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Paranormal Activity (2007)
Ignore the bad reviews AND the hype: see it for yourself - an effective film
The movie is a good scary film. It uses the 'less is more' philosophy very well. The characters seemed real, like they could be your own friends, or just someone you know from work. The atmosphere seemed real; the couple's home looks like the home of a friend of mine. Further, how the character's start off normal, and then gradually descend into their own personal, paranoid sort of madness. This really unnerves me. Madness itself is undesired enough. But to see normal people - someone you could easily know - gradually become more and more angry, or paranoid, or spooked, to the point where they're on the verge of madness creeps me out. For I can't help thinking I'd react the same. People who weren't scared are either lying or don't get scared by nearly anything.
There's also no good reason to think this movie isn't scary. The ending isn't bad or unnatural. It flows nicely from what came before. She lunges at the camera, because the camera is the symbol of the interloper. The demon despised the boyfriend's arrogance and insolence. And the demon despised the camera because it was the symbol of the boyfriend's attempts to infringe on the demon's privacy.
Further, some don't like the boring scenes. Well, if they don't like them, don't watch the film. It's not for them. The movie takes it for granted that the audience is going to be smart enough to know that the movie is designed not to look like it cared about how things were being filmed. For example, if you're making a home movie, and you accidentally leave the camera on a counter while the two characters are off screen talking or arguing, then this is a completely natural thing you'd expect from footage claiming to be taken not by professional movie makers, but normal everyday people who happened to own a camera. If you come to the movie knowing this, then you expect these so-called boring scenes. If they weren't there, we'd be suspicious of fraudulent editing. The fact that they are there makes the movie feel even more real. And this is the basic fact the movie deals with: this is real footage.
Furthermore, some people thought it was funny. Well, this is says more about their own psychological sensibilities than it does about the quality of the film itself. If you think the paranormal activity that lead up to the full possession of an innocent woman funny, then either you are psychologically demented or you really were scared and your laughing is a defense mechanism. If you want to be all macho and prove to the world that the movie was crap because of how macho you are, then you are going into the movie with the completely wrong frame of mind. If you heard a bunch of hype, then I'm sorry. But do not judge the movie based on the hype, period. This will ruin your skills as a good judge of the movie. Judge the movie on its own terms and in its own context.
Also, you can't fault the movie because you think the characters did something dumb. The movie is what it is. It's marketed as being live footage of real people being haunted by a demon. If the character did stupid things, then guess what? That's what the camera recorded them as doing. You can't fault the movie itself for the acts of the characters, especially in a film like this one. The proper conclusion to draw is that the character acted stupidly, not that the movie itself is bad.
As a side note, it seems like all the bad reviews of this movie are written by morons who can't even write a grammatically correct sentence. Yes, that's a clue.
Conclusion: Ignore the hype and the unrealistic denunciations of this film being the least scariest movie ever made. Both are extremes, and so both are critically unreliable. The former is made by those who want to be a part of something special; the latter is made by those who just want to feel macho. Ignore them both and see it for yourself. Suspend your imagination, put yourself in their shoes, and allow the crawling suspense of the film make you feel a little disturbed. If you don't feel it, it's not for you: you're in one of the categories I mentioned above.
Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
great action, but sometimes preachy
I really enjoyed this movie. I saw it twice in the theater, and I now own the DVD.
I was so nervous about this movie because I thought it would have the 'Rambo-effect'. If you're old, you're not going to be able to do what you used to. You were cool when you were young; but now that you're old, you need to grow up and start doing things your age. I was just waiting for this feeling to crop up in me, but it never did, thankfully.
As far as sequels go, it was good. The 'Yippe-kai-yay-mother-######' part made me cringe just a little, because I thought it was a little too self-conscious. I don't think there's a rule against putting it in, since I think Willis can pull it off - I just thought the timing was off.
McClane's personality is in full force. What I love about the character is the element of self-reliance. We all know people who seem to have it all together, who march to a different drummer, who don't go by the book. Sometimes they get in trouble, and sometimes they don't. But what they all have in common is the almost super-ability to get the job done no matter what the obstacles are. These people define their own meaning, look within for direction, and they act spontaneously, intuitively, and they end up being people who are very smart - on a practical level, a genius.
You see this personality in a lot of movies. For instance, I'm thinking of Dr. House, a very strong character, who, again, doesn't go by the book, gets in trouble with superiors, but invariably gets the job done! A lot of times these people aren't very likable if you actually met them, but that's not the point. These people are hard-wired to be guardians, as Plato would put it. They are physically and mentally wired to have this common sense that they can tap into at will to plow over the obstacle.
