by Jeff Boam
Opening This Weekend
Paranormal Activity 4
Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton
It has been more than 13 years since micro-budgeted thriller The Blair Witch Project broke box office records by pioneering faux documentary horror (and 12 years since its awful sequel, which adopted a narrative structure, did not). In the last few years, sci-fi took the ‘found footage’ gimmick to a bigger-budgeted level (Cloverfield, District 9). In 2009, however, director Oren Peli brought faux documentary back to horror when his practically no-budget thriller Paranormal Activity became an instant classic. For the second and third installments in the franchise, Peli handed over the directing reins. In this R-rated documentary-style psychological thriller, directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman return from Part 3 to present the tale of a supernatural force terrorizing another family (Newton, et al) ever since some mysterious neighbors (Featherston, et al) moved in. The Plus: The genre. Paranormal Activity went on to net more than $109 million on Peli’s original investment of $15,000, making it the most profitable movie of all time. Globally, the sequel racked up an impressive $177 million while the prequel bested it with $205 million. With the Saw series on hiatus, Paranormal 4 should see some serious box office Activity just in time for Halloween. The Minus: The odds. Two years ago, between Blair Witch-esque horror flicks like The Last Exorcism and The Devil Inside plus found footage sci-fi thrillers like Skyline, Battle LA and Chronicle, this popular sub-genre (sequels and all) may have finally reached a saturation point with moviegoers.
Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox
Time (I Can Do Bad All By Myself, $51 million) and time (Why Did I Get Married Too?, $60 million) and time again (Madea’s Witness Protection, $65 million), writer/director/studio mogul Tyler Perry has delivered at the box office — oftentimes at the number one spot. With For Colored Girls, an adaptation of the Obie Award-winning play, he even won several African-American Film Critics Association and NAACP Image Awards. Now, in his biggest gamble yet, he’s set to star in a potential franchise that doesn’t feature his name before the title. In this PG-13-rated adaptation of James Patterson’s novel Cross, Perry trades in Madea’s dressing gown for the loafers of a homicide investigator/psychologist trying to take down a cage fighter moonlighting as a serial killer (Fox). The Plus: The brand. As evidenced by Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider, Alex Cross is no stranger to success on the big screen. Considering that Morgan Freeman (The Dark Knight Rises) last played Cross, Perry has big loafers to fill. Here, however, he’s acting with a big-name cast that includes Fox (ABC’s Lost), Giancarlo Esposito (AMC’s Breaking Bad), John C. McGinley (NBC’s Scrubs), Edward Burns (Man on a Ledge), Rachel Nichols (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra), Cicely Tyson (The Help), and Jean Reno (Armored) under the direction of Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious, XXX). The Minus: The timing. As his name coming before a movie or TV series title demonstrates, Perry commands quite an audience (in fact, he just signed a contract with Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Channel to distribute original programming beginning in 2013). The slighter grosses for recent non-Madea flicks like The Family That Preys ($37 million) and Good Deeds ($38 million) combined with the recent cancellation of his TBS sitcoms Meet the Browns and House of Payne, however, hint that his star may have already peaked.
Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston
Chronicling the production of a ridiculously bad Arabian Nights-aping sci-fi flick, Argo ironically ends up to be one of the most brilliant real-life dramas to come along in years. Pinioning the story synopsis around the titular failed Star Wars rip-off is as short sighted as saying JFK is a film about the 35th president, however. Indeed, Argo plays hard, fast and fair with a declassified CIA case involving the Iran Hostage Affair. The fact that the late ’70s/early ’80s-set action looks, feels, and plays out like an actual white knuckle ’70s thriller only helps matters — we’re talking All the President’s Men and Reds here. But Argo is its own logical animal, using a genius blending of humor amid the perfectly played terrifying historic touchstones.
In this R-rated drama, a CIA ‘exfiltration’ specialist (Affleck) invents a fake science-fiction film production to free six Americans who have found shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber) in Iran. If The Town serves as proof that movie star-turned-director Ben Affleck wasn’t any one-trick-pony, then Argo is his allegorical City, showcasing an A-List Oscar-caliber filmmaker who just upped his game. He shares a lot of common traits with the film’s producer, fellow movie star-turned-director George Clooney. Under their own direction, both men give marquee turns that serve the material exceedingly well. Of course, the stellar work done by Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Garber and Kyle Chandler only increases Argo’s award potential, as does the ace screenwriting by Chris Terio, editing by William Goldenberg and cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto. Bottom line: Rescue glee.
Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance
Giving audiences a one-word title that aptly describes the truly chilling experience of seeing this oftentimes scary flick, Sinister shows great potential of becoming top-shelf horror, but ultimately settles for being an above average jolt thriller. Well-acted and well plotted, this true crime-turned-supernatural chiller has many scares, but it also has more plot holes than a kindergarten play about talking vegetables, dinosaurs, planets or an improbable mix of both. Of course, horror lovers aren’t looking for continuity as much as they’re looking forward to soiling their britches and upping their blood pleasure to ludicrous speed. Here, however, the movie goes to great lengths to develop the characters as much as terrorize them. Sadly, all of this build-up nearly collapses under the script’s patent absurdity, but you’ll be too busy biting your nails down to your elbows.
