New Releases for the Week of October 20, 2016


Jack Reacher: Never Go BackJACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK

(Paramount) Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Robert Knepper, Danika Yarosh, Aldis Hodge, Holt McCallany, Billy Slaughter, Madalyn Horcher. Directed by Edward Zwick

Former military investigator Jack Reacher returns as his close friend, now heading up his old unit, is arrested for treason. Knowing she’s innocent but unable to prove it, he breaks her out of prison and goes on the run, dead set on finding that proof. What he uncovers instead is a sinister conspiracy that reaches into the very heart of our government, and a secret from Reacher’s past that might have some implications in his current predicament.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements)

A Man Called Ove

(Music Box) Rolf Lassgärd, Bahar Pars, Tobias Almborg, Ida Engvoll. A poignant and delightful film about a lonely widower whose face to the world is of a grumpy curmudgeon, but whose tender heart is broken following the death of his beloved wife. Determined to join her in the hereafter, his attempts at suicide are thwarted by the unknowing interventions of a new neighbor who brings Ove back to life and give him new reasons to live. The review for this will be up tomorrow.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content, some disturbing images, and language)

Boo! A Madea Halloween

(Lionsgate) Tyler Perry, Cassi Davis, Bella Thorne, Patrice Lovely. The first Madea movie in three years finds America’s favorite granny fighting off psychos, poltergeists and all manner of ghouls and goblins while keeping a watchful eye on three rambunctious teens. The inspiration is said to come from a scene in Chris Rock’s Top Five in which the Rock character sees a line of people waiting to get in to a movie featuring Madea entitled Boo! In which she plays a badass ghost hunter.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for drug use and references, suggestive content, language, some horror images and thematic material)

I’m Not Ashamed

(Pure Flix) Masey McLain, Ben Davies, Cameron McKendry, Terri Minton. This is the story of Rachel Joy Scott, the first student to die at the hands of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. The movie is taken from her journal entries, the recollections of her mother and surviving classmates.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Faith-Based Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material, teen drinking and smoking, disturbing violent content and some suggestive situations)

Keeping Up With the Joneses

(20th Century Fox) Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Gal Gadot, Jon Hamm. An ordinary suburban couple find their lives being changed when a chic and sophisticated couple – the Joneses – move into their neighborhood. Well, it’s not so much that a chic and sophisticated couple moved into the neighborhood but that the Joneses happen to be covert operatives. Won’t that make the next block party fun!

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Spy Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, action/violence and brief strong language)

Miss Hokusai

(GKIDS) Starring the voices of Erica Lindbeck, Richard Epcar, Ezra Weisz, Robbie Daymond. One of the greatest artists Japan ever produced is Katsushika Hokusai. His life and art is seen through the eyes of his daughter O-Ei, whose needs were always secondary to his painting.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Anime
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material including sexual situations and images)

Ouija: Origin of Evil

(Universal) Annalise Basso, Elizabeth Reaser, Lin Shaye, Doug Jones. In 1965, a widow and her two daughters who run a séance scam decide to add a Ouija board to help bolster their business. Instead, they find that it is a portal to evil that takes over the youngest daughter. Now in a desperate situation with their lives and souls at stake, the eldest daughter and mother must find a way to send the possessing spirit back to the other side and save the girl who’s possessed.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing images, terror and thematic elements)

The Pickle Recipe

(Adopt) Jon Dore, Lynn Cohen, Miriam Lee, David Paymer. After a disaster wipes out a party MC’s sound equipment, he reluctantly turns to his shady uncle for help. The uncle agrees to help him out – on the condition that the young man steals his grandmother’s prized pickle recipe which she has vowed to take with her to the grave.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for brief suggestive humor and drug references)

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit


Chris Pine realizes there's No Way Out.

Chris Pine realizes there’s No Way Out.

(2014) Spy Thriller (Paramount) Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, Peter Andersson, Colm Feore, Lenn Kudrjawizki, Alec Utgoff, Elena Velikanova, Nonso Anozie, Seth Ayott, Gemma Chan, David Paymer, Bogdan Kominowski, Maggie Daniels, Matt Rippy, Hannah Taylor Gordon, David Hayman, Isobel Pravda, Annika Pergament. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

In many ways war has become obsolete. A world war seems pretty unthinkable when so many nations have nuclear capability. In the 21st century rather than waging war on a battlefield, it seems far more effective to wage economic war electronically.

