Sunday, October 30, 2011

Paranormal Activity 3

            Paranormal Activity 3.  Oh, good lord, Paranormal Activity 3.  I don’t even know where to begin with this.  You know, I was rather favorable towards the first.  Even for all its flaws, if you had asked me after watching it, I did enjoy it.  And, you know, in the end, I enjoyed Paranormal Activity 3.  But this was mostly for all the wrong reasons, some because of the film itself, some because of what the film represents.
            The movie sets itself as a prequel to the franchise.  Julie (Lauren Bittner) has moved into a new house with her boyfriend Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), along with Julie’s two daughters, Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi Rey (Jessica Tyler Brown).  Kristi claims to see an imaginary friend named Toby, and if you can’t see where this is going you need to watch more horror movies.  So yeah, creepy stuff happens involving an invisible demon/ghost thing (by the way, that scene in the trailer where the girls summon a ghost using Bloody Mary?  Doesn’t happen, and has nothing to do with its existence), Dennis films it all, and then we get to one of the worst final acts I’ve seen a movie stuck with, but we’ll get to that.
            The main problem with the movie is that there’s nothing here that anybody who’s seen a horror movie can’t see coming.  I was able to predict every fake-out jump scare along the way.  They still made me jump, sure, but it’s cheap scares.  This is a movie that’s supposed to go past that.  The creepiness of the first movie mainly came from how much was happening when the couple wouldn’t normally see it.  It’s a haunting paranoia, the kind of thing that makes you wonder what happens when you close your eyes to sleep.  This movie has plenty of things happen that people see or experience, which just generally cheapens the creepiness factor.  In fact, everything now just seems so much bigger.  Now, I haven’t seen the second movie, so I’m rather comparing while missing a piece of the puzzle, but I think it’s a fair comparison to make, to see how far the franchise has gone in a mere two movies.  People now have to be lifted by invisible monsters, furniture flies all over the place.  I didn’t mind it, I could enjoy it.  I enjoyed it a lot more when it was called Poltergeist, though. 
The words that could not escape me while watching it were “popcorn horror”.  It’s meant to be the haunted house thrills for Halloween.  It doesn’t delve into the deep psyche of the human soul.  It gives a few scares that are pretty easily digested.  I’m pretty sure if it wasn’t for the language, this is a movie you could take the whole family too.  Oh sure, little Timmy might have some nightmares, but there’s no gore, no deep themes.  It’s light fluff.  And it was fluff I was more than willing to give a generally positive review.
Up until the final act.  Hell, let’s even say the final 15 minutes.  You see, at some point, the family gets fed up with their house and decides to go to grandma’s house.  And then the movie just goes so far into unintentional hilarity that what you just watched for the past 70 minutes might as well just be erased.  It goes so big, so over-the-top, that it loses all the scare factor.  I felt that the first Paranormal Activity didn’t escalate enough.  If Paranormal Activity 3 is what escalation looks like, I’m fine with static.  And this all revolves around a twist so pointless and random that M. Night Shyamalan probably wishes he had written it.  Let’s face it, a twist only works if there’s a plot that can be twisted.  PA3 only has enough plot to bring you from scare to scare.  Trying to draw a twist out of it was a huge mistake.
But like I said, I still enjoyed PA3.  Would I recommend you go see it in theaters?  Hell no.  This is a movie meant to draw in teens looking for some cheap thrills, and they’d probably go to any found horror movie that comes out (there was even a trailer for another one before PA3).  But maybe, at home, with a few beers and a good sense of humor, you might get some scares and some laughs to justify 85 minutes of your time.  It’s an absolutely harmless movie that’s fun in the right context, but in the grand scheme of things, won’t be significant besides the money it made.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Magdalena, Volume 1

            The legacy hero is definitely one of the most interesting concepts in comics.  The idea of a hero that can actually be several characters throughout time gives a greater sense of the importance of the hero, not to mention that it creates many more stories that can be told, in the past and the future.  And having a character whose legacy starts with Mary Magdalene is really taking this to a fully mythical level.
