Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Uninvited (2009) - 7 stars out of 10

The Uninvited (2009) - 7 stars out of 10

“The Uninvited” is another Americanized import of a Japanese horror film.  Its release came with a high expectation as it was produced by Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, the same team that created a horror renaissance with “The Ring;” however, this film is mainly a thriller with a few horrific images and an amazing twist.  There are a few jump scares but the expectation of being scared and shocked as if we were watching an amplified version of “The Ring” likely led to the film’s negative reception.  Its seaside setting in Maine is excellent with an inviting-yet-threatening house where the majority of the film takes place.  Emily Browning is perfectly cast in the lead role with an innocent look that comes off as creepy in the film’s circumstances.  Elizabeth Banks is also successful in the film as we struggle to figure out whether she is fake or sincere; in fact, you will find that just about every line that she delivers can be interpreted in multiple ways so that you never know how she actually feels.  While I would categorize these attributes as “above average,” the thing that makes this film a success is its well-crafted twist.  The twist works because the writers set it up from the beginning so that it feels completely organic once it occurs.  A great twist is only effective if it makes sense once you see the big picture and this film makes sure that the partial hints are dropped and then explained after the big reveal.  After this well-executed shocker, our revelation during the final image of the film is the icing on the cake.  Although it is less creative and creepy than "The Ring,” it is still a solid film.  You just may not think so until the twist assures us that it is not one long stereotype.  I believe that the film would have been better received under its original title, "A Tale of Two Sisters," since the double meaning of "The Uninvited" gets lost in the mix.  You won’t find “The Uninvited” on most peoples’ recommendation lists for horror films but as a spooky thriller, it is a must-see for its perfectly executed twist.


[Pictured: “The Uninvited” was marketed mainly as a horror film, so don’t be disappointed when you realize that it is a thriller.  It is still completely worth seeing!]

Friday, December 23, 2016

Radio - 6 stars out of 10

Radio - 6 stars out of 10

“Radio” is a crossover between critically-acclaimed dramas and cheesy family-friendly films.  The critics hated it but it is nice to see a drama with good acting that can be enjoyed by all ages.  This heartwarming story about helping others is not without its clich├ęs, predictable plot developments, and cheesy sentimentality.  There aren’t any major twists to catch us off guard and most aspects of the story have been seen in other films; still, the simplicity of the story and PG-rated content make this a good introduction into “real” dramas for preteens.  Cuba Gooding Jr.’s performance is difficult to rate.  His youthful look works in his favor as the 35-year-old actor plays the 18ish-year-old titular character in the film.  His acting is a complete transformation from what we are used to seeing and there are times that you would believe that he is actually disabled, but there are also moments where it seems overacted.  This is definitely not his “Rain Man” or “I Am Sam” role.  Ed Harris is good but lacks the spark that we expect from such an established actor.  My favorite performance in the film comes from Alfre Woodard as the principal that must mediate between the community and what is best for Radio.  It delivers on the sports sequences that draw in male audiences but the film misses the potential of tying racism more strongly into the plot (maybe they were trying to avoid comparisons to “Remember the Titans” which came out 3 years earlier).  Although I enjoyed revisiting this movie, I was more impressed with “Radio” as a high school student than I was as an adult.  Perhaps that is the greatest testament to it being a good transitional film that parents can enjoy with their younger viewers.


[Pictured: Tough to believe that this is the same actor in "Jerry Maguire."]

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Creep (2015) - 7 stars out of 10

Creep (2015) - 7 stars out of 10

Found footage films fall into one of three categories.  When done right, they are some of the most fascinating and satisfying films out there.  When done wrong, the motion of the camera makes the audience nauseas and the plot relies on jump scares instead of storytelling.  “Creep” lands in the third category.  It develops an interesting story and catches us off guard with good twists but moves so slow that it is more fun to think about the film afterward than to actually watch it.  I found that the first half hour dragged on, which is an issue in a 77-minute film.  It is worth pushing through for the second half but I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people give up on this film before it gets good.  The slow development is necessary to the tone of the film as it progresses from slightly odd to completely creepy, and then keeps progressing beyond where you think it will!  I appreciate that the film doesn’t end where we would expect and then elevates the story to a new level.  I also appreciate the clever use of “found footage-ception” (you’ll get the “Inception” reference once you watch the film) to help the found footage plot device to make sense in every piece of the story.  I know that I am being vague but I would hate to spoil the cleverness of Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass (the writers and stars of the film).  When writing the script, you know that these two brainstormed the most uncomfortable situations that they could imagine and then improvised each scene.  The characters are played well by both actors and Duplass taps into a very interesting psychological profile for Josef.  I also think that it is genius for the director of the film to play the character that is behind the camera in the story.  “Creep” isn’t the best found footage film that I have seen but between the tubby time, Peachfuzz, and the well-developed ending, it certainly delivers on the promise of its title.