Jack Ryan (Pine) is studying for his doctorate in economics when the World Trade Center comes down. He is moved to join the Marine Corps and is advancing in rank when his helicopter is shot down. He is badly injured and must learn how to walk again. He catches the eye of a pretty physical therapist named Cathy (Knightley) who is preparing to be an eye surgeon and doing a student rotation in PT at Walter Reed. He also catches the eye of Thomas Harper (Costner), head of a CIA team whose mission is to prevent terrorist attacks. Harper recruits Ryan to keep an eye on terrorist money laundering on Wall Street, helping him complete his doctorate and placing him at a high-profile Wall Street firm.

That proves dividends when Jack notices certain accounts at a Russian firm have been hidden from his company. That seems extremely suspicious to Jack so he goes to Moscow to run an audit where he meets billionaire Viktor Cherevin (Branagh) who sets off all of Jack’s up-to-something sensors. Things are further complicated when comely Cathy, now Jack’s girlfriend and completely unaware of his double life as a CIA analyst, impulsively travels to Moscow and becomes caught in the middle of what could be a crippling economic blow to the United States.

As the first Ryan film not to be directly sourced from an existing Tom Clancy novel, the movie rewrites the origins of the bestselling character and updates it somewhat (the first Ryan film appeared in 1990, eleven years before 9-11). Pine becomes the fourth actor to portray Ryan in five films which is perhaps one of the reasons this franchise, while profitable, has never really taken off like Bond for example, which seems to survive the changing of actors much better than Jack Ryan does. Also, the Bond films have surmounted the end of the Cold War much more effectively than the Jack Ryan movies which really need a Soviet presence to work properly.

This is perhaps the least visually impressive of the Ryan movies but yet still packs a decent visual punch. We don’t really get to see the high-tech CIA headquarters much (read: at all) and most of the really impressive visual stuff takes place at the headquarters of the Russian financial corporation that Ryan is auditing.

The cast is fairly impressive, with veteran Costner coming off with the win as the laconic CIA officer who, when asked by Jack if he and Cathy can have a moment to discuss their relationship situation after she discovers his double life, says flatly “No. This is geopolitics, not couples therapy.” It’s a highlight in a movie that lacks light moments.

Pine plays Ryan as a literal analyst; he always seems to be thinking ten steps ahead of things. Often this leaves him feeling cold and unapproachable to the audience. I would have liked to have seen more humanity from Ryan, who as portrayed by Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin and Ben Affleck, always seemed to manage some humanity while still coming off as the smartest guy in the room. Pine gets the second part right.

Branagh, once the heir to Sir Laurence Olivier’s mantle in terms of being the finest actor and director of Shakespeare onscreen, has of late been trying his hand at action movies, having previously directed Thor before taking this one on. He has a fine visual sense as a director and uses that to his advantage here. As for action sequences, there aren’t really a lot of them here – a motorcycle chase near the end of the film, a fight with an assassin in a hotel room and a very suspenseful sequence in which Jack is trying to retrieve data from the computer of Cherevin before getting caught. That contributed I think to what I felt as an overall lack of energy in the movie; it didn’t seem to flow the way I would like an action movie to flow.

As the bad guy, Branagh is very understated (as opposed to the villain he played in The Wild, Wild West in which much scenery was chewed) and makes a nice foil for Ryan, full of quiet menace but with real rage boiling underneath the surface. If the movie were a tiny bit better, he’d have been a classic espionage villain but even as it is he is still a superior villain. I wonder what Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan (still the best of the bunch) would have done with Branagh’s Cherevin.

REASONS TO GO: Terrific cast. Believable plot. Nifty production values.

REASONS TO STAY: The movie has a curious lack of energy.

FAMILY VALUES:  Yeah, there’s violence and some intense action; there’s also some brief strong language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Costner was originally cast as Jack Ryan in the very first movie in the franchise, The Hunt for Red October but wound up turning it down to make Dances With Wolves instead.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/3/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 57% positive reviews. Metacritic: 57/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Sum of All Fears

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: I, Frankenstein

New Releases for the Week of January 17, 2014


Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT

(Paramount) Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, David Paymer, Colm Feore, Peter Andersson, Nonso Anozie, Gemma Chan. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

A young CIA analyst uncovers a terrorist plot on US soil to throw the American financial market into chaos. His mentor lures him deeper into the shadow world of international espionage, putting a strain on his marriage as he faces off with a Russian master spy.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX (opens Thursday)