            Patience is the latest in the line of Magdalenas, a warrior for the Vatican who wields the Spear of Destiny.  She’s become disillusioned with the way the church works and seems about to give up her position, but she comes back to deal with an offspring of Satan, whose existence could end the world.  This sets her off on an adventure that takes her around Europe, fighting demons all the way.
            What I think is most effective about this first volume is the introduction to Patience.  Despite the fact that he could’ve brought in an entirely new Magdalena for a new series, Ron Marz chose to stick with a character who’s been around before. And yet, despite this being my first Magdalena comic, I never really felt lost with the continuity.  I’m sure there is continuity being used here, but it might as well have been the start of something entirely fresh and separate from everything.  It’s explained that she chose to distance herself from the church, and that’s really all the background you need for how the character is as she is when the book starts.  Oh, and she kicks demon ass.  Which she does.  There’s a demon an issue in here, and the dialogue is pretty well balanced with the action so that neither really gets left behind.
In fact, starting things in the middle of Patience’s career just makes me think of this book a very cinematic level.  In my mind, I kept favorably comparing it to movies like Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider, with a hero who’s been around and already saved the world a few times, and we’re just around for the next big adventure.  Part of this is helped with the travel that goes from the Vatican City to a castle in the Ukraine to the catacombs of Paris.  A good adventure story always has plenty of good adventure locations for the protagonist to visit and fight through, and this does.  In Paris, we even find out that the church and the evil cult have bases set up there.  I’m very much hoping that Patience will continue travelling the world in future story arcs, since it adds something that I can’t quite put my finger on, but I like very much.
            My biggest worry from this first arc is that the stakes may be too high.  I mean, you have the heroine trying to stop the son of Satan from ending the world.  This is a perfectly big conflict for a single work, and as a standalone book, this would be perfect.  But for the first part of an ongoing series, it’s almost too big.  You want to keep raising the stakes, not put it at the top from the start.  But maybe I’ll be proven wrong, and the next arc will be just as big.
            The trade paperback also has a handful of special features.  There’s a history of the Magdalena throughout the ages, in case you’re interested in the other characters that have had the title.  A few standard sketches, but nothing of note here (although I’ll admit I’m biased by reading Invincible’s excellent sketchbook sections in their trades).  There’s also an afterword by Ron Marz and, rather disappointingly, a cover gallery.  I hate cover galleries.  Covers are meant to be your introduction to the 24-ish pages you’re about to read, so why aren’t they by the issues inside the trade?  The worst part is that the back of the collection and Ron Marz’s afterword both make special note of the covers by Ryan Sook…and yet they’re stuck in the back.
            Overall, Volume 1 of Magdalena is a pretty fun adventure book.  It uses religion as its base, but it never gets caught up in the religious aspect, and instead just tells a good, action-packed story.  I don’t think it’s the greatest thing I’ve read, but I really enjoyed it.
            Special thanks to NetGalley and Top Cow for letting me review this book.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Paranormal Activity

            I will never claim to know what studios are thinking.  I’m pretty sure nobody could make that claim.  But I’m going to guess that, after Lionsgate found a hit with Saw, every studio was scrambling for a low-budget horror movie they could churn out year after year.  Enter Paranormal Activity, a movie that’s taken off as a series, and yet the original basically wears its low budget on its sleeve.
            Katie (Katie Featherson) and Micah (Micah Sloat) are a couple that have moved into a new house, and the fact that Katie’s being stalked by a paranormal entity since she was a kid has just come to light.  Naturally, they decide to record their every action as they attempt to figure out what’s haunting them and how to stop it.
