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Wednesday
Mar252009

The Haunting in Connecticut

Here we go again. Another poorly made haunted house movie based on an alleged true story that can be debunked by a simple Google search and a curious mind. The Haunting in Connecticut is so bad and fails on so many levels that the only reason it should be classified as a horror movie is because it's terrifying to think that you've wasted precious time watching this miserable failure and are now an hour and a half closer to death.

The movie is based on the "true story" of a family who moves into a new house in Connecticut to be closer to the hospital where their son, Matt (Kyle Gallner) is getting treatment for cancer. After arriving, Matt starts to see strange things. Apparitions begin to appear, he has out of body experiences and a friendly ghosts tries to warn him of worse things to come while appearing as scary and ominous as possible.

Over my many years of watching haunted house movies, I've noticed that there is usually one "good" ghost who is trying to protect or warn the living of something evil. Then why, do tell, do they always do it in the most terrifying ways imaginable? Why not be a little more subtle if you're trying to give a message to someone? Why show up only at night staring at someone in bed looking like a charred, bloody image of your former self? You'd think that if this ghost could learn how to show himself to people while protecting them from an unseen evil force, he would be able to speak a sentence and say, "Yo, get out. Bitches is crazy up in this piece."

But that's Hollywood and everything must be fictionalized. Of course, this so-called "true story" is pretty much all fictionalized to begin with. I'm never been a big believer in this kind of stuff, but anybody with half a brain could watch this, look up what really happened on the Internet and realize it's all a sham.

The film is based on the book, In a Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting, by Ray Garton. Before writing, Garton interviewed the family and the ghost hunters hired to rid the house of the entities. As he was looking at his notes, he saw that the stories given by the family didn't mesh together and he became hesitant to label the book as non-fiction. When he asked the paranormal investigators what they thought, they told him that the family was crazy and that he should just make up the story. Who cares if the information was conflicting?

As for the boy's sickness, it turns out that he may not have even been sick at all. The parents thought that maybe his sightings were merely a side effect from a treatment. It turns out that the most likely case was that he was doing some kind of hallucinogenic drug and his illness was a fabrication. (You can read a terrific article about this right here and an interview with the book's author right here.)

But enough about that. This is a movie review after all, isn't it? Real or not, its relevance lies in its quality. So is it good? Not in the slightest. After a plethora of "true" haunted house movies, including more recent disasters like An American Haunting and the Amityville Horror remake, I was hoping this would be better. But the difference here is that An American Haunting was so-bad-it's-good, providing a lot of laughs and a ridiculous ending that makes zero sense, even for this genre. This flick is so-bad-it's-bad.

To say that the movie was cliché is an understatement. The scares given here were old. They were old ten years ago when I was watching the Sixth Sense, but at least that movie had some substance to it. The Haunting in Connecticut started out with one legit scare, where the ghost was very briefly shown in a mirror as the door swung open. It was startling, chilling and effective. I thought, "You know what, this might not be half bad after all." In a sense, I was right. It wasn't half bad. It was nearly all bad.

The film went downhill quickly, resorting to dozens of cheap scares that wouldn't be effective if I were experiencing a real paranormal experience myself, much less sitting in a theater. Did I jump? Once or twice, but not because I was spooked. It was because all of these occurrences were accompanied by a loud musical cue. The film wasn't scary and it tried to lure its viewers into a false sense of fear using this tactic. It didn't work.

Despite how poor this film is, I have to give credit where credit is due. The cast actually gave pretty good performances. In particular, Kyle Gallner as the sick child did a good job, even when surrounded by all of the nonsense this movie was crapping out.

But who cares? You can't get through a movie on decent performances alone. This film would probably actually be better if the performances were lousy because at least then I could laugh at it. Instead, it's nothing but a forgettable, idiotic ghost movie that will undoubtedly be a cash cow due to its true story marketing, despite not having a hint of truth to it (unless you're an idiot and actually believe this foolishness). The Haunting in Connecticut is a terrible movie and I implore you to go see something more pleasant instead. Like an execution.

