Flanagan, for his part, transitions between the two time frames smoothly throughout, and manages to keep both storylines intriguing, which is no mean feat given that we already know how events in the past shake out, and he uses his (generally speaking) one location to solid, claustrophobic effect. Throw in some well-executed CGI work and “modern gothic”-type atmospherics and you’re all set for a fun and agreeably bumpy little ride that manages to make even something as innocuous as dead house plants seem laced with foreboding and dread.

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On the minus side of the ledger, when the film goes full-bore into “mind-fuck” territory towards the end, as the mirror (which, by the way, sure looks cool, doesn’t it?) begins altering our protagonists’ perceptions of reality, things get  a little jumbled and the overall effect falls more than a bit flat, and you’ll probably see the ending coming from a mile off, but screw it — at least the ride from points A to B is an interesting one, even if we finish things at more or less the exact spot we’d expect to.

Which, in fairness, still makes Oculus a modest accomplishment in my book. Maybe my standards are just really fucking low at this juncture — to the point where I don’t even expect, much less demand , anything terribly fresh from Hollywood horror and am willing to settle for the same old thing as long as it’s done with some style — but if we’re going to have another supernatural-themed “franchise” thrust upon us (and we are, trust me — this thing screams “sequel”) at least all indications are that this won’t be a shitty one.

It may not be much, sure, , but I’ll take it.