Monday, October 22, 2012

Brief Impressions

Hmmm, I must be getting lazy, as it appears that I'm now posting these short 'snapshot' reviews more and more frequently.  Oh well, look on the bright side.  They're quicker for you to read too, right?

One other little change.  I'm trying out letter grades this time (and maybe for the forseeable future) instead of a numbered scale.

Paranormal Activity 4: When ‘Paranormal Activity’ first debuted in 2007, it gave the horror genre a much needed boost due to its effective storytelling technique and unique POV. Made at a paltry $15,000, PA ushered in the ‘new’ genre of low-budget ‘found footage’ movies (though one can certainly argue that ‘The Blair Witch Project’ did many years earlier). PA2 and PA3 followed suit with bigger budgets but somewhat less satisfactory results. Perhaps it is inevitable that the ‘law of diminishing returns’ will take a toll on the franchise; you know, the economic theory that each of your successive bite of chocolate will be less tasty and satisfying than the previous one. Although PA4 continued the PA mythology, it’s the first movie not centered on the two sisters or their immediate relatives. Told from the POV of a 15-year old cutie who communicates via webcam with her boyfriend, you do feel uncomfortably like a voyeur at times during the movie, but the pay-off at the end wasn't any worse than previous installments and leaves open the possibility for part 5. With that in mind, PA4 offered nothing new or particularly earth-shattering but simply delivered to its diehard fans more of what they expected and wanted.

Grade: B

Pitch Perfect: Do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do. No, this isn’t Julie Andrews in ‘The Sound of Music’ but ‘Pitch Perfect,’ a candy-coated guilty pleasure of a movie about the ultra-competitive world of college acapella singing.  In the tradition of movies like ‘Bring It On,’ 'Stick It' and 'Drumline,' ‘Pitch Perfect’ is a witty, funny and sugary romp about an all-girl acapella group called ‘The Bellas,’ as they seek to de-throne their hated rivals and perennial champs, the all-male prima donnas of ‘The Treblemakers.’ Anchored by fine theatrical and vocal performances from alt girl-next-door Anna Kendrick and ‘fat Amy’ Rebel Wilson, the Australian scene stealer whom we first took notice of in ‘Bridesmaids,’ ‘Pitch Perfect’ is entertaining if nothing else, with enough laughs and endearing moments (as well as a few gross-out ones) to satisfy a diehard Gleek like me.

Grade: B plus

The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Based on a book about the trials and tribulations of adolescence, 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' upholds the tradition of such quirky bittersweet anthems of teen angst as John Hughes’s ‘The Breakfast Club’ and Cameron Crowe’s homage to rock ‘n roll, ‘Almost Famous.’ What makes this movie truly stand out, as in the case of its predecessors, is its ensemble cast of memorable misfits played to near perfection in believable and heartfelt performances. Charlie, Sam and Patrick are outcasts so earnestly and sometimes achingly portrayed by Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller that you can’t help but emphathize as they struggle with loss, love, acceptance and betrayal in their lives as not-so-typical high school kids growing up in Pittsburgh during the ‘90’s. Plus, the movie's got a nice soundtrack and pays tribute to ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show.'  Pretty cool, huh?
Grade: A minus
Sinister: From the producer of ‘Paranormal Activity’ and ‘Insidious,’ ‘Sinister’ is the latest J-Horror style movie (as in inspired by ‘The Ring’) which relies more on haunting visuals and a slowly unfolding mystery than standard blood and gore (ho hum). That’s a good thing, because even though this movie does fall back on some familiar tricks (like shifting shadows and noises aimed to make you jump), it does have a delicious twist of an ending that some may find a bit disconcerting.  The fact that I guessed it beforehand had more to do with my been-there-seen-that jadedness than due to any faults of the movie. With its slow-burning suspense, creepy atmosphere and a suitably tortured performance by Ethan Hawke, ‘Sinister’ is worth a look at least on rental.

