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Vanilla sell-out ass-rape of a sci-fi classic

Posted : 11 months, 2 weeks ago on 11 February 2014 03:52 (A review of RoboCop)

"Forget the machines. They want a product with a conscious. Something that knows what it feels like to be human. We gonna put a man inside a machine."

Now here's a familiar sight - a PG-13 remake of an ultraviolent Paul Verhoeven classic. First there was the critical and commercial failure of Len Wiseman's Total Retard back in 2012, and now we have 2014's RoboCop remake, which was spearheaded simply because MGM is in desperate need of a new money-maker. Several years ago, Darren Aronofsky was attached to direct a (presumably R-rated) RoboCop reboot, which would've been something worth seeing. Alas, in its current form, RubberCop is a flaccid action flick; soulless, generic, committee-designed pap. Written by Joshua Zetumer and directed by Brazilian filmmaker José Padilha (Elite Squad), it's riddled with plot holes, inconsistencies, vague character motivations, and iffy CGI. Even if it wasn't a remake of an '80s masterpiece, RoboCrap suffers from plenty of major issues as a standalone motion picture.

Due to wary public opinion and an unwavering government act, robotic law enforcement units are outlawed despite their potential to eliminate crime across America. But robotics manufacturer OmniCorp is determined to work towards an all-artificial police force, stumbling upon a loophole that could net them a massive profit: placing a man into a machine. In Detroit, detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is targeted by a gang of criminals who leave him horribly injured and charred after planting a car bomb. Murphy's wife, Clara (Abbie Cornish), is left to decide her husband's fate, eventually signing the consent forms to have him kept alive by fundamentally turning him into a robot. Thus, RoboCop is born, hitting the streets of Detroit with highly developed technology to help him clean up the city.

To his credit, Zetumer tries to create his own spin on the 1987 RoboCop by not sticking too closely to the film from a structural perspective. However, he retains many of the broad strokes, and the result simply doesn't work, as such story points don't fit into this newly-designed universe. RoboSchlock spends much of its runtime focusing on the development of Murphy as Robo, as tests are carried out and the suit is developed. Hell, he doesn't even hit the streets until about the 85-minute mark, leading to a rushed third act involving Murphy setting out to solve his own murder, which takes up less than ten minutes of screen-time. And speaking of elements from the original being used, a few famous lines are recycled, but the outcome is truly awful. Facepalms are imminent!

Here's the big problem: Murphy is revealed to be alive to his wife and child, and the media knows that he's Alex Murphy. Thus, the project is in the public eye, so OmniCorp tries to be as politically-correct as possible, but it's to the detriment of the project. See, the designers consistently return to the drawing board directly because Murphy is conscious and retains his humanity. In the original movie, the designers knew that they needed to erase Murphy's memories and emotions to make RoboCop work, and hence nobody outside of OmniCorp knew that Murphy was behind the visor. Here, Murphy's emotional intelligence and humanity is gradually chipped away over the testing period, before he ultimately breaks programming to get back to where the original wound up. It's a long-winded way of telling the same story, adding unnecessary flab to the narrative.

Admittedly, the public needed to know that RoboCop was part human, hence pushing Murphy into the public eye and not erasing his memories and consciousness, but it's nevertheless a dumb move. Why didn't OmniCorp use Murphy's body without permission and claim it was some second-level programmer inside the company who was in an accident? Or better yet, why don't they flat-out lie and say that it's a human inside a heavily armoured mech suit? It's weird that OmniCorp are so PC for the majority of the flick and don't do anything shady right up until the very end, when the film suddenly needs a villain.

This brings us to the next big issue: there's no proper villain here. Sure, there's the guy responsible for Murphy's killing, but said character has no presence and his name never even sticks. The only time he's notably on-screen is when Murphy sees him through infrared view as he kills him. Really? This is the replacement for Clarence Boddicker from Verhoeven's movie? Zetumer and Padilha subsequently attempt to create crooks out of corrupt police officers, but the motivations are vague and unclear. And THEN the film tries to make an OmniCorp executive the main villain, since OmniCorp wanted to use RoboCop simply to get the public's support on robotic police officers. Once the political act forbidding robot police is abolished, they decide to kill Murphy simply because the script needs a major bad guy and this is the best that Zetumer could come up with. The “villain” doesn't really do much wrong up until this point, showing none of the wickedness that Dick Jones exhibits in Verhoeven's movie. And Murphy kills this “villain” in the most unexciting, contrived fashion imaginable, while armed men stand around watching. Maybe this is why the movie was delayed by a few months - this bollocks was likely added at the eleventh hour.

Zetumer's script tells us that Detroit is plagued with crime, but apparently we're meant to take it all on faith. Thanks to RubberCop being PG-13, the city is clean and sanitised, with no evidence of urban decay or moral collapse. It looks like a perfectly fine place to live, even though the real city of Detroit is renowned for being a shithole. We as an audience cannot BELIEVE that Detroit NEEDS robotic law enforcement, which is a big fucking problem! On top of this, with the family-friendly certificate, the editing is very restrictive during the action scenes, with awkward cutaways which leave us unsure whether Murphy has killed, maimed or just stunned his opponents with his politically-correct taser. Guns go off and bullets are presumably flying all over the place, but nothing makes an impact - Padilha makes no attempt to depict this future-world as scary. Hell, there's one massive shootout that takes place in darkness literally because it means no visible on-screen violence. Some might say that the baddies cut the power so Murphy would be unable to see them, but they're dealing with a dude whom they know wears a visor which would likely have night vision (it does).

RetardCop might have a few halfway entertaining action beats, but for the most part, the action is sedate, generic and unsatisfying. A throwdown between Murphy and a few big robots is a mess of unclear digital effects and woeful shaky-cam. The chaos is a headache, and pales in comparison to the epic battle between Murphy and the ED-209 from the end of RoboCop 2. It doesn't even have anything on the first RoboCop, when an ED-209 is blown apart in two seconds thanks to Murphy using an explosive rifle. It's quite disappointing just how obvious the CGI is. Oh, and if you're wondering if this new movie has any satire? Forget about it. We cross to Samuel L. Jackson the news reporter from time to time, but there's no meaty satire here, and there are no laughs to be had.

And what of the suit, I hear you ask? Awful. It looks like a suit because it IS a suit. In the original, Murphy was literally a man with a mechanical body that was essential for keeping him alive. In this iteration, he can disassemble himself like Iron Man - in fact, the suit looks purposely modelled after Iron Man. Rather than a badass steel soldier, this RoboCop looks like a metrosexual cunt wearing a Power Rangers outfit crossed with a wet suit. Worse, when Murphy drives through Detroit on his motorcycle, it just looks like a wanker in a fancy suit driving a fancy fucking motorcycle. The result looks pretty cheap, like the filmmakers just took their equipment to a random American city street and filmed without any thought towards set dressing. It looks weird and out of place. Isn't it funny that the special effects and production values of this 2014 motion picture look worse than its 1987 counterpart...

