Archive for July, 2014

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Posted in Horror, Sequel with tags , , , , , on July 10, 2014 by The Confused Critic

(*1/2 out of ****)

a-nightmare-on-elm-street-2010-poster

(Originally written for The Boston College Heights on 5/3/2009)

One, two, a new remake’s coming for you … three, four, this one is quite the bore … five, six, you won’t find any new tricks … seven, eight, you could call it second-rate … nine, ten, never trust anything Michael Bay touches again.

Springwood. A nice town where children are punished for the sins of their parents. Years after the town’s adults tracked down and murdered Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley), a preschool custodian believed to be a child molester, teenagers begin having dreams about a clawed man in a green and red sweater donning a fedora. As these teens begin violently dying in their sleep one by one, it soon becomes clear that these are no ordinary nightmares. Hmm, do you think there’s a connection between these characters and why they are all having the same nightmares?

A remake of Wes Craven’s 1984 film of the same name, Elm Street falls short of the original in just about every aspect, though most noticeably in character development. None of the lead
protagonists are even remotely relatable, let alone likeable. Nancy (Rooney Mara) is not the typical virginal heroine of the slasher genre – instead she is an annoyingly angsty painter who fails to smile once throughout the course of the film. Her pseudo boyfriend, Quentin (Kyle Gallner), is a pill-popping head case who looks like he is attempting to fill the vacant spot in Fall Out Boy. Although it would be a stretch to say the audience truly wants to see these characters suffer, it would also not be unreasonable to suggest that they might begin grinning a little bit when Edward Scissorhands’ cousin is seen lurking behind the brats.

One would think that the film would have at least been able to approach the original in terms of special effects, given the 26-year gap in technology. Unfortunately, an overreliance on computer generated effects removes any appearance of realism from the movie, instead looking cheap rather than advanced. Attempts to recreate scenes from the original, such as the sequence where a teen watches his girlfriend meet her demise while levitating above her bed, do not look nearly as impressive as one would hope. It is frustrating that a low-budget film that is over two decades old looks more realistic than what is being churned out today. Clearly, computer effects will never look as good as actual stunt work. Once again, it would appear that money cannot buy everything.

Elm Street’s biggest problem is that it spells out every little detail for the audience. At one point in the film, one of the characters, in a revelation of ingenious proportions, exclaims, “You die in your sleep, you die in real life!” Since this is the film’s central plot gimmick, it should be assumed that audiences would be able to understand this premise from, oh, maybe the first five minutes. Instead, scriptwriters insult viewer intelligence by worrying that the audience will be too dense to pick up on the not-too-subtle context clues sprinkled throughout the film.

Furthermore, in the original film, the exact nature of Freddy’s crimes against young children was left up to audience interpretation. Conversely, this remake insists upon an unpleasant pedophilia subplot that hurts the film’s chances of simply being an entertaining thrill ride. Why sink the film, already dark enough with its abundantly violent content, into a realm of exceedingly uncomfortable subject matter?

Nevertheless, Elm Street does have some minor bright spots. The film’s strongest aspect is Haley, who manages to reinterpret the Freddy Krueger persona to match his creepy brand of character acting, much akin to what he did with the Rorschach character in Watchmen. Although many longtime fans will never accept another actor in the role besides Robert Englund, the man who played Freddy for the franchise’s previous eight movies, it is hard to deny that Haley has fashioned a terrifying revision of the character. Gruesomely deformed and gleeful over any opportunity to inflict pain, Freddy Krueger is once again a villain horrific enough to make anyone want to give up sleep.

At best, Elm Street reestablishes the creepy vibe that had been missing from the franchise for years. Gone are Freddy’s cringe-worthy one-liners and the cartoonish dream sequences that had been associated with this series since the late 1980s. However, this update does not really offer anything new beyond the typical conventions associated with such films. If you truly have a hankering to spend quality time with Krueger, you are better off just renting the original – at least you will get to witness a performance by a young Johnny Depp, years before it was evident that he would become a Hollywood legend.

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Friday the 13th (2009)

Posted in Horror, Sequel with tags , , , , , on July 10, 2014 by The Confused Critic

(**1/2 out of ****)

FridayThe13th2009

(Originally written for The Boston College Heights on 2/16/2009)

Little has changed at Camp Crystal Lake in the past 30 years since the original Friday the 13th hacked its way into theaters across America. College kids still like smoking weed, having pre-marital sex at the worst possible moment, possessing an undeserved sense of youthful invincibility, and annoying a certain hockey-masked townie with anger issues.

