Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Short Reviews: 2013 Horror (plus Pacific Rim)

Pacific Rim
This movie deserved to be a much bigger hit than it was.  I'm not sure if the Transformer movies and their extreme suckitude kept people away (though I doubt that, given their massive box office) or if the competition at the time was just too much (Despicable Me 2, Monsters University, The Heat, and Grown Ups 2 all came out either the weekend before, or the same weekend).  Either way, this movie is limping to $100 million at the domestic box office when it deserves way better.  The plot is fairly basic:  otherwordly monsters come out of a rift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (hence the title) and humanity builds giant robots to fight them.  It explains the technology well, the characters aren't cardboard cutouts, there is a sense of the toll taken on the populations around the Pacific Rim - it has everything that lesser movies that were box office triumphs didn't have.  Rinko Kikuchi is my personal pick for best in show, although it was nice to see Idris Elba get what is essentially a co-lead role.  I can't think of any one being a weak link in the film, the writing was good, and the action was a joy to watch.  The special effects were solid, with my favorite work being the underwater battle.  9.0 out of 10.

 Dark Skies
This review might as well be called Poli's Problems with Modern Horror, Part 1:  Someone took a great idea, some creepy sequences, and some solid acting and decided to just shit all over it.  This movie could have been so much better than it was, and I cannot decide if the problem was that writer/director Scott Stewart had too much producer influence, or not enough.  Either way, anything worthwhile in this movie is matched by and surpassed by something stupid or insulting that makes the whole endeavor not worth the time.  Keri Russell gives a fairly solid performance that deserved a better movie around it.  However, the teenage character (played by Dakota Goyo) is the blandest bland that ever blanded, the younger son (portrayed by Kadan Rockett) is everything bad about child actors, and poor Josh Hamilton (as the father) is given the full cliche for his part, so any worthwhile acting is going to be lost amongst the shitty, shitty script.  J.K. Simmons briefly appears as an alien expert, and he adds just enough to make the character interesting without going over the top, but since they felt they needed something 'quirky' about the General Exposition character, they made him a crazy cat man.  And they needed to end it about 5 minutes before they did.  Instead, we get a mini-epilogue of the family post-abduction (I won't say which of the family is gone) moving into a new place that defies any logic and should have had noticeable problems on the written page - well before the filming.  4.5 out of 10.

Or, Poli's Problems with Modern Horror, Part 2: More Ranting.  One of my biggest pet peeves with modern horror is that they make so many of the characters unlikeable (so you don't feel bad when they die) or just plain bland (for the same reason as above, plus they don't want the bad guy to be overshadowed).  Jessica Chastain (like Keri Russell in Dark Skies) gives this movie a much better performance than it deserves, but cannot save the overall film.  The basic premise itself has a huge plothole:  Have the girls eaten nothing but cherries for 5 years with no health problems upon returning to civilization?  Was there a period in between that was never referred to?  I probably shouldn't care (the scriptwriters obviously didn't), but it seems like a rather gaping plot hole to start the film with.  Later in the film, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau's character has a dream from his dead brother (played by the same actor) where the brother asks him to save his children.  Which is nice and all, but at the start of the film, the titular Mama kills the brother just as he is about to shoot his older daughter in the face.  Why does he care about their lives now?  I might be able to forgive these gaping plot holes if the film had some legit scary sequences in it, but that is not to be.  The script itself is better (slightly) than the one for Dark Skies, but at least the other movie had some sequences that were creepy.  But the biggest problem was probably this:  the most interesting performance in the entire film was that of Pamela Farrauto - an unnamed, two-scene General Exposition character who disappears very early and is of little importance in the film entire.  4.5 out of 10

The Conjuring
Finally, at last, we have a good horror film.  Nothing groundbreaking, but it has a solid script, solid acting, and creepy sequences.  In fact, after the ranting of the prior two films, I kind of just want to say 'Go see/rent this one!' and leave it at that.  This is well-done horror that doesn't come along very much (especially of late) and is even rarer in that it made tons of money (it is one of 15 horror movies to gross over $100 million at the box office - not adjusted for inflation).  I will say that best in show (in my humble opinion) is Vera Farmiga as one of the Warrens, though Lili Taylor, Patrick Wilson, and Ron Livingston also give natural and authentic performances.  8.5 out of 10.

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