Murphy's family are kept in the limelight for the majority of the movie, saddling him with the chore of keeping his marriage intact despite his condition, but this narrative aspect fails for two reasons. For starters, there is no spark to the relationship, as Kinnaman has no presence or charisma, and is hard to care about. More pertinently, the film mistakes humanity for TV-level melodrama. RoboCop is not a family drama or a saccharine romance, nor is it a youth novella like Hunger Games or Divergent. Yet, this is the direction that Padilha has taken this vanilla sell-out ass-rape of a sci-fi classic. Fuck that. The rest of the performances are a mixed bag. Cornish is strong as Murphy's wife, and Gary Oldman remains solid as always, but the latter is undercut by the confused script which obfuscates his motivations. Faring worse is Michael Keaton, a great actor who's utterly wasted on a thankless role. And the aforementioned Jackson is downright embarrassing. Rounding out the main cast is Jackie Earle Haley and Jay Baruchel, who are serviceable but underutilised.

Naturally, all of the aforementioned criticisms will probably prompt armchair critics to ask, "How would you do a RoboCop remake, then?" Well, I wouldn't remake RoboCop. Couple the fact that it's a remake along with the fact that it adheres to the proverbial "origins story" template, and there is pretty much no way to win with a project like this. The proper way to restart the RoboCop series would be to skip the genesis and simply devise what could almost be a sequel to the original film. And with an R-rating in place, too, because that's how you make a fucking RoboCop movie. Basically nothing was done right with RoboFlop, which should be tossed on the scrap heap and will not have the staying power of the 1987 flick. Saying it's not as bad as the Total Recall remake is about the faintest praise it can be given, frankly.


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Very funny and very heartfelt

Posted : 11 months, 3 weeks ago on 9 February 2014 02:34 (A review of Last Vegas)

"I'm gonna find some damn water and take all my damn pills and get this party started."

Last Vegas will be inevitably branded as the geriatric version of The Hangover, as it's set in Las Vegas and features a cast of males who head to Sin City to drink and party. But rather than R-rated debauchery and immoral shenanigans, this party is intended more for the older demographic, with milder content and non-offensive humour. The picture was written by Dan Fogelman, who cut his teeth on several Disney animated films (Tangled, Bolt, and Cars) before penning the superlative romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love. in 2011. Fortunately, the strengths of Crazy, Stupid, Love. are carried over to Last Vegas, with touching story dramatics and plenty of big belly-laughs, not to mention the characters at the centre of the tale feel remarkably real and lived-in. The big draw of the movie, of course, is the presence of Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline, who keep the movie consistently watchable with their limitless on-screen charisma.

As children, Billy (Douglas), Paddy (De Niro), Archie (Freeman) and Sam (Kline) were known as the Flatbush Four, sharing a special friendship and keeping in touch over the decades. Now in their late 60s, the four men have grown apart and are in various stages of disrepair. After Billy proposes to his 31-year-old girlfriend Lisa (Bre Blair) with plans to marry in Las Vegas in a matter of days, Archie and Sam push for a Sin City bachelor party, refusing to take no for an answer. Paddy also tags along, though there's awkwardness between himself and Billy due to personal reasons. Before long, the foursome are drinking and gambling, and soon meet a lovely lounge singer named Diana (Mary Steenburgen) who attracts the attention of Billy and Paddy in particular. As the weekend kicks into high gear, the old-timers begin to bond amid the booze-fuelled antics, while Billy is also compelled to re-assess his romantic needs.

Last Vegas dredges up the proverbial story clichés that we expect to see in this sort of production, but the movie miraculously manages to circumvent the most hoary chestnuts in a satisfying way. For instance, the pessimistic douche(™) begins giving the old guys a hard time, but he's soon put in his place by the troupe, who mess with him in hilarious ways to make him change his tune. Furthermore, Archie's unexpected luck at the casino results not in him being accused of cheating, but rather being offered the most expensive luxuries at a Vegas hotel. Last Vegas is great fun when locked in party mode, with Fogelman's script making just about every possible joke about old age. It will probably play better for older members of the audience who'll laugh at the universal truths about the aging process that are brought out, but it's a fun sit for just about anyone. The movie is saucy too, with sexual gags all over the place, and the PG-13 rating thankfully does not hinder the humour's sharpness. In fact, I never even realised it was PG-13, which is a massive compliment to everyone involved.

Director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) is a reliable purveyor of big-screen entertainment, and he's in fine form here, making the most of the meagre $28 million budget at his disposal. This is a slick comedy with attractive Vegas locales, and it's for the most part paced very agreeably. Suffice it to say, Last Vegas does have its more dramatic movements - Billy and Paddy's relationship is rocky, and the tensions between the two men only become more pronounced with Diana's arrival on the scene. But against all odds, this aspect of the story is handled with genuine poignancy, leading to a moving rumination on what matters in life, and the values of love in one's autumnal years. Above all else, we get the sense that these two men do care about each other deep down inside, bestowing the story with real heart and warmth. Drama comes off as perfunctory in most comedies, but it's an organic part of the story here.

You simply cannot miss with a cast like this. Douglas, Kline, Freeman and De Niro are wonderful thespians on their own, but together they positively light up the screen with energy, exhibiting effortless chemistry and camaraderie, and playing off one another with superb precision. It's truly a treat to see these old dogs sharing the frame, each of whom are given their individual moments to shine. They're perfectly complemented by Steenburgen as well, who's an utter delight. Freeman is especially warm here, and there are a handful of touching moments in which he shows us yet again just how good he is (a late scene with Michael Ealy as Archie's son is very moving indeed). Kline is also as great as ever, flexing his wonderful comedic muscles that have not faded over the years. Douglas and De Niro are just as strong, with De Niro clearly enjoying himself while Douglas has an engaging on-screen presence. On a less positive note, the scenes with the protagonists as kids are a bit on the stiff side. The young boys are dead ringers for their older counterparts, but they're flat actors.

To be sure, Last Vegas is not exactly revolutionary from a storytelling perspective, and a few more jokes would not have gone astray in the grand scheme of things. Nevertheless, this is a sweet and often funny movie which is far better than its "Hangover for old people" label implies. It's witty, pleasant, crowd-pleasing comedy entertainment geared more towards the mature demographic, which is a satisfying change of pace in today's cinematic climate. You'll laugh, you might cry, and you'll be left with a big smile on your face. Who can complain about that?


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A real keeper

Posted : 11 months, 3 weeks ago on 6 February 2014 03:00 (A review of Grudge Match)

"We're not dead! Everyone's laughing at us! The whole world's laughing at us! But we're not dead! In fact, I feel more alive now than I ever felt!"

