2012

Mini Reviews: That’s My Boy, South Park Bigger Longer & Uncut, The Impossible, Sightseers

Time is a valuable commodity and unfortunately as much as I’d like to be able to write nice long in-depth reviews of everything I see sometimes I just don’t have the time. Most of the time the folks nice enough to get on here and read my opinions were blissfully unaware that I was watching stuff and not reviewing them. Sometimes I just didn’t have anything worthwhile to say about what I watched or was just indifferent to the movie in general and didn’t want to talk about it.

In order to keep pumping out content and trying to avoid long gaps of reviews or other posts I’m going to attempt to make time for the movies I watch that I don’t write full reviews on. That time will be dedicated to posts like this where I make space on a post to put together a mixture of “mini” reviews of the movies I watched. What sort of content will be in them is kind of up in the air for now as it will probably vary based on the film.

So that’s that…on with the reviews!

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That’s My Boy (2012) – Oh my do Adam Sandler movies just keep getting worse and worse. I tolerated GROWN UPS, I rolled my eyes in boredum over JACK & JILL, but THAT’S MY BOY is just beyond bad. I will only admit to chuckling at a few of the jokes in this thing, but I felt dirty immediately after. Suffice to say that the two biggest points in the plot that immediately set up and close out the film are pedophelia and incest- and if those are your two crutches, something went horribly wrong.

Sandler plays the father of Andy Samberg (what dirt did they have on him to get him in here?) and Sandler has opted to use quite possibly the most obnoxious and annoying voice for 90 minutes ever- keep in mind I’ve seen JACK & JILL. We have overweight strippers, granny fantasies, Sandler wiping his mouth with tissues filled with his own semen and if all that isn’t enough the film is painfully predictable.

I wish I’d taken previous advice from folks on Twitter and avoided this one like the plague, but alas. Do not make the same mistake as me, avoid this at all costs.

Rating: F

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South Park Bigger Longer & Uncut (1997) – When I was a young lad under the age of 17 I bought and paid for many tickets only to sneak into this and laugh hysterically every single time. I own the DVD yet when I stumbled across it on Netflix I felt it was time to revisit it immediately and forgo the trip to the basement and the DVD collection.

Even today I laugh so much at this movie and I rarely ever catch a new episode of the show. When this film came out I owned VHS copies of the show which had two episodes on each tape and I watched them constantly. However, I’ve never followed the show like a die hard fan although I find Trey Parker and Matt Stone to be enormous talents and will watch everything they do. For some reason I just never felt compelled to religiously watch the show the longer it goes on.

The musical numbers in this thing are so much fun that I find them stuck in my head days after and singing them on walks to my car, into work or just sitting on the couch. The entire movie to me is incredibly clever and a great riff on objectionable material in today’s movies and TV shows that still resonates today.

Rating: A

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The Impossible (2012) – I have yet to see this.director’s previous film THE ORPHANGE, but it is on the ever growing list of stuff I need to make time for. With THE IMPOSSIBLE I happen to have a soft spot for disaster movies, but normally they don’t pack the kind of emotional punch that this does.

It doesn’t take long to plunge into the central issue which is the real life events of the Tsunami in 2004 that devastated Thailand and follows the story of a family on vacation that was separated because of it. The rest of the film follows their search for help and for each other while also chronicling the best of what humanity has to offer by extending that helping hand to others in need.

The script for THE IMPOSSIBLE really isn’t anything special, but the spin the actors (Naomi Watts, Ewin Gregor) put on it is phenomenal. The film rides on the power of their emotions and their facial expressions that come from their sadness, pain and excitement. The direction is also fantastic, but no scene in the film is near as jaw dropping as the incredible when the tsunami rips through the area. The tsunami sequence is unforgettable and the technical work that went in to puting it together is nothing short of spectacular.

By the end THE IMPOSSIBLE actually turned me into an emotional mess as I was so immersed with the experience and put myself into the shoes of everyone involved. This one is quite the special mix of disaster thrills and deep emotional drama and also not for the squeamish.

Rating: A-

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Sightseers (2013) – Dear Ben Wheatley- I am really loving your movies, but you’re also really bumming me out. SIGHTSEERS sees Mr. Wheatley delivering some extremely dark laughs, but laughs nonetheless- which is more than I can say for KILL LIST. Granted this film’s script is not his own, but if I’m being honest even with as dark as this is, I could have used less of a bummer ending to really make me head over heels for this one.