I like the scene where McClane admits he doesn't have computer-smarts. He's not up to date on all the latest advances in technology. But he does know how to load and fire a gun, probably any gun, engage in hand-to-hand combat, have a no-non-sense way of talking to people. He has a touch of the bully in him, but you know he is ultimately out for your good, if you happen to be under his care. I guess I'm trying to say that McClane is your quintessential 'superman', in Nietzsche's sense: a self-reliant guy who doesn't care what you think, but loves whatever he loves with a passion, even if he isn't perfect in the way he shows it, which is why a lot of these guys (or girls) can't keep a relationship; or if he can, then there's usually strain.
I didn't like the villain that much. Of course, you can't match the villain in the first Die Hard, but I just don't like this character in the role he was in. He played a Sheriff in the HBO series Deadwood, and I can't get that character out of my head; I think he'd be better at playing good guys - and I can't see this character undergoing the kind of transformation Denzel did in Training Day.
The action in the movie was awesome. There never was a boring moment. The fight scenes were very well choreographed, the car hitting the helicopter was great. The scene with McClane picking up Matthew and then protecting him from the French hit men was well-paced and entertaining. I love how McClane keeps his fighting style (which is really no style at all - just do whatever you can to kick their butt kind of style) even if you're fighting some guy who's flipping in and out and over and under various obstructions, or some kung fu, Asian chick.
I did feel like the movie was preaching at me sometimes. You had the scene where Matthew thought - before - it might be fun to cause a 'Firesale' which disrupts everything controlled by computers. McClane - all of a sudden - starts scolding him about how serious the whole scenario is, and how we have - everyday - brave people protecting us from stuff like this. It just seemed like it was sloppily stuffed into the script as some sort of post 9/11 tribute to the New York Fireman. The firemen are brave - no one's disputing that. But in terms of art, or success in art, if you're going to preach, don't be so obvious.
In the same vein, you had the scene where McClane's talking about what it's like to be a hero, how you don't get thanked, you get divorced, how you get shot at, and on and on. That was waaaaay too self-conscious; it was like McClane wasn't McClane anymore; he was a symbol for America's military, policeman, fireman, etc . . . And again, these guys deserve all the praise in the world! But in terms of Art, in terms of what drew us to McClane's character in the first place, that mysterious aesthetic quality that makes the first Die Hard an action classic, those kinds of scenes just need to be cut.
In sum, the Die Hard flavor was there, even if there was a little too much nostalgic indulgence on the part of the movie's makers. The good stuff over-shadowed the korny.
The Man Without a Face (1993)
the movie is okay, but the characters are great!
I first watched this film as a child. My imagination was immediately engrossed, and it hasn't since recovered. McLeod was a commanding figure to me. I related to Chuck on almost every level. I think McLeod's character was very well done. I think the story was standard, but that it was the atmosphere and the characters which carried the movie.
What I loved most was McLeod's home and yard. The house is filled with nautical themes, books, and various antique collector items. There is an art studio, since he paints for Time Magazine. You hear the constant noise of falling waves and sea-gulls overhead. There is a blue lake in his back yard about an acre from the house, which itself is hugged by green trees in the front and the sides.
But he is lonely. His only company is a German Shepherd named Mickey. He's alone because of his painful past. The reason he is 'without a face' is because he has burns over half his body from a car crash in which a boy was killed. The event was surrounded by controversy. People thought McLeod and the boy were having a sexual relationship of sorts, but the charges were dropped. McLeod was deeply hurt by the incident; not only because a boy died who he cared deeply about, but because of everyone's misperceptions and judgmentalism. So, he chooses to live alone in a big house and stay to himself. He preoccupies himself with building a boat, training his dog, reading books, creating models of ships, painting, playing chess, taking care of his horse, and making his usual trip to the grocery store.
There is a very touching scene in which McLeod is brooding over his condition. He feels exiled from humanity. He is on a journey, but doesn't know where to go. Dramatic opera plays in the background. He reads the beginning lines of Virgil's Aenied. After reading, he holds a mirror up to his face, placing the edge on his nose, so that only the unscarred part of his face reflects. For a moment, he looks normal; but as he moves the mirror more and more to the left, more and more of the scars are laid bare, and he is disgusted. I think that is such a symbol of the human condition!
