Sunday, March 31, 2013

Rise of The Guardians (2012)

On occasion, I hit a bit of a wall. I get to a place where I just can't do it. I can't lie to myself. I just can't get excited over a movie sometimes. Despite a fair amount of anticipation from everyone else and generally glowing feedback coming off of "Rise of The Guardians," I was unable to make myself care about it at any point. None. Zero. There was not a single moment in the stretch of time from when I first saw a trailer for this film and when I fired up my Blu-Ray player to reluctantly watch it that I could make myself give the slightest damn about it. Not a single damn was given.

Listen. I don't care if it looks pretty. I don't care if it looks cute. I don't care if it looks like a fun time for the whole family. I don't even care that it's by the makers of "How To Train Your Dragon," a film I legitimately love. It's about Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Toothfairy, Jack Frost, and the Sandman. Only now they're like the freaking Justice League.
That's...just stupid. And even if I wound up being surprised by a hidden wealth of mystical wonderment and glee by the whole affair, not a single molecule in my body will be able to accept that concept and roll with it.

This is a movie I was predestined to dislike.

Not that I was expecting it to be bad, necessarily, but I honestly didn't want to waste an hour and a half of my time with it. There's literally hundreds of films sitting on my shelf that I've never seen that I would love to watch, but no. I have to go to Blockbuster and have "Rise of The Guardians" mock me from the shelf saying "What about me? You still haven't watched me! I'm a new release! You should watch it so people stop recommending it for you! And "Skyfall" is still all rented out! What? You'd rather watch that again? NOPE! Bwahahahaha!"

As a grown man, of course I'll watch a movie about the Easter Bunny over James Bond. It's just logical.

So I watched "Rise of The Guardians," against the instincts of every fiber of my being. And unsurprisingly, I didn't like it. It was exactly what I imagined it was going to be - a big steaming pile of cute. And, like I feared, I found it to be an immensely boring endeavor, not due to any kind of poor craftsmanship, but due to my not caring at any point about anything I was seeing. That's the trouble with the whole thing. It's not necessarily a bad movie, although it's no more than okay at best, but "Rise of The Guardians" is such a sizable chunk of nothing.

It's a strange place for me to be in where I don't care about something as opposed to outright dislike it. In fact it's almost worse. Michael Bay I loathe, but I'm more likely to watch a new movie of his as opposed to "Rise of The Guardians," since I know at the very least it will elicit an emotion from me. True it will most likely be anger, but at least I'll get a good rant out of it. The prospect of seeing a Terrence Malick movie may encourage me to drill out my eyes with an auger, but at least it's driving me to do something. I'll be active in some way. Not just sitting on the couch willing time to go by faster so my wasted 90 minutes are over and done with like I'm in a freaking time-out.

At some point I suppose I should talk about this thing. The idea is that...ah hell, I don't know. Not much about "Rise of The Guardians" made that much sense to me. Apparently The Man in The Moon, who we never hear speak but apparently is totally talking to our heroes, is running the whole shebang when it comes to...I guess the happiness of children?  Making sure kids are happy are the Guardians, being Santa and the Easter Bunny and whatnot. The Guardians keep the spirit of happiness alive in children, but they have power only so long as kids believe in them.

It's kind of like Queen Mab in that movie "Merlin" with Sam Neill. And for some reason the happiness of children, which is directly proportional to their belief in occasionally arguably mythical characters, is directly proportional to the fate of the world or something.

Whatever. That works I guess. It's dumb but as far as a movie concept goes it's serviceable. But why in the hell does Santa Claus, oh sorry, his name is North now, have swords?

Seriously with this?

What kind of sense does that make? It's true that's it been a number of years since I believed in Santa, but I can't recall at any point imagining him being a stern, tattooed, Russian version of Conan. Wouldn't the concept of Santa having swords be kind of terrifying to a little kid? I thought the whole concept of Santa was that he was supposed to be a kind, jolly, fat man. And the thought of someone like that visiting your house in the middle of the night was acceptable. But if he's all hardcore and is this hulking brute who duel-wields like a freaking ranger in D&D, that's a little bit more intimidating than I want Santa Claus to come across as!

He has "Naughty" and "Nice" tattooed on his arms. he going to punch naughty kids?

I would also question the logic of getting Alec Baldwin to voice Santa Claus when he's going to do it in a heavy Russian accent, making it so you can barely tell that it's him. Not that Alec Baldwin is a bad choice for the part or a bad actor, because he's neither one of those, but that's like getting Cindy Crawford to do a photo shoot while wearing a Christie Brinkley mask. What's the damn point?

The scary thing is that Santa isn't the most ridiculous one of the group. What they do to the Easter Bunny is downright laughable. Being the logically least physically imposing member of the group, I guess it's logical that the Easter Bunny was made into this 6-foot tall, steely eyed, Australian Snake Plissken type, but that doesn't mean that him being the tough guy of the group wasn't ridiculous. Although to the film's credit, that is made into the subject of more than a few jokes. So in that sense I guess there's some cheeky self-awareness, but that couldn't help me figure out what in the blue hell this movie was trying to accomplish.

Okay. Fine. You're a badass. That's not what one would usually expect. You know you have eggs in your bandolier, right?

Am I supposed to laugh simply because he's tough when, being the Easter Bunny, you'd imagine him to be otherwise? That's such an obnoxiously lazy form of humor. That's like all the MLP fan-art of Fluttershy being a serial killer. Because she's the quiet and overly-polite one, you see? And it's the juxtaposition of those two extremes that makes it funny. Or boring and way too easy. Take your pick.

At least Hugh Jackman got to speak in his normal voice for a change. But not being used to his normal voice, like Alec Baldwin, I could barely tell it was him. As is probably obvious, that was a pretty consistent problem I had with "Rise of The Guardians," being that the admittedly upper-echelon cast seemed really wasted. Baldwin and Jackman were both okay but were fairly unrecognizable, while Isla Fisher as the Tooth Fairy and Chris Pine as Jack Frost both have such indistinct voices that it really could have been anyone. Again, they didn't do a bad job, but I fail to see the point in getting actors without distinct voices to do voice work for movies.

It also didn't help that the majority of Chris Pine's dialogue is "Whoa!" "Ha Ha!" "Woo!" and "Yeah!"

That's true, by the way. I can only assume that in a cost-cutting measure, to get about 40 pages worth of dialogue out of him, they simply put Chris Pine in a recording booth for 5 minutes and gave him a script which was a single direction written in the middle of the page that read:

(sounds of boyish laughter and excitement)

And that was probably it. Boom. We've got a movie, you guys. Quick, get the conceptual art team to conjure up some whimsical sequences where we can make the camera go all over the place and follow Jack Frost as he's flying around and causing snow and ice to happen. In fact, have them make a crap ton of that. That can be like 30% of the film. Don't worry about it. The whimsy will make up for the lack of anything significant happening.

