Latest Reviews

Entries in bailee madison (2)

Friday
Aug262011

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Horror movies, especially mainstream ones, are in shambles. Thinking back on the last year or two of theatrically released horror movies, I can only recall a couple of standout films that managed to crawl under my skin. Most of the time, horror is either disgraced by a lackluster remake (A Nightmare on Elm Street) or a watered down PG-13 rating (The Haunting in Connecticut). Though still technically a remake (of a made for TV movie, so who cares), this week’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark puts forth some honest to goodness effort. Unfortunately, that effort is akin to a basketball team who plays their hardest, but still loses. It’s a commendable attempt, but when all is said and done, it’s still a failure.

Bailee Madison plays Sally, a young girl who is sent to live with her father, Alex, played by Guy Pearce, in Rhode Island. She’s none too happy about it and her resentment shows, especially when directed at Alex’s girlfriend, Kim, played by Katie Holmes. She is now stuck in a huge mansion with nothing to do, so, being the adventurous person she is, she snoops around and finds a hidden basement in the house. After hearing voices through a grate down there, she pries it open and unleashes a terror that threatens her safety and that of her family.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is so good in so many different ways, it’s a shame it ended up the way it did. Truth be told, the film has more positive traits than negative, but, as any movie critic will tell you, some aspects are weighted heavier than others. If a horror movie can set the proper mood and cast good actors who give good performances, you’re halfway to success, but no amount of mood can make up for a lack of scares. This is a prime example of that type of film. It’s set in a giant mansion in the middle of nowhere, with backwoods, gardens, gravestones and a lake in the front with fog ominously wafting over it. It does a brilliant job of mixing the innocent with the evil, taking things like teddy bears and rotating night lights and making them unsettling. Its use of lighting and shadows creates a welcome feeling of paranoia; something could be hidden just beneath the darkness.

All of these things contribute to an effective build that is guaranteed to set most viewers on the edge of their seats, hearts racing with anticipation. And then it comes; a scare that simply isn’t scary. The climax of these scenes is precisely where the film falters most. So while the build may work, the problem is those weak climaxes negate the build. Those on the edge of their seats will slide back and those sitting up at attention will slump. The creatures aren’t particularly menacing, especially once you’ve gotten an up close look at them, and you’ll quickly realize that the film has run out of tricks, or trick rather. Because the creatures don’t like light, you’ll get to watch the characters run around with flashlights and cameras to repel them while they attempt to smash any type of light source they can find. After this happens for the first time, you’ll get the gist of what this movie has to offer and the thrills will become lessened as each subsequent scene plays out.

Still, the performances are all very good, especially little Bailee Madison, who is exploring new ground here. She has been in everything from ridiculous comedies (Just Go with It) to religious dramas (Letters to God) and she adapts well to horror. Any performance issue can most likely be traced back to the screenplay, which forces its characters into unrealistic stupidity. As with most horror films, you’re supposed to simply go along with it, but it’s difficult to swallow some of their actions. Little Sally puts herself into so many precarious situations, it could only be seen as a justifiable outcome if she were to perish.

In the interest of full disclosure, I suppose it must be said that the audience at my screening for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was awful, and when you watch a movie with a crowd as obnoxiously loud as them, you have to take their ruining of the experience into account. Horror movies rely heavily on sound (and silence) to work, so a rambunctious crowd can effectively suck the tension out of the theater. I like to think I can separate my experience with the movie from the crowd, but, admittedly, it’s a difficult thing to do. On a repeat viewing, perhaps I’d find Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark better, but I only have this one viewing to judge it on. And in that regard, it was a huge disappointment.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark receives 2/5

Friday
Feb112011

Just Go With It

I’ve come to terms with Hollywood having run out of ideas. With years of examples to back it up, it’s fairly easy to make the claim that the bigwigs at the major film studios have no idea what else to do. So, to compensate, they release remakes, not because they have a fresh idea on the story or think they can improve on the original, but because they know a movie with a recognizable name will sell tickets. While I’m not flat out opposed to remakes, I believe the classics should be left alone. If you’re going to remake a movie, make it one that had an interesting idea or a lot of potential, but failed to live up to it, a modern update that could indeed be better than the original. Cactus Flower, which is now being remade as Just Go With It, falls somewhere in the middle of “classic” and “worth an update.” It's a classic only in the sense that it’s old, not that it’s considered one of the best films of all time, but it’s still wonderful, full of heart and whimsy and multi-dimensional characters you can care about. This 2011 update doesn’t improve on it, but it differs enough to stand apart from it and, although it’s a wildly erratic film in terms of quality, it’s watchable.

The story follows Danny (Adam Sandler), a plastic surgeon who pretends to be married to pick up women. His manufactured sob stories about his neglectful “wife” tug at the heartstrings of the women who listen, which allows him to make his way into their beds. However, at a party one day, he meets Palmer (Brooklyn Decker), a stunning girl who instantly smites him, but when she stumbles onto his ring, she mistakes him as a married man. Instead of telling her the truth, he lies to her and creates a whirlwind of deceit. When he tells her he is divorcing his made up wife, Palmer insists on meeting her, so he coaxes his secretary, Katherine (Jennifer Aniston), into pretending to playing his soon-to-be ex. But when Palmer overhears Katherine talking to her kids on the phone, she assumes they are Danny’s as well, so the lie spreads further, which leads Danny to realize something about himself.

Some remakes can be directly compared to their originals, but in the case of Just Go With It and Cactus Flower, the two share only certain aspects. Aside from the initial concept, they each go down fairly separate paths. What they share in common is that the setup is caused by a bad decision, to not come clean to their girls. The differences from here on out are vast, but none more so than the much more excessive and less believable nature of Just Go With It. The situations and conflicts that arise in this movie are brought on by extreme and incredibly unlikely coincidences, like when Katherine runs into her nemesis, Devlin (Nicole Kidman), while in Hawaii pretending to be Danny’s wife, thus making the ruse trickier to pull off. Cactus Flower may not have been perfect, but when characters bumped into each other, it made sense. The rationale behind their actions was indicative of their personalities, so even as you imagined how differently you would have handled the situation, you understood why they acted as they did.

But to criticize the believability factor in a movie like this is frivolous. It’s a comedy, after all, and the real level of its quality is measured in how many laughs it produces, which is precisely what makes Just Go With It so difficult to discuss. It’s a movie I liked one minute and didn’t like the next. It was like my opinion was riding a Ferris wheel, ascending to the highest of peaks before descending to the lowest of lows. There are a surprising amount of laugh out loud moments (especially given the poor quality of other Happy Madison productions like Grown Ups and Paul Blart: Mall Cop), but it also gets into funks. Jokes are stretched too thin (the name “Devlin” as slang for going to the bathroom is referenced no less than seven times), mean spiritedness seeps through and slapstick humor pervades the movie.

When the film reaches its back half, it goes completely overboard with idiotic nonsense—what relevance performing the Heimlich Maneuver on a sheep has to the overall picture I haven’t the slightest clue—but the actors are game and I enjoyed the chemistry between all of the characters, including the two children, played by Bailee Madison and Griffin Gluck, who are both terrific and squeeze out some of the film’s biggest laughs. Sandler still works better as a dramatic actor (as seen in movies like Punch-Drunk Love and Reign Over Me) and struggles to hold himself together in the funnier moments, shedding conspicuous smiles when he should be straight faced, but there’s still charm to Just Go With It. It’s slight, but it’s there and you won’t blame yourself for having a look.

Just Go With It receives 2.5/5