Grade: B

Monday, October 15, 2012

Thrown for a Looper

Time travel is a well-worn topic in science fiction movies but can be rather hit-or-miss.  Ever since Skynet resistance leader John Connor sent fellow Kyle Reese back in  time to save his mom from a killer cyborg sent from the future to terminate her, I've found the so-called ‘time travel paradox’ utterly fascinating.  Hence, there was absolutely no question that I would check 'Looper' out.
And I'm glad to report that ‘Looper’ exceeded even my jaded expectations.  Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as two versions of the same person (Joe), this movie gives time travel a fresh new spin and is not only action-packed but thought provoking, a cerebral sci-fi thriller that makes you think.  Set in the dystopian future of 2074 when time travel is officially outlawed and only conducted in secret by powerful criminal organizations, ‘Loopers’ are professional hitmen who await their 'assignments' to be sent to them 30 years back in time (in 2044, that is) for 'liquidation' so that they cannot be traced.  Pretty clever, huh?  And when an assassin’s older self is sent back for termination by his younger self (unbeknownst to the younger, of course), it’s called ‘closing the loop.’  Cute.
Without giving away any details that would spoil the movie, suffice it to say that ‘Looper’ tackles not only the usual ‘cause and effect’ issues associated with time travel but also raises the popular ethical/philosophical question of whether it is morally justified to go back in time to kill Hitler (or any other monster) when he was still an 'innocent' child, at a time when he can theoretically still be guided and nurtured to do good instead of evil.  Granted, the 'Rainmaker' isn't exactly Hitler, but you get my drift.
8 out of 10


Friday, October 5, 2012

Dredd his Judgment

I first heard of Judge Dredd from my friend Grahame in high school back in the 1980's.  Growing up on a strict diet of DC and Marvel, my knowledge of British comics (or those from countries other than America for that matter) was virtually non-existent, and it took a limey bloke with a cockney accent to expand my rather limited horizons.

In case you're unfamiliar with the popular British anti-hero previously featured in an ill-conceived movie starring Sly Stallone some 17 years ago, Judge Dredd is the British answer to 'The Dark Knight,' defender of the law in the crime-infested metropolis Mega-City One.  In an urban jungle gripped by constant violence and ruled by fear, Dredd and his fellow Judges stand as lone bastions of order and justice against all evil-doers, shining beacons of light in a sea of darkness and chaos.  Judge, jury and executioner all-in-one, Judges dispense justice at the end of a gun barrel because the dystopian future in which they live is one of "continual fear and danger of violent death, where the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" that demands no less.  I just quoted Thomas Hobbes, by the way.

'Dredd’ is another entertaining sci-fi action movie in a year that already had its share of such movies including ‘Total Recall,’ ‘Lockout’ and ‘Looper.’ Karl Urban is well cast as the slab-jawed Dredd, whose black-and-white sense of justice, wooden bearing, flat monotone and seeming lack of personality bring to mind another mechanical do-gooder, Peter Weller’s ‘Robocop.’ While the ‘Die Hard’ premise of ‘Dredd’ is a well-trodden one we’ve seen many times before, most recently in ‘Lockout’ and ‘The Raid’ (both of which I’ve reviewed in this blog earlier), this movie nonetheless pulled it off because it was crafted with such panache and sure-handed “execution” (no pun intended, okay maybe just a little).   Unwavering in his ideals and certain of his convictions, Dredd is a force for Justice as implacable and immovable as a rock, the quintessential cinematic action hero. Olivia Thirlby, as the rookie (Judge trainee) Cassandra Anderson whose 'training day' proved to be more than she bargained for, contrasted Dredd nicely with her more sympathetic and humane presence.   And in her first villainous role, Lena Headley was simply marvelous as Ma-Ma, a prostitute-turned-drug lord whose end in slo-mo gave literal meaning to the term ‘poetic justice.'
8 out of 10