We’re the Millers (2013)

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Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter, Ed Helms, Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, Molly C. Quinn, Tomer Sisley, Matthew Willig, Luis Guzman.

Screenplay: Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders, John Morris.

110 mins. Rated R for crude sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and brief graphic nudity.

We’re the Millers, Rawson Marshall Thurber’s newest release, finds an interesting concept with a broken wing, unable to fly as high as it should. We have a solid cast and a great plot, a perversion on the classic family road trip movie, but many of the jokes do not land as nicely as hoped.

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The story follows David Clark, a small-time drug dealer played by Jason Sudeikis (Horrible Bosses, Drinking Buddies) who finds himself in debt to his supplier Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms, The Hangover, TV’s The Office) and must smuggle a “smidge” of drugs across the border from Mexico to the U.S.A. in order to alleviate his troubles. So what does he do? He enlists a stripper (Jennifer Aniston, Wanderlust, TV’s Friends), a runaway (Emma Roberts, Aquamarine, American Horror Story: Coven), and a virgin who lives next door (Will Poulter, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) and turns them into his fake family to look less conspicuous among the border-crossers. The idea sounds pretty good, right? The execution is where the film suffers. None of the jokes really come from the situation. Rather, the characters are written into ever-more-silly situations and the jokes spring up from that rather than pining the source plot for more hilarity.

The acting isn’t bad from anyone; far from it, the characters are all ably-performed. We get some good laughs from Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn, who play husband and wife RV-travelers Don and Edie Fitzgerald. The laughs in the movie are funny, true, but without any connection to the plot-line, the story unravels fairly quickly in the 3rd act, leading to a lackluster climax and a predictable denouement.

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This is a movie worth a viewing, yes, but it doesn’t have the lasting effect that I hoped for. There’s just too much goofiness to it which deters the viewers attention. Have a laugh, rent it, save some money.

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

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Director: Christopher Landon

Cast: Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Richard Cabral, Carlos Pratts, Gabrielle Walsh.

Screenplay: Christopher Landon

84 mins. Rated R for pervasive language, some violence, graphic nudity and some drug use.

Who would have guessed we would be here right now, seven years after the original Paranormal Activity film was released, reviewing the fifth (fourth-and-a-halfth? There will be a PA5 this Halloween) film in the brooding series which brought found-footage into popular usage? Certainly not this critic. I was not on the Paranormal Activity bandwagon until the first sequel showed up. I appreciated the original film for what it was: a note to independent filmmakers with no budget, saying “its okay. You can still become a success.” And boy, have the knock-offs come flying by.

The one crutch of the series that I can truly have trouble with is that it has its gimmick. It has inexpense (we are currently feeding rumors of a new Friday the 13th film in Found-Footage, I suspect, for the same reason; see https://almightygoatman.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/new-friday-the-13th-to-be-a-reboot-again-and-a-found-footage-film/). It has only one major camera angle that is used in likely 80% of the film. This isn’t the series for marathoning, I tried once but got tired of staring into bedrooms like a creeper. That’s where the new film, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, is different (but only slightly).

For measure, so that I don’t get bogged down with the intricacies on the plot (and I have some), I will give a rough breakdown of the Paranormal Activity films. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.

The canonical films in the series are as follows:

  1. Paranormal Activity
  2. Paranormal Activity 2
  3. Paranormal Activity 3
  4. Paranormal Activity 4
  5. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
  6. Paranormal Activity 5 (I have very few details on this film as of now. I just want you to know it will be here in 9 months…)

We won’t include the non-canonical film Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night.

The first part of the story is featured in Paranormal Activity 3, we see the sisters Katie and Kristi in 1988 being haunted and tormented by a coven of witches and a demon named Toby. The 3rd film is on a VHS tape that is stolen in the prologue of the film. Jump forward to 2006 for the events of Paranormal Activity 2 and the 1 and then back to 2. These films deal with adult Kristi being haunted before having her sister receive the curse through some crazy ritual. Katie becomes possessed, kills her boyfriend Micah, and then goes to her sister’s house and kills Kristi and her husband before stealing their baby Hunter and disappearing for 5 years. The fourth film introdueces us to Alex and her family, who come across Katie and a young child who have moved inacross the street. Lots a scary stuff takes place and the film ends very confusingly with Alex being attacked by the witch’s coven.

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Now, at this point, I was pretty turned off by the series. Paranormal Activity 4 hit a series low for me. I wasn’t sure I would be so turned back.

SPOILERS END.