SIGHTSEERS is about a couple that decide to go out on holiday with a camper to do some sightseeing and before long the trip takes an unexpected turn when the charming boyfriend, Chris (Steve Oram), shows that he has a bit of a short temper that turns him into a brutal killer. The thing being that his girlfriend, Tina (Alice Lowe), may just kind of be into her boyfriend having this dark side.

SIGHTSEERS is a blood soaked road trip film that is as brutal as it is hilarious. The dark comedy accents the brutal violence in a way that makes it fun to watch and makes you actually be charmed by the twisted couple at the center. The biggest problem for me is that it devolves into such a downer of a last act and ending that all the fun I had before it became a little less enjoyable.

There is plenty of beautiful scenery and a lot of clever fun to he had along the ride, which for me makes the ending resonate so negatively for me. SIGHTSEERS for the most part was an extremely fun and enjoyable followup to Wheatley’s KILL LIST that is weighed down by its inevitable end.

Rating: B

Movie Review: Seven Psychopaths (2012)

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Having just recently taken the time to check out IN BRUGES and really liking it I was pretty excited to take in Martin McDonagh’s newest film SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS. From the get go the dark humor and violence kicks into high gear and I was giddy about how awesome the rest of the film was going to be. For the next 45 minutes or so I felt my excitement for the film grow and then it started to coast a bit until it finally started a slow but steady decline before. McDonagh’s mostly hilarious jab at the movie industry comes out firing, but starts shooting blanks a little over halfway through.

Colin Farrell stars as Marty, a screenwriter working on a script about Seven Psychopaths and is not quite sure how to finish it. Marty’s friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) has a thing for kidnapping dogs and collecting the reward money with along with Hans (Christopher Walken). One day Billy and Hans kidnap a Shih Tzu that belongs to the crazy and irrational gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson) and Marty gets tossed into the midst of the cat and mouse game as Charlie tries to hunt down his dog.

The premise seems ripe for some really goofy comedy and for the most part it delivers on the laughs due in large part to the ridiculousness of a dog napping plot. During the first half of the film the script is full of snappy dialogue between characters and a great deal of really funny moments. Somewhere down the road the film just veers off its path and loses everything that was making it special. The finale tries hard to introduce the humor present in the first half, but never regains its footing.

The standout performance belongs mostly to Walken, although Harrelson has a handful of pretty great moments while Rockwell and Farrell trade back and forth with mostly boring character beats and moments that border on crossing into something interesting. Rockwell stands out more than Farrell, but even his character just is kind of there during the finale and offers nothing all that interesting to pull anyone back in after the film begins to drag. Farrell’s character is who I blame for making the film lose any or all of its momentum. Whenever Marty starts musing about his script and his vision of it the result is something akin to a cinematic lullaby that nearly talked me to sleep a few times.

I’m not sure where the fingers should be pointed in terms of the finale half of the film. It loses a good portion of its energy leading to the final scenes, but the first half is so much fun that it becomes frustrating just how far it veers from the spirit it started out with. Despite a few jokes in the finale the writing doesn’t even seem to be presented with the same vision of the rest of the film which makes for a very conflicting experience.

On one hand I wanted to like the movie so much more than I did based entirely on my first impression- but on the other you can only hold on to first impressions so long before you start to come to terms with the fact that the first impression may be the peak of the enjoyment you’re going to get. McDonagh’s SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS had so much potential to be something spectacular with an amazing cast and some great writing, but somewhere down the line McDonagh slows things down only to try to ramp them up again right before the finish line and by then it was just a little too late. SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS may be a bit disappointing in the end, but is so much fun out of the gate that it at least deserves a test drive.

Rating: B-

Movie Review: Hotel Transylvania (2012)

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From the get go I loved the concept of an animated movie about all the classic movie monsters together in a hotel and the puns/hijinx that would ensue. Read into it a little more and I saw Adam Sandler and the rest of his posse on board doing voices and my excitement dimmed considerably. If it was over a decade ago and I read some of the same names I may have been way more excited, but with the most recent filmography of those involved I had little hope. That being said, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA was far more enjoyable than my reservations painted it, even if it tends to pander to the audiences with extremely short attention spans.