Grudge Match seems like an odd career choice for Sylvester Stallone, who seems determined to do as many old-school action movies as possible before the aging actor's bones give out. Yet here's a boxing dramedy directed by Peter Segal, who was last seen behind Get Smart and a couple of Adam Sandler movies. Thankfully, however, Grudge Match is a home run against all odds; a perfect feel-good flick which is funny and heartfelt in equal measures. The gimmick at the centre of the production, of course, is the fact that it pits Stallone against Robert De Niro, staging a boxing bout between Rocky Balboa and the Raging Bull at long last. Yet, Grudge Match doesn't call it a day with the gimmick in place; this is a mighty fine movie filled to the gills with hilarious dialogue, not to mention it has an interesting story at its core.

In the 1980s, big-time boxers Henry "Razor" Sharp (Stallone) and Billy "The Kid" McDonnen (De Niro) were rivals. After two fights in the ring which left both men with one victory each, a tie-breaking grudge match was planned to determine who's the best. But Razor unexpectedly retires from boxing before the fight, leaving the score unsettled, which eats away at The Kid for thirty years. Now a blue collar worker in Pittsburgh, Razor is struggling to make ends meet, trying his best to maintain a living while caring for his former trainer, Lightning (Alan Arkin). After someone films The Kid and Razor having a scuffle, the video goes viral on the internet, prompting down-and-out boxing promoter Dante Slate, Jr. (Kevin Hart) to convince the former boxers to finally have it out in the ring one last time. Although Razor is extremely reluctant, he needs the monster payday, and agrees to the long overdue grudge match. Thus, the two men lock into a regime of training and public appearances to promote the fight, all the while dealing with various personal troubles. As The Kid finally bonds with his adult son B.J. (Jon Bernthal), Razor reconnects with beloved ex-girlfriend Sally (Kim Basinger).

The result is about as clichéd as it sounds, but what's unexpected is the level of wit and sensitivity that's allotted to what would otherwise be a stale, paint-by-numbers comedic distraction. One of the more successful aspects of the story is The Kid's relationship with B.J., the son that he never knew. Rather than the customary arc of the two warming up to each other over time, they like one another almost immediately, which makes the relationship feel more real than it might have otherwise been. Moreover, Grudge Match portrays Grudgement Day as a publicity stunt, just as so many will perceive the movie itself as a gimmick for its two stars. While the bout is significant to The Kid and Razor, pretty much everyone else sees it as some stupid joke - even the press conference for the match is filled with reporters who ask mocking questions. It's smart scripting by Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman who also pack the movie with plenty of laughs. It's surprising just how hilarious Grudge Match is. From start to finish, the script serves up a steady stream of sharp one-liners and hysterical bantering which had this reviewer sobbing with laughter on more than one occasion. It's very funny.

Director Segal does not have a great deal of credibility as a filmmaker, but he was an ideal choice for the director's seat, and this is definitely his best work to date. Segal was clearly aiming for a Rocky aesthetic here, with handheld cinematography and a colour palette resembling 2006's Rocky Balboa. Grudge Match is energetic, too, with enjoyable soundtrack choices and brisk pacing. Most movies of this ilk try too hard in the dramatics department, resulting in jarring tonal shifts. But Segal has a surprisingly good grasp of this material, and the more dramatic aspects of the story do not weigh down the pacing or turn the experience into a leaden bore. On the contrary, the picture is handled with briskness and maturity, and there's a very engaging human story underneath. Indeed, Grudge Match does not live and die by its laughs. Who knew Segal could evoke genuine emotion, maintain an agreeable pace, juggle tonal shifts, and handle a boxing match with style?

Stallone and De Niro rehearsed extensively for the climactic fight, and the results are magnificent. Segal plays it straight, staging a believable, exciting fight between the two geriatrics, who indeed show up in great shape. This is the leanest that Sly has been since Rocky III, and De Niro still looks like he could kill someone with his sheer strength. Both men also build up a certain amount of sympathy, to the point that there's no good or bad guys here, and we don't really have a burning desire to see either man win or lose. The fight is not one-sided, and the outcome is completely fair to both competitors. Segal had a big advantage with De Niro and Stallone, as plenty of footage and images exist of the two actors from the 1980s, allowing for an authentic portrayal of the rise and fall of their roles. However, digital effects were used to de-age the actors for their '80s boxing matches, and the results are slightly on the iffy side.

It's also surprising just how good all of the performers are, and how strong the characters are. Stallone has tried his hand at comedy before, but let's never speak about those endeavours again. Here, the veteran star is in fine form, displaying spot-on comedic timing and delivery. Moreover, he shares wonderful chemistry with De Niro, who clearly had an absolute ball playing a real character, rather than sleepwalking for the paycheque. It's a shame it took so long for Stallone and De Niro to star in a movie together, as they light up the screen and their banter literally sparkles. Fortunately, the men are surrounded by an able supporting cast. Garnering plenty of laughs is Arkin, yet again demonstrating his pitch-perfect comedic instincts. Arkin has a field day here with one-liners, and his dialogue and actions are a consistent source of amusement. Hart, meanwhile, is a lot funnier than he should be, proving his worth alongside the veterans. Also impressive is Basinger who looks mighty fine for a sixty-year-old. And finally, there's Jon Bernthal who's fast emerging as an unexpectedly great actor. Bernthal is warm and believable here, and his performance is the very antithesis of his vicious work in Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street.

Screw the critics - Grudge Match is a very good movie which flirts with greatness. It's a harmless, enjoyable crowd-pleaser with a great cast and a fun premise. Even if you don't laugh at the movie (and if this is the case, what the hell is wrong with you?), there's still a great story to enjoy here, and Segal imbues the material with heart and gravitas. Yeah, it lacks the emotional impact of Rocky, and the comedy might've been sharper with the freedom of an R rating, but the movie is still a lot better than it had a right to be. It's a real keeper.


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The real deal -- an old-school, manly movie!

Posted : 11 months, 3 weeks ago on 5 February 2014 01:31 (A review of Escape Plan)

"If I don't get out, I will kill you."

With action titans Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger finally teaming up to play major roles alongside one another in an action flick, many have decried that Escape Plan should've been produced twenty years ago. This, however, is pure bullshit - Escape Plan arrives at a time when we need it the most, with the two iconic screen legends delivering an exceptional beer and steak extravaganza in the midst of a dire cinematic era populated with superhero movies and CGI-laden blockbusters. Not just an old-school action film, Escape Plan is also a prison breakout adventure, another extraordinarily manly cinematic subgenre that we don't see enough of in this day and age. More pertinently, Sly and Arnie still have what it takes to deliver the goods, and it helps that this is not just a fun time but a genuinely good motion picture as well. Smart and well-structured, it's an incredibly enjoyable sit which belongs on the biggest possible screen, showing that you don't need a $200 million budget and CGI aplenty to create an exciting slice of cinematic escapism.