The only, I repeat, ONLY character that I gave two craps about was the villain, Pitch. I will admit to really liking this character, who is essentially The Boogie Man. I actually felt more sympathy towards the villain than I did any of the heroes, since he has a far more interesting story which is full of tragic self-fulfilling loneliness, and as a result he feels like a far more fleshed out character than ANY of the Guardians by quite a wide margin. On top of that, Jude Law was the only cast member who stood out with his voice work, and easily turns in the best performance of the cast. And what do you know, I could actually tell it was him.

And for some reason, and I don't know if it was just my imagination here, the animation on Pitch's face was so much better than anyone else. Maybe it was because I knew who I was listening to speak, which made it easier to imagine their face, but I got so much more emotion out of Pitch than the Guardians. I don't want to come out and say that it's because Jude Law is a better voice actor, which while unlikely is honestly a reasonable possibility, but the animation certainly helped him blow everyone else out of the water here.

Wow. A character with complexity. Too bad he's the villain.

But it's a movie. You know the bad guy is going to lose. The bad guy always loses. I knew the character I liked most was going down in the end, which didn't help with my enjoyment of the whole affair. I knew these people I couldn't care less about were going to stop the only character with an interesting story simply on the basis that he was the villain, and I just wanted them to beat him and get it done so the movie could be over, kind of like ripping off a band-aid. Such was my experience with "Rise of The Guardians." I wanted the option of ripping out some of my hair in a quick moment of pain in exchange for it just being done.

But, and this is just a quick question of logic here, but when the fate of the world depends on children believing in the Guardians, why don't they just do this:

Behold. Problem solved.

I don't mean to be overly nitpicky, but that's a legitimate complaint here. The Guardians go around trying to covertly fix things when it's clear that all they would have to do is show themselves, proving they exist without question, and Pitch is instantly defeated. I'm sure an answer may have been given at one point, but I don't recall ever hearing it. Perhaps it was because I was bored.

Can I just watch "Wreck-It Ralph" again?

Here's the trailer for "Rise of The Guardians." Just imagine me rolling my eyes and picking at a hole in the arm of my chair and you've got my general reaction to the entire film.

THE BOTTOM LINE - My negative reaction to "Rise of The Guardians" is directly proportional to my apathy towards it. It's not that it's bad. I just never gave a damn about it. Did you think it looked good? Then you'll like it. I guess it's decent family entertainment, although the message of blind faith in something demonstrably untrue is unsettling to me. But it's supposed to be a fantasy, not an allegory. I hope. Otherwise the message to the target audience is "Hey kids! The Easter Bunny is totally real! And you better believe in him or the world is doomed!" Because that's healthy.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Boondock Saints (1999)

One day when I was attending Central Michigan University, way back circa 2002, a friend of mine from down the hall came to my dorm room. In his hand was a burned DVD. He holds it up and asks me, "Dude, Pat, I have this movie called "The Boondock Saints." Ever seen it?" I told him I had not even heard of it. I see a small sparkle appear in his eyes as a smile creeps across his face. He then tells me, "You have got to see it. We're watching it right now." So we did.

I think that's the experience most people had with "The Boondock Saints." After essentially going straight-to-DVD, as the only initial theatrical release it got was on 5 screens for one week, the film garnered a pretty big fan following based entirely on word of mouth. Eventually being a part of that fandom would lead to a somewhat embarrassing predicament as 14 year-olds and Hot Topic kind of ruined it for everyone else by going the "Scarface" route and putting the Saints on everything because it makes whoever is wearing it totally hardcore and gangster. But if we step away from that there's still a pretty good movie to be found underneath all that marketing, teen wangst, black trenchcoats, and people flaunting their 7% Irish heritage by getting Celtic tattoos and wearing a "Boondock Saints" hoodie.

"The Boondock Saints" is about Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus) MacManus, two deeply religious Irish brothers who, after running afoul of the Russian mob after an innocent bar fight, decide it is their duty to destroy the evil in Boston by shooting it in the head. Of course they decide it's ordained by God that they do so, which makes it all okay. Using their mob errand boy friend, Rocco (David Della Rocco) as a walking Rolodex of people to kill, they start cleaning up the streets of every high and low level mobster they can get their hands on, all while the Boston police and FBI agent Paul Smecker (Willam Dafoe) play catch up and try to figure out just who in the hell is killing all these criminals.

The hits carried out by the MacManus brothers are always told in flashbacks as Smecker and the cops investigate the crime scenes, attempting to piece together the events that went on. These get more elaborate as the film goes on, leading to the final one which finds the film at its most artsy, showing Smecker actually walking through the shootings, narrating as the scene plays out around him in slow motion like he's not even there. And it really highlights how smart Smecker is, but also how easily he can make mistakes - like 1 guy with 6 guns turning into 6 guys with guns. While it may be a touch too much on occasion, overall I found it to be an interesting narrative device.

Umm...symbolism? Because he was in "Platoon?"

That's not what people remember about "The Boondock Saints," though. What they remember, and rightly so, is how funny it is. While it's true that at its core this is a pretty dark film which explores the nature of killing under the guise of religious righteousness, and does so without giving any clear-cut answers as to whether or not what our heroes are doing is right (although I think the way it's written implies the movie thinks it is), nobody is going to be thinking too much about all that deep stuff when the cast is so damn funny and likeable.

Flanery and Reedus are absolutely charming as the brothers, and have an amazing chemistry with each other. Their boyish jubilance over their new job would be disturbing if they weren't so funny. And as Smecker points out, their action-movie inspired tactics are so ridiculous and unprofessional that the only reason they succeed is because it IS so far out there that it's got a chance. And whether or not you count their survival on luck or divine intervention, you can't help but like these guys. Even if they are crazy.

It's okay. The voices in our heads told us we should do this. (Our heroes!)

I could just go down the cast list and say "They were awesome" to be honest. David Della Rocco is the only person more likable than the MacManus', and is most people's favorite character for a good reason, as he's hysterical. Rocco is one of the best loveable schmuck characters I can remember from recent film history, and he's played with such passion and gusto that whenever he's on screen the film gets this energy that's undeniable.

But to be perfectly honest, I really think it's Willem Dafoe who runs away with this movie. Even from a story standpoint it's just as much Smecker's story as the brother's. We are following him for a good chunk of the movie, sometimes more often than the MacManus', and by the end he's really functioning as the soul of the film. He's smart enough to figure these guys out, and he's probably good enough to stop them if he wanted to, but he has to ask himself if that's what he really wants to do. And being arguably the best actor in the cast, his performance is fiery, humorous, and tortured all at the same time.

Did I mention you get to see Willem Dafoe in drag? It is amazing.

