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The story opens the same night as the massacre at The Blackwell Hotel,
with pretty morgue attendant Amy (Danielle Harris) about to leave her
shift and head out to celebrate her birthday. But, with bodies from the
massacre heading in, Amy decides to stay and help her co-worker Seth
(Kaj-Erik Eriksen) with the added workload
and thus her friends,
including vixen with a morbid side, Tamara (Katharine Isabelle) decide
to surprise her at the morgue with an impromptu birthday party. But,
there is still some life in the prone corpse of vicious serial killer
Jacob Goodnight (Glenn "Kane" Jacobs) and soon he rises from his slab,
with an assortment of postmortem surgical tools at his disposal, to
continue his work by slaughtering the "sinners" who are partying in the
morgue. Will any of them escape alive as Goodnight seals them in and
begins adding to the bodies already stored there?
With the Twisted Twins taking over from ex-porn director Gregory Dark, the film is an improvement over the first one and for some very surprising reasons. The Soskas are working from a script by Nathan Brookes and Bobby Lee Darby and thus it doesn't quite have the delightfully eccentric tone of Mary, that they wrote themselves but, it does have their style and does have a bit more fun with this slasher sequel than the deadpan and too-serious-for- it's-own-good first flick. And at first I was a little disappointed as the film started out and seemed to be a bit routine coming from directors whose work is anything but, until the second half suddenly cranks things up considerably and that's where the film surprised me a little bit. And it's not with the kills, which are cool, that the Soskas really got my attention with, but, with some surprisingly poignant moments between the characters, mostly involving Harris' Amy, that really resonated and really added something to the proceedings. It's been a while since I've seen a slasher/horror that took the time to have such nice character moments between the carnage and it really added to the endearment of those characters and the suspense of wanting them to get out of there moderately intact. The film also deviated at times from the slasher formula and that added some freshness to it and the Soskas, as with American Mary, give us some disturbingly gruesome moments but, without going overboard or being gross for gross sake like SNE #1. A little restraint makes the violent moments all the more effective when they do come and there are a couple that elicited an out loud "whoa" from me as I watched. Add in some nice moody cinematography by Mahlon Todd Williams that takes good advantage of the city morgue setting and a nice score from The Newton Brothers and you have an entertaining little slasher that does have the usual slasher plot holes such as, are there so few exits in such a large public building that Goodnight could seal them all on all floors and without anyone knowing, and why are the guests' cellphones locked in a safe? but, it still entertains like it's supposed to.
As for the cast "Kane" is as imposing as ever as Goodnight. Harris does really strong work here. Not only in creating a little depth for Amy, who has chosen a career that is obviously not popular with her family, but, really shines in some of those character moments I mentioned before. Amy is a strong, though slightly cynical, heroine with guts and a heart. She also has a nice chemistry with Eriksen, who is good as Seth. Seth is crushing on her big time and she knows it and the scene when they reveal their mutual feelings for each other works really well and the actors' chemistry makes it work despite there being a 7 foot madman stalking them at the moment. Isabelle is a hoot as the promiscuous babe with a dark side, Tamara. It's not a deep role as her Mary Mason and it seems like, this time, she's having some fun with a more ditzy part and letting Harris do the more serious emoting. Her postmortem lap dance for Jacob Goodnight's corpse is a fun number, to say the least. The rest of the cast are solid and despite Amy's brother Will (Greyston Holt) being a bit of a self-centered jerk, we have a fairly likable cast of supporting characters with Chelan Simmons as pretty blonde Kayla, Lee Majdoub as Tamara's boyfriend Carter and Michael Eklund as the chief morgue attendant Holden. A much more endearing bunch than the angry delinquents that populated the first flick.
So, See No Evil 2 may not be a classic but, it is a solid and entertaining slasher that has some surprisingly effective quieter moments in-between the well-orchestrated carnage. The Soska's bring the action and suspense, especially in the second half and even with it's barely 90 minute running time, give us some nice resonating character scenes bolstered by it's lead actors especially, Harris, who does some of her best work. And that's what impresses about the Twisted Twins the most they can deliver some very sick and twisted moments but, can also deliver some poignant quiet moments in between, just like the little conversations between Mary and Lance in American Mary. Another intriguing film from two of the more original filmmakers out there.
