Friday, August 27, 2010

Review: The Last Exorcism (2010)

Produced by Eli Roth (Hostel, Cabin Fever) and directed by Daniel Stamm, The Last Exorcism takes us alongside Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), through his last exorcism that he has agreed to perform while being filmed by a documentary film crew to show how much of a scam the whole process really is. As the events unfolding at the farm grow more and more mysterious, Cotton can't help but question his doubts that demons exist in the world. The Last Exorcism can be best described as a blend of Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, and the Blair Witch Project. The film consists of three diverse elements: horror, suspense, and a relieving presence of comedy in the film's early scenes. Exorcism does a fine job of mood transition throughout the film's running time of 100 minutes. The beginning of the film is a vessel for encouraging the audience to become familiar and fascinated with Cotton's charm. The middle of Exorcism plants a question in the viewer's mind of whether what is going on is supernatural or a mental illness. And the end leaves the viewer either captivated or angry depending on whether or not they appreciate quality film-making, or are expecting a hollywood ending. Fabian, primarily spending most of his career on the television screen, brought to the big screen a character that I believe no one else could have delivered. This was a character with enough individuality to carry his own movie- it was simply a plus that the rest of the movie satisfied. The suspense and fear administered on the audience was almost too tense at times (just the way I like it), leaving viewers anticipating the unknown. There came a point near the film's end that I questioned if it was over (and I would have been fine with that), but it only improved and continued on a path that I could have only dreamed of as a horror fan. From the top-notch acting portrayed by both Patrick Fabian and the recently introduced Ashley Bell in the title roles, to the admirable direction and camera-work, I give this arguably flawless horror flick 4 stars.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Review: Piranha 3D (2010)

Piranha 3D, directed by Alexandre Aja, stars Elizebeth Shue, Jerry O'Connell, (Stand by Me), and Ving Rhames. The film follows a high-schooler named Jake Forester (Steven R. McQueen), who has finally spent enough summers baby-sitting that he can't endure it any longer. As his mother (Shue) is patrolling the lake, he decides not to baby-sit and to partake in the summer festivities, only to find that he chose the worst day to do so. A sudden underwater tremor has set a large group of prehistoric piranhas loose into the college student populated city lake. Much like Snakes on a Plane, Piranha promises four things: laughs, gore, summer fun, and nudity. Not only does this flick meet these standards, but it exceeds them with its use of 3D technology. Sure, this 3D phase seems to be growing old all over again, until Piranha delivered 3D boobies (yeah, I said it). This film won't win any oscars, and the plot is considerably laughable, but it never promised to be anything more than just that. A film including Ving Rhames using a propeller to kill evil fish, 3D nudity, Christopher Lloyd, excessive gore and language, and lines like: "I think they took my penis!" should not be judged on a dramatic scale- and I won't. Despite the comical plot, sub-par acting, and overall absurdity of the film, Piranha distributed a fun way to spend 90 minutes- earning it 3 stars.

Reviews from the Vault: Kalifornia (1992)

Dominic Sena's Kalifornia tells the story of a serial killer-enthused journalist named Brian Kessler (David Dachovny) and his partner Carrie (Michelle Forbes). The duo suits up for a road trip to travel the country stopping at famous murder sights as Brian writes his novel with the final destination being California. A white-trash couple-- Early (Brad Pitt) and Adele (Juliette Lewis)-- having had their sites set on California for some time, decide to ride along. As the trip continues, Early's twisted side becomes more and more apparent, leading Brian and Carrie to believe that they may be in the very presence of a killer. Kalifornia is tense, not only in its final scenes, but from the moment the protagonist is placed in a car with a mad man. The viewer knows from the first thirty seconds of the film that Early is a deranged sociopath. It is the characters that are ignorant of the danger they are in, leaving the viewer on the edge of their seat awaiting conflict. Unlike similar thrillers, Kalifornia does not end moments after the good guys find out who the bad guy is-- there's another thirty minutes of tension that follow, inclining to a triumphant ending. With a disturbing performance from Pitt accompanied by his passionately naive partner well played by Juliette Lewis, and a convincing portrayal of a dedicated journalist by Dachovny along-side his increasingly suspicious partner (Forbes), the viewer is equally attached to both couples of the film. Kalifornia delivers the chills and thrills that the premise promises, earning it a solid 3 stars.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Reviews from the Vault: Brick (2005)

