Carrie (2013)

CarrieReleased: October 18, 2013. Directed by: Kimberly Peirce. Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde. Runtime: 100 min.

One can always spot the crazies from a mile away. Take Margaret White for example: She makes up her own Bible verses, locks her daughter in her a closet, harms herself in the presence of evil, the whole shabang… Unfortunately, since she is loopy, her daughter Carrie is seen the same way, but more on that later. Oh, I almost forgot. To top off Margaret’s crazy factor, she nearly kills her newborn child with a pair of scissors.

Margaret doesn’t seem as if she is in labour for very long, there’s just a trail of blood from the front door to her bedroom, she looks like she’s doing a sort-of break dancing move on the bed, she says “I’m dying” a few times, and then poof! Carrie is born, a girl so special she isn’t born with an umbilical cord. That is what some might think Margaret is getting the scissors for initially, to cut the umbilical cord, but then she said “This is a test” and I didn’t know what to expect.

I think the film tests me at one point; as I still don’t know whether to interpret one of the film’s deaths as foolish or serious. I won’t spoil it, but I just think it’s a bit silly. I’m sure when you see it, you’ll know which death I’m talking about. I have seen more clichéd awfulness in some horror movies by far, but it isn’t believable. It’s no fault of director Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”) because she is trying to make a faithful adaptation, so it seems Stephen King is the one to blame. Geniuses can make dumb mistakes once in a while; especially in their debut novel.

It seems that many have heard the basics of the story of Carrie White, but I’ll rehash it anyway in as few words as possible. The titular Carrie (Chloë Grace Moretz) is an introverted and shy high school girl who is sheltered by her deeply religious mother, Margaret (Julianne Moore). After an incident at school involving a gang of girls throwing tampons at Carrie (which a gym teacher later dubs a “very shitty thing”) because it appears she is having her first period, it sets off a chain of events that don’t end well at the high school prom.

Unfortunately for the townsfolk, Carrie is developing telekenetic powers – which is why she bleeds so much during her first period. What the filmmakers are able to do with the telekenetic powers is very cool. It adds the supernatural layer to the atmospheric movie. It’s also a Prom movie with those lame getting ready for prom montages, and a classic revenge story as well. It’s a small story, but an engaging one.

The character of Carrie is just so real (save her powers, perhaps). Anyone would want to get back at those who bully them, maybe not as severely, but some might. She’s a person like anybody else who would like to be more of a normal girl, but unfortunately gets lumped in the “crazy” basket with her mother who makes her go to school and come straight back home. Moretz brings power to the character, even if she might be too attractive for the role. I do enjoy mostly everything she does, though. Her story is an interesting tale of how sometimes victims become anti-heroes when they are pushed too far, and then the question of who is actually the victim now arises.

The character of Margaret is hard to like because she’s very drastic, but Moore turns in a spooky performance. There are some good compassionate characters here, like Sue (Gabriella Wilde), who has second thoughts about her involvement with the tampon situation. Chris (Portia Doubleday, “Youth in Revolt”) is a real bitch, but her character does serve purpose. Ansel Elgort brings about a few awkward attempts at humour as Tommy Ross.

Enough about the characters, one of this film’s biggest problems is that it’s so familiar. This is top-tier as far as remakes go because this is good filmmaking, but it’s extremely reminiscent of the original. Even though the remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is awful, at least it shows a cool re-imagining of how Freddy is killed in the first remake, unlike the originals where I didn’t notice the first peek until “Freddy vs. Jason.” (Granted, I only saw the first and “FvJ”.)

I imagine the real trouble for this film to separate itself from other versions of “Carrie” is because there are so many films based on one Stephen King book, and they’re going to feel inferior. This version of “Carrie” is good for the performances and atmosphere. There aren’t many jump scares, because if any audience have seen the original, there might guess what’s coming next; but the atmosphere is frightening and intense. It’s a solid drama as well. I’d watch it again because it’s good filmmaking, and writer Lawrence D. Cohen and Peirce retell the story well for modern audiences.