As a kids film HOTEL TRANSLYVANIA has everything that keeps the kids glued to the screen- funny looking characters, slapstick comedy, fart jokes and plenty of vibrant colors. For the average adult sitting to watch it though I feel that it lacks a focused and consistent story aside from trying to pull at their parenting heartstrings.

Sandler voices Dracula who has chosen to build a hotel for all his supernatural friends to escape to while also raising his daughter to be weary of humans in the most protective ways possible. The older she gets the more curious she becomes to visit the outside world and take a chance amongst the humans. Unexpectedly, a human stumbles upon the hotel and Dracula does everything he can to disguise him as one of their own, which leads to the unintended consequence of the human falling for his daughter and vice versa.

The animation is a lot of fun and the environments have a lot of detail, though not as beautifully rendered as your typical Pixar affair. It’s the pacing and scattershot nature of all the jokes and visual gags that are to blame for a lot of the overall disconnect I personally had with the film. The script is next in line of complaints for too often using bland character jokes and rarely bringing anything really intriguing to the table- granted it works on a kids movie level, but lands more often than not on a thud when trying more adult related jokes.

I believe it should go without saying that I never expected HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA to shatter my expectations for animated features, so based on that alone it’s par for the course. The entire film is very inoffensive and in the spirit of fast moving fun entertainment it more than fits the bill. Being stamped with a label as shallow entertainment is usually less than flattering, but in the realm of movies targeted at kids HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA at least deserves to hold its head high as a piece of fluff cinema. There are no deep introspective themes to explore in any frame of this film, but that’s not always a bad thing.

Rating: B

Movie Review: Compliance (2012)

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I deal with my fair share of gullible people on a day to day basis- granted the extent to which they are gullible are innocent enough especially nothing that might irrevocably shatter their perception and outlook on life in general. I am fully aware of the true events that Craig Zobel’s film COMPLIANCE is based on and regardless of the accuracy of the events as depicted I still had a hard time believing that anyone could be this foolish. My judgment comes more from a place of perception about the characters and their lack of common sense and decency than it is a damning view of the film. COMPLIANCE is equal parts frustrating and fascinating even if I don’t see it having a whole lot of replay value.

Based on true events where a man calls up a fast food restaurant pretending to be a police officer and asking to speak with a manager. Once he has the by the book manager, Sandra (Ann Dowd), on the line he tells her that an employee, Becky (Dreama Walker), is being accused of stealing money from a customer and that she needs to bring her in back for questioning. Once Becky has been detained in the back the officer continually takes advantage of Sandra’s stressed demeanor and the fact that the store is in the midst of one of their busiest nights. The officer insists that he will be sending a unit to deal with the matter as soon as possible, but until then Sandy attempts to assign guard duty to a series of employees as well as her fiancé to watch her while the officer orders them to carry out a series of increasingly disturbing and degrading acts on Becky with the excise that it’s all standard procedure.

At first the questioning all seems on the up and up and reasonable enough, but the more bizarre the requests get on the other end of the line the more you have to assume no one could be dumb enough to follow the orders. If this were not based on actual footage and records this would have been ridiculous for entirely different reasons. The fascinating aspect here is the way that the man on the other end of the phone played by Pat Healy never flinches and plays perfectly to Dowd’s character’s strict adherence to procedure even if at times she’s blinded by the stress of running a busy restaurant. Healy always has a comeback and a reason for why he’s asking someone to do the act which has different responses from the people choosing to obey or disobey the order.

The frustration comes from how you view the character’s hesitant submission to the requests. The stranger the orders get the more confused the characters act which triggers the automatic response at least from me that wonders why in the world you wouldn’t make one decision that would almost immediately snuff the scam out. However, since there is record of this you can’t simply write it off as some sort of sick commentary about our unflinching efforts to comply with authority.

I do have to question the relevance of the film in general even with as well made and performed as it is. The film doesn’t bother to tell us how everything ended up, leading me to believe that it’s not really looking to inform people who don’t know the story. The story has been covered in the news and certain less graphic footage can be viewed in any number of locations so there was never any pressing need to see this behavior in detail. So as far as I can tell aside from saying that this is based on real events and the ending tag about all the other incidents this serves little but to dramatize this specific instance- which in and of itself is not ground breaking or entirely relevant. The most telling line of the whole film comes towards the end when a character literally says, “This has happened more than once? You’ve got to be kidding-” or something to that effect. Those lines are indicative of how I imagine almost anyone who watches this will feel.

