Thursday, October 21, 2010

Review: Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

Director Tod Williams' Paranormal Activity 2 is brought to us just one year after Oren Peli delivered the thrills of the effectively low budget original. 2 is a prequel to the first film, set only sixty days prior to the first day of the original. The film follows the extended family of Katie (Katie Featherson), the protagonist of the initial film. Katie's sister Christie and her husband, step-daughter, baby, and German Shepherd are living in a house that is becoming more and more noticeably occupied by a demon. This film surprisingly pleases on nearly all levels. Being a sequel of a film that achieved its success while remaining extremely simplistic, it was smart not to go overboard. It did however have all of the astonishingly eerie elements of the first film along with some additional ones. The home video-style camera work remained the same, continuing to bring the fear closer to home with its sense of realism. As any great sequel should, 2 contained more victims, more bumps, more chills, and improved on the previous film- making it ultimately scarier for this viewer. Additionally, writers Michael R. Perry and Oren Peli wisely added a few factors to create a tension not achieved in the first- a baby, a dog, and a non-believer. There is nothing quite as tense as evil being clearly present to the audience and the protagonist, but not to their loved one. Going into this film I had my expectations lower than the original, yet the outcome exceeded the original. Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Activity 2 (Much like the spanish shaky-cam film duo Rec and Rec 2) connect and feed off of each other in a way not often achieved, earning this quality sequel 31/2 stars.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Golden Oldies: House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Williams Castle's House on Haunted Hill stars Vincent Price as an aberrant millionaire playboy named Fredrick Loren who has taken the liberty of inviting five individuals to a house known for its strange occurrences and fatalities. Fredrick promises that each guess, if still living by the following morning, will leave with a whopping 1,000 dollars (way bigger deal back then). As the night unfolds strange events continue occur, from sightings of ghouls to appearances of severed heads. This night is not only beginning to seem stranger and stranger, it is beginning to appear hardly survivable. This cult classic is a perfect formula for a horror film- it's eerie, humorous, black and white, and it features the legendary Vincent Price. Haunted Hill not only treats its audience to fine filmmaking, it simulates a halloween fun house in the viewer's living room. The film serves as a great reminder that not all horror shows have to include computer generated monsters and Michael Bay explosions. If nothing else, House accomplishes thrills and laughs through Price alone with his historically charismatic performance. Additionally, the old-fashioned music of the film only improves on the spectral atmosphere. Whether the viewer's intentions are to take a time capsule back to 1959 for some antique chills or rather laugh at the anti-hero black humor of Price, House on Haunted Hill pleases on all levels without flaw- earning it 4 stars.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Review: Red (2010)

Robert Shwentke's Red, a film adaptation of the successful DC graphic novel series, takes its audience on a thrill ride with Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a retired black-ops agent who's life has recently been threatened by what seems to be a group of highly trained federal agents. Upon defeating these agents and having few individuals closely related to him, Frank grabs the one gal he's interested in (Mary-Louise Parker) to prevent her from getting hurt and reassembles his team of retired assassins. The team includes Victoria (Mirren), the looney Marvin Boggs (Malkovich), and the ill but dangerous Joe Matheson (Freeman). As events unfold it seems the heros have been pinned with an assassination and it is up to them to infiltrate CIA headquarters and get to the bottom of what turns out to be quite the large cluster of conspiracy. Red is a rarity in the sense that it's a graphic novel adaptation that works (without the Frank Miller touch). With A-list actors and a uniquely humorous idea, it was hard to miss the mark with Red. Though at times relying a bit too much on witty phrases from Willis and Malkovich and on explosions, the film is carried by strong performances and character development that is many times lost in translation with comic book movies. It wasn't necessarily the old age of the characters that fueled the most laughs and interest, but perhaps both the characters' and actors' youthful on-screen charisma; had one character been recast, this group of assassin retirees may have lost a sense of chemistry that is seldom achieved such as in Red. Although there were many generic elements of this high octane action comedy, most of them were the good kind. The film's ability to carry the audiences interest, its great additional performances from actors Brian Cox and Karl Urban, its fitting soundtrack, and its creative scene transitions consisting of post cards fading into reality complete Red's solid formula, earning it a solid 3 stars.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Review: The Social Network

