When the dream sequence killing off the cast is better than everything afterward, you MIGHT have a script problem.
Exposition: Moroi are peaceful mortal vampires – never mind that they drink the blood of the living – who are protected by half-vampire guardians called Dhampirs from the red-eyed bad vampires called Strigoi. Got all that? Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) is the assumed Dhampir protector of Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry), the last of her Moroi bloodline and heir to the so-called vampire throne – we’ll get to “the queen” later. Anyway, Rose and Lissa have been living on the lam in Portland, Oregon until they get dragged back to Montana’s own St. Vladimir’s Academy – which looks a lot like left over sets from Hogwarts – where Moroi learn to use magic and Dhampirs learn to protect Moroi with their lives. Ninety minutes of mostly blood-red herrings culminates in exactly who you think stepping forward as the big bad before the movie mercifully ends.
This is why we can’t have good vampire movies.
Assuming that the Vampire Academy books must be better than what crawled up and died on the screen, imagine the kids from Clueless updating their pop culture references to play vampires in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. There is simply too much going on here for a ninety-minute movie, and that’s before The Queen of All Vampires (Joely Richardson) inexplicably shows up to diss the Princess Lissa – in what world would a bunch of high school socialites NOT want to be besties with the future Queen? Vampire Academy, that’s where. Being a film for teens also means that every adult teacher is vain, clueless and/or evil; there’s nary a Headmaster Dumbledore or even a worthy Professor Snape in sight, so our heroes have no one to turn to – but the WORST problem is really just trying to be popular in school before the big dance! Shouldn’t – I don’t know – your LIVES be a little more important? Isn’t this why you ran away to begin with? If this is really the story in the first book, my sympathies.
A tightly wound slow-burn ghost story that blends the best elements of the genre.
Typical teenager Lisa (Abigail Breslin) has begun to realize that today was yesterday, not to mention she’s also hearing voices. After failing to convince her parents that their lives are on a twenty-four hour infinite loop, a pale man (Stephen McHattie) arrives in the guise of a repairman, but death is his eyes. He tells Lisa that she should ignore the voices, threatening her family if she continues trying to convince them of the truth or should she attempt to contact the living. Reeling from confirmation that she and her family are indeed dead, Lisa begins to uncover the clues not only to her own death but a history of violence going back decades – and the Pale Man isn’t done yet.
There is a degree of merit comparing Haunter to a paranormal Groundhog’s Day mixed in with a healthy dose of A Nightmare on Elm Street, but Haunter sets itself apart with a meticulous script that redefines Purgatory and one-ups the protagonists of The Others. A variety of practical effects keeps the story grounded, serving the plot while creating a rich mythology within a short time, small location and on an economic film budget. The creepy atmosphere oozes from the screen, rewarding faithful watchers with a satisfying conclusion and very few missteps to speak of.
Are you doing your part? You know, by breeding bullying jerks to save the human race?
The near future: a spacefaring alien race called the Formics attack the Earth in a bid for colonization, but the brave sacrifice of Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) halts the invasion and saves the planet. Fifty years later, cries of “never forget” still echo through the futuristic culture; gifted children have been tasked with a brutal competition in both body and brains to become the next Battle Commander capable of defeating the alien scourge and prevent what happened to Earth from ever happening again. In a race against the clock, Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) thinks he’s found the savior of mankind in a boy name Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), but the boy keeps displaying pesky hints of bothersome morals that may prevent the child from being as ruthless as the vengeful adults in charge all hope he can be.
With regard to author Orson Scott Card’s views regarding tolerance, Ender’s Game is interestingly hinged on the idea that a little tolerance goes a long way, that “how we win matters.” In a fictional but not-unthinkable culture where pre-tweens are pressured into war school with hopes of becoming the next savior of the human race, this is the opposite of the modern American education mentality that “competition is wrong” and there should be no winners or losers lest a single human psyche be damaged. What holds back the one-two punch of incredible visuals and intense acting is a muddled ending that feels too underwhelming to have the impact intended, a Kill Bill lesson that “some things, once you do, they can never be undone.”