I also love Bob Marley as the resident dunder-head Detective Greenly, and even freaking Ron Jeremy was incredibly memorable. They, along with the rest of the cast turn what could have been a very average crime thriller and turn it into a very, very funny movie. Oddly enough the one guy who isn't funny at all, and in fact is the only character played completely dead serious, is the the most prolific comedic actor of the bunch, Billy Connolly.

Speaking of humor, "The Boondock Saints" is one of the most endlessly quotable films I've ever seen. Unfortunately, much like "The Big Lewbowski," the film is laced with so much profanity that it's difficult to do so in public. But whether it's Greenly assuring his fellow cops that he will do no f@#kin' bagel fetching, or Rocco asking "Is it dead?" there are so many golden lines throughout that the whole film becomes something like a sing-along.

Alright, all together now: "Well, name ONE THING you're gonna need the rope for!" Now stop. That's annoying.

I've heard this film criticized often by people who label it as an immature, unfunny, over-stylized rehash of every vigilante justice movie ever made, and as such is a terrible film. I've never understood the seething hatred this movie brings out of some people. while I understand the argument as to it being unoriginal and low-brow at times. It's just as stylized as any other modern action movie that uses slow-motion on occasion, which doesn't make it bad since the slow-motion is well done, and humor is subjective. I find "The Boondock Saints" to be hilarious, personally, but I can understand someone thinking otherwise. I have a hunch that it's more that they can't stand the fanbase that worships it, which I totally get because I'm not a huge fan of them either. But it's not fair to take it out on the movie.

Some complain about the slow-motion, and there may admittedly be an abuse of it going on, but seeing as it stays consistent in its use it never really bothered me, and it started to become almost another character. Besides, had the fights not been in slow motion they would have taken 7 seconds and been so confusing and hectic it'd be indecipherable. And I'll take clear, easily comprehended slow-motion over confusing shaky-cam any damn day of the week. And that's a fact. Bitch about it all you want, but at least you know what just happened.

Like I said earlier, I really don't understand why this movie has so many detractors unless they're just out to tear apart a cult movie for no other reason other than not liking the audience for it. I guess you could get yourself in a tizzy over the message of vigilantism, but I don't think the movie is taking itself seriously enough to really look at it that closely. It's supposed to be a really fun time. Which it is.

Just looking at Rocco's face makes me smile.

Now as to the long delayed sequel, that's a conversation for another day...

Check out the trailer for "The Boondock Saints." It's awesomely cheesy and belongs in the early 90's!

THE BOTTOM LINE - I love "The Boondock Saints," even though the hip thing for me to do, as a self-stylized amateur critic is to write it off. Everyone else did. But I like what I like, and this movie puts a smile on my face, and if you've never seen it and aren't turned off by prodigious amounts of profanity and some rather dark humor, I'd highly recommend you give it a shot.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Terminator (1984)

What am I supposed to say about "The Terminator" that hasn't been said a thousand times before? Not only is it one of the defining action movies of the 80's, but it also made legitimate stars of Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron. And it's one of my favorite movies. Ever. In fact, I'm in the rare position of being a bigger fan of "The Terminator" than I am of "Terminator 2: Judgement Day." That's not something you hear often.

I think that for me, the reason I like "The Terminator" more than any of the sequels is because it's the only one that makes sense by itself. In fact it works best when viewed as a stand-alone film, due to the sequels having annoying time paradoxes that rear their ugly heads because of the mere fact that sequels exist.

This franchise got so convoluted and out of control with the mind-bending plot holes that it's really best to not even think about it, lest your head implode. But with the first film, it's a nice little package that ties itself up nice and pretty. And you don't have to ask questions like "How did Skynet create itself by sending technology back in time from the future if it couldn't exist in the future it sent technology back from because it didn't exist in past?"

Shut up and eat your popcorn.

What strikes me about the look and feel of "The Terminator" is that it is one of the most bleak action films I think I've ever seen. There's this barely subdued nightmarish quality about it, almost like you're floating in a bad dream. The color palette is all greys and blacks, almost the entire movie takes place at night, and the soundtrack during the action scenes is all electronic madness going nuts like a 'nipped-up cat rolling around on a Casio keyboard while their owner is in the garage pummeling an anvil with a sledgehammer. Even the main theme, incidentally one of the greatest ever, promises only darkness and oppression.

And being that the movie has only two settings, which are "Waiting" and "OH SWEET JESUS RUN FOR YOUR LIVES" that nightmarish quality is only enhanced by the unrelenting tension, which never really lets up. I am reminded a bit of "Jaws," being that even when you don't see the shark, you know it's out there somewhere. For that reason, anytime someone gets in the water, they're fair game even if you don't see anything. And like the shark popping up to scare the bajesus out of Roy Scheider,  the Terminator could easily bust through a wall at any moment. Most likely to shoot someone in the face.

Although James Cameron was right when he said that Arnold playing the Terminator shouldn't have worked, since the whole concept of the Terminator was to blend in and look very unassuming, there's two very good reasons why it did. The first is that Arnold Schwarzenegger is a scary looking man. There's no way around it. If you have Arnold as a villain, he's going to be scary. Well, unless Joel Schumacher is involved, but that's a whole other conversation.

"Oh man. I willingly choose to forget what I did last night..."

The second reason is that Schwarzenegger turns in what is honestly a brilliant performance here. He had been only Hercules and Conan before becoming the Terminator, but after this film he became someone to really take notice of. And although it's easy to make fun of the guy and crack wise about how playing an emotionless robot is the best role for him, Arnold plays the Terminator spectacularly well, and it's honestly one of the best, most subtle villainous performances in film. The only other guy I can think of that's ever come close to being as chilling in his silence would have to be Dolph Lundgren in "Rocky IV." And Ivan Drago actually had fewer lines than the Terminator did in this movie.

There is an art to playing someone with no emotions. It's not enough to not move any facial muscles and deadpan everything. There still has to be something behind it. When you look at both Schwarzenegger's face in "The Terminator" and Lungren's face in "Rocky IV," there's this cold, calculating intensity behind the eyes that you just can't fake. When Arnold first appears and slowly takes in his surroundings the processors in the Terminator's head can almost be heard whirling. And when Ivan stares down Rocky or Apollo, it's very similar. You don't know what this guy is thinking, but you know it's no good, and you know he's very, very dangerous. Especially to street punks who like to pick on naked people.

A wild Bill Paxton appears!

While Arnold is the actor everybody thinks of when talking about these films, I must admit that one of the main reasons I love the first film so much is because of Michael Biehn. I've never understood why Michael isn't a household name when he's appeared in some huge movies throughout the years. And it's not like he had small roles, either. He was Cpl. Hicks in "Aliens," he was the bad guy in "The Abyss," he was the most memorable villain out of many in "Tombstone," and he was in the only good Michael Bay movie, "The Rock." And here he's Kyle Reese, the guy who is John Connor's father. He's kind of a big deal.

