Paranormal Activity 2

October 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) – Rated R for some language and brief violent material.

When Paranormal Activity came out last year it immediately drew comparisons to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project.  They’re both low-budget horror films that fall into the more specific “found footage” sub-genre and they both made a ton of money so it was pretty easy to understand why.  When it became one of the most profitable films ever made based on return of investment, a sequel was naturally announced.  Here’s where comparisons to The Blair Witch Project aren’t good.  The sequel to TBWP was a complete mess.  Where Blair Witch had originality and genuine scares, Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 fell flat and was a befuddled bomb.  Thankfully, however, Paranormal Activity 2 is not a mess and it is just as creepy as the first film.

This film begins about three months before the events in Paranormal Activity happened.  Katie and Micah, the main characters in the first film, make a few appearances in this film because this one focuses on Katie’s sister and her family.  As a policy I try to not include any spoilers in my reviews so I won’t go into too much detail but I will say that the story ties in nicely with the first film.  You won’t be terribly confused if you haven’t seen the first film, but you’ll definitely understand this film more if you have seen the first.  As with the first film, it starts off kind of slow.  The security cameras catch some stuff that the family isn’t aware of because they are all sleeping, but when they do finally notice that’s when the story picks up.  A lot of the scares come from things that you’ll notice in the corner of the screen or away from the central character so you’ve really got to keep an eye out for stuff you might be missing out on.  The filmmakers do a nice job of kind of warning you that something creepy is about to happen because you’ll hear the cue.  That deep, low sound of something evil lurking in the corner perhaps?  Either way, when you hear that sound, keep your eyes peeled because something is about to jump out at you.

I think a big part of what made the first film so successful, aside from the genius marketing, was the simplicity of the film.  For a while it seemed that in order to get a horror film produced in Hollywood it had to have tons of gore and even more nudity.  A perfect example of this was the new “torture porn” sub-genre of the splatter film genre.  After a while people grew tired of these over-the-top gore fests so when this tiny film with only a hand-held camera and a minuscule budget came out, we were literally caught by surprise.  It proved that a horror film can be successful without gallons of blood, elaborate kills, and as much nudity as a porn film.  And I truly believe that this film also proves that a sequel (or prequel?) to a horror film can be as good as the first.  Filmtastic review = 4 stars.

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The Social Network

September 30, 2010 1 comment

The Social Network (2010) – Rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and language.

By now you’ve probably heard about how Mark Zuckerburg started Facebook in his Harvard dorm room on February 4, 2004.  Now, six years later, Zuckerburg is the youngest self-made billionaire in history.  This guy is almost too smart for his own good.  He created some music player called Synapse that got the attention of Microsoft, which offered Zuckerburg a job.  And he was only seventeen!  Turning down what was surely a great offer and lots of money, he instead opted to attend Harvard University.  The rest, as they say, is history.  He may be a college dropout but he’s worth approximately $6.9 billion.  Billion, not million.  The Social Network has been adapted from Ben Mezrich’s non-fiction novel The Accidental Billionaires.  I use the term “non-fiction” loosely.  The only consultant for the novel was Eduardo Saverin and Mark Zuckerburg, among others, have called the film fiction.  The real truth behind the founding of Facebook is null and void now because this film is quite entertaining.  Who cares if it’s true, not true, not entirely true, or completely made up?  The fact of the matter is the film is well written, wonderfully directed, and the acting is superb.

Aaron Sorkin has done a wonderful job with this script.  The dialogue is fast-paced and witty and all the characters speak like real people.  He hasn’t dumbed down anything for the masses and I truly appreciate that.  Screenwriters nowadays tend to water down everything as if every person on the planet cannot comprehend what they really want to say and it’s insulting.  Sorkin keeps the audience on its toes with the constant time shift of scenes.  One scene will be taking place in 2003, with Zuckerburg still planning out the website.  The next will see Zuckerburg in an office discussing the two current lawsuits at his feet.  All this, and no one in my audience got confused.  It is reminiscent of what Tarantino did so well with Pulp Fiction.  Speaking of Tarantino, the dialogue in this film is so caffeinated and quick that the opening scene had me thinking that Tarantino could have written this script instead of Sorkin.  Then I remembered that Sorkin perfected this type of dialogue in “The West Wing” and with this opening scene, I knew that I was in for a good ride.