I am a big fan of Mike Flanagan's low budget chiller Absentia so, I was very much looking forward to his next flick. And Mr. Flanagan didn't disappoint. Supernatural horror starts out introducing us to two siblings, Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites) Russell. 11 years ago a horrible incident occurred in their home leaving their mother, Marie (Katee Sackhoff) and father, Alan (Rory Cochrane) dead, with 10 year old Tim incarcerated in an institution. From appearances, Alan murdered his wife and Tim killed him in self defense. It's over a decade later and Tim has just been released and his older sister has come to help him get back on his feet and destroy what she claims is the real culprit in their parents' deaths. After years of treatment Tim sees the murders as a simple case of domestic problems and negative emotions gotten out of control. His father driven to torture and kill their mother and he, forced to defend himself and his sister by killing their dad. A tragic but, rational explanation. Kaylie believes it to be the influence of a demonic entity that lives in an antique mirror purchased by their father for his office. While Tim was away, Kaylie has been planning to prove her belief, once and for all, and has tracked down and procured the mirror through her job as an antiques dealer and brought it to their still vacant former home. She convinces Tim to join her on calling out and destroying the sinister force that she believes, from her research, has left a trail of bodies and tortured souls for over 100 years. Is Kaylie delusional and in need of treatment herself, or has Tim's treatment created a more practical way of rationalizing an even more horrible truth? Director and co-writer (with Jeff Howard) Mike Flanagan crafts an intelligent, inventive and really creepy horror film that certainly has it's share of out-right scares, especially in it's last act. But, much like his spooky Absentia, Flanagan never bludgeons us over the head with the horror and thus keeps it effective by keeping us from getting numb to it. As with his previous flick, he doesn't give us everything at once and plays with our heads for a bit as to whether Kaylie is creating a supernatural fantasy to avoid the realities of the domestic horror she witnessed or, is Tim candy-coating the nightmarish truth with the psycho-babble fed him by his doctors? The film is a moderately paced but, constantly unnerving and creepy build-up as the siblings delve deeper into the events that occurred over a decade ago and Flanagan who also edited deftly mixes in flashbacks to those horrible events and seamlessly blends them so that at times they all seem to be happening at the same time and in the same space. It's really disturbing as we try to figure out if these two are finally reliving and facing what happened, or, is there an evil presence in that mirror that is happy to make them experience again the memories that torment them most. It's in the last act where the full truth is revealed and I will say no more except to be ready for the film to deliver the goods when the time is right. It's an intense and scary ride Flanagan takes us on to get our answers, made all the more effective due to the skilled and disturbing build-up by a director who makes good on his potential. Again, Flanagan also has an underlying theme about the effects traumatic events have on a our lives. With Absentia it was the emotional effects of a missing loved one and not knowing their fate. Here it is growing up and living with the trauma of witnessing domestic abuses and violence. He weaves these into his story subtly so they are not intrusive to the plot but, they are there. And that is one of the things I like about Flanagan's work and especially with this film, he knows when to be subtle and when to get intense and he does both here to maximum effect. Sometimes less is more and Flanagan's instincts are good at knowing when to feed us an underlying creepiness and when to outright scare the pants off us. It's what makes Oculus work so well and made Absentia such a treat. He knows what degree to feed us the films elements and when. He is also clever with his use of the traditional elements so, they appear fresh. The director also gets good work from his cast with Gillan and Sackoff really standing out here with strong performances but, the acting is solid all the way around. No one ever goes over the top even when the film is in full scare mode, the performances stay grounded and thus more effective. He got good work out of Katie Parker and Courtney Bell (who has a cameo) in his last film and seems to have a knack for writing and directing strong female characters that aren't stereotypes or caricatures. The film is not perfect, but, it's flaws are very minor and I loved that when the blood does flow, it was practical effects as did a lot of the make-up and effects seem to be. If digital was used, it was excellently rendered so it was not noticeable which, in a film like this, is the way should be.Overall, I really enjoyed Oculus and how it was equally effective in it's subtle moments as it was in the more intense ones. It never overloaded you with plot elements or the horror elements and fed you the answers to it's mysteries gradually so it held your attention till it was ready to let you have it.. and the final act does exactly that. A smart, disturbing and sometimes downright scary horror from Mike Flanagan. Also stars Annalise Basso and Garett Ryan as young Kaylie and Tim respectively.
