October 21, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
Starring: Katie Featherstone and some other people IMDB is not listing right now
Directed by: Tod Williams
Written by: Oren Peli and Michael P. Perry
Running Time: 91 minutes
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

Eleven things I want to let you know about Paranormal Activity 2.

First, let me tell you that I went to see a Paranormal Activity Double Feature, and that was a SMART decision.

Second, Paranormal Activity 2 is spectacular (and definitely better than the first one).

Third, let me say that I will swear up and down that I don’t get scared at movies, because I don’t, but the massive amount of “startles” in Paranormal Activity 2 is probably about as close to scared as I am going to get at a movie. I jumped up (a little) in my seat for than a few times.

Fourth, I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do reserve room in my beliefs for the idea that demons might be real. With that, I hate (and love) that the screenwriters of both Paranormal Activity movies put so much effort into point out we are talking about demons.

Fifth, I have children (including little ones) and that seriously contributed to making Paranormal Activity 2 a disturbing, uncomfortable affair.

Sixth, I do not want to hear from haters want to say that these movies are all loud noises and quick movements (startles). You are absolutely right. And, some of the best horror movies of all time work in just the same way. If you like horror movies, you should appreciate Paranormal Activity 2. You don’t need gore (even though I love it).

Seventh, the story in Paranormal Activity 2 is MUCH more interesting than that of Paranormal Activity. If I had one major complaint about the first film, it was that it felt like in places it was JUST a collection of noises and startles, and that you didn’t really care about either of the main characters. Paranormal Activity 2 does a much better job of developing a back story (and it does a good job of tying into the story of the original), and there are a couple of characters that audiences will be able to identify with and actually root for.

Eighth, I don’t like dogs (in general), but I like the dog in this movie. I want one. Man’s best friend indeed.

Ninth, Katie is back. I don’t want to give too much away, but she is back, and I will tell you now that we are all better off for it. Go Katie Go.

Tenth, if your favorite part of Paranormal Activity was watching Micah be an ignorant, arrogant asshole, you too should be excited about Paranormal Activity. Not because you get Micah back (because I am not saying you do), but because like almost every haunted-something movie, the writers were able to create a new idiot to help accelerate the action.

Eleventh, Paranormal Activity 2 is just good. I know I really already said that, but damn it was fun. I can’t stress enough however that YOU NEED TO SEE THIS IN A THEATER WITH OTHER PEOPLE. A lot of the fun of the first film and this one like it is hearing the reactions of those around you.


October 15, 2010

Red (2010)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Karl Urban, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Ernest Borgnine, Brian Cox, Helen Mirren, Julian McMahon
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Written by: Jon and Erich Hoeber
Running Time: 111 minutes
Rating: 3.0 (out of 5)

Red looked like an amazing movie. It is full of actors that I love. Not just the ones you see in the previews like Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, or Morgan Freeman, but other greats like Karl Urban, Ernest Borgnine, Julian McMahon, and Brian Cox. And, according to the previews, Red is not just full of great actors, but it is also a stylish action comedy based on the seeming hilarious premise of old, retired (and extremely dangerous) secret operatives coming out of retirement to figure out who is trying to kill them. But, as most often happens in the movies, you often have to wonder if a movie that has an exciting preview can actually be everything it represents itself as.

In this case, it is.

First off, the acting in Red is really good on an individual level. No one in Red mails in their performance, and for the most part, the majority of the performers in Red seem to have squeezed the most they could out of their respective characters.

Secondly, Red has scenes that are genuinely funny and charming (especially some of the early scenes with Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker and pretty much every scene with John Malkovich) and it also has action scenes that are slick and entertaining. While most action-comedies end up doing a poor job of being funny and/or exciting, Red actually seems to do a good job with both the humor and the adrenaline, and at most times is able to seamlessly move between the two.

With all of that, it seems like I would give Red a pretty high rating, right? I mean, like a 4 (out of 5), right?

But, for some reason, I couldn’t.

Sometimes it is hard to describe exactly what is wrong with a movie, and this is one of those times. I can say this: at several points during Red I found myself checking my watch to see what time it was (and how much longer the movie had). Also, despite being full of unique characters, there was not one character in Red that I actually cared about. I realize that Red is an action-comedy and not a drama, but I mean a movie should endear you to the characters on some level, even if it is just a shallow concern. However, when the scenes that are supposed to be emotionally moving take place, I got nothing. Furthermore, as the action in the movie was supposed to be getting more and more intense, it was simultaneously becoming less and less entertaining. While many of the one on one (or one on a couple) action scenes were clever and fresh, several of the action scenes devolved into people just firing lots of bullets.

