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Just what the genre needed...
"Malevolence" isn't the horror film that will change the terrible direction in which the genre has taken over the years. But it's a relief to see that there are still people out there with a strong love for the classics. Everything from the score to the cinematography will remind you of "Halloween" or "The Shining" etc. There are no teens, no sex, and no drugs. The way the scariest tales should be. And I jumped once or twice. That rarely happens. "Suspiria" scares me in the last few minutes, and a hint of that fear was inside me at the ending of "Malevolence." The acting is good for a horror film. You can't have Academy Award performances in a slasher film. It would ruin the fun. And that's exactly what the film is - it's fun. At the end of the screening, everyone cheered. Not just because the director or "Leatherface" (that's right, he was there) was in the crowd. We all had fun, and hopefully more people will be able to do the same.
The Butterfly Effect (2004)
DREAMCATCHER for the new year...
The Butterfly Effect (2004)
BY JASON YOUNG
Science fiction often utilizes time travel to explore the chaos theory. The butterfly effect is an aspect of that theory which states that a butterfly could cause a hurricane half way around the world simply by flapping its wings. This intriguing principle is applied to the lives of four seemingly life-long friends in the ultimately ridiculous thriller The Butterfly Effect.
Evan Treborn has journals documenting his childhood that he reverts back to while in college. When Evan reads a passage, he is somehow launched back in time to the event described on the page. He is then able to relive what happened in the past, change its outcome, and, therefore, alter the present.
Why would someone want to play God, you ask? Enter Kayleigh Miller, Evan's childhood sweetheart. We see their relationship as children in early flashback sequences, as well as in a reunion outside of Kayleigh's current workplace. Evan has suffered from blackouts his whole life, so he asks Kayleigh about what really happened years ago when Kayleigh's father made a home movie of Robin Hood with them. Later that night, Kayleigh is driven to suicide over her conversation with Evan. And so it begins
Everyone knows who Ashton Kutcher is: whether it is from his role on `That 70s Show' or as the host of MTV's `Punk'd' or even alongside Demi Moore in any tabloid across the country. Within these, excluding the latter, he is best known for his comedic style. Working primarily dramatically, Ashton makes what is known as a star turn in The Butterfly Effect, but where it has worked for other comedians, like Robin Williams, Bill Murray, and even Adam Sandler, it fails for Ashton. His performance isn't bad; it just isn't one to convince audiences that he is a serious actor.
I was reminded greatly of Lawrence Kasdan's Dreamcatcher throughout much of The Butterfly Effect. Both have the ambition to become great movies, but clearly they are not. They are abundant with bad acting, bad writing, and even worse direction. Although, Dreamcatcher does one-up The Butterfly Effect in one crucial element: no matter how outlandish the situation is in Dreamcatcher, you always believe that the four main characters are friends. We never really feel this about the four in The Butterfly Effect. Also in Dreamcatcher, we see how their parts in an alien invasion affect the whole world. While in The Butterfly Effect, their lives seem to have no effect on anyone but themselves.
If the characters in The Butterfly Effect don't seem to have much of a reason for living, should we feel as if we have any reason to spend $10 to watch them?
Phone Booth (2002)
a sure-shot enjoyable theatrical experience...
The documentary Lost in La Mancha focuses on ex-Python Terry Gilliam's vision of transferring the classic story of Don Quixote to the screen. Directing the movie in his head for the past ten years, Gilliam thought the production would turn out to be `terrible and beautiful.' He was right (with the former at least). The film shows the inevitable decline of the project during its pre-production and early production stages. Phone Booth suffered from another case of misfortune. Director Joel Schumacher managed to shoot the film in only ten days on one set, but, with all of the consistent troubles in America, it seemed highly illogical to award it a release date amidst the current terrorism, war, and other acts of violence.
April 4, years after the film's completion, this remarkable picture finally received its release. And even now is not the best time to release the film, but, nonetheless, it clinched Colin Farrell's third consecutive movie opening in the number one spot this year-and it is only early April. For over an hour of Phone Booth, Farrell's character is pleading with the voice on the other end of the telephone to spare his life. Dead on with its use of suspense, intensity, and morality, Phone Booth is the continuation of a human spirited thriller to the likes of last year's Changing Lanes and Panic Room.
At well under ninety minutes, the film manages to be short, gripping, and entirely complete. Unlike The Life of David Gale or Basic, Phone Booth does not try to trick the audience. It offers a highly frightening situation, tremendous acting, and an amazing screenplay with an appropriate ending. From fans of Rear Window to Speed, Phone Booth is quite possibly the most sure-shot enjoyable theatrical experience of the year.
***1/2 out of ****
the best film of the year to date...