Even someone like me who has been watching movies for almost 5 decades and can be very cynical about them at times can be pleasantly surprised occasionally by a movie I wasn't expecting much from. Odd Thomas is one of those pleasant surprises. Based on a book of the same name and the following series of novels by Dean Koontz, Stephen Sommers' adaptation tells the story of Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin) an eccentric young fellow who lives in Pico Mundo, a small town in California, and has a very unique talent. He is a clairvoyant who not only sees dead people but, other unearthly spirits as well. Odd Thomas his real name uses his special gifts to not only bring justice to those whose deaths are caused by foul play but, to thwart evil in general whenever it rears it's ugly head. He has a beautiful, loving girlfriend Stormy (Addison Timlin) who understands his powers and is very supportive and acts as a sidekick and a good friend in the local police chief (Willem Dafoe) who is grateful to Thomas' ability to find the guilty and prevent heinous acts before they are committed. But, there is an evil brewing in Pico Mundo signaled by the appearance of a strange man (Shuler Hensley) surrounded by demons and a rash of nightmares suffered by Odd, and some close to him, that foretell of a coming doom a doom that even Odd Thomas may not be able to stop. But, Odd is going to try, even if it costs him his life. Despite being a far smaller film then Mummy and G.I. Joe director Stephen Sommers is used to, he brings his creative energy and fine-tunes his over the top style to give Odd Thomas a fast paced and eccentric tone that perfectly fits the material. He also creates some very creepy moments with his visual eye and crafts some very tense and suspenseful sequences especially in the nail-biting last act. But, what really made Odd Thomas a special treat for me was the combination of Sommers' witty script banter and the wonderful work from his cast, especially lead Anton Yelchin. Yelchin creates a very likable hero who is saddled with a great burden and yet, not only uses it to do good and defeat evil but, is actually happy to do so. The banter between he and adorable leading lady Addison Timlin really creates a delightful character dynamic between the two and totally makes the relationship between this strange yet noble young man and his spunky and fiery girlfriend work. It's very effective and makes you really care about both of them. The same goes when either character is on screen with Dafoe. The dynamic between the three characters is a delight to watch and really is what makes an already good supernatural suspense thriller even more enjoyable. Timlin and the veteran Dafoe shine in their parts and are great support for what is Yelchin's show, one he carries to perfection. Shuler Hensley is also creepy and unsettling as "Fungus Bob" Odd's name for the man who triggers the events of the film but, he is just the tip of the iceberg and I will say no more as the less you know going in, the better it draws you into Odd's attempt to uncover the diabolical plot in the making. Odd Thomas is an odd and off-beat but, very effective film from a writer/director usually more at home with bigger, more comic book style stories. But, here he shows he can also take things down a few notches and gives us some chills and entertainment on a smaller and more intimate scale. He can also gives us some very endearing and three dimensional characters to go with his story. And this book-based story of evil, both supernatural and human created, and the young man who stands in it's way, is very entertaining if anything. A really fun and very pleasant surprise. Shame this flick is getting dumped unceremoniously onto home media when so much junk gets a theatrical release.
In 2010 there was a chilling documentary called Cropsey about the real-life disappearances of five children in Staten Island and the urban legend it spawned. Now from Chiller TV, the director of Cropsey Joshua Zeman, is back with a new and equally unsettling documentary taking on four more classic urban legends and the real-life crimes that inspired them. Zeman and researcher Rachel Mills travel across the U.S. and dig deep to find the truth that inspired some of America's most chilling campfire tales and truth is always scarier then fiction. Zeman and Mills first travel to Houston, Texas to investigate the murder of a little boy poisoned by tainted Halloween candy and quite possibly the case that started the popular fear-inducing Halloween urban legends of candy filled with glass, razor blades and poisons of which there are actually no recorded incidents aside from this sad tale. We learn of the death of 8-year-old Timothy O'Bryan in 1974 and the intense police investigation which culminated in the arrest, conviction and eventual execution of the "Candyman", the man who poisoned the Pixie Stick that lead to Timothy's death and the start of these scary Halloween tales. Even more shocking was the man's name was Ronald Clark O'Bryan the boy's own father. Proving the most frightening ghouls and goblins are the ones living in our very own backyards. The duo next take us to Columbia, Missouri to tackle the popular urban legend of babysitters being stalked by unknown fiends with the heart breaking rape and murder of young Janett Christman in 1950, who was sexually assaulted and strangled while babysitting for a local family. We are treated to an investigation that finds how the popular urban legend was fueled by the possibility that the same man may have committed a number of similar crimes and was never caught though some unfortunate individuals were blamed for his heinous acts. Even more chilling is their research points to a man who was questioned but, never connected to the crimes a man some of the victims knew as a neighbor and friend. This segment was particularly disturbing to think someone got away with murdering these poor young women and actually might have lived among them in plain sight. Zeman and Mills then travel to Texarkana to investigate a series of brutal murders of teens at a popular make-out spot that occurred in 1946 and inspired not only the urban legend of the "Hookman" but, the chilling horror classic The Town That Dreaded Sundown. We get another chilling investigation into a series of attacks and