Film Reviews

00:00 August 31, 2011
By: David Vicari

fright night


[Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios/Motion Pictures]

I remember it was August of 1985 and, on a whim, my mom asked my brother and I if we wanted to go see this movie Fright Night, a horror film about a teenager who thinks his next door neighbor is a vampire. My brother and I thought the title was silly, but we headed out to Joy's Cinema City Eight anyway. The movie was great! It was funny and scary and the audience screamed at all the right parts. Actor Chris Sarandon was a formidable villain as vampire Jerry Dandrige, and my mom would tell you he was pretty hot too. Last but certainly not least was a brilliant, Oscar-caliber performance by Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent, a washed up horror star now regulated to hosting cheesy horror films on late night television who is recruited to battle the dastardly bloodsucker.

Maybe I'm biased, but this unnecessary remake of Fright Night is an incredible bore. It is slow moving and not in the least bit scary. It's also a waste of good actors.

This version begins not with Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) but with his friend Ed (no longer "Evil" Ed this time around, and played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse of McLovin fame) convinced that Charley's new neighbor, Jerry (Colin Farrell), is a vampire. Charley slowly - very slowly - becomes a believer. Yes, Jerry is a vampire and he has his teeth set on the neck of Charley's new girlfriend (the lovely but unfortunately named Imogen Poots). To help him fight this vampire, Charley turns to a Las Vegas magician with a flair for the occult, Peter Vincent (David Tennant).

Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) shows little interest in the horror genre, building absolutely zero suspense. It's as if he just threw his hands up by the third act and just let the vampires attack, no matter if they knew or not where the heroes were hiding out. The final confrontation, which was so awesome in the original movie, is flat and uninspired here.

I know many of you are squealing with delight because Doctor Who's David Tennant is in this movie, but don't trip over yourselves rushing to the box office to buy a ticket, for his role is not only small but also poorly written. Good actors can only do so much with bad material. And audiences can only do so much with a bad movie.

rise of the Planet of the apes


[Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox]

Wow! What a pleasant surprise. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a thrilling and thoughtful science fiction movie. This re-invention of the Apes films isn't tied to any particular past film from the series, although it does borrow ideas from the fourth Apes movie, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), but is certainly in no way a sequel/ prequel to Tim Burton's ineffectual 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes. The story here is that scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) is searching for an Alzheimer's cure, which leads to the creation of Caesar, a genetically-enhanced Chimpanzee with super intelligence. Eventually, Caesar has to use his smarts to rally other primates into rebelling against their cruel human captors. The movie culminates in an incredibly exciting action sequence on San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. Director Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist) knows where to put his camera and comes up with some inventive shots, whether it is swooping down under the Golden Gate bridge or seeing leaves litter the street as the apes make their way through the trees in a suburban neighborhood. Yeah, okay, Franco is too young for the role of brilliant scientist, but he's still quite good. And Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire), as Rodman's foxy veterinarian girlfriend is just window dressing, but hey, if you're going to give us something pretty to look at, it might as well be Freida Pinto. The star of the movie, however, is Andy Serkis, as Caesar, in another motion capture performance. Previously, Serkis was Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as Kong in the 2005 King Kong remake. Once again, through motion capture, Serkis delivers an affecting performance.

30 minutes or less


[Courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing]

Jesse Eisenberg plays a pizza delivery man kidnapped by two thugs (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) who strap a bomb around his chest and force him to rob a bank or else they'll detonate the bomb in 30 Minutes or Less.

The premise could make for a fun pulp action film like Speed or Cellular, but here they try for comedy and only occasionally succeed. For an 82 minute film (including credits) it takes an awfully long time getting started, as the bomb doesn't get attached to Eisenberg until about 25 minutes in.

The plotting is lazy and it makes one appreciate the script of this summer's Horrible Bosses even more. That was an R-rated dark comedy that actually took the time to revolve it's plot in at least a semi-plausible manner. Here, even a viewer only halfheartedly paying attention could poke a lot of holes in the story.

The film is very loosely based on a true story of a Pennsylvania man who found himself in a similar predicament in 2003 (the man died when the bomb went off). The website recently wrote an article about the case. That article is a lot more interesting than anything that happens in this film.

one day


[Courtesy of Focus Features]

When we first meet the character of Emma (Anne Hathaway sporting a convincing British accent) she is wearing glasses with huge circular frames that are much too large for her face, and her slip is peeking out from below the hem of her dress. She's not perfect, yet it is these imperfections, along with her witty personality, that endear her not only to us, the audience, but to the character of Dexter (Jim Sturgess). Emma and Dex don't really meet until their college graduation on July 15, 1988. Their awkward disaster in the bedroom that night turns into a strong friendship, however. The gimmick here is that we meet up with them on just about every July 15 for a span of the next 20 years. Screenwriter, and author of the novel on which this is based, David Nicholls doesn't go for the contrived at all. Sure, the date has a significance in the story, but July 15 isn't some cursed date where astounding events occur within the characters lives every single year on that particular day. Predictably, there are triumphs and tragedies in this romantic drama, which is bittersweet rather than sappy and sentimental. Of course, the film wouldn't work without well drawn characters, so kudos to Hathaway and Sturgess for their rich performances, as well as director Lone Scherfig's (An Education) perceptive eye for detail.

the debt


[Courtesy of Focus Features]

Even though it's being released in late August, when many studios are usually unloading their garbage, The Debt is a thoughtful, entertaining thriller.

Much of the story is told in flashback from the point of view of a former Mossad agent (Helen Mirren in old age, Jessica Chastain as a young woman) who was part of a team that covertly killed a Nazi war criminal hiding in East Berlin in the 1960s. Mirren's daughter has written a book about it and that, combined with an unexpected tragedy, causes her to reflect upon the mission that changed her life.

It's hard to reveal too much more without getting into spoiler territory, but The Debt covers similar thematic ground to Steven Spielberg's excellent and underrated Munich, exploring the efforts of people to avenge atrocities and gain a sense of justice without losing their own souls along the way.

Unfortunately, the film's final 10 minutes dip too much into conventional action movie territory and the pat wrap-up doesn't fit with the thoughtfulness of the rest of the film.

But despite this stumble at the end, The Debt is worth seeing and is a nice break from the summer's parade of superhero movies and raunchy comedies.

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