In this R-rated horror flick, a true crime novelist (Hawke) discovers a box of disturbing home movies that plunge his family into a nightmarish experience of supernatural horror. Saw, Insidious, and now Sinister — single-word brands that, for better or worse, amazingly speak volumes for modern horror. It helps the director and writer of the first two, James Wan and Leigh Whannell, share producers’ credit with Paranormal Activity’s Oren Peli. They’re damn good scaremakers, as is Sinister director Scott Derrickson. Thanks to his unsettling control, reality bites for Ethan Hawke again as the star believably and continually gets the Bejesus scared out of him. Indeed, this always-fine actor’s fights with his wife and kids prove as hair-raising as any otherworldly edge-of-your-seat moments. Bottom line: Paranormal festivity.
Voices of Winona Ryder, Martin Short
Stitched together from his own spooky ooky CV and a love of classic H’wood horror, Tim Burton’s latest is a heartfelt oddity that ranks among the best stop-motion animated flicks ever. In this PG-rated 3D family flick, young Victor (Charlie Tahan) brings his beloved but departed dog Sparky back to life as a science experiment, only to encounter monstrous consequences. Of course, this auteur has ’tooned in to this material before, making Frankenweenie as a partly live-action short in 1984 while at Disney before famously getting fired for his efforts. Nearly 30 years on, he’s brilliantly realized Frankenweenie as a personal feature-length tale for — drumroll, please — Disney. Brimming with the oft-kilter Burtonesque style and verve that he himself invented and has often seen copied (but never duplicated), this macabre tale proves to be among this master’s personal best. Bottom line: Puppy love.
Voices of Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez
Thanks to some frightfully cool animation, Hotel Transylvania scares up a monster mash-up that’s definitely worth booking into. In this PG-rated animated comedy, Count Dracula (Sandler) runs a 5-stake resort for monsters like Frankenstein (Kevin James), the Wolfman (Steve Buscemi), and the Invisible Man (David Spade), until a human (Andy Samberg) stumbles in and falls for Drac’s 118-year-old daughter (Gomez). Here, Sandler and company aim for an immature audience whereas their movie Grown Ups was just plain immature. Granted, Hotel runs schmaltzy at times and force-feeds an all-too-familiar modern ’toon moral (being different is okay and blah, blah, blah), but this check-in still comes with a lot of amenities, namely a winning combination of sophomoric humor, classic monster movie nods, and A-list animation. Indeed, without acclaimed animation director Genndy Tartakovsky, this Sandler vehicle would warrant an early check-out. Bottom line: A graveyard smash.
House at the End of the Street
Jennifer Lawrence, Max Thierlot
Lowering the property value on the entire horror genre, House at the End of the Street just leads moviegoers down a dead end. In this PG-13-rated thriller, Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence and her mother (Elizabeth Shue) look for a brand-new start in a small town, but a relationship with a reclusive boy named Ryan (Thierlot) pulls her into the mystery of a house haunted by an old murder. To its credit, this residence evil tries to build up the characters before bumping them off. Unfortunately, trying isn’t doing when the end product of any character building results in a nearly scare-less thriller. Not only does this wannabe thriller’s big reveal arrive too early, it’s patently absurd from the word “whoa.” Despite the talent involved, this House razes — as opposed to raises — any spine-chilling moments. Bottom line: The Blunder Games.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis
Looping around excellence, this sci-fi time travel thriller ends up epitomizing twisty, but tasty, cinema. In this R-rated sci-fi thriller, the mob of the future dispatches targets 30 years into the past to be eliminated by a hired gun, only one gun-toting looper (Gordon-Leviit) gets presented with his future self (Willis). It’s complicated, but Looper’s pure moviegoing journey amounts to an amazing experience. From the noirish future cityscape to the lone wolf hunter at its center, this flick most closely resembles Blade Runner so far as cinematic touchstones. To pigeonhole Looper would be sinful in the eyes of the movie gods, however. Indeed, it’s a smart, stylish, and wholly unique one-off crafted by gifted filmmaker Rian Johnson. When H’wood touted a certain Alien prequel as the sci-fi event of the year, they really meant to trumpet Looper. Bottom line: Prime machine.
Resident Evil: Retribution 3D
Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory
The Resident drivel in the room, umpteenth sequel Retribution proves to be an endgame for moviegoers’ intelligence. In this R-rated zombie thriller, genetically-enhanced undead killer Alice (Milla Jovovich) fights her way out of the Umbrella Corporation’s most clandestine operation to hunt for those responsible for the zombie outbreak that’s put mankind on the brink of oblivion. As smartly plotted and executed a zombie series as AMC’s The Walking Dead is, the Resident Evil franchise gratuitously works the opposite stripper pole. Granted, it doesn’t have to play out like a video game to illustrate its origins, but Resident Evil wears its gamer pedigree like a badge of honor regardless, giving the audience patently absurd shoot-em-ups, leather-clad heroines, and monster mash-ups with occasional short breaks for exposition. It’s well shot, yes, but such trappings can’t detract from the poor writing, shoddy acting, and obligatory sequel-baiting curtain-closer that seems to be building toward nothing. Bottom line: Dawn of the dreck.