Mini-Review: At the Gate of the Ghost

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

At the Gate of the Ghost

As soon as I saw that this film was an adaptation of Rashomon, I knew I wanted to see it. Now, knowing that some statements need to be made: Firstly, there mere fact that it builds its narrative on a great skeleton is not enough to make or break it. It also bears noting that even Kurosawa’s version was based on earlier Japanese texts so the opportunity to create new renditions of the tales exist all the time, and doesn’t really fit into any perceived “scourge of remakes” complaints one might have. The same goes with Hitchock’s films as he dealt almost exclusively in literary adaptations. Any other asides to these effects are likely covered in my fanboy series, so I shall proceed.

What makes a new, transplanted version of a known classic tale either work or not usually has to do with what’s done to make the story particular to the new locale and how well it embodies the spirit of the original narrative rather than how dogmatically it sticks to the script. The new locale is incorporated quite well, on the surface turning a Shinto priest into a Buddhist monk might seem a superficial change, that analysis would be too reductive. It would discount the connection between religion and national identity far too much, especially considering the period in which this film is set (16th Century Thailand).

The other thing this film does well is that it quickly inserts an artfully rendered, character-building montage so that the monk’s inner-turmoil is explained and we get a sense of him and what he sees his duties as. At the start of the film he makes a difficult decision. We then see all that factored into the aforementioned decision and the bulk of the film is about the straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak.

As with any tale based on Rashomon, or of a similar construction, much of the success hinges of the perspective and execution of the varied interpretations of an incident from different points of view. The wildly variegated versions delivered here are nearly flawless told and very well-executed with fantastic acting throughout.

If you have not seen Rashomon I would, of course, recommend you see that first. However, whether you have or have not, I think this alternate take is one that is likely to find many fans of its own as it is a rather gripping, evocative and emotionally charged version in its own right.

9/10

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TruffautHitchcockVillela: Part 1

This article is a partially fictitious account wherein I imagine myself in conversation with two of the greatest minds in cinema: Truffaut and Hitchcock. This work was inspired by the series of interviews the two conducted which was later turned into a book. The quotes from the two are real though the context isn’t always. If you are interested in the book it can be purchased here. If this alternate history premise insults your sensitivities please move on.

Film is: Eternal yet momentary, Enormous but has no space, Minuscule yet takes its place, Inflexible yet elastic, Sincere and sarcastic, Confined to a frame, which expands in your brain. When a showing ends, The Journey begins. You close your eyes and travel within. Never has it ever been so warm to be frozen in form.
-Bernardo Villela

Francois Truffaut on the set of Confidentially Yours (1983, Le Films du Carrosse)

I’m a lot older than I look. I was in Paris in 1968 trying to get Nino Rota to score my latest film and ultimately I failed and managed only to gain six pounds eating Crepes Suzette. While there, however, I did run into Francois Truffaut. After I asked him how L’enfant Sage was going he told me he was going to meet with Hitchcock and asked me if I’d like to come along. Of course, I agreed. On the way there I asked him:

Bernardo Villela.: What do you believe is the art of suspense?

Francois Truffaut: The art of creating suspense is [!] the art of involving the audience, so that the viewer is a participant in the film. (Truffaut, 16).

We arrived a few minutes later in a very plush room at the Georges V. Francois introduced me and afterward Hitchcock said he’d like my last film very much, to which I got very embarrassed as I felt I didn’t deserve such phrase. We sat down had some Sauternes as apparently Hitch had just finished a meal. It wasn’t the best lead in but I then asked.

B.V.: What did you think of The Wizard of Oz?

Alfred Hitchcock: It was a very bad movie (39)

I was reading a newspaper and saw that Julie Andrews had just signed to make Darling Lili and this prompted me to ask:

B.V.: Can you tell me what you thought of the Star System?

A.H.: These are the problems we face with the star system. Very often the storyline is jeopardized because a star cannot be a villain (43). Cary Grant could not be a murderer (44).

B.V.: Yet you always seemed inclined to work with stars, why?

