Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Movie Review: The Mist

After being trapped in their local grocery store, the citizens of Bridgton, Maine must band together to combat the nefarious aberrations dwelling within “the mist.”  Its origins unknown, its inhabitants the elements of nightmare, to enter the hazy madness that has besieged this small New England town is suicide.  However, its unfortunate survivors will soon find themselves pitted against horrors far greater than anything of dreams.  Thus is the plot of Frank Darabont’s The Mist.

First off, I must concede that I’m a pretty big Stephen King junky.   He hooked me in with Desperation in 1996 and utterly floored me with his magnum opus, The Dark Tower series in the years thereafter.  For all of King’s breathtaking works to date, however, only a small handful of them have been adequately adapted to the screen.  Over the years, attempts to convert the so-called master of horror’s visions to film have (for the most part) culminated in a procession of sorry, uninspired miniseries and made-for-T.V. movies.

In the fall of 2007, this all but gapless onslaught of banality was mercifully severed with the release of Darabont’s The Mist (adapted from King’s 1980 novella of the same name).  The same man who helmed the critically acclaimed Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Green Mile (2000), finally brought to horror fans what they had been in such desperate need of:  a respectable, King-inspired addition to horror films.

Darabont conveys a most splendid B-movie atmosphere throughout the film, harkening back to 1960s cinema, the glory days of sci-fi horror.  The cinematography and lighting are both absolutely spellbinding and merited Oscar recognition.  The script, though a tad cheesy here and there, is for the most part solid and the acting is quality from every cast member (save perhaps the redheaded grocery clerk toward the beginning).  Thomas Jane nails his starring role as the overmatched everyman thrust into a nightmare and Marcia Gay Harden is fantastic as the bible-thumping zealot threatening the sanity of all trapped in the store.

The lights are out, the law is dead, and the world has fallen away.  We are left only to watch, dismayed as the “civility” of man is stripped off piece by piece and the horrors of the human psyche laid bare for all to see.  Suspenseful, disturbing, and provocative, The Mist is a flat out must see for horror fans of all kinds.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Movie Review: Sorority Row

Every cliché of the horror genre collides with shocking monotony in this remake of The House on Sorority Row (1983).  Faceless killer, check.  Screaming young girls, check.  Horrible acting, plot, and dialogue.  Check, check, check.  It’s true, that the history of the slasher has been nothing shy of dismal, save an exception here or there (God only knows what Carpenter’s Michael Meyers, that guy in the Edvard Munch scream mask, or that weird elder fishermen from I Know What You Did Last Summer must be thinking.).  So I wasn’t expecting too much from this particular chronicle.  Low-quality horror films are actually one of my guilty pleasures, and in that respect Sorority Row delivered.

            After a prank goes terribly wrong, resulting in the death of a fellow co-ed, the reigning sisters of Theta Pi must cover up their tracks.  A vow of silence among these senior members and all is thought to be well.  Eight months later, however, they come to find themselves being stalked by a hooded killer.

            I don’t know if the ’83 version of this tour de force was the first to conceive of the ever-staling prank/death/killer formula (I rather doubt it), but enough is enough.  Year after year, Hollywood doles out a plethora of unoriginal, uninventive slashers.  And year after year my terrible movie palate drives me to seek out these abominations in filmmaking and waste ten bucks a piece on them.

            The first ten minutes or so are surprisingly, even misleadingly adequate.  Every actor does his or her part, pace is good, and tension is well conveyed.  From there on it stumbles into all the contemporary pitfalls of its genre.  Everyone apart from the protagonist is unbelievably caustic, characters perform incredibly bold acts for the sake of a gratuitous death scene, and the only twist to be had in the entire film is the identity of the killer (which in this instance is random at best).  In the past, these may have been considered staples of the horror genre, but anymore they appear to be no more than bland and uncreative drawbacks.  Guilty pleasure or not, an hour of this cheesy humdrum and I felt like I was being beaten over the head with a bag of oranges.  In fact, once they dropped the dead co-ed down that hole, they may as well have thrown the rest of this sorry film in right after her.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Movie Review: Whiteout

Yeah, I went into this one hoping for a monster.  Hoping for some loose re-envisioning of John Carpenter’s ’84 sci-fi thriller The Thing.  That’s certainly what the trailers of Whiteout led me to believe was at hand.  Simply put, I was let down.  Purely a crime thriller, this movie features neither bio-abominations nor otherworldly ghouls.  And that in and of itself is fine.  I never greatly cared for the crime thriller genre, but I can at least respect it.  What I can’t respect is a marketing campaign built around false advertising.