Chuck is a dreamer, full of hope. His father killed himself in a mental institution; his mother is manipulative; his older half-sister is malicious; his younger half-sister is kind-hearted, but still only a child. He dreams of going to military school! The only problem is that you have to pass the entrance exams. You need to know Latin and some high-level mathematics. He is in need of a teacher.
I won't get into all the details. The movie is great because of the growing relationship of McLeod and Chuck. The movie's scenes of their intimacy are truly delicious. For example, McLeod teaches Chuck how to read poetry and perform Shakespeare plays. McLeod takes home the poem 'High Flight' and reads it in his bathroom in a very sublime scene.
All in all, a very good movie!
Terminator Salvation (2009)
I am completely let down . . .
James Camerson made the Terminator franchise something special. As you were watching, you knew you were watching classics. You just have that feeling . . .
I've forgotten T3. Will TS resurrect the franchise? Nope.
First, who the heck is McG? No one knows. He directs TV series, and one other movie. For God's sake, give this movie to a talented director, someone with experience!!! Why was this given to McG? Why?
Second, the Script was awful. "We may have won the battle, but we still have to win the war." I think I heard that line from Power Rangers or Thunder Cats. Christian Bale must have called himself John Connor 30 times. Okay, he's John Connor. Got it! Bale must have called his army The Resistance 50 times. His inspiring speech over the radio was lackluster. People hover around the radio 'feeling' inspired because of that? I felt like I was watching Independence Day.
Third, I don't blame Bale for his performance. He did the best with what he had. His voice was annoying again. He had brief passion during some 'yelling parts'. That's it. But his whole personality had zero charisma.
Fourth, the NUMBER 1 rule for sequels is that they have to stand on their own: T2, Godfather 2, Empire Strikes Back, Aliens. You can't put a part in the sequel that 'hints' at the 1st movie - at least, overtly. Exp: In T3, after Arnold gets the clothes from the gay guy, he puts on 'star sunglasses', which 'hints' at T2, when he put on regular classes. No! No! No! Dumb! Stupid! Examples in TS: In T2, girl slaps Arnold in face, face cocks to the right, glasses break, and he looks back at her slowly. That scene was re-played 3 or 4 times in TS. Why!?!?! Further, Bale says, "I'll be back." Why?!!?! It's so self-conscious! It screams, "Remember how Arnold is famous for saying this. Okay, let's make Bale say it too!". Yuck! Kyle Reece says, "Come with me if you want to live." Why? Let's move on! It's 2009. Let's evolve. Stop with the T1/2 allusions already!
Fifth, Cameron's brief vision of 2029 in T2 was on to something. T-800's w/ guns on battlefield fighting soldiers on ground, gun battles, your occasional flying craft, etc . . . TS had 2 T-600's that I could count, flying crafts, and 1 huge T-1,000,000. Where's the freaking battles!?!? Something along the lines of the gun battles of "Heat", or the beach landings in "Saving Private Ryan". Something! Where's a There Will be Blood-like self-brooding or introspection by John Connor? It's like I was watching a video-game-turned-movie kind of movie, like Doom or Resident Evil. Awful!!!!!
Sixth, zero character development. I don't care about any characters. The movie doesn't develop them. They're wooden, cardboard cut-outs. In T1/2, we cared; that was part of why they're classics. TS is an action movie; that's it, with some name-dropping. What a shame. When you add 'no-character-development' w/ 'bad-script', you get 'lame-movie'. I felt like I was watching a movie made for TV on Spike or TnT.
Seventh, the movie was self-consciously PC, the independent-self-sufficient female character, not needing help from white male, pearlly white teeth, beautiful-clean-fluffy hair, breasts partially exposed, blah blah blah. It's like McG thought, "What can I put in the movie that young mindless idiots will like, so it can make more money?" It had a couple good action sequences. That's it. And that does not a good movie make. The set-design was also horrible. We had a couple cool 'waste-land' scenes, a couple cool 'abandoned city' shots that reminded me of 'I Am Legend', but some scenes looked like they were put together in my back yard with spray-painted card-board boxes, and a fake background.
Eighth, this movie should be R, not PG-13, period. It's a dark, in-your-face, gritty, bloody, graphic, adult-oriented, movie. Imagine Braveheart, Saving Private Ryan, and other classics if they were toned down to PG-13. Exactly. Unbelievable, that Hollywood is filled with such dunces or greed, just wanting to make a cash-cow.
The only character I was drawn to was Marcus. The CGI Arnold is gratuitous, and poorly executed. It just looks like a laughable cartoon. McG made this for 10-17 year olds.
Bottom line: I'm furious. The franchise has been gutted by amateur directing, producing, and writing.