And he's also a really good actor, too. He is one of my all time favorites, having the badassery of Kurt Russell and the intensity of Nicolas Cage but without the goofiness. His portrayal of Kyle Reese is really heartfelt and full of pain, and he knows that the best case scenario is that he's almost certainly going to die. But his love for Sarah Connor, a women he's never met and has traveled through time for, keeps him going enough to make sure she's safe no matter the cost. Dramatically it's probably up there among the best roles he's portrayed.

Too bad he dresses like a flasher, though. Ah well. The 80's.

Linda Hamilton deserves a lot of credit as Sarah Connor, as she's probably one of the best female protagonists of action movie history. Her character arc is very compelling and at the same is quite subtle, since the movie doesn't bash us over the head with the fact that she's going to become this hardass survivalist later in life. A lesser movie would have her pick up something heavy and pointy and beat the Terminator to death with it in a scene that has her "realize her destiny" and crap.
But since that would be stupid and would make no sense, she survives by using her wits, courage and a bit of good luck. She's not a solider yet, after all. But she will be, to which the movie drops hints by her being a natural at applying a field bandage and having a really good "ON YOUR FEET, SOLIDER!" voice when she needs it. Again, subtle.

Why James Cameron went insane and lost all sense of subtly by the time "Avatar" came around I have no idea. I blame constant success and deep sea diving.

"Now I'm off to actually invent time travel! That way I can go to the future when technology has finally caught up to my vision!!! Then I can wait another decade for it to catch up to me again! I AM THE FUTURE."

It's a lot of fun to watch "The Terminator" and spot all the actors in it that you know you've seen in something else but you just can't place it. Naturally seeing Bill Paxton with pointy blue hair is a sight to behold and elicits a mighty squee from me every time, but Lance Henriksen is also always a lot of fun to watch. Although I'm not quite sure if his character's schtick, that being that he always has a lame story to tell that gets cut off before it goes anywhere ever really materialized the way it was probably intended. I don't think enough time was spent with the cops to really have that pay off. But in any case, the repartee between Henriksen and the late great Paul Winfield is awesome.

Especially when you imagine that it's Bishop talking to Lucius Sweet

There's also that guy with the really big mouth. You know, from "The X-Files" and "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation." Yeah, that guy. His name is Brian Thompson, and he's the punk who gets his heart ripped out of his chest by Schwarzenegger. So that's cool. Oh and by the way, Rick Rossovich is Ginger's boyfriend in this. You all know Rick Rossovich, right? Nothing? Oh, come on! He was Slider in "Top Gun!" He stinks!

Ugh. Why do I even try?

Without question "The Terminator" is up there with the best movies Schwarzenegger has ever been involved in, and it's one of my favorite action flicks. And I know I've said before that I prefer it over "T2," but I have to be honest when I say it's probably my second favorite James Cameron movie, second only to "Aliens." What can I say? I liked Cameron before he went nuts.

Check out the AWESOMELY cheesy trailer. I love how the dude says the name of the movie like 12 times.

THE BOTTOM LINE - If you've never seen "The Terminator" I really don't know what you're doing, because there are few action movies that are as intelligent and intense as this one. Seriously, drop what you're doing and find a way to watch it. It's readily available. Go. NOW! And if you've already seen it, well hell. Watch it again. We'll make a night of it. I've got the brewskis. Let's do this. Come with me if you want to live!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Red Dawn (2012)

I love action movie cheese, whether it's "Top Gun" or "Point Break" or anything starring Dolph Lundgren. But there do exist a few films deemed classics in the "badly awesome" category that I am not a fan of. One of those is the original "Red Dawn." I know it occupies a special place in many hearts, but for some reason I could never get behind it.

There's a lot of reasons to like it to be sure, be it the amazing cast or the stunningly absurd plot that screams out for high-octane action movie shenanigans, but I honestly slept through most of "Red Dawn." I have a hard time pointing to exactly the reason why, but there's something about that movie that just makes me drift off into a stupor worthy of post-Thanksgiving dinner. Considering that there's a calculated 2.23 acts of violence every minute of the film (seriously, at the time it made the Guinness Book of World Records), it's quite an accomplishment to make something that action-packed boring, but hey there it is.

I always found "Red Dawn" inexplicably dull, and because of that I didn't like it. Well, that and it was really creepy watching it knowing that there are people in America who look at it like it's a precognitive documentary. Honestly it made me feel a little queasy because it was like looking at the world through the lenses of their paranoid, gun-nut, conspiracy theory laden crazy goggles. It's an unsettling feeling.

That's a thing I want to watch: Alex Jones' spank material.

So sure. Remake it. Whatever. At this point I'm not even going to rant about them remaking everything. At least it's a remake of a movie I don't care about. It could be much worse. And when a movie has been sitting on the shelf for 3 years after being completed (true story, it was shot in 2009), you know you're dealing with some quality material, am I right?

This is going to suck, isn't it?

Well, the answer is unfortunately "Yes, it did suck." This is not a good movie. Not even by the standards of unnecessary remakes is it a decent film. It's barely coherent in its narrative, the plot does the impossible and is even dumber than the original, all but one of the characters are essentially walking cardboard cutouts spouting dialogue equivalent to a dog gnawing on a squeaky toy, and the admittedly plentiful action is squandered by the watered-down PG-13 rating. I would ask how something this easy is messed up so much, but honestly there wasn't much to work with to begin with, so I can't even be that mad about it. It's not like I'm surprised it sucked. I'm just tired.

All that being said, I still liked it better than the original. At least I stayed awake this time.

You know what the deal is at this point with the story, and little has changed from the original in that respect. Very early on, a foreign army invades America, and with a pillaging that would make the beginning of any fantasy movie proud, the townsfolk of Spokane, Washington are promptly slaughtered and interned. Escaping from the invader's clutches is a group of high schoolers who decide to flee into the woods and fight the good fight, calling themselves The Wolverines and eventually throwing a big enough wrench into the enemy's plan as to suggest eventual victory in the near future. Since "Red Dawn" doesn't feel the need to have an actual ending.

Cower in fear, North Korea. She's going to make duck-lips at you.

In the original film the invaders were the Russians. And in 1984, I'm sure that made some sense. In the remake, it's North Korea. It was supposed to be China, but when MGM decided they didn't want to make them mad, since it might eat into the box office sales in...well, China I guess, they changed it to North Korea, a place where barely anyone has electricity let alone a movie theater to go to. It's not even worth it to mention how stupid the idea that they could successfully invade us is. But I'll still say it. That's stupid.

The whole invasion is explained to be possible because of "a new weapon" that destroys all communication or something, kind of like an EMP, except North Korea's stuff is immune due to a MacGuffin they needed for a third act plot device. Of course, the film never explains how all the radios and TVs and communication that was not protected is still working after the invasion, but there I go nitpicking "stuff that doesn't matter" like the buzz-kill I am.

