Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Call Them As I See Them: Insidious (2011)

Horror movies are going through a rough times these days. Most of the mainstream ones that come out are either remakes or sequels and 9 times out of ten pure crap that doesn’t even put any effort into trying to scare the audience (i.e. jump scares). So when a movie comes out in the genre that at least tries comes out it is rather refreshing, and despite some flaws, that’s what Insidious is.

The movie is a typical haunted house type, a family moves into a house and when their son falls into a coma, weird/creepy things start to happen until they decide to do something about it.

The way Insidious goes about its business is a page right out of Poltergeist, right down to the science team and little old lady exorcist that shows up in the final third of the film to help save the day. At the same time, it does enough to give it something all its own, so we aren’t dealing with a blatant rip-off either.

The scares and atmosphere work, you are left with an uneasy feeling throughout the movie never knowing when something is going to pop up, where as most horror flicks, once things get quiet you can almost time when the jump scare is going to happen. With Insidious, it throws things at you when you least suspect them early on, so for the rest of the movie you are left wonder when the next scare is going to come at you.

Sure there are times when it relies entirely on a jump scare, but they aren’t as abundant as other films and are used to great effect.

Where the movie does falter though is towards the end, when they actually try to explain what is going on, when they bring in the clichéd old woman exorcist to come in and save the day. Her explanation sounds more like the ravings of some stoner/hipster that they just made up on the spot and it drives the movie to a grinding halt, forcing it to pick up steam again. This does eventually lead to some of the most intense sequences of the film, and to be honest, some of the more frightening scenes from recent memory.

Insidious is a good horror movie in a time when there just aren’t that many anymore. It is well done, inventive, and legitimately scary (kind of sad that it has to be a plus for a horror film these days to actually be scary). It is definitely worth a look for enthusiasts and casual movie goers as well, if at the least seeing what a horror movie is capable of when the filmmakers actually give a crap.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Trailers of the Week: 4/27/2011

The Debt

This was a trailer I saw a few weeks ago that I thought deserved a mention. Its a political thriller set around a trio of spies and a mission they undertook when they younger, with the story being told both from when they were younger as well as when they have become older and dealing with the consequences of what happened.

I'm a sucker for political/spy thrillers, especially when there is talent on both sides of the camera. With John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) directing and Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) penning the script, it has all of the potential to be an enthralling thriller. What makes this a great trailer too is that it gives the audience just enough of a taste of the story without spoiling any of the vital plot points to ruin the experience when it comes out.

The Debt is scheduled for release on August 31st.

The Devil's Double

This one was a big sell out of Sundance this past year. It stars Dominic Cooper (An Education) in dual roles as Uday Hussein (Saddam's son) and his body double, Latif Yahia.

The film is based on a true story/Yahia's book about his relationship with the Hussein family, in particular Uday. The trailer gives off the feeling of being a Scarface clone, with all of the excess and crime, you also cant help but imagine its going to have political overtones to it as well (for obvious reasons). With a great deal of unknowns out side of Cooper in the lead roles and Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day) directing The Devil's Double looks intriguing, but we'll have to wait until July 29th to see if it lives up to the trailer.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Call Them As I See Them: Limitless (2011)

So I’m just going to come out and say it, Limitless flat out sucked. I mean, it was really bad, and as far as storytelling it failed in almost every aspect.

The movie centers around a downbeat writer, played by Bradley Cooper, who after a chance meeting gets a secret drug that enhances his brain activity, essentially making him super smart. We then follow him as he quickly rises through the ranks of the financial world and dealing with others that want the drug.

Now where to begin…

For a positive, the acting for the most part is good, if not over-dramatic at times, the only real negative in this department goes to Robert De Niro, who plays a powerful business man that employs Cooper to assist him with a business merger. As typical for De Niro over the past decade, it’s a mailed in performance, that he cant put an emotion into the few scenes where he is called on to do it. Then again, that’s what he has done almost exclusively of late, relying on his star power to carry him, and it’s a real shame for one of the all-time great actors to simply not care anymore. As I said, everyone else is passable, I have more issue with the characters than the actual performances.

So let’s talk about the pathetic excuse for characters that Limitless has, Cooper’s writer is pretty typical actually, in all honestly I find he would do what most of us would if put in the same situation, use the new found abilities for personal gain. Abbie Cornish plays his girlfriend, whom at first we can empathize with, since she is clearly intimidate by Cooper showing off all of his new found knowledge. She then leaves him, only to come back right before the end credits. So instead of having him take a stance against him using a drug to make him into a new person, she simply gives in accepts all of the benefits she can reap from it. You see, now you just turned the character into a gold-digger as opposed to giving her some kind of personality or moral ground, so in the end, who cares?