Genre: Spy Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and intense action, and for brief strong language)

Back in the Day

(Screen Media) Morena Baccarin, Michael Rosenbaum, Nick Swardson, Harland Williams. Making a surprise visit to his high school reunion, a still-single ladies man from back in the day manages to convince his now-married friends to go out on one final fling, leading to some issues with their wives and friends.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language throughout, sexual content and some graphic nudity)

Devil’s Due

(20th Century Fox) Allison Miller, Zach Gilford, Sam Anderson, Catherine Kresge. A newlywed couple discovers that they are pregnant a bit earlier than anticipated. Still, it is welcome news but as time passes and the due date becomes closer, the wife’s personality begins to change and strange unexplainable things begin to occur around them. Soon the husband must face the unthinkable if he is to save his wife – and himself.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for language and some bloody images)

Life of a King

(Millennium) Cuba Gooding Jr., LisaGay Hamilton, Dennis Haysbert, Rachel Thomas. While doing an 18-year prison stint for bank robbery, a young con learns the game of chess. Hoping to help his neighborhood turn things around and to prevent others from going down the same tragic path he did, he founds a chess club which despite the skepticism of others both inside the neighborhood and out, does exactly what he hopes it will do.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, some drug content and brief violent images – all involving teens)

The Nut Job

(Open Road) Starring the voices of Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl . After accidentally destroying the park’s winter stores, a brash and independent squirrel discovers squirrel nirvana – a nearby nut store. But to get at the goodies he’s going to have to make a brilliant plan and that’s not something he or his friends are particularly good at.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)

Ride Along

(Universal) Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, John Leguizamo, Tika Sumpter. Ben, a security officer at an Atlanta high school, longs for two things in life; to become a police officer and to marry his girl. When he is accepted to the police academy, he’s well on his way to achieving the first but the second is a little more problematic. Standing in the way is his girlfriend’s cop brother who doesn’t like Ben at all. Ben must prove himself worthy and what better way to do that than to take him on a ride-along into the worst part of the city?

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Crime Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of strong violence, sexual content and brief strong language)  

The Five-Year Engagement


The Five-Year Engagement

Emily Blunt thinks Jason Segel’s pointy head is cute.

(2012) Romantic Comedy (Universal) Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Rhys Ifans, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Mimi Kennedy, David Paymer, Lauren Weedman, Jacki Weaver, Jim Piddock, Dakota Johnson, Brian Posehn, Mindi Kaling, Randall Park, Kevin Hart, Molly Shannon, Tracee Chimo. Directed by Nicholas Stoller

 

Planning a wedding is a tricky thing. Making it work requires organization, patience and sometimes, a lot of time. Even small weddings can require some juggling skills, particularly when you have to find the right venue, a date that’s  available and make sure it works within everybody’s schedule, at least the main participants. A good sense of humor is a must.

Tom Solomon (Segel) is a sous chef at a fine San Francisco restaurant working for a frenetic and uptight chef Sally (Weedman).  His closest friend is Alex (Pratt), a fellow sous chef who is a cheerfully gross womanizer.

He is dating Violet Barnes (Blunt), a doctoral student in behavioral psychology. Since the moment he laid eyes on her at a New Year’s Eve costume party he knew she was The One, and she knew likewise. He also knows it’s time to propose and although the proposal doesn’t go exactly as planned (why is it that marriage proposals have had to become such production numbers, both in real life and in the movies – are men so insecure that they think that a woman who wants to marry them will change their minds if the proposal isn’t staged elaborately enough?) she still says yes.

They get to planning but Violet is awfully distracted; she’s applied for a position at UC Berkeley that would advance her career greatly but it’s fallen through. When she gets accepted at the University of Michigan for a similar position, the two arrive at a crossroads. Tom decides to give up his position in the prestigious kitchen to follow his fiancée to Ann Arbor and become a chef there. Of course, he finds out only after giving his notice that Sally was planning on making him head chef at her new restaurant. Instead, that job goes to Alex. Things are looking pretty rosy for Alex, who had sex with Violet’s sister Sue (Brie) at the engagement party, knocked her up and is now married to her.

When Tom moves up to Michigan he’s in for quite a culture shock. There’s snow everywhere; on the cars, on the streets, and hiding fire hydrants when he wants to jump into an inviting drift. There’s also no work; some restaurant chefs just laugh at him for giving up a job in San Francisco and he’s forced to get a job at a sandwich shop run by the blunt and profane Tarquin (Posehn).