Even as I write this review, I still want to have liked Red more than I did. It had so much potential. All of the parts were there, and I was genuinely excited and anxious to see Red. In the end, I just found myself underwhelmed. Was Red a good movie? Sure, and I don’t want to sound overly down on it. However, in the end it was a disappointment because it was not amazing.

One last, last thought. To me, Red felt like it wanted to be a slick ensemble movie along the lines of the Ocean’s Eleven movies, but in comparison to those films it was clunky.

Jackass 3-D (2010)
Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Steve-O, Wee Man, Chris Pontius, Preston Lacy, Spike Jonze, Sean William Scott, Tony Hawk, Jared Allen
Directed by: Jeff Tremaine
Written by: Preston Lacy
Running Time: 93 minutes
Rating: 4.0 (out of 5)

Writing a review for the latest installment of Jackass, Jackass 3-D, is a break from the ordinary. After all, Jackass 3-D is not what you would traditionally define as a movie. There is no plot. There are no characters (although it is full of “characters”). There is no acting to speak of. There aren’t any special effects either (unless you count the most original volcano scene I have ever witnessed). Instead Jackass 3-D, like its predecessors, is simply a collection of stunts and skits in which a ton of very odd people seemingly try to sicken, maim, and or kill themselves.

And it is awesome.

I may be wrong, but I can’t remember laughing so hard at any other “movie” I have seen this year. From the beginning of Jackass 3-D, which opens with an introduction by Beavis and Butthead and an extremely elaborate opening credit sequence, to an equally impressive closing scene that gives us Rip Torn reminding us “no tongue!”, Jackass is laugh out loud fun (so many things are called laugh out loud but rarely deliver, this is not one of those instances). At about an hour and a half long, Jackass 3-D feels more like it is a half an hour long, and I guarantee you that you will either be laughing or wincing the entire time.

Does enjoying Jackass 3-D require a specific type of sense of humor? Probably. If thoughts of watching people pee, poop, puke bother you, don’t go see this movie. If watching people be hit with other peoples pee, poop, and puke bothers you, don’t go watch this movie. If watching people get hit in the nuts more times than I can count, don’t go watch this movie. If you are freaked out by frontal male nudity (a lot of it), don’t go see this movie. If the idea of watching people be voluntarily super glued, shocked, or abused by a variety of animals bothers you, don’t go see this movie.

However, if you enjoy watching a bunch of idiots (who seem to be very close friends) having a good time getting hurt for your entertainment, get off your ass and go see Jackass 3-D now.

Honestly, the closest comparison I can make (and I know some people will think this is blasphemy – you can go screw yourself) is to compare the Jackass movies to The Three Stooges. Sometimes, watching people get hurt just for the fun of it is a great way to have a few laughs. I personally hate these “reality” shows where a hidden camera or a home movie catches someone innocent person getting hurt on accident. The fact that people exploit those situations sickens me. However, Jackass 3-D is guilt free pleasure, because these morons are doing this stuff to themselves, on purpose.

Of course, I use the term morons in a loving way, because in truth Johnny Knoxville and friends are geniuses. They have made very successful careers out of having a good time.

For me, I wouldn’t want to do any of the stunts performed in this film (as the warning at the beginning of the movie tells me I shouldn’t). On the other hand, it was tons of fun to watch someone else do it. Oh, and this was the type of movie 3-D was made for. 3-D isn’t supposed to be a gimmick. It is supposed to make you feel like you are part of the experience. Most of the time, 3-D is a failure. However, in Avatar, you felt like you were running with the Na’vi, and in Jackass 3-D, you will feel like you have been slapped in the mouth with a dildo. In this one very limited instance, that is a good thing.

October 14, 2010

My Soul to Take 3-D (2010)
Starring: Max Thieriot, John Magaro, Denzel Whitaker, Zena Grey, Nick Lashaway, Paulina Olysynski, Emily Meade
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Wes Craven
Running Time: 107 minutes
Rating: 3.0 (out of 5)

Where to start? The director.

My Soul to Take is written and directed by none other than the legend Wes Craven. You know who I am talking about right? Mr. Craven is the mind behind Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream. In other words, we are off to a good start.