A.H.: I’ve learned from experience that whenever the protagonist isn’t portrayed by a star, the whole picture suffers, you see, because the audience is a lot less concerned about the predicament of a character who’s played by someone they don’t know. (145)

B.V.: The comment you made about Cary Grant brings us to the trouble with Suspicion. The film is constructed and leading us to think Cary Grant is guilty and then in the last 5 minutes you jump the rails.

A.H. Well I’m not too pleased with the way Suspicion ends. I had something else in mind. The scene I wanted, but it was never shot was for Cary Grant to was to bring her a glass of milk that’s been poisoned and Joan Fontaine has just finished a letter to her mother – “Dear Mother, I’m desperately in love with him, but I don’t want to live because he’s a killer. Though I’d rather die, I think society should be protected from him.” Then, Cary Grant comes in with the fatal glass and she says Will you mail this letter to mother for me, dear?” She drinks the milk and dies. Fade out and fade in on one short shot: Cary Grant, whistling cheerfully, walks over to the mailbox and pops the letter in. (142)

I felt quite embarrassed by dominating the questioning but I think Francois gave me free reign owing to the fact that this was a unique experience for me.

B.V.: Many directors including Robert Altman make films only for themselves and don’t care what the people or the studios think of them, what is your reaction to this kind of thinking?

A.H.: I always take the audience into account. (48)

Citizen Kane (1941, RKO)

Our exhaustive discussion of Citizen Kane led me to ask:

B.V.: How do you define as a masterpiece?

A.H.: Theoretically, a masterpiece is something that has already found its perfection of form, its definitive form. (72)

B.V.: Many people find your films very implausible. I love The Lady Vanishes but even I find the third act a little hard to swallow, what’s your response to that?

A.H.: I’m not concerned with plausibility; that’s the easiest part, so why bother? (99) In a documentary the basic material has been created by God, whereas in the fiction film the director is god; he must create life. (102)

B.V.: Can you comment on why your films so often deal with the extraordinary?

A.H.: I don’t want to do a “slice of life film” because people can get that at home, in the street or even in front of the movie theatre [!] And I avoid out-and-out fantasy because people should be able to identify with the characters. [!] What is drama, after all, but life with the dull parts cut out.(103)

B.V.: My two favorite British Hitchcock films are The Lady Vanishes and Sabotage. While I feel the Lady Vanishes is more sophisticated in its structure , bravery is something I greatly admire in filmmaking and that’s part of why I like Sabotage so much.

A.H.: I made a serious mistake in having the little boy carry the bomb (109).

F.T.: Making a child die in a picture is a rather ticklish matter; it comes close to an abuse of cinematic power (109).

A.H.: I agree with that; it was a grave error on my part. (109)

B.V.: But I feel that’s part of what made it such a compelling film, the fact that a man has to pay for his sins through the loss of his son.

This is the first part of a series that will post on Thursdays. This is the first time this series has appeared on my new home.

Shyamalan Week: Things Worth Discussing

What I had wanted to do with this series of posts initially was dust off some old posts that had not yet seen their moment on this blog. That’s easy enough to do when your topic is immutable and not really on a current event. A fictitious conversation among myself, Hitchcock and Truffaut that I created after having read their series of interviews or my interpretation on the role Catholicism plays in Fellini’s 8 1/2 aren’t going to become less relevant in a few years time. A post I wrote, however, calling out a question M. Night Shyamalan was asked when doing press in Mexico for The Last Airbender kind of does.

If you want you can look for it, but my point in a nutshell is the phrasing of the question was leading, trying to get headlines and it received a much better response than it deserved. I wrote it mostly because the reporter seemed to be getting a pass and nothing said on that end was questioned. While perspective may have strengthened or weakened some of my points, it’s all past now.

The one line of the piece that really stuck out, in part because I had just read something similar, was a thought I didn’t think had occurred to me:

The bottom line is: We love movies. We write about them, we watch them and make them. If there weren’t M. Nights around making things at least worth discussing what would the there be? Nothing. So regardless of your opinion of his films as a whole, especially the more recent ones, let us not trash the man in all he does…

After Earth (2013, Sony)

I then finish speaking very specifically about the reporter incident so this is the only part of the conversation pertinent today. However, it is a significant one. The point I allude to is beyond a good/bad subjective interpretation. The fact of the matter is very rarely these days will you go to the multiplex and be shown something that causes any kind of discussion, much less debate. I kind of skirted around this when discussing post-movie conversations. However, what I didn’t address is that few of the movies we see even give you reason to talk at any length about them.

