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Paranormal State (2007)
Quite possibly the worst show I've seen in my entire life.
For awhile I was hooked on shows like Ghost Hunters and Destination Truth and stuff, even though I thought they were full of crap I found them interesting and entertaining, and that's why we watch entertainment TV. It's fun to turn off your brain and believe that every shadow caught on camera is not just some shadow, but some insane asylum inmate's tormented spirit or something, so long as you can snap back to the real world later.
That being said, enjoying Paranormal State requires more than merely shutting your brain off, it requires you to consume lead in large doses on a regular basis during your childhood, then suffer repeated head trauma, then take up huffing paint in your teens. Then you have to get high/drunk and watch.
Paranormal State is beyond the pseudoscience (which I can enjoy with a degree of critical thinking) that you'll find on Ghost Hunters (which I still find to be reasonably interesting and entertaining program), it's pseudo... everything.
The show follows the adventures of a group of students from Penn State University (not to be confused with University of Pennsylvania) lead by Ryan Buell as they take it upon themselves to exorcise demons and spirits using ceremonies from whatever religion seems most dramatic at the time (ranging from Catholic exorcisms performed by college coeds to Wiccan spells cast by socially awkward goths, to Native American cleansing rituals. To their credit, these are performed by Native Americans). If you believe in Wicca or you're Catholic or a follower of a traditional Native American religions, I think you'd want their cleansing rituals performed by someone who... isn't a maladjusted college student with some free time. I don't remember the scene in the exorcist where the priests threw up their hands and said "it's no use! Call up an after school club from the state college. This one is too much for us. They've probably read the Wikipedia article on exorcisms." The show is frankly insulting to the intelligence to the viewer. The show's opening title sequence has Ryan talking about PRS (the Paranormal Research Society), saying that when he came to Penn State (notice you don't see any shows where the host says the same thing, but instead of Penn State he says "When I came to MIT" or "After I got my theoretical physics degree...") he found other people with similar interest in the paranormal. He says they are sometimes "warriors." I remember when I used to pretend I was a warrior and I fought ghosts. I was six. Then the emotionless Ryan brings out the flamboyant and obnoxious Chip Coffey, who pretends to go into trances and become possessed by cussing at the cast. Awesome. I thought people had learned some sense about how ridiculous the idea of psychics and mediums is after "Crossing Over" went off the air. The show takes itself way too seriously, as this small group of societal misfits pretends they are battling against some ancient, cosmic evil. Production values are low, stories are boring, and, unlike Ghost Hunters, which will occasionally catch something anomalous (although likely explainable, but interesting nonetheless) on their equipment, PS requires you to believe that the noises and creaks that they hear are evidence of demons, ghouls, and possibly leprechauns. The only thing scary about this show is that there are people out there that take it seriously. The only thing paranormal about it is that the people on it are able to make each episode while keeping a straight face.
Call me jaded, but I feel like the great mysteries of the universe and the afterlife are too great to be solved in a half-hour TV show by a journalism undergrad at a state school.
All that being said, I highly recommend that everyone watch this show at least once, if for no other reason than the sheer entertainment derived from watching a truly terrible movie or TV show. Or you can make a drinking game out of it. I think the second would be preferable.
Step Brothers (2008)
Dumb, but sometimes a dumb movie is what you need to see
I saw this movie because it's gotten to the point where I'm willing to watch anything Will Ferrell does in front of a camera. Sad, I know. I didn't really have high expectations for this film but I felt like I needed to see it because Ferrell has won my affections in previous roles. Some people don't like Will Ferrell, they think his humor is stupid and they don't get into him. That's a completely legitimate opinion, and honestly I'm glad those people have it. His humor is crude and not the wittiest or driest out there, but so what, he makes me laugh.
Anyway, this movie was stupid. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I think the production team intended to make a stupid movie from the get-go, and they succeeded. However it's totally OK for a comedy movie to be stupid. Sometimes you just need a break from thinking, and it's good to sit down in front of a movie that doesn't make you think at all and just laugh with some friends. If this isn't your thing, that's completely fine, I recommend you move along, there are hundreds of movies out there you'll love (I can recommend a few if you'd like).
