In August of 2009, James Cameron devised a unique way to promote his upcoming movie. The event was called “Avatar Day,” offering the curious and the faithful an opportunity to view 16 minutes of exclusive footage at a nearby IMAX theater, helping to increase awareness of the blockbuster-to-be, while also revealing a substantial look at the 3D artistry of the film, which, up until that point, was mostly a mystery outside of a few trailer sneak peeks. The experience was short, but very sweet, doing its part to build “Avatar” into the box office behemoth it eventually became.
Producers claim “Saw 3D” is intended to be very last theatrical installment of the franchise. If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in purchasing. While the promotional hyperbole is expected, it seems the men in charge might actually mean it this time, shaping the film in a fashion that brings the events full circle, enticing back fans who jumped ship last Halloween to swim in the fresh waters of “Paranormal Activity.” Final installment or not, the big sendoff constructed here isn’t so big. In fact, “Saw 3D” doesn’t alter the formula one little bit, assembling another round of sharp traps, shrieks, blood sprays, and cartoon retribution, with this sequel shot in 3D to spice up the box office take.
“Wild Target” is a feature that causes extreme discomfort. It’s not an especially hideous action comedy, merely one that wastes a colossal amount of thespian skill on uninspired material, tumbling through 90 minutes of screentime without achieving any laughs or thrills, leaving a group of marvelous actors to twist in the wind, waiting for punchlines that never arrive. It’s all such a shame.
It started with a bang and it ends with a whimper. Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy” comes to a substandard close with “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” a lifeless, talky series wrap up that induces more of a sense of submission than finality, stumbling through a complicated terrain of exposition without a desirable wallop of blistering suspense. Instead, the film naps, leaning on intricate plotting and established characterizations to generate inspiration.
Being quoted on a DVD or BD cover is flattering. Some critics have made it a living. In my world, the act of being quoted is a rare event, occurring every blue moon or so, usually when there’s no other review for the studio to pick from. This past month brought three such occasions to my doorstep.
The starkness of “Winter’s Bone” provides an immediate sensation of ache that comes to define the draining viewing experience. This is a bitter, stone-faced picture, with emotional explosions pushed down to the quiver of eyes and flaring of nostrils. For director Debra Granik, it’s familiar territory, having captured the intimate ravages of drug addiction in her 2004 feature, “Down to the Bone.” However, “Winter’s Bone” widens her scope, capturing a rural community of addicts, liars, brutes, and innocents caught in a web of poverty and crushing familial loyalty.
I wasn’t much of a fan of the 2009 no-budget blockbuster, “Paranormal Activity.” A film cursed with abysmal acting and shallow scares, the picture nevertheless enchanted a nation of horror fans, rocketing a movie made for little money to blinding box office glory. And why not? Genre fans were starved for something with a little crude fright to it, devouring a movie that wasn’t concerned with torture or schlocky theatrics. It wasn’t innovative, but it was a pure event, finding itself in the right place at the right time. Paramount Pictures, eager to pounce on a phenomenon they stumbled ass-backwards into, ordered up a sequel in a hurry. A year later, we have “Paranormal Activity 2,” a prequel of sorts that flattens the initial burst of surprise into irksome retread.
The idea behind the drama “Down Terrace” is to lure the audience in gradually, constructing a deceptively commonplace depiction of dysfunction within a family of criminals that meticulously, glacially spirals out of control. The architecture of the feature is incredible, slithering around troubled characters desperate to contain domestic control. However, the madness doesn’t provide much of an electric charge until very late in the game, making the first two acts of the picture an incredible test of endurance for anyone not utterly devoted to the throttled fury of British kitchen sink dramas.
Holding tight to his instincts, director Clint Eastwood has fashioned a relentlessly low-key discussion of heavenly mysteries with “Hereafter.” Shunning a grandly scaled march into the unknown, Eastwood sticks to what he knows best: soft approach, acoustic scoring, and introspective performances. Those weaned on “The Ghost Whisperer” or “The Dead Zone” will be greeted with a particular absence of zeal, but fans keyed into Eastwood’s gentle past work might be more inclined to sit back and allow the filmmaker to find his own way, even if that means a few melodramatic rough patches and a bizarrely pat ending.
Reduced to front lawn kitsch or John Waters-approved tomfoolery, achieving legitimacy has been a difficult journey for the pink flamingo. “The Crimson Wing” is a charming Disneynature documentary looking to restore some regality back to species, capturing a year in the life of the African lesser flamingo as it rises from egg to adult, fighting to avoid horrific threats from nature’s various predators along the way.
The unstoppable remake train pulls up to “Night of the Demons,” originally a 1988 fright film that managed some unexpected box office business, spawning two sequels and a feeling of great unease whenever actress Linnea Quigley and a tube of lipstick were in the same room together. As worthless reheats go, this update has a few sparkling ideas and some serious eye-candy for a cast, at least attempting to give superfans a slightly modified ride on the “Demons” express.
When Johnny Knoxville first began this “Jackass” odyssey, he was a twentysomthing twerp with a big dream of self-destruction. In 2010, Knoxville’s kissing 40 years of age, his temples are graying, and his hands seem permanently fixed to his genitals, fully aware of the invitation an uncovered crotch brings around this crew. Where did the time go? The greatest television series MTV ever produced is back for a third and presumably last feature installment, bringing with it the gimmick of 3D to shove the sickening and the bruised into the lap of the audience. The boys are older now, few are wiser, but they still put on one helluva show. And if you like fecal matter, I mean love the stuff, this sequel is the “Avatar” of poop-smeared extravaganzas.
“Red” is like boarding a sinfully designed roller coaster that keeps breaking down during the frantic ride. It’s a blazing actioner with a marvelous cast, but it retains a woeful sense of kinetic movement, jutting back and forth between static dialogue scenes and hyper-stylized confrontations. It’s enough to make a viewer seasick, or perhaps a little bored between the sprays of bullets. But that’s where the old-fashioned shine of star power comes in the save the day, keeping the picture partially awake as director Robert Schwentke plots out his meticulous plan of attack.
“Conviction” won’t win any awards for originality, but it offers a direct blast of drama that carries the clichés farther than expected. Based on the true story of Betty Anne Waters, the feature certainly has its movie-of-the-week inclinations, but the overall communication of loyalty and resolve permits the film a soulfulness that scrubs away the suffocating familiarity. Stoutly acted and confidently directed, “Conviction” is an aptly titled motion picture.