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"As Above, So Below" is by no means a perfect movie. In fact, it's
probably not even a 7, but more of a 6. However, director John Erick
Dowdle gets an extra point for doing what so many other horror
directors fail to do: He tries something new, and strikes a chord, even
if his movie isn't entirely original. It mixes the claustrophobic
setting of "The Descent" (or the cult novel "House Of Leaves"), with an
Indiana Jones like treasure hunt and presents it all in found footage
fashion a sub section of horror that unfortunately doesn't seem to go
away any time soon.
Still, "As Above, So Below" intrigues, because what the group of young people find, when they go down into the catacombs under Paris aren't the usual horror stereotypes. There are no zombies or vampires waiting down there. No creepy children with black hair. It's something much less defined and never totally explained. Horror movies stick to known patterns and paths way too often, when really it is the one genre, that should know almost no boundaries. John Erick Dowdle plays a little with the possibilities, with ways of manifesting fear. In the end not all of his attempts are successful. The scares aren't as intense as they should be, many plot points are silly, if you think about them.
However, you start to get really uncomfortable as the characters get picked off one by one, and you're locked down there with them. The movie puts you in a deeply uncomfortable place and remains relentless until the very end. Doing so, it tickles a certain existential fear deep within which is actually the reason why we watch horror movies in the first place: to make ourselves aware of our own mortality and come to terms with that fact that we have no idea what lies beyond this life.
"As Above, So Below" is not a groundbreaking genre movie, and it probably will not stand the test of time. However, in 2014 it's the best and most effective horror film I've seen in many years.
Oh, Ole Bornedal you continue to break my heart. You showed so much
potential with the super thrilling "Nattevagten" in the early 90's and
have let me down ever since.
Bornedal newest disappointment is called "The Possession", a movie based on a supposedly true story about a haunted box that does horrible things to its owner. I remember having read about the urban legend on the internet and almost pissing my pants while doing so. When I found out that there would be a movie based on it, I thought this might finally be an original concept for a horror flick.
Unfortunately, "The Possession" doesn't make use of its high potential. Most of it is a clichéd bore. The performances and directorial choices make many scenes unintentionally hilarious. An example for how this movie could have been great but turned out awful is a scene at the morgue. In a dark room the hero finds himself with his possessed daughter and a couple of bodies. An ten year old could have thought of ways to turn this into a memorable, scary scene, but Bornedal simply goes for a quick and lame jump scare.
Was "Nattevagten" a lucky shot? Why do Hollywood producers give promising projects to uninspired directors? How much longer will people think kids are scary? All of these questions are more intriguing than any of the mysteries presented in "The Possession".
It doesn't happen all too often anymore that I go to watch a movie
without having checked its rating on IMDb before. With "Dredd" I
thought I had checked the rating and that it was somewhere around 6.6.
So when I went to the movies I pretty much expected this to be mildly
entertaining, but utterly forgettable.
The first ten minutes of "Dredd" did little to alter this expectation. The 3D is awfully done and distracting. We learn about a drug called Slow-Mo and its effects don't translate too well to the screen. Everything just happens really slowly (as you would expect) and that's it. It is as gripping as it sounds. A car chase comes and goes, and I was ready to be bored for the rest of the movie.
However, as soon as Judge Dredd and his female co-star Anderson go to investigate three murders in an apartment building things pick up. The two Judges get locked in with thousands of thugs who want to kill them. To survive the two must fight their way to the top of the skyscraper and kill the Überboss (a somewhat underwhelming character played by Lena Headey).
Anybody who has seen the Korean action film "The Raid" will be reminded of that movie's plot from here on in. The similarity is an unfortunate coincidence. Apparently "Dredd"'s screenplay had been finished before that of "The Raid", but seeing how the American movie was released later, it unjustly seems like a rip off now. Also, most people seem to prefer "The Raid". Not me. I find the highly choreographed Korean movie tiring after 10 minutes, "Dredd", on the other hand, is entertaining and enjoyably old school in its ultra brutal depiction of violence.
It's not a politically correct movie. In fact, its morals are downright rotten, but that's in the nature of the main character. I have never read the original comics (which is probably also why i didn't think the Sylvester Stallone movie from 1995 was all that horrible), but from what I've heard the movie is rather faithful to the spirit of its source material. If you find fault with it, you should blame the character's creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, not the makers of this movie.
"Dredd" is the closest thing to an old school action flick, much ballsier and better than "The Expendables" and its sequel that tried to be the real deal. Unfortunately, audiences didn't requite the effort. That way "Dredd" will probably be a last reminder of a time when action movies actually seemed dangerous and forbidden.