The Haunting in Connecticut receives 1/5

Monday
Mar232009

Monsters Vs. Aliens

As a general rule, "versus" movies don't pan out too well (with the sole exception of Freddy Vs. Jason). For example, the Alien Vs. Predator flicks took a simple premise that should have been easy to make awesome and ruptured the very fabric of time and space with their permeating stench of awfulness. So when a movie comes along generically titled Monsters Vs. Aliens, you can't help but approach it with caution. Well, I'm happy to report that no caution is needed. Monsters Vs. Aliens is a delight, a movie targeted more towards kids, but with enough meat on it to satisfy adults as well.

This isn't exactly the most in depth movie when it comes to narrative structure. Like Snakes on a Plane, the title basically covers the gist of what it is about. In the film, an alien structure crash lands on Earth, so a secret government organization that captures monsters employs them to defeat the invading aliens. Bam. Done. There's some silly little side story about Ginormica, a human transformed into a monster by some type of radioactive rock falling from space, and her fiancé, but you needn't worry yourself with that.

With such a boring title, it's hard to believe that this film could actually produce some imaginative visuals, but indeed it does. I was pleasantly surprised at how creative this film was given its subject matter. I couldn't look away. And believe it or not, some of the action in the film is epic. There are numerous large scale battles between the monsters and aliens with one taking place around a crumbling Golden Gate Bridge while the monsters try to save the humans trapped in their cars and stop the alien mechanism ensuring certain doom. It looked beautiful and truly was a sight to behold.

Speaking of sights to behold, Monsters Vs. Aliens looks gorgeous. The computer animation was astounding, with exquisite outer space shots, great water effects and extensive destruction flooding the screen. It even took full advantage of the 3D technology. Although it was sometimes used as a gimmick (sometimes they couldn't help but throw the occasional object at your face), it was mostly used to enhance the experience. It heightened the visuals and created a terrific depth of field to take pleasure in. Obviously, this is no Wall-E, but it looked excellent nonetheless.

Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure this was supposed to be funny. Well, it wasn't really. It had a few good chuckles here and there, but nothing to cause a good belly laugh. Some of the jokes were tired, resorting to slapstick comedy (although to be fair, slapstick comedy is in nearly all animation), and the jokes that weren't slapstick just weren't very funny. If anything, Seth Rogen as Bob delivered the most cheer to what was an otherwise stale comedy.

The success of many animated movies, at least for me, is in large part due to an unrecognizable cast because then I can buy into what I'm seeing and enjoy the story. If I can recognize the voices, I end up picturing the actors in the recording studio reciting their lines and it pulls me out of the movie. Like the Madagascar films, I could clearly hear many big name actors behind the characters, including Seth Rogen, Will Arnett and Stephen Colbert. However, the difference here is that the voice acting, although recognizable, was appropriate and unobtrusive. In Madagascar, I never heard Alex. I heard Ben Stiller. In Monsters Vs. Aliens, I heard Seth Rogen, but his voice was a perfect fit for his character, which eventually made me forget about the actor and start paying attention to his animated alter ego.

DreamWorks Animation is hit and miss and have really only struck gold twice with Shrek and Kung Fu Panda. After a slew of mediocre and downright crappy films like Madagascar, Over the Hedge and Bee Movie, they finally have what I consider another quality picture on their hands. You won't walk out with a newfound love for animation, but Monsters Vs. Aliens should satisfy those looking for a simple, relaxing time at the movies.

Monsters Vs. Aliens receives 3.5/5

Sunday
Mar222009

Duplicity

Duplicity is one of those films where you really have to pay attention. If your brain goes haywire for even the slightest bit, chances are you will miss something vital to the story. Well, on my screening day, I had gotten up early, been busy all day with classes and homework and I had already sat through I Love You, Man so I could tell all of my faithful readers (all three of you) whether or not they should plop down some cash for it. (Read that review here.) Plus, I saw the midnight screening of this and was beyond tired. Now here it is, three days later and I'm just getting around to writing this review, much to my detriment. I couldn't comprehend what I had seen directly after the movie was over and I'm afraid I'm even more perplexed right now.