Director Brian De Palma’s creature feature about a shy young woman who was born a monster.
When high school senior Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) experiences her first period in the gym class shower at school, the other girls make fun of the young woman’s fear and ridicule her. The sheltering by her mother Margaret (Piper Laurie) has left Carrie unprepared for a harsh world, constantly being pelted with the fanatical teachings of a God-fearing woman who judges everything through the lens of a Bible. When Sue Snell (Amy Irving) guiltily convinces her boyfriend Tommy Ross (William Katt) to take Carrie to the prom to make up for her part in the showers, disgraced queen bee Chris (Nancy Allen) and her abusive boyfriend Billy (John Travolta) take it upon themselves to “teach Carrie a lesson” – just before the running and screaming and dying begins.
This 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s first novel Carrie is often touted as director Brian De Palma’s best film. For its time, Carrie was a forerunner to the slasher genre of the 1980s that gave birth to Jason Voorhees, Michael Meyers, Leatherface and Freddy Krueger. De Palma paints Carrie White as a serial killer waiting to happen, almost justifying her own mother’s admission that she should have killed herself while pregnant with her daughter. Sissy Spacek’s performance is easily a standout in the cast rivaled only by Piper Laurie, but the entire cast seems eerily aware that they are in a horror film masquerading as a dark fairy tale – and it works. Even the music sounds like the soundtrack to a dream, offset by nightmarish tones that sound suspiciously like the theme to Psycho.
The only thing worse than losing control is being manipulated into losing it.
Sharing a Thanksgiving dinner between families, blue-collar handyman Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) realizes that he and his neighbor’s daughters haven’t been seen for a while following dinner. When a hasty search turns up nothing, their older teen siblings mention a dilapidated RV parked just down the street that the children had started to play on; the RV is also gone. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has reportedly never failed to recover a missing person, is tasked with finding the little girls. When the RV and driver fail to turn up any clues, Keller tracks the driver down to begin his own investigation, but the truth is not so black and white – and far worse than he could have imagined.
At first glance, the film’s trailer underwhelms the subject matter; is this really the story of a family man who becomes a vigilante, beating his own redemption out of a man who the police have already absolved? Prisoners starts off simply enough but slowly escalates into a worst-case scenario where every shadow is jumped at and foregone conclusions seem justified. The film’s pace is an endurance test; in the same way as the characters, viewers are made to feel like plenty is happening but nothing is being resolved. Although the audience is given a peek into the solution a little earlier than the heroes, everyone gets to share in the dread of the final revelations.
Dario Argento has his way with Dracula. No, not literally… but close enough.
Our story opens with an ample young woman luring a less-than-faithful husband into debauchery, just the kind of late-1800s sin that attracts the likes of Count Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann) to swoop in for the kill. Cut to: Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde doing his best Keanu Reeves impression), newly arrived by train into the terrified village that Dracula lords over – just before he goes off to the castle and discovers what the Count really is. Cut to: Mina Harker (Marta Gastini), newly arrived by train and expecting to meet her husband but only finding her friend Lucy (Asia Argento, the director’s daughter) waiting to be washed thoroughly; she had been with Dracula earlier, after all. Cut to: Van Helsing (Rutger Hauer, doing his best Rutger Hauer impression) who mysteriously arrives just before the third act and begins eliminating bloodsuckers, working his way back to Dracula, babe.
Where to begin? The film is nothing if not a low-budget spoof of better Dracula films, over-acted and gratuitous except for the occasional glimmer of true horror – a secret meeting in the village where The Count makes a rare personal appearance is a good example. It’s played for absurdity in a Adam West “Batman” kind of way. For every cheesy transformation we get a cool one; for every eye-rolling moment we get a genuine bit of dread. There is a sense of being played with, as if the viewer isn’t meant to know whether the next scene will farce or spectacle. Intentional or not, the final cut is perfect for a living room full of inebriated hecklers to have their way with it.
You know what the difference is between zombies in World War Z and “The Walking Dead?” Everything.