All that being said, this movie wasn't that funny. The main enjoyment that I got out of the film was imagining the fun that John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell had while filming. You could tell they really had a great time making this one, the production costs must have been super low, with basic costumes and no special effects so to speak, and the only real acting required was the two of them acting silly in front of the camera.
This movie was somewhat enjoyable, and I did laugh at some funny parts, but will it go down as the next Anchorman or Talladega Nights? Probably not (we'll have to wait for the third installment in the Mediocre American Man trilogy for that). Is it a decent comedy to finish out your summer with? Sure why not. Just don't go expecting your life to change, and with the cost of movie tickets rising, it's even harder to justify a ~$10.00 movie ticket for something that's only passable.
The Dark Knight (2008)
This is why we go to the movies
I just saw this movie a few days ago. From the first scene I was unable to turn away. This is a magnificent adaptation of a beloved comic book/cartoon series.
In the new Batman series, everything is more or less believable (compared to the old series, with over-the-top villains like Mr. Freeze and The Penguin). The villains and the heroes themselves have no super powers; they make their own, which is something that I've always loved Batman for. This movie's take on the Joker is exquisite. Instead of making him somewhat ridiculous like the classic Joker portrayed by Jack Nicholson, Ledger portrays a twisted, vicious, maniacal, sociopathic criminal who is always one step ahead of his opposition, reminiscent of Alexander DeLarge of A Clockwork Orange. He comes off as witty, seemingly careless, but always in control of the situation, and delightfully mad. While being so dark, brooding, violent and crazy, the character still manages to deliver comic relief through a few gallows humor-style laugh lines interspersed into the madness. Bale still delivers a powerful, convincing performance of the Dark Knight.
Without giving out spoilers, I can only say of the rest of the movie that the makeup and costuming were also done to perfection. The only problem with the movie is that, with his death, Ledger will be unable to ever reprise the role. Even more tragic than acknowledging this fact is that he may never get the recognition he deserves for his performance due to the hipster backlash effect; people saying that he is only receiving praise for the role because it was one of the last before his untimely death. All I can do is assure you that this is not the case. He was phenomenal in the film, he stole every scene he was in, and for me, he made the movie what it was. Exquisite.
To wrap things up, this was a long movie, but I'm not complaining. Usually in long movies, I get bored (I did have to leave to use the restroom briefly but I'm pretty sure I set a land speed record getting there and back again, and I couldn't have missed more than a minute or two of the movie), but with this movie I was engaged for the entire ride. It was well worth the price of the ticket, which is something we are finding harder to say nowadays. It reminds us why we go to movies: to be entertained by a great story with great actors.
El orfanato (2007)
An excellent example of how to make a scary movie.
I saw an ad for this movie and decided to check it out while it was still in theaters awhile ago. Since then I've seen it on DVD two more times. So let's talk about what makes this movie so good, shall we? First of all, it is a legitimately scary movie filled with suspense. This movie graciously delivers us from the dark pit that we were cast into by "horror movies" like Saw, Turistas, Hostel, Wolf Creek, and others that are all essentially the same, and rely solely on gore and gross-out techniques rather than creating creepy atmospheres, having compelling stories, or any other things that typically would make a movie interesting. It is a refreshing change to see a horror movie put out that isn't a glorified snuff film.
Indeed, this movie is more reminiscent of films like The Shining, films with brilliant cinematography and acting that play on our fears, rather than our revulsions, to incite terror in the viewer.
Of course there will be the people who refuse to see this movie because all of the dialog is in Spanish. Their loss, I guess.
Another brilliant thing about this movie is that at the end, the viewer has no questions left unanswered. Everything is explained, yet the movie is still open to the viewer's own interpretations.
I highly recommend that people looking for a good scary movie, but aren't into "torture porn" flicks, check out The Orphanage/El Orfanato.