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As Above, So Below (2014)
Delivers where other horror movies fail
"As Above, So Below" is by no means a perfect movie. In fact, it's probably not even a 7, but more of a 6. However, director John Erick Dowdle gets an extra point for doing what so many other horror directors fail to do: He tries something new, and strikes a chord, even if his movie isn't entirely original. It mixes the claustrophobic setting of "The Descent" (or the cult novel "House Of Leaves"), with an Indiana Jones like treasure hunt and presents it all in found footage fashion – a sub section of horror that unfortunately doesn't seem to go away any time soon.
Still, "As Above, So Below" intrigues, because what the group of young people find, when they go down into the catacombs under Paris aren't the usual horror stereotypes. There are no zombies or vampires waiting down there. No creepy children with black hair. It's something much less defined and never totally explained. Horror movies stick to known patterns and paths way too often, when really it is the one genre, that should know almost no boundaries. John Erick Dowdle plays a little with the possibilities, with ways of manifesting fear. In the end not all of his attempts are successful. The scares aren't as intense as they should be, many plot points are silly, if you think about them.
However, you start to get really uncomfortable as the characters get picked off one by one, and you're locked down there with them. The movie puts you in a deeply uncomfortable place and remains relentless until the very end. Doing so, it tickles a certain existential fear deep within – which is actually the reason why we watch horror movies in the first place: to make ourselves aware of our own mortality and come to terms with that fact that we have no idea what lies beyond this life.
"As Above, So Below" is not a groundbreaking genre movie, and it probably will not stand the test of time. However, in 2014 it's the best and most effective horror film I've seen in many years.
Positively creepy and thrilling, but not without some major flaws
It's quite frustrating being a horror fan. Most of us have grown up watching scary movies, loving the feeling of getting so scared you couldn't fall asleep at night. However, as a kid it is much easier getting scared. The older you get the more you get accostumed with the genre and its thrills. You start to see patterns and the formula wears thin before too long. Horror movies that start off as promising as "Sinister" in its first hour are extremely seldom and when they do come along, our fan hearts jump.
It's not that Scott Derrickson's movie is all that original. Actually, it's more or less another found footage movie with some creepy kids thrown in (more about that later), but the director sets it up so well that you find yourself creeped out and intrigued right from the start. Ethan Hawke's character is given enough depth that we can somehow understand why he would not be taking his family and running away as far as possible within the first five minutes. Derrickson moves things along at exactly the right pace and stays away from cheap scares . The dark house that serves as a setting for most of the film adds a lot of tension, and you never feel safe watching the screen and the movie stays relentlessly tense throughout. Like most good horror movies (see also The Omen, The Ring, In The Mouth Of Madness) there's a mystery that builds up to the horror, like Derrikson had his hand on some kind of scary lever and he kept turning it up with sadistic delight.
This very good start makes it all the more frustrating when Derrickson makes some painful choices in the last third. You know you'e in trouble when creepy kids starts to appear. Too many people making horror movies seem to think that kids are really creepy per se (probably due in part to some of those movies mentioned above). The fact is, they're not, not in this movie at least. These kids are so obviously excited child actors with bad make-up on. As soon as the movie starts to rely on them, you know you can relax. It's like that moment in "Say Anything" when John Cusack and whatshername are tense on a plane until they see the seat belt sign go off and they know there's nothing to fear anymore. We know from this moment that things aren't going to get any scarier and it really kills the movies momentum. It doesn't help that Derrickson throws in some of those scares where a big creepy face pops up directly in front of the camera. We've all been victim to this on the internet when we're tricked into concentrating on an image on the screen and all of a sudden some terrible monster face appears and almost makes you soil your pants. That's okay for the internet, in a movie it's awfully uncreative and lame, and although you probably will jump at those scenes, the feeling will be followed by immediate annoyance and disappointment.
The second, any maybe even bigger problem, is that the movie doesn't have a third act. As in one of Derrickson's previous movies, "The Exorcism Of Emily Rose", the director doesn't seem to know how to end the movie. Just like in "Emily Rose" the final act cannot live up to the great set up that preceded it. The movie ends really quickly without a huge revelation or a big fight or anything. It just ends and leaves you feeling disappointment.
All that doesn't make "Sinister" a failure. In fact, this is probably the best horror movie I've seen all year (not that there's been a lot of competition). It's just a pity that Derrickson couldn't hold up the high quality throughout the movie's entire running time, because then this could have been one of the rare examples of a horror film that satisfies even hard boiled fans of the genre. "Sinister" does make one look forward to Derrickson's next problem, although one can only hope that the man will soon learn how to give his films proper endings.
(Piece of advice: If you can, avoid the trailers before watching "Sinister", as most of the highlights are given away. It surely ruined a lot of fun for me, when I watched the movie and was already familiar with the best bits.)
The Possession (2012)
Oh, Ole Bornedal you continue to break my heart. You showed so much potential with the super thrilling "Nattevagten" in the early 90's and have let me down ever since.