murders by a man dubbed "The Phantom", a crime spree that was never solved and even more unsettling is how the town is still haunted by these horrific events decades later and it has provoked some equally disturbing customs from the residents. Our final segment is sure to send goosebumps rippling up and down arms with a story touching on the fear of clowns and some really creepy clown cases and tales from the windy city of Chicago. For decades Chicago has suffered reports of clowns driving around in white vans trying to lure children inside and even more disturbing is that there are actually police reports and eye-witness accounts of this occurring and the reports suggest there were more then one of these 'clowns' stalking the city. Thankfully, no children were abducted... that we know of. It's a case that has never been solved. We also get an in-depth look into a city that was home to the world famous Bozo The Clown show and to perhaps the spookiest clown creep of them all John Wayne Gacy, who was convicted of killing over 30 people. Where did the fear of clowns originate? Chicago apparently! All these stories are given some very thorough investigations by the documentary filmmaker and his researcher. We get some bone-chilling facts, shocking crime scene photos, interviews with those involved and visits to some of the actual locations which these real-life crimes and occurrences took place. It's very informative and the information provided can really be unnerving as we find the true start to some popular urban legends and the movies they inspired. And Zeman and Mills take us on this journey of discovery, eagerly trying to get to the bottom of these cases from which some of our culture's scariest bedtime stories have spawned. They dig deep and it's not only fascinating but, also quite horrifying that, in most cases, the perpetrators were never caught, or worse still, the wrong person was charged or suspected of the crime. And what better way to start an urban legend then an unsolved real incident? and Zeman and Mills are more then happy to give us some hauntingly all-too-real facts that will make one sleep with a light on far more effectively than any movie or bedtime story. A very effective and disturbing documentary that chills and informs equally.
The previous entry in this found footage franchise was widely panned as the weakest of the series even by fans and while I didn't think it was as bad as it was made out to be, it was still the lesser of the series and was showing a franchise in need of either fresh ideas and more daring directions or a final chapter to wrap it up. The Marked Ones is definitely a good start back in the right direction and a spooky sign that these movies may not be done yet, if this is where things might be headed. Fans of this series will be happy to know that not only does this supposed "spin-off" get PA back on track but, is more reliant on actual scares than jump scares and answers a lot of questions that the other films have set up. It ties in perfectly with the previous entries and yet is it's own flick. The movie starts out with friends Jesse (Andrew Jacobs), Hector (Jorge Diaz) and Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh) who live in an urban neighborhood and have a downstairs neighbor Anna (Gloria Sandoval) who is said to be a witch. One night this 'witch' is murdered and Jesse and Hector who are always filming things with a new camera choose to sneak into her apartment and poke around. They find the woman's journal and it does indeed seem to indicate this mysterious woman was into the black arts and was part of a witch coven seeking to build an army of demon possessed first born males. Jesse wakes up the next morning with a bite mark on his arm and things start to get weird and Jesse's behavior starts to change with heightened aggression, strength and an almost supernatural ability to keep himself from harm. This causes Hector and Marisol to investigate further which includes meeting with Ali Rey (Molly Ephraim) from Paranormal Activity 2 and they soon find that Jesse may have been marked by this coven since before birth to become the next soldier in this nightmarish army. Can they save him or will Jesse be damned like the others before him? Writer/director Christopher Landon answers that question and many more with a truly 'crap you pants' finale following a fun and scare filled flick that is both familiar and fresh at the same time. He knows how to build scares and he does so slowly with a film that builds it's momentum steadily till a really intense last act that leads up to one of the best horror movie endings in quite a while and a climax fans of this series will love from between the spaces of the fingers that are covering their eyes. Landon cleverly ties this flick in with the previous entries and we get references galore and revisit a few familiar settings as well. As for the return of any other familiar faces other then Ali, you'll have to see it to find out. The cast are really good here. Our three leads are very likable and supply some fun laughs early on especially from Diaz's lovable goof-ball Hector. Jacobs makes a solid leading man and we like Jesse and feel for him as it becomes obvious he is in deep supernatural trouble. The camaraderie between the three makes Hector and Marisol's efforts to save him seem real and the risks they take believable and messing with demonic worshiping witch cult is risky, as we find out. So, in conclusion Christopher Landon has things back to form and even shows promise of more intense things to come. He makes good use of the found footage format which is far less obtrusive here then in the last flick and he has a nice visual style to add to the atmosphere. This is also the most violent entry in the series and one of the scariest since the first flick so, this film earns it's R rating from more then just a few curse words and snapped necks. And if nothing else, Landon gives his Latino themed entry in this series a really great ending that will stick with you for a while after leaving the theater, especially if you are a fan. Now with Paranormal Activity 5 being released October 2014, hope they can keep this new momentum going. It may still not attract any new fans to the series but, should rejuvenate the interest of fans disappointed byPA4. Well done and a lot of scary fun!