The Marked Ones is a sequel, more so than most horror franchises and no matter how many call it a spin-off. This film does more to connect the franchise and take a step forward than any other installment. The story follows a young man, Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) who discovers that he is a part of a dangerous ritual that will conclude with his eventual possession. We can already see the fabric stitching his story and Katie’s together. The tale revolves heavily around Jesse and his friend Hector (Jorge Diaz) trying to understand what is possessing him. Sounds very simplistic, but Writer/Director Christopher Landon (writer of Paranormal Activity 2, 3, & 4) has some more invention up his sleeve that creates a more unique entry to the series. There is just something fresh about this film and the way it deals with the world created in Oren Peli’s original film. There are moments in this film that pay homage to each of the films before it and also connects them all to eleviate confusion. I feel like Landon listened to all of us and knew exactly what this franchise needs: answers. We have have four films of mostly questions, and now we have some answers. The ending is both shockingly out of left field and angering as well. I hope to see more info on how the ending will serve the series in the next film, but for now, we have watercooler talk to serve us.

Andrew Jacobs does well as Jesse, he has the capability to carry the film nicely enough. Nothing special yet, but capable. The same can be said of the other performances in the film, all good enough to sustain realism in this unrealistic tale, but certainly no Best Actor noms to worry about for next year’s Oscars.

The big change in this film is the definite break in structure that Landon chose to make. He eliminates the still in preference of the static. No more stationary camera work. Oscar carries this camera through the film. Now I know this isn’t all that magical. We have films like Quarantine and Blair Witch that have done this before, but all the same, it adds flavor to Landon’s stylistic shots. There are interesting suprising visual shots made without this feeling like a purposefully shot film.

The editing choices in this film were made correctly as well, especially around some of the more “out there” elements, a choice was made to heighten the editing and not play up the visual effects, not to play up the fantastical too much to avoid campiness, which I can appreciate. I too appreciate that the film’s costumes and sets are culturally significant without feeling way overdone or stereotyping.

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If this new entry is any indication, we haven’t seen the last of the Paranormal Activity franchise after 5 is released this October. The series feels renewed, so I can only hope they keep it up.

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

New “Friday the 13th” to be a Reboot Again and a Found Footage Film???

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Hey everyone, no review today, but some interesting and somewhat concerning news about the New Friday the 13th Film…

According to fridaythe13thfranchise.com, we can expect two new notes that are taking shape.

First: the New Friday the 13th may possibly be another reboot to the franchise. I don’t know about you, but I do not like the sound of this. What bothers me so much about reboot horror series is that, honestly, most sequels in the horror business are carbon-copied from previous entries, so what makes a remake more appealing than another sequel? Not sure why this film series will be getting a third iteration so soon, but I will keep you posted as soon as I find out more.

Secondly: the New Friday the 13th film may be a found-footage film. This doesn’t concern me as much, I am always open to trying new things in a series. This could spice Jason up if done correctly. Again, not set in stone, but this is something we have been hearing of for awhile now.

That’s all for now. You will know more when I know more.

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ps. for more info on this, see: http://www.fridaythe13thfranchise.com/2013/11/new-friday-13th-confirmed-to-be-found.html

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Orlando Bloom.

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro.

161 mins. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Peter Jackson continues his return trip to Middle-Earth with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, a more fun follow-up to An Unexpected Journey, which showed up in late 2012 to polarized reactions. The Desolation of Smaug falls for some of the same pitfalls that troubled its predecessor, but all in all, it is a worthy addition to the epic world created by J.R.R. Tolkien many years ago.

We meet up with Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, Hot Fuzz, TV’s Sherlock) and his Dwarf company (consisting of Thorin Oakenshield, Dwalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur and Bombur) as well as Gandalf the Grey, played once again by Ian McKellan (X-Men, Stardust) to rescue the dwarven city of Erebor from the beastly dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, also of Sherlock fame). This is the part of the story where we really get to the meat of Tolkien’s epic journey.

The performances here are at the top of their game. McKellan makes me fear for the beloved wizard for the first time since The Fellowship of the Ring. I can honestly say that I was unsure that we would be seeing Gandalf again after he breaks away from the group to hunt down the location of the foreboding Necromancer we keep hearing about. You can tell Freeman is getting more comfortable with the weight he now carries in this franchise, as Bilbo is now more comfortable with his stake in things as well. Bilbo definitely takes a step back though, for a sizable amount of this film so that we can focus on other characters. Richard Armitage (Captain America: the First Avenger) has more to do in this film than just brood, which is a welcome addition.