Writer/Director Rian Johnson's Brick tells the tale of Brendan Frye (Joseph-Gordon Levitt), a high school student that is having a hard time finding his missing ex-girlfriend Emily. The more Brendan searches, the further away she seems. As the story unfolds, Brendan discovers that Emily was caught up with a bad group of people, including the town legend, "The Pin" (as in kingpin). You may find it hard to remove yourself from your seat due to the intriguingly devious characters acquainted along Brendan's journey, and the sense of film noir. This is the very reason that this detective film is a success. Brick may include teenage characters. It may be set at a high school and take place in recent years, but don't be befuddled, Brick has the poise of a much older film noir such as The Maltese Falcon. Not only does Levitt portray a "Private I" with nearly the same accuracy and passion as Jack Nicholson in Polanski's Chinatown, but the film's music is a large part of the action (much like its predecessors). Additionally, Brick delivers an ending not as easily analyzed as some other modern day noir. Although some of the actors opposite Levitt tend to portray the fact that they are below his pay-grade, the twists, excellent dialog, and pioneer script of Brick earn the film a solid 3 stars in my book.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Reviews from the Vault: The House of the Devil (2009)

Ti West's The House of the Devil is based on true events that take place in the 1980's. The film follows Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue), a sophomore in college in need of extra income to support her near future move to a new house. To raise a bit of money, Samantha agrees to a night of baby-sitting that turns into something she couldn't have imagined. Upon arrival and on the night of the lunar eclipse, things rapidly become eery when she begins to discover that the people dwelling in the house are sadistic cultists. The House of the Devil succeeds where recent horror movies fail in the sense that its not fueled by gore, but by tension. From the first confrontation with Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan of Manhunter), it is very clear to the viewer that he and his family are nothing less than sadistically wicked. The relief in this is that the film is not driven by the mystery of who's good and who's bad, but by truly authentic tension. Much like firmly gripping horror films of the 1980's, Devil contains a slow build to a deeply chilling finale. It is not necessarily the ending that will haunt your dreams, but everything leading up to the ending. As the viewer watches Samantha go about her night, they can hardly stay in their seats knowing that evil lurkes and not knowing when it will strike. Much like Jaws not showing the beast for the majority of the film, The House of the Devil leaves you almost impatiently awaiting the beast; only this time the beast comes in human form. Donahue and Noonan's top-notch acting along with Ti West's best direction of his young career make this gut-wrenching horror flick worth the watch. I am forced to score The House of the Devil 4 stars due to its pleasingly horrific essence.

Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

Director Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is based upon the Oni Press graphic novel Scott Pilgrim Volume 1: Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, written by Bryan Lee O'Malley. Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a 22 year old canadian rocker who has found himself in love with with the wildest, most astonishing and fashionable dame in Canada. Her name is Romona Flowers (Mary Elizebeth Winstead), and she has seven evil exes. In order to date her, Scott must defeat these seven jealous foes. Can Scott gather the heart and the cojones to fight his way to Ramona? From the classic video game references, to the special effects, to the marvelousness of the enemies turning into coins upon being defeated, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is every nerd's fantasy. The film arouses the viewer in the same sense that Sin City rocked the audience with its blend of reality and comic-like characteristics. Beyond its visual domination, the film's adaptation and transition from book to screen is a success. Some may recognize Edgar Wright's other cinematic accomplishments, including films like Shaun of the Dead and Hott Fuzz. This film is less British and more hipster than its predecessors, which may be a turn-off for some, though no more than a nice transition for this viewer. Although we may have seen Cera closely portray this character in previous films, it is too early to say that its gotten old and stopped working. In this case it fits the script as well. Beyond the A-list cast, superb direction, and stunning effects, the immaculately fitting music is the glue of Pilgrim. Though this flick may be too nerdy and hip for some, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was a sigh of relief for this viewer, scoring it 31/2 stars.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Review: The Other Guys (2010)