I also don’t think this is entirely the fault of the news cycle in film, which usually has little tolerance for the movie out this weekend but glorifies the teaser of the full trailer that’s going to drop next Tuesday. More often than not Shyamalan, whether you be a devotee, someone longing for him to do something amazing again or a skeptic; has left you with something to talk about. Even if he did break from his twisting ways there’s still a bit of “Wait, what?” to most of his films. Which is saying something because far too often we not only know too much going into a film but we also don’t get the unexpected nearly enough.

You can get milquetoast anywhere. You can get it in at least one major release 52 weeks a year. Whether it hits or misses, I’d much prefer a brash attempt to do something. Many people didn’t bother to see Cloud Atlas. It wasn’t in my Top 25 but one thing I could not get over was how much I loved the audacity of that movie. It was a hard sell but it seemed to be exactly what people always seem to say they want: something different. However, then different comes knocking and where are they all?

With so much cinema being use-once-and-destroy anyone who can consistently refuse to be ignored is worth taking note of. I haven’t seen much in the After Earth trailers and teasers that make it look as if it’s unlike anything I’ve seen. However, the fact that there were no advance screenings until the night before the soft open Thursday night shows, and as of this evening Rotten Tomatoes had no registered opinions on either side give me some hope that there’s something they’re sitting on that’s pretty good fodder at the very least, that stands out, even if it doesn’t quite hit as well as it wants to.

In Anticipation Of: Mercy

Intro

A large part of why I started this blog, as opposed to continuing at the site I was perviously, was that I wanted to control my content and also if I should choose to be publishing daily I wanted to not necessarily constrain my focus to a particular region or breaking news.

Yes, having access to information is great, and I partook in the internet explosion that occurred when Jurassic Park IV added itself to next summer’s calendar, but I want to focus mostly on things I have seen rather than will see. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and the new Universal/Blumhouse production of Mercy, which starts rolling today, is an exception.

Background

Gramma (Signet)

Mercy is based on a short story by Stephen King. The original story was entitled “Gramma” and was first read by most in his short story collection The Skeleton Crew.

When I heard the news the name of the story didn’t immediately ring a bell. As the casting announcements started coming I decided to revisit it. This time I read it not just to be refreshed on the story but to look at it as an adaptation. I can still mostly keep prose in mind as pure prose (Hitchcock reached a point where he could no longer read for pleasure because he read everything with an eye for adaptation), unless I am consciously adapting it like I did with Suffer the Little Children.

So, how are the elements being prepared for the screen? How good do they look? For the most part they reinforce my positive outlook.

The Story

Now, as is the case with a lot of prose (particularly King’s), a certain amount of externalization will need to take place. Much of the tale takes place in a single location and chronicles the protagonist’s reaction, through inner monologue, to the predicament he finds himself within.

It’s a highly effective narrative, which has potential for great visuals, interesting construction and a lot of tension. In fact, it was brought to the small screen during the short-lived return of The Twilight Zone.

The Screenwriter

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

Brought in to adapt the story into a screenplay was Matt Greenberg whose previous credits include Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest, The Prophecy 2 and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later as his franchise prolonging starting points, then Reign of Fire; an intriguing installment of Masters of Horror called The Fair-Haired Child, then most importantly 1408, based on King and the upcoming Pet Sematary remake. King projects have been botched enough that track record and pedigree matters; Darabont and Garris usually means a good visual treatment of the tales; Greenberg may as well, if his previous works are any indication.

Director

The Haunting in Connecticut (2009, Lionsgate)

Peter Cornwell has genre experience in a film I happened to like quite a bit, A Haunting in Connecticut. That does lead me to the next point…

Marketing

Based on the narrative of the story itself this film should be a PG-13 horror movie. I believe a faithful adaptation would make it so. You’d need to amp things up to get it to an R-Rating. I don’t have an issue with that in and of itself, it’s just something I predict.