Everything I just mentioned now leads me to wonder what entertainment value if any COMPLIANCE actually has. I mean most blood redded human males aren’t opposed to seeing a cute girl naked, right? Well the entertainment is sucked right out of it when none of it is consensual and increasingly less consensual requests are asked of her. Everything about this poor girl being naked is degrading and I found nothing entertaining about her losing every shred of dignity. I don’t want to get up on a soap box and beat the point to death because if the film strives for some sort of emotional resonance it’d be an entirely different story. As is COMPLIANCE is more concerned with detailing the human condition and instinct to blindly follow figures of authority without raising questions and just how foolish it can be.

Entertainment value aside, Zobel’s direction is really something to behold as he uses the camera in a respectful manner during the really uncomfortable sequences and captures the depravity of Healy’s character perfectly. The performances are all top notch, but I was particularly fascinated by the way Healy plays the perpetrator of the prank call and the facial expressions he gives while giving orders are deeply disturbing and anger inducing. You can argue up and down about how unrealistic COMPLIANCE is and how you would never fall for it, but it doesn’t change the fact that these are events that did actually take place. In the end the biggest question one has at the end is did the quality of the filmmaking really justify a retelling of this story. From my end the answer is yes and no. As high quality entertainment COMPLIANCE is a total failure, but also a film that doesn’t aim to deliver a fun experience. Instead as an exploration of human indecency, view of authority it excels. COMPLIANCE is tense and disturbing and is a film I have no desire to watch again anytime soon.

Rating: B+

Movie Review: Citadel (2012)

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It’s a scary world we live in and as if we didn’t have enough to worry about with war, recession and sports athletes with fake dead girlfriends, Ciaran Foy introduces more reasons to look over your shoulder- an apartment complex infested with feral children. The idea of feral individuals isn’t new in and of itself, but the structure of Foy’s film is tight, tense and atmospheric. Sound is often key to a horror film especially when it comes to delivering scares and making the hair on the back of your neck stand straight CITADEL delivers chills in spades.

The film explores a man’s intense struggles with agoraphobia after his pregnant wife is attacked by a group of kids. He rushes her to the hospital where the baby is delivered and the wife remains in a coma. Fast forward several months the father, Tommy (Aneurin Barnard), has developed his fear of the outside world, but is also left to care for his daughter alone whilst he suffers from his fears. Eventually he is lead to believe that the grotesque feral children that attacked his wife are going to return to take his daughter from him and he must do everything he can to protect and save his daughter from the threat.

CITADEL is full of extremely well framed shots, great cinematography and sound design, but the anchor of the film is the performance from Aneurin Barnard. His portrayal of someone suffering from agoraphobia is powerful at times, but at the same time the sound design and look of the world he lives in has a tendency to make someone dread what’s about to happen as much as he does. In the end the emotional peak of the film is so well done that the growth of his character is nothing if not moving and harrowing.

The entire film has an aesthetic that reminded me of ATTACK THE BLOCK, which is anyone knows my undying love of that film may understand why I’m as taken by CITADEL- the key difference being that there are no aliens in CITADEL and the overall conflict is entirely different. This film also takes itself its material dead serious, until you get to the priest character and things start feeling a little less drama/thriller and more supernatural and even a little more sinister while also being kind of silly. Regardless, the film still withstands these nitpicks to still be a pretty creepy and troubling bit of entertainment.

The opening scene while it sets up the rest of the film incredibly well also lead me to expect something a little faster paced. It may be no one’s fault of my own, but the next hour of film moved a lot slower than I was expecting- not a complaint in general as the scenes remain tense and entertaining even without balls to the wall action/horror.

CITADEL is the type of horror/thriller that flies under most filmgoer’s radars as it is not the stuff Hollywood cranks into theaters week after week, but is a release discovered by word of mouth and browsing on the DVD shelves. It’s not made for people with short attention spans that crave constant action, but it is a rewarding find for anyone with a taste for low budget horror with a bite. CITADEL is propelled by a fantastic lead performance, atmospheric settings and an emotional journey that’s as sympathetic as it is frustrating. Foy’s exploration of a condition he himself suffered from contains immense honesty in a truly horrific of embellished scenario.