The story follows two spies (Julia Roberts and Clive Owen) who try to con a couple of corporations and steal plans for a new medical advancement that promises riches beyond belief. I grasped that much at least and really, it's all you need to understand to enjoy this film as I did. My brain may not have been on board for its entirety, yet I'm recommending it due to strong performances, some good humor and an interesting twist.

Still, that doesn't mean I'm giving a total pass to the narrative's many baffling turns. The simple fact of the matter is that Duplicity is a bit too confusing, although the ending justifies it in a way. I won't give it away, but the ending has a great reveal that shows that even some of the characters didn't fully understand what was going on, so in a sense, it mimics the way we're watching the film. With that said, this is no Syriana and an easier to follow story would have been a great help. It's supposed to be a funny, fun, romantic spy movie, but its jumbled narrative didn't accommodate its style.

The film is directed by Tony Gilroy, the man behind one of the best films of 2007, Michael Clayton. While many thought that was confusing, I found it perfectly easy to follow, and it's much more interesting than this. This movie jumped from year to year, month to month, and place to place constantly. There were times when I wasn't sure whether I was watching a flashback or not. Again, my brain may not have been operating at 100%, but regardless, this was too much. There's something to be said for simplicity in film.

However, the story isn't necessarily bad. I don't want to give off that impression. Despite its complications, it's rather fun, mainly due to excellent performances by Clive Owen and Julia Roberts. As always, Owen is the man, full of charisma and charm. He can play it serious, as seen in Children of Men, over the top, as is the case with Shoot 'Em Up, or lighthearted and comedic, as seen here. The man is multi-talented and all of it shines through. His chemistry with Roberts is hands down the best so far this year and the two deserve some serious respect.

Tony Gilroy may have written this film a little too confusingly, but his direction is masterful. He gives us some beautiful shots and approached the overall film with style, but knew when to tone it down and keep it simple. It was fantastic.

So is Duplicity worth seeing? Despite its overly complex story, everything comes together so smoothly that it's difficult to not recommend. With great performances, excellent direction and terrific humor, including a slow motion fight between Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson (which is among the best moments of the year so far), Duplicity exceeds above and beyond what its mediocre trailer suggests. It's no Michael Clayton, but then again, what is?

Duplicity receives 4/5

Friday
Mar202009

I Love You, Man

I Love You, Man is a perfect example of why you should never leave a film early. You never know when it might pick up and surprise you. What started as a film that I was sure I was going to hate ended up being a funny, clever little comedy that eventually won me over.

The movie follows Peter (Paul Rudd), who has just been engaged to Zooey (Rashida Jones). While preparing for the big day, Peter realizes that he doesn't actually have any real friends. Who will be his best man? So Zooey, along with his brother, hook him up on a series of man-dates hoping he will create a meaningful friendship. Along the way, Peter meets Sydney (Jason Segel) and they instantly bond. Although Peter is a shy, private person, Sydney brings the "man" out of him, helps him open up and becomes his first true pal.

Like I said, I was certain that this was going to be a movie I loathed. Believe it or not, this film was incredibly unfunny for the first 20 to 30 minutes. This was before Jason Segel was introduced. While the beginning serves a narrative purpose, to expose Peter as a pathetic loser with no friends, the fact of the matter is that it's boring. I didn't laugh once, the story was uninteresting and Peter's personality annoyed me beyond belief. This movie shines when Rudd and Segel are together. This poor start is merely foreplay leading up to the main event.

And like actual foreplay, you can't wait to get it out of the way and start having some real fun. From the 30 minute mark on, I was laughing a lot, and surprisingly so. Considering how low my opinion of the film was at the beginning, it was shocking to see it ascend to a level where I had forgiven its boring opening and began appreciating its positives.

Still, some of the jokes are tired. For example, one big laugh I Love You, Man received from the audience I was watching it with was a puke scene. Peter has too much to drink and pukes in another character's face. Really? How many times have we seen a comedy where a drunk person barfs on someone else? How quaint.