Gerry is the story of two friends who go on a nature walk along Wilderness Trail and get lost somewhere in the desert. Those of us who can sit through 103 minutes of just that will love the film; others will walk out. The film, primarily composed by Affleck, Damon, and Van Sant, works as a mix between dramatic tragedy and comedic satire. Gerry offers something that reality shows on television do not even offer: actual reality.
The fact that such a simple plot can work for this picture is attributed to its marvelous direction and cinematography (both nominated for Independent Spirit Awards). Gerry meanders along, dividing audiences into `love it or hate it' categories, much like Steven Soderbergh's Solaris. A solid portion of the movie is dedicated to Affleck and Damon simply walking around. They only occasionally converse with one another. And when they do, it takes us a while to even realize what they are speaking of. The conversations, and some of the sequences, are downright hilarious.
Affleck, Damon, and Van Sant have created a mesmerizing spectacle of beauty. From each footstep to each cloud passing, Gerry is nothing short of a brilliant masterpiece. Gerry evokes tears from hilarity, elegance, and pure sadness. For much of the film, I could not understand why I felt like crying: I was either overwhelmed by the picture, by its style and grace, or it was because all of the people in the theatre would not shut up. Either way, Gerry is the best film of the year to date.
**** out of ****
Final Destination 2 (2003)
not a bad horror movie, but...
The battle between fate and free will has been explored in much of literature and film. Whereas Minority Report, the best picture of last year, examined the idea through large plot twists and the human emotions of its main characters, Final Destination 2 strives to do so through the impaling of large intestines and main arteries. What culminates is not a bad horror film-it is better than its predecessor-but its reliance on the genre of horror sequels leads to its inevitable demise.
With the exception of Willard, all of the horror movies released this year (Darkness Falls, Dreamcatcher, and now Final Destination 2) have had their strongest moments in the film's opening minutes. Aside from obvious flaws in Ellis' direction, the sequence on the highway, from what most of the trailer is derived, stands out as the film's highlight. The scenes after it should be renamed Final Destination Too, because the whole plot is the first movie. The only exception is that it does not waste its time developing characters that we know will be killed off anyway.
It is not essential to have any knowledge of the happenings in Final Destination. The screenplay's exposition takes place in between both films, and all the returning plot elements are exhaustingly expressed through cheesy dialogue. Through an overdose of foreshadowing, the predictability factor is just as high as its elements of surprise. This unevenness hints at yet another sequel in the film's resolution-if it can be called that.
**1/2 out of ****
not so much a ***1/2 movie as a ***1/2 experience
Gestalt psychology is based around the idea that something in whole is more than the sum of its parts. Dreamcatcher challenges this approach and, in so, proves that its final product could never live up to the brilliance of its individual scenes. Ranging from taut, psychological horror to inept, absent-minded action, Dreamcatcher is more than just another Stephen King book-to-the-screen; it is the story that King is fortunate to tell.
In one of the film's opening scenes, Jonesy is hit by a car. This plot turn hits close to home, because, in 1999, King was hit by a van. Dreamcatcher is the book that he wrote during his recuperation. Jonesy also survives his accident and is given a second chance. King uses the metaphor of an alien invasion to represent the things in life that we have no control over but, he argues, that we have the strength to overcome them. In a near-death experience we are told that our lives flash before our eyes, and that is exactly how you can describe Dreamcatcher. A concoction of great ideas never quite coming together, we see elements from nearly every King work from classics like Stand By Me to made-for-television disasters like The Langoliers.
Ebert asks: `How can an alien that consists primarily of teeth and an appetite, that apparently has no limbs, tools or language, travel to Earth in the first place?' What he fails to mention is that there are three apparent species of aliens in Dreamcatcher-the weasels mentioned above, the stereotypical Signs' creature, and the interesting addition to the genre of an algae-like substance. And, to answer his question further, the weasels are born through the humans who accidentally ingest the algae, who then, in turn, reproduce asexually in the form of miniature weasels. It is a silly concept nonetheless, but isn't science fiction meant to be that way? For a film so long, Dreamcatcher always manages to entertain, and never to bore, even when Morgan Freeman's character, essential to the book but reduced to pointless filler in the movie, is on the screen. Dreamcatcher is not so much a three-and-a-half star movie as it is a three-and-a-half star experience.
***1/2 out of ****
The Recruit (2003)
the bare minimum of what you would expect...
While director Antoine Fuqua is awaiting the release of Tears of the Sun, The Recruit will remind us of his 2001 summer success, Training Day. Much like the strength of Training Day, The Recruit's formulaic story benefits from fine acting by its leads. The plot can be as suspenseful to some as boring to others. The determiner is whether you are able to set aside your sense of reason and enjoy a semi-redeeming, if not predictable, movie.
The Recruit is the bare minimum of what we would expect from living legend Al Pacino, rising star Colin Farrell, and director Roger Donaldson (who brought us two solid political thrillers starring Kevin Costner: Thirteen Days and No Way Out). The movie is merely a 100-minute extension to its intriguing theatrical trailer, taking many clips from the final minutes of the film. Although the plot twists and outcomes are inevitable, the demeanor in which they occur seems to surpass its reliance of clichés with powerhouse performances.