Rating: B+

Movie Review: This Is 40 (2012)

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Getting old really sucks and Judd Apatow has been aiming at showing you just how much it sucks. Not only by filming incredibly awkward personal situations, but by making movies that feel like they last forever to the point you feel like you could nap somewhere in the middle and not miss much. I don’t want it to sound like too much of a knock against Apatow in general, but his movies are just too damn long and the run times in turn harm the overall effect of the film. THIS IS 40 is an example of that and had it been significantly shorter it could have very well been one of the best comedies of the year.

As the “Sort of sequel to KNOCKED UP” the film follows Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s characters from that particular Judd Apatow film and their life struggles as they both are turning 40. Pete (Rudd) is struggling to turn his record company into a success because he only signs artists past their prime and ones he admires while also hiding their escalating financial troubles from his wife, Debbie (Mann), who just wants Pete to be attracted to her and wants the passion to return to their relationship. Debbie also is dealing with a problem within a store she has opened where an employee has been stolen a significant amount of the store’s money. Together they have two kids who fight constantly and their oldest is going through a stage where she is extremely mouthy and is dealing with life issues of her own.

To a certain extent the amount of issues Apatow is juggling is admirable and he juggles them very well for about the first hour and a half of the film- but once it hits the hour and a half mark I was ready for it to wind down and wrap up all the different arcs in some fashion. I wouldn’t have complained if any of the stories had just been left open for another film down the road, but pushing forward for an additional hour became a real chore and a lot of the jokes fell flat due to the fact that I was just ready to be done with the characters.

It’s not the fault of the characters or the actors that the run time becomes taxing because they all give the material everything it needs to at least make the last hour watchable. However, compared to the first half of the film the contrast of quality with my willingness to watch it diminished severely. I happen to love Leslie Mann in spite of the annoying aspects her character has, but her chemistry with Rudd’s character when things are going good is fantastic and fun to watch. When things are going bad, their performances and the conflicts are also interesting to watch and plausible- for the most part- if you are at all familiar with the dynamics of a lengthy committed relationship.

The film can be approached from two different perspectives- male and female- and it’s actually a lot of fun to be able to laugh at the relationship humor and nudge your significant other with your elbow when one hits home- something I did quite a bit sitting next to my wife. The other fun part of the humor is a lot of times I’m sure couples can reverse the roles that each other have compared to the characters on screen. There are plenty of laughs out loud jokes and gags many of which feel unscripted, but again the longer the film drags on the laughs become spread farther and farther apart.

THIS IS 40 while overlong and over packed hits on a lot of really interesting and funny real life situations lots of couples likely deal with on a day to day basis. The presentation isn’t quite as emotionally satisfying as it appears Apatow may be reaching for in the end, but works just enough to make it entertaining. The film is hilariously fun at times and yawn inducing towards the end making for an experience that’s more fun than it is frustrating, but frustrating nonetheless.

Rating: B

Movie Review: Frankenweenie (2012)

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I, like most people longed for Tim Burton to return to his roots and do what he does best. After the woeful DARK SHADOWS I had lost all faith that Burton had any good ideas left in his arsenal until the trailer for FRANKENWEENIE gave me the slightest bit of hope. To some extent some of my favorite Burton-esque aspects are on full display in his latest film, but this is by no means the return form that I personally hoped for.

The film follows a young boy, Victor, whose beloved dog Sparky is tragically killed in an accident. With the inspiration from a teacher’s lesson Victor sets out to bring Sparky back to life all while his classmates are desperately searching for a science project that will blow people’s minds. When Victor’s experiment works there are a series of unintended consequences that threaten to destroy the community.

The most transparent thing about the film is how Burton intentionally plays with the vulnerabilities of pet owners. Being a pet owner myself there are parts of this movie that really did tug at my heartstrings, but begrudgingly so. When a film earns those more emotional beats its one thing, but when a filmmaker is intentionally exploiting those feelings and I’m aware of it, it’s far less effective. Sure there is a sweetness and innocence about the bond between Victor and Sparky, but given the more monster heavy finale I couldn’t help but feel that Burton was trying way too hard to force horror into a film that could have benefited from having less of it.

I really dig the black and white visual style and I even like a lot of the monster moments towards the end- but that doesn’t mean that I’m giving it a pass for trying to have its cake and eat it too. Had those horror elements been integrated into the majority of the film a little more as opposed to just the finale while also being able to deliver the more emotional resonant moments this would have really been something special. As it is, I give it props for the things I like about both, but the mixture of the two is missing a connective tissue to make it all work for me.