Bornedal newest disappointment is called "The Possession", a movie based on a supposedly true story about a haunted box that does horrible things to its owner. I remember having read about the urban legend on the internet and almost pissing my pants while doing so. When I found out that there would be a movie based on it, I thought this might finally be an original concept for a horror flick.
Unfortunately, "The Possession" doesn't make use of its high potential. Most of it is a clichéd bore. The performances and directorial choices make many scenes unintentionally hilarious. An example for how this movie could have been great but turned out awful is a scene at the morgue. In a dark room the hero finds himself with his possessed daughter and a couple of bodies. An ten year old could have thought of ways to turn this into a memorable, scary scene, but Bornedal simply goes for a quick and lame jump scare.
Was "Nattevagten" a lucky shot? Why do Hollywood producers give promising projects to uninspired directors? How much longer will people think kids are scary? All of these questions are more intriguing than any of the mysteries presented in "The Possession".
Old school, brutal action flick
It doesn't happen all too often anymore that I go to watch a movie without having checked its rating on IMDb before. With "Dredd" I thought I had checked the rating and that it was somewhere around 6.6. So when I went to the movies I pretty much expected this to be mildly entertaining, but utterly forgettable.
The first ten minutes of "Dredd" did little to alter this expectation. The 3D is awfully done and distracting. We learn about a drug called Slow-Mo and its effects don't translate too well to the screen. Everything just happens really slowly (as you would expect) and that's it. It is as gripping as it sounds. A car chase comes and goes, and I was ready to be bored for the rest of the movie.
However, as soon as Judge Dredd and his female co-star Anderson go to investigate three murders in an apartment building things pick up. The two Judges get locked in with thousands of thugs who want to kill them. To survive the two must fight their way to the top of the skyscraper and kill the Überboss (a somewhat underwhelming character played by Lena Headey).
Anybody who has seen the Korean action film "The Raid" will be reminded of that movie's plot from here on in. The similarity is an unfortunate coincidence. Apparently "Dredd"'s screenplay had been finished before that of "The Raid", but seeing how the American movie was released later, it unjustly seems like a rip off now. Also, most people seem to prefer "The Raid". Not me. I find the highly choreographed Korean movie tiring after 10 minutes, "Dredd", on the other hand, is entertaining and enjoyably old school in its ultra brutal depiction of violence.
It's not a politically correct movie. In fact, its morals are downright rotten, but that's in the nature of the main character. I have never read the original comics (which is probably also why i didn't think the Sylvester Stallone movie from 1995 was all that horrible), but from what I've heard the movie is rather faithful to the spirit of its source material. If you find fault with it, you should blame the character's creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, not the makers of this movie.
"Dredd" is the closest thing to an old school action flick, much ballsier and better than "The Expendables" and its sequel that tried to be the real deal. Unfortunately, audiences didn't requite the effort. That way "Dredd" will probably be a last reminder of a time when action movies actually seemed dangerous and forbidden.
Like Crazy (2011)
A beautiful and truthful romance that deserves much more recognition
There's something about truthful romantic dramas that seems makes them unpopular with mainstream audiences. It seems that as soon as the more complicated sides of love are explored, people lose interest (the recent box office failure of "Last Night" comes to mind). Maybe the darker sides of affection beyond "happily ever after" are just too heavy for most people's idea of a good time at the movies. There's no other way to explain why last year's "Like Crazy" hasn't stirred up more attention.
Director/Screenwriter Drake Doremus did a great job of not only scripting a totally believable story with three dimensional characters, but to bring that story to life by showing only the most necessary episodes in this couple's relationships. Often months pass by from one scene to the next. The characters have made new arrangements in the meantime, but we can follow the story anyway just by watching the characters interact. It is masterful, subtle filmmaking.
Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones have great chemistry together. Their instant affection for each other is so natural, it is hard to believe they are not a couple in real life.
The tragedy outweighs the romance in "Like Crazy". It feels similar at times to the aforementioned "Last Night", "Before Sunrise" or even "Blue Valentine" (although much less devastating than the latter). Still, "Like Crazy" is very romantic - because romance can be heartbreaking.
Masterful directorial debut by actor Karl Markovics
Karl Markovics had to work hard to escape his signature role as Stockinger, the funny sidekick in the popular TV show "Kommissar Rex". It took a lot of "serious" theater work and the leading role in Stefan Ruzowitzky's Academy Award winning "Die Fälscher" until he finally got the respect he deserved as an actor. Now Markovics goes on to prove his talents extend beyond just acting: "Atmen" is his debut as a writer and director - and he hits the bull's eye on the first try.