In the meantime, Violet is taking to her new position like a duck to water. Her charismatic boss Dr. Winton Childs (Ifans) and his lunatic crew of the masturbation-obsessed Doug (Hart), the bitchy Vaneetha (Kaling) and the whack job Ming (Park) have become close friends and a support group. Her career is taking off and her two year contract has become five. The wedding plans are on hold because the pressure is getting to Tom, who has grown Chester Arthur mutton chops and has taken to hunting with a sweater-wearing househusband, while Alex has grown to be a great success in his new restaurant.

What I really like about this movie is that the couple in question don’t face contrived situations based entirely on mis-communication like most of Hollywood’s recent rom-coms. Things happen but because things happen in real life; frustrations that take effect because of situations that could and do happen to anyone.

The chemistry between Blunt and Segel is crucial to making this film work. Their relationship, their love is central to the movie; if you don’t believe in the relationship that is at the crux of the film, you are not going to be sucked in by the story at all. Fortunately, that’s not a problem here.

Segel is one of the most naturally likable guys in Hollywood. He’s easygoing, sweet-natured and perfect for this role. He’s not as over-the-top as say Seth Rogen but he’s still plenty funny. Here he runs the gamut of emotions; he can be giddy, sexy and frustrated. At times his character loses his temper but never in a threatening or obnoxious way. Segel makes Tom a likable guy – and frankly I’d love to have some of his tacos.

Blunt is rapidly becoming one of Hollywood’s busiest actresses. She’s done yeoman work on a number of pictures in the last couple of years, most recently Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. She’s sexy as well as funny but projects a sense of decency. Violet takes some missteps which people make; she’s not perfect but there’s no doubt that Violet loves Tom very much and Blunt makes that very apparent. It’s hard to realistically portray a deep, lasting relationship onscreen but Segel and Blunt do just that. The chemistry between them is undeniable.

They aren’t the only impressive actors here. Pratt, last seen as a relief pitcher in Moneyball, tears it up here. He steals nearly every scene that he’s in. and he has a terrific chemistry with Brie. The two of them prove themselves able in this film and I foresee big things ahead for both of them, particularly Pratt.

Yeah, there are a few moments that made me wince; unfortunately, that seems to be part and parcel with Hollywood romantic comedies. Still, while this is a Judd Apatow-produced  film and thus has its share of raunchiness it is as sweet-natured as any rom-com you’re gonna see from America. I was pleasantly surprised by it in that sense; I was expecting something rather formulaic and instead got something that felt like we were watching a real relationship. And that, my friends, is priceless.

REASONS TO GO: Really good chemistry between Segel and Blunt. Sweet to the core.

REASONS TO STAY: A little bit contrived in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of sexual content as well as plenty of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Segel and Blunt have appeared together in two other movies; Gulliver’s Travels and The Muppets. This is the first time they’ve appeared as romantic partners however.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/6/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100. The film has gotten some pretty solid reviews.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Knocked Up

WOLVERINE LOVERS: Much of the film is set at the University of Michigan and there are plenty of U of M accoutrements and a couple of jokes at Ohio State’s expense. Michigan fans will be in heaven.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Blue Valentine

The Hurricane (1999)


The Hurricane

Some are tough inside the boxing ring, fewer still tougher outside it.

(1999) Biographical Drama (Universal) Denzel Washington, Deborah Kara Unger, John Hannah, Liev Schreiber, Dan Hedaya, Rod Steiger, Debbi Morgan, Clancy Brown, Vicellious Reon Shannon, David Paymer, Harris Yulin, Vincent Pastore. Directed by Norman Jewison

 

One of the most notorious injustices of the 20th century was the incarceration of boxer and former middleweight champion Rubin “Hurricane” Carter (Washington). Sentenced to three consecutive life sentences for the murders of three white people in the Lafayette Bar in Patterson, New Jersey, Carter – a proud black man – loudly proclaimed his innocence but remained jailed for more than 20 years. Corruption, racial prejudice and legal chicanery kept him there.

In his cell, Carter, a strong-spirited intellectual, deprived himself of everything that could potentially be taken away from him, retaining only his heart, his mind and his soul – things that were his alone to control. Shutting out all those who loved him, Carter’s pride and dignity created a prison for himself of a different kind, one which allowed him to survive his ordeal. Still, even those strong walls he created for himself were crumbling in the insidious bonds of despair.