Friday the 13th, the 12th entry in the franchise, attempts to return the series to its roots by placing a group of dumb, attractive characters at a house in the woods, at the mercy of a deformed killer. This means no more jaunts into New York City, outer space, or Elm Street, which is a wise decision. Remakes may be a plague on the movie industry, but sometimes they help to undo the desperate sequel gimmicks introduced along the way.

For those unfamiliar with the back story of the Friday the 13th series, antagonist Jason Voorhees drowned back when he was a camper at Crystal Lake. To exact revenge on the negligent counselors, his mother went on a violent killing spree that ended with her decapitation. While it seemed like the trouble was over, it turns out young Jason inexplicably was not dead and witnessed his mother’s death. Thus, the cycle of revenge continued.

The film opens with a group of twenty-somethings traveling to Crystal Lake in search of a large crop of pot rumored to grow nearby in the woods. Within the first 10 minutes, they are dispatched by Jason. That’s right my friends; no subtle buildup or tension is going to be found here. Whereas the old films waited a good half hour for the initial bloodshed, this one slices at the jugular before we can even blink.

Shortly after the demise of the first set of nondescript characters, we are introduced to a new batch of soon-to-be corpses who are partying at a house on the lake. This cast of reject Abercrombie models contains a nice grocery list of horror movie character cliches: you’ve got Trent (Travis Van Winkle), the un-faithful, confrontational frat boy, Bree (Julianna Guill), the nubile ditz, and Clay (Jared Padalecki), the brooding motorcycle rider investigating his sister’s disappearance, just to name a few. Additionally, former “I Wanna Be Bad” pop star Willa Ford plays blonde bimbo #2. One by one, characters are killed off gruesomely through the use of machetes, axes, and bear traps. The plot really doesn’t go too much more in depth than that if you had not yet guessed.

Friday the 13th excels at promoting exploitative entertainment that one has come to expect from the series. Blood, nudity, and inane dialogue abound, which, dependingon your definition of a good time, will influence your amusement quotient. Let it be said: This is not an objectively good movie…at all. However, the people making this movie appear to acknowledge that they are not creating a profound piece of art. They succeed at giving fans of the genre a gritty, unrelenting piece of celluloid. Additionally, there is enough humor (both intentional and unintentional) to counterbalance the otherwise disturbing tone.

Pinpointing everything that is wrong with this film would be excessive and completely obvious. Without seeing the movie, one could easily predict each of the plot twists, stereotypically impractical decisions, and when a jump scare is about to occur. Though it may sound like a lazy excuse, the Friday the 13th series was never about intelligence or innovation. According to the screenwriter of the original film, the only real motivation behind the production of the movie was to mimic the success that Halloween had achieved. Therefore, when assessing the quality of a movie like this, it seems necessary to compare it to other films of its own ilk rather than attempt to explain why it is not Oscar-worthy material.

The major question raised by Friday the 13th is whether or not these kinds of simple slasher flicks can elicit a substantial reaction from an audience anymore. While the movie certainly delivers the gory violence it promises, the effect of the grisly on-screen murders does not shock viewers in quite the same way that it would have back in when the original premiered. The pervasiveness of violence in movies as well as our growing sense of familiarity with Hollywood special effects renders the shock value, the only notable feature most of these films have going for them, unsuccessful. While the Friday the 13th franchise was the touchtone for disturbing horror in the 1980’s, it now feels just a tad tamer with the existence of movies like Hostel, which belongs to a genre ever-so-creatively titled “torture porn” by film critics.

One’s enjoyment of Friday the 13th hinges on one’s attitude going into the theater. If you loathe horror films and are aggravated by nonsensical character reactions, then just stay away. However, if you are seeking a carefree, brainless thrill ride then you might just want to give Jason a visit this weekend.

Hot Fuzz (2007)

Posted in Action, Comedy with tags , , , on July 10, 2014 by The Confused Critic

(**** out of ****)

Hot Fuzz

(Originally written for The Boston College Heights on 4/23/2007)

What’s this? An original comedy that does not rely on crude humor and gross-out jokes? Where are Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn? Surely we are are not ready for a comedy without these overused actors, right? OK, enough smugness for now. Let’s take a closer look.