Apparently, Markovics has worked on a lot of script ideas over the years, but never deemed any of them good enough to be developed into a movie. Finally his wife convinced him to go through with one of those ideas, and rightfully so. "Atmen" is an artistic triumph. Not only is the script brilliantly written, but it is also flawlessly executed. The direction seems almost effortless, as if Markovics was already an old master. He seems to know intentionally what to show when, he's got a great eye for frames and unagitated pictures, and, an actor himself, he naturally knows how to direct other actors. That's not to take away from the great cast. Veteran stars like Georg Friedrich and Karl Rott don't disappoint, but the focus lies on Thomas Schubert who says a lot with just facial expressions. Obviousl,y the movie's success depended on Schubert's performance and the first time actor lives up to the task. He's a great talent. Hopefully we'll see more of him in the future.
"Atmen" is a touching and believable movie about life and death, tight-lipped, but never boring, bleak, but in the end optimistic. It's very authentic in its depiction of Vienna, its depiction of a boy who hasn't been dealt the best cards in life. And, most of all, it's got its heart in the right place. This really deserves an Oscar win - much more than "Die Fälscher" did, actually.
Somewhat original, but fails to leave an impression
T.J. Forney (Devin Brochu) is a little boy, who after a tragic accident, in which his mother died, has to deal with his own grief, a depressed father (Rainn Wilson) and a bully at school. One day he runs into Hesher, a metal kid who more or less lives out of his van, drinks and smokes all the time and speaks in strange metaphors. Hesher starts following T.J. around to a point, where he actually moves in with his family. Slowly they build some weird sort of relationship, which ultimately helps to address a few pink elephants within the Forney home.
The trailer for "Hesher" promised a whole different, way more radical and interesting film than the finished product delivers. In the end, T.J.'s problems are clichéd: Mom died, no one understands him, he's getting bullied. As simple as the problems are the solutions: T.J. falls in love with a girl from the supermarket (Natalie Portman) and finds an older brother figure in Hesher, who for all his anti-social tendencies seems to resonate with everyone around him, offering meaningful advice in just a few vulgar words.
The main problem is that this is all completely unbelievable. Why is Hesher there? Why does everyone accept him in the house? What are his motivations. Some people have compared this movie to "Visitor Q", but that film was so far out, one didn't have to bother looking for answers. "Hesher", however, is fairly standard indie fare. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character isn't nearly as edgy or impressive as the writers intended him to be. In fact, he's really annoying. Maybe it would help, if we got to know anything about his background, if more people than just T.J. questioned the character in the movie, but that never happens. It all remains shallow, up to the big realisation that people overcome their grief, when they start shaving again.
With good performances by Brochu and Wilson "Hesher" is a solid comedy/drama, but it doesn't tread on any new territory as the trailer had us believe.
Creepy in its first half, loses its momentum in the second
James Wan and Leigh Whannell have come a long way since they single-handedly set the so called "torture porn"-movement in motion with "Saw" - a brilliant thriller that only got its bad reputation from its countless lukewarm sequels. Already their second attempt at horror, "Dead Silence", was a complete u-turn, relying more on shocks than on gross-out violence. The story involving evil dolls and a creepy old lady that kills you, if you scream, was a masterful combination of known, but modernized horror stereotypes.
Much like "Dead Silence", "Insidious" also treads on well-known territory: it's a classic haunted house flick with many references to "The Haunted", "The Entity" and "Poltergeist". Actually, it's little more than a mash-up of those three movies. And that is part of "Insidious"' many problems.
But first things first: The movie is built-up very well. It's a relief to see Wan and Whannell move even further away from explicit shock value towards mood and atmosphere. This development may not have been their decision entirely. People generally seem to be fed up with gore and the success of "Paranormal Activity" has re-opened the shrieking door for subtle horror that relies on objects moving by themselves more than anything else. That is exactly the kind of scares that "Insidious" displays in its first half. The creepiness is underlined throughout by great sound editing and clever camera movements that keep things interesting.
The problems arise when "Insidious" follows through on its promise in the second half. The movie isn't as ballsy as "The Haunting" was by relying solely on suggestion. When we actually get to see the otherworldly figures that terrorize the family, they are not scary at all. Up until the typical Wan/Whannell ending "Insidious" plays almost like a grim fairy tale for children. In some scenes the tension falls apart completely, for instance, when Patrick Wilson suddenly has a fist fight with a guy in white make-up or when we learn that the main villain looks like a mixture of Darth Maul, the Darkness from "Legend" and Freddy Krueger.
The story itself is not too logical and, as mentioned above, very, very derivative of other, better movies: From the general "Haunting"-feel and plot devices lifted directly from "Poltergeist" (scary trees in front of the window, something creeping up from under the bed, a team of scientists with a female medium entering the scene, people crossing over into another realm) up to the minor twist that this isn't actually a haunted house movie, but a haunted person movie (which is taken directly from 1982's "The Entity", which incidentally also starred Barbara Hershey), "Insidious" has almost no original ideas.
In the end, Wan and Whannell have made a movie, that will scare the living crap out of children and people who are not watching many horror movies. Hard-boiled audiences, however, have seen this before and will get bored soon. Still, it's not a bad flick at all. It definitely shows signs that Wan and Whannell are moving forward as filmmakers and are at the forefront of worthy modern horror directors and writers.