Our main heroes de jour are played by Chris Hemsworth (pre-"Thor"), Josh Hutcherson (pre-"Hunger Games"), and Josh Peck (post-proving he's a terrible actor). There's also Jeffery Dean Morgan and Brett Cullen who show up to throw some acting chutzpah at us, but they are extremely underused. So overall the cast is alright, but then again, among The Wolverines we've also got Adrianne Palicki, who played Wonder Woman on the failed TV reboot, and Isabel Lucas, who was the Decepticon in "Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen" who could turn into a human (since Decepticons can do that now), so I guess we've got to pick our battles here.

"I'm the only reason you're watching this, aren't I?"

When the cast is good, it's pretty darn good. Morgan and Cullen are of course great, but Hemsworth is carrying the movie nearly the entire time, being the best actor of the main cast by as far as Thor could chuck Mjolnir. It also helps that he is given the most interesting character, being a soldier recently back from the war who has some issues, but obviously becomes indispensable when North Korea attacks. Hutcherson is okay, but he has the same problem most of the cast has, being that his character is so anonymous that he kind of fades into the background, and it's a struggle to even remember his name. Even Will Yun Lee, playing the essentially nameless Big Bad doesn't really do much besides get killed via impossible convenience, although he is fairly intimidating.

But when the cast is bad, it becomes borderline unwatchable. The worst offender of this is Josh Peck as Hemsworth's younger brother. I knew I was going to hate this character the instant he showed up as a hotdogging quarterback who ends up costing his team the game because he felt he could win it single-handedly. He was mistaken. And true to that character trait of selfish impulsiveness (which is about the only one he has), he ends up getting one of his friends killed at a later point in the film. I thought that perhaps that may have proven to be a learning experience for him, but nope. Not happening. He doesn't learn anything and ends the movie the same character he started as despite suffering horrendous loss. What a character arc.

And Josh Peck is such an unlikable actor that it really is nails on a chalkboard for me to even look at the damn guy. And it took me the longest time to place where I'd seen him before. At first I thought he was that mattress selling prick from "Devil," but then I finally realized where I'd seen him before.


Of course it is. Why wouldn't that be the actor they got for "Red Dawn?" He's only the most soul-punchingly obnoxious and irritating actor I've seen since Ryan Reynolds or Dane Cook. Sounds like a great time. Make him one of the heroes. In fact, make him essentially the main character, as he's one of the few who survives till the end. Fantastic. I'm glad I'm watching him in this movie.

Aside from the shortfalls of the cast, the rest of the movie does tend to make itself not boring by having a good amount of bombs, bullets and guys screaming "AAAAAARRGH!" as they shoot the enemy troops, all of whom seem to have the survival instinct of a duck with a sexual attraction to spinning helicopter blades. The problem with all of that is that pretty soon scenes start feeling less like a cohesive narrative and more like a slideshow of explosions that happened in no particular order. "Red Dawn" will jump from scene to scene with no lead-in or establishment of when or even where we are in relation to the thing we just saw, making the story quite hard to follow. And it's not too long before it starts getting really hard to care one way or another.

 It's the amazing Wolverine Brothers, Douche, Square-face and Talent!

By the way, isn't it nice when we don't have to see blood during our sequences of horrific violence? Much like "Alex Cross," there's a shocking moment in "Red Dawn" featuring a sniper rifle. But in this movie, instead of the chest, the person gets shot in the head. But don't worry! Just because the dude would have gotten his head half removed with that large-caliber bullet doesn't mean we have to see blood. Because just like real life, that's a very tidy affair. They wouldn't have even had to wash the carpet he fell on. Man, why can't every violent action movie be PG-13? It makes it so much better!

"Red Dawn" feels to me like a 5 hour long TV mini-series that was trimmed down to an hour and a half and released in theaters. And that compression does make it go by at a very brisk clip, but at the cost of knowing what in the world is happening. I'd prefer it as a mini-series. And maybe if it had been a series we could have actually gotten to know the characters instead of just knowing them as "The annoying one," "The one with the weird face," "The black one," "The one Josh Peck got killed," and Chris Hemsworth. 

I don't know what else to say, honestly. "Red Dawn" isn't the worst remake I've ever seen, but some of that probably has to due with the fact that I never liked the original. So even if it did suck, hey it's no skin off my back. I just don't care.

Check out the trailer for "Red Dawn." BTW Chris Hemsworth is not nearly as prominent in the actual film. Of course.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Red Dawn" is relatively harmless, and the action is admittedly plentiful, but it's ultimately not worth the time or effort it takes to get the disc, put it in the player, go back to the couch, hit play, chapter skip through the previews and commercials, play the movie, and then sit there for an hour and a half. There are better things you could be doing.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Alex Cross (2012)

Oh snap. I'm about to cross Alex Cross. The trailer inferred ill effects should one attempt to do so, but what are my options? This is kind of what I do. Hopefully the towering manliness that is Tyler Perry isn't enough to cause my head to explode at the mere suggestion that I question his virility. I guess I'll take my chances and hope for the best.

"Alex Cross" was not a film that I was looking forward to by any stretch. I've never seen nor intended to see a single Tyler Perry movie despite him releasing roughly 47 of them every year, and my plans were happy and comfortable remaining exactly there. I don't think he's a good actor based on what I've seen of him, all his films looked asinine and boring, I hate the Eddie Murphy fat-suit schtick, he's kind of racist if you listen to him talk, and the fact that he is so transparently marketing a cut and paste product for his brainwashed fan-base consisting manly of white teenaged girls and has never been called on it is frankly irritating to me.

As you may know, this film is a reboot which follows the character of Alex Cross, who was played by Morgan Freeman in "Kiss The Girls" and "Along Came A Spider." Apparently those were such big hits that they felt a need to bring Cross back again. And they thought Tyler Perry was a good replacement for Morgen Freeman. I can't even make a joke about something that stupid. Anyway, Cross is a detective on the tail of a serial killer called "Picasso" (Matthew Fox) who seems to be targeting a business man, working his way up the chain to him, so to speak.

Cross will attempt to catch him using either the power of his massive intellect, or psychic ability. It's kind of hard to tell which one of those he possesses based on what I saw. I guess it's not that important, since by the end he doesn't really use his powers of deduction/magic to solve anything related to actually catching Picasso. He just kind of picks up a gun and goes Charles Bronson on him after the whole thing becomes overtly personal. So whatever. It doesn't really lead to anything anyone else couldn't have done with basic investigative competence.

Ah yes. "Perry's Untouchables," for sure.