[Pictured: This is one of the more unsettling films that you will watch]

Monday, December 19, 2016

Quiz Show - 6 stars out of 10

Quiz Show - 6 stars out of 10

“Quiz Show” provides interesting insight into the Twenty One quiz show scandal that occurred in the 1950’s.  Director Robert Redford’s recreation dramatizes these events and preserves the simplicity of this time period for the next generation.  We have seen a renaissance of game shows thanks to the “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” phenomenon and the subsequent rise of reality-based programming, but “Quiz Show” captures the fascination with trivia and knowledge in pre-Google America.  It also transports us into a time of morality where the idea of a reality show being scripted or rigged was foreign to trusting audiences.   The film itself moves fairly slow but it builds enough curiosity about the story’s resolution that we anxiously anticipate the ending.  The best part of this film is John Turturro.  He often plays character roles which makes him perfect as Herb Stempel.  It would be easy to look like a bad actor in this purposely mundane role but Turturro’s unique voice and appearance make the character interesting while the delivery is appropriately boring.  Ironically, Ralph Fiennes plays a slightly more interesting character but his delivery comes off as boring.  Rob Morrow brings the necessary energy to the detective role to advance the film and Christopher McDonald has the right look to be a game show host.  The film earned several Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Paul Scofield, though the latter is more likely based on his reputation than his actual performance.  Overall, I don’t see “Quiz Show” as a film worthy to be represented at the Oscars but I appreciate the story and the preservation of this important television scandal.

[Pictured: The film is well-cast and well-acted but just lacks the spark that I expect from an Oscar nominee]

Sunday, December 18, 2016

We Need to Talk About Kevin - 8 stars out of 10

We Need to Talk About Kevin - 8 stars out of 10
1450th Review

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is one of the most disturbing, upsetting films that I have ever seen.  Had I known what lied within, I would have chosen not to watch.  Maybe it hit me so hard because I am a new father, but the concept and delivery of this parenting nightmare is scarier than any horror film.  This is the story of a mother whose inability to connect with her son progressively destroys her life.  The scariest part is that she doesn’t really do anything wrong – he just seems to be a bad seed.  The story is told through an extensive flashback that is frequently interrupted by images of Kevin’s mother in the present.  These interruptions are very brief but drive home the point that her life is in ruins because of Kevin, hinting at some sort of school tragedy but saving the full revelation for the very end.  The upsetting script is impressively interpreted by the actors, particularly Tilda Swinton.  She goes beyond the expressions of happy and sad as her character experiences many different degrees of sadness.  Her acting is so raw that you will feel your own world spiraling out of control alongside hers.  Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell, and Rocky Duer portray Kevin from a toddler to a teenager.  They capture the inherent wickedness that lies within the character and make it clear that it is always present, even when he pretends to care about anyone.  The psychology behind Kevin is disturbing but entirely believable as he lives a mischievous life without remorse.  He shows a complete lack of sympathy, compassion, respect, and remorse despite the efforts of his mother.  You need to be warned that this film is relentless.  It does not have a moment of comic relief.  There is no sentimental moment or sense of hope.  It is a 2-hour downer whose tone is bleak from start to finish and I was mortified for most of the final 20 minutes.  This film reminds me of “Requiem for a Dream.”  On the surface, it doesn’t seem like it will be that bad but once you see what is inside, you will never be the same.  I’m not trying to talk you out of seeing “We Need to Talk About Kevin” because it is very well-written and has stunning performances by the entire cast; however, this film exists in a very dark place and you need to realize that it will take you there for two hours of your life.


[Pictured: The film is amazing from a technical standpoint but I never want to revisit this dark place]