Sunday, January 5, 2014

Reviews: The Croods, Oz the Great and Powerful, and Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

The Croods
A decidedly average animated movie.

The movie is enjoyable enough, it moves along at a good pace, the jokes are fine for the most part, and the animators did go wild with the prehistoric animals - the single most creative part of the movie.  However, it is quite lazy in the writing:  Of course the father is stubborn and resistant to the new ideas.  And of course he hates his mother-in-law (though why he hates her is never established - just because she is the mother-in-law I guess).  Every familial trope possible is thrown into the movie with the expectation that the audience will go with it just because they are so familiar.

Again, the movie isn't bad - several of jokes work quite well - it is just lazy in many aspects.  The creation of the various prehistoric creatures is the only truly inspired (if scientifically inaccurate) part of the movie.  What's more, they put realistic movements into the animals, so they seem quite believable as far as creatures go.  Sadly, we get very little of the animals compared to the journey the Croods make to find a new place to live, so they often feel like an afterthought.

The voice work is fine across the board, though I expected more from Emma Stone and Cloris Leachman.  The best vocal work probably goes to Ryan Reynolds as the new caveman who shakes up the status quo:  It''s his most charming performance in years.

It will entertain the kids, though it lacks rewatch value.  6.0 out of 10.

Oz the Great and Powerful
Another mostly average movie, but one that had a lot more potential.

A prequel to the much-beloved The Wizard of Oz that focuses on the titular Oz (James Franco) as he arrives in the magical world that bears his name, it doesn't quite fall to the level of overt busy-ness that Alice in Wonderland did when Tim Burton directed that movie, but it relies too much on CGI much like its predecessor.  The China Doll (creatively named The China Girl) is the worst of this, with several scenes where it is obvious that Oz isn't holding anything and the CGI creation superimposed into the shot.

One place where the CGI doesn't fail is the magic of the 3 witches:  Glinda (Michelle Williams), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Theodora (Mila Kunis).  The spells cast throughout the movie are top-notch, and much better than anything the Harry Potter movies managed during their run.  However, the performances are where it becomes spotty here.  Weisz is best-in-show with her cold, calculating performance of Evanora, Williams is merely adequate as overly-supportive love interest, and Kunis is downright bad at the start of the movie, managing to improve slightly once she is turned into the Wicked Witch of the West.

With better casting (Kristen Bell as Glinda?  Emma Stone or Emma Roberts as Theodora?) and less reliance on CGI for all special effects, this movie could have been great.  Instead it settles for merely good.  6.5 out of 10.

Paranormal Activity:  The Marked Ones
A much needed bit of world-building, this companion piece to the Paranormal Activity movies is much better than one would expect 6 movies into the series.

This iteration follows Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and his friends Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh) and Hector (Jorge Diaz) as creepy things start happening to and around Jesse when their downstairs neighbor, a rumored bruja, dies at the hands of a classmate.

One of the best parts of this movie (and the reason I am willing to check out the other (unofficial) companion movie, Tokyo Night) is the change of location via the focus on a Hispanic family as opposed to a well-off white family.  Without giving too much away, the magic explored briefly in Paranormal Activity 2 through Martine is expanded upon here to great effect.  We also see a few familiar faces that move the plot forward for the series as a whole and expand upon the Coven that made its appearance in Paranormal Activity 3 and 4.

The film does rely on jump scares a bit too much, especially compared to the other movies in the series, but damn if they are not effective, particularly the last one.  This is forgivable though, as the extra plot more than makes up for the lack of artistry in the scares.

The acting is so-so, with no one being outright terrible, though no one is great either.  The writing is solid in that it doesn't repeatedly have the characters do stupid things throughout, but it doesn't have that slow build that has become a hallmark of the series.

Fans of the Paranormal Activity series will definitely want to see this, though horror fans in general might find it to be average.  7.0 out of 10.

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