No Strings Attached (2011)
Okay for what it is, but incredibly blimpish
Of course I didn't expect a subversive movie, when I started watching "No Strings Attached", but parts of it seemed unintentionally blimpish considering how hard the movie strives to be the exact opposite. With the working title "F*** Buddies" later changed to "Friends With Benefits" then changed to the final title, "No Strings Attached" obviously sells itself as a liberal kind of romantic comedy, one that acknowledges the lifestyle of modern, young people. Boy does it miss its mark.
Firstly, it's so incredibly old, boring and simply unbelievable to have characters in a movie who fit together perfectly and are happy with each other, BUT for some reason are afraid of relationships and the three words "I love you". I don't buy it, and I don't wanna see it anymore. It's the biggest RomCom cliché ever and I don't people have ever enjoyed seeing it. So can we please stop having it in romantic movies?
Secondly, the way the movie promotes equal rights is just phony. For instance, there is a gay character, who just serves one purpose: to show how the movie is okay with gay people. It's the definition of token. That character plays no role in the movie whatsoever, and still there's a couple of scenes where the joke is on him, not least the first time we get to see him and are to assume for a second that Ashton Kutcher had a drunken one night stand with him. The reaction the movie wants from us in that moment is to go: "Oh my gosh! Kutcher had sex with that ugly fairy!" And frankly, that's just insulting. I'm going a bit off topic now, but it's kind of like that moment in "Paul" where the alien makes vulgar gestures that reference anal sex between two men first, and then "redeems" itself by saying: "It's okay, I don't mind gay people." It is still disrespectful, goddammit!
Thirdly, the movie thinks it's progressive, because Kutcher is the emotional guy in the relationship, whereas Portman is distanced, concentrates on her career and then in the end turns out to be the one who has to fight to get the guy back. You know, the classic pattern, but with the genders switched. Only problem: It's AT LEAST 10 years too late for that! This is nothing new, dear makers of this movie! If anything, it's a pretty sad testimonial to how long it took for Hollywood to realize that people can think outside the box of what is the expected behavior of men and women.
Well, having said all that, I have to admit that the movie is not incredibly bad. In fact, if you like Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, you're probably going to get a couple of laughs out of this. Kevin Kline is wasted, Ivan Reitman is nowhere near the top of his game, the script has a thousand flat characters and some cringe-worthy scenes (the period-mix tape, anyone?) but yeah, "No Strings Attached" has its amusing moments, too. It's just a bit hard to enjoy them, when the movie's general mindset leaves such a bad taste in your mouth.
No depth, all entertainment
Of all the Twilight Zone-like movies released this year (the other ones being "The Adjustment Bureau" and "Unknown Identity") "Limitless" is probably the best - which doesn't say a lot. The movie has more than its share of problems.
The original premise - a loser type of guy takes a drug that enables him to grow a 4-digit IQ, which makes him successful at first, but gets him into a lot of trouble soon - is kind of intriguing. Neil Burger moves the plot along quickly, Bradley Cooper is well-cast as the guy who turns into a yuppie with a slippery Tom Cruise winner smile. And Robert De Niro plays Robert De Niro.
Storywise things don't make complete sense. For all his newly gained intelligence Cooper's character does oversee some important things and makes lots of stupid mistakes. Some plot strings like a dubious murder or whole characters just seem to get forgotten about entirely, like the movie had undergone some re-writes and re-cuts.
Maybe even more bothersome is the fact, that "Limitless" had the potential of raising some highly philosophical questions, but limits itself (no pun intended) to just a bland story of a guy using his intelligence to make lots of money. The movie's morals are rather questionable that way. It seems like we are supposed to identify with this guy, who's really just power hungry egomaniac.
Somehow, you can ignore all that though, because "Limitless" moves along so quickly that it never falls apart completely, as it would have in the hands of someone like Michael Bay. Sure, if you want depth or at least some kind of cheap popcorn movie moral, even a lackluster film such as "The Devil's Advocate" does a better job. However, if you're only looking for light, but not mind numbing (again, no pun intended) entertainment, "Limitless" does its job perfectly well.
Burke and Hare (2010)
John Landis has lost it, sadly
"Burke And Hare" should have been a masterpiece. Just look at the credits: Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, the underused Jessica Hynes (formerly Jessica Stevenson), the underrated Tim Curry, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Bailey, Stephen Merchant (in a cameo) and Isla Fisher, all in the same movie directed by the once great John Landis, who hasn't made a feature film in ages. Unfortunately, "Burke And Hare" looks only good on paper. The actual movie is a boring, unfunny affair. One can imagine the ever-so good-humoured Landis laughing his butt off while directing the most old-fashioned (as in: out-dated) slapstick scenes you have seen in a while: People are fainting, making funny faces, saying and doing random things - and it's just not funny at all. Not only that, the horror doesn't work either: Some scenes with corpses are supposed to be gross, but they're not, they're just dull.
This is not the John Landis comeback one would have hoped for. In fact it's more of a sad affirmation that this once great director has truly lost it.