Director Adam Mckay and Will Ferrell have returned to the big screen in The Other Guys. The film stars Terry Holtz (Mark Wahlberg) and Allen Gamble (Ferrell) as two pencil-pushing odd couple office cops who are growing more and more tired of filling out action cops' paperwork and are ready for some of the excitement. When superstar officers Christopher Danson (Dwayne Johnson) and P.K. Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) die in hot pursuit, it's Terry and Allen's turn to step up to the plate as New York's top cops. Mckay and Ferrell have been integrating since 1995 on Saturday Night Live. In more recent years audiences have applauded Mckay/Ferrell projects such as Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers. One thing that is very clear about these films is that viewers either love them or hate them. The Other Guys, like Mckay's other flicks, gives the audience a chance to stop stressing about work, bills, and life. It gives the audience a chance to laugh at the simple things, like a gang of hobos having an orgy in a Prius (don't ask, just watch). Upon seating one's self at the cinema, one must discern that they aren't awaiting a showing of Casablanca. This is a farcically unrealistic film with a humorously been there done that plot, however it's okay considering the director and actors know it. Ferrell's antics are a riot as always and Wahlberg's intentional over-acting remains amusing throughout. The film touches that part of you deep down that wants to brake all the rules and conquer the day with a buddy cop. Though too silly for some, for this viewer The Other Guys pleases the mind and under stays its welcome at 107 minutes, earning it a well-deserved 3 stars.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Review: Dinner For Schmucks (2010)

Dinner for Schmucks- (Jay Roach's adaptation of the French film, The Dinner Game) stars Steve Carell and Paul Rudd. Schmucks is about Tim (Rudd), a rising executive who has discovered that in order to attain his promotion he must attend a dinner hosted by his CEO that celebrates the stupidity of poor souls (i.e. Carell's character Barry) chaperoned by his boss's inferiors. Torn between the immorality of humiliating an honest man and his desire to advance by any means necessary, Tim must make a tough ethical decision. Having not seen the original French film, I can only guess that either the cast and crew of Schmucks lost the comedy of the original in translation, or there's a major cultural difference interfering. The film seems to be fueled by physical humor, awkwardness, and the implausible stupidity of Carell's character. Not to say the film doesn't have its funny moments. Zach Galifianakis is a saving grace of the film, simply due to his on-screen charisma and facial expressions. This is not enough to save the film from plummeting further and further as the predictably ironic scenes unravel. I don't much care for awkwardness in real life, much less do I like paying to experience it on the big screen to the extent that Schmucks dishes out. Carell's character tends to be more obnoxious than humorous. Having come from the man who brought us Meet the Parents, Borat, and Bruno, I would like to perceive this as a mere speed bump in Roach's directorial career. The film had a phenomenal cast, including Ron Livingston, Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Concords, and David Walliams of Little Britain USA. I must add that although I am not alone on my opinion (Dinner currently has a 50% on RT), I personally know a collection of individuals that loved the film. Although arguably an acquired taste for some, this viewer would feel like a Schmuck if he scored it any more than 2 stars.

Monday, August 2, 2010

DVD Review: Big Fan (2009)

Robert D. Siegel's Big Fan stars Patton Oswalt as Paul Aufiero, a man in his forties working the ticket booth at a coliseum while living with his mother. Paul is also a hopelessly die hard New York Giants fan and practically devotes every waking minute to either thinking about the giants, discussing plays and stats with his friend (Kevin Corrigan), or calling into sports stations. After meeting his all-time favorite player Antoine Bishop, and being brutally beaten by him, Paul is torn between suing or letting it go so Bishop won't miss the season. Big Fan is diverse for actor Patton Oswalt in the sense that it's not a laugh-out-loud comedy. Oswalt electrifies the viewer with his ability to switch gears to a more serious role much like Robin Williams (i.e. One Hour Photo and Insomnia). This film has a truly dark brand of humor if any at all, yet keeps you entertained from start to finish with its one of a kind characters and discrete script. Having already shown us a washed up, near pathetic sports related figure in Siegle's script of The Wrestler (starring Mickey Rourke), one tends to be skeptical of such a similar story written and directed less than a year later. One quickly recognizes the diversity between the two stories and Big Fan's ability to captivate the audience and force them to admire this fan's dedication and passion for the sport. The film's top notch directing, acting, and casting earns it a solid 3 stars in my book and won it the 2009 Sundance Film Festival Breakthrough Director Award for Robert D. Siegel.