Saturday, September 21, 2013

Prisoners, Insidious: Chapter 2, Riddick


Just how far would you go to do what you think is the "right" thing? This is the question that torments all the characters in Prisoners, the latest thriller from Incendies director Denis Villeneuve.  Hugh Jackman gives an amazing performance as a father whose daughter has been kidnapped and is now missing, along with his neighbors' daughter (played by Viola Davis and Terrence Howard).  On the trail of the kidnapper is Detective Loki, a tattooed Jake Gyllenhaal.  Now, I don't want to give any more away although the trailer spoils a ridiculous amount of the plot. If you plan on seeing this: STAY AWAY FROM THE TRAILER.  But I really thought this was a great film with a great cast that goes all in.  The dread was palpable and I was seriously getting nervous at various points in the film.  It also has just some great "shots" (like when Gyllenhaal inspects an RV at night in the rain, with the only light source coming from his flashlight). It was a beautifully disturbing picture, although I do think it loses some steam with its final "reveal" - not that it was bad or unearned, but simply felt a little hokey.  But seriously, this is a pure and simple, well-crafted thriller.  And god damn Hugh Jackman is the best.

Rating: B+

Insidious Chapter 2:

James Wan must be on top of the world right now.  After The Conjuring scared up $136 million dollars this summer (on a $20 million budget), Insidious 2 made $41 million opening weekend (the second-highest September opening over), AND Fast and Furious 7 will have his name on the director's chair, I'd say he knows what he's doing.  But how did this sequel, sandwiched between two of his biggest projects, both compare to the original and work on its own?  Well, for this particular horror nerd it was a mixed bag.  On one hand it did have some creepy moments, it worked well within the mythology the first created, and Patrick Wilson channels his inner Jack Torrance - but it ultimately felt forgettable and lacked the more nuanced horror of the first.  This one was much more garish, feeling more like a 70's giallo than a haunted house flick.  It was just so "alright" I almost would've rather seen a terrible movie.  Against what everybody else thinks about it, I actually liked this more than The Conjuring and even though it had all the typical tropes, there were some cool new visuals to chew on (like the "Ouija dice" and a creepy sequence involving ghosts wrapped in white sheets - imagine that).

Rating: C+


Nobody was asking for more Riddick after The Chronicles of Riddick, a boring, overlong "space opera" way worse than the Star Wars prequels (Vin Diesel was nominated for a Razzie, but lost to George Bush in Fahrenheit 9/11).  But Vinny D was hell-bent on keeping his glowy-eyed badass in theaters, and pushed this sequel into production.  Not being a huge fan of the original films (other than the Xbox game Escape from Butcher Bay), I didn't really care one way or the other if I saw it, but I think Riddick is marginally best of the three films so far, sneaking past the first by a fraction.  This time around it's back to basics - just Vin Diesel doing what he does best and kicking things' asses.  No more of that space epic BS that plagued Chronicles. I loved the opening 15 or so dialogue-free minutes of Riddick, reminiscent (in a good way) of Pixar's WALL-E with Vin Diesel going around a barren planet and surviving waves of different wildlife out to eat him.  That opening sequence is enough to recommend the film for me, but after that it starts to go downhill.  You don't care about the characters and you just start to grow numb to the fights after a while.  It's a solidly put-together action/sci-fi film, but totally forgettable.

Rating: C

Saturday, September 7, 2013

A few quick reviews...

Sorry, but time is catching up with me and I didn't have a lot of time to write four full-length reviews. But in keeping up with my movie-watching journey I'll just post a paragraph or two on the last few films I've seen theatrically.  May have to do this a few times during the school year - but I promise I'll try to keep these to a minimum!

You're Next:

I wanted to hate this movie.  The title is dumb, the plot is dumb, the acting is terrible - nothing about the trailer made me want to see it other than the fact that it was a rated-R horror film.  But honestly, after actually watching You're Next, I can place this away in my 'guilty pleasure' vault alongside Green Lantern and The House at the End of the Street. It wasn't great by any stretch, but it was a totally watchable slasher flick with some interesting deaths (that may or may not have been intentionally hilarious) and a twist that somehow works despite being on the same intellectual level as an episode of Scooby-Doo.  I was pleasantly surprised in that I didn't want to kill myself while watching it.

Rating: C+

The Spectacular Now:

Coming from the writers behind (500) Days of Summer, I was pretty surprised by how low-key and unsentimental this coming-of-age film was.  Shailene Woodley (who you may recognize from The Descendants)  won an acting award at Sundance for her role as the "good girl" Aimee Finecky, who falls for the more popular flask-toting Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) one summer during her routine paper route.  Both young actors do an absolutely fantastic job, even if their relationship took me a little time to warm up to.  Both are totally authentic in their quirks and flaws, and they were just fascinating characters to watch on screen.  But as great as those two are, Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) in a supporting role was the highlight.  He only has a couple of scenes, but they were huge turning points in the script, and considering he's usually typecasted as the "perfect dad," he was brilliantly playing against type in a fairly risky role.  Overall a fantastic film with great performances all around (keep an eye out for Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bob Odenkirk) and a really tight script.

Rating: A-


In high school I was given an assignment to write a report on any book between these certain dates in history and on a whim I chose "The Catcher in the Rye," knowing only that it was a "classic" novel and nothing more.  That book, like with most teenagers, turned into my all-time favorite and I similarly felt that JD Salinger just "got it."  Even for something written 50 years ago, it was easy to connect with Holden Caulfield and his angst against the phony adults around him.  But the reclusive author just disappeared after the book was published and has remained a mysterious figure for years.  This documentary was supposedly going to be the answer to all our questions about the man - but instead it was pretty much your standard biography.  The film itself wasn't too organized.  It would not only jump from re-enactments to talking heads to a sort-of "hunt" for Salinger, but it would jump around in time without a care (going from the 40's to current day to 70's to 50's).  Within the film there was so much repetition with both the facts and the photos/footage it became a little laborious to watch.  Still, die hard fans of Salinger should learn some interesting nuggets about his past life in the army and his many ex-wives, but for those unaware of Salinger or his genius you won't get a real sense of it here (unless you count the unnecessary/awkward montage of teenagers holding up copies of "Catcher in the Rye" and smiling).

Rating: C

Short Term 12:

One of the biggest hits to come out of the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, Short Term 12 is about a foster-care facility supervised by Grace (Brie Larson) and her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr).  The kids in the program all have their own traumas they bring over, and Grace has her own past she is dealing with.  The film has the same "unsentimental" feel as The Spectacular Now (which ironally also features Brie Larson), making the heartstring tugging all the more raw.  The writing is spot on, the acting, even from the kids, is authentic and should make you fall in love with Brie Larson.  I guarantee this girl will be a big name in the next 5 or so years.  If you're not emotionally devastated by the "Octopus Story" you might have checked your soul at the door.

Rating: A-

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