Hot Fuzz tells the story of Sergeant Nicolas Angel (Simon Pegg), one of the best cops in London. Unfortunately, his determination and success leads his jealous superiors to transfer him for being too good at his job, which had inadvertently made the rest of the force look bad. Angel is sent to Sandford, a small English village where everything is seemingly quiet and safe.

Upon arriving in Sandford, Angel immediately arrests the town drunk who attempts to drive home after a long night of celebrating life. The next morning, he learns that the man he arrested is none other than Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), his new partner, who also happens to be the son of Sandford’s police chief, Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent). Danny is an avid fan of films like Point Break and the Bad Boys movies and treasures the fact that he is finally getting to work with someone who has seen real action in the line of duty.

Initially, everything appears to be fairly dull and monotonous for Angel. Arresting underage drinkers and retrieving a local citizen’s goose is the extent of the action he sees. This boredom is suddenly interrupted by a series of grisly deaths. Angel is convinced that there is a serial killer on the loose, but the rest of the inept police force is comfortable with writing each death off as a common accident. As Angel and Butterman begin to investigate these crimes, a startlingly dark secret about the town of Sandford comes to surface.

Much like director Edgar Wright’s previous film, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz neglects to tie itself down to one particular genre. American buddy cop films, murder mysteries, and slasher flicks are all respectfully spoofed and effectively integrated into the plot of the film. Of particular interest is what director Edgar Wright describes as “hard R-rated deaths out of an Agatha Christie novel.” Without giving too much away, this film revels in its ridiculously gory deaths, which are more humorous than exploitative.

What makes Hot Fuzz work so well is the chemistry between the two leads. Friends for over a decade now, Pegg and Frost display a uniquely comfortable interaction on screen. The audience realizes how much fun the two are having together and can’t help but feel that they are part of the inside jokes. It is clear that this is a film made by a group of people who hold a legitimate respect and appreciation for the films that they are satirizing.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about the film is the substantial roles that the secondary characters play. Although Pegg and Frost could carry the movie alone if necessary, actors like Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, and Billie Whitelaw create equally funny characters that add an extra dimension to the film. Timothy Dalton, one of the less remembered actors to have portrayed James Bond, manages to steal several scenes with his perfect sense of comic timing and irony.

Hot Fuzz is one of the most enjoyable comedies since, well, Shaun of the Dead. Director Wright and co-stars Pegg and Frost have laid a solid foundation for the future of their respective careers. Collectively, the three recognize why they love certain genres of film and convey their elements so well that audiences remember why they enjoy going to the theater. Although it might be too early to tell, it is possible that the trio could become the Monty Python for today’s generation

Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)

Posted in Horror, Sci-Fi, Sequel on July 10, 2014 by The Confused Critic

( ** out of ****)

Resident-evil-extinction-poster

(Originally written for The Boston College Heights on 9/24/2007)

Movies based on video games have a long history of bombing at the box-office. Super Mario Bros., House of the Dead, and Street Fighter were all disasters among critics and fans alike. Therefore, it is surprising to find the Resident Evil series on its third entry. Although none of the movies are masterpieces or critic favorites, viewers have not yet tired of watching Milla Jovovich go to battle with hoards of flesh-eating zombies.

Resident Evil: Extinction find’s Jovovich’s Alice at an interesting point in her life. The world she once knew has been overrun by the T-Virus, a contamination that turns humans into zombies and erodes all the plants and bodies of water that it touches. Alice has escaped from the Umbrella Corporation, the culprits who created the T-Virus. Wandering a post-apocalyptic desert straight out of a Mad Max film, she faces the dual threat of the living dead and Umbrella scientists (the evil British type who have that maniacal grin down perfectly), who want to experiment with her DNA, which may or may not hold the secret to the T-Virus. Along the way she meets up with a convoy of survivors and helps them look for a safe location where they can set up a new society.

RE: Extinction pales in comparison to its two predecessors. The plot is significantly thinner and the pace is annoyingly uneven. The desert location dominates a majority of the film’s running time, setting a bleak, static tone for the events that unfold.