Let’s get to Benedict Cumberbatch, who has received a lot of talk since this film was release barely over a month ago. Other critics of this film claim that he is nothing more than a name tacked on to this film and that his voice-work for both Smaug and the Necromancer could have been done by anyone. I will disagree with this claim, let us not forget that Cumberbatch also did performance capture for the characters and I feel like he adds a layer of tone and inflection to what could’ve been stock bad guys in a fantastical backdrop.

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Lee Pace is finally given the chance to boast some acting chops in this film, after completing what could be thought of as a mere cameo in An Unexpected Journey as the Elvenking Thranduil, father to Legolas, who also returns to the series played again by Orlando Bloom.

Desolation also brings some new faces to the world of Middle-Earth, one in particular, Tauriel, portrayed by Evangeline Lilly, is a completely original character, who gets some nice screen time with Aidan Turner’s Kili. We also meet Bard the Bowman, who is introduced much earlier and given more to do than in Tolkien’s original work. For those of you who are fans of the book, we will be seeing Bard again.

The Hobbit’s gorgeous cinematography and high-frame rate compliment this more-actionier installment, especially when Bilbo and company take a rather exciting barrel ride down a river. The music is definitely owed dues once we encounter Lake Town. Howard Shore really creates some new auditory wonders for us as we edge closer to Erebor. As per usual, the visual effects are stunning and magical without taking us away from the real reason that Thorin and Bilbo have come all this way.

Really, the only thing I can see film-goers not loving about this film is the length. Jackson and fellow writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro (who worked on the script when he was originally attached to direct) have bulked up this story a lot more than the 300-page novel had, we will call it Epic-sizing it up to turn a novel shorter than that of any of the individual Lord of the Rings books into a 9-hour love letter to Middle-Earth. I am a big fan of Tolkien’s original work and Jackson’s storytelling, so the length really doesn’t bother me, but I can see how casual viewers may not be as swept up as I was.

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The film ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger, and I have to say that I’m not sure I can wait a year to revisit this world, but fans fear not, I’m sure we’ll get an extended edition of Smaug soon enough.

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

The Heat (2013)

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Director: Paul Feig

Cast: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demian Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport, Jane Curtin, Dan Bakkedahl, Taran Killam, Michael McDonald, Tom Wilson, Bill Burr.

Screenplay: Katie Dippold

117 mins. Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude content, and some violence.

Director Paul Feig is returning to his foul-mouth female formula with The Heat, a comedy of the buddy-cop variety. I’m actually astonished we don’t see more films with chicks in the leading roles. Sandra Bullock (Gravity) is Sarah Ashburn, an FBI Special Agent out on the case to impress her boss, played by Demian Bichir (Che, Machete Kills), by taking down a mobster. The real heat of the film, I suspect, comes from the relationship between Ashburn and her partner on the case Boston Detective Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy, Identity Thief, TV’s Mike & Molly).

Bullock portrays Ashburn with a sense of hubris in her abilities, but I wasn’t convinced that she was the FBI Agent we were to believe she was. The true star of this film is McCarthy, who is absolutely perfect in role, jarringly comedic and sweet when she needs to be, which isn’t often. Plus, how often do you get to see an actress chuck a watermelon at a guy to take him down? Bullock comes into her performance as the film grinds down, but McCarthy has enough chops at this point to keep you entertained.

As far as the supporting cast is concerned, I felt very unimpressed with the amount of talent being wasted. Bichir does fine with this little screen time, and Dan Bakkedahl is essentially one-note though he excels with his line delivery. Then, you have Marlon Wayans, Jane Curtin, Michael Rapaport, Michael McDonald, and Bill Burr, some truly funny people getting little or no chance to shine throughout the entirety of the film.

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The film is edited nicely, however, and there is definite respect given to the cop stories of the 70s and the 80s. I can see the love for character like Starsky and Hutch or Lethal Weapon‘s Riggs and Murtaugh here.There are virtually no issues to be had with the writing or cinematopgraphy.

This film is McCarthy’s. She owns it and she knows she does. The rest of the cast can only hope to spend as much screen time with her as possible. Feig does a nice job of holding it all together, and there isn’t much I would take out, apart from a scene involving a choking victim, you’ll know why when you see it.

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After finishing the film (and still being unable to get Tony Hale’s great cameo out of my head), I have to say that it The Heat sizzles on some levels and fizzles on others. McCarthy’s star is shining brighter now than even this time last year, but I would still be interested in seeing this duo take on another bad guy.

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe