Reel Report

The Devil Inside

Fernanda Andrade, Bonnie Morgan

If you want to scare up in interest from H’wood, just remember that the exorcism racket is big business. Leading back to 1973′s The Exorcist, itself based on a fact-based tale of possession by William Peter Blatty, moviegoers have exorcised cash from their pockets to feast on frightfully devilish tales aimed at the god-fearing. In the last decade alone, cinemas have played host to two The Exorcist sequels (Exorcist: A Beginning and Dominion: A Prequel), The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Last Exorcism, and The Rite. Now comes the latest such cash-in. In this R-rated horror flick, a young woman (Andrade) sets out to determine if her mother is criminally insane or demonically possessed with the help of some exorcists. The Plus: The genre. Last year, the relatively low-budget thriller Insidious became a sleeper hit when good word of mouth brought moviegoers and horror fans alike out in droves. Likewise, this non-studio-produced thriller could find the same success. The Minus: The season. The holiday blockbusters are still in release and the award-baiting critical darlings are transitioning from limited to wide release. A Hard-R horror flick might prove to be a hard sell in these early winter months.

The Darkness Hour

Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby

The only good news about The Darkest Hour is that the darkest moments come when the characters open their mouths. The bad news is that the characters never seem to shut up and this verbal onslaught lasts longer than an hour. Visually striking, but textually struck out, the thriller nearly gets by with its clever twist on the survivors-reclaiming-earth-from-a-mysterious-alien scheme (last seen in such explosively bad entertainment as Skyline and Battle: Los Angeles). Not only are the protagonists themselves aliens (in a foreign land, at least) but the antagonists are invisible. The hackneyed execution torpedoes any chance of this creature feature seeing longevity’s light of day, however. Not even the creature reveal is very compelling, which pretty much makes this low-rent Independence Day more of a May Day.

In this PG-13-rated sci-fi thriller, five 20-somethings visiting Moscow, Russia (Hirsch, Thirlby, Max Minghella, Rachael Taylor, Joel Kinnamen) find themselves fighting to survive when earth gets attacked by a devastating alien force.

So far as beautiful people on the run in the post-Apocalypse go, moviegoers can do a lot worse than Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) and Olivia Thirlby (Juno) go. Despite not being able to get their heads around the wooden dialogue, at least these actors manage put the audience in the moment of fighting off an unseen enemy charged with a deadly electrical force. Producer Timur Bekmambetov and director Chris Gorak bring a punky style and edgy focus to the occasionally pulse-pounding adventure, even if the color-by-numbers conclusion whiles away the Hour and a half…and one’s patience. Bottom line: Darkness fails.

War Horse

Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson

A thoroughbred of a performer, Steven Spielberg’s handsome and hard-charging latest film also happens to be an amazing workhorse, telling an emotional and sprawling tale to its satisfying completion. On stage, War Horse wowed audiences as a rousing tale of love and determination that fired the imagination … because equestrian puppets were used to stand in for the titular character. Using the living and breathing real deal, the legendary director likewise does Michael Morpurgo’s heart-warming story justice.

It makes horsesense, of course, given that his familiar bag of trade tricks (wide-eyed reaction shots, realistic battle scenes, beautifully filmed vistas, John Williams score) now color inside these ambitious lines.

In this PG-13-rated drama from Spielberg, a young man (Irvine) and his horse Joey find their bond broken when the latter gets sold to the cavalry and sent to the trenches of World War I, where his owner goes to find and rescue him. Last year ended with a pair of ’70s filmmaking mavericks making two of the best family films seen in quite some time. Along with Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, Spielberg’s War Horse makes for fantastical viewing. For the latter, neither this fare (ET, Hook) nor war films (Empire of the Sun, Saving Private Ryan) are new. Those familiar with this master’s work will see lightning re-captured, almost repeated. More than any of his films, War Horse evinces the Spielbergian filmmaking hallmarks so blatantly that a persnickety cineast might think that he reached into this bag once too often. Still, this craftsman’s tools work so well because they’re proven. Bottom line: War is hella good.

The Adventures of Tin Tin

Voices of Jaime Bell, Daniel Craig

Though not nearly as unforgettably excellent as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg’s latest shares many of the cinematic trailblazing and cliffhanging suspense that made Indiana Jones a film legend. In this PG-rated animated family adventure based on Herge’s illustrated children’s books, an intrepid young reporter in pursuit of a good story (Bell) gets thrust into a treasure hunt involving Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) and a nefarious pirate (Craig). The art of motion capture has finally caught up with the medium now that this master storyteller is at the helm, progressing beyond the dead-eyed passengers of the Polar Express to an incredible live-eyed canvas of near-endless excitement. More of an actioner than detective story, this adventure is a rousingly fantastical thrill-ride more in debt to boyish American adventures than the actual source material. Bottom line: So nice they named him twice.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

Jason Lee, David Cross

Three times the charmlessness, Chipwrecked washes up more tired castaway jokes than the umpteenth rerun of Gilligan’s Island. In this PG-rated family tail, the Chipmunks (voices of Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, and Jesse McCarthy) and Chipettes (Anna Faris, Amy Poehler, and Christina Applegate) must survive on a Polynesian island by themselves after a cruise ship mishap. Chipmunking more potty jokes and auto, er, animal-tuned jukebox ditties than any rational animal can withstand, this Squeakquel sequel is so bad that’d make the Swiss Family Robinson swim away from their hideaway.

Yes, it does teach life lessons about the importance of individuality and instilling confidence, but these messages are spoon fed … with a slingshot. Even though no one could tell the difference once the voice is sped up, this second deuce needlessly shells out for marquee names. Bottom line: Nuts to yule.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig

Cinema in 2011 may’ve come in like a lamb but, thanks to a stylishly smart crime thriller, it may soon become known as the year of the Dragon. In this R-rated thriller, disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) gets aided in his search for a woman who’s been missing for 40 years by a young computer hacker (Mara). Those who thought that Niel Arden Oplev’s 2010 Swedish adaptation of this novel couldn’t be topped are in for a rousing surprise. Steven Zallian’s screenplay embraces the full breadth of the book with a keen eye on character (this version leaves the full ending intact). More than a Who-Done-It, the film goes beyond the solution and gives a complete and darkly beautiful portrait of the troubled twosome on the case. Mara deserves singular praise for her wholly immersive and starkly naked performance. Bottom line: Tattoo W00t!

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol

Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner

Despite accepting the ridiculously challenging mission of re-invigorating a franchise that’s had its ups and downs, Ghost Protocol proves so impossibly good that it’s actually the best of the series thus far. In this PG-13-rated spy thriller sequel, the IMF gets shut down after being implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin, leading Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his team (Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg) to go rogue and clear their organization’s name. Selling through some of the most heart-racing stunts in the history of film, Cruise wholeheartedly hammers home why he’s still the biggest movie star in the world – couch-jumping be damned. Director Brad Bird’s live action directorial debut is a blazing fuse of whip-smart flag-smashing adventure that keeps igniting action-packed set pieces at a furious rapid-fire clip that doesn’t let up until the end credits roll. Bottom line: Mission: accomplished.

My Week with Marilyn

Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh

Powered by phenomenal approximations of some reel deals, this Week gives a fascinating slice of screen life even when the dialogue gets becomes a wee heavy handed. In this R-rated drama, Monroe (Williams) and a film assistant (Eddie Redmayne) develop an on-set romance during the shooting of Laurence Olivier’s (Branagh) The Prince and the Showgirl in 1957. The events detailed in Colin Clark’s two memoirs make for breathlessly scintillating reading without turning the actual persons into caricatures.

The film manages to do the same though boiling down the actual events into a short ‘n’ sweet drama sometimes strains credibility. Especially at the outset, there’s more telling than showing. Still, all involved shine through the words – especially a mesmerizing Williams, who nails every nuance of the entrancing but insecure H’wood goddess with a hypnotic glow of her own. Bottom line: Princely show.

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