Casting

American Horror Story (2012, FX)

Stephen King, the story and the team (including Blumhouse the production company helming who have had much genre success lately, namely Sinister and the Paranormal Activity series) are enough to make this a movie to anticipate, however, then you get to the cast.

Dylan McDermott is first billed. In recent years he’s not only had a return to prominence, but I’m sure gained many new fans with his very successful forays into the horror genre. Most notably on American Horror Story. I know my appreciation of his work has grown exponentially.

The lead as per King’s text is George, the younger of two brothers, who I presume will be played by Chandler Riggs. Playing Carl Grimes in The Walking Dead is no small feat. You know this to be true whether you’re a fan of the show, graphic novels or both. I read a lot of the books before trying the show and Riggs gives a much more well-rounded interpretation of Carl than I had imagined.

Then there’s Frances O’Connor who I have not seen nearly enough of since I first became of her in Artificial Intelligence: A.I.

Joel Courtney and Chandler Riggs (Joel Courtney/Twitter)

If we are to presume McDermott and O’Connor are the parents and Riggs is the younger sibling, then naturally Joel Courtney (Super 8) would be Buddy, the older brother. If this is to be the case then it would be an interesting change of pace from Courtney‘s appearances thus far. In Super 8 and his guest spot on The Haunting Hour he’s been a dreamer, a bit of nerd, and all-around good kid. However, Buddy, as written from George’s perspective, is your typical older brother maybe a little meaner, a little more antagonistic than most.

Last, but certainly not least when the source material is called “Gramma,” is the grandmother who will be played by Shirley Knight, which is another great choice. It’ll be great to see her in a film like this as opposed to Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

Conclusion

I don’t want to wander into potential spoilerdom. The story, which should give you an idea what the film will sort of be (but don’t judge it on that!), is out there if interested. I also needn’t go into each production department and discuss where else awesomeness can happen, but the potential exists elsewhere also! The more I got into the story and examined in cinematic terms the more exciting a prospect it became. I am definitely looking forward to this one.

Adding To Your Classics Library

A while back on Twitter, Bill Milner a great young actor, as well as past nominee and honoree, asked a simple yet important question: it was about bolstering his library of classics.

This is a fascinating question for me, and for any cinephile I feel, because it brings up the elusive question of “What are the essentials?”

My response was, and is, one that I think is not only apropos, but one I think a lot of people can use. Now, a reminder this is not a piece that aims to be a starter kit by cherry-picking milestones in film history, but rather one that will augment your collection when you think to yourself: “Well, what should I be getting now?”

My proposition is simple and personal, we all have our favorite directors throughout the various eras of cinema. I suggest getting the oft-overlooked works of these greats. More often than not these are the films I’ll point out as being a personal favorite.

Anyone, and everyone, can, and has, write, speak or opine on the greatness of Jules and Jim or The 400 Blows, but the film of Truffaut’s that affected me most was The Green Room (aka The Vanishing Fiancee), and its absence from DVD for so long bothered me. Hitchcock would be another good example. Everyone knows the widely recognized masterpieces he made. However, few of his films ever engaged me on first viewing like Rope did, even though he wasn’t too fond of his no-cut experiment, or for that matter Dial M for Murder, though I’ve never seen it in 3D.

Those are just two quick examples with a few films to illustrate my point. Who the directors are that you seek out the oft overlooked works in their ouevre is your choice entirely, but when one has the staples you’re filling in the pages, and, I for one have always been one to seek things out that are a little off the beaten path even amongst the most highly regarded cineastes.

Nominate Films for the 2012 National Film Registry

Recently, while scrolling through Twitter I noticed quite a few people posting that the National Film Preservation Board is allowing the general public to suggest titles to be entered to the National Film Registry for the first time. You can read the pertinent details here. The only thing I found a bit confusing was whether an individual can select 50 titles from a calendar year (e.g. 1933) or if and individual may only suggest 50 per year. I erred toward the latter option. My choices feature many Hitchcock, Disney, horror, Looney Tunes; a few silents, docs, and the occasional footnote. What’s great is that since 575 films have been picked in 23 years they provide a list of significant films not yet selected for you to peruse. Of course, you can submit whatever you like if it fits their criteria. I made all my selections 25 years or older, however, the official cut-off is 10 years.