Another problem I had with some of the humor is that the filmmakers apparently thought awkwardness would always amount to laughs. If this movie taught me anything, it's that "awkward" does not always equal "funny." Instead, it was just that, gawky and annoying. It was painful to watch and not funny. I understand that the awkwardness is a key component because it is a part of Rudd's character and one of the foundations of the story, but the film built up that awkwardness all the way to the end, so much so that it lost any punch it had, which was very little to begin with.

So not all of the jokes hit their mark. Despite that, Paul Rudd and Jason Segel are terrific. Yes, I found Rudd's uncouth character to be somewhat of an annoyance at times, but it was still a very good performance. Segel is just as good, playing the overweight slob who speaks his mind and doesn't give a damn about what people think of him. The two are excellent together and have perfect comedic chemistry.

These great performances helped the story as well. I loved the bro-mance the film was playing up and surprisingly, it's actually kind of sweet, in a weird, masculine way. But the movie was also smart to explore what happens to a romantic relationship when a friendship becomes the center of your partner's life. Peter and his fiancé aren't perfect and do get jealous. His friendship with Sydney causes real tension between the couple and I appreciated the attempt at exploring every angle of how these events would play out in real life.

Overall, I have to give this movie credit for its surprising amount of depth and for the way it pulled itself out of a painfully unfunny slump to become a film that I now hold great admiration for. It's not a comedic masterpiece by any means though. It even repeats certain jokes (it makes three pubic hair cracks--zero are funny). But I Love You, Man is a good movie that you should definitely see. Just be sure to keep your expectations in check.

I Love You, Man receives 3.5/5

Tuesday
Mar172009

Knowing

The other half is actually getting through this mess. Knowing is yet another film in a long line of poor script choices by Nicolas Cage. The man who started out as a promising actor carving a niche out for himself by starring in great films such as Face/Off and Con Air has devolved into a joke. I have a theory. Cage picks his scripts based entirely on the premise without actually reading them through to the end. Ghost Rider was about a man who sold his soul to the devil and was forced to capture evil souls and take them to Hell. Great premise, poor execution. Next was about a man who could see two minutes into his own future and was propositioned by the FBI to help avert a nuclear disaster. Great premise, poor execution. And now this.

Knowing begins fifty years ago where an elementary school class is drawing pictures to put in a time capsule with the idea that a class fifty years in the future will reopen it. Flash forward to the present day and the pictures that were drawn for the time capsule are being handed out to the new kids. Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) gets one with a long sequence of numbers. His dad John (Nicolas Cage) deciphers it and finds out that it has detailed every major disaster that has ever taken place, right down to when and where they happened. Some leftover numbers suggest that future catastrophes will take place, so John attempts to figure out the puzzles and save the world. Great premise, poor execution.

Knowing is part disaster movie, part action, part sci-fi, and all stupid. It's one of those movies that never reaches a level above average. At some points, it's merely tolerable, but what really makes it one that I simply cannot recommend is that there's never a "Wow, this is awesome" moment. I was on board for the first 20 or 30 minutes (although barely so), but my God, this film became more and more trite as it went on.

While the silly story was certainly at fault for much of that, it's hard to explain why without ruining key parts. Luckily for me, there were other factors contributing to its overall inferiority. For starters, the acting was lackluster. One thing any film needs to ensure some level of believability is good performances, but Nicolas Cage really brings this baby down. While he's fine when not expressing emotions, scenes that called for sadness or fear were downright laughable. He lent no authenticity to what was already a pretty implausible movie.

However, I may be a bit too quick to jump on the "Nicolas Cage sucks" bandwagon. With some of the dialogue he was forced to recite, it isn't surprising to see the quality of his acting turn out so poor. Late in the movie, one character was expressing how ironic it was that she had attempted to keep her child as safe and secure as possible and now it will be for nothing due to the impending catastrophe. She remarks, "It's so stupid." I thought she had read my mind because by this point, those words echoed my sentiments exactly.

Of course, it has a few other minor problems like bad pacing and poor special effects that further harm the film, but I can't point out every negative now can I? Like the title suggests, the movie is all about knowing. I wish I would have known what I know now because I now know that Knowing is not necessary to know.

That last line was more clever than anything in this movie.

Knowing receives 1.5/5