Score: 75/100

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Box Office Predictions: November 27 to December 2

“Black Nativity” looks like a pretty decent musical, but if I’m going to see a movie for its music this weekend, it’ll be “Frozen.” The story: A street-wise teen from Baltimore who has been raised by a single mother travels to New York City to spend the Christmas holiday with his estranged relatives, where he embarks on a surprising and inspirational journey. I think this would be better suited being released two weekends from now, but it’s a movie about family, so I guess even if it is Thanksgiving weekend, a movie with a Christmas setting isn’t horribly out of place.  People might show up for the cast, because it has Forrest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson, but otherwise it just looks okay to me. Movies similar to it open at $14.2 million, so that might be a reasonable be a reasonable expectation for the five-day frame. I am also curious to see how many will think it’s a Tyler Perry movie? Since it has a fair amount of competition, including “The Best Man Holiday”, I don’t think it could really breakout. I’m going to go with $11 million for the three-day weekend, and $15 million for the five-day weekend.

“Oldboy” looks like a great movie with some star appeal found in Josh Brolin and Samuel L. Jackson. It’s a remake of the 2003 South Korean thriller, and I’ll have to see that one before this one. I guess this only has a limited audience. It’s only coming to 583 theatres this weekend, and I think it’ll muster $3.2 million over the five-day weekend.

“Frozen” is a new animated flick from the creators of “Wreck-It Ralph” starring the voices of Kristen Bell and Josh Gad. It looks like a fun winter wonderland movie with music and comedy and a good adventure, so it looks like the whole package. “Ralph” made $49m in its opening weekend, and it looks like this has the same sort-of anticipation. The last animated film was “Free Birds”, released three weeks ago. I think that would be have been smarter if it were released closer to this weekend, rather than November 1st. Movies similar to this open at $32.6 million, but I think this will do numbers along the lines of “Wreck-It Ralph.” “Despicable Me 2” made $82 million over its three-day weekend, and “Monsters University” made in the same area. I think this will make close to that in its five-day. My prediction for the three-day frame is $52 million, but for the five-day weekend, my prediction is $69.3 million.

Finally, “Homefront” is the other new release this weekend. It stars Jason Statham, Winona Ryder and James Franco. The story: A former DEA agent moves his family to a quiet town, where he soon tangles with a local meth druglord. I’m getting vibes of “Straw Dogs” mixed with drugs and Jason Statham. I think it has the potential to be a sort-of different Statham vehicle, at least I hope. I wonder if anyone’s sick of Statham yet? Anyway, his movies still make a decent amount of money, and this is coming to 2572 theatres this weekend. Let’s just hope it does better than “Parker.” “Parker” opened to $7 million at the beginning of the year. I think this will make $9 million in its first three days, and maybe make $12.8 million in its first five days.

For now I’ll just be predicting the new releases, but I’m sure I’ll be predicting the entire Top 10 again soon enough. Enjoy the predictions.

Escape Plan (2013)

Escape PlanTitle: Escape Plan. Released: October 18, 2013. Directed by: Mikael Håfström. Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, 50 Cent. Runtime: 115 min. Time took to write review/Date written: 36 min/Nov. 17, 2013. Times seen: Once.

For a Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, this has a low amount of action. But for a movie with both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, it has a surprisingly low amount of non-stop action. Yet, oddly enough, the movie focuses so much on escaping out of the inescapable prison, that the film can’t slow down for one minute to complete a compelling aspect of Stallone’s character. It almost did, but not quite – so the film just leaves us in the dark too often.

It does have its fair share of action, but it’s a bit far between.  It would be better pitched as an action drama, not as a action, mystery, thriller like it is on IMDb. It’s a solid experience either way, even if it can’t fully develop its story. The warden Hobbes (Jim Caziezel) is looking for a prisoner that designed the prison where only Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzengger) knows where the person is. Or something like that, it’s never crystal clear.

Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) is the main protagonist and mastermind of breaking out of prisons. It’s actually his profession, and he writes books about how to make an inescapable prison – and Hobbes uses it as a guidebook. His main purpose, though, is to report back to the Warden of the prison and tell them what they need to work on. When he is sent into Hobbes’ prison, however, there are no escape codes that he can use to get out of the prison. While he studies the guards’ habits, it is more difficult since they are faceless.

He has to resort to nicknaming their habits. Enough about the story because it doesn’t really go any thicker than that; what is important is this is a decent movie to see in theatres. It might be a bit overlong, but it’s never dull. Do not expect too much action, because it comes in sporadic doses. When it does come, it’s exciting. It has some funny lines to fill out parts that try to develop the story; but as with most of Sly’s starring vehicles, there are more than a few pointless lines.

