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Friday, January 27, 2012

[3.50/10] The Devil Inside (2012)

The Devil Inside (2012)

Brief review: January has always been the month of low-grade horror flicks, but 2012 had a rough start and really hit the bottom with "The Devil Inside". The biggest problem of the film does not lie in its premise, because the latter is fairly passable, but it lies in its lame execution and absurdly abrupt ending, that leaves the story incomplete. In fact, if the film had a proper ending, it could have been at least watchable, but instead it ends up being a stupid mess of exorcism cliches presented in a barely believable documentary style. Moreover, a couple of creepy scenes aside, "The Devil Inside" offers nothing scary, devilish or even remotely disturbing, and that's probably the worst thing that can be said about a horror movie, especially one involving the devil. On a technical note, the film is also heavily flawed. Although it uses similar tricks as all the other 'found footage' flicks, such as clumsy filming technique and realistic 'no filters' cinematography in order to give it a more real-life feel, there are certain scenes where it's more than obvious that more than one camera has been used, which ruins the authenticity of it completely. With the exception of Suzan Crowley, who does a fairly solid job as the possessed mother with forbidding behavior, the rest of the performances are sub-par to say the least. Fernanda Andrade is just plain bad as the lead character, Isabella, and the supporting cast is forgettable.

Overall summary: While not necessarily the worst horror movie ever made, "The Devil Inside" remains a cheap, cliched and poorly-crafted mockumentary, that not only does not contain a single scare, but also features one of the most shockingly endings in film history.

Monday, January 23, 2012

[8.75/10] Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)

Mission: Impossible -
Ghost Protocol (2011)

Brief review: Say hello to the forth, and arguably the best, installment into the "Mission: Impossible" franchise, helmed by the Oscar-winning animation director, Brad Bird, who manages deliver one of the most genuinely entertaining action movies of the past few years, thanks to a witty script, fast-paced plot, startling action and interesting dynamics between the characters. "M:I - Ghost Protocol" is Bird's first full-length live-action film in his career, and he really displays some amazing talent here. His clever direction certainly has the 'WOW' factor, featuring lots of creative camera angles, vigorous, almost impossible camera movements and a level of diversity that will leave you stunned. The stupendous action set-pieces and the incredible stunts are just some of the many highlights of this brilliantly-executed action blockbuster. Set in Moscow, Dubai and Mumbai, "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" is a true breath of fresh air in terms of settings and visuals in general, and also a true feast for the eyes. The cast is top-notch and the characters are colorful. Tom Cruise is in top form here, and he yet again delivers a believable action star. Paula Patton is fantastic as the tough, yet alluring agent Jane, Jeremy Renner is solid as the new member of the team, William, the hilarious Simon Pegg delivers tons of good laughs, and "Millennium"'s own, Michael Nyqvist, turns in a great villain here.

Overall summary: Featuring cleverly inventive direction, great cast, amusing dialogues, stunningly gorgeous locations and spectacular action sequences, "M:I - Ghost Protocol" is better, funnier, more exciting and entertaining than its three predecessors put together.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

[4.50/10] Beneath the Darkness (2012)

Beneath the Darkness (2012)

Brief review: It's something of a tradition Hollywood to release bad horror movies at the beginning of each year, and Guigui's "Beneath the Darkness" is no exception. Although it has its moments of tension and suspense, those are followed by moments of silliness and contrived 'yeah, right' scenes of ridiculously improbable situations. The story fails to make any impression, simply because we've seen it all before, and the entire script is so predictable, you'll think of yourself as a cinematic psychic or something. Technically and visually, "Beneath the Darkness" is nothing to write home about. The pacing of the film is pretty smooth and the editing is competent, which makes the movie very easy to watch, but Martin Guigui hardly shines with any great directing skills or clever ideas behind the camera. Set in a small town in Texas and completely lacking in visual effects, the production values of the film are so low, you can't help but wonder, what did they spend their $7 million budget on?! The acting is surprisingly decent. Dennis Quaid is quite intimidating as the creepy mortician, who's twisted passion is to bury people alive, and if it wasn't for him, the film would have unwatchable. Tony Oller is okay, if a bit stiff, as the Travis, and Aimee Teegarden gives a solid performance as the charming Abby. Sadly though, all these satisfactory performances can't make up for the sub-par, lackluster execution of this movie.

Overall summary: Well-paced and mildly entertaining, yet too obvious, predictable and unoriginal, Guigui's "Beneath the Darkness" is a rather mediocre horror thriller with a made-for-TV feel to it, that needs to be buried deep in the ground much like the victims in the movie.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

[5.75/10] Contraband (2012)

Contraband (2012)

Brief review: The little known fact about the first major action release of 2012 is that the movie is a remake of the 2009 Icelandic film "Reykjavik-Rotterdam", which the director, Kormákur, starred in. "Contraband" is a bit of a mixed bag, because while it suffers from a hackneyed premise, needlessly intricate, yet predictable plot and complete lack of originality, it's still constantly entertaining to watch, and filled with tense scenes, exciting action, dramatic twists and interesting characters. Baltasar Kormákur's direction reminds the one of Paul Greengrass, featuring tons of unsteady camera movements and fast, intentionally clumsy zooms. The hand-held shooting style and the harsh, grainy cinematography give a more realistic and gritty feel to the film, even if the visuals themselves are hardly eye-pleasing and probably a bit too moody for mass tastes. The cast is well-chosen, and the acting is pretty good for the most part. Mark Wahlberg is the center of attention here, and thankfully, he doesn't disappoint. The role of a former contrabandist suits him perfectly, and he does a solid job in portraying his character in a believable manner. The gorgeous Kate Beckinsale is convincing enough as his wife, but she barely has enough screen time to make an impression. Ben Foster also delivers as the two-faced best friend of Chris, but it's Giovanni Ribisi as Briggs that gives the most memorable performance of them all.

Overall summary: Despite its occasional predictability, dated premise and depressingly moody visual atmosphere, "Contraband" is still a decent and finely-crafted
action thriller, that provides enough drama, twists and thrilling moments to satisfy the average moviegoer.

[2.00/10] Donner Pass (2012)

Donner Pass (2012)

Brief review: Teen slasher meets cannibalism in this low-budget horror film inspired by the campfire legend of 'The Donner Party' tragedy back in 1846. "Donner Pass" uses this unfortunate event as a gimmick, thinking that's a winning move, but truth to be told, it never works in its favor, not even for a moment. The whole plot is as absurd as it's stupid, and the movie itself becomes more and more nonsensical as the story progresses, leading to a ridiculous conclusion with one of the most laughably bad twists ever put on film. Set in a remote fancy cabin deep in the woods, surrounded by a snowy environment, "Donner Pass" is at least nice to look at. However, the plain, unpolished cinematography makes it look too inexpensive and uninteresting, visually. The gore effects are passable, even if the gore itself isn't particularly satisfying in terms of graphicness and frequency. Worst of all, there's nothing even remotely frightening or creepy about this film, which fails to provide even cheap thrills and boo scares. Actually, there is one dreadful thing about "Donner Pass", and that is the acting. Apart from Desiree Hall, who delivers the only decent and believable performance as the reasonable Kayley, the rest of the performances range from amateurish to annoying. 99% of the characters are so dumb and shallow, and act so unnaturally and illogically, you'll find yourself begging to see them all dead.

Overall summary: Cliched, poorly-made, terribly-acted and lacking in any thrills whatsoever, "Donner Pass" is yet another 'urban legend'-inspired horror flick with very low entertainment value, that brings absolutely nothing new to the table in terms of fresh ideas.

Monday, January 16, 2012

[9.25/10] The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Brief review:
Based on the first of three novels in the best-selling trilogy, "Millennium", David Fincher's version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is every bit as compelling as the Swedish original, even superior in some ways. The director's love for the story is written all over the film, and despite the 158 min running time, and fairly slow pacing, he keeps us involved with flawless storytelling, quiet tension, mesmerizing visuals and intriguing characters. Fincher's exquisitely masterful direction makes "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" not only a true masterpiece of subtle mysteriousness, but also one of the most wonderfully crafted and atmospherically captivating films of 2011. The wintry and, yet beautiful Swedish scenery provides the perfect backdrop for the unsolved murder mystery, and the washed-out color palette, the low-key lighting and the fuzzy, yet refined cinematography create a darkly enigmatic atmosphere that adds to the grim beauty of the film. Daniel Craig is fully dedicated to his character, Mikael Blomkvist, giving a far more believable and engaging portrayal than Michael Nyqvist did in the original movie. Rooni Mara is no Noomi Rapace, but she still delivers a sensational, career-defining performance Lisbeth Salander, whose vulnerability is hidden behind a dark mask of tough grittiness. The supporting cast does a fantastic job as well, with Stellan Skarsgård being the standout.

