Archive for November 12th, 2009

12
Nov
09

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity

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Quite honestly, the best damn tent-pole movie in a long time.

Starring Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat. Directed by Oren Peli

It’s gonna be rough trying to sleep tonight.

Before I get much further into the review, let me explain what I said in the first line. “Tent-pole” movies were ones that movie studios bank on to “pay for” all the other flops. Further insight: the Studios’ plan on one movie making the money that twenty movies will lose. The idea actually goes further back to when motion pictures were the “new technology,” and people gathered under tents at fairs and the like, huddled around a screen and watching a train pull up to a station or a cowboy point a gun at the audience and pull the trigger (reportedly several people ran out on this one).

What we have here is an indie horror film that delivers in a way that the previous horror movie, “The Blair Witch” can’t touch and light years away from anything “Cloverfield” could’ve ever hoped to be. Yeah, I said it. I put down my money and watched both; “Blair Witch” was a good campfire “ghost story” movie with an excellent marketing campaign (the webpage alone made you seriously think about the movie) whereas “Cloverfield” was an over-hyped “Godzilla” wannabe. And I’ll say it again: both movies fall short of this one.

Before I go much further if you have any inkling to go see this movie, do so. It’s worth the theater experience. And yes, it’ll scare the crap out of you. And stop reading now.

Still there? Alright. The story involves Katie and Micah (pronounced me-kuh). They live in a condo in San Diego. Micah is a day-trader who, encouraged by weird things happening in their abode, decided to invest in a high-grade prosumer videocamera. His live-in girlfriend Katie isn’t crazy about him buying the camera or even what he wants to use it for: trying to find out if their place is really haunted.

When they call in a psychic (Mark Fredrichs) to give them answers Katie spills the beans on her “haunted” past while Micah remains skeptical, videotaping all the while. The psychic gives them an answer they weren’t expecting: the condo isn’t haunted, but a demon could be plaguing Katie. Micah proposes setting up his videocamera to record their bedroom and what happens during the night, the camera firewired into a laptop and a mic capturing any and all sound.

Following this is the simplicity of horror that escalates: murmuring voices, their bedroom door opening and shutting, a sonic BOOM shaking the condo, and Katie being adversely affected by the ghost. Katie wants to leave but begins to believe that she truly is being the object of a demon’s affections, while Micah wants to continue videotaping and compiling evidence. Each morning Micah reviews the night’s videos and wants to know more while Katie wants it all to end. The demonologist recommended by the psychic is out of town, and the psychic himself doesn’t want to have anything to do with it, so they truly are on their own.

It gets much worse after Night 17. I’m still reeling from the final scene. You won’t see it coming…

With the lackluster return of the slasher flick, or rather the onslaught of horror remakes, I’m picky about what horror films I’ll see. The last few that I liked were “The Mist,” the first “Saw,” the director’s cut of “1408,” and “Session 9.” I can’t remember any other good ones (maybe “Murder Party”). “Paranormal Activity” got right what most current Studio productions got wrong: horror is about simplicity. The demon has a purpose and it will not stop until that purpose has been carried out. It doesn’t need to be explained by a lifetime of pathos or even some weird Nazi science experimentation with the occult. Sometimes the best horror is hearing footsteps and creaks in staircases, lights flickering on and off, unexplained shadows, bedsheets mysteriously moving, and the slow descent into insanity (or possession).

And these guys did it on an estimated budget of $11,000. Last weekend the movie grossed over $9 million. Take that next proposed horror remake.

If you haven’t made up your mind about whether you’re going to see it or not, just get up and go see it. This is the theatrical horror movie experience you’ve been wanting. While it’s fun to watch other people get scared, trust me, you’ll jump out of your seat as well. It really is all about the final scene.

My grade: B+

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12
Nov
09

Movie Review: Amelia

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On a round-the-world flight, she disappeared.

Starring Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor, and Christopher Eccleston. Directed by Mira Nair

This is the kind of movie that will eventually be played in history classes while the teacher is busy updating his/her grades and making lesson plans. For better or worse, that’s what it will be relegated to.

Hilary Swank plays the aviatrix who, as common knowledge and every “mysterious disappearance” TV show and movie points out, wanted to be the first woman to fly around the world. On July 2, 1937 she lost radio contact and the rest has been the stuff of speculation and America’s dark romance with the unexplained.

Gere is George Putnam, a New York publisher known for releasing the book on Charles Lindbergh. Suddenly smitten with the presence of the protagonist, he books her as a passenger on a flight set to cross the Atlantic if it can ever happen. With persistence and can-do spirit Earhart pushes for the flight to happen with her suddenly being thrown into the spotlight.

McGregor is Gene Vidal, a single father even more impressed with Earhart than Putnam. Vidal and Earhart become business partners in the world of aviation and a little more off the scene. Earhart breaks off their romance to stay faithful to her husband.

Eccleston plays Fred Noonan, one of the best navigators in the biz. Equally known is his alcoholism. Earhart, having grown up with an alcoholic father, warns him but he reasserts that he will not let it affect his job performance. He disappeared with Earhart on the day of note.

There ya go.

I didn’t hate the movie as much as I was disappointed, which eventually became ambivalence. I’m a fan of a good mystery and along with Flight 19, Earhart’s disappearance became legend. One of the problems with this movie is that it asks more questions than it answers and in doing so doesn’t bother answering anything. What was Amelia’s background before she showed up at Putnam’s doorstep? Why did she do what she set out to do? Was she a lesbian? Et cetera.