            I feel that it’s impossible to discuss the movie without starting with the simple fact that it was made on $15,000 and filmed in the director’s house.  You know from start to finish that you’re watching a low-budget movie.  But it’s also a movie that knew its budget.  It didn’t attempt to do things it couldn’t do.  There’s nobody dressed in a costume from the Party City as the monster.  It uses what it had to produce the creepiness.  Shadows moving past the door.  A potted plant having its leaves ruffled.  There’s the feeling that something’s there, and you feel like you always have to pay attention to catch anything they might’ve done.  It’s what the movie does best, really.  It leaves you to the fears of what happens when you’re not around.  Micah leaves the camera running as he sleeps, and you can’t help but get the feeling that everything would’ve been better if they hadn’t started recording in the first place.
            And the movie makes sure you know this, as the hauntings turn into a definite disconnect between Micah and Katie.  This, the movie doesn’t handle nearly as well.  I imagine the main problem is that it just never feels like it escalates.  Katie gets irritated with Micah filming everything extremely early on, and Micah just acts like an idiot the entire time.  They’re not deep, developed characters (probably not helped by the fact the movie didn’t actually have a script), and it shows.  The escalation unfortunately leaks over into the scares.  I kept waiting for the movie to show me something bigger or scarier going on.  Instead, when it got to the final night, I was left with a feeling of disappointment.  I had been hoping for the next level, and instead it just gave me the end.
            Overall, I enjoyed the movie enough.  It was certainly watchable and entertaining.  Digging into it at all just causes it to fall apart entirely, but if you watch it as a light horror movie, it’s fully enjoyable.  It wasn’t quite my cup of tea enough for me to want to run to the theater and see the third one, but I can understand how they franchised it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


            I am quite simply not a sports person.  I don’t watch sports.  I don’t play sports games unless the residents of the Mushroom Kingdom are the players.  So the switch to stat-based player drafting that’s depicted in Moneyball is something I simply did not know about or understand the pure significance of.  In fact, going in, I didn’t even understand how this would fill a 2 hour movie.  Leave it to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin to engage me from the first line of dialogue to the epilogue.
            Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is a former baseball player who’s now manager of the Oakland A’s, a team that’s suffering in skill and money.  In the middle of trading players, he meets statistician Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), whose work leads to the A’s hiring players on pure stats…and what happens from there is a complete change of the great American pastime.
            Normally when I go to see a movie, it’s the stars or the director who get me into the theater.  Here, it’s Aaron Sorkin (fresh off his Adapted Screenplay win from The Social Network) as the writer who made me really want to see this movie.  I will note in advance that Steven Zaillian is also one of the writers, who did scripts for Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York, and American Gangster.  What I’m saying is that he’s no slouch either, but it’s impossible to tell who did what and Sorkin is the name I know better.  It really doesn’t matter either way, because the dialogue in this movie is sharp.  It does not slow down for a second.  There are terms and names flying past that I simply do not and probably never will understand.  I don’t care, and neither do they.  There’s no talking down to the audience, no slow exposition.  They know you get it.  When they’re first showing the stats sheets that Billy has, there’s just numbers going past that I don’t understand, but I get it: it’s turning into a numbers game.  The scene that sticks with me is when Billy and Peter and in Billy’s office and are trying to get one player from a team.  The intense trading that goes on as Billy calls manager after manager without ever leaving the scene is just purely engaging, even as they call out names of players I don’t know.  I’ll freely admit that, before seeing it, I did not see Jonah Hill in a dramatic role.  His character still has a comedic part to it, but it’s really a character who’s in love with the game of baseball.  I don’t think it will take his career in a new direction, but I think it shows he can be more than “that kid from Superbad”.
             In a way, the whole movie is above the game of baseball.  You’re focusing on managers and statisticians, not players or the game itself.  This isn’t to say there aren’t some wonderful scenes involving the game, including one that had me on the edge of my seat.  But this is not a movie about baseball.  This is a movie about a man changing things.  Billy Beane is a character you get to know and love.  He flies into fits of rage, he manipulates characters into doing what he wants, while at the same time we see his past and his daughter from a failed marriage.  This is Brad Pitt as his finest, in a role full of depth that he just handles effortlessly.  Jonah Hill is still Jonah Hill at the end of this, but Brad Pitt is Billy Beane.  He does it that well.