Maybe I’m nitpicking or I’m still a little shell-shocked by the terrible quality of Burton’s most recent efforts, but so much of this film stinks of everything I’ve hated about Burton of the past few years. The voice acting is uninspired and incredibly lackluster, there’s too much focus on gothic looking characters and the stop motion animation in and of itself is not entirely spectacular. In almost every way I found this to be vastly inferior to another stop motion film released the same year, PARANORMAN. In all fairness though, the films have different agendas, but FRANKENWEENIE still drops the ball more often than not.

When it comes down to it, FRANKENWEENIE for me is ultimately nothing more than a half complete experience. Half of it is comprised of things I dig about Burton as a filmmaker and others are things I’ve grown to dislike about him along with aspects that just didn’t reach their peak. FRANKENWEENIE is a film that I don’t think intentionally wasted my time, but it also doesn’t necessarily care that it kind of did.

Rating: C

Movie Review: Sleep Tight (2012)

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Some of you may be familiar with a directing duo that brought REC and REC 2 to the world. The two of them then split off to direct a film on their own- one to direct REC 3: GENESIS (a film I’ve yet to see) and the other to the focus of this review, SLEEP TIGHT. Jaume Balaguaro spent his time creating a beast entirely different from his work with the REC franchise, but one that’s equally as tight and spooky, if not more due to the plausibility of the story.

SLEEP TIGHT follows a concierge of an apartment building named Cesar that lacks the ability to be happy. To deal with the frustration and loneliness he longs for people to feel as unhappy as he does even if he has to take it upon himself to do so. One tenant, Clara, particularly catches his fancy as he makes it his mission to make her life a living hell in any way he possibly can.

The film starts off innocently enough with a monologue about Cesar’s inability to be happy then slowly unravels the nature of his disturbing behavior. The best trick Balaguero plays is for some reason as deplorable as Cesar is, you still can’t help but feel tense when he’s on the verge of being caught. As a portrait of a vastly inhuman character the film is fascinating in its ability to make me both want him to get what’s coming to him and not want him to at the same time.

Luis Tosar is brilliant as the utterly insane Cesar- playing the character with a subtle intensity and unsettling calmness that’s completely engrossing and entertaining to watch. His key victim played by Marta Etura is so likable that she is the perfect counterpart to Tosar’s cruelty, because feeling bad for what he’s putting her through was the only thing keeping me from feeling like enjoying Cesar’s reign of terror was somehow revealing something shameful about myself.

Luckily, in the end I don’t think one necessarily “enjoys” what Cesar does to his neighbors so much as one is just glued to the screen with anticipation of what he’ll do next or what he’ll say to get out of a situation. Each situation escalates to an unbearable level until Cesar really starts to expose how terrifying he can be and what he’s capable of. The final scenes of the film showcase Tosar’s frightening intensity and psychosis which makes for a supremely intense and disturbingly plausible finale.

Though the word is never used in the film, the portrait SLEEP TIGHT paints of Cesar is that of a sociopath. There’s no remorse shown for anything the character does or says to ruin his neighbor’s lives. As a character profile SLEEP TIGHT excels on almost every level and left me just as stunned terms of entertainment value as it does as a sobering punch in the stomach. Balaguero proves he can also handle slow and patient horror making him a real force to be reckoned with in the genre.

Rating: A

Movie Review: Mama (2013)

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It wasn’t even a year ago when I attended my first film of 2012 and was extremely optimistic about the rest if the year- that movie was THE GREY. January typically doesn’t offer the kind of films that are remembered all the way till the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, but I had my fingers crossed that my first choice of 2013 would bring luck for two straight years of bright optimism- in retrospect, maybe a debut feature wasn’t quite the right direction to lean. MAMA may carry the “Presented by Guillermo del Toro” tag, but I’m starting to wonder if that alone is something to get all that excited about.

The film is a dark modern day fairy tale that begins with a father that has snapped, killed his coworkers, ex-wife and has kidnapped his children. A snowy road causes an accident that leaves the father and his two children seeking shelter in a shack in the middle of the woods where he attempts to murder his children but foiled in his efforts by a mysterious entity. Three years later the children’s uncle, Luke, has spared no expense to find them and when he does they are feral from living in the wild eating nothing but cherries and being raised by someone they refer to as Mama. After Luke takes them in it appears that Mama has followed them and is none too pleased about someone trying to take them away from her.

