"Paranormal Activity 3" (2011)

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Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
Directed By: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Running Time: 84 minutes

Seriously, how awesome was the first SAW movie? You know, the one set almost entirely in a dingy bathroom with two characters who are physically chained to opposite ends of the room and with tensions rising and character driven power-plays a plenty given they both know that one of them must somehow kill the other one within the next six hours? The one with minimal on-screen violence and instead relying on the use of sound and the human imagination to convey the horrible things that are happening to the victims of the Jigsaw Killer; which in turn made the times when you actually saw the violence all the more powerful and disturbing? You don’t remember it? That’s probably because all anyone can think of when you mention SAW to them is the SIX sequels that, rather then having the artistic vision of the fairly low-budget original, instead had the vision of “OK, so we have $17 million, how many buckets of fake blood will that buy us to spray at the audience?” Suddenly the films weren’t psychological thriller/horror anymore, they had become the poster-films for the genre “torture-porn”. The lesson we must take away here is that the best horror films are the ones that are made with a low budget and talented film makers because it gives them such restraint that they need to use atmosphere to insight the human mind into creating the terror. And nothing is scarier than the human imagination.

Which leads me to my next point: Paranormal Activity is awesome!

I’m speaking mainly about the first one here, so bare with me, but I believe that Paranormal Activity is the horror film to which all other horror films should be judged. Why? Because it went back to basics and used the human imagination! There is no crazy monster tearing people in two with blood raining from the sky; there is simply a demon that cannot be seen but you know is there, you’ve seen it open the door, or heard it walk into the room but you have no idea what it is. And the demon, for something that is completely invisible, has such presence! You can just feel it in the room and it sends shivers up the spine. And all the scary moments in the film just look so real, and that’s because they are real due to the lack of money for CGI! The doors really did move without a person walking through them, those sounds downstairs probably weren’t some foley artist but was simply someone down there making them in real time. Combining this technique with the use of a home camera that is actually part of the narrative and you have a horror film that looks like it was actually made up of real events rather than staged ones. It is a masterpiece of cinema.

But now I come to the sequels.

Now Showing this week is Paranormal Activity 3, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. The third film in the series is a prequel set some seventeen years before the events of the first two films and revolves around the two main sisters of the series while they were very young. Their mother’s boyfriend Dennis has recently noticed strange occurrences in their new house and is using his video cameras to try and record what’s going on. So pretty much, the same plot as the last two. Which is fine, as at least both the Paranormal Activity sequels add something to the story each time, rather than simply scaring us again with the demon. And while these sequels are unnecessary given the original was so perfect in itself, unlike the SAW films they are actually good and reveal more information that satisfies one’s curiosities as to the relationship between this family and this demon.

Paranormal Activity 3  adds some new methods in scaring the audience, sadly one or two of them must have used CGI to achieve which breaks my “low budget” love of the series. But my personal favourite technique is the use of a camera that is attached to a desk fan that routinely pans across the living room and kitchen. The amount of tension that I felt while it panned back and forth was astounding, so it was very effective! If it’s one thing this film should be commended on it is its use of cinematography.

However, I really hope this series ends with this film because it was clear in Paranormal Activity 3 that the film makers are running out of legitimate reasons for the protagonists to keep filming the really scary moments. The climax of this film consists of an unbelievably nerve racking sequence involving Dennis walking around the house holding his camera in front of him; but there is no logical reason for him to have taken it with him. Any rationally thinking person would not pick up the camera when going off to search for someone in a creepy house. But then again, if he hadn’t then the sequence couldn’t be in the film. And therein lies the problem. In the original film any time the boyfriend took the camera with him it was clear that his main drive for the entire film was to catch the demon on film and his girlfriend would often exclaim for him to forget about the damn camera! In the second film, the only scene where the camera was a strange edition was explained due to the characters requiring the use of the night-vision function in the basement. But in this one, there is no explanation and that is the film’s biggest flaw.