Although the new cinematic year is just born, The Recruit will probably remain one of the better movies of the first few months. That is not saying too much considering that the audiences who walk away from The Recruit satisfied will be equally joined by another group who walk away disappointed.
*** out of ****
Shanghai Knights (2003)
funny and frequently witty...
As good as you may believe Jackie Chan to be, it is his chemistry with Owen Wilson that makes Shanghai Knights a success. The action sequences are at the head of its class for the genre, but it is the humor and frequent wit that connects all of the dots. Without spoiling all of the details, Shanghai uses its fictitious storyline to humorously incorporate historical figures into its plot, such as Jack the Ripper, Charlie Chaplin, and Arthur Conan Doyle. Never stretching its PG-13 rating, the movie remains funny even with its light ethnic jabs and sexual material.
Chan and Wilson also starred together in the original installment to this hopeful growing franchise. Also, they have both proved their recuperation after horrid efforts in The Tuxedo and I-Spy, respectively, in the second half of last year. Now that Wilson has a few of these buddy comedies under his belt, it might be best for him to return to his greatest talent: writing. Nominated for Best Original Screenplay at last year's Academy Awards was The Royal Tenenbaums, which he co-scripted with director Wes Andersen, but it was their screenplay for Rushmore, along with flawless performances by Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray, that is by far the better of the two.
But for Shanghai Knights, which is consistently funny, the humor extends into a series of hilarious outtakes proving Chan's lack of knowledge in the English language. The best of which is when he means to say `baby sister' and results in saying `babysitter.' Wilson is quick to poke fun at him, showing that their great chemistry so apparent on-screen is also a backstage thing too. So, if you are sick of the over-rated Academy Award nominated films, then two hours with these guys will do you no harm, and you will laugh just as hard as you would at any other 2003 comedy (yes, including Old School and Bringing Down the House).
*** out of ****
the remake Burton should have tackled...
It is obvious to me that Willard should have been the remake that Tim Burton directed instead of Planet of the Apes. That is assuming, of course, that he would have cast Crispin Glover in the title role and not Mark Wahlberg. A movie with such a dark atmosphere and appetite for disturbance is perfect for Burton, but first time director Glen Morgan succeeds brilliantly in this beautifully twisted character study.
Although Willard is advertised as a horror film, it does not sink to the level of conventional, mainstream horror. Similar to two of last year's best films, Frailty and Signs, the film's mood is vitally important in delivering the frights. Like directors Bill Paxton and M. Night Shyamalan, Morgan uses the surroundings of his characters to illustrate the tone. You may not even notice that Glover's first line clocks in at over five minutes after the peculiar opening credits. Even though the story deals with rats, they are not thrown at your face causing you to jump uncontrollably. Willard is much smarter. Sure, the rats are depicted as gross, conforming critters, but their presence is to show the absolute depression amidst Glover's Willard.
This movie works as a character study, as insane as Willard is, because we are brought to an understanding that justifies his actions. Through frame after frame of tremendous aerial camera shots and Glover's amazing performance, Willard does more than entertain. We are brought into the mind of a character as sophisticated as Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates and as menacing as Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman, and, unless you are immune to animal cruelty, Willard offers, what is most likely to be, the most disturbing cinematic experience of the year. That alone constitutes a recommendation, but this rehash of the 1971 semi-classic actually breaks new ground, surpassing the original, and should justly attain cult status.
***1/2 out of ****
Bringing Down the House (2003)
this movie has made enough money already...
Do not let its $31 million dollar weekend opening fool you. Aside from a few big laughs delivered by top-notch comedians, Steve Martin and Eugene Levy, Bringing Down the House offers no redemption for your two hours. There is a fine line in which ethnicity can be employed as humor, but, here, the line has been crossed into what results as a relentless blend of typical PG-13 gags and outdated racial stereotyping. Even if it does cause one to chuckle when it comes from the mouth of an 80+ year old woman, the audience does not need to be constantly reminded that Steve Martin is white and Queen Latifah is black.
Relying solely on story conventions and clichés, Bringing Down the House is so painfully average that one can precisely predict at which moment Peter's cell phone will ring to ruin that perfect moment. And it rings so much that director Adam Shankman's initial use for it was probably to keep the audience awake. Because when neither Martin nor Levy is giving us the funnies, then it is basically just another walk in the comedy park.
In the film's final scenes, our heroes succeed (like you didn't know that was coming) in a climax that last year's Swimfan should justly ovate. Using up all of the smarts in Filardi's script in a sequence of about ten seconds, it is a good thing that all of the actors taking part in this project already have established careers. In no way could this movie break any of them, but it surely could not make even the best of them.
** out of ****