"Alex Cross" is not going to break any new boundaries in terms of police dramas featuring psychos. It's all quite stock in a "Red Dragon" meets "In The Line of Fire" way. That's not to say it's bad, it's just recycled. And PG-13. It's a movie about a serial killer that's rated PG-13. That's always a good sign. But hey, it's got Edward Burns, Jean Reno and John C. McGinley. Those are some nice grabs for the supporting cast at least.

You know, I will give Tyler Perry the slightest bit of credit for trying to expand a bit and do something other than playing an old crazy lady, but right from the get go there's a problem with him being in this, which even from the trailer is clearly evident. The problem is that there is no way in this bizarre, messed up world that a guy like Tyler Perry is suited to be an action movie lead.

Maybe if he were cast as one of the IT guys, or the police chief, or a sidekick or something else where he didn't have to shoot a gun or look intimidating or anything involving punching someone else in the face I could have bought it. But as it is, we're supposed to not only believe that this doughy lump of smug is a competent police officer, but that he can run down and take out a guy like Picasso in hand to hand combat, which he does during the film's ludicrous climatic fight scene. I feel it necessary to inform you that earlier in the movie we saw Picasso utterly DESTROY an MMA fighter nearly twice his size. Like, nearly to the point of possibly killing him. With his bare hands. And this miniature, chocolate flavored version of the Stay Puft Marshmallow man is supposed to beat this guy? Please.

Oh honey no, put it down. You're going to hurt yourself.

There's actually something funny that happens every time we are meant to buy Tyler Perry being a badass. Every single time he's shown throwing a punch, or shooting a gun, or anything involving something other than talking, the camera goes into seizure mode like it's inside a dryer on spin cycle. One could easily chalk that up to it being yet another film trying to make the action "more intense" by making sure we can't see a thing, but I'm sure the real reason was so that we wouldn't notice Tyler Perry having a heart attack every time he was forced to raise his fist and swing.

And as you could probably guess, the end fight between Cross and Picasso is filmed so wildly shaky and cut so spastic that it's almost impossible to tell that Matthew Fox is basically standing still waiting to be hit. That's a good thing in the same way that if I had my face melted off, I wouldn't be able to see how hideous I was since my eyes would be gone. It is so pathetic watching the editing try to salvage the action scenes when it's clear the lead actor probably couldn't even put bread in a toaster without needing an oxygen tank. It's like I'm watching a Segal movie by accident.

Matthew Fox is the one shining light that breaks through the haze of cliched plot and Perry's paunch, however. Good gravy, this guy was awesome in "Alex Cross." I've never been huge on Matthew Fox, and I'm still convinced he's a C+ actor at best, since his only got two modes: dour and smirk. But he is in the wrong movie here. He and his character are far too awesome for the likes of "Alex Cross." He needed to be going up against Karl Urban in another "Dredd" movie or in the next "Mission: Impossible" or something. The shenanigans he's pulling off are nearly Bond Villain-esque in their over-the-top nature, and it's by far and away the most entertaining thing going on here.

I would have finished watching "Lost" if Jack had been this awesome as opposed to irritating.

Matthew Fox does provide the only shocking moments in "Alex Cross," one of which occurs in a scene that's all over the trailer but goes down in a much darker way than one would usually expect a scene like that to resolve. The film gets credit for that, but the PG-13 nature of the movie means that both scenes, particularly the one in the trailer, feel a bit neutered. The second scene, which could have been really gruesome, isn't even shown except for a blurry picture of the aftermath sent via text. Must have been a hell of a scene. Glad they didn't show it.

Oh yeah. This guy has no chance against the hulking powerhouse that is the guy who plays Medea.

And I don't mean that unless a movie is graphic that it's no good, but when a person gets a hole blasted through their chest with a large caliber bullet and there's literally not a single drop of blood to be seen or even a hole in their shirt, it tends to undermine what just happened because we can tell that "Alex Cross" is made for the kiddies, and we can't have them seeing scary blood in a movie about a serial killer.

There was another thing that really irked me as well. This was Tyler Perry's mother-in-law they call "Nana-Mama" (groan) who, when Cross goes commando and suits up to take out this crazy assassin, attempts to convey the "message" of the film. This "message" is basically that by taking revenge on this guy, he becomes just as bad as him, and that he won't be able to live with himself if he goes out and gets him. And sure enough the last shot of the movie conveys that he may not be able to move on, and that there's a big cloud hanging over him for what he's done. And you know, that may have been a valid point in another film, but there's one little problem that makes it kind of stupid: He's a goddamn cop. It's his job to stop people like Picasso.

I just wanted to punch Nana-Mama in the face. Her self-righteous judgement on Cross when he goes out to stop a guy MURDERING PEOPLE like his profession requires came across as extremely preachy and insulting. And while it was nice to see Cross basically tell her to piss off, it's clear that we as the audience should be siding with her. You know what? I don't want the people trying to stop serial killers to have second thoughts about turning the other cheek. I want them to stop the serial killers before I get tortured to death. How about that?

"Sorry, folks. I'd uphold the law and protect the innocent and everything but...well...Nana Mama loves her some Jesus know. I'll be in car."

Of course, the end of this movie makes Alex Cross out to be a complete and utter scumbag who definitely and very illegally overreaches not only his professional jurisdiction but also his character's sense of morals, but it's not really having anything to do with Picasso. That happens at the end when Jean Reno's character turns out to be behind the whole Picasso thing (it was so obvious from the beginning), and Cross essentially sells him out to a drug cartel after setting him up. So the Cartel grabs Jean Reno to take him away and kill him. Most likely in a very horrible fashion. Nice, Cross. Very professional. And unnecessary.

I don't understand why that moral grey area was thrown in there at the last minute, like they needed to artificially create a dilemma. Cross didn't have to do that. He could have gone about getting Jean Reno's character in a more official capacity. He didn't have to go all thug-justice on him, and there wasn't really a good reason why he did it that way. In fact, it would have made far more sense for both the story and character to do it in an official capacity, because that's what Cross would probably have done based on the very trite characterization I was given with this film. He's mad, yes, but he's a good cop. At least he was for 95% of the film.

Did you know that Idris Elba was originally going to be Alex Cross? That I could have bought. And not that I need a reason to dislike Tyler Perry, but come on. I could have been watching a good actor here. That's not helping much. On top of that and the fact that he took out Matthew Fox, the only decent character in this whole debacle, it's a wonder I even watched it all the way through to the end after Fox buys it with 15 minutes left to go. Who cares after that point? Then it really is a Tyler Perry movie, and screw that.

If you want a good laugh, check out Tyler Perry trying to be hardcore. It's pretty funny.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Alex Cross" is a movie whose biggest problem is bad casting for the lead. If the story had been R rated with someone other than Tyler Perry, the combination of that and Matthew Fox could have made for a halfway enjoyable thriller. But as it stands, it's just kind of there and gone with no real redeeming qualities. Tyler Perry should stick to his schtick so I don't feel any inclination to suffer through another one of his performances.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Last Exorcism: Part II (2013)

When it comes to film, few things are more upsetting to me than when a sequel takes something that was great and takes a big, steaming crap on it. I suppose I could elaborate further, but seeing as the poster for the film I'm speaking of is right next to the phrase "big, steaming crap" I'm guessing that would be unnecessary. I'm just not feeling subtle today, I suppose.