Into his life comes young Lesra Martin (Shannon), a young man deeply touched by Carter’s prison-penned autobiography. Martin had been “adopted” by three white Canadian idealists – Sam Chaiton (Schreiber),  Terry Swinton ( Hannah) and Lisa Peters (Unger), who taught Martin how to read and write. Martin is moved to write to Carter, who begins a correspondence with him. He gives Carter hope – hope quickly dashed by the New Jersey courts.

Realizing that their new friend can’t survive much longer in prison, the Canadians and Lesra move to New Jersey, determined to free Carter. Despite the scarcity of witnesses willing to testify, despite the coldness of the trail they follow and despite veiled threats of bodily harm, they soldier on, convinced of Carter’s innocence. They eventually find the evidence they seek  but is it enough to free a man who has by now become a liability to the corrupt officials who originally imprisoned him?

Washington is sensational as Carter. He is absolutely riveting to watch, portraying one of the most complex individuals ever seen on the screen. He is a young man filled with rage and hatred; he is a middle-aged man dead to all emotion, he is an older man filled with wisdom and enlightenment. He grows throughout the course of this movie, and each change rings true every step of the way. Whenever Washington is onscreen, you can’t take your eyes off him.

This is a very affecting movie; Da Queen gave it three hankies, and would have made it four but ran out of napkins. Everyone in the theater was snuffling, particularly during a late-in-the-movie exchange between Carter and Martin. The supporting cast is swell too; Schreiber, Hannah and Unger are terrific, Dan Hedaya as a cop and Rod Steiger as a judge are fantastic, but Shannon is amazing here. I thought he had a very promising future, but that hasn’t panned out up to now.

The Norman Jewison was at the top of his game here. Never a flashy director, he was content to let the story tell itself without distracting the audience with parlor tricks. He does that here too, utilizing a lot of standard camera shots but never going the razzle dazzle route. With a story as intriguing as this one, those things aren’t needed and would actually detract from the impact of the film and Jewison was a seasoned pro who recognized that.

Most of the problems here are minor; for one thing, the movie drags during the middle portion when Carter adjusts to his imprisonment. Also, Carter is sometimes too good to be true. In real life, he was a man prone to violence and very suspicious of whites. He had problems controlling his temper and was sometimes thug-like in his behavior. He had served time for robbery and was dishonorably discharged from the military, not a conquering hero returning from war.  There is contraversy still that the movie was little more than a pro-Carter propaganda piece and there is plenty of evidence that he actually did commit the crimes he was accused of.  However, it must also be said that there are many who feel that the evidence was inconclusive and mostly circumstantial. Even so while some of his faults are alluded to Carter remains a fascinating subject for a movie. His ordeal makes for compelling drama. It seems almost unspeakable that he had to endure what he did. What will be the test of our culture in the years to come is that there be no more Rubin Carters. However, human nature being what it is, we have a long way to go until we get there.

WHY RENT THIS: Incendiary performance by Washington and fine supporting work by Shannon, Unger, Hannah and Schreiber. Compelling cautionary tale.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Glosses over the not-so-nice part of Carter’s personality.

FAMILY MATTERS: There are some scenes of violence and a surfeit of profanity.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The picture of Malcolm X in Carter’s cell was actually a still photograph of Washington playing Malcolm X in the Spike Lee film Malcolm X.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $74.0M on a $50M budget; the movie was unprofitable during it’s theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

NEXT: Mutants

Drag Me to Hell


Drag Me to Hell

This isn't exactly the girl-on-girl action I had in mind.

(Universal) Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Jessica Lucas, David Paymer, Dileep Rao, Adriana Barraza, Chelcie Ross, Reggie Lee. Directed by Sam Raimi

Director Sam Raimi made his bones, so to speak, in the horror genre. His Evil Dead trilogy still remains today a classic of the genre, hallmarks of Raimi’s patented horror-with-laughs style. After doing Army of Darkness, the last of the trilogy, Raimi moved on to doing the Spider-Man movies as well as a couple of other non-horror movies, but the genre has never been far from his heart – his Ghost House Pictures production shingle has been responsible for such fare as The Messengers, 30 Days of Night and The Grudge trilogy.