It's a shame.
The Strangers (2008)
Effective beginning, failed in the 3rd act . . .
The 1st Act, in my opinion, is near flawless.
The movie showed exactly what it wanted to show us about them. James Hoyt and Kristen McKay enter Hoyt's parents house late at night. They both look emotionally drained. I especially like the camera angles: close, a little shaky, but not too much, dark colors, and they give a glimpse just long enough to show us some important detail. The rose petals on the floor and in the bath-tub, the wine-glasses, the dinner table neatly set up, homey pictures hang from the walls, normal house decorations, a place on the wall which measured Hoyt's height: little details like this did their job wonderfully. Namely, this is a normal home, and it could be yours!
The house is in the middle of nowhere, tall, stark trees dart out of the front yard, and they are almost characters in themselves. Cars pass by very seldom. We learn James proposed to Kristen, but his love is unrequited. And then the creepiness begins. The suspense is really quite excellent, and as far as my own experience is concerned (for that is all I have to work with), I was very unnerved.
Observation: People who make jokes during a scary movie are usually scared themselves, period. I hate nothing more than some idiot, during some building-point in a scary movie, to start being obnoxious, saying something like, "Ohhh I'm sooo scared." Or they start laughing or something. READ: They are scared. And they have to ruin it for everyone else by acting macho, and lying about how the movie was stupid, or some other stupid opinion. In all my life, I'll never figure why these kinds of people just won't SHUT UP and watch the darn movie, or GO AWAY!
The 1st Act culminates when James leaves to buy Kristen cigarettes. I have reservations about objecting to a movie just because the characters do stupid things, even though that is the main reason why the 2nd and 3rd acts are weak. Let's analyze what happens. That creepy girl - who asks for 'Tamera' at 2 in the morning - has already came to the door. At that point, I would think it's probably more safe if I stay with Kristen. I mean, it's pretty odd if some random girl just shows up at a house, in the middle of nowhere, w/ no transportation, and not a house for miles, to ask if some random girl lives at a house which - it just so happens - you are living in for the night, right? Well, James leaves. When he does, the spookiness almost reaches a boil! The knocking continues, you catch a glimpse of the psychos, you learn they where strange masks, that there is more than one, etc . . . The scene that makes the movie stand out is when the 'guy' is standing behind Kristen without her knowing. She's just walking around the kitchen, already tense from other things that have happened, we know he is there, she does not, we hear a noise, he disappears, she walks to where he was, he is not there, but we know he either is in the house somewhere or he is not, and he can get in whenever he wants. Admittedly, the psychos display almost superhuman agility to disappear at almost ninja speed, and that is what strikes such a discordant note with the 1st act, since the 1st act was teeming with Realism. In the other acts, the psychos almost start disobeying the laws of logic and physics.
I agree with almost all the users who say that James starts acting like a complete and utter moron throughout most of the movie.
Mistake #1 - Left Kristen alone AFTER creepy girl knocks on door and asks for random girl.
Mistake #2 - Poor use of shot-gun.
Mistake #3 - After finding the perfect bunker in the bedroom, you leave. I admit there is much trauma when you blow your best friend's heat off. I know! It's terrible. But there are 2 lives left! Get a grip on reality, stop sobbing, get a hold of yourself, go back to where your were, and wait it out 'till morning, for God's sake. At first, he starts crying in the fetal position, utterly vulnerable to a psycho if one of them was in the hallway.
Mistake #4 - Because of mistake #3, he decides to leave, and go call for help on a radio in a shed that is outside where the ninjas are. Has he gone completely nuts! He says, "I don't know what else to do." Excuse me? Did you get an 'F' in critical thinking skills? Of course, there are other things to do. Go back to your bunker in the bedroom!! Mistake #5 - After he returns from cigarette shopping, he finds Kristen hysterical with fear. She mentions the 'Tamera girl' coming back, banging, that one of them took her cell phone, etc . . . She has a gash on her hand, a gaping wound, you know her to be somewhat rational . . . Why on God's green earth would you doubt was she is saying? Why, James, why? For God's sake, take her word for it, and prepare defensive tactics accordingly.
There are some other things to note - the gratuitous Mormons, the mistakes of Kristin, the mistakes of James' friend, the particular cliché's uses, the somewhat useless interchange between the ninja-psychos and the Mormons (What exactly will be easier next time? Killing someone else, they know they'll be forgiven because w/ James and Kristen they felt a little guilty, or what?!?!?) - but I'll cut this short for want of room.