Love & Other Drugs (2010)
Everything about "Love And Other Drugs" is just wrong - from the get go. The very first scene we see Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) dancing around in an electric shop. He's a very successful salesman, because he charms everyone, because he's just so damn charming - only thing is, he's not. It's one of those movies where everyone falls for the guy, when in real life people would just find him appalling. That's just the beginning. We stick to this slippery guy who could have jumped right out of an 80's movie he's that empty and material. In one of the next scenes we see him dancing to "Macarena" at a pharmaceutical group's assessment center. There's a lot of Gyllenhaal dancing. It's supposed to establish him as this dynamic, success-oriented guy, but it's just awkward and really annoying.
We also meet other male characters, and ALL of them are misogynist pigs who only ever talk about getting laid: the successful doctor (Hank Azaria, who at one point gives an incredibly sappy speech about grievance in his job, which is completely out of place), Jamie's working colleague (Oliver Platt, who also does some inappropriate dancing), Jamie's biggest competitor, Jamie's Dad and worst of all Jamie's brother, who's supposed to be the funny side character, but is just detestable and disgusting. Oh, I almost forgot, there's a funny homeless guy, who starts getting his life together after he begins taking Prozac. Nice little message there.
Anyway, the most incredible thing happens: Jamie falls for a girl, Maggie. She's got Parkinson's disease. This is where the movie gets all deep and edgy. We're supposed to feel sorry for her, but she's just a very unlikeable character. The movie has a thousand scenes where Maggie and Jamie go back and forth. He tells her about his feelings, she can't let it happen. It's interesting the first four times or so, then you just want them to have a terrible car crash and die in flames.
Jamie's big speech to get back Maggie in the end is the cream of the crop: You got every cliché. He tries to talk to her, she rejects him at first, a "funny" old couple comments on how cute he is, he continues his speech, the most kitschy music - think something along the lines of the "Bodyguard" soundtrack - starts playing in the background as Jamie speaks the words that move Maggie to tears and make her finally give in to her love. NOT FOR ONE SECOND do I believe that these two characters will make it past the initial stages of being in love, when Maggie's sickness really kicks in.
This is just appalling. The movie gets a relatively high rating of 4/10 stars from me, because for some reason it is eerily watchable. I hated it, but I could still make it to the end without having to force myself. Also, Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway (who I don't like at all), do the best they can with these horribly written characters they're given.
But that's about all the positive things you can say about "Love And Other Drugs". Edward Zwick ought to be ashamed of himself.
Last Night (2010)
An honest, if terrible look at relationships, love and faith
I am very surprised "Last Night" got a rather lukewarm user rating on IMDb. From my point of view it is a movie that is very honest, if terrible in its depiction of relationships, love and faith. There were many moments, where I expected the movie to lose its momentum, where the filmmakers could have chickened out, but that never happened. Maybe too much is talked about, when some things could have been told through pictures. Then again, I found all dialog very believable. My only criticism concerns Sam Worthington's rather wooden performance. Apart from that "Last Night" really knocked me off my feet, from the beginning right until the brilliant final scene.
The dark fairy tale Dario Argento never made
"Paperhouse" is a bit of a lost classic. It comes from a time when movies dared to be original and edgy. When characters didn't have to be black and white, when even your lead actress didn't necessarily have to be a person that it's very easy to identify with.
From what I'm told the story is based on a children's book. This movie, however, is clearly for adults. Though not full on horror, "Paperhouse" is too dark and scary for children. Director Bernard Rose clearly made the movie on a shoe string budget, but still manages to create an atmosphere of constant unease.
One time movie actress Charlotte Burke plays her role convincingly as does the rest of the cast (though Glenne Headly's overdubbed English accent sounds awkward and out of place). The real highlight, however, are the eerie score and the beautiful cinematography, sometimes reminiscent of a less colourful Dario Argento movie.
In the end, "Paperhouse" is plodding on a bit and from today's perspective some scenes seem dragged out. Still, it's a movie well-worth checking out that deserves much more recognition than it ever got.
I Am Number Four (2011)
Twilight with balls
Do you know that old movie rule that you subconsciously decide whether you're going to enjoy a film or not within the first ten minutes? Well, it wasn't true this time, because after the opening sequence, I was pretty sure I was going to hate "I Am Number Four". Thankfully, I was in for a pleasant surprise.
It all starts with bad CGI-monsters and some guys in Star Trek make-up chasing people around in the jungle. We then cut to some jocks doing tricks on jet skis and some bland blonde girls admiring them - and I thought this is going to be terrible. Then the story picks up and the movie gets better from there.
The story involves a couple of characters and mysteries, but is never too complicated. After the initial jet ski scene, the main character actually turns out to be played quite charmingly by Alex Pettyfer. He's supported by his mentor/protector (solid as always: Timothy Olyphant). Glee's Dianna Agron plays Number Four's love interest. She comes across very natural, so that the love story that unfolds is actually engaging instead of vomit-inducing like that of that other movie with the whining Vampires and the shirtless Werewolves.