Next up: The Stars.

Max Thieriot, John Magaro, Denzel Whitaker, Zena Grey, Nick Lashaway, Paulina Olysynski, Emily Meade. Who the hell are these people? Well, it’s still Wes Craven, so I’m not worried.

What else? The plot.

My Soul to Take is a movie about dysfunctional teenagers (been done) in high school (been done) who are being stalked by a mysterious slasher (been done a lot) who may or may not be a serial killer who may or may not have died 16 years ago. Of course, the little town they occupy (why does this type of thing never happen in NYC or LA) is full of deep, dark secrets (what fun would it be if it wasn’t) and nobody is exactly what they seem to be (big surprise). In other words, this is starting to feel tired. But it is still Wes Craven, so let’s keep hope alive.

Anything else I should know?

My Soul to Take is in 3-D. Crap. Here lately 3-D has been the kiss of death. Clash of the Titans. Piranha. Resident Evil. Shrek 12 (or whatever the hell it was). Movie makers have decided that 3-D is the way to get all of us idiots to spend our money to see movies that have little/no other redeeming value. OK, yeah, I liked Piranha and I didn’t hate Resident Evil, but these are not going to go down in history as great movies. Wes Craven or not, I am starting to get worried.

The Verdict.

Truthfully all of this was a lead up to the truth: My Soul to Take is ok. That’s it, it’s ok. When I left the theatre, I had a feeling like the movie was a little better than it really was because when you expect crap, decent can sometimes be pretty exciting. In this case, I was really worried that My Soul to Take was going to be just another slasher movie. It was. But, as many horror fans have seen through double digit Friday the 13th films (and almost as many Nightmare on Elm Street films), just another slasher movie CAN be entertaining.

My Soul to Take feels pretty run of the mill and it doesn’t have any stars (or particularly impressive actors for that matter). It doesn’t have a memorable and/or noteworthy killer like Jason or Freddy. It doesn’t have amazing special effects (or hardly any noticeable special effects for that matter). In then end my guess is that had this same movie been made by anyone other than Wes Craven it would have been total garbage. However, in the end, Craven seems to do enough with the pacing (which never really drags) and with the occasional twist (although most are pretty obvious) that I never found myself thinking “I shouldn’t have come to see this”. Instead, I thought “this wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, but I won’t be buying the DVD”.

Oh, and a note on the 3-D. The 3-D didn’t really help the movie, but I didn’t find it nauseating or distracting, and compared to some 3-D movies that is quite an accomplishment.

October 1, 2010

Let Me In (2010)
Starring: Chloe Moretz, Kodi Smith-McPhee, Richard Jenkens, Elias Koteas
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Written by: Matt Reeves, John Ajvide Lindqvist
Running Time: 125 minutes
Rating: 4.0 (out of 5)

In case you didn’t know it, Let Me In is a remake of a recent (2008) Swedish movie called Let The Right One In. I enjoyed that movie very much.

I enjoyed Let Me In a lot as well, but probably less so because I had seen the original.

Let Me In is a movie about a young boy named Owen, who is a sad (and weird) outcast, who is befriended by a mysterious girl named Abby who moves in next door (who is also a vampire). While there is a vampire at the center of much of the movies drama (and a serial killer too), Let Me In is a movie that is much more an examination of the complexities of the several different types of relationships (parent-child, boy-girl, abuser-victim, etc.) than it is a horror movie. However, Let Me In is still in large part a horror movie and that is where I was disappointed.

The original Let The Right One In was a movie which was, in a word, understated. Much of the “horror” aspect of the movie was alluded to with most of the graphic action taking place off screen. Also, several of the relationships in the movie where presented with subtlety, leaving the audience to interpret those relationships and make realizations about what lie beneath the surface of what was presented.

Disappointingly, as is the case with many remakes of foreign films (or even older American films), the makers of Let Me In seemed to feel like everything should be MORE. The gore is MORE. The action is MORE. The exposition is MORE. It is almost as if the creative minds behind this remake felt like American audiences wouldn’t be smart enough or have a long enough attention span to enjoy the story the way it was originally told, so they decided to add some special effects (actually a lot, many of which felt silly) and explain every last aspect of everything to a point where a third grader could have followed the movie (that is not a suggestion, don’t take your kids to this movie). The result of all of this MORE (as is often the case) is that the final product is LESS.