The acting is top notch from all the main players.  Jesse Eisenberg seemed to relish playing this role.  He got to be manipulative, awkward, sarcastic, and yet you can feel the pain behind the genius.  Zuckerberg is a man who is too smart to not be socially awkward.  In the opening scene, which just might blow your mind, he is having a drink with his girlfriend and manages to insult her without even trying.  He seems to always be thinking five sentences ahead of her and she can’t quite keep up.  And it’s established early on that money means nothing to him.  He knows he doesn’t have it and doesn’t seem to want it either.  He just wants to be accepted and recognized.  Everything he does is aimed at his being recognized as a genius and being accepted by the Final Clubs.  And yet, everything he does ends up not quite accomplishing what he so desires.  He wants a girlfriend.  She breaks up with him.  He wants to be accepted.  His best and only friend ends up suing him.  Nothing seems to work out for him.  You want to hate Zuckerberg but you can’t.  To be truthful, I ended up feeling sorry for him.  He wanted nothing more than to be accepted and at the end he is alone.  Andrew Garfield did amazing as Eduardo Saverin.  He really wants to help Zuckerberg with this new venture and yet he’s left out.  He feels backstabbed and rightly so.  The pain and anger that seethes through his eyes are undeniable.  This guy deserves some kind of award.  And someone who truly surprised me with his performance was Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker.  This guy is a manipulative asshole.  He manages to swindle his way to 7% percent of the company and he literally did nothing but dazzle Zuckerberg with a few drinks and some conversation.  You want to hate him but Timberlake did such a good job that I ended up liking him.  The character, not the man.  And Armie Hammer playing both Winklevoss twins was brilliant!  I honestly couldn’t believe the seemless CGI that was done to put his face on Josh Pence’s body.  If I didn’t know it I wouldn’t have guessed that the two Winklevoss twins weren’t real twins.  And even after telling my colleagues this fact, they couldn’t believe it either.

And lastly there is the direction by David Fincher.  He has put together a film that is brilliant and smart.  It really is compelling.  Bravo!  The first thing I did when I walked out of this film was sign on to my Facebook account and let all my friends know how much I loved it!  I’m sure you’ll be doing the same.  Filmtastic review = 5 stars.

Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga’Hoole

September 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga’Hoole (2010) – Rated PG for some sequences of scary action.

This film, with quite the mouthful of a title, is based on the first three books of Kathryn Lasky’s book series Guardians Of Ga’Hoole.  I’m assuming these books are for children but the film had a very dark tone.  If taking your children to this film, I’d give them a fair warning that some parts may be quite frightening for young ones.  But the visuals, especially if you watch this film in 3D, are quite dazzling.  Most 3D films don’t impress me much but I think director Zack Snyder did a good job here.

The attention to detail with the characters is breath-taking.  When the owls take flight and you can see every feather ruffling in the wind, you know the time it took to make it look so real.  It really is quite stunning.  And the voice cast is impressive as well.  Jim Sturgess, Geoffrey Rush, Anthony LaPaglia, Ryan Kwanten, Helen Mirren, and Hugo Weaving are a few of the actors who lend their voice talents to this film.  The story seems simple but can get a little confusing.  Soren, our hero, grows up hearing about the legend of the owls of Ga’Hoole.  They are essentially the “good guys” in this story.  His brother Kludd believes these stories are just that, a legend.  But Soren believes in them anyway. When Soren finds that they are real and the legend is true, he ends up becoming a legend himself.  That’s my Cliffsnotes version of the film without any spoilers!   And the owl’s names are so odd that I would sometimes confuse one owl for another.  But that may be because I was a little tired when I watched this.

The great battle at the end was kind of anti-climatic.  I really hoped that it would be more grand and memorable, but instead it was short and felt rushed.  But the owls are quite adorable and the story is entertaining.  If this makes enough money, I’m sure the entire sixteen book series will end up on the big screen.  Filmtastic review = 3 1/2 stars.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

September 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010) – Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and thematic elements.

When Wall Street came out in 1987, it was seen as an archetypal portrayal of 1980s excess.  And Gordon Gekko, a role that won Michael Douglas an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, has come to be seen as the charismatic epitome of all the unrestrained greed of many corporate raiders and greenmailers like Dennis Levine, Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken, and Carl Ichan.  And despite the somewhat pessimistic and cynical view on all things involved in the New York Stock Exchange, it also kind of glamorized stock brokers and even made me want to become one “when I grow up.”  The film itself has become a sort of cautionary tale of what will happen when people get too greedy.  And now, twenty-three years later, the sequel reflects back on what did happen when people got too greedy: the financial crisis of 2007 that led to the Great Recession of the 2000s.