Of course, "I Am Number Four" is by no means a great movie. The CGI sucks in places and the make-up of the bad guys is just awful. Characters are stereotypical, things fall into place way too conveniently and one has the feeling that a good junk of the original novel has just been crammed together to (barely) fit into the running time of a popcorn movie.
However, I think we can all agree that it would be silly to actually expect a masterpiece, considering the movie's premise. For what it is, "I Am Number Four" is an entertaining little fantasy flick for teenagers and undemanding twenty-somethings. Add to that the fact that this movie is neither a sequel nor a remake, that it's not based on a comic book, a TV series, a computer game or toys, and it's enough to lift "I Am Number Four" heads and shoulders above its genre competitors.
Due Date (2010)
Occasionally funny, but marred by many crude moments
The success of "The Hangover" seems to have turned Todd Phillips into the next Judd Apatow, and just like that filmmaker's offerings Phillips movies are equally flawed: occasionally funny, they are often disjointed by crude scenes that include unfunny vulgarities and/or inappropriate violence. "Due Date" is no exception.
It's not easy to overlook that the plot is more or less risen directly from John Hughes' "Planes, Trains & Automobiles", so much so that this movie could actually be considered a remake: A snobby business man desperately wants to get home to his family, when he runs into a well-meaning, but disastrously clumsy person, who causes lots of trouble during that trip, which leads too some funny moments. Fair enough, it's maybe an obvious story, but "Due Date" still has to acquiesce to being compared to "Planes, Trains...". And the plain truth is: It doesn't stand a chance against Hughes' movie.
It's not that Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis don't have chemistry on screen, they do. Downey Jr. in particular gives an engaging performance. It's just that one doesn't believe for a second that these two would ever strike up a relationship. Where "Planes, Trains..." is heartwarming and engaging at its core, "Due Date" is marred by too many mean-spirited moments: Punching a kid in the stomach just isn't funny. Laughing at somebody who pours his heart out to you isn't funny. Almost having an accident and looking at a shocked John Candy who turns into a skeleton with hair is funny. Falling asleep at the wheel, skipping the car over and causing it to crash on its roof top isn't. The list goes on.
Scenes like these stick out like sore thumbs and should obviously not have been included. It seems weird to me that Phillips wouldn't have felt the same way when cutting the movie.
"Due Date" is entertaining for as long as its running. In the end, though, it will be "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" that people will remember as the road trip comedy classic.
Red Dawn (1984)
Truly a bad movie
I'm a sucker for Cold War nostalgia and American movies that were made during that era (even if they deal with the subject in a lopsided way), but even I can't get a kick out of "Red Dawn". It's kind of intriguing to see pre-"Dirty Dancing" Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey and pre-"Ferris Bueller's Day Off" Charlie Sheen and Jennifer Grey on screen together, but that's about all the fun you get out of this 1984-picture. Apart from numerous technical flaws (the horrible acting, a boring story without any dramatic peaks or even good action sequences) the morals of "Red Dawn" are so screwed up that half a century later we can only look back and shake our heads in wonder.
Although there are moments in which the writers of the movie seem to express vaguely humanistic thoughts - such as when one American character wonders who will ever be able to distinguish winners and losers in this (Cold) war, when the American heroes turn against each other at one point and aren't so sure what makes them different to their enemy anymore, or when a "bad" Colonel shows a human side (in a horribly contrived scene where he writes a letter to his lover back home) -, "Red Dawn" sells killing and martyrdom as something cool without ever depicting the horrors of war properly. We see heroic teenagers fighting for their country and slaughtering the enemies in huge numbers (just were they get all their gear from is never explained properly). There's a scene in which the father of the two main characters (played by Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen) talks to his sons from behind the fence of an improvised gulag. As he sends the boys away he screams after them: "AVENGE ME!" It is this scene where you realize that something's terribly off about "Red Dawn".
Much like "True Blood: Rambo" and "Rambo III", "Red Dawn" is propaganda of the most idiotic kind and leaves one looking with much skepticism to the soon to be released remake of "Red Dawn", where invading Chinese replace the Soviet army. Shouldn't we who think of ourselves as part of a free western society have moved past this kind of movie by now?
Srpski film (2010)
Explicit, but not powerful
I'm not the kind of person who would say he wasn't shocked by "A Serbian Film", because he wants to come across as a tough guy. As a matter of fact, however, this movie left me strangely cold. It's depressing and calculated in its shock value, the logical next step after torture porn flicks such as "Saw" and "Hostel". Instead of just depicting blood and guts, director/author Srdjan Spasojevic breaks sexual taboos: He shows the raping and slaughtering of women and children (without actually getting too pornographic. You see erect penisses, blowjobs, even the birth of a child, but no explicit penetration).
If you're shocked by the thought of this alone, "A Serbian Film" will have the intended effect on you and disturb you. I, however, felt that the whole thing was kind of predictable and half as extreme as it was made out to be.
