Dark Places

August 12, 2015 by  
Filed under Movies

“Dark Places” is the second adaptation of a Gillian Flynn novel. The first, of course, was the acclaimed “Gone Girl”, which was adapted by Flynn herself. Here, her work is written for the screen and directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, who has mostly done French language films (except for 2009’s “Walled In”). The two films could not be farther apart in terms of quality of narrative execution, and adaptation itself. Where “Gone Girl” successfully brought page to screen with the same depth and care, “Dark Places” feels like it’s merely a recitation of the book.

The story revolves around Libby Day (Charlize Theron, who may be miscast for this role), who when she was a child, witnessed the murder of nearly her entire family save her older teenage brother Ben, who is convicted of the killings. She is coaxed into witness testimony that sends Ben to life in prison–but years later, a group of people called the “Kill Club” (they follow serial murders and try to solve cases on their own) believe that he may be innocent. One of the leaders of the group, Lyle (Nicholas Hoult), tries to persuade Libby to reevaluate her stance that her brother is guilty. There are inconsistencies in the crime scene itself and Ben doesn’t seem to have a real motive. Back in 1985, during the mass hysteria of satanic occult witch hunts, it was easy for a jury to believe that Ben was a devil worshiper and wanted to make a sacrifice to Satan. In actuality, Ben (Tye Sheridan) is a meek, quiet, reserved normal boy who gets in with a crowd that claims to be Satanists. Older Ben (Corey Stoll) now claims he is innocent, and wants Libby to change her testimony in order to clear him. But she still doesn’t necessarily believe that he didn’t do it. What she begins to discover is that there were other people involved with that night–including Ben’s girlfriend Diondra (Chloe Grace-Moretz) and even his own father, Runner (Sean Bridgers). When his mother Patty (Christina Hendricks) and two sisters Michelle and Debbie are murdered, they are killed in different ways, suggesting there may have been more than one culprit.

The film, like the book, jumps around between timelines, sometimes going back to 1985 on the day of the murders and the hours preceding them, and then going to present day where we have the older versions of the characters being visited by Libby to try and piece together what really happened. In the book, this is all done in a way that makes the story more a thriller than a character study–but it succeeds in being both, really. The movie tries to replicate that, but because it begins jumping around too early (in a book you can get away with that because you can always go back and use reference points), anyone who hasn’t read the book would probably be confused and check out emotionally rather quickly. The story seems like it would be compelling enough to string together a 3 act story easily, but there are too many characters and too much going on to be able to follow it if you’re not already familiar with the material.

The individual scenes are nicely acted. All of the sets are well done, and there is a sense of desperation in the murky atmosphere of the rural midwest. Instead of using that as a theme, however, it’s more like a backdrop. A set, simply to set the stage. The characters speak to each other but they don’t interact. There is no real conflict, no stakes, nothing to gain or lose. We don’t really care if Libby sets her brother free or finds the truth because nothing was established in the first 15 minutes that made us really care about the outcome.

In “Gone Girl”, Flynn is able to reconstruct her novel and keep the theme intact with David Fincher’s masterful directing ability. Not to say that Paquet-Brenner is incapable–but it’s disappointing to see someone completely botch a compelling story simply by missing the point that you need to set everything up credibly and with enough simplicity that the story unfolds naturally and comprehensively. Here, we are given little cuts of meat rather than the whole steak. And it definitely leaves one starving for a better movie.

My rating: :(

 

Carrie (2013)

October 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

“Carrie” is an iconic horror film from the 1970’s that probably never needed to be dug up and remade again (isn’t she supposed to be burning in hell anyway?). But, there was another iconic horror film from the 1970’s that was remade, and remade pretty well, and that was Rob Zombie’s “Halloween”. So why not?

Then again, “Carrie” was already remade. But do TV remakes count? This one shouldn’t have. And let’s not mention “The Rage: Carrie 2”. OK, I just did. But let’s just move on now.

This remake is directed by Kimberly Pierce (“Boys Don’t Cry”), and has a strong cast including Julianne Moore as the psychotic fundamentalist Christian mother, Margaret; and, Chloe Grace Moretz as the titular character, Carrie White. Sprinkled in the supporting cast is Judy Greer as the gym teacher Miss Desjardin, Portia Doubleday as Chris Hargensen, and Gabriella Wilde as Sue Snell. This is a contemporary remake, so all of the events in the film take place now, not back in the 70’s. This sets the stage for a film that could really make a statement or at least have an opinion on the 21st century problems of “cyber bullying” and “mean girl syndrome” that seems to be infecting more and more schools around the world. In the hands of such a good director as Pierce, I had high hopes.

However, this film just pricks and prods at the problems of abuse and bullying rather than really taking these issues to task. Carrie (finely played by Moretz) is a 17 year old virgin who experiences her first period (a bit late) in the gym showers after a water volleyball scrimmage. The mean girls laugh at her and take photos; Chris (nicely played by Doubleday) uses video from her iPhone and puts it up on Youtube (doesn’t everybody use Instagram for short videos now?). At first, Sue (Wilde) is part of the action, but she starts to feel guilty. The gym teacher puts a stop to the whole ordeal and tries to comfort Carrie while also punishing the mean girls.

Meanwhile, during Carrie’s meltdown, she finds out she has telekinetic powers. This leads her overbearing Evangelical mother (Moore) into believing she’s a witch and forces her into a small closet to pray about it. Something tells me that’s not going to exorcise the demons though.