The performances in this film are worth the price of your ticket.  Michael Douglas easily slips back into his role as the greedy cold-hearted Gordon Gekko.  You can see why he easily won an Academy Award for this role because it’s as if he never left.  Sure the man has been in jail for many years, but once released he just oozes the confidence of a con man and you know he hasn’t changed one bit.  Michael Douglas may be sixty-six years old but that man’s still got it!  And I was pleasantly surprised that Shia LeBeouf held his own against these amazing veteran actors like Douglas, Josh Brolin, and even Frank Langella.  I’ve never really been a huge fan of “The Beouf,” but he made me into a believer with his acting in this role.  His naiveté yet confidence came across great and he was very believable.  And Josh Brolin was as good as I thought he would be.  Aside from that little hiccup known as Jonah Hex, his acting is always great.  And even though Frank Langella had what was essentially a cameo, he did a good job.  Lastly, in this film that is chock full of amazing male performances Carey Mulligan really shined as one of the few females.  She says a lot with her eyes and I truly can’t wait to see what else she has up her sleeve in future roles.  There’s a bright future for this actress.

My only complaint would be that the ending felt a little forced and was very out of character for Gekko.  Without giving away too many spoilers, the “happy ending” that was tacked to the end of this film was a little disjointed and I probably would have liked the film a little more if it wasn’t added.  Also I’m taking away at least half a star for the film’s length, which was a little too long.  Or maybe it was just that ending.  Either way, I’d recommend this film based on the performances alone.  Especially Douglas’s and LeBeouf’s.  Quite frankly, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, for lack of a better word, is good!  Filmtastic review = 4 stars.

IRIS – The new Cirque du Soleil show in LA at the Kodak Theatre

September 22, 2010 Leave a comment

I just found this out via my Twitter feed thanks to Cirque Du Soleil!  Follow @cirque for more information and updates!  They’ve just announced the name of their new show that will be at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles: IRIS.  The music will be by Danny Elfman and it will open in 2011.  According to their show announcement page, IRIS will be “a lyrical, fanciful, kinetic foray into the seventh art.  Bringing together dance, acrobatics, live video, filmed sequences and animation, the show takes spectators on a fantastic voyage through the history of cinema and its genres, taking them into the heart of the movie-making process.  From illustration to animation, black and white to colour, silent films to talkies, fixes shots to swooping camera movements, spectators witness the poetic construction/deconstruction of this art as an object and as a way of transcending reality.”

If you’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing a Cirque Du Soleil show then I suggest that you do soon!  I’ve only had the chance to watch their The Beatles LOVE show at The Mirage in Las Vegas and let me tell you, it was simply fantastic!  I’ve been a huge Beatles fan for my entire life and this show truly showcased not only the performers talent, but the beauty of the Beatles music.  I know that on my next Vegas trip I’m already planning on watching another show because I’ve heard great reviews of all their other shows.  I do advise you plan ahead though because these shows always sell out quickly!

If you have a Twitter account you need to follow @cirque today!  Also, if you don’t already, please follow me at @thefilmtastic!  Can’t wait to keep hearing more about IRIS!  What about you?

The Town

September 18, 2010 Leave a comment

The Town (2010) – Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use.

Allow me to introduce you to an actor named Ben Affleck; you may have heard of him.  This man, along with his lifelong best friend Matt Damon, wrote an amazing screenplay for a film you also may have heard of, Good Will Hunting.  These two men happened to win an Academy Award for writing this film, and then went on to have two very different careers though they remain the best of friends.  Matt Damon went on to establish himself as a sort of action film hero with the Bourne trilogy as well as a force to be reckoned with in the leading man category with a couple more Academy Award nominations for his acting.  Meanwhile, Ben Affleck didn’t have as much luck as Mr. Damon.  He made a few duds, Reindeer Games and Gigli to name a couple, and then decided to try his hand at directing.  Now let me introduce you to a director named Ben Affleck; you may not have heard of him yet.  This is where Mr. Affleck found his true calling.  His directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, won quite a few awards and successfully established Affleck as a good director.  Now, it seems, Affleck has started to receive the accolades that his buddy has been getting for quite a while.  All kidding aside, Ben Affleck has had a sort of rocky start to his career with a few hits and a few misses.  And his buddy Damon has always been perceived as the better one in this duo.  However, with his sophomore directorial effort The Town, I believe Affleck has proven that Gone Baby Gone was not just a fluke.  Affleck is a great director and a great actor after all.

The Town is not a perfect film by any means.  It’s suspenseful, tense, gritty, and written extremely well.  However, the pacing is a little off at times.  Actually, that might be my only complaint.  And it’s only a little tiny one, at that.  This crime drama is definitely character-driven and these actors drive the story well.  Jeremy Renner does one hell of a job as James Coughlin, an unstable man in a very stable four-man team.  These four men are in the business of robbing banks in Charlestown, which is where the most bank robberies occur in the entire world.  The men here pass down their occupation from father to son like it’s a family heirloom.  And Coughlin is one crazy guy.  He’s unstable and puts his team at risk on multiple occasions.  And out of the four guys, if there’s a guy who is at the opposite end of the unstable spectrum it’s Ben Affleck’s Doug MacRay.  A once promising hockey player, he ends up following in his father’s footsteps in crime.  He’s calculating, stable, and has their robberies down to a science.  At least until Coughlin does another loose cannon move and changes the plans.  Both men do a stellar job.  Renner plays his character so well that we never know what he might do next.  And Affleck shows what he’s been hiding under those cotton candy roles in trash like Surviving Christmas and Man About Town.  Affleck is a great actor.  He definitely proves it in this film.  You can feel his uncertainty when Coughlin goes berserk.  You feel his nervousness when Coughlin pops up at Affleck’s and Rebecca Hall’s lunch.  When you see this film, you’ll understand why this scene alone is worth your price of admission.  His acting and the editing get the audience so nervous that I was literally holding my breath for this entire scene.  You feel his pain when he finds out what really happened to his mother.  And you feel his vengeance when he kills the man who told him what happened.  Most of all, you actually want him to not be caught by Jon Hamm’s FBI agent.  You will actually want the bank robber to get away.  That is how good Affleck is in this role.

Will this film and the performances get any Academy Award nominations?  I have no idea.  But what I do know is that Affleck has done an amazing job and should have a new reputation in Hollywood.  One that isn’t one-half of the original Bennifer or Matt Damon’s old pal.  Hopefully, it will be Ben Affleck: great actor and well-respected director to be reckoned with.  Filmtastic review = 4 1/2 stars.

Grease Sing-A-Long

September 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Grease (1978) – Rated PG-13 for sexual content including references, teen smoking and drinking, and language (sing-a-long version).

Being touted as “the original high school musical,” Grease is coming back to the big screen for a limited engagement as a sing-a-long.  People who have seen this film many times, like me, don’t need the lyrics at the bottom of the screen to sing along because the songs are so classic and memorable.  But it is clear by the way that the lyrics are presented on-screen, with bright graphics and fun animations, that this sing-a-long version is aiming for a new teenage audience.  This shouldn’t stop older fans from seeing this version on the big screen though, because it is just as great as the original and the animated lyrics just add some fun.  And I hope their marketing has worked because this musical is one of the greatest films of all time and deserves to find new life with this young generation that has fallen in love with more modern musicals like High School Musical and Camp Rock

One argument from parents might be that this film is too raunchy and sexy for a new young audience.  I would argue that the film was tamed down significantly from the original Broadway musical on which it’s based on, which is quite raw and vulgar.  And it successfully tackles some serious issues like teenage pregnancy, promiscuity, gang violence, and teenage rebellion.  And though the story of summertime love between greaser Danny Zuko and Australian goody two shoes Sandy Olsson isn’t original in the least, it never gets old.  With the catchy and infectious songs and the enthusiastic performances by the leads, especially John Travolta, this film is a pleasing yet plastic delight.  Travolta had the charisma and perfect “too cool for school” attitude as Danny that his performance alone is enough to watch the film for.  That’s not to say that the supporting cast should be ignored, however.  With stars like Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Jeff Conaway, Didi Conn, Dinah Manoff, and even a special appearance by Frankie Avalon, the cast is truly all-star.  If you’re an old fan, watch it again for nostalgia’s sake.  If you’re a possible new fan watch it to see what the big deal is about because trust me, Grease is still the word!  Filmtastic review = 5 stars.