Spasojevic is neither an unethical director, as some will claim, nor does he push the boundaries of what art is allowed to do. The depiction of violence has its end in itself in this movie. That makes "A Serbian Film" so much less powerful than other extreme movies such as "Martyrs" or "Cannibal Holocaust", where the explicit violence actually served a deeper meaning. "A Serbian Film" is neither deep, nor fun too watch, just shocking to a certain extent. That makes it interesting enough for the moment, but not too memorable in the long run. Trust the horror genre to give birth to something more extreme before too long.
Les poupées russes (2005)
Unusual sequel that's not entirely successful
When I first caught "L'auberge espagnole", the predecessor to "Les poupées russes", on TV, I was in a bad mood. The movie, however, cheered me up so much, I fell in love with it, even more so, when years later I practically lived it on my own Erasmus semester. The bar was set up high for the sequel.
"Les poupées russes" doesn't really compare to the first part. The setting is different. Whereas in the original people from all over the world came together in Barcelona, this time Xavier goes to a lot of different locations (Paris, London, St. Petersburg, Moscow). Apart from Xavier, the focus of the story lies on people who were only side characters in "L'auberge espagnole" (Wendy, Martine, Isabelle, Kevin), but there stories don't necessarily go anywhere. For instance, we only get glimpses of where Martine and Xavier's mother are in their (love) lives without that ever resolving into anything. That's not a bad thing, but it makes "Les poupées russes" seem disjointed, as if it didn't have one continuous plot, but is a mere sequence of individual scenes.
Another thing that took me out of the movie, is the way the characters talk. It seems highly unnatural at times, but it may have to do with the fact that I watched the German dubbed version. I'd love to go back and see the original version with subtitles, as "L'auberge espagnole" was also much better that way.
However, what cannot be excused by translation is the movie's visual, off key humor, that really sometimes misses the mark this time around. When Xavier literally turns into a piper to lure employers into believing him, it's just not very funny. The same goes for scenes, in which he wears a dress, gets beat up by a lesbian or introduces his make-believe-fiancée to his grandpa. Wacky little fantasy moments do work here and there, but more often than not, they seem forced into the movie to match the style of the original.
One thing that I always liked about Xavier, is that he can be a selfish jerk at times, but still isn't treated as the bad guy in the story. That to me shows a differentiated, less clichéd idea of man on the filmmaker's part. It makes it easier to identify with the character. I'm not entirely satisfied with how Xavier's missteps where treated this time. Actually, thinking back I found it highly unrealistic that the doctor in part one forgave him so easily for sleeping with his wife. Much the same way, Xavier is forgiven this time, quickly and without explanation the movie just rushes to its end.
"Les poupées russes" is not entirely successful, and because of the aforementioned lack of storyline, it does drag on a bit. However, it is great to see how Xavier's life has continued after the first movie. "Les poupées russes" feels like a companion piece to its predecessor, a bit like "Before Sunset" was to "Before Sunrise". As in that franchise, the filmmakers could get away with another sequel, because these movies dependent on their characters more than on story.
The Loved Ones (2009)
I wouldn't have thought, that I could watch one more torture horror movie and be entertained by it. "The Loved Ones", however, may be the last movie of that subgenre to actually be worthwhile. Really worthwhile, that is.
Much like "Wolf Creek", another Australian horror movie that took an ancient old premise and turned it into a tense and thrilling hellride, "The Loved Ones" is so masterfully crafted, it succeeds where it should fail. The actors - first and foremost the devilish pairing of Robin McLeavy and beady eyed John Brumpton - are just terrific, as is the cinematography and the set pieces. Beautiful bubblegum pink mixes with blood and guts. Director/writer Sean Byrne knows how to balance his first feature film between repulsive scenes and comedic relief.
In the end "The Loved Ones" becomes almost cartoonish and Tarantino-esquire in its climax: The movie has got you rooting so much against the villains that when they finally get theirs, you will howl in satisfaction.
Yep, "The Loved Ones" is the torture movie to end all torture movies. Hopefully, because NOW really everything has been said that needed to be said in that subgenre.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
Not surprisingly, but sadly disappointing
The original "A Nightmare On Elm Street" is my favorite horror movie of all time. A remake to me seemed to be set up for a failure from the get go, but of course, I had to see it.
The result doesn't make me - and most fans, I'd imagine - very happy: The pacing is all wrong, the imagery and the imagination of the original are gone and have been replaced by cheap CGI, soulless quick cuts and cheap jumps. The backstory has been changed for the worse, the teenage characters (and the actors who portray them) are shallow and annoying, and finally Jackie Earle Haley, hard as he may try, can't hold a candle to Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger.
ANOES 2010 is neither very thrilling, nor fun. Its washed colours and the downbeat feel of the whole child-molester-backstory make the movie more depressing than anything else. I do understand that they wanted to make Freddy scary again and get back to the nitty-gritty of the character, but firstly, I never had a problem with him being a wisecracking joker. And secondly, I believe it's pretty much impossible to take a character whose story and appearance have already been exposed so much, and make him creepy again. In this version of ANOES Freddy's really just boring. The one one-liner they did give him (about "hanging out" with a guy that's - how original - hanging from a hook or a rope or something like that), is pretty lame.