Many other reviews that I have read thought that this film contained numerous plot holes when held in conjunction with the prior two installments. I would like to stand up and say: I disagree! I cannot elaborate too much as to why I think those other reviewers are incorrect, but if you watch the film and pay very close attention (you don’t actually have to pay that much attention, it’s not like it’s hidden or anything. The other reviewers are just dumb!) and can actually use your brain to connect the dots and imagine events occurring after the film concludes, then you’ll be set. I wish I could say more, but for the sake of spoilers I shall not.

Bottom line, this film is good. It’s not excellent like the original, but that’s because the whole invisible demon on handy cam thing isn’t new anymore. But it does have some new elements to it and further develops the story-line in an interesting direction. If you liked the first two, you’ll very much enjoy this one. If you haven’t seen any of them, go watch the first one, you won’t regret it! You’ll watch it, be scared but love it, then afterwards say “yeah that was good, but it’s just a movie.” You’ll go to bed, maybe read a book, then turn out the light and close your eyes to go to sleep. And that’s when the house will creak….

See you next time!

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"Real Steel" (2011)

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Real Steel (2011)
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Running time: 127 minutes.

You know what was a terrible film? The Fighter. And yes, I know that Christian Bale pulled off some amazing character acting and was almost identical to the real life man he was portraying but other then that, the film was god awful. It was a film that was supposed to be about one man’s struggle between his loyalty to his family and what was best for himself and his career as a boxer; but instead we got a story of one man’s struggle between his loyalty to a bunch of no good douchebags (who’s involvement in his life does not benefit him in the slightest) and what is best for him and his career as a boxer. So it’s a no-brainer decision! He should ditch the jerk family and work with the other people who are actually giving him a good boxing career. But no, he struggles on with his jackass family and we’re all supposed to be thinking: “oh how tear-jerkingly tragic!” when we’re all actually thinking: “you’re an idiot! Ditch the family!” And I suppose everyone was upset by the whole breaking the guy’s hand thing, and I can understand that in the sense that it’s sad when someone is no longer able to do the thing they love anymore. But the problem with this is that A. he gets better anyway and the injury does not impede him at all and B. the “thing that he loves” is being a meat head punching other people in the face for a living. Bottom line, I just didn’t care about anyone in the film. And the fact that Melissa Leo as the annoying, tramp mother got the Best Supporting Actress Oscar over Hailee Steinfeld’s amazing performance in True Grit just adds insult to injury.

But you know what would make a boxing film good? Robots!

Now Showing this week is Real Steel, directed by Shawn Levy. It tells the story of Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), a man struggling to make money and survive in the underground Robot Boxing circuit. After a particularly bad loss leaving him broke, Charlie discovers that his ex-wife has recently passed away and that his son Max (Dakota Goyo) is now left in his custody. Max’s aunt wants to adopt him, so Charlie blackmails her rich husband to pay him fifty thousand dollars to take Max for the summer while they holiday in Europe and then return him to them on their arrival back home. And the cliches start to roll in as Max and Charlie bond over their passion for Robot Boxing and they become closer as father and son. Nawwwwww.

I was genuinely surprised when this turned out to be a good film. I was in it just for the robot matches, which were awesome, but I also got some great characters with developments that were both entertaining and occasionally moving. And the initial role reversal of Charlie being the arrogant and irrational child while Max is more calculated and sensible led to some very entertaining moments, but it also just made sense. I connected with both of them, Charlie for his excitement and enthusiasm to just run in and battle giant robots and Max for his rationality when it came to gambling and picking the fights.

But on to the more fun stuff: the robot fights! I think I now understand how sport fans feel when they watch a football game or something. During the fights, I was often on edge with excitement and anticipation, wolfing down my popcorn due to my nerves and I would silently (I was in a cinema after all!) release all this energy whenever Charlie’s robot KO’ed their opponent. I have never, ever felt like that with any real sports I’ve seen on TV or in person and I think it’s partly due to the lack of a soundtrack in real sports. The musical score really amped up the excitement of the matches as well as the robots just being freakin’ awesome to watch! Excellent use of slow motion and quick cuts, just great.

And the film didn’t end how I expected, which I appreciated. While the story and concept itself is cliched with the whole notion of a father and son hating each other but growing to like each other through a common passion; the conclusion goes in a bit of a different direction. Like I said back when I reviewed Battle: Los Angeles, cliches aren’t bad as long as you don’t half arse them and you throw in a little originality now and then. And this film did.