The National Film Registry was instituted after a bill was passed “Congress first established the National Film Registry in the 1988 National Film Preservation Act, and most recently extended the Registry with passage of the Library of Congress Sound Recording and Film Preservation Programs Reauthorization Act of 2008 (PL110-336).” So, essentially these are your tax dollars at work, America, so make some suggestions. If you’re curious you can read mine below:

1. Suspense (1913)
2. The Perils of Pauline (1914)
3. Charlie the Champion (1915)
4. Mickey’s Orphan’s (1931)
5. Skippy (1931)
6. Island of Lost Souls (1931)
7. Wild Boys of the Road (1931)
8. Babes in Toyland (1934)
9. Manhattan Melodrama (1934)
10. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)
11. Son of Frankenstein (1939)
12. Rebecca (1940)
13. Dumbo (1941)
14. The Little Foxes (1941)
15. The Wolf Man (1941)
16. Gaslight (1944)
17. Mrs. Parkington (1944)
18. Three Caballeros (1945)
19. The Yearling (1946)
20. Panic in the Streets (1950)
21. Strangers on a Train (1951)
22. Limelight (1952)
23. House of Wax (1953)
24. It Came from Outer Space (1953)
25. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
26. Them! (1954)
27.Lady and the Tramp (1955)
28. The Trouble with Harry (1955)
29. Forbidden Planet (1956)
30. Ali Baba Bunny (1957)
31. Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
32. The Children’s Hour (1961)
33. The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
34. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
35. The Birds (1963)
36. Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964)
37. Wait Until Dark (1967)
38. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
39. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
40. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
41. Carrie (1976)
42. Burden of Dreams (1982)
43. The Big Chill (1983)
44. A Christmas Story (1983)
45. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
46. Terms of Endearment (1983)
47. Amadeus (1984)
48. The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
49. The Breakfast Club (1985)
50. Stand by Me (1986)

The 2012 Embarrassed To Say Festival

The 2012 Embarrassed to Say Festival

This is a project I likely should’ve undertaken sooner, but now more than ever it is easier to tackle a lot of the massive films I’ve yet to see. I can likely continue doing it every year and hopefully (eventually) the titles will become more and more arcane to the common filmgoer but no less bothersome for the film buff and/or filmmaker.

However, Edgar Wright the very talented director and great film enthusiast has said something quite true on his Twitter, in response to apologetic fans having seen Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, only on video, “It’s never too late to watch a movie.” That’s the spirit in which I’m undertaking this venture.

In spite of that sentiment there will be films on this list that I have to grin and bear admitting only now having seen so I offer you this explanation in preamble:

My conscious desire to be in film blossomed much later for me than with most, the pure love of it was always there. Therefore, what I want to see has always been a strong impulse as it is with many. However, once one becomes a student of film you quickly learn there are those titles you ought to see and if you haven’t already seen them watching them on your own, later on, can seem like homework. Whereas in school screenings were the best class assignments you were given, homework is a bothersome thing, no one liked homework, not entirely, and the assignation of necessity to something that ought to be a pleasurable and visceral experience alone can make one reticent to watch certain films. In fact, in the schools I attended I saw the disillusion many students felt as they could no longer enjoy films for they analyzed them to much.

I remained steadfast and can control hyper-analysis during viewing and do that legwork after the fact. This is an elongated and roundabout way of saying that some films I have avoided in part because of their stature, for fear that watching them would be more like work than pleasure or conversely for as important as they might be in a historical or technical context I’d not be moved by it in a narrative sense.

Well, the time has come and the access to some is so ready that I’ll bite the bullet on many titles this year (ideally at least 52) and I hope you the reader either get a chuckle of what I’ve deprived myself of thus far or find something new to look for, ideally both. And who knows maybe even undertake this challenge yourself.

Without further ado the films…

1. Apocalypse Now (1979)

Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now (United Artists)

Reasons I Hadn’t Seen It:

War stories are tough to watch.
Running time.
Rather informed by a making of and needed to distance myself from that viewing.


Expectation Going In:

I had forgotten much I’d learned about the plot so all I really expected were a few scenes I knew of and brilliance.