The movie’s plot pretty much plays out the same way the original did, which is a bit disappointing since they could’ve gone for a different approach. The original novel is written in an epistolary style, telling the story from media viewpoints after the fact. In this day and age of 24 hour, ubiquitous media outlets exploiting every single story out there, I think it would’ve been a nice idea to try and use that as a device to make a commentary on today’s society. Think of interviews with survivors with Bill O’Reilly; or, people blaming liberals and conservatives for Carrie and school bullying? Social satire would’ve been a fresh idea here. The acting is good, and Julianne Moore does a worthy job of filling in Piper Laurie’s shoes as Margaret. But her character isn’t nearly as menacing and scary as in the original film. As good a job as Moretz does as Carrie, she just doesn’t have that same innocent and yet “could snap at any moment” quality that Sissy Spacek naturally had.

As familiar and predictable as the remake is, being so close to the original, it starts to break down toward the end with the prom sequence. First, we come to realization that we hardly know any of these characters and so the prom just doesn’t feel that big of a deal. It feels like it’s just there to serve as the climax. And because we haven’t had the chance to really get to know any characters, some of the mocking at Carrie during her “pig’s blood” scene doesn’t really add up. Especially when her period video is being shown on a loop on a big screen during it. The natural reaction to something like that, I would think, would be more horror than laughter. Even with how mean kids can be, there’s not a whole lot of setup that the whole school is full of disaffected desensitized youth–only the mean girls share that quality.

So when Carrie finally comes undone, she comes off more as a Hogwarts reject showing off her magical powers (and in some facial expressions, looks like she is enjoying it for the sake of it), rather than a traumatized victim who’s finally acting out her aggression on those who have tormented her throughout the whole film. And that’s where the film just falls completely flat. Before the prom scene, I could forgive it as a nice and faithful remake. But then when you start to think about all of the possibilities this film had to be so much more, I just felt that it was overall a  missed opportunity.

My rating: :?

Kick-Ass 2

August 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

“Kick-Ass” was a fun, if a bit overviolent romp that put a bit of a realistic spin on the superhero genre. Of course, it wanted to have it both ways: cartoonish violence mixed with realistic violence. In most ways, it worked because it had so much fun with itself and didnt take itself too seriously. With the sequel, it packs on more violence and does the same thing; but it also adds another wrinkle, which is a “sexy” angle that comes off more as just audaciously perverse than it does comical or ironic.

“Kick-Ass 2” again follows the exploits of a group of superheroes who are real people and really have no super powers. Dave, or Kick-Ass, played well again by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, is now a senior in high school with his bombshell girlfriend and is learning to be a better “ass-kicker” basically with the help of Mindy, or Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz). The two here have great chemistry, and there’s even a bit of tension between them because of what Dave wants to accomplish versus what Mindy isn’t allowed to any longer. She’s basically grounded from being Hit Girl after her father (Big Daddy) was killed in the first film and her guardian, a cop named Marcus, wants to protect her from sharing that same fate.

Meanwhile, Kick-Ass realizes he can’t save the city of New York by himself and instead of being a dynamic duo with Hit-Girl, he is enlisted in a team of crime fighters known as Justice Forever, headed up by Colonel Stars and Stripes (well played by Jim Carrey), a born again ex-mafioso who can either beat you up by himself, or have his dog do it for him. Other heroes include Night Bitch (Lindy Booth) and Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison), the former who begins a bit of a romance with Kick-Ass as they patrol the streets fighting crime.

There’s still a “real world” element in this film that they like to play with: in one scene, a group of punks try recording a fight with Kick-Ass on their phone in the hopes it’ll go viral. In another, the new supervillain The Motherf*cker (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) tweets his rage and want of revenge for Kick-Ass after he killed his father in the first movie, and recruits a group of evildoers in hopes of making an army of villains to take down the city of New York–for no apparent reason.

That’s all well and good, and there are some comic scenes involving these antics that makes the movie fun. But the whole product never seems to be quite right; and, sometimes when the movie is supposed to be funny or goofy, it just comes off as awkward and even offensive. The bigger faux pas is the more sexual angle the film takes. This is handled in a pretty useless subplot involving Mindy and a group of snobs led by Brooke (Claudia Lee) as head cheerleader. This plot feels more like a sequel to “Mean Girls” than it does “Kick-Ass” as Mindy tries to find a new identity for herself, Popular-Girl (sorry). There’s an entire dance sequence that just feels a bit icky if you realize that Lee isn’t even 18 yet in real life; but in terms of importance of the plot, there isn’t any.

This film is completely unadulterated, and unfiltered. I have no issue with that in theory; but you have to execute it correctly. If you’re going to bill the movie as a black comedy or a cartoonish superhero comedy action film, you have to use the right tone, and this film never achieves that. The satire isn’t convincing, there doesn’t seem to be an awareness that some of the humor is tasteless and unworthy, and there are even pacing problems as the film comes to its climax because there has been so much exposition in the previous two acts that try to pull the movie in too many directions. Some of the narration by Kick-Ass makes it seem like you’re watching a synopsis of a film rather than the film itself.

I can’t say I was bored through any of it, or that it was a waste of time. Some of it is very charming; and since this revolves more around Hit-Girl and Moretz is such a good young actress, it can be very appealing. In some ways it wants to be a coming of age story, and it works occasionally. There are humorous scenes, and some big laughs. And of course, the fight scenes are competent. The sequel raises the ante of stakes and ambition. But with great ambition comes great responsibility, and this film really doesn’t want the responsibility. It just wants to wallow in its indulgence. If that were the point, and it was driven home correctly, then I’d say the film did its job. But writer/director Jeff Wadlow and company needed to do a better job of putting it all together. Maybe the comic book series this is based on does that; but then again, in that medium, you can get away with a lot more and pay less consequences. In the movie world, there are rules. And if you’re going to break them, you’d better have a good excuse. This film’s excuse isn’t much better than “the dog ate my homework”.

My rating: :?