Overall summary: With its pitch-perfect narrative, sophisticated visuals, polished direction and outstanding performances, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is another cinematic jewel in Fincher's crown, and easily ranks as one of the best remakes of foreign films ever made.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

[0.75/10] Don't Go in the Woods (2012)

Don't Go in the Woods (2012)

Brief review: It's only the beginning of 2012, and we already have a serious contender for the worst horror movie of the year. Blending horror and musical successfully is not and easy thing to do, not to say it's nearly impossible (well, unless if you're Tim Burton), and actor-turned-director Vincent D'Onofrio fails miserably in his attempt to mix these genres properly. There's too much music and not enough terror in this sloppy slasher, and if the singing was good that would've been okay, but sadly, apart from one particular song sang by an Asian girl around the campfire, the rest of the songs are absolutely terrible. And there's like 20 of them. The typical "a group of teens go into the woods and bad things happen to them" scenario promises boredom, and this is exactly what we get. Generally, nothing happens during the first hour or so, and later on when the massacre begins, it doesn't really make any sense, because the kills are sudden, yet hardly shocking, and we never get to know who the killer is and what his motives for murdering are. Plus, the film is full of pointless dialogues and annoying characters, and despite its short running time, it feels like watching paint dry. The camera work is bland, the editing is lazy, and the direction as a whole is pretty generic and unimaginative. The gore effects are quite decent, but they're not enough to compensate for the absolute lack of scares and suspense.

Overall summary: Dumb, preposterous, amateurishly-executed and completely devoid of any scares at all, Vincent D'Onofrio's crappy debut feature, "Don't Go in the Woods", is both one of the worst horror movies of the decade and one of the worst musicals in film history.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

[6.25/10] Transit (2012)

Transit (2012)

Brief review: The After Dark Studios finally bring us something worth-watching. Pretty forgettable and at times absurd, but still worth-watching. "Transit" is taut and tense even from the very beginning, but as soon as the action kicks in, it becomes an edge-of-your-seat strained, leaving the viewer no time for a break. The script has some major flaws, and the characters, both the good and the bad, act illogically most of the time, but hey, we can't all be super-smart, can we? Jim Caviezel is the only well-known actor here, and he does a solid jobs as the protectful father with troubled past. Elisabeth Röhm is quite convincing as the mother, James Frain is downright intimidating as the leader of the gang, and the rest of the cast deliver passable performances. The strength of this fine thriller lies in its spot-on execution. Antonio Negret's direction is surprisingly skillful and diverse, the editing is edgy, and the whole pacing of the film is so briskly energetic it keeps you glued to the screen throughout, from start to finish. In terms of visuals, "Transit" is pretty adequate to say the least. The filters used by the cinematographer save the film from looking cheap, giving a slight slickness to the visuals, plus, some of the locations are absolutely beautiful, especially the marsh in the second half. The movie also has some really great sound effects and a pretty intense music score, that makes it much more exciting.

Overall summary: Aside from the characters' utter stupidity and an unnecessarily over-the-top final act, "Transit" is a tense, fast-paced and well-shot road movie, that entertains with a simple, yet twisty cat'n'mouse plot, exciting car chases, and many, many thrills along the way.