I have to start out by saying that I have never read the Hunger Games books and therefor am taking the movies for what they are. That being said, I enjoyed the first film, it was no classic but, it was entertaining and Jennifer Lawrence gave a strong performance as usual. But, sadly the second film based on this trilogy of popular books is a moody and bleak disappointment. Catching Fire picks up with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) about to embark on their victory tour to be paraded like show ponies through the districts. But, Katniss' act of defiance that provoked the unprecedented two winners in the 74th Hunger Games has sown the seeds of dissent throughout the 12 districts and is seen by The Capitol as a symbol of rebellion. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) himself visits Katniss to warn her to play nice on the tour or her family and friends will suffer the consequences. Meanwhile Katniss is suffering from the horrible guilt of having to kill and watch others she bonded with die and no matter where she goes, she finds herself being looked up to as a symbol of hope against the totalitarian government and her own contempt for The Capitol grows each day. Snow's new game-maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) proposes a solution to their woes... to make the 75th Hunger Game a battle between selected former winners of the games from each district and to make sure Miss Everdeen is not amongst the winners this time. Now, as the wind of rebellion is starting across the districts, Katniss and Peeta must fight once more and this time against proved killers. Will the shell shocked Katniss survive once again or will the country's hope for freedom be crushed with the death of their symbol of defiance. Catching Fire is this time directed by Francis Lawrence who gave us the moody and bleak fantasy flicks Constantine and I Am Legend and brings that same dark and grim atmosphere to this middle chapter of the book based trilogy and to be honest little else. Fire is a rather dull and by the numbers sequel with a very sedate and bleak look to go along with it's oppressive atmosphere. I realize this is a story of a land governed by a cruel and iron fisted government who are planning to basically execute the peoples' first glimmer of hope so, I didn't expect rainbows and unicorns but, when a movie like this' best scene involves a dress, then you know there's not much going for it. Even with Katniss being inserted into another combat, the 75th Hunger Game provides very little action and literally no suspense as it focuses on Katniss and group of allies commiserating in the jungle arena with very little threat save some poison gas and some foul tempered primates. Their actual foes rarely put in an appearance, save when their pictures are displayed above in the sky to signal their demise... most of which prompted this reviewer to ask "who the hell was that?" And that's also a problem, we only get to know the participants that are crucial to the plot and the rest are just fodder to try to give the game some urgency and body count... and it doesn't really work because, we never really care about these people and some we have never even met. To be honest save for a few moments, such as the before mentioned dress scene, I was pretty bored with what was going on. Katniss never seems to be in control like in the first film and spends most of the film pouting or having combat flashbacks and we never get endeared to or behind her like in the first flick. Here she seems to stew in her unhappiness and let others around her do all the work till literally the last few moments of the film. And it's not until the very last scene do we finally see the fire back in the eyes of the girl on fire... then we are left with an open ending leading into the third flick. Sorry, but for someone who hasn't read the books, this was completely unsatisfying. The cast all perform their roles just fine with Harrelson once again standing out and giving a strong turn as Abernathy... he has become one of the best actors out there... Sutherland is appropriately slimy and singer Lenny Kravitz also impresses as Cinna. As for leading lady Lawrence, she is good and gives the part a lot of emotional depth but, since most of those emotions require her to pout, cry or have a screaming out-burst, it's just hard to warm up to Katniss this time. And as for her co-star, like in the first flick , Hutcherson recites his lines with does eyes making his every scene appear like he's posing for a velvet painting. And does Katniss really love him or the hunky Gale (Liam Hemsworth, Thor's brother) because, I am confused at this point and not sure I care. So, in conclusion, this second Hunger Games failed to get my interest or emotional involvement in the story because, it was just too dark and bleak and gave us a lead character who, instead of being a symbol of hope, looked like she was ready to climb under a blanket on the couch and pout with a gallon of ice cream and a bottle of scotch. And after watching this moody second installment you might want to too! At least the sets and FX were top notch and Harrelson and a few others elevated their performances above the dark cloud that hovers over this flick. Very disappointing.