A man with a specialist profession, Ray Breslin (Stallone) is a prison escape artist, making a living by breaking out of all the country's best penitentiaries to find flaws in the system. Approached by the CIA, Ray is offered a rather difficult assignment: to enter and break out of a maximum security prison known as The Tomb, where the government sends prisoners in order for them to disappear. The Tomb's location is top secret, hence Ray will have to go in without the assistance of his team. Violently abducted upon agreeing to the job, it fast becomes clear to Ray that not everything is right, with the sadistic Warden Hobbes (Jim Caviezel) condemning him to a lifetime in the airtight prison. Before long, Ray befriends fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), and the pair begin scheming to stage a breakout. It's a daunting task for Ray, whose job skills are pushed to their limits by the intricate construction.

Both Expendables movies so far are an enormous amount of fun, but they are action films first and foremost, with flimsy plotting and not much tension. While there's nothing overly wrong with this approach, Escape Plan is more of a story-driven thriller with action elements, rendering it solid from a critical standpoint on top of being flat-out fun. To be sure, it's not going to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay, and the joykills in the crowd might be able to nit-pick various aspects of the plot, but Escape Plan definitely works, finding a smooth narrative rhythm and providing a degree of smarts to supplement all the fun. The effort is definitely appreciated, with the film's first two acts mostly dedicated to sharp dialogue and intense set-pieces as Ray works to formulate an escape plan. On top of this, with a 110-minute runtime, director Mikael Håfström has time to establish Ray's personality, giving us a reason to root for him once he's inserted into The Tomb. As time goes on, deeper layers to Ray's character are introduced, and we understand his motivation for selecting this obscure trade.

Although the violence here is not on the same extreme level as something like 2008's Rambo, Escape Plan is an R-rated actioner, which is for the best. At no point does it feel as if Håfström is pulling any punches; bullet hits are bloody, and dialogue is peppered with profanity. Once the stakes are established and all the plot pieces are in place, the film really springs to life for a spectacular climax laced with bullets, blood, explosions, brawls and wisecracks. The climactic set-piece is fucking magnificent; the type of exhilarating action sequence that will make you stand up and cheer. Escape Plan thankfully understands the appeal of Sly and Arnie, allowing the legends to go nuts with firearms when the occasion calls for it. Added to this, Håfström knows precisely when to play it straight and when to plant his tongue in cheek. The only downside, though, is that some of the fight scenes are underwhelming, with the dreaded shaky-cam syndrome raising its ugly head to disappointing effect. Some of the CGI is a bit iffy as well, but it's not a huge deal.

It's always magnificent to witness Sly and Arnie sharing the frame in a motion picture, with both accepting meaty roles here which allow them to do more than just blow shit up. Stallone is very much the straight man as Breslin, and his performance is strong and focused, making him an interesting protagonist for whom you want to root for. Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, lights up the movie with his playfulness, having a total ball chewing the scenery and dispersing one-liners. Escape Plan allows the Austrian Oak to deliver a handful of beautiful quips, and he also summons his trademark muscle to mow down bad guys once the finale arrives. Witnessing the hulking star holding a massive machine gun turret ripped from a helicopter... It provokes tears of joy. Thankfully, the movie also boasts a great supporting cast. As the sinister warden, Jim Caviezel is perfectly fine, making for a good villain to actively root against. Vinnie Jones is present here as well, playing the trademark tough henchman role very nicely. Rounding out the main players is Sam Neill as The Tomb's resident doctor, while Vincent D'Onofrio, 50 Cent and Amy Ryan all make a positive impression as Breslin's support team.

Escape Plan confidently stands as one of 2013's finest and most satisfying motion pictures, a slick slice of manly escapism that delivers great action, superb actors and an engaging narrative. It's the very definition of crowd-pleasing entertainment, and it's hard to imagine a better project for Arnie and Sly to have undertaken together. Fans of these two will die happy after this team-up; we can finally tick off something big from our bucket list.


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Just let it fucking end!

Posted : 12 months ago on 30 January 2014 04:28 (A review of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones)

"The lady who got killed, she lives right under me..."

The Paranormal Activity franchise has been on the decline for years, reaching an all-time low with Paranormal Activity 4 in 2012. And now 2014's Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones arrives not in the trademark Halloween month, but in the dumping ground month of January, which is a red flag in itself. It's worth noting that The Marked Ones is technically not Paranormal Activity 5, as we'll apparently get that further down the line - this is instead a spin-off which aspires to launch its own separate series, because money. The director here is Christopher Landon, who has written every instalment since PA 2, hence he delivers the bare minimum of what's required for a PA film; a handful of jump scares, a malevolent atmosphere, a few unexplainable supernatural occurrences, and even the obligatory Katie Featherston cameo. But there's no sense of innovation here, only fatigue - The Marked Ones is painfully by-the-numbers, perfunctorily observing people who willingly put themselves in danger while refusing to put the fucking camera down. It's admittedly creepy from time to time which may be sufficient for some, but horror fans deserve a lot better.

In 2012, Latino teenager Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) is graduating high school, and decides to borrow a high definition video camcorder from one of his relatives. With friend Hector (Jorge Diaz), Jesse uses the camera to document pranks and funny business, but their curiosity is piqued following the death of a strange old women living in a nearby apartment. Taking it upon themselves to look into it, the pair uncover evidence of witchcraft, while Jesse suffers a mysterious bite mark on his arm. Before long, Jesse's health begins to deteriorate, prompting them to look into the history of a local witch coven to find out what's actually going on.

The biggest hurdle facing any found footage production is that it needs to be believable. Due to the inherent limitations of the subgenre, the task for a filmmaking team is to thread together a coherent story using puzzle pieces which have a solid motivation to exist. Unfortunately, The Marked Ones miserably fails in this respect; most of the footage has no reason behind it, and there's literally no core motivation for this demonic misadventure to be on-screen apart from the fact that it's a Paranormal Activity movie. Characters record conversations due to the need for exposition, while at other times the protagonists continue to film during intense situations simply because the script demands it. One assumes that, at least some of the time, the camera is used for the sake of its torch, but surely actual torches exist somewhere? The producers clearly aren't even trying anymore, content to deliver a bare minimum of plot without even attempting to explain themselves, hoping that a few lazy jump scares will keep the box office dollars rolling in.

For the majority of its runtime, The Marked Ones pussyfoots around in pure tedium, observing the monkey business as Jesse and Hector clown around and consistently make poor investigative decisions. There is potential in the idea of an old electronic game being used as a communication device with the demon, but it's wasted on a few flat, predictable scenes. Furthermore, the stupidity is off the charts here. Beyond the fact that it's impossible to accept the found footage conceit at this point in the series since it's too much of a coincidence, the characters perpetrate extraordinary acts of idiocy time after time. Characters are as stupid as regular horror movie victims, doing contrived things and getting their comeuppance as a result, and to them I say good riddance. Hell, at one stage Jesse captures a few moments on-camera of what's indisputably a possessed killer in a cursed apartment, but no-one thinks to contact the police, or the Ghostbusters, or anybody who could help in this situation. Instead, they continue to march ahead into obvious danger. The manipulation is overpowering here, with Landon not properly earning scares or scenes of terror.