That being the case, I still really liked Let Me In, because it still had a lot to offer. The emotional storylines from the original still work in this film, in large part due to some excellent performances from the stars of the film. Richard Jenkins, playing the vampire’s “father” and Elias Koteas, as the sheriff investigating the strange happenings in his small town (which by the way is now in New Mexico versus Sweden) both perform admirably and add to the tension of the story. However, the film is carried by two children. Kodi-Smith McPhee as Owen and Chloe Moretz as Abby (coming off of her break out role as Hit Girl in Kick-Ass) give performances that are definitely noteworthy for the depth of the emotions they portray. Ms. Moretz is particularly amazing (her portrayal of the young vampire girl is deeper, if not as creepy, as that of Lena Leandersson in the original) and I can only hope that we will continue to see quality work from her in the future.

In the end, I would definitely recommend seeing Let Me In (especially if you are one of “those” people who can’t get themselves to sit through the subtitles that would be necessary to watch the original the way it should be seen). There are several scenes in Let Me In that are standouts, and as a whole it is a very enthralling yarn. One last note: If you do go to see this, many will interpret the ending as happy. To me, it is depressing. I would be interested to see how many of you feel the same.

September 30, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
Starring: Michael Douglas, Shia LeBeouf, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Eli Wallach, Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: Allan Loeb, Stephen Schiff, Stanley Weiser, Oliver Stone
Running Time: 133 minutes
Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

As soon as I heard that was going to be a sequel to Wall Street, I was pretty excited. To be honest, I didn’t even really remember that much about the original Wall Street (it had been a long time since I watched it), but I remembered that Michael Douglas in the role of Gordon Gekko was cool as hell, and that “Greed is Good” was one of the sweetest lines ever delivered. Add to that the fact that Josh Brolin (one of America’s great actors) was also going to star (and yeah, Transformer boy too) and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps was a must see.

To remind myself exactly why I was so excited, I watched the original Wall Street again, and I found myself loving it all over again. Wall Street was nothing less than a statement about the state of society and its morals, and filled with excellent performances (even by Charlie Sheen), it was a hell of a movie. So the question is: Did Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps live up to the original.

The answer is no. But to be honest, it didn’t really stand a chance. Fortunately, it does turn out to be a solid flick, if not one with some glaring weaknesses.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps finds Winnie Gekko, the estranged daughter of Gordon Gekko, preparing to get married to a Wall Street hot shot named Jake Moore while Gordon is reentering the world after his stay in prison. To get more into the plot would be to steal from the experience of seeing the movie, but to be clear Wall Street 2 travels many of the same paths as the original Wall Street. Much of the plot surrounds the drama of stock trading and the immoral and underhanded world that it plays out in (although the backdrop has been modernized to discuss the recent unpleasantries regarding the bank bailouts and bundling of bad debts as investments), and subplots include family dramas revolving around the differences in the moral character of parents and children.

However, Wall Street 2 never seems to rise to the level of tension of the original. Instead, much of the conflict in Wall Street 2 seems very unrealistic and many of the characters seem to act in ways that seem to have no rhyme or reason. While many of the decisions made by the characters in Wall Street 1 were questionable, you could almost always see where the characters were coming from. In Wall Street 2, you just start to get the feeling that everyone is stupid.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps delivers many great things. We get to find out what happened to Gordon Gekko and Bud Fox (and that is very entertaining), we get Frank Langella deliver another excellent piece of acting, and we get to watch James Brolin ham it up (it’s a good thing). Unfortunately, the last stanza of Wall Street 2 (not exclusively, but in large part) prevented what was a good movie from being a great movie. Some characters rise above and become more significant than the movies they are in. Gordon Gekko is definitely one of those characters. With that in mind, I only wish Wall Street 2 could have ended a little differently.

September 23, 2010

Easy A (2010)
Starring: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Dan Byrd, Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, Stanley Tucci, Malcolm McDowell
Directed by: Will Gluck
Written by: Bert V. Royal
Running Time: 92 minutes
Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

There were three movies that opened in wide release this weekend and I was tempted by all of them for different reasons. I wanted to see Devil because I like horror movies. I wanted to see The Town because I love crime dramas. And finally, I was tempted to see Easy A because it is NOT my type of movie. So, I decided to be different.

I probably shouldn’t have.

Not that Easy A was a bad movie, it wasn’t. As a matter of fact, as you can see from my rating, it was actually pretty ok. The problem is that Easy A is exactly what it is advertised to be and that is not my type of movie.