            Now on to the actual review.  The plot revolves around the first murder in the history of Antarctica, circa 1950.  A federal marshal (Kate Beckinsale) stationed at a nearby base comes to investigate the crime as the season draws to a close and the climate quickly shifts to intolerable.  Unfortunately, the experience of watching Whiteout was no different.

While not atrocious, the cast presented one of the more insipid efforts I’ve seen at the theater in a while.  Every line falls flat to the effect that even Tom Skerrit – one of the movie’s few redeeming qualities – cannot bring much to the table.  On paper, the plot sounds good, but the idea is butchered by poor direction and a god-awful screenplay (I plan to look up the director of this film and steer clear of all his future works.).  Apart from Skerrit, the only other positive feature of this story is its setting – the frozen and desolate plains of Antarctica.  Location does play a critical role to the plot.  But through low quality, CGI-rendered storm fronts even this is tainted.

Cold and flat, watching this movie was the visual equivalent to drinking the last half of an old, refrigerated coke.  Perhaps I was treated to seeing a big-screen monstrosity, after all.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Movie Review: District 9

After months of listening to all the hype surrounding the new sci-fi film District 9, I decided to part with seven bucks and buy a ticket.  I’ve never held much affinity for the genre; the Alien flicks and the Star Wars saga are far from my cup of tea.  But what intrigued me to give this picture a try was the enticing originality of the plot.

It focuses on an impoverished race who have been relegated to the shantytowns of Johannesburg.  After twenty years of discrimination and oppression, their population has grown to a size the slums of this South African city can no longer sustain.  And so comes the protagonist, a bureaucrat with a scientific military operation assigned to relocate the race to a government-sanctioned campsite 100 miles southward.  But the displacement does not go as planned, and from there the plot unfurls.

            It may have slipped my mind to mention that this was an alien race (minor factoid).  It’s true that regardless how original this premise may sound, the initial envisioning of it may seem rather suspect, if not downright laughable – and going in I feared that might be verified.  I quickly realized, however, that I had fallen upon the most daringly plausible and realistic science fiction story in all of my movie-going experience.

            With a budget of only $30 million, this film’s CGI and special effects are somehow still first-rate.  The script is quality and the pace is good.  Perhaps the most sterling thing about this film, however, was the acting.  To the best of my knowledge, there is not a single well-known Hollywood figure present in all of District 9, thus lending both the fantastic plot and the destitute setting a much greater credence; as in a typical documentary-style film, we do not know of the people we are watching anymore than we know of their capacities.  The only negative part of the experience is the initial adjustment the audience must make to seeing the creatures interact with humans on screen.  After ten or fifteen minutes, though, I was able to suspend disbelief and just enjoy.

Finally, worth mentioning are the final thirty minutes, which featured perhaps the most thrilling denouement I’ve ever seen at the cinema.  I highly recommend District 9 to all sci-fi lovers and, in fact, any moviegoer who is interested in viewing a truly original story.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Movie Review: The Final Destination

On Friday, I went to see the new action/suspense flick The Final Destination.  I’m not a huge fan of the franchise, but I’ve seen the first three films and enjoyed each of them.  None of the predecessors were particularly highbrow cinema.  The plots were goofy, the scripts were weak and, to be frank, the acting and direction were something quite atrocious.  And oddly enough, that’s just what I found so peculiarly charming about them.  They were superficial, high-octane, thrill rides that never pretended to be anything more.  And this new installment does not deviate from the formula.

As with the last three films, the plot revolves around a horrible, high-casualty accident.  A by-standing, to-be victim has a premonition of the tragedy and manages to warn a small handful of people before it’s too late.  Soon afterward, however, the survivors start succumbing to bizarre deaths in the particular order in which they would have died during the initial calamity.

This movie has all the classic elements of your run-of-the-mill suspense thriller.  There are plenty of outlandish, wall-splattering death sequences.  Some unnecessary swearing is thrown in for good measure.  And, of course, you have your token gratuitous sex scene.  Apart from a little cheesy dialogue here and there, the script is actually not too bad.  And the acting from the top four or five cast members is surprisingly good for this kind of flick.  Naturally, the biggest draw to movies like this is the special effects, and while they may be a bit choppy and fast-paced – a problem endemic to this series – they still get the job done.

Overall, I would definitely consider this the best addition to the Final Destination franchise to date.  If you’ve got 90 minutes to turn your brain off and just unwind, then I would recommend The Final Destination.