“House of the Devil” is a throwback horror film that actually makes an effort to look and sound like a bygone era. Granted, 1980’s genre nostalgia is nothing cinematically revolutionary, perhaps even tiresome cliché at this point, but writer/director Ti West keeps to the task at hand. Forgoing irony or vile retro winks, “Devil” plays it straight. While that doesn’t generate the most riveting suspense piece of the year, it does deliver a hugely satisfying chiller that’s effectively minimal and marvelously made.
There’s a power of mimicry and lavish flight photography that keeps the bio-pic “Amelia” in the air. This is not a strong motion picture, nor a particularly informative one. Instead, it’s a finely polished soap opera from a wonderful director starring fantastic actors, and nobody can quite connect the ambition of the piece with the execution. Moments of midair ecstasy hold it together and without those peaceful pauses of expression, “Amelia” is simply mawkish entertainment, stable and worthwhile for the uncommitted moviewatcher, but it never finds a comfortable altitude.
I’ll give director Drew Barrymore this: she made Ellen Page appealing. “Whip It” takes the tart-tongued “Juno” star to the crashin’, smashin’ world of roller derby for a coming-of-age dramedy that bites off a little more than it can chew. Energetically woven by Barrymore, the film suffers from an acute case of the adaptation blues, trying to cram in as many plot points as possible to fill its belly with caloric melodrama. It’s a diluted journey of feminine self-realization, better with bruises and teamwork than it is with pliable matters of the heart.
With “District B13” and last year’s runaway train of parental purpose, “Taken,” Pierre Morel positioned himself as a superior action director, and one of the few film minds able to process producer Luc Besson’s harebrained story ideas and cockamamie characterizations. “From Paris with Love” is their latest collaboration, but the timing is off, the script’s stupidity is more grating than endearing, and Morel is forced to contend with a giant slab of Hormel’s finest (assuming the shape of John Travolta) for this action-comedy. These are simple ingredients, but Morel and Besson appear distracted for this round of Euro smash-em-up, making the film disappointingly clumsy and strangely unadventurous.
As strikingly animated and superlatively textured a motion picture as “The Secret of Kells” is, it can be a little aloof. A blend of history and mythology, the feature is a distinctive enterprise that aims to challenge family audiences and animation purists with a tenaciously 2-D snapshot of the world. It’s a passionate, dreamlike offering of filmmaking that requires the viewer to surrender to its often challenging storytelling, yet the time invested with this fringe player in the animation marketplace clash of the titans is rewarded with a resourceful, exquisite tale of tradition and education.
With “Dear John,” Channing Tatum imparts a performance of startling vulnerability. It’s an emotion previously unseen from the actor, who mostly gravitates to roles that require intense amounts of pouting, Gap-ad posing, and B-boy grunts. It’s Channing’s newfound sense of soulful release that helps the sudser “Dear John” locate a special footing to work with, heading into the manipulative universe of author Nicholas Sparks armed with a somewhat settled, organic mood of emotional response to best repel the onion-peeling shamelessness of the whole endeavor.
The first installment in a trilogy of British television crime dramas, “Red Riding: 1974” sets quite a bleak tone of criminal assault from the very start. A haunting, ornately designed odyssey of journalism, corruption, and viciousness, “1974” is an evocative motion picture that soars above its modest television origins. It’s a flawed picture, but in terms of sheer nightmarish scope and top-tier acting, it’s more assuredly constructed and bravely dire than anything Hollywood’s had to offer the genre in quite some time.
The bodies of the West Yorkshire innocent are beginning to pile up in “Red Riding: 1980,” the increasingly literal-minded second chapter of the British television crime trilogy. More directly communicated than the previous installment, “1980” benefits from calmer direction and a better class of actors, while gradually drawing out an additional serial killer tale that goes beyond journalistic investigation to pry open the black heart of the local law.
The profound burden of guilt steps out from the shadows in “Red Riding: 1983,” along with an overwhelming amount of exposition in this, the final act of the British television crime trilogy. It’s the wrap-up segment, in charge of taking the combined mystery of two films and paying it off in a tidy fashion, lest the audience feel they had given over five hours of their life to this endeavor and were left in an inexcusable dramatic void. “1983” is executed rather messily and demands a very concentrated viewer, but the rhythms of violation and corruption remain intact, supplying a fulfilling closer to this ambitious project.