Sunday, September 27, 2009

Something Goes Bump In The Night

Paranormal Activity

Micah and Katie have just moved in together, and Katie is convinced she is being haunted. She feels as if this haunting has been following her ever since her childhood and that it is now residing at this new house, and the apparition, whatever it is, has begun to take an extra fond interest in her. Micah isn't quite sure how seriously he really takes it, but nonetheless, he buys an expensive camera to help Katie catch any strange happenings on film. He is at first amused by the camera and constantly documents even against Katie's pleas to not torment whatever presence they're dealing with. Things happen for the most part when the two of them are asleep, so each night Micah sets up his camera in the same spot in the bedroom to record.

This is "Paranormal Activity," the next entry into the genre of independent horror in the same spirit of "The Blair Witch Project." It's being cautiously leaked and was playing in only 13 cities this past weekend in order to build up the hype. The thing is that it deserves the hype because this little piece of horror is the real deal: a genuinely terrifying and physically draining experience. The controversy surrounding this film is about the debate on whether or not what unfolds is fictional. It is filmed in the style of "found footage" that has been spliced together. I can guarantee none of it is real, but the success of the movie is in convincing you that it is. You'll constantly be reminding yourself that it's only a movie in order to keep your composure. The filmmakers put up an illusion that draws you in without any explanation, blurring the lines between reality and fiction. Assisting are the two shocking performances of the couple where the breakdowns, the misery, the anxiety, it all feels almost uncomfortably true. The special effects, too, while seemingly simple, make a profound impact.

With each introduction of the nighttime footage in the bedroom comes unbearable suspense with just waiting for what's to happen. Relief washes over not only the couple in the coming morning but the audience, too. And then it starts up all over again each night only to get progressively more intense. I refuse to give away any details of what we end up seeing because the power of this film is in witnessing it for yourself. I will state, though, that this is an example of a perfectly structured movie. The build-up is intentionally slow and tense, and it gradually escalates up to a climactic release that is purely unnerving and immensely satisfying.

"Paranormal Activity" will shake you. It will redefine what you expect from a modern horror flick. One that truly, truly scares you witless. This is one that'll mess with your head, and being scared to go to bed the night after having seen this movie is a guarantee. It hits close to home, and therein is its genius.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Full Fall Line-Up Commences

Last night ABC's fall TV line-up started out with a bang as the new half-hour comedy, "Modern Family," premiered at 9 p.m. This mockumentary-style show follows three families that are considered to be the idea of what a modern family is today. The show is already getting high critical acclaim and is being considered this fall's best new sit-com even with the likes of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and NBC's "The Office," "Parks and Recreation," and "Community" in the running. ABC's other half-hour comedy, "Cougar Town," starring Courteney Fox, is not faring as well.

ABC's standards such as "Grey's Anatomy," "Desperate Housewives," and "Brothers and Sisters," among others, are also having their season premieres this week, satiating any need for resolve from unnerving cliff-hangers.

Last night also marked the series premiere of the twisty, big-level thrills drama "FlashForward." In the same vein as "Lost," this show features an evocative premise about everyone in the world blacking out at the same exact moment for 2 minutes and 17 seconds. A crazy puzzle is obviously going to unfold with this one, and it's almost as if ABC is scrambling to find their replacement for "Lost" as it has reached its sixth and final season. "FlashForward" is supposedly proving to have some promise as a filler.

And yet this fall also brings the third season of AMC's award-winning series "Mad Men," which, just as always, is getting the highest critical acclaim of any TV series out there.

But "Lost" is still the top for me. January simply can't come soon enough.

The Magic of "Glee"

Let's for a moment discuss the parallels between the viewership of FOX's smash-hit "Glee" and the mish-mash of social norms it so openly promotes.

What makes this show such a success is the way in which it upholds the stereotypes of high school life--the cheerleaders, the jocks, the glee club--and then simultaneously critiques those stereotypes and forms them into new, wildly inventive and clever social circles. Last night's episode brought this ideology to the forefront with the gay member of the glee club trying out for the position of kicker on the football team...and then consequently teaching them the choreography to Beyoncé's "Single Ladies."

And this leads to a show that is openly available for anyone to enjoy. By promoting the mixing and tweaking of certain social circles together, it makes for a surprisingly vast range of viewers. While other shows holding the "something for everybody" qualities may have a varied viewership, "Glee," it seems, has an undeniable charm and magic to it. There's a joy in its openness of not breaking away from stereotypes, but rather, splicing them together with a biting humor about how those stereotypes also get upheld.

And just think about all those "Glee" songs now becoming available for purchase on iTunes. Sure, "Grey's Anatomy" has quite the iTunes following, but these are original songs we're talking about here. That's something.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

She's A Man-Eater

Jennifer's Body

Imagine for a moment that the quirky and smug dialogue of "Juno" was infused into a horror movie. Then imagine the heroine of "Juno" to be replaced with a sexy high school girl who eats the flesh of teenage boys. This is "Jennifer's Body," the black comedy written by the Oscar-winning stripper-turned-writer Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama ("Girlfight"). Why would Cody turn from "Juno" to this as her next screenplay? You're guess is as good as mine, but I will tell you this much: It works. Yes, that trademark dialogue makes it into the movie, and oddly enough, it's almost more fitting here than it was when Ellen Page spoke it. For this it creates moments that are just a tad off-center, a bit too strange, and absurdly self-aware, which makes this not your average conventional teen horror thriller. When you've seen enough of those, "Jennifer's Body" is like a burst of fresh air because there's freshness to Cody's writing even when she's writing trash.