Blackfish is a very effective and heartbreaking documentary from Gabriela Cowperthwaite that portrays the psychological effects captivity has on the killer whale, a creature known for it's exceptional intelligence and a surprisingly wide array of emotions. While a predator, the killer whale also has never been known to harm a human being in the wild yet, Blackfish reveals that the effects of their treatment in captivity may have changed that as a number of injuries and deaths have been attributed to these normally majestic and human friendly animals. The documentary uses the story of Tilikum, a SeaWorld resident and one of the largest killer whales in captivity who has been involved in not one but, three deaths including two trainers and one individual who chose to sneak into the park at night and was found dead draped over the animals back the following morning. While SeaWorld has attributed these deaths to trainer error or in the case of the park intruder, accidental drowning, the condition of the bodies revealed by autopsies indicate otherwise. We are painted a picture that depicts an organization that keeps these large animals in small dark tanks for hours, takes babies away from their mothers at only a few months old and puts the very family oriented animals in with unfamiliar members of it's species resulting in bullying and aggressive behavior. We get interviews with former trainers who describe the sad and sometimes cruel way these majestic beasts are treated and how SeaWorld likes to paint a far different, almost fairy tale like picture of the animals' life there. The footage we see and the trainer testimony is organized in a very effective profile of an intelligent animal that is normally gentle and friendly towards humans whose life in captivity frustrates and twists them till they become violent and aggressive to not only each other but, towards their keepers as well. And to be honest it is not only heartbreaking but, aggravating to watch. Not only for the whales treatment but, at the audacity of SeaWorld to blame the injuries and tragic deaths on the trainers themselves and not the emotional scarring of the animals they work with. The recent death of trainer Dawn Brancheau is especially focused on here and you watched with clenched fists as this woman who obviously loved her job and the animals she worked with was brutally killed by an emotional outburst by Tilikum only to have SeaWorld blame her death solely on her. If this documentary sounds bias, to a degree it has a point to make and in it's defense SeaWorld was offered a chance to appear on camera and tell their side and refused, only now issuing a statement refuting the film now that it has been shown and gotten attention. So, while the film does give a very negative view of theme parks like this and it's effects on the animals that are captive there, it wasn't like the theme parks weren't given an opportunity to have their say. And by letting Cowperthwaite paint her emotional and heartbreaking story with actual footage and testimony unchallenged, we get a powerful and moving indictment of a business that seems to turn a blind eye to it's treatment of animal and trainer alike and the sometimes fatal repercussions it has, as long as those turnstiles keep turning and the money keeps rolling in. A very effective documentary and more of an emotional impact then most films you're likely to see.