[8.00/10] Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Sherlock Holmes:
A Game of Shadows (2011)

Brief review: One of the most controversial UK directors, Guy Ritchie, is back behind the camera to provide us with more Sherlock Holmes awesomeness on steroids, in this well-made and highly entertaining sequel to the 2009 original. Not sure if it's because of the new writers or Ritchie's progressively excessive imagination, but "A Game of Shadows" is absolutely on-par, if not better, than the first movie. The story is well-paced, engaging and full of hidden clues, and Ritchie's direction is as unpredictable as it's versatile. During the spectacular and literally explosive action scenes, he alternates cool and innovative slow-mo with dynamic camera work, quick cuts and zooms to make them a feast for the eyes, while during the dialogue-driven sequences, he compensates the lack of action with witty verbal duels, clever jokes and hilarious situations. Visually, "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" never fails to impress. The settings are grim, yet stylishly authentic, and the smokey cinematography creates a specific mood and atmosphere that suits well the shadowy, mysterious tone of the film. Robert Downey Jr.'s one again inhabits his charmingly eccentric character, Homes, Jude Law is incredibly likable as Watson and the well-cast Jared Harris turns in an interesting villain, but the special ingredient here is 'the girl with the dragon tattoo', Roomi Rapace, as the pretty gypsy fortuneteller.

Overall summary: Intriguingly mysterious, magnificently witty, visually-stylish, and packed with stupendous action scenes, "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" is even slightly superior to its fabulous predecessor, which automatically means it's one helluva fun cinematic ride.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

[7.25/10] Livid (2011)

Livid (2011)

QuickRating: Almost as gruesome and outrageously gory as directors' previous effort, "Inside" from 2007, this art-house horror flick shows a completely new side of French filmmakers and fellas Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, who once again deliver one hell of a creepy, if downright eccentric film with an eerie tone, mesmerizing, often surreal story, spooky imagery, truly atmospheric setting, and top-notch make up and practical effects.

[6.75/10] The Innkeepers (2011)

The Innkeepers (2011)

QuickRaitng: The suspense takes some time to really build, and Sara Paxton's over-the-top performance gets truly annoying after a while, but "The Innkeepers" is still a spooky, atmospheric and finely crafted old-fashioned ghost story, with a spine-shiveringly scary final act, set in a one of the creepiest basements ever put on film. That being said, the film is nowhere nearly as ominous and terrifying as Ti West's previous effort, "The House of the Devil", which remains a classic.

[5.75/10] The Devil's Rock (2011)

The Devil's Rock (2011)

QuickRating: Set during the WWII on a remote island, and in a very creepy bunker occupied by а vile-tempered Nazi soldiers, this low-budget horror film from New Zealand deals with demons and occultism in a very interesting and refreshing way. And while it doesn't shine with great imagination, much originality, or impressive special effects, "The Devil's Rock" is an effective, gory and devilishly fun hidden gem of a horror movie.

[5.50/10] Texas Killing Fields (2011)

Texas Killing Fields (2011)

QuickRating: Sam Worthington shows a surprising acting range here, and the 2011 breakthrough actress Jessica Chastain delivers a knockout supporting performance, but "Texas Killing Fields" is a slow, moody, lifeless and pretty straight-forward crime thriller, with zero thrills, whose gloomy, blunt visuals and lazy camera work makes it feel more like a made-for-TV movie rather than a theatrical production. Though it has its moments, it's a rather unsatisfying experience.

[4.00/10] Dream House (2011)

Dream House (2011)

QuickRating: Jim Sheridan's visual style is as appealing as always, but "Dream House" is a daft, pointless and completely scare-free suburban horror flick, that suffers badly from a muddled pacing, sterile direction and a deeply underwhelming twist midway through the bore. And not even the impressive A-list cast including Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts can save this film from being the convoluted, dull, disappointing mess that it is.

[4.50/10] Panic Button (2011)

Panic Button (2011)

QuickRating: This potentially-good social network-inspired UK horror thriller has an ambitious premise, and its 'private jet' setting is insanely claustrophobic, but sadly, "Panic Button" feels too rushed, implausible and ludicrous to be taken seriously, and it's further ruined by a sub-par execution, genuine lack of suspense, and mediocre acting. But worst of all, it's neither as clever nor as shocking and mind-twisting as it thinks it is.

[3.75/10] Death and Cremation (2011)

Death and Cremation (2011)

QuickRating: Despite Brad Dourif's disturbingly creepy portrayal of a lonely, antisocial cremator, "Death and Cremation" fails to deliver the chills. From the bizarre relationship between the two male leading characters to their ridiculous motives for murdering innocent people in an extremely harsh way, pretty much nothing about this cheap and uninspired indie horror movie works the way it should.