"Hell is a teenage girl," says Needy (Amanda Seyfried), the best friend of Jennifer Check (Megan Fox). Flaring hormones, the angst of being a teenage girl, female sexuality, and the sometimes frightening bond between girls who claim to be best friends are all exploited through the battle that ensues between the two leads. The best part is that Jennifer isn't even a standard queen of high school. Sure, she got the title of "snowflake queen," but that was two years ago. She isn't openly desired, and, contrary to what is written about this movie, she is not, I repeat, NOT, a cheerleader. She's on the flag team, the equivalent of being a member of the color guard who is at the same social status as the marching band. She isn't the ideal social butterfly and only heads out to acquire boys when she needs them. It just so turns out that she needs them to quench her thirst for blood. And the boys comply not because of her status, but rather, because she's hot. Jennifer is not a vampire, although she does go after throats with teeth bared, but she is definitely some sort of demon.

Needy is, well, needy, hence the nickname, and she clings to Jennifer because they're lifelong friends. Only she catches wind of Jennifer being the one getting away with grisly murders, and she becomes especially concerned when her boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons), is on the list of potential victims. Needy begins witnessing what is transforming Jennifer but becomes blindly bewildered by it almost to the point of madness. There is also something about an evil indie band led by a lead singer played by Adam Brody who is hilarious in a moment of dark comedic flair. And with such comes sly commentary on indie culture: "You know how hard it is for an indie band to make it these days?" And yet the movie accepts this culture in its style and, most notably, its soundtrack with the likes of "Little Boots" and "Florence and the Machine."

Played with surprising confidence and depth by Amanda Seyfried, Needy is the real heroine and a stark contrast against the dark-haired and sharply beautiful Megan Fox. Kusama is blunt about showing off Fox strictly for her physique as the movie is titled "Jennifer's Body" for a reason. And yet it's also purposely a tease. Fox carries a blank stare and an arrogance about her that demands for her to be, yet again, viewed as an object. Think back to both "Transformers" movies for examples. Kusama is wickedly clever and slick about turning this ideal about Fox on its head. The affect of Fox's blunt emptiness is, this time, a part of her character, not herself as an actress. This means that for the first time we are witnessing Fox's acting, and, surprise! She pulls it off. Yes, even when projectile vomiting. Those who aren't watching close enough will miss this critical point.

Oh, and why do Needy and Jennifer share a passionately-shot kiss to flirt with the edges of lesbian undertones? Well, I say why the hell not?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

FOX Brings It

My sights are set on FOX with two addicting shows to watch:

The first is "Glee," which aired its first episode back in May. It now has regular episodes this fall every Wednesday at 9 p.m. This weird and wonderful show from creator Ryan Murphy of FX's "Nip/Tuck" boasts a vibrant cast of characters, some really sharp writing, and a slew of great musical numbers that makes it like "High School Musical" with a dark comic twist.

Second is J.J. Abram's "Fringe," which, for its second season, has added a whole level of strangeness on top of its already twisty premise. Alternate reality? That's right. The season premiere is this Thursday at 9 p.m. Let's remind ourselves just with what we were left hanging from last season's finale.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More Clooney and Coen

From Jason Reitman, the director of "Thank You for Smoking" and the beloved Academy Award nominee "Juno," here comes "Up in the Air," the story of a man who lives his life in travel. It stars George Clooney in a role that is already being considered a sly variation of his Oscar-nominated performance in "Michael Clayton" and of the same high caliber. This crowd-pleaser that has audiences of the Toronto festival already in love is in speculation to garner a Best Picture nomination.

From the Coen brothers comes this most personal movie titled, "A Serious Man." This first trailer makes the movie out to look wryly comic and oddball while at the same time affectionate and insightful. It's a tough call whether or not this is looking at awards, but there's no doubt that this could be another accomplishment from the brotherly directing duo.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lazy September

Perhaps it's the calm before the storm of awards season on the steady horizon now with it being in the midst of September, but it's definitely a slow and bleak movie release weekend coming up.


Cleverly released yesterday on 9-9-09 for the weekend, this PG-13-rated animated feature from director Shane Acker has been getting mixed reviews, and while some call it a visual treat, others have been labeling it as a merely slight offering.

I Can Do Bad All By Myself

Yet another standard piece from writer/director Tyler Perry, except maybe this time with Academy Award nominee Taraji P. Henson of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" in the mix, it could be maybe just marginally better than his usual fare.

Sorority Row

A run-of-the-mill slasher flick that probably won't even get released for critics to review in time for its release. Slutty sorority girls getting offed one by one by a serial killer. The usual.


Starring Kate Beckingsale, this chilly action thriller looks to be forgettable and conventional and has already been getting lackluster reviews from critics.

By the looks of things, it would appear there's no tough competition for anything to be maxing out the box office. Let's just hope this lull is a premonition for some greater films on the way.