It almost goes without saying that the actors are stiff and unconvincing. None of the male leads are worth giving a damn about, and barely any of the supporting cast make a lasting impact. With that said, though, The Marked Ones does score unintentional laughs as the climax approaches, with a pair of dudes grabbing guns and blasting away witches. But then, like all found footage movies, it just suddenly ends on a really open-ended note, provoking frustration more than terror. As a director, Landon is simply not in tune with what makes a genuinely impressive piece of multiplex horror. It hurts to watch this malarkey in the wake of Insidious and The Conjuring.

Perhaps the biggest sin of The Marked Ones is just how little it contributes to the franchise. It may be a spin-off, sure, but it exists in the same universe as the other pictures, and yet feels the need to reiterate the stuff we've already learned regarding witches and covens. Although the twist ending is interesting, the 80 minutes of build-up preceding it are all for nought in the grand scheme of things. The Marked Ones again feels like the series is treading water, continuing to tease rather than explain, with the producers fishing to see how much longer they can milk this fucking thing. Paranormal Activity did not need to be a full-blown franchise - it should have stopped a long time ago.


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A full-blown masterpiece; riveting, fun and funny!

Posted : 12 months ago on 27 January 2014 02:18 (A review of The Wolf Of Wall Street)

"There's no nobility in poverty. I've been a poor man, and I've been a rich man. And I choose rich every fucking time."

2013's The Wolf of Wall Street is both an idiosyncratic Martin Scorsese picture and a considerable change of pace for the seasoned filmmaker. After dabbling in the PG-rated, family-oriented Hugo in 2011, Scorsese returns to his old stomping grounds here, creating an insane R-rated romp beset with profanity and nudity, not to mention scenes of drugs, alcohol and intense violence. Yet, The Wolf of Wall Street can also be considered Scorsese's first outright comedy, as it's predominantly pitched at a darkly comic tone and there are countless belly-laughs to be had. It's a satiric document of boys behaving badly, but Scorsese also permeates the production with plenty of gravitas, finding a perfect tonal balance to allow us to both take the material seriously and have fun along the way. Whereas Hugo was sweet and warm, Wolf is ruthlessly profane and hedonistic, and it deserves more acclaim than it appears to be receiving.

An ambitious kid fresh out of college, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) moves to the Big Apple seeking to strike it rich on Wall Street. Starting at the lowest rung of a big stock trading company, Jordan learns the ropes from seasoned big dog Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), working to sell worthless stock to customers regardless of whether or not the client will benefit from the transaction. But 1987's Black Monday puts Jordan out of the job, and he soon finds himself pushing penny stocks on hapless blue collar workers, using his newfound talents to dumbfound his colleagues. Meeting Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), Jordan eventually establishes brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont with help from his friends and acquaintances hungry for cash. Before long, Jordan makes a massive impact in the industry, finding himself with more money, drugs and women than he knows what to do with, eventually disposing of his first wife to marry sexy former model Naomi (Margot Robbie). But while Jordan is swimming in fortune, FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) begins investigating the company's illegal practises, waiting for any opportunity to bring down the arrogant stock titan.

There's a good chance that 99% of the folks who watch The Wolf of Wall Street will have no idea about how the stock market works, or what exactly Jordan is doing to get himself filthy rich. It's thus a testament to the efficient screenplay and Scorsese's taut direction that, in basically no time at all, it's possible to get a firm enough grasp on what Jordan is doing and why this results in his insane wealth. Wolf is hugely convoluted due to its stock market machinations and various subplots involving the sizeable ensemble, yet it works; it's a structural masterpiece, as Scorsese guides the narrative with a storytelling sleight-of-hand that not many can equal, let alone top. There are no heroes in this story, just egotistical businessman determined to suck money from rich, gullible clients who are duped into buying stocks. Scorsese is not exactly flattering to this industry - the cheeky satiric message of Wolf is, of course, that there's no difference between real stockbrokers and Jordan's gang of fraudulent criminals.

Adapted from Jordan Belfort's real-life memoirs by Terence Winter (Get Rich or Die Tryin'), Wolf is a full meal, clocking in at a mammoth three hours in length. To be sure, the movie revels in bad behaviour, showing scene upon scene involving drugs, alcohol, prostitutes and other acts of utter debauchery, making its polarising reception quite understandable. In fact, a lot of people basically hate Wolf due to its excessive length, and that's a fair standpoint, but the excess is essentially the point. It's a ballsy move for any filmmaker to make a candid document of this type of lifestyle, and it worked for this reviewer. To cut back on the excess or spend more time focusing on these guys getting their comeuppance would dilute the story's message and impact. Thanks to the length, we grow to understand why these guys do what they do; because it's fun. It's morally wrong, sure, but Scorsese pitches the insanity at just the right tone, allowing us to laugh both at and with the characters. Scorsese stages some events like full-blown cartoons, including a hilarious scene of physical comedy in which Jordan and Donny become more or less paralysed due to drugs. Even funnier is seeing Jordan breaking from his drug coma by snorting cocaine, taking inspiration from Popeye as he watches the character become super-charged after a serving of spinach.

Nobody mounts three-hour epics quite as deftly as Scorsese, who demonstrates a firm grasp on the material. The Wolf of Wall Street is an extremely slick motion picture benefitting from top-notch production values that one would expect from a $100 million movie. Moreover, Scorsese's sense of pacing is simply immaculate. This is one long movie, but it's surprisingly digestible and light on its feet, which is a feat that not many can achieve other than Scorsese. However, there is evidence that the picture was trimmed. Wolf was delayed by a month to facilitate more time for Scorsese to complete the film, as the first cut ran for almost four hours and would've been NC-17. Some of the editing feels jarring and iffy, suggesting that segments of scenes were taken out, and one can't help but wonder what a more complete edit might look like.

This is career-best work for DiCaprio, who would do wise to stick by Scorsese for further projects. It's such an excellent performance due to DiCaprio's commitment to the material; he embodies Jordan Belfort body and soul, displaying exceptional passion and never breaking focus. Scorsese is unapologetic in showing Jordan as he is, not diluting the material to make him likeable, hence the wrong actor could've resulted in disaster. Luckily, DiCaprio is riveting throughout, and he's aided by the superb Jonah Hill who shows himself to be more than a one-trick comedic pony. Hill was so determined to work with Scorsese that he accepted absolute minimum wage for the shoot, and it pays off handsomely. Also standing out is Australian actress Margot Robbie, who's both beautiful and talented as Jordan's wife Naomi, espousing a masterful Boston accent and displaying as much simmering passion as DiCaprio. Even more impressive is veteran filmmaker Rob Reiner, who's an absolute scene stealer playing Jordan's hot-headed father. Reiner amasses laughs with confidence, and makes a hugely positive impression. Also of note is Matthew McConaughey, who lights up the screen despite his very limited screen-time. The Wolf of Wall Street is a magnificent acting showcase, with many other performers showing up throughout the picture, all of whom hit their marks.

