Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones


Smile...you're on catastrophe camera!

Smile…you’re on catastrophe camera!

(2014) Found Footage Horror (Paramount) Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Gabrielle Walsh, Renee Victor, Noemi Gonzalez, David Saucedo, Gloria Sandoval, Richard Cabral, Carlos Pratt, Juan Vasquez, Alonso Alvarez, Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Wallis Barton, Lucy Chambers, Jessica Tyler Brown, Diana Danger, Gigi Feshold, Molly Ephraim, Maralyn Facey. Directed by Christopher Landon

If you believed the movies, supernatural terror only takes place in creaky old Victorians or lily-white suburbs. I don’t think it has occurred to Hollywood to put many of their horror movies in urban settings which is senseless; urban audiences make up some of the largest segments of the horror film audience.

However, the honchos of the Paranormal Activity franchise aren’t fools. They’ve set this film within the continuity of their franchise but with a completely different setting and cast. Here, we are brought to Oxnard, a racially diverse town 35 miles west of Los Angeles in Ventura County. While there are some lily-white suburban sorts in Oxnard, there is also a pretty sizable Latino population (about 73.5% of the overall population).

In a working class apartment complex lives Jesse (Jacobs) who has just graduated high school along with his best friend Hector (Diaz). He lives there with his grandma (Victor) who speaks little English and apparently his dad (Saucedo who appears very little in the film). He gets a compact video camera for his birthday and of course boys being boys has to record everything including the stupid stuff boys in their late teens do.

However, as all neighborhoods do, there is someone creepy in this case Anna (Sandoval) whom it is whispered is a bruja, a witch. Strange noises are often heard coming from her apartment whose windows have been taped over with newspaper so there’s no seeing inside. However when the boys rig up a spy cam to look down into the apartment, they are shocked – and delighted – to see a gorgeous naked woman…until a naked Anna comes in and starts painting strange symbols on her belly. The creepy neighbors where I lived never had gorgeous naked women in their house – at least as far as I know.

Anyway shortly after that Anna turns up dead and the class valedictorian, Oscar (Pratt) is the unlikely suspect. You would think it would be his gang-banging brother Arturo (Cabral) but no. And not long after that, Jesse finds a strange bite mark on his wrist. Strange how the word “strange” keeps popping up in the text.

Things start going sideways after that. Jesse develops super strength and a hair-trigger temper, not a good combination. People in the neighborhood start turning up missing…or dead. Jesse begins acting more distant, almost like he doesn’t recognize the people he’s closest too. Hector is very concerned as is the pretty and sweet Marisol (Walsh), Jesse’s cousin. They begin looking into what went on in that downstairs apartment and before too long Jesse’s camera begins to capture some pretty strange things. There, I’ve done it again.

The fifth movie in the franchise is a bit of a departure from the other four. It is set apart from the main films in the franchise although some of the characters from previous films – Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat and Molly Ephraim – all put in cameos. Think of it as an off-shoot (there is a Paranormal Activity 5 planned for this October) that follows a different path but has the same basics (it is still a found footage movie) and actually helps build up the mythology around the franchise nicely, which leaves future directors some latitude to play in.

You don’t go to see a movie like this for the acting, but there is some good chemistry among the leads, particularly between Jacobs and Diaz who banter as naturally as two guys who have grown up together and know all of the skeletons in each other’s closets. Walsh also is game although I have to admit that Cabral actually shows some promise. Hopefully he won’t be limited to tattooed gang banger roles.

However, you do go to a movie like this to get some scares and while there are a few they’re mostly of the misdirection variety (“oh look, it’s just a cat”) and while there isn’t a ton of gore here there are some relatively disturbing images. This is far from a game-changer for the horror genre sports fans. There is an acceptable number of scares but just barely.

There were some things I liked about this entry into the franchise but there were some I didn’t. It’s one of those movies that will not make new fans of the franchise nor should it send too many off the reservation either. Mainly, it’s kind of a continuation of things, a placeholder until the next big event PA film comes out which hopefully is the one in the pipeline for Halloween. The franchise could sure use one.

REASONS TO GO: Cool idea. Rounds out the franchise mythology considerably. Good chemistry between the leads.

REASONS TO STAY: Not very scary and generally not well-acted.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a crapload of foul language, some graphic nudity, some mighty disturbing images, some drug use and a fair amount of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jacobs actually has several tattoos in real life in among other places his arms, hands and neck. While these were covered up for the film, while he is kneeling at the vending machine one of his tats can be seen just above the right knee.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/16/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 38% positive reviews. Metacritic: 42/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Possession

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Vertical Limit

New Releases for the Week of October 19, 2012


October 19, 2012

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4

(Paramount) Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Brady Allen, Alisha Boe, Tommy Miranda. Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

A new family next door is creeping out a teenager who is often home alone. They have a weird little boy who keeps staring at her in the window. What she doesn’t know is that the new neighbors are wanted for questioning in multiple murders – and that a malevolent supernatural entity swirls around them like an evil mist.