It's quite frustrating being a horror fan. Most of us have grown up
watching scary movies, loving the feeling of getting so scared you
couldn't fall asleep at night. However, as a kid it is much easier
getting scared. The older you get the more you get accostumed with the
genre and its thrills. You start to see patterns and the formula wears
thin before too long. Horror movies that start off as promising as
"Sinister" in its first hour are extremely seldom and when they do come
along, our fan hearts jump.
It's not that Scott Derrickson's movie is all that original. Actually, it's more or less another found footage movie with some creepy kids thrown in (more about that later), but the director sets it up so well that you find yourself creeped out and intrigued right from the start. Ethan Hawke's character is given enough depth that we can somehow understand why he would not be taking his family and running away as far as possible within the first five minutes. Derrickson moves things along at exactly the right pace and stays away from cheap scares . The dark house that serves as a setting for most of the film adds a lot of tension, and you never feel safe watching the screen and the movie stays relentlessly tense throughout. Like most good horror movies (see also The Omen, The Ring, In The Mouth Of Madness) there's a mystery that builds up to the horror, like Derrikson had his hand on some kind of scary lever and he kept turning it up with sadistic delight.
This very good start makes it all the more frustrating when Derrickson makes some painful choices in the last third. You know you'e in trouble when creepy kids starts to appear. Too many people making horror movies seem to think that kids are really creepy per se (probably due in part to some of those movies mentioned above). The fact is, they're not, not in this movie at least. These kids are so obviously excited child actors with bad make-up on. As soon as the movie starts to rely on them, you know you can relax. It's like that moment in "Say Anything" when John Cusack and whatshername are tense on a plane until they see the seat belt sign go off and they know there's nothing to fear anymore. We know from this moment that things aren't going to get any scarier and it really kills the movies momentum. It doesn't help that Derrickson throws in some of those scares where a big creepy face pops up directly in front of the camera. We've all been victim to this on the internet when we're tricked into concentrating on an image on the screen and all of a sudden some terrible monster face appears and almost makes you soil your pants. That's okay for the internet, in a movie it's awfully uncreative and lame, and although you probably will jump at those scenes, the feeling will be followed by immediate annoyance and disappointment.
The second, any maybe even bigger problem, is that the movie doesn't have a third act. As in one of Derrickson's previous movies, "The Exorcism Of Emily Rose", the director doesn't seem to know how to end the movie. Just like in "Emily Rose" the final act cannot live up to the great set up that preceded it. The movie ends really quickly without a huge revelation or a big fight or anything. It just ends and leaves you feeling disappointment.
All that doesn't make "Sinister" a failure. In fact, this is probably the best horror movie I've seen all year (not that there's been a lot of competition). It's just a pity that Derrickson couldn't hold up the high quality throughout the movie's entire running time, because then this could have been one of the rare examples of a horror film that satisfies even hard boiled fans of the genre. "Sinister" does make one look forward to Derrickson's next problem, although one can only hope that the man will soon learn how to give his films proper endings.
(Piece of advice: If you can, avoid the trailers before watching "Sinister", as most of the highlights are given away. It surely ruined a lot of fun for me, when I watched the movie and was already familiar with the best bits.)
There's something about truthful romantic dramas that seems makes them
unpopular with mainstream audiences. It seems that as soon as the more
complicated sides of love are explored, people lose interest (the
recent box office failure of "Last Night" comes to mind). Maybe the
darker sides of affection beyond "happily ever after" are just too
heavy for most people's idea of a good time at the movies. There's no
other way to explain why last year's "Like Crazy" hasn't stirred up
Director/Screenwriter Drake Doremus did a great job of not only scripting a totally believable story with three dimensional characters, but to bring that story to life by showing only the most necessary episodes in this couple's relationships. Often months pass by from one scene to the next. The characters have made new arrangements in the meantime, but we can follow the story anyway just by watching the characters interact. It is masterful, subtle filmmaking.
Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones have great chemistry together. Their instant affection for each other is so natural, it is hard to believe they are not a couple in real life.
The tragedy outweighs the romance in "Like Crazy". It feels similar at times to the aforementioned "Last Night", "Before Sunrise" or even "Blue Valentine" (although much less devastating than the latter). Still, "Like Crazy" is very romantic - because romance can be heartbreaking.
Karl Markovics had to work hard to escape his signature role as
Stockinger, the funny sidekick in the popular TV show "Kommissar Rex".
It took a lot of "serious" theater work and the leading role in Stefan
Ruzowitzky's Academy Award winning "Die Fälscher" until he finally got
the respect he deserved as an actor. Now Markovics goes on to prove his
talents extend beyond just acting: "Atmen" is his debut as a writer and
director - and he hits the bull's eye on the first try.