Reactions:

At times mesmerized, others horrified and befuddled. A film that works brilliantly on an intellectual and visceral plane and as much as I wanted to see the theatrical and “Redux” cuts before they left Netflix I could not deal with seeing it twice in two days.

10/10

It’s been far too long since I updated this post but I figured when I do it had better be a doozie. So how does a Hitchcock film strike you. Now, I did add a new Hitchcock both during 31 Days of Oscar and since, but this one is a big one that is a worthy successor to the aforementioned film.

2. The Birds (1963)

Reason(s) I Hadn’t Seen It:

I have seen bits and pieces of The Birds, and like any Hitchcock film (any good film) it’s not an experience meant to be fragmentary. My avoidance of The Birds always came back to a philosophical quandary: How effective can it be when the film openly acknowledges there’s no real catalyst, at least not one blatantly indicated in the story, as to why the birds are attacking? In a B-Film (This is not one, I’m merely contrasting) that deals with animal attacks there will be the discussion as to why, perhaps too much and perhaps the explanation satisfies and perhaps it doesn’t, but it’s there. I was never sure how well it’d work for me, especially stacked up against other Hitchcock films.


Expectation(s) Going In:

Guarded, to say the least, yet hopeful that it’d be the best rendition of the story at hand, and potentially bulldoze my reservations.

Reactions:

The first thing that really struck me is the importance of the MacGuffin in this film especially. The MacGuffin is really just a device that is used as an excuse to tell the story, but in The Birds, without the flirtation and the new-found connection the two protagonists share, without her coming to Bodega Bay, meeting people; essentially introducing herself into a new family, it’s hardly different than many animals attack movies. However, you do spend that time building characters, relationships and attachments, the story is about them, and the attacks of the birds mount incrementally. They come intermittently and with growing intensity.

The lack of scoring was something I knew about going in but I must say that it really does contribute to making this film as good as it is. It’s not going to work for every film but a certain intimacy and terror are built in just by hearing the flapping of wings.

I am a bird-lover, member of Audubon and all that but I take no issue with this film in that regard particularly because of how Hitchcock executes it cinematically. Birds aren’t usually a feared animal, so to transform the sound of a flock of flapping wings into something fearful is quite a feat.

Hitchcock’s is a filmography with so many greats, and so many personal favorites that many overlook, that it’s hard to gauge this film, even in the context of his canon, but it is undeniably solid and effective.

8/10

Review- Silent House

Elizabeth Olsen in Silent House (Lidell Media)

With Silent House you have yet another horror film that is a remake of a recent release overseas. What is undeniable is that the concept of a single take style horror film is intriguing, however, the execution of the style and its application to this particular story leaves a lot to be desired. You have on the one hand a lot of technical merit and on the other hand not a lot of narrative merit at all.

Any time you’re taking a notion that Hitchcock experimented with, one he did brilliant things with, you have promise but that promise is never close to fulfilled here. The ruination of this film is not all at once, which makes it all the more frustrating, however, the seeds are sewn early.

One thing that doesn’t quite jive with the production concept is that at some point, after great pains have been taken to establish the reality and immediacy of the situation, the score comes in. Which just alerts you to the artificiality of the situation, which seems to be what they’re trying to avoid so it’s a confusing and unfortunate decision.

In a film where there will be jump scares induced mainly by audio cues, and visuals are to an extent sacrificed, a lot of the film depends on its performers. So far as the lead is concerned Elizabeth Olsen, who broke out last year with her acclaimed performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene, is a very capable indeed. She accomplishes the rare feat of actually being as quiet as possible but also convincingly scared. It’s not a scream queen performance, it’s the antithesis of that and she does very well with it. None of the film’s failure can be placed on her.

The rest of the cast is another story and part of it has to do with the quality of the performance but also, and equally important, is the fact that many of the supporting players contribute massively to the film’s unfortunate transparency. The film is trying to hide secrets and give you twists, it means well but fails to really surprise.

Based both on the dialogue and the interpretation of Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens and Julia Taylor Ross the actors may as well be saying “Subtext” as well as have it stamped on their forehead. Everything’s played such that you start speculating, a bit uncertainly about the nature of all these people and later are proven correct and you really didn’t want to be. Similarly, it makes the single take a bit more confounding since the ideal visual style would maybe not have been seemingly objective but rather definitively subjective, an all POV tale but regardless of that, which doesn’t really affect my view of this film, the path they chose was marred with mistakes.