Friday, January 6, 2012

[7.75/10] The Tree of Life (2011)

The Tree of Life (2011)

QuickRating: Poetic, exquisitely surreal, at times philosophical, but also heavily pretentious, Malick's bizarrely-captivating film, "The Tree of Life" is an incoherent mixture of the director's vision of birth of the universe, and a story about the domestic struggles of a 50s Texas family, that impresses with unusual directing choices, an outstanding performance by Brad Pitt, and a dazzling cinematography, featuring tons of mesmerizing cosmic shots, dreamy images, and stunning, beautifully-captured landscapes.

[8.00/10] A Separation (2011)

A Separation (2011)

QuickRating: Using no gimmicks whatsoever, Iran's 2012 official Oscar entry, "A Separation", is a complex, tensely engrossing and impeccably-acted film, that is as suspenseful and unpredictable as it's affecting and dramatic, whose director never judges his flawed, very human characters, but dares to give us a glimpse at Iran's unfair legal system and the only ostensibly democratic life in this conservative and deeply religious country.

[6.00/10] Il primo incarico a.k.a. The First Assignment (2011)

Il primo incarico a.k.a.
The First Assignment (2011)

QuickRating: Set in the gorgeous countryside of Southern Italy, "Il primo incarico" is a slow and simple, yet honest, heartfelt and quietly absorbing drama about distant love, new beginnings, and the struggles of small town life, complemented by Giorgia Cecere's delicate direction, and the strong and genuinely believable performance by the lovely Isabella Ragonese.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

[7.50/10] We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

QuickRating: As emotionally exhausting as it's utterly horrifying, Lynne Ramsay's latest is every parent's nightmare. Focusing on the deeply complicated relationship between а long-suffering mother and a cruel monster child, "We Need to Talk About Kevin" is more shocking, sinister and unsettling than any other movie this year that dares to call itself a horror. Besides, Tilda Swinton is nothing short of sensational here!

[7.25/10] The Ides of March (2011)

The Ides of March (2011)

QuickRating: It's not particularly original or shockingly revealing, however, "The Ides of March" remains an intelligent, constantly gripping and wonderfully-written political thriller, that not only deals with relevant subject matter, but also provides the viewer with subtle tension, hidden twists, and an incredible performance by Gosling. Plus, it's another proof that Clooney does a far better job behind the camera than he does in front it.

[5.50/10] Perfect Sense (2011)

Perfect Sense (2011)

QuickRating: Despite its intriguing premise about a virus that causes loss of senses, this ambiguously titled apocalyptic drama focuses a lot more on the flat and increasingly tedious romance between the two protagonists, rather than on the actual epidemic, and that's its main flaw. Although "Perfect Sense" impresses with its bleak visuals and neat cinematography, it fails to engage on an emotional level.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

[7.75/10] Jane Eyre (2011)

Jane Eyre (2011)

QuickRating: Darkly captivating, thoroughly absorbing, elegantly shot and as beautiful as painting, Fukunaga's emotionally impactful and marvellously crafted adaptation of the classic novel, "Jane Eyre", fascinates the viewer with its authentic atmosphere, picturesque scenery, moving story, subtle yet ravishing cinematography, and the absolutely superb portrayals by two of the biggest stars of 2011 - the uber-talented Mia Wasikowska and the brilliant Michael Fassbender.

[7.00/10] Trust (2011)

Trust (2011)

QuickRating: Its 'child abuse through the internet' subject matter may already feel a bit dated, but "Friends"' own, David Schwimmer, does a surprisingly solid job behind the camera, delivering a dramatic, gripping and disturbing, if a bit too obvious first-time directing effort, that works mainly due to the smooth pacing, moving story, and strong and dedicated performances from the incredible Clive Owen and the rising star Liana Liberato.

[5.50/10] Sleeping Beauty (2011)

Sleeping Beauty (2011)

QuickRating: While "Sleeping Beauty" is an impressively well filmed debut feature from Australian director Julia Leigh, it's a grim, bizarre and rather unpleasant experience, that shocks with its perversity and disturbing sexual content. Don't get misled by the title, because apart from the stylish production design and refined cinematography, there's nothing beautiful about this dull, uneven, and painfully slow erotic drama.