Nevertheless, there are a few great scenes of zombie rampages, which, although heavy on cheap jump scares, manage to create an effectively frightening environment. The special effects are impressive, perhaps due to the fact that the filmmakers did not rely too heavily on CGI. Besides, any movie that has zombie birds can’t be all that bad, right?

Although the acting in the movie is passable, the script does very little in terms of fleshing out sympathetic characters. Jovovich more or less goes through the motions here, playing the same robotic, science-fiction butt-kicker that she did in The Fifth Element and Ultraviolet. She has very little dialogue throughout the film and when she decides to speak up, it is usually just to deliver a predictable one-liner. Ali Larter’s Claire is stiff and lets her sunglasses do the talking, constantly reminding us that she’s not just some piece of eye candy. Thankfully, Oded Fehr adds humor to the otherwise bland script, much like he did a few years ago for the Mummy franchise. With his character, it feels like there’s someone worth rooting for.

Director Russell Mulcahy struggles to determine how he wants the audience to view the female protagonists. Much like Paul WS. Anderson, who helmed the first two installments, Mulcahy initially portrays the women as empowered fighters but then goes on to objectify them with skimpy outfits and compromising camera angles that will appeal to the male audience. After a while, it gets a bit tiring – we get it, you have very attractive women in your movie!

RE: Extinction’s biggest fault is dipping into a vat of endless clichés, the worst being the character L.J. (Mike Epps), who returns from the previous film. Epps shamelessly indulges in his tired, socially insultingly stereotype routine, complete with the phrase, “Aww,hell naw!” In terms of genre cliches, there is the guy who gets bitten by a zombie, yet decides not to tell anyone because he believes he is somehow above being infected. None of the characters never seem to figure out that you can only kill the zombies with head shots. All the scientists have ambiguous motives, in this case a desire to domesticate the zombies. This would have been a clever idea if it hadn’t originally been done in George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead. Is it a homage or rip-off? That’s for you to decide.

There’s nothing to be lost or gained by seeing Resident Evil: Extinction. It is a middle-of-the-road popcorn flick that should be viewed by someone looking purely for a thrill ride or a fan of the series. Unless this film bombs, it is safe to say that the Resident Evil franchise will be seeing at least one more chapter.

The Number 23 (2007)

Posted in Thriller with tags , on July 7, 2014 by The Confused Critic

(*1/2 out of ****)

The Number 23

(Originally written for The Boston College Heights on 2/26/2007)

In The Number 23, Jim Carrey plays Walter Sparrow, a dogcatcher who leads a seemingly normal life with his wife (Virginia Madsen) and son, Robin (Logan Lerman) – yes, the kid’s name is Robin Sparrow. When a book that shares the movie’s title comes into Walter’s life, everything changes. The book, written by a Topsy Kretts, follows the life of a detective named Fingerling who is cursed by the number 23. Everything adds up to 23 and his resulting paranoia drives him to become a killer. As he reads on, Walter realizes that there are more than a few similarities between his life and Fingerling’s.

This discovery sends Walter into a state of paranoia much akin to that of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, minus the subtle buildup and character exploration. The movie spends a good deal of time jumping back and forth between real time and a depiction of the events that Carrey is reading. The flashbacks of the book are presented in a film noir style that is visually appealing, yet clashes with the tone of the rest of the film.

The first problem with this film is newcomer Fernley Phillips’ script. It is hard to recall another movie in recent history with a dialogue so forced as that found in The Number 23. Ridiculous lines are delivered with such a soap opera-like sense of profundity that one cannot help but laugh. For instance, was it really that much of a revelation when the characters realized that Topsy Kretts was not a real name, just a cute way of spelling out “top secrets?” It is especially painful to see Carrey and Madsen, two veteran actors, struggling to make their roles believable. Everything in this film just happens so fast that it is hard to care about any of the characters or their so-called struggles.

Furthermore, it is never entirely clear what exactly is so dangerous about 23. While it is interesting that everything adds up to the aforementioned number, it is difficult to see why it really matters. Some of these occurrences are downright ordinary. For example, at one point a character turns toward a clock that reads 11:12, which, if you had not guessed at this point, adds up to 23. Nevertheless, why should this seem so significant when such an event happens twice a day? The concept of 23 being an evil number is intriguing, but, unfortunately, most of its appearances in the film are purely coincidental.