The Wolf of Wall Street is a full-blown masterpiece, one of Scorsese's greatest achievements and by far and away the best motion picture of 2013. It's funnier than most comedies, sexier than most romances, and more thrilling than most action movies. Furthermore, it trumps American Hustle with ease, as Scorsese creates a far more involving narrative than David O. Russell's overrated period piece. It's rare to see such an effectively entertaining three-hour movie, and it's even rarer to see such a spot-on mix of spellbinding human drama, provocative social commentary and terrific dark comedy. You need to get this movie in front of your eyes.


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Serviceable thriller entertainment

Posted : 1 year ago on 25 January 2014 04:46 (A review of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit )

"You're not just an analyst anymore, you're operational now."

With film studios now desperately throwing as many brand name characters at the wall to see who sticks, it's Jack Ryan's turn to get another look-in. An iconic character from various novels by the late Tom Clancy, Ryan has previously appeared on-screen in four action-adventures, portrayed by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck to varying degrees of success. With Star Trek actor Chris Pine now assuming the role, and with a completely original story in place not based on any pre-existing material, 2014's Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a confident resurrection of the unique character, who's right at home in today's new high-tech world. Shadow Recruit is not as solid as Patriot Games (the best Ryan film) or The Hunt for Red October, but it's better than the character's other two cinematic outings, which is largely thanks to director Kenneth Branagh (last seen in mainstream waters with 2011's Thor), who creates an exciting ride despite the occasional dollop of Hollywood dopiness.

While studying in London, Jack Ryan (Pine) witnesses footage of the September 11 attacks on TV, which inspires him to quit college and serve his country in the Marine Corps. Suffering a crippling back injury in Afghanistan, Jack soon catches the attention of CIA Agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), who's impressed by the young man's tenacity and intelligence, subsequently talking him into joining the service. Ten years on, Jack is a junior analyst in the CIA, working undercover on Wall Street as he studies financial patterns that might reveal terrorist activities. Upon discovering a rather peculiar list of bank accounts hidden in Russia, Jack is pushed to go into the field himself, travelling to Moscow to investigate what could be a plot to cripple the United States economy. It's not long before Jack becomes a hunted man, evading assassination attempts and becoming drawn further and further into the case. With the assistance of Harper, Jack turns his investigation towards Viktor Cherevin (director Branagh), a ruthless businessman at the centre of the conspiracy. Meanwhile, Jack also reluctantly accepts help from his live-in girlfriend Cathy (Keira Knightley), who has been kept in the dark about his true profession.

Although the trailers for Shadow Recruit have portrayed the film as a Jason Bourne-esque thriller featuring Jack as a confident man of action, the result is smarter than anticipated. Ryan doesn't set out to kill as many people as possible, engaging in fisticuffs and disarming opponents only when the occasion calls for desperate measures. Hell, after his first kill, he can't stop shaking. Jack is for the most part an analyst, relying on his intellect and very reluctantly agreeing to field work, which works in the movie's favour. Indeed, Jack as written by Clancy was never much of an action hero, hence this treatment of the character is respectful to the source. To be sure, Shadow Recruit is admittedly marred by more than a modicum of action film silliness which isn't really needed. Not to mention the plot isn't exactly imaginative. In fact, conceiving of an original story for the flick seems unnecessary considering the wealth of material that could be mined from Clancy's novels.

For an action-thriller, Shadow Recruit is surprisingly low-key. Produced for a modest $60 million, its scope is limited and there are no enormous action sequences beget with explosions. Branagh is more concerned with mining excitement from Jack's covert activities, or from an intense chase through Moscow. Even more enjoyable is a scene in which Jack, Cathy and Viktor sit down for a dinner of deception and cunning. Shadow Recruit is for the most part a slick ride, with Branagh maintaining a steady pace throughout which helps to compensate for the picture's more contrived moments. The polished presentation is a huge plus, and it's supplemented with a perfectly exciting score courtesy of Patrick Doyle.

Pine is not exactly a remarkable thespian, but he's a robust Ryan and a suitable pick for this new portrayal of the character. Even though he doesn't seem to age over the ten years between Jack quitting college and becoming a CIA analyst, he carries himself well, with commanding charisma and believable swagger. Pine also shares solid chemistry with Knightley as Cathy, though the British actress' American accent is somewhat on the iffy side. The script does well by treating Cathy as a smart female lead; she's understanding and acts believably, and she is given more to do in the grand scheme of things than look pretty and be a damsel in distress. Meanwhile, as Jack's mentor, Costner is firmly within his comfort zone, and there's nothing wrong with that. The veteran is a warm presence, and it's nice to see the talented actor still appearing in theatrical movies. Director Branagh is also in fine form as the villain here. Espousing a believable Russian accent and emanating plenty of gravitas, Branagh is a hugely charming presence, and his villainy is not as cut-and-dried as it may have been in a less sophisticated blockbuster.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a somewhat rocky ride, but it's a promising set-up for what could be an exciting new series. It simply feels a bit too slight and lacking in novelty in the grand scheme of things, coming off as nothing too special. But with that said, when you consider all the crap that movie-goers are accustomed to receiving during the month of January, Shadow Recruit is head-over-heels above the rest. It's pleasant, serviceable popcorn entertainment for adults, and it feels relevant in today's shaky economical climate. Maybe if another instalment materialises, the series will find its groove and genuinely soar to excellence...


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Simply enchanting

Posted : 1 year ago on 22 January 2014 01:34 (A review of About Time)

"Lesson Number One: All the time traveling in the world can't make someone love you."

Although About Time is only Richard Curtis' third directorial undertaking, the writer-director has been penning romantic comedy screenplays since the 1990s, developing a filmmaking voice that's sentimental yet affecting and thoughtful. Although it features a few rom-com clichés, About Time is probably the most original thing that the worn-out genre has offered up since 2009's (500) Days of Summer. Heartbreaking and often unpredictable, this is a smart, wonderful movie which provides entertainment for both males and females, not to mention it feels surprisingly natural when it could have been an artificial feature-length sitcom episode.