Beginning like any other day in Philadelphia, ex-UN worker Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) finds himself on the run with his family. The cause: an outbreak transmitted through a bite that turns a human into a rabid, frenzying carrier intent on infecting anyone and everyone it can. A fleet of ships in the Atlantic serves as a base of operation as US cities and more all over the globe are falling to the epidemic, but a handful of specialists think a cure could be had if they could find “patient zero.” With the safety of his family hanging in the balance, Gerry reluctantly accompanies a team across the globe in an effort to discover the cause and a cure, but is it already too late?
Putting the worst parts of 28 Days Later and Contagion into a blender would be a good start to describe what unfolds onscreen, but the most baffling part is the lack of actual blood. The zombie-like affliction seems to have one purpose: infect everyone, but then what? These things don’t eat so much as they infect and move on, but at the speeds they move – like cockroaches scattering when a light comes on – they can’t possibly last very long. To quote Bladerunner, “A candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long,” and if you suddenly turned into a sprinting, climbing infection machine running full tilt for hours on end, how long before your heart exploded? The science for the effect is pure fiction here, which hurts the overall production since the plot is driven by investigators trying to make sense out of all of it. It’s an action-thriller zombie film purged of blood, gore, and most of the drama, and yet it remains surprisingly watchable as an edge-of-your-seat, will-they-or-won’t-they-make-it summer popcorn flick.
While the original idea was to give individual X-men their own story between ensemble films, the stories have been too convoluted to really work (and that’s just from two Wolverine flicks).
Hidden in the Great White North, Logan (Hugh Jackman) is taking a break from humanity following the events at the end of X-men 3. Haunted by the memory of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and everything else he’s done in his too-long life, Logan can’t seem to stay out of trouble, especially when idiots provoke his wrath. Enter Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a young swordswoman from Japan who has been seeking “the Wolverine” on behalf of a soldier named Yashida (Ken Yamamura) he once saved at Nagasaki. Now a tech industry giant on his death bed, the old soldier offers Logan an unthinkable option – to become mortal and die like an ordinary human – but Yashida’s premature death triggers a power struggle threatening to not only destroy the soldier’s legacy but the life of his granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto). What’s a good man to do?
As a near immortal due to his mutant healing factor, it seems to be fun for screenwriters to have Wolverine present for all sorts of historical events – hey, it worked for Forrest Gump – so why not the dropping of an atomic bomb? Like the ill-fated X-Men Origins: Wolverine, everyone wants something from Logan because he’s got all the good stuff (even if he doesn’t think so). While the idea drives plot, our hero also spends more time reacting than acting even when his every instinct tells him to avoid the situation altogether. Does he listen? Of course not; otherwise we wouldn’t have a story, pretty girl in danger be damned. To quote Loki’s critique on Marvel’s Thor, “Are you ever NOT going to fall for that?” Thankfully it’s still better than the last Wolverine sorta-solo outing, so there’s that.
The surprise hit movie gets a not-so surprise sequel, but – surprise! – it’s fun, too.
Someone has stolen an entire research lab from the Arctic, but it wasn’t former supervillian Gru (voice of Steve Carell). Since stealing the moon and defeating Vector, he has devoted himself to raising his beloved little girls Margo, Edith and Agnes (voices of Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier and Elsie Fisher), but he’s feeling a little restless going from bad guy to cool dad making an honest living with jellies and jams. Enter Lucy (voice of Kristen Wiig), an operative from the Anti Villain League who kidnaps Gru for his villainous expertise. Back in the game again, Gru and Lucy must figure out who the real villain is and stop them before their evil plan comes to fruition.
While Disney’s Pixar has animated storytelling down to a science, there’s usually a lack a craziness more often found in films by other studios. The original Despicable Me hit on a unique combination of central-plot characters while providing the Twinkies-in-coveralls “minions” as comic relief. Like the Madagascar penguins, the minions often steal the show out from under the principles, but there’s a unique balance in the Despicable Me films that blends it better. What makes their world interesting is all the big things going on in the background that come down to such simple character moments and interactions. While the heavy in the last movie, Vector, was missed, the addition of Lucy intermingles well with the nutty family, and the minions have stepped it up a notch.