So, if you have seen any of the previews for Easy A, you know that it is a modern retelling (with a twist of course) on The Scarlett Letter. In Easy A, Emma Stone (who is become a hot commodity in Hollywood) stars as a good girl who earns a reputation as being less than chaste. As a matter of fact, by the time Easy A really starts hitting its stride, Olive (Ms. Stone’s character) seems to remind her classmates of a doorknob, because everyone gets a turn (I have been waiting to use that lame joke since elementary school).

Of course, there is more to the story than that, and Easy A turns out to be less teenage comedy and more moral tale. Like so many of these movies, there is a life lesson (or ten) to be learned and the film is supposed to help you do that (I guess). By the way, in case you didn’t know, being a teenager sucks.

Easy A starts out with some solid comedy, and the scene between Olive and classmate Brandon had me laughing pretty hard. Also, Olives parents (played by the always funny Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) and her adopted brother (I didn’t give anything away, you quickly figure out he is adopted) add some really good comic relief to the movie. However, as is often the case with teenage movies with a moral to share, the movie quickly turns sad and depressing and I found myself disappointed that such a heavy mood had to find its way into what begins as a light hearted movie.

In the end, Easy A is a mishmash of teenage movies of years past (the movie admits this and effectively jokes about it at points) that hits more than it misses and ultimately is a pretty decent flick. However, I think I would have enjoyed it much more if I had seen it in high school (or junior high even) than I did seeing it now. The lesson I learned is that while there are tons of movies out there that are good, that doesn’t mean they are good for you (that sounds like a afterschool message about nutrition).

I do think however that if Easy A does seem on the surface to be your type of movie, you probably will not be disappointed. And, while its subject matter definitely concerns sex, I would have no problem with my children watching this movie (when they are a little bit older, my oldest is 8).

On a final note, I think Emma Stone has a bright future ahead of her. She is attractive, charming, and seems to be funny almost effortlessly. That is normally a pretty good recipe for success in Hollywood.

September 16, 2010

Resident Evil: Afterlife 3-D (2010)
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Wentworth Miller, Sienna Guillory, Kim Coates
Directed by: Paul W. S. Anderson
Written by: Paul W. S. Anderson
Running Time: 97 minutes
Rating: 3.0 (out of 5)

I have been putting off writing this review because after all of the GREAT movies I have seen recently (Machete, The Last Exorcism) I felt like writing a review about an OK movie was going to be more like work than fun, but I am sitting down to write it out because I have to get it done.

It’s not that Resident Evil: Afterlife was a bad movie, because it wasn’t. It just wasn’t anything to write home (or a review about).

The set up for the movie is pretty simple: Alice is fighting to destroy the Umbrella company and, to a lesser extent, zombies. Of course we all know that Alice is a super freak, who has been genetically altered by the T-Virus, and that she and her army of Alice clones use their super powers to kick ass and take names. As a matter of fact, that is pretty much how the movie opens up, going straight into fast and furious battles that really are visually stunning. And then, boring.

The major problem with Resident Evil: Afterlife is that the movie is terribly uneven. RE 3-D starts out with great action, turns into total dullness, and then about half way through the movie, there is more action. Once again, the action is fun and exciting and then, once again, the movie returns to boring. At that point, we drag on until, at the end of the movie, one more bout of fun. Resident Evil 3-D has just enough great action to keep you from giving up on the movie for its total lack of any semblance of an interesting plot line or characters that the audience cares about in any way, shape, or form.

Of course, nobody went to see RE 3-D for a plot line, so it is easy to forgive. Audiences go to see Resident Evil to watch Milla Jovovich kick monster/zombie ass, and there is plenty of that. As a bonus, all of that fighting, along with some really great creature effects, is in 3-D. While 3-D is by no means a guarantee of a good movie or even a good visual experience (I’m looking at you Clash of the Titans), RE 3-D is easily the best 3-D effects that since Avatar (which was itself an ok movie that was elevated by looking great).

In the end, Resident Evil: Afterlife is an ok movie, but a worthwhile experience. If you plan to see it at all, see it in the theatre. Without the visual effects, I probably would’ve dropped my rating by a half a kernel.

One final note: Every since Prison Break, I have been a fan of Wentworth Miller. If you loved Prison Break too, you will get a great kick out of the scene in which Mr. Miller’s character is introduced.