On his twenty-first birthday, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is informed by his father (Bill Nighy) that, due to a special bloodline, all of the men in his family are capable of time travel. However, they can only travel back to moments they've previously experienced, only needing a dark space in order to take the jump and possibly change the present. Moving to London to practise law, Tim hopes to use his special gift to find a girlfriend after striking out with gorgeous family friend Charlotte (Margot Robbie). By chance, Tim meets the beautiful Mary (Rachel McAdams), and manages to woo her thanks to his inherited abilities. Eventually marrying his dream girl and starting a family, Tim can't help but continually tinker with time travel, ultimately doing more harm than good.

In the hands of any other filmmaker, About Time would spend two hours exploring Tim's antics as he constantly time travels to fix mistakes while trying to win Mary's heart, and would climax with a clichéd break-up-to-make-up scenario involving Tim coming clean and explaining his ability. It would also star someone like Taylor Lautner. But the premise is in safe hands with Curtis, who only dedicates the opening act to Tim discovering his gift and winning over Mary. From there, Curtis moves into what would be sequel territory to any other rom-com filmmaker, exploring how Tim learns to navigate marriage and deal with tough life issues. Following this, the third act commendably shifts its focus, concentrating more on Tim's relationship with his father to observe how the two deal with such an extraordinary gift that's kept a secret from their significant others. The two men share a warm bond, and the events and themes which stem from this lead to a rumination on being appreciative of the little moments in life, your loved ones, and simple day-to-day existence.

Of course, Tim wishes to perpetually alter things for the betterment of himself and others, but he often faces the proverbial butterfly effect. We're left to ponder how we would deal with the various conundrums faced by Tim, who at one stage tries to course-correct his beloved sister's life before realising that the effort was wholly unnecessary, not to mention a threat to his own existence. The notion of death is eventually introduced, and the handling is absolutely extraordinary, bestowing the film with genuine emotional resonance and weight. About Time could've been a convoluted mess, but it's a smooth ride thanks to Curtis' clever script. He also figures out a pitch-perfect way to close the picture, which frankly left this reviewer close to tears. If there's anything to criticise, it's that the subplot involving Charlotte is awkwardly dropped, and the feature does feel a bit long in the tooth; it could've been trimmed by 5-10 minutes without losing any of its impact.

It helps that About Time is genuinely funny as well, with the time travelling shenanigans providing more laughs than cringes. One could easily imagine a succession of sitcom gags flowing from this premise, but Curtis side-steps such a pitfall with a marvellous sleight of hand, not to mention the characters at the centre of the story feel like real people worth following and rooting for, rather than one-dimensional plot pawns used for the sake of cheap humour. At first glance, Gleeson might seem like a pale stand-in for Hugh Grant (a veteran of Curtis' films), but he really comes into his own here. He's a strange pick for a romantic lead considering how "normal" he is, but this is a case of picking the right actor for a role, rather than a star guaranteed to bring in more box office dollars. Gleeson also shows the character maturing over the years, becoming more confident and generally turning into an adult. McAdams is simply lovely alongside him, displaying the same level of nuance exhibited by Gleeson. Although it might've been nice to see Zooey Deschanel in the role (who was originally cast), McAdams is delightful, with her beauty making it easy to understand why Tim falls for her so easily. Also worth mentioning is Nighy, brilliant as always playing Tim's father.

Curtis brings out all of the elements that have peppered his screenplays for the past two decades, with choice banter, awkward embarrassments, meet-cutes, and relatable drama. Some could bash the film for using these types of conventions, but that would be silly. Likewise, curmudgeons and cynical critics could probably pick apart the fantasy conceit with relish, but to do so would be to miss the entire point of the enterprise. Curtis did not set out to create a groundbreaking sci-fi vision; he simply used a basic idea as the basis for a romantic comedy with profound thematic undercurrents. What matters is that About Time works, and for all of its sentiment and schmaltz, it has the power to move you and make you cry, which is one hell of an achievement. Filmmakers like Michael Bay, Brett Ratner and Uwe Boll will never be able to achieve the level of emotional power that Curtis conjures up here with seemingly little effort, so it seems unnecessary to nit-pick the script. About Time is non-cynical and simply enchanting, and it absolutely deserves to be seen.


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Disney's best in a long time

Posted : 1 year ago on 16 January 2014 10:23 (A review of Frozen)

"The cold never bothered me anyway."

The promotional campaign for 2013's Frozen has been selling an entirely different motion picture, which thankfully renders the finished product a delightful surprise. Whereas the trailers foreground both the action beats and the bumbling slapstick comedy, the heart of Frozen is something else entirely, and the resulting picture is staggering in its visual artistry, originality and heart. It's not just good, but genuinely great, a magical throwback to the Disney animated movies of the 1990s when princesses were the order of the day. Frozen will be a godsend for those who adore Disney princess movies, but it will also work for anyone seeking a fun time, as it's smart and playful enough to engage viewers of just about any demographic. This is Disney's best animation in years, and that's saying something with Wreck-It Ralph and Tangled also under the studio's belt.

As young girls, sisters Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) were close, sharing many fond memories of childhood playtime. But Elsa is cursed with the ability to conjure ice, leading to an accident involving Anna that almost kills her. To protect Anna, her memories of Elsa's powers are taken away, and Elsa locks herself away from the world, hoping to find a way to control her curse. Following the death of their parents, the pair grow up in isolation, with Anna left wondering why her beloved sister shut her out. When the day comes for Elsa to be crowned queen of the land of Arendelle, Anna romances a handsome prince named Hans (Santino Fontana). But Elsa doesn't approve of the coupling, and the ensuing argument pushes the nervous new queen to unleash her powers in front of everyone, covering the kingdom in ice and bringing about a permanent winter. Escaping high into the mountains, Else hopes to live in exile, but Anna feels responsible for her estranged sister's outburst and hopes that Else can bring back the summer. Heading out into the cold in pursuit of Elsa, Anna is assisted by ice dealer Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer pal Sven, and a living snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad) who dreams of experiencing hot weather.

Frozen is a loose adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson story The Snow Queen, which Walt Disney actually tried to adapt back in the 1940s before concluding that it was never going to work Disney-style. Yet, co-director/writer Jennifer Lee (who wrote Wreck-It Ralph) has managed to crack the nut at last, and it's hard to imagine anyone doing a better job. What's surprising about Frozen is that the trademark love story tangent does not play out exactly as anticipated - in fact, the heart of the story is the love between Anna and Elsa, with male interests playing a more ancillary role in the tale. The picture's third act is better left unspoiled, as it's beset with twists and turns, bestowing the flick with more innovation than anyone had a right to expect. There's Disney formula at play here, but the tale is coloured in with such zeal and wit, and this is the most unpredictable House of Mouse animation for a considerable amount of time.