I really, really, really liked "The Last Exorcism." I thought it was one of the best horror movies of 2010, and second only to "The Blair Witch" project when it comes to the found-footage genre. It was suspenseful, well written and genuinely scary, with an ending that was impossible to call and threw me for a total loop. And best of all it was open to interpretation, and the ending's implications could easily change depending on who you talked to, with equally valid points all around. It was a really clever movie.

Then we've got "The Last Exorcism: Part II." I was afraid there would be a sequel, although I wasn't surprised when I heard that there was. The fact that a sequel seems literally impossible given the end of "The Last Exorcism" has little to do with the fact that there is no stopping Hollywood from trying to squeeze a few more bucks from a successful film by attempting to start a franchise. I can't blame them, as movies are a business, but it's a real shame that a bit more care couldn't have been put into a followup to a great film. After all, if this movie tanks, nobody will see a third one. At that defeats the purpose of attempting a franchise.

Before I go any further I'm going to come out and say that if you haven't seen "The Last Exorcism," there are going to be some significant spoilers to that film in here. And I'd suggest that if you're going to watch that movie, read no further, because a lot of the fun of that film is not knowing what's really going on. And really, that's a movie you should see because it's freaking awesome.

"The Last Exorcism: Part II" finds Nell in a home for wayward girls after the events of the first movie. She has little memory of it all, but is pretty tweaked out, as is understandable. Of course the film fluctuates back and forth as to whether or not she remembers what happened, but that's just good script writing. She begins hearing and seeing things that make it clear that the demon that possessed her in the first film is still around, and isn't done with her yet, and is intending to use her as a mortal vessel to do whatever it is that demons intend to do when they do that stuff.

Like rubbing one's face on the wall.

Right there is the biggest problem with this movie, and the reason a sequel is just a bad idea. Any mystery as to whether or not Nell was actually possessed during the first film is completely dissolved.  She totally was and still is possessed. The open to interpretation ending twists of "The Last Exorcism" have now been replaced with a solid answer that goes with the less interesting explanation. And to top everything off it also makes no sense because it begs the question "If the demon wants to use Nell as a vessel, then what was the point of the first movie?" I was under the impression that the ceremony at the end of "The Last Exorcism" saw the release of the demon. So what gives here?

None of this is explained to us, and in fact we are never told what ended up happening after the camera stopped rolling in the first film. Cotton is never mentioned, the film crew following him is never mentioned, Nell's brother is never mentioned, and none of the cultists are mentioned. The only person who shows up is Nell's father, who is somehow still alive, implying that the cultists released him to go about his business after they impregnated his daughter with a demon spawn. Apparently they assumed he wouldn't be mad about that. The movie doesn't even explain how Nell got away from the cultists in the first place, which might have been nice to know as it seemed to me that based on her situation, there was little chance of her going any-damn-where.

Oh yeah. I'd say his chances are great.

Is that nitpicking? Yeah I guess but I've never found it overly harsh to ask questions which boil down to "What the hell is everyone doing" when watching a film. And the best horror is always character driven at its core, and if the characters are just faffing about while doing things and saying things that make no sense, then how in the world am I suppose to care let alone be frightened?

And really, that's all "The Last Exorcism: Part II" is - faffing about. Nell faffs about in the home, she and her friends faff about doing girly things, she then faffs about with her kind-of boyfriend, and he faffs about trying to get in her pants. All this while creepy cultists appear every once in a while to say something creepy to her like "He's coming for you" and then leave. Making their presence known to her seems catastrophically stupid since that means she will 100% for sure know something is up and potentially seek help which might threaten to disrupt their whole scheme, which hey presto ends up happening, but hey I'm not an evil mastermind. What do I know?

So the evil cult looks like if Abbath Doom Occulta joined Linkin Park while touring with Boy George? That's...not that intimidating, really.

But as dumb as the cult was, had they not been so there would be no movie, because once again, it's simply Nell faffing about. The cultists had to be there to slowly follow her around town and say stupid stuff to her in really pathetic attempts at eliciting just the slightest bit of atmosphere. Otherwise we might as well be watching any random episode of "Breaking Amish."

Oh sure, by the end the demon finally does stuff, and the cultists basically disappear from the film once (shock) she attempts to get professional help. And the demon ends up winning, as is the case for movies of this nature, but it was never for anything that the cult did that I could tell. It seems that the plan succeed despite the efforts of its constructors. Unless they knew that by exposing themselves like idiots, Nell would run to another exorcist who would fail and by extension unleash the demon, but I think I'm giving them too much credit. The demon would have probably come out had they done nothing.

Speaking of endings, in the annals of bad endings that exist solely for the purposes of sequel-baiting, this has to be one of the worst I've ever seen. It's not as bad as "The Devil Inside," since it actually has one, but for the love of criminey, the end of "The Last Exorcism: Part II" is just the final kick to the naughty bits for us poor souls who were hoping for something worthwhile. But it did lead to the best unintentionally funny moment of the movie (of which there were plenty) which played out like one of the guys from "Jackass" doing the "out the window down the steps" sequence from the end of "The Exorcist."

Oh, and Nell is a straight up demon now. Yeah, I miss the subtlety of the first film, too.

You know, I really hope nothing else comes from this. I don't want a third entry. I really don't. Ashley Bell deserves better than this. She's a talented actress who has one of the most naturalistic screen presences I've seen, and I want to see her do more stuff worthy of someone of talent. Like bend over backwards in impossible, horrifying contortions and breaking her own fingers one by one as she taunts a preacher with oral sex.

What? Don't look at me like that. That was awesome.

Here's the trailer for "The Last Exorcism: Part II." Like the actual film, the best part is the footage from the first one.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "The Last Exorcism: Part II" is garbage. It's boring, it's stupid, it's not scary, and it completely misses the point of the first film by merely existing. The first 3 minutes are decent. Everything after that is worthy of only your spit on its shoes. I'm so mad about this.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Sinister (2012)

Not quite sure where to start with "Sinister." For me this is kind of the definition of "mixed feelings." I thought it was creepy but I never got scared. The characters were likeable but also annoying. The story was stupid nonsense but it still was intriguing. It's well made but it keeps shooting itself in the foot. This is a confusing movie to work out my feelings on. On the plus side though, at least it's a horror movie that is rated R. Not for any good reason, mind you, but there it is.