Now he makes his return to the genre as a director with this nifty little film. Christine Brown (Lohman), a sweet, mousy blonde, is gunning for a promotion at the bank where she works. If it were given on competence alone, she’d be a lock but the slimy, smarmy Stu Rubin (Lee) is undercutting her and looks to have the promotion sewn up. Her boss, Mr. Jacks (Paymer) tells her that she needs to be making tougher decisions.

She puts this into practice when Mrs. Ganush (Raver) comes to her desk, begging for an extension on the third mortgage for her house. Christine is inclined to give it to her – she doesn’t have the stomach for throwing an old woman out into the street – but she reeeally wants that promotion so she turns her down, even when Mrs. Ganush gets down on her knees.

Christine has forgotten one of the basic rules of horror movies – never humiliate a gypsy. Has she learned nothing from Stephen King? Apparently not, so she reaps the consequences and hideous they are. Mrs. Ganush levels a curse on her that gives her three days before a demon drags her soul straight to H-E-double hockey sticks.

Before she gets there, however, she will go through all manner of being terrorized and grossed out, having all sorts of bodily fluids vomited onto her by the demonic Mrs. Ganush and her minions. Her incredulous boyfriend Clay Dalton (Long) thinks she’s out of her mind at first, but is supportive nonetheless – and as unexplainable things begin to pile up he too becomes a believer, sorta kinda.

She’s not alone in her fight, however; Indian spiritualist Rham Jas (Rao) helps her figure out what’s going on, and takes her to see legitimate psychic Shaun San Dena (Barraza) who fought one of these curses once before and lost, so is eager to redeem herself. It won’t be easy though, and with every possibility exhausted, there remains one last desperate hope for Christine, one that involves doing something terrible.

Most horror movies these days are either remakes of iconic franchises from the ‘70s and ‘80s, remakes of far superior Asian films, or the kind of torture porn of the Saw and Hostel series. It’s refreshing to see a good horror movie that has some great scares to it, a reasonably original premise and is a great ride to boot. Raimi hasn’t forgotten his skills as a genre director and has added to it the experience of making big-budget mega-effects driven movies, which help him increase the scope of his vision here.

Lohman has had something of a checkered career as an actress, but here she nails it. Her character doesn’t necessarily lack a moral compass in that she knows the right thing to do; she just doesn’t have the backbone to follow it. That makes her far more human than either a complete saint or an utter bitch might in that role.

Raver makes this a career highlight reel; she is astonishing as the old woman and after a career of soap operas and TV show guest appearances, she gets the kind of role finally that really lets her cut loose, even if you can barely recognize her under all the make-up. She takes a standard gypsy character and turns her into one of the most frightening movie characters of the last decade; it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if they bring her back to curse other people in sequels to this if Raimi decides to make one.

While the rest of the cast is solid, kudos should be directed at Rao who turns his charlatan psychic which was meant to serve as a plot explainer into an integral part of the movie’s success. It’s not strictly comic relief, but suffice to work that he works similarly to what the Suresh character does in the “Heroes” TV show.

There are plenty of scares here and not all of them are the artificially manufactured kind, either – you know, the ones with the jumpy soundtrack, loud crashing noises and cats jumping out of dark spaces. Nope, this is a movie where the scares are earned, and the laughs that follow them legitimate. While the movie didn’t do gangbusters at the box office (only raking in $40 million domestically), it was so cheaply produced that it turned a tidy profit so the powers that be at Universal may be amenable to sequels, even though the movie doesn’t really seem to promise one.

For my part, I’ve found the American horror movie in something of a rut in the 21st century for all the reasons outlined above. While some terrific horror movies have come from places like Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and England, there have been very few to come from the States and there is something galling about that. Fortunately here comes Sam Raimi to deliver a movie that shows you why few movies can scare the bejeezus from you like an American horror movie can.

WHY RENT THIS: This might just be the best horror movie so far of the 21st century. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Christine is so ditzy and spineless at times it’s hard to really feel sympathy for her. The ending was a bit of a disappointment.

FAMILY VALUES: This is plenty scary, gang. Seriously, unless your kids don’t ever have nightmares, think twice about letting them see this – some of the imagery is really, really intense.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first movie directed by Sam Raimi in which actor Bruce Campbell didn’t appear (he was busy with his television show “Burn Notice”).  

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: While the DVD and Blu-Ray covers trumpet that this is an unrated version, the difference between this and the theatrical release is a single scene; the unrated version is actually nine seconds shorter in total than the theatrical version. 

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: Charlie St. Cloud