Horror films, perhaps more so than any other genre, have become very concerned (perhaps overly so) with twists and keeping the audience guessing. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it does complicate the equation quite a bit and gets more than its fair share of films in trouble than it ought to.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to pull a fast one on the audience, but to do so your slight of hand has to be impeccable and here not only was the reveal unsatisfactory, so was the set up. I could see it coming a mile away and I was hoping I was wrong, then I wasn’t and it turned what could’ve been a decent, stripped-down horror story into something of a quasi-farcical failure.

5/10

Review- Paranormal Activity 2

Paranormal Activity 2 (Paramount)

If it’s even possible this installment of Paranormal Activity is even worse and more anti-climactic than its progenitor. It is a film that takes tedium to delirious new heights (or depths) and is the sad side effect, the grotesque underbelly of the Effect of YouTube.

Why I say this is that it is a bamboozling experience. It looks terrible and therefore expects you to accept not only substandard imagery but also expects you to riveted by a film which is most lacking in incident. While I can credit the first installment with having a rather consistent strain of tension that never quite amps things up, this film is nowhere near as fortunate, or even as enjoyable, as that mess.

The first thing that will quickly grate on your nerves is that this film takes the Rule of Three to the Nth power. Nearly every day in the story, of which there are many, starts with the same half-dozen establishing shots. Few of which ever lead to an incident almost none of which ever leads to anything of real consequence.

These shots artificially inflate the running time of a film which ought not reach feature film status. Now there may have been other scenes shot that ended up on the cutting room floor that would’ve been more interesting but we’ll never know.

There is a reason that the New Wave hated establishing shots. They are more often than not unnecessary. There is something reassuring, not disconcerting, about the predictability in the pattern of the edit remaining the same when no new information is conveyed through the shots. We know what the location is always, the film doesn’t leave the house, so these shots are unnecessary and don’t advance the story in any way, shape or form.

Furthermore it is a film that handcuffs itself by being beholden to the surveillance camera angle to capture the action with. Yet this film like the previous one feels no need to pay lip-service to how someone found and cut together the footage. There is just a title that is meant to fool the more gullible element of the audience into thinking this really happened.

Lack of incident isn’t a cardinal sin in and of itself, there are plenty of things that can create tension when the big scare isn’t happening but this film either chooses not to utilize (score) or doesn’t utilize them effectively (cast), such that the film just becomes and exercise in banality and the cinematic equivalent of a “surprise symphony” in which the filmmakers will nearly lull the audience to sleep and then a rare, big shock will rouse the audience to life. Sadly, not all the major scares are effective. Only one can be called truly effective and more than one are laughable.

To carry off a mockumentary style you need pristine acting like you got in The Last Exorcism and even that fell short. Here you get Acting with a capital A, which is the antithesis of being naturalistic which is paramount when the bill of goods you’re trying to sell is one of veracity. For some sense of the quality of thespian you have in this film the best in the cast are twins William Juan and Jackson Xenia Prieto, as Hunter, the baby; Vivis as Martine and the dog.

Pace is the child of Necessity in film. What pace does the story necessitate to be effective? This is an equation in which the film does not have the answer. It plays an overly-methodical hand thinking it is constantly, but slowly, ratcheting things up but it is not.

It is a film quite nearly fails to comprehend the function of a scene. What came to mind was Hitchcock’s example of building suspense. You show a bomb under a table and cut to the conversation above. You periodically cut to the bomb counting down anew and regardless of what the conversation is about suspense is built. This film treats its entire narrative as one scene and doesn’t set up plot points but one or two major incidents such that the journey is nearly pointless and it ends up being a waiting game, which goes back to not knowing the function of a scene. Each scene needs a purpose. Each scene needs to progress the film. Not every moment of this film is essential. Not every scene moves the story, nearly none of them build suspense.

It is a poorly told, wasteful exercise in narrative cinema.

1/10

Paranormal Activity 2 is available on DVD and Blu-Ray today.