The film starts off well enough, to be sure. The very first thing we see is an old 8 mm film of what appears to be a family of four being hanged from a tree. Aside from the obvious disturbing nature of what we're seeing, it's a very effectively creepy moment because it is quiet, underplayed and subtle (which is unfortunately the last time I'll be able to say that). We don't see who is killing them, because that's going to be the mystery that our main character is going to be trying to unravel. Not that it's hard for us to figure out, but it's best to get used to being smarter than the characters whenever you watch any horror movie, just as a general rule.

Our protagonist is Ellison (Ethan Hawke), a true-crime novelist who has hit a patch of hard times recently, and has started writing a new book which he hopes will be his return to success. The book will be about the hangings we saw in the opening scene. So he moves with his wife (who irritatingly doesn't know the difference between "hanged" and "hung") and two kids to the small town where the hangings happened, as I guess it's required that he actually take up residence in the town where the crime happened in order for him to write about it. I have no explanation for that. Even more perplexing is that not only does he evidently need to live in the same town, but he's gone and moved himself and his family into the murder house, while somehow keeping that gem of an idea a secret from them. Because THAT'S a great idea, right?

The movie hasn't even started and already you're a titanic douchebag.

When Ellison finds a box in the attic containing a projector and old 8 mm films, he does what any normal person would do and watches one of them - which turns out to be the video of the hanging we saw in the beginning of the film. He then proceeds to do what most people wouldn't do, and keeps watching them. There's also film of families getting drowned, getting burned alive, getting their throats cut, all that various good stuff. And he never tells anyone about it. Here is the first point when Ellison as a character becomes pretty unlikable.

I understand that he's intrigued by the mystery, and the investigator in him needs to solve it, but there does come a point where common sense should play a little bit of a role. He's got snuff films in his attic which clearly could only have been left by either the killer, someone directly involved in the killings, some evil supernatural force, or all the above. I think at that point the safety of your family should start to become a real concern.

You know, as silly as this was, I'm sure it looked even sillier on paper.

And I'm not saying that it's completely unreasonable that a person would ever do that. It's true that Ellison is stuck in an awkward situation where he's running the risk of losing his wife if his circumstances were to come to light, but not only did he put himself in that position, the underlying reason he's doing all this is because he doesn't want to write anything but true crime novels. It's made clear that he does have options of doing other things to support his family like writing textbooks or whatnot, but he feels it's beneath him and he refuses to do it. So our main character is a guy whose professional pride is the reason he refuses to GTFO when all the crazy spooky stuff starts going down around his wife and kids. Nice guy.

But even though he's a tool, Ellison isn't a bad character, and Ethan Hawke actually does a good job in portraying him. I enjoyed his performance, and it's a credit to Hawke's acting that he made me kind of like Ellison. Even though he was a total chump, he was a believable chump. And there was something intriguing about his blind obsession with needing to know the truth no matter the cost that was in itself something like another layer of whatever horror "Sinister" is trying to convey.

I'm not saying it was completely effective here, but some of the best horror movies know that one of the scariest things you can have is a character that knows they shouldn't do something, but they also know that they have no choice, either through circumstance or basic human need. It's that Lovecraftian angle that knows damn well that you're going to read that Forbidden Tome of Ultimate Knowledge even though it's a forgone conclusion that it will drive you insane, and that's the nature of man. You're going to read the Tome, you're going to open the head-sized box sent from the serial killer, and you're going to smell that milk that expired 2 weeks ago. Because dammit, you need to know.

Pictured - The Great Struggle of Man

And that leads into the best bit of Ellison's character arc, which is closer to the end when he plows forward into this darkness that he finds himself trapped in, even though he knows that it's really, really bad to do so. The image of Hawke, whiskey in hand, sitting beside the projector that has mysteriously reappeared after he had previously burned it, flipping the switch to play the last reel of film was one of the more chilling aspects of "Sinister." You know he's screwed, he knows he's screwed, but at that point he just doesn't care. He's got to know.

For the sake of spoilers I'm not going to give away what's going on, but that doesn't mean it's a twist of "Bruce Willis was dead" proportions. It's actually pretty obvious what's happening, which leads into the other problem with the character of Ellison, which is that for a guy who solves unsolved crimes for a living, he's sure slow to pick up on the obvious. True, there's a supernatural angle going on that he refuses to believe, which is understandable, but even from a forensics standpoint there are some things that are painfully obvious that anyone could have noticed.

I'm just saying that when you have film reels of families getting murdered with no motive or suspect to be found, and in each and every case the one child who was not seen on the tapes went missing afterwards, at some point I'd entertain the possibility that perhaps, JUST PERHAPS the child had something to do with it. I'm just saying.

This isn't the fault of "Sinister," to be fair. It's just that we've had so many movies like this that twists of this nature can be seen coming a mile away. That's a shame, but there it is. If you watch movies with regularity you know what's up. I can see how it would be shocking though if you didn't, because honestly it is pretty messed up what happens. And that is far more effective at being creepy than the overused jump scares that litter this film, which ends up being its biggest detriment.

The last shot of the film. Seriously. What are you doing? Why did you suddenly bend over at 150 mph and tilt your head to the side? What are you looking at? The camera? Is this a fourth wall break? You've never broken the fourth wall before. Why now? Do you know that the end credits are coming? Do you know you're in a movie? Can you hear the music? Does music always erupt from the aether whenever you bend over?

I could go on for days about how much I hate jump scares, but I won't. There's a big difference between being scared and being startled, but most horror films seem to think the two are interchangeable, oftentimes completely relying on the later since it requires far less work since building atmosphere is tougher than simply banging pots together and yelling "Boo." This film is no different, as things will jump out at the screen at us, proceeded by an orchestral sting loud enough to rupture spleens. To the film's credit I can't recall any time when something innocuous was used in an attempt to scare, as there were no kittens jumping out of closets, but at the same time it seems afraid that we won't think something is scary enough without the loud boom.

Honestly there are some really creepy parts in "Sinister," and all of the best ones involve (shock) no music. There's only about two of them, but those moments made me sad because had the rest of the film been as subtle and clever as that, then we're talking really scary stuff. I mean actually scary, not akin to playing with a jack-in-the-box.

Like this bit. Who'd have thought the best scare in the film would have no music sting?

And that's what I was mostly talking about with the whole "shoot yourself in the foot" thing I mentioned earlier. This could have been a really scary film. Instead it's just kind of creepy as long as you don't think about it too hard, and it's not confident enough in itself to believe that what it has to offer is actually frightening. Instead it throws the jumps scares at us to artificially make it scary for people who don't understand the difference. That's a shame.

If you want to watch the entire film in 2 minutes and 30's the trailer.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Sinister" was an alright film. Definitely better than some of the other horror films released recently, but it's still kind of "meh" at best. It gets points for some good acting and a couple of well done segments, but like most horror movies it's too reliant on jumps scares for me to give it too much credit or recommendation.