Director David Fincher's The Social Network stars Jesse Eisenberg as America's youngest billionaire- Mark Zuckerberg- the founder of Facebook. The film begins in the Fall of 2003 at Harvard University, during the spark of an idea manufactured by twin rowers Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (played by Armie Hammer) about an exclusive Harvard social networking site called HarvardConnection. Zuckerberg, a brilliant yet obnoxious Harvard student known for his skills with computer programming, was approached by the Winklevoss twins about this idea with the hopes of aiding them in the creation. Having the creative, self-centered mind that he does, Mark ran with this idea on his own time with the financial aid of his best man Eduardo (Andrew Garfield). Mark and Eduardo improved on the ideas of the Winklevoss twins, renaming and expanding not only the capabilities of the site, but the users' locations. It doesn't take long for this situation to bring success, betrayal, and lawsuits to the feet of Mark and Eduardo- making this biographical Drama a must see. Besides having subject material that millions of people across the globe can relate with, The Social Network is topped with perfect casting, music, plot, and leading performances that leave its audience indulged. Though Jesse Eisenberg (much like Michael Cera) has played the same nerdy, likable nitwit in nearly all of his prior roles, for the time being it's still working; he was everything his character needed to be to force the audience to remain on board and like him more than they hated him. Additionally, all of the supporting roles could not have been better cast. By the end of the film there is a clear distinction between which characters the viewers love and which they hope fail miserably due to greed. Above the film's surface material, The Social Network does a marvelous job of simulating the drive that is in all of us to not only survive, but exceed the norm. Much like Scorcese's ability to portray the luxury and the insanity of a billionaire in the making (i.e. The Aviator), Fincher captures the life of fame and obsession flawlessly, earning The Social Network 3 1/2 stars.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Review: Enter the Void (2010)

Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void is 2010's award winning psychedelic, independent roller coaster of a film. The film takes you through the last hours (and beyond) of Oscar's (Nathaniel Brown) life through a first person perspective. Oscar and his sister Linda (Paz de la Puerta) were separated at a young age due to their parents dying in a car wreck. Oscar is determined to re-acquaint with Linda, and does so by selling enough drugs to buy her a ticket to Tokyo. Upon arriving in Tokyo, Linda and anyone else associated with Oscar is pulled into his downward spiral of drug use. The spiral comes to an early halt as Oscar is murdered by local authorities as a direct result of his problem. At this point we, as an audience, are taken on Oscar's journey in the after life from a third person perspective as he views all of the wreckage he has left behind. Enter the Void may be one of the most original, artistic, compelling, bizarre, and dramatic films I have ever seen, but that does not mean that I enjoyed it. Noe portrayed hallucinations and the afterlife like no other being has before, and for that he deserves to be recognized. The sexual content of the film was at times unbearably brutal, and the drama was at times overly desolating much like a Jodi Picoult Novel (My Sister's Keeper, The Pact) or Requiem for a Dream on Acid. From a critics standpoint, I cannot call this film bad simply due to my dislike of it; it was effective and fertile. Void was at many times quite boring and discomforting mainly due to the numerous long, drawn out camera pans and zooms that the cinematographer must have been a bit too excited and confident about. I would reframe from recommending this film to any viewer with epilepsy or anyone beyond drastically-dark artistic viewers because of its extremely graphic content that has been permanently burned into my oculars. Enter the Void certainly stands independently as the most original film I've ever viewed, but due its unnecessary roughness and the fact that it long over-stays its welcome at 2 hours and 43 minutes, I give the film 11/2 stars.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Reviews from the Vault: Let the Right One In (2008)

To new readers, Reviews from the Vault are reviews from my personal collection. This weekend being the opening weekend for Let Me In (America's adaptation of the recent Dutch film Let the Right One In), I figured I would review the "real" film and give credit where credit is due. Writer John Ajvide Lindqvist and director Thomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In is an award winning tale of love viewed through the perspective of a vampire caught in youth. Oskar (Kare Hedenbrant) is a timid young school boy who has recently encountered a new, strange girl in his apartment complex named Eli. Realizing that Oskar is a shy, nearly spineless boy, Eli (Lina Leandersson) makes it her aspiration to protect Oskar and teach him to stand up for himself against school-house bullies. The more Oskar peers into Eli's life, the more clear it becomes that Eli is far from an average girl, and far from human for that matter. In a time so cluttered with Vampire movies, television shows, and novels, one might find themselves hesitant to view such a movie as Let the Right One In. The film tends to stand on its own in this genre due to its originality of plot and characters. For being both young and first time screen actors, Hedebrant and Leandersson put on Oscar-worthy performances. The chemistry between the two characters is eerily realistic, and at times the actors do not need to speak in order for the audience to understand what is inferred. The film may be set in a different country, the actors may be younger than most viewers of the film, and the story may invlove a fictional vampire, but Let the Right One In depicts a journey of love and passion that we can all appreciate and relate to. A director's ability to make his audience sympathize and care for an otherwise monster shows true professional cinematography, which is indefinitely the case with Alfredson. From the top notch writing, directing, and acting, to the eerie setting and subject matter of the film, Let the Right One In is an instant horror classic that not only inspired an American remake, but earned 4 stars in my book.