So anyway, can we just get rid of human boxing already? It’s a terrible sport and replacing the people with robots just makes the action so much more interesting and the amount of people left brain damaged by having giant meat heads punch them repeatedly will go down. Sounds like a win/win to me. Real Steel will definitely not be winning any awards or garnering much critical acclaim; but gee it was a lot of fun. It’s a good film, not a great film and not an excellent film, but a good film. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

See you next time!

"Crazy, Stupid, Love." (2011)

crazy-stupid-love-movie-poster-2011-1010709414Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011)
Directed by: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Running time: 118 minutes

Wow, it feels like it’s been ages since I’ve written on this thing. While it has mainly been due to a bout of laziness, there has also been nothing showing lately that has seemed interesting to me. Even Crazy, Stupid, Love wasn’t really on my radar until my girlfriend suggested we catch a late screening the other night so I have her to thank for this weeks film. Other than that, no real stories to tell. I’ve seen a few good trailers lately so I’m keen for the summer releases over here. In Time looks awesome since it has an awesome science fiction concept and a good looking cast (specifically Cillian Murphy and Olivia Wilde). Anyway, on to this week’s movie!

Now Showing this week is Crazy, Stupid, Love which is directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. It tells the story of a geeky, pathetic man named Cal (Steve Carell) having just being divorced by his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) is now a single man and failing miserably at it given all he talks about is his boring job and his now ex-wife. He meets a very handsome and stylish man named Jacob (Ryan Gosling) who decides he is going to teach Cal his womanising ways, including how to dress stylishly, excellent pick up techniques etc. However, there is still the lingering connection that Cal shared with Emily and perhaps he isn’t ready to give up on her. That’s basically the plot without spoiling anything so I’ll have to leave it there.

So, this film is pretty good I must say. I went into this film expecting a bumbling Steve Carell-esque comedy like The 40 Year Old Virgin but thankfully that wasn’t what I got. While those kind of films are alright and humorous, instead I was given a very straight faced dramatic film that had a fair few comedic elements. This was so refreshing! I actually liked and cared about the different characters, so when they were in a sticky situation or being emotionally confronted, I actually engaged with what was happening to them. A big part of this effect I believe was due to the fact that Steve Carell was trying to pull a Jim Carrey of us and show that he can be a serious dramatic actor as well as a slapstick comedian; and he can. When he wasn’t making a fool of himself, Cal had some fantastic serious moments that illustrated his sadness and frustration with his current circumstances and it developed him as a character. I love this kind of depth in a comedy, it makes the whole experience so much more entertaining.

The film was guilty of a few cliches, for example, that Cal’s son is so insightful on the world of love even though he’s only thirteen. But that was a cliche that I felt worked, or at least it worked for me because from a child’s simplified perspective we can really see how stupid life (or in this case love) can be. Hence the title really: “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” That was a highlight, that this film wasn’t glorifying love as the grandest thing in existence; it was exploring the ridiculousness and the hurtfulness of it and defining it as crazy and stupid. Well, it was exploring that until towards the end where everything becomes more “love conquers all” and all that crap. While that section was very touching, I felt it cheapened all the earlier parts of the film. Maybe that was just me.

Ryan Gosling was the biggest highlight for me however, he was amazing. His ladies man persona was so well written and crafted, it was a joy to watch. His conversations with his “prey” were actually witty rather than being established as witty, and as a friend of mine brought up the other day that isn’t done enough. Dialogue in comedies should actually be witty and funny rather than other characters simply saying “that’s so witty/funny!”; and Crazy, Stupid, Love fits into the former very well.

So in closing, Crazy, Stupid, Love may have a silly (if relevant) name, lack it’s true purpose towards the end and use a cliche or two; but it’s still a good example of comedy. Serious characters with serious development and motivations but in a scenario that is ridiculous yet plausible. And the comedic climax at around the three quarter mark is so unexpected and hilarious that it made the whole film worth it. If you have the time, go check this movie out. Bring a date, they’ll love it too. See you next time!