All of this is not entirely surprising when you take a look at director Joel Schumacher’s track record. Many of you may remember him as the guy who ruined the Batman franchise in the late ’90s or as the director of Phone Booth. Schumacher is a classic case of relying on stylish gimmicks rather than providing the audience with an engaging story with well-developed characters.

In The Number 23 he borrows the visual nuances of M. Night Shyamalan and David Fincher, and, for some strange reason, decides to steal formulaic twists and turns from recent genre disappointments like Hide and Seek and Secret Window. Ultimately, there is nothing terribly interesting about The Number 23 or the actual number 23 itself. Perhaps the most dishonest thing about this movie is the fact that it was marketed as a horror film. There is nothing supernatural or particularly scary about 23. Instead, we just get a half-brained mystery with a “surprise ending” that could be guessed from viewing the 30-second TV spot. In the future, movie viewers should just stick to 13 as the universal unlucky number.

Hannibal Rising (2007)

Posted in Horror, Sequel on July 7, 2014 by The Confused Critic

(** out of ****)

hannibal-rising

(Originally written for The Boston College Heights on 2/12/2007)

It could have been great. That’s right. Hannibal Rising could have been a great movie. All the right ingredients were present: The actors and actresses were impressive, the cinematography was beautiful, the score was riveting, and the screenplay was written by Hannibal Lecter’s original creator, Thomas Harris. Unfortunately, none of this can change the fact that the story insists on being a mediocre revenge tale that dips into predictable slasher conventions.

The prologue, which is also the film’s most powerful segment, introduces us to young Hannibal Lecter as he is fleeing with his parents and sister from the family’s castle in Lithuania. Faced with the dual menace of approaching Nazi and Russian troops, the family is forced to take refuge in a small cottage. Both of his parents are killed in the resulting crossfire, and Hannibal and his sister are taken hostage by ravenous Nazis. With no food to be found, the soldiers resort to cannibalism. After witnessing his sister’s demise, Hannibal escapes half-alive and mentally scarred.

Eight years later, we find Hannibal breaking out of an orphanage to track down his remaining relatives. While trekking across Europe, he encounters his deceased uncle’s Japanese bride, played by the beautiful Li Gong. After she provides him with spiritual guidance on the subject of loss, Hannibal decides to enroll in medical school. While there, his continuous flashbacks come to a boil, and Hannibal decides to seek revenge against those who were responsible for his sister’s death.

Hannibal Rising is a grisly film that wallows in ugliness and despair. Its unrelentingly violent and morally ambiguous tone leaves viewers without any characters with which they can identify. The film paints Hannibal as a vigilante hunter that kills for the sake of punishing barbarians who were not brought to justice for their crimes. However, there is no explanation as to how Lecter would eventually become an unrelenting psychopath who indiscriminately murders for no purpose.

The movie is filled with characters that are obviously marked for death. Even most of the auxiliary performers meet a repellently gory demise. This sort of attitude is insulting toward the viewers, who naturally want good to conquer evil. The brief attempts at recapturing the famous in-depth psychoanalytical tendencies of Lecter are elementary and unsubstantial. Perhaps more emphasis on a varied story instead of routine slash-and-stalk sequences could have saved this movie.

While Frenchman Gaspard Ulliel is certainly a gifted performer, his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter does very little to advance the character that was first portrayed by Brian Cox in 1986’s Manhunter and then made famous by Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. Although his ever-present demonic sneer is creepy and intimidating, Ulliel fails to create a believable origin to the infamous cannibal. The nature of the part itself is emotionally static and dull. Additionally, it is never quite clear whether Hannibal is meant to be a protagonist or a villain. Perhaps imitating Hopkins’ performance would have provided a smoother sense of continuity between this film and the rest of the series.

At the end of the day, Hannibal Rising is not a horrible film. It looks great and boasts a talented ensemble of actors. Nevertheless, the movie’s overall mean streak and fixation on unnecessary, gratuitous violence really leaves a bad taste in the viewer’s mouth (pun intended). The producers recently commented that they were considering using this film as a starting point for a new franchise of prequels. Unless they plan to bring Hopkins back for a concluding chapter, there is no need for the Hannibal Lecter character to grace the silver screen ever again.