Instead the movie plops you into the point in her life where she meets the publisher and does a straight-forward chronology with minimal interruption of flash-forwards where she is hopelessly looking for Howland Island to land on. While there is some “creative interpretation” of her life’s events a good chunk of the movie seems to play out like plot points or a greatest hits collection of deleted/extended scenes.

And therein lies the frustration of grading or gaging this movie: it’s massively uneven. The director seems to intersperse the disappearance with moments from her life leading up to it but fails to give any mention of previous events. Either I’ve watched the programming from too many movies or this one’s story is really lackluster.

Nair seems to touch upon Earhart’s life as as if she’s afraid to make a statement about anything. It’s like someone asking you “do you think she helped champion the cause of womens’ rights?” Your answer is then followed by “well, what do you think?” I honestly felt like I was in back in school and each question (aviation, alcoholism, commercialism, lesbianism) would be featured at the end of the chapter and I would have to skip to the back of the book and turn it upside down to find the correct one (“There it is: seven”) One of the big themes noted in the film was that Putnam controlled her “image” by having her sponsor ads for luggage, cigarettes, etc. She brings it up to him one time and he explains it off, and she never says anything about it again, not even when more people hound her for that fact.

So much is wasted. I’m not a big fan of Swank but she does seem to carry on as if she doesn’t care that no one else cares, which may be a good thing. Eccleston and Gere have odd accents out-of-place for them. The cinematography had some beautiful moments. The soundtrack seemed to be made for a much better movie.

In my honest opinion this movie would have done right by taking a cue from “Hollywoodland.” No one really knows how George Reeve died, but at least the filmmakers gave the “conspiracy theories” on how it happened. And while George Reeve may have been less extraordinary than Earhart per se, at least the filmmakers gave him his do. Sorry for your loss, Amelia.

In regards to historical dramas, one has to ask themselves, would a History Channel documentary on the same subject be more interesting than this movie? On this one I’m gonna say “yes.”

TRIVIA: This is the first movie since 1994’s “Shallow Grave” to feature both Eccleston and McGregor.

My grade: a straighten-up and fly right C-

P.S. For more information on Amelia Earhart, read a book! Or go look her up on Wiki.

12
Nov
09

Movie Review: Where the Wild Things Are

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Substitute “wild” for “mild”…

Starring Max Records, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo and the voices of James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Chris Cooper, and Lauren Ambrose. Directed by Spike Jonze. Based on the childrens book by Maurice Sendak

Wow. They kinda sucked the fun out of this one.

It’s been forever since I’ve read Maurice Sendak’s book. My dad read it to me and my brother when we were younger and I vaguely remember enjoying it (as well as the “Reading Rainbow” segment on it). It’s this childhood fondness that drove my want to see Jonze’s movie adaptation of the 1963 classic.

No offense, but I’ll take my “childhood memory” over the movie.

Max is one lonely kid: his older sister Claire is more interested in her friends than paying any attention to him. His mother (Keener) is a stressed-out single mom trying to deal with her job and life as well as the lives of her kids. One night while having a dinner date (with Mark Ruffalo) Max acts up: he screams, climbs the table, stomps on it, fights and eventually bites his mom before running out the door, down the street, and disappearing from sight.

Max finds his way to the water and climbs into a small boat where he heads out into the water and ventures for parts unknown. From the ocean he spots a light in the forest. Might as well check it out…

Scaling up a cliff he wanders into the forest toward the light where he hides, watching the “Things.” One of them, Carol (Gandolfini), is walking around destroying all their huts. Max jumps out into the open and convinces them not to eat him and that he’s a king who conquered vikings. Lacking any real leadership they make him their king. He promises a new world, new adventures, etc., and they take him for his word.

And let me discuss the “Things” for a moment: they’re morose. It would be like a party of severely depressed people trying to “out Eeyore” Eeyore (the melancholic donkey from “Winnie the Pooh”). Yeah, that fun. There’s the headstrong Carol (Gandolfini), the whining Judith (O’Hara), her bore-holes-in-trees partner Ira (Whitaker), low-esteem goat Alexander(Dano), Douglas the chicken (Cooper), and K W (Ambrose) a woman who seeks advice from owls Bob and Terry.

Max proposes an idea to bring everyone together: build a fort that only they can get into. It’ll have a secret underground entrance and a machine that will scoop out the brains of anyone who dares to enter without their consent. Happily they all come together and begin working on fortress.

As a “team-building” exercise, Max declares dirt-clod war, dividing the group into two. They all begin to have fun until someone gets hurt and Max’s position comes into question and his power falters. Max must come to terms and grow up or face the threat of being eaten by Carol.

Maybe in hoping for something great I faulted myself on this one. I wanted something more uplifting, something to remember being a kid and enjoying the book. I didn’t get that from this movie. The
“Things” and Max were stunted in his age-mentality. Maybe that’s what Jonze was going for.

The movie isn’t entirely depressing. There were happy moments but for the most part it’s a depressing movie. Not bittersweet but humbly sad.

If I can say anything good about the film, it’s technically amazing. With CG blending in with animatronics from the Jim Henson company (creators of “The Muppets”), the “Things” are incredible to watch. Jonze went above and beyond in creating characters, nay, a world all to itself. Maybe he gave us all a bit more to chew on then we wanted.

I find this movie tough to suggest. It’s well-made but if you’re looking for sweet, charming, whimsical,
uplifting, and overall warm-fuzziness, it’s not to be had in this one. I’m just sayin’.

My grade: B- (with points for technical achievement)