The movie’s weakest aspect is mostly just its character development, and certain aspects of the story. The filmmakers try to develop all of that, but they don’t succeed with flying colours. It’s nice to see an action movie at least attempting to develop at least one character, and that’s a better courtesy than some do. I really don’t like having to strain my brain to remember a simple character trait.

Anyway, the creativity of the film is great. The premise gets points for originality. The only way to tell the guards apart is the way they walk. Their creepy masks and similar British accents are nearly impossible to differentiate. Vinnie Jones is nice to see; his role seems to be the director of security or something, the only one who doesn’t wear a mask. The guards with masks would be excellent for a horror movie, I’m telling you. It’s nice to see Amy Ryan in a supporting role. The cast is fine, but everybody knows Stallone nor Schwarzenegger are the greatest actors. My favourite part of the movie is probably the design of the prison. It reminds me of the elevator cube layout of “The Cabin in the Woods.”

Score: 70/100

Gravity (2013)

GravityDirected by: Alfonso Cuarón. Released: October 4, 2013. Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris (voice). Runtime: 91 min.

As far as survival movies go, I usually like them. It takes a lot for me to hate them, but it also takes a lot for me to love them. It also seems that they’re usually either slow or thrilling. “Gravity” makes me conflicted. It is a good human drama with substantial symbolism, but it has such little substance in other major areas. Let’s say if the story substance is a wire in space; Bullock’s character would not want to hang onto that wire, because it would break within seconds.

The film follows Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, under the guide of veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney), in command of his final mission before retirement. On a seemingly normal space walk, they are caught in the way of falling satellite debris. Their shuttle is destroyed and contact with Houston, and Earth in general, is severed. They are left adrift in space with only each other, and one hell of a view.

This is a terrifying situation. If this happened to me, I’d probably be that first astronaut who gets hit by debris and gets a nice hole in his head. You could throw a baseball through it. (It’s some seriously awesome CGI effects. I don’t think it’s a major spoiler because I don’t even remember the guys’ name.) It’s terrifying to even imagine oneself stepping into Stone’s space boots and having this happen to them. That makes Bullock’s character more admirable, because she keeps kicking and repeatedly escapes death; but her repeatedly escaping death makes the character slightly unrealistic, as well.

Stone is the main character, and she is somewhat interesting because she contributes to the film’s human drama aspect. She finds it tough to hang onto her hope because of something that happened in her past, that has also made her a reserved person. One of her motivations to go up into space is because of the peace. She struggles to forget about her past and try to find happiness… Experiencing a trauma is never easy. Rebirth is one theme of the movie. Stone floating in space is a literal and metaphorical journey for her to find her way again. I won’t go into further detail about that – it is better to watch the aspect for yourself. Hope is an occuring theme, too, because that’s a good motivation to survive. It feels like Stone has one layer, so she isn’t as compelling as the actress portraying her. Bullock performs mainly with varied types of breathing; an impressive way to convey emotions in cinema. One could tell what she is feeling throughout. This acting job seems difficult, and she does well.

As for George Clooney, the guy is good at being charming, but he is average here. He isn’t forgettable enough for people to ask “Which Batman starred alongside Sandra Bullock in Gravity? Val Kilmer?,” but he isn’t anything to praise. His character has many decent stories and he is good comic relief for such a situation, but he’s generic.

Director Alfonso Cuarón (“Children of Men,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) knows how to portray Stone’s pain well, but his story needs a lot of work. “Gravity” is good for Sandra Bullock and it is one of the most visually stunning films I have seen, in just about ever. If you’re just there for the effects, you’ll be satisfied. Some of the 3-D effects are pop-out scary, which is edge-of-your-seat intense. In one scene when a character cries, the teardrop is really cool. This experimental film works in a few areas, but it relies on effects too heavily to enhance its weak narrative.

The film’s first half is thrilling. But the good thrills are too repetitive, and when they’re repeated in the second half, it’s much less interesting. The screenplay’s main event is “escape inevitable death; from debris, fire, and lack of oxygen, and try to think of a way home,” and it happens over and over. It makes the second half have moments well worth a yawn or two. A more diverse screenplay would be welcome, and the character development leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps it is strange to expect more from a minimalistic filmmaker; but alas, this is one highly anticipated film of 2013 that doesn’t make me feel any sort of passion for it.

Score: 63/100