This leads into a whole new issue with this movie, its actually a pro-drug movie. Cooper’s character suffers no real consequences for the fact that he is taking a supposedly illegal drug, aside from the occasional bout of withdrawal or guy following him, but these are more inconveniences than anything. When the movie is over, he is heading for the top of the world, ‘winning’ the girl and able to face anything. All one can take from this movie is that you need to find some drugs cause they are going to make your life better…seriously, did these people even read the script?

The ‘villains’ are a joke. There is this menacing looking guy that follows Cooper around trying to get his stash of drugs, but it amounts to little else than a couple of dull chase sequences, and there is a gangster that Cooper borrows money from who also wants the drug after accidentally ingesting some. For a drug that is supposed to make you smarter, this guy is pretty dumb and easily dispatched when the movie realizes it needs to wrap up soon. So Limitless comprises of Cooper’s life becoming awesome while people inconvenience him a few times, you can almost feel the tension oozing off the screen.

This movie sucks, its boring and poorly done, with absolutely no payoff for the time wasted to sit through it. It had its opportunities, but squandered them for no good reason. The only good thing I can say about Limitless is that was somewhat watchable…once. After you suffer through the let down that this movie is, you never have to do it again as it quickly fades from memory.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Call Them As I See Them: Scream 4 (2011)

I should preface this by saying up to this point I have only seen the first scream in its entirety, the nice thing about this sequel though, is that that’s really all you need to know to get what’s going on.

This movie is okay, far from great. There was a lot of humor that I think anyone who is a fan of the horror genre can appreciate that perhaps others might miss, and it does a lot to comment on and satire the current state of the genre (i.e. all of the sequels and remakes). Some can consider it giving into the same things that the film might be commenting on, I for one feel that it knows exactly what it is doing and I felt it treaded that line rather well.

With that said, there are some glaring problems with Scream 4 as well. The one that stuck out the most to me was the acting, which is either passable, or downright terrible. It gets really distracting when someone is attempting to be dramatic or sinister but fail miserably at it. Some of this can be looked over just for the shear number of characters that are in the movie, as well as the young and potential up and comers/those making a last ditch attempt at a career. It almost gets distracting the number of characters in this film, like the producers were thinking that they needed to cram as many names as they could into one film in order to keep people interested and it actually kind of works for the first five minutes or so, but by the halfway point its just too much, especially when you realize that half of the people are just cannon fodder.

The other thing that bugged me about Scream 4 is the same thing that most horror movies suffer from, and that is the laziness in the attempts to scare the audience, in other words, ‘jump scares’. A jump scare is essentially the cinematic equivalent to someone jumping out a yelling “BOO!” at you. Its not really scaring you, its startling very loudly. Really frightening someone means getting the blood flowing and heart racing, not just causing you to jump in the seat and make you uneasy for a moment. It’s a tactic that is cheap and only dilutes itself after a while, especially once you get to know when and where they are coming from.

All in all Scream 4 is a good movie that has its problems, it doesn’t nearly have the iconic status that the first film has and it kind of knows it, which is part of what makes enjoying to watch…once. The entertainment value loses its luster by the end of the film, its just enough to get through, anything else would just be wearing the joke too thin and it doesn’t have the horror elements to continue to scare either. Hopefully this marks the last film in the Scream series since its only going to sink further from 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Trailers of the Week: 4/12/2011

Kind of a bad week for trailers, but here are a few that I've missed


The story for this one is rather simple. A former MMA fighter has to return to the ring in order to care for his family, only to have to face his brother in the final round. Basically the makings of 90%of all sports movies.

Two things make this movie stand out for me. First off is the cast, I'm quickly becoming a fan of Tom Hardy (Inception) he's really been on a rocket as far as his career has gone, and its only going to improve when he plays Bane in Christopher Nolan's next Batman movie. Also, there is some very early Oscar buzz going for Nick Nolte, who plays the recovering alcoholic father that trains Hardy for his bout against his brother. Nolte has always gotten a bit of a bad reputation as of late, but believe or not he is more than capable of giving a really good performance. If I had to say his greatest fault as an actor is never reaching the potential he has shown in a few of his movies, allowing the outside world to overshadow them.

The other thing that catches my eye is that fact that it has Gavin O'Connor directing it. He hasn't made many films (this marking his third in the past decade), but among them was Miracle from 2004, which is a really underrated sports movie in my opinion, so hopefully he recaptures some of that magic for this movie.

Warrior is expected to come out September 9th

Crazy Stupid Love

Lately it seems as though more and more ensemble comedies are being released as of late, where we get a whole bunch of name actors portraying characters in a number of intertwining stories with no real focus. Crazy Stupid Love is kind of like that, but not entirely. It instead focuses on three select story lines rather than a multitude of them to spread out a weak plot.

The story at the core of this one centers around Steve Carrell, who is in the middle of a divorce with his wife, played by Julianne Moore. So in order to rebound he goes out to meet women and gets tutored in the way of modern women by a womanizer named Ryan Gosling. It gets a little more complicated and that, but essentially thats the gist of it.

I really like the cast for this one, Carrell in anything not related to The Office has always been good (I cant stand him on The Office), and the rest of them are primarily dramatic actors who have dabbled in comedy, but it looks like this movie will have a nice balance between both the drama and comedy to help that. Ryan Gosling will be interesting to see how he holds up, since this is his first role in a comedy, and this is a guy who is primed for a commercial breakout...well, at least for a breakout in something that isnt The Notebook.

Crazy Stupid Love is slated for a July 29th release date.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Call Them As I See Them: Source Code (2011)

This was one I had been looking forward to for quite a while, ever since I learned that it was being helmed by relative newcomer Duncan Jones (a little bit of trivia, his father is rock god David Bowie). Ever since I saw his previous film Moon it was clear he would be the new hot talent in Hollywood, much in the same vein as Christopher Nolan was after he mad Memento. He has a great ability to input very personal stories in to films that exist on a much grander scale, even if they seem t be by the naked eye.

The story starts out simple enough, a pilot is placed into a program called the Source Code that enables him to relive the last eight minutes of someone else’s life. It is up to him to find out who is behind a terrorist bombing on a commuter train in order to help prevent another attack. As a result he has to relive the same events over and over again, and slowly we realize that not everything is quite as it seems in regards to the Source Code (that’s all I’ll say in order to avoid spoilers).

The story could have been done as a straight forward action flick, but so many different elements are brought into play that it is able to become something far more, with discussions going on about philosophy, ethics, and the question “if you knew you only had a few minutes left to live, what would you do?” Unlike the other movie I reviewed this weekend, Hanna, none of this is thrown in your face either, it allows you to think about it and come up with some of your own conclusions to the issues raised.

From an acting standpoint, everyone involves give a good performance throughout the film, whether it is Jake Gyllenhal, Vera Farminga, and Michelle Monaghan, to the bit characters we only see or here from once or twice. My one gripe would be with Jeffrey Wright, who plays the scientist who invented the Source Code, while he is normally a very good actor, there are times when he falls into the clichéd of movie scientists. Sure it’s picking at the small details, but it was something that grated on me on occasion.

I also thought the ending could have been handled a little better. Not to give anything away, but I think it went on for a few minutes too long in order to give a more conventional ending that movie goers would enjoy instead of a more open ended one, but that is just a preferential thing.

Source Code is a well-put together, exciting film that is worth being seen, and garners multiple viewing in order to get all of the nuances that the story holds. In the meanwhile I look forward to the next film from Duncan Jones, it seems as though a real treasure of filmmaking has come forward, and frankly that is something Hollywood desperately needs.

Next week...Scream 4(*sigh*)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Call Them As I See Them: Hanna (2011)

A few weeks ago I chronicled Joe Wright’s new movie in my Trailers of the Week. The film was released this weekend and I had a chance to go see it, and I have to say, I was impressed. I have seen most of Wright’s other movies, and based on that I can say that these is probably the least of his movies, but then again his least is better than most others finest efforts.

One thing for sure, Wright is a technical genius behind the camera, he is really able to capture the beauty in each scene and provides a visual flair to the film that few others would, it’s a trait that carries throughout his films.  Given the fact that this is a film that carries a great variety of locations and environments, each looks more fantastical than the last.

When I originally, talked about Hanna I stated that the trailer gave off a feel of one of the Bourne movies mixed with fairy tale elements. That’s exactly what this movie is. The story follows a young girl (Saorise Ronan) who sets out to kill a special agent operative (Cate Blanchett) who has a past with her father (Eric Bana). We see Hanna as she travels from her wilderness home in the forest and coming into contact with the modern world for the first time. It all has an Alice in Wonderland feel to it, there is even a ‘falling down the rabbit hole’ scene as Hanna escapes from a government facility.

While I do appreciate the fairy tale elements that the film carries with it, where it fails in my opinion is how it handles the elements. Its just too much sometimes, like the film is shoving down our throats that this movie is supposed to be a modern fairy tale. It could have been toned down a little bit, instead its just distracting sometimes, and you wind up playing spot the reference instead of what is actually going on in a scene.

Everything else in Hanna is done fairly well, the acting is a little inconsistent, Cate Blanchett’s accent keeps changing it, while everyone else good performances. When there are action scenes are handled very well by Wright given that this was his first attempt at a film that handles such (a standout being a long tracking shot where Eric Bana is followed then fights of a group of agents attempting to capture him.

Hanna is the type of film worth seeing. There is nothing about that is extraordinary with exception to the visual feel throughout. It is a good solid movie from a director taking his first crack at a genre he hadn’t dabbled in before, and ultimately the results are satisfying. It just isn’t on the level of other films that would command repeat viewings.