The most disappointing thing for me about MAMA is the amount of missed opportunities- especially given how fantastic a lot of this movie is. The film opens spectacularly with an incredibly filmed sequence of scenes that build the mythology and tension greatly. The cinematography was stunning to me throughout the film, but never more so than everything leading up to the title credits. Unfortunately the other visual elements such as the CGI are incredibly weak and created a barrier between me and my overall enjoyment of the film.

Having an actress like Jessica Chastain would be a huge boost for just about any film right now, but for most of the movie she has nothing to do but walk around and stare suspiciously at doors. The relationship she builds with the kids is actually kind of sweet given how against having kids she happens to be, but I still had to take a few leaps to get everything out of that emotional arc. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is pretty well useless in this film- he plays both the father at the beginning and the children’s Uncle, but the most demanding part of his role comes in the opening scenes as the father. Coster-Waldau disappears for a vast majority of the middle act and then has very little effect during the finale. Speaking of the finale- it’s indicative of a lot of my problems with the CGI and stuff things that don’t make a whole lot of sense. There’s a chase through the house that has a really cool haunted house vibe and again the cinematography looks great but the makeup on Mama as well as the CGI are horrid.

Sadly MAMA does not disprove the fact that mostly lackluster films litter the month of January, but with everything I loved about it the film is also not a complete waste of time. The movie is filmed incredibly well- it’s just that a lot of the stuff happening on screen severely lacks the same quality. Jessica Chastain as a punk rock chick isn’t nearly as great as she’s been in the past, but she has moments towards the end that hint at something great. MAMA is not without some effective jump scares and creepy imagery, but Muschietti’s debut feature shows the signs of a director with some room to grow and that the very least is a name to watch out for.

Rating: B-

Movie Review: Piranha 3DD (2012)

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I originally thought that using the title PIRANHA 3DD was sort of clever for a sequel to a film that featured the shameless use of nudity to add to the fun of the experience- and then I saw PIRANHA 3DD. I can now confirm that not only is the title the only clever thing about the sequel, but it also doesn’t at all warn you about what to really expect about the film you are about to suffer through. Sure poster boast twice the terror twice the D’s, but it only delivers on one of those fronts and I’ll give you a hint- the only thing terrifying about this film is how terrible it is.

Nothing about PIRANHA 3DD is fun- the cameos aren’t fun nor are they funny. If you’re a lonely grade school or hopelessly horny high school nerd then I guess the endless amount of boobs could be useful- then again you should be made aware you can find lots of free porn on the internet too and you won’t have to endure an hour and a half of garbage like this to get what you need.

I watched this for the sole fact that I had a lot of fun with Aja’s effort a couple years back and in spite of my suspicion about the involvement of the FEAST director stepping in I gave it a whirl. Had I not just watched RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION before this I may have really considered throwing my TV out of the window and pissing on it afterwards. That’s right, I’m telling you that PIRANHA 3DD was actually better than RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION, but not by much.

The special effects are terrible, I don’t even think there is a script to speak of, acting is atrocious and the gore is boring. The single most provocative joke/gag in the film involves a piranha swimming into a vagina and later biting the genitals of the poor SOB having sex with said vagina. The gag doesn’t even end there because naturally the reaction isn’t to try and pry the fish off to save what you can of your manhood, but to violently slash downward and cutting the whole thing in half. That’s the caliber of logic on display in this thing- not to mention a severed head is seen motorboating a blood soaked bare chest later on in the film.

It occurs to me that I forgot the whole movie is set around a water park run by David Koechner, which features a ridiculously unsanitary “adult pool.” By the time David Hasselhoff shows up the film beat me over the head so many times with unfunny crap that I still wasn’t amused by the Baywatch star’s cameo. Really disappointing since I felt the set up with the news coverage of the fate of Lake Victoria featured in the first film was done pretty well- it’s all downhill from there.

I’m more than a little disheartened to sit here and have to tell you that PIRANHA 3DD is nothing but a toothless spoof of the first film. There is nothing creative or entertaining about anything going on in the sequel that is anywhere close to being able to earn a recommendation. Gone is the well staged gore and violence of the first film, gone is the fun partying and gone is the just plain fun the Aja’s film set up and is instead replaced with ridiculous over-the-top slapstick jokes and gags. Everything in PIRANHA 3DD makes me sad that a sequel was ever greenlit.

Rating: F