Thor was one of my favorite of the Marvel Phase 1 movies. I loved it's fun mix of fantasy and real world adventure and thought Hemsworth made a noble and very likable hero. And now the Norse God turned superhero is back in his second solo adventure and a welcome return it is. Thor: The Dark World opens 5000 years earlier with an alignment of the planets being taken advantage of by the Dark Elves and their leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) to unleash a weapon called The Aether which will convert all the worlds into dark matter where only the Dark Elves may exist. Thor's grandfather Bor (Tony Curran) defeats the invaders and they are assumed destroyed and The Aether is hidden away never to be found... or so Bor hoped. But, in the present, the worlds are aligning again and the long dormant Malekith and the remaining Dark Elves seek to destroy all once more and, as fate would have it, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) stumbles upon the hidden weapon and it is absorbed within her. Now hunted by Malekith, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) brings Jane to Asgard against Odin's (Anthony Hopkins) wishes and must somehow find a way to stop Malekith, banish The Aether and save the woman he loves and all the known worlds... and the only one who can help him is his devious step brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) imprisoned in Asgard's dungeons by Thor's own hand. This second solo adventure is this time directed by Game Of Thrones and Deadwood director Alan Taylor who creates a much grittier and down to Earth version of Asgard then the bright and magic kingdom-ish version we saw in the delightful first feature directed by Kenneth Branagh. It's still recognizable as Asgard and it blends perfectly with the first Thor but, we get to see far deeper into the city and into it's halls and pubs and get a more lived in and functional look at Thor's homeland. The tone of the film is also darker at times and that was a nice change from the upbeat first film and Avengers but, so not to get too dark or grim, the film is punctuated with a lot of fun and humorous sequences especially those involving Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), the latter's trip to Stonehenge being especially hilarious. I thought the humor and the darker story elements were blended just fine and there was plenty of action and strong drama throughout till the big free-for-all ending set in London where Thor and Malekith finally get to throw down. And the action and special effects do not disappoint, they are top notch as all the previous Marvel films. The budget is on screen in all aspects from sets to costumes to FX. Taylor gets good work from all the cast. There are some nice character moments in between the drama and destruction and all the actors are now very comfortable in their roles and work very well together. Hemsworth is once again a noble hero who has grow since his first visit and the battle in New York. He and Portman still have a nice chemistry together and I liked their scenes especially when Thor has to explain where he's been for two years. Dennings gets a bit more screen time and handles it well getting some of the bigger laughs and Hiddleston is once again scene stealing as Loki. It was also nice to see Rene Russo get a big scene and have a bit bigger part this time and Hopkins is still endearing as the weary but, majestic Odin. We also get some nice scenes with supporting characters Heimdall (Idris Elba), Sith (Jaimie Alexander), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (now Zachary Levi) and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) but, those expecting expanded roles from this bunch will be disappointed. Newcomer to Thor's world Christopher Ecceleston, is OK as villain Malekith but, he really doesn't make a strong impression or stay with you after the film is over. To me his somewhat tepid villain is the film's only real stand out weak point. Taylor's interpretation of Don Payne and Robert Rodat's script is highlighted by a moody score by Brian May and some nice cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau. Overall, Thor: The Dark World is a very entertaining follow-up that gives us enough of the action, drama and suspense we are looking for and takes it in enough of a different direction to keep it fresh but, not straying too far to alienate us. It's not perfect, as stated the villain could have been stronger, there are a few slows spots here and there especially in the first half and earlier on we can tell there was a bit of editing to manage the running time but, for all the entertainment we get, those minor flaws can be overlooked. A fun and worthy sequel to both Thor and The Avengers and certainly less schizophrenic then the mixed bag that was Iron Man 3. As with all Marvel films stay through the entire credits for not one but, two additional sequences and keep an eye out for a couple of really fun cameos. Another solid bit of entertainment from Marvel and Disney.
Lovelace is a well made if not somewhat flawed biography of Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried), the first bona-fide porn superstar who appeared in the equally legendary adult film Deep Throat. While I'm not quite sure that the narrative structure completely works, the film is elevated by some really good performances all around from it's good cast. The film's story is basically told twice. First we have a fun look at girl next door Linda Boreman who comes from a home with an overbearing mother (an almost unrecognizable Sharon Stone) and upon meeting her future husband Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), embarks on a journey into making the adult film classic Deep Throat a film that basically ignited the porn industry's growth into the billion dollar industry it is today and becoming an overnight sensation herself. The first half of the film portrays it from the outside appearance of this wide eyed girl becoming a star practically overnight by making one of the most infamous porn films ever made. She even gets to meet Hugh Hefner (James Franco) who tells her she has what it takes to be a true star away from porn. But, then we jump six years later to Linda getting ready to publish her memoir "Ordeal" and then we jump back to the beginning to see