In keeping with Disney tradition, Frozen is one step away from being a full-fledged musical, as the picture is peppered with scenes of characters pouring out their hearts in various energetic numbers to advance character development. The best is easily Elsa's Let It Go, which is also the greatest Disney song since the '90s - it's a show-stopping number, sumptuously animated and beautifully sung. Not all of the songs are home runs, but the vocals are consistently excellent, and it's easy to imagine kids listening to the soundtrack on repeat for months on end. What's also exciting about Frozen is how genuinely funny it is, with Lee's writing exhibiting the type of wit and sophistication often saved for Pixar productions. In any other movie, Olaf would be a useless Jar Jar Binks sidekick included to keep the kids happy, but here he's a brilliant creation who lights up the screen whenever he appears. As long as you have a sense of humour, there's a good chance you'll laugh at Olaf's antics.

Frozen's comedic moments and songs are remarkable, but the picture also excels from a technical standpoint, boasting spectacular art and costume design, not to mention luscious animation. Most impressive here are the character expressions, which are exceptionally complex and nuanced. This is particularly evident with Sven the reindeer - he never vocalises a word, yet he says a great deal through his physical reactions and expressions. The princesses here are terrific creations, too (yes, plural - there are two princesses). Anna may be perceived as just one more Disney princess, but she's more feisty and charmingly awkward than prim and proper. Plus, Elsa is the closest thing to an antagonist that Frozen has until the third act, which is groundbreaking in a Disney movie. Luckily, both characters are voiced with spunk and spirit; Kristen Bell is almost unbearably cute, while Idina Menzel gives real dimension to her animated role.

With its strikingly original storyline, an array of colourful characters and a narrative structure that belies expectations, Frozen is a borderline revolutionary effort from the House of Mouse. It's a new instant classic for the studio which manages to be suitable for family consumption without specifically pandering to the little kids.


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Flawed in ways difficult to ignore

Posted : 1 year ago on 13 January 2014 07:20 (A review of Carrie)

"The other kids, they think I'm weird. But I don't wanna be, I wanna be normal. I have to try and be a whole person before its too late."

Following in the shadow of the Evil Dead update, 2013's Carrie is neither as terrible as one might have anticipated, nor as brilliant as it had the potential to be. This is not the first time that Stephen King's 1974 novel of the same name has been adapted for the screen, as Brian De Palma produced a cinematic treatment in 1976 and there was a TV movie in 2002, hence this new iteration was a golden opportunity to produce a fresh realisation of the source book. Alas, this Carrie plays it safe, rehashing De Palma's movie with contemporary digital effects and only a few minor changes here and there. Nevertheless, it's a credit to those involved that it still works to some extent, even if it's not as memorable as the original feature which spawned it.

An awkward 18-year-old girl, Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz) is an outcast at her high school, struggling to fit in with the other girls as she's mercilessly bullied by popular snob Chris (Portia Doubleday). Carrie's home life isn't much better, as her deranged fundamentalist mother Margaret (Julianne Moore) perceives her daughter as pure evil. With the school's prom approaching, Chris' former friend Sue (Gabriella Wilde) begins to regret bullying Carrie and hopes to make amends by urging her boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort) to take her to prom and give her a memorable night. Although Carrie is suspicious of Tommy's motives, she agrees to his invitation. However, Chris, who's banned from prom by gym teacher Ms. Desjardin (Judy Greer) as punishment for her behaviour towards Carrie, begins plotting to ruin Carrie's night, unaware that the meek girl has recently discovered that she has telekinetic abilities.

At the helm of this Carrie is Kimberly Peirce, who also directed the outstanding Boys Don't Cry in 1999. Given her pedigree, Peirce was an inspired choice for this endeavour. After all, while King's novel and De Palma's original movie remain solid pieces of work, Peirce had the potential to bring something new to the table since she's a female, and would be able to provide a more authentic feminist interpretation of the story's proceedings and thematic undercurrents. But alas, aside from a few creative instances of symbolism, Peirce does not take full advantage of the opportunity, instead predominantly rehashing what's already been done. Nevertheless, Peirce and the writers do a decent enough job of modernising the story. The current atmosphere of bullying is captured here, with teens now able to use their mobile devices to capture acts of humiliation on video and share them with the world. Likewise, Carrie is able to research her powers on the internet. These little inclusions are nice, hence it's a shame that the filmmakers seem too afraid to majorly deviate from the template already set by King and De Palma.

Carrie feels fundamentally PG-13 across its first two acts, but all hell breaks loose for the climax, when Peirce is given the opportunity to realise Carrie's gory rampage using contemporary special effects and the freedom of an R-rating. However, while the climactic mayhem is pretty enjoyable and there's a certain satisfaction inherent in seeing the bullies get their comeuppance, it's pitched at the wrong tone. See, whereas Sissie Spacek's Carrie was in a trance-like shock while feeling out her powers during the climax of the 1976 film, in this remake Moretz is seen honing her telekinetic skills before her killing spree. Thus, as she walks around striking Magneto-like poses, the gory extended set-pieces comes across as calculated and evil, as she sets out to murder people and has time to ponder her actions before she does it. There's not much emotional resonance here as a result, and there's no real sense of tragedy, reducing the finale to a special effects demo reel. And even then, there are missteps. For instance, the moment in which Carrie is doused in pig's blood is replayed from different angles three or four times for no real reason. And a lot of the bloodletting is achieved via glossy CGI that's at times unbearably artificial. Practical effects would be far more suitable for this type of production, especially in the wake of the all-practical Evil Dead remake.

Amusingly, while most American films try to pass off 30-year-old actors as 18-year-old teenagers, Moretz is a 15-year-old playing an 18-year-old, and she actually looks believable. However, while the actress acquits herself admirably in the role, she's miscast due to other reasons. See, Moretz is just too naturally beautiful and charismatic to embody the role of Carrie. One supposes she's meant to be a new interpretation of the role, but according to the script, the staging, the story, her dialogue and everyone else's dialogue, she's apparently still the same pathetic, vulnerable Carrie from the 1976 film, which is completely dissonant to Moretz's on-screen performance. The script says she's a weakling, but she's clearly capable. And while the movie says she's freakish and a prime target for bullying, she's every bit as good-looking as the girls who bully her. This is another example of why further updating the story would've been beneficial.

Fortunately, the rest of the supporting cast fare better. Julianne Moore is genuinely frightening as Carrie's unhinged mum, delivering a completely unflattering performance for which she commits to the material with complete abandon. Also in the cast is a very appealing Gabriella Wilde as Sue, while Judy Greer is genuine and sympathetic as the well-meaning gym teacher. Other members of the cast hit their marks effectively, most notably Portia Doubleday who's convincing as the hugely spiteful Chris.

Carrie is not terrible by any stretch, as its handsomely slick presentation helps to keep it afloat and there are a number of scenes which genuinely work. Although the script is inconsistent and in need of a thorough polish, the build-up to Carrie's rampage is consistently interesting, and there are sufficient moments of terror throughout to prevent the film from being a total bust.


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