            I know some people will be turned off by the subject matter of baseball.  But when you get past that, you get a fully engaging movie that has wit, drama, and history.  One of this year’s must-sees.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Last House On the Left (2009)

            The main problem people have with remakes is how much they seem to tarnish movies that they consider classic.  Sometimes they’ll change things that didn’t need to be change.  They’ll ruin the original point of the movie.  They’ll be pointless, not changing enough from the original movie.  Or, in some very special cases, they’ll just be bad movies, original be damned.  I’ve never seen the original Last House on the Left, but I can think of few movies outside MST3K that have been such a chore to sit through.
            John (Tony Goldwyn) and Emma (Monica Potter) take their teenage daughter Mari (Sara Paxton) to a lakeside cabin.  Meanwhile, Krug (Garret Dillahunt, whose performance is hard to judge given all I can think is “Burt from Raising Hope”) gets freed from the police by his gang, and of course, Krug and Mari end up intersecting, where he kills her friend and then rapes Mari and leaves her for dead.  Shortly afterwards, Krug and the gang end up staying in a cabin to avoid a storm…hopefully, you can guess whose cabin it is.  Revenge ensues after 2 incredibly dull hours.
            Now, to be fair from the start, I was watching the unrated cut of the movie.  Neither IMDB nor Wikipedia tells me what makes this cut different, and I can’t think of anything that couldn’t have been in the standard R-rated cut, so I can’t really tell what was added in.  It just went on forever.  Every scene just keeps going.  The rape scene should be excruciating to watch because it’s a rape scene.  Instead, I was checking my watch during it and waiting for it to end.  When Krug ends up in the cabin, there’s this scene where he and the parents are talking.  The problem is that there’s no connection at this point, and there isn’t one for a while, so it’s just this scene of some weird people talking to some normal people.  It’s not tense.  Krug’s too good a liar and the parents don’t really suspect anything, so nothing happens.  And even once people know things, the scenes just go on forever until all the tension is sucked out.  John and Krug have a pursuit through the house that takes so long that you just want John to walk faster and get it over with.  I felt like this could’ve been a 30-minute Tales from the Crypt episode, not a 2-hour movie.
            And it’s not helped by the acting.  Krug’s almost too over the top for the villain he’s meant to be.  Meanwhile, everyone else is dull.  The worst offender is Justin (Spencer Treat Clark), Krug’s son who’s gotten dragged into this.  His one expression is a blank stare into the distance.   He’s meant to be the conscience of that side of the conflict, but he comes off as a non-entity.  The movie really comes down to Krug and John anyways.  If it had been a movie of Krug vs. John, then it might’ve been a real movie.  Instead, they have to get through the other members of the gang, who just bring nothing to the movie.  This is straight-to-DVD acting…in fact, that’s what the movie was supposed to be until a focus group managed to bring it up to a level it can’t even handle.
            The directing is the biggest mixed bag for me here.  On the one hand, there are some really good shots.  As a car goes crashing off into a forest, there’s a shot of one person hitting the window with blood coming out.  It honestly looks really nice.  On the other hand, it seems like he let style overwhelm him.  There are several voyeuristic shots like we’re stalking the protagonists…but none of the characters are really stalked at any point, so they’re absolutely pointless shots.  Instead of reflecting the mood of the movie, they felt like shots he wanted to do but didn’t realize they didn’t fit.
            If you ever feel the need to waste 2 hours on a movie that doesn’t thrill, isn’t acted well, and isn’t even gory enough to satisfy that itch (the final scene is the biggest moment of gore, and it’s too ridiculous), then at least watch something that has 2 robots in front of the screen.  That’s about the only thing that could save this movie.