the true story of what happened including the horribly manipulative and physically abusive treatment by husband Traynor who forced her into prostitution and then the production of the legendary porn flick all to fund his own life of excess. We then see how she was physically abused and forced into sex acts with other men for money in some very effective and horrifying sequences. We get to see the effect on her and how it ruined the relationship between her and her parents for many years until she finally got the courage to leave Traynor and the adult industry and start on a path to a new life that included releasing her memoir and becoming a feminist as well as a wife and mother. And this is where I feel Lovelace had it's biggest problem. I just don't think telling the same story twice from two different perspectives really worked to the benefit of the story. At a little over 90 minutes that basically gives us 45 minutes to cover the same events twice instead of telling the full story from start to finish and covering more ground. I appreciate the concept of telling the story from first the public's point of view of what happened to then showing us how it really was but, to me the mood shift is very jarring from the more entertaining perspective of her rise to infamy and then this harrowing and heartbreaking story of her abuse at the hands of her slimy husband. Both halves taken individually are done well and are effective but, don't quite work as well as a whole. A more traditional narrative might have better suited the material. But, what makes this film really worth seeing are the good performances from the actors. Seyfried gives her best performance yet and is exceptional at presenting both the public and private sides of Linda Lovelace's life during her fame and then her escape to living a somewhat normal life and crusading against porn and domestic abuse. Sarsgaard is equally good portraying the charming man on the outside and the insecure and abusive monster that lurked behind closed doors. A man who had no problem selling his wife to a room full of scumbags for a gang bang. As her parents, Stone is almost unrecognizable and also gives one of her best performances as Linda's overbearing mother Dorothy and Robert Patrick gives an emotionally filled performances as her father John who cares deeply about his daughter but, appears afraid to assert himself in front of his wife. The supporting cast are equally solid with Juno Temple as Linda's friend Patsy, James Franco as Hugh Hefner, Hank Azaria as Deep Throat director Gerard Damiano and Chris Noth as Deep Throat investor Anthony Romano who starts to see Chuck for who he really is. Overall I liked Lovelace especially for the performances. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman do a good job recreating the era and giving the scenes the emotional depth they need it's just that the narrative structure robs us from appreciating the emotional contrast of seeing both sides of the story as it occurs instead of revealing it all in one big flashback. The script by Andy Bellin seems solid but, again, we have the narrative issues it's structure causes. A good film, not a great one but, one that does still have an impact and is really made worth watching for an exceptionally good cast. Also stars Wes Bently, Adam Brody, Bobby Cannavale and Debi Mazur as Dolly Sharp.
Gravity isn't just a good film, it is a great film. I have been watching movies for well over 4 decades and this might have been one of the most emotionally harrowing film experiences I have ever had. I rarely use the word masterpiece but, if this isn't one, it's damn close and as close to a perfect movie as I've seen in a long time. Gravity's story is simple, a crew of 5 astronauts in the space shuttle Explorer are working on additions to the Hubble Telescope. Mid-mission they receive news that the Russians have destroyed one of their own satellites with a missile test and debris has been sent rocketing close to their proximity news which becomes a dire warning as the satellite debris has impacted other satellites and now a cloud of wreckage is heading right for them at an increasing velocity and they have moments to abort their mission and get out of harm's way. Despite their efforts to get out of danger, the debris hits them full on and only Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who is on his last mission, are left alive tethered together with with Kowalski's jet propulsion pack running out of power and Stone running out of air. Can they reach the International Space Station and before the cloud of debris orbits Earth and returns? And if they do, are they even safe there? Co-written (with Jonás Cuarón) and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity is 90 minutes of one of the most emotionally gripping and suspenseful movie going experiences you're likely to have as he quickly establishes two very likable human beings who are put in one of the most frightening scenarios one can imagine. Cuarón not only gives us two people to root and care for but, his masterful camera work and the flawless SPFX create a vast and frightening void that is as beautiful as it is intimidating. One false move and you can be lost in the vast empty coldness and with no air and no one coming to your rescue. Cuarón uses a lot of POV and stunning camera shots to put us in space right there with our two stranded astronauts and we experience what they do and feel their fear every step of the way. Not to mention that the Children Of Men filmmaker gets two Oscar worthy performances out of Clooney and Bullock and these veteran actors create two very endearing three dimensional characters we embrace all the way and are right along with in experiencing every heartbreaking setback and grasping every glimmer of hope. The film is truly an emotional roller coaster ride that most movies promise but, few can actually deliver. By the time the credits rolled I felt I had been through everything the characters had and thanks to Cuarón's skillful directing and wonderful script, I had. An exhilarating, harrowing and wonderfully suspenseful movie that is more then just a film, it's an experience. A must see movie! Best film of year for me and doubt I will see anything as powerful for some time.
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