Apparently, Markovics has worked on a lot of script ideas over the years, but never deemed any of them good enough to be developed into a movie. Finally his wife convinced him to go through with one of those ideas, and rightfully so. "Atmen" is an artistic triumph. Not only is the script brilliantly written, but it is also flawlessly executed. The direction seems almost effortless, as if Markovics was already an old master. He seems to know intentionally what to show when, he's got a great eye for frames and unagitated pictures, and, an actor himself, he naturally knows how to direct other actors. That's not to take away from the great cast. Veteran stars like Georg Friedrich and Karl Rott don't disappoint, but the focus lies on Thomas Schubert who says a lot with just facial expressions. Obviousl,y the movie's success depended on Schubert's performance and the first time actor lives up to the task. He's a great talent. Hopefully we'll see more of him in the future.
"Atmen" is a touching and believable movie about life and death, tight-lipped, but never boring, bleak, but in the end optimistic. It's very authentic in its depiction of Vienna, its depiction of a boy who hasn't been dealt the best cards in life. And, most of all, it's got its heart in the right place. This really deserves an Oscar win - much more than "Die Fälscher" did, actually.
T.J. Forney (Devin Brochu) is a little boy, who after a tragic
accident, in which his mother died, has to deal with his own grief, a
depressed father (Rainn Wilson) and a bully at school. One day he runs
into Hesher, a metal kid who more or less lives out of his van, drinks
and smokes all the time and speaks in strange metaphors. Hesher starts
following T.J. around to a point, where he actually moves in with his
family. Slowly they build some weird sort of relationship, which
ultimately helps to address a few pink elephants within the Forney
The trailer for "Hesher" promised a whole different, way more radical and interesting film than the finished product delivers. In the end, T.J.'s problems are clichéd: Mom died, no one understands him, he's getting bullied. As simple as the problems are the solutions: T.J. falls in love with a girl from the supermarket (Natalie Portman) and finds an older brother figure in Hesher, who for all his anti-social tendencies seems to resonate with everyone around him, offering meaningful advice in just a few vulgar words.
The main problem is that this is all completely unbelievable. Why is Hesher there? Why does everyone accept him in the house? What are his motivations. Some people have compared this movie to "Visitor Q", but that film was so far out, one didn't have to bother looking for answers. "Hesher", however, is fairly standard indie fare. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character isn't nearly as edgy or impressive as the writers intended him to be. In fact, he's really annoying. Maybe it would help, if we got to know anything about his background, if more people than just T.J. questioned the character in the movie, but that never happens. It all remains shallow, up to the big realisation that people overcome their grief, when they start shaving again.
With good performances by Brochu and Wilson "Hesher" is a solid comedy/drama, but it doesn't tread on any new territory as the trailer had us believe.
James Wan and Leigh Whannell have come a long way since they
single-handedly set the so called "torture porn"-movement in motion
with "Saw" - a brilliant thriller that only got its bad reputation from
its countless lukewarm sequels. Already their second attempt at horror,
"Dead Silence", was a complete u-turn, relying more on shocks than on
gross-out violence. The story involving evil dolls and a creepy old
lady that kills you, if you scream, was a masterful combination of
known, but modernized horror stereotypes.
Much like "Dead Silence", "Insidious" also treads on well-known territory: it's a classic haunted house flick with many references to "The Haunted", "The Entity" and "Poltergeist". Actually, it's little more than a mash-up of those three movies. And that is part of "Insidious"' many problems.
But first things first: The movie is built-up very well. It's a relief to see Wan and Whannell move even further away from explicit shock value towards mood and atmosphere. This development may not have been their decision entirely. People generally seem to be fed up with gore and the success of "Paranormal Activity" has re-opened the shrieking door for subtle horror that relies on objects moving by themselves more than anything else. That is exactly the kind of scares that "Insidious" displays in its first half. The creepiness is underlined throughout by great sound editing and clever camera movements that keep things interesting.
The problems arise when "Insidious" follows through on its promise in the second half. The movie isn't as ballsy as "The Haunting" was by relying solely on suggestion. When we actually get to see the otherworldly figures that terrorize the family, they are not scary at all. Up until the typical Wan/Whannell ending "Insidious" plays almost like a grim fairy tale for children. In some scenes the tension falls apart completely, for instance, when Patrick Wilson suddenly has a fist fight with a guy in white make-up or when we learn that the main villain looks like a mixture of Darth Maul, the Darkness from "Legend" and Freddy Krueger.