Still, for some reason I would like to go back and re-watch the movie. The original premise is just so good that even Michael Bay couldn't screw it up entirely. The few things that they did "re-imagine" are not successful, but some of them are at least interesting.
As a "Nightmare"-fan, I'll always embrace every other entry in the franchise, but this here remake is never going to get high notes from me. What saddens me the most, is that this new beginning once and for all ends the Endlund-era and the original series. Well, all things must end. I just wish that what followed would have been half as a good as what we had before.
Good movie with a misleading title
Thankfully, I had been warned by a reviewer on a horror site that "Monsters" is neither frightening nor especially thrilling, but more of a romantic movie that just so happens to have a few sci-fi elements (namely the monsters of the title) in it. That's pretty important information, because the trailer and the title are misleading and may disappoint moviegoers. If you're aware what you're in for, though, "Monsters" turns out to be a really entertaining film. I would describe it as "Before Sunrise" with giant Lovecraftian creatures. Sometimes it drags on a bit too much, and the ending is kinda anti-climatic. However, the movie is well-acted, the special effects are decent and the story is original. Definitely worth checking out.
Adam Green takes a big step forward
"Hatchet" and "Spiral" - two movies that did little to nothing for me. "Hatchet" couldn't decide whether it wanted to be funny or scary and ultimately failed to be either. "Spiral" was just a mess, made all the less bearable by Joel Moore's annoying performance.
"Frozen" has got a big plus: Moore isn't in it. Also, the premise isn't half bad. However, the story of three people being stuck on a skilift seemed to need somebody who knew how to craft a plot with such a claustrophobic setting. To be honest, I didn't think that writer/director Adam Green was up for the task. He proved me wrong.
Although "Frozen" isn't entirely without its flaws, it keeps you thrilled throughout. The characters aren't perfectly written, but they are neither annoyingly stupid nor stereotypical in any way, and that is harder to achieve than it may sound.
Also, one might think that the possibilities of where the story could go are fairly limited when it comes to three people being stuck in one place, but Green somehow finds a way of always moving the plot forward when it needs to. Even though I felt as though in some places the dialog could still have been trimmed a bit, there was never a minute where you were actually taken out of the movie because it was slowing down too much. The same goes for the movie's sense of realism: Although some things are not entirely believable, "Frozen" never actually goes over the top.
Adam Green finally made a movie that justifies his reputation in the horror genre (even though this is more of a thriller than anything else). Too bad, that he went back to the "Hatchet" franchise for his next project. Hopefully, once we're over with that, he'll move on to more interesting things.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)
Excellent horror/comedy with an emphasis on comedy
I saw "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil" at the new Viennese /slash Filmfestival that is dedicated to all things horror, sci-fi and fantasy. I walked into the movie knowing nothing about it, having read no reviews and thus not expecting too much. What followed completely took me by surprise.
The movie plays on the clichéd plot of a group of college kids going camping in the woods and then being killed off one by one by deranged hillbillies - only this time the hillbillies are completely innocent, good-natured people and all the bloody killings that ensue are just unlucky accidents.
What sounds like an amusing idea that's most likely to become a joke that well-overstays its welcome for 90 minutes, was turned into an uplifting movie that's genuinely funny from the first minute to the last. Mostly, that's thanks to the great cast: From the wonderful team of Tyler Labine (Dale) and Alan Tudyk (Tucker) all the way to the hero-turned-villain played Jesse Moss these actors have a great chemistry together and perfect comedic timing. The jokes are silly, but never primitive, the splatter is right on time and funny. (Just do yourself a favor and don't spoil it for yourself by watching the trailer.) What's best of all is that this isn't just a parody of any particular horror movie, but a standalone comedy that works without the usual nods and homages to well-known classic.
I really hope "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil" will get the exposure it deserves in the coming months. It's sure to become a cult classic and will most definitely be compared to horror comedies like "Shaun Of The Dead". Go see it, if you get a chance.
House of Games (1987)
Contrived, predictable and slow
"House Of Games" is your typical David-Memet-con-movie. Much like in "The Spanish Prisoner" the bad guys base their cons on far fetched assumptions and unlikely coincidences, and they all come together in a totally predictable twist. What's worse is that "House Of Games" isn't even fun to watch. It's slow and the acting is as wooden as in a Dario-Argento-flick (save for Joe Montegna, who is quite good as the low-life Mike) . A lot of fans of this movie claim that it was intentional on David Memet's part to have his actors act like that, but then I strongly disagree with Memet's artistic choice. It makes the movie an emotionless bore. "House Of Games" isn't a complete mess. The credits and music as well as the unagitated direction make the movie a relatively timeless feast for the eyes (as long as you can ignore the horrible clothes and haircuts that is!). Too bad there's not enough plot to back that up.