The story itself is not too logical and, as mentioned above, very, very derivative of other, better movies: From the general "Haunting"-feel and plot devices lifted directly from "Poltergeist" (scary trees in front of the window, something creeping up from under the bed, a team of scientists with a female medium entering the scene, people crossing over into another realm) up to the minor twist that this isn't actually a haunted house movie, but a haunted person movie (which is taken directly from 1982's "The Entity", which incidentally also starred Barbara Hershey), "Insidious" has almost no original ideas.
In the end, Wan and Whannell have made a movie, that will scare the living crap out of children and people who are not watching many horror movies. Hard-boiled audiences, however, have seen this before and will get bored soon. Still, it's not a bad flick at all. It definitely shows signs that Wan and Whannell are moving forward as filmmakers and are at the forefront of worthy modern horror directors and writers.
Of course I didn't expect a subversive movie, when I started watching
"No Strings Attached", but parts of it seemed unintentionally blimpish
considering how hard the movie strives to be the exact opposite. With
the working title "F*** Buddies" later changed to "Friends With
Benefits" then changed to the final title, "No Strings Attached"
obviously sells itself as a liberal kind of romantic comedy, one that
acknowledges the lifestyle of modern, young people. Boy does it miss
Firstly, it's so incredibly old, boring and simply unbelievable to have characters in a movie who fit together perfectly and are happy with each other, BUT for some reason are afraid of relationships and the three words "I love you". I don't buy it, and I don't wanna see it anymore. It's the biggest RomCom cliché ever and I don't people have ever enjoyed seeing it. So can we please stop having it in romantic movies?
Secondly, the way the movie promotes equal rights is just phony. For instance, there is a gay character, who just serves one purpose: to show how the movie is okay with gay people. It's the definition of token. That character plays no role in the movie whatsoever, and still there's a couple of scenes where the joke is on him, not least the first time we get to see him and are to assume for a second that Ashton Kutcher had a drunken one night stand with him. The reaction the movie wants from us in that moment is to go: "Oh my gosh! Kutcher had sex with that ugly fairy!" And frankly, that's just insulting. I'm going a bit off topic now, but it's kind of like that moment in "Paul" where the alien makes vulgar gestures that reference anal sex between two men first, and then "redeems" itself by saying: "It's okay, I don't mind gay people." It is still disrespectful, goddammit!
Thirdly, the movie thinks it's progressive, because Kutcher is the emotional guy in the relationship, whereas Portman is distanced, concentrates on her career and then in the end turns out to be the one who has to fight to get the guy back. You know, the classic pattern, but with the genders switched. Only problem: It's AT LEAST 10 years too late for that! This is nothing new, dear makers of this movie! If anything, it's a pretty sad testimonial to how long it took for Hollywood to realize that people can think outside the box of what is the expected behavior of men and women.
Well, having said all that, I have to admit that the movie is not incredibly bad. In fact, if you like Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, you're probably going to get a couple of laughs out of this. Kevin Kline is wasted, Ivan Reitman is nowhere near the top of his game, the script has a thousand flat characters and some cringe-worthy scenes (the period-mix tape, anyone?) but yeah, "No Strings Attached" has its amusing moments, too. It's just a bit hard to enjoy them, when the movie's general mindset leaves such a bad taste in your mouth.
Of all the Twilight Zone-like movies released this year (the other ones
being "The Adjustment Bureau" and "Unknown Identity") "Limitless" is
probably the best - which doesn't say a lot. The movie has more than
its share of problems.
The original premise - a loser type of guy takes a drug that enables him to grow a 4-digit IQ, which makes him successful at first, but gets him into a lot of trouble soon - is kind of intriguing. Neil Burger moves the plot along quickly, Bradley Cooper is well-cast as the guy who turns into a yuppie with a slippery Tom Cruise winner smile. And Robert De Niro plays Robert De Niro.
Storywise things don't make complete sense. For all his newly gained intelligence Cooper's character does oversee some important things and makes lots of stupid mistakes. Some plot strings like a dubious murder or whole characters just seem to get forgotten about entirely, like the movie had undergone some re-writes and re-cuts.
Maybe even more bothersome is the fact, that "Limitless" had the potential of raising some highly philosophical questions, but limits itself (no pun intended) to just a bland story of a guy using his intelligence to make lots of money. The movie's morals are rather questionable that way. It seems like we are supposed to identify with this guy, who's really just power hungry egomaniac.
Somehow, you can ignore all that though, because "Limitless" moves along so quickly that it never falls apart completely, as it would have in the hands of someone like Michael Bay. Sure, if you want depth or at least some kind of cheap popcorn movie moral, even a lackluster film such as "The Devil's Advocate" does a better job. However, if you're only looking for light, but not mind numbing (again, no pun intended) entertainment, "Limitless" does its job perfectly well.
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