See the trailer, promos and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: R (for language and some violence/terror)

Alex Cross

(Summit) Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, Edward Burns, Rachel Nichols. A brilliant detective/forensic psychology matches wits with a serial killer who is an expert in military tactics and a trained killer. The two will face off as the serial killer turns his sights on the family of Alex Cross…and that just won’t do.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for violence including disturbing images, sexual content, language, drug references and nudity)

A Measure of Faith

(Freestyle) Dalas Davis, Stephanie M. Williams, Whitney Goin, Xan Manning. A professional basketball player sees his life disintegrate around him after an injury forces him to retire, and a personal tragedy leads him to a foolish act that gets him arrested. While doing community service, he meets a young man from a broken family that reminds him of himself and decides to mentor him, a decision that will have life-changing consequences for the both of them.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence, a sexual reference and smoking throughout)

The Paperboy

(Millennium) Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, John Cusack, Nicole Kidman. The son of a local newspaper publisher returns home after being kicked out of college. The only job he can get is as a delivery boy for his father’s paper. His older brother, a reporter for a Miami metro daily, comes to town working on a career-making story about a man he thinks is innocent on death row. However, things aren’t what they necessarily seem to be and both brothers get drawn into a web of deceit, sex and treachery.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Thriller

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, violence and language)

Shining Night: A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen

(Song Without Borders) Morten Lauridsen, Paul Salamunovich, Gary Malkin, Dana Gioia. One of America’s most honored composers is not well-known to the general public outside of academic and Fine Arts circles. His work is among the most-performed among choral groups and is inspired by the nature of the Pacific Northwest and has an almost-mystic quality to it. Through interviews with critics, musicians, choral masters and the man himself, some light is shed on the mind of this most private of men through the camera eye.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR

Student of the Year

(Dharma) Sidharth Malhotra, Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Ram Kapoor. Two best friends from vastly different economic backgrounds compete for the Student of the Year trophy at a prestigious Indian high school for different reasons – one to help him get into a good university, the other to gain his father’s approval. The award becomes all the more important when both fall for the same girl.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

New Releases for the Week of October 21, 2011


THE THREE MUSKETEERS

(Summit) Logan Lerman, Milla Jovovich, Matthew Macfadyen, Ray Stevenson, Luke Evans, Mads Mikkelsen, Gabriella Wilde, Juno Temple, Orlando Bloom, Christoph Waltz. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

A hot-headed young man joins forces with three rogue Musketeers to take on the evil Cardinal Richelieu, the sensual assassin Milady DeWinter and Lord Buckingham, prime minister of their sworn enemies Great Britain and prevent a cataclysmic war. There have been screen versions of this Alexandre Dumas classic for decades (my favorite being the Alexander and Ilya Salkind version in the 70s) but this is the first to come out in 3D.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Adventure

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of adventure action violence)

Johnny English Reborn

(Universal) Rowan Atkinson, Gillian Anderson, Dominic West, Rosamund Pike. There is a plot afoot to assassinate a world leader and cause global chaos and only one man can stop it – superspy Johnny English. The trouble is that English is nowhere to be found, and once he finally is located, is woefully out of practice. That’s no matter; what Johnny English does requires no skill or practice whatsoever.

See the trailer and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Spy Spoof

Rating: PG (for mild action violence, rude humor, some language and brief sensuality)

Margin Call

(Roadside Attractions) Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany. On a single day during the height of the 2008 financial meltdown, the key players at a financial firm cope with the implications of a scandal at their own company that might shutter its doors forever. They will need to wrestle with decisions both moral and ethical that will not only weigh their jobs in the balance but also their very souls.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language)

The Mighty Macs

(Freestyle Releasing) Carla Gugino, David Boreanaz, Marley Shelton, Ellen Burstyn. In 1971, a small Catholic women’s college caught the imagination of the sports world when a hard-edged head coach and a spunky nun helped mold the team into a national championship run that defied the odds. They would become a team for the ages.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Sports Drama

Rating: G

Paranormal Activity 3

(Paramount) Katie Featherston, Sprague Grayden, Lauren Bittner, Chloe Csengery. This is the prequel to the enormously popular found footage horror series. It depicts, in the 80s, how the supernatural forces that beset Katie and Kristi came into their lives as young girls.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: R (for some violence, language, brief sexuality and drug use)

The Way

(ARC Entertainment) Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Deborah Kara Unger, Yorick van Wangingen. An American doctor travels to the Pyrenees to recover the remains of his estranged son, killed in a storm while making a pilgrimage along the Way of St. James. In tribute to his son and also as a means to understand him better, he decides to complete the journey his son wanted to make. This was directed by Estevez and filmed along the actual Camino de Santiago in France and Spain.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Spiritual Drama

Rating: NR

Paranormal Activity 2


Paranormal Activity 2

Has this franchise already gone to the dogs?

(2010) Supernatural Horror (Paramount) Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Sprague Grayden, Seth Ginsberg, Vivis, William Juan Prieto, Jackson Xenia Prieto, David Bierend.  Directed by Tod Williams

If at first you succeed, goes the Hollywood logic, make a sequel and if possible, put as little variation into the formula that made the first movie a success as possible. Sometimes that works out nicely and other times, well…

Daniel Rey (Boland), his wife Kristi (Grayden) and their teenage daughter Ali (Ephraim) have a new addition to the family; newborn son Hunter (the Prieto twins) who’s just come home for the first time. Unfortunately, their house gets trashed by apparent vandals who take nothing but the incident is sufficiently disturbing enough for Daniel to install a system of security cameras in the house.

Flash-forward a bit. Hunter is crawling and able to stand, although he’s not walking yet. Things are beginning to go bump in the night and clang in the day; a frying pan falls from its place, seemingly without provocation. A pool cleaner rises up out of the pool without explanation. Cabinet doors fly open by themselves.

Most of the activity seems centered around Hunter. Further explanation comes from Ali’s internet research, and the fact that Kristi is sister to Katie (Featherston), who along with Micah (Sloat) were the protagonists of the Paranormal Activity. This takes place in the two months before the activities in Paranormal Activity and in case you didn’t figure it out, a graphic reading “60 Days before Micah Sloan’s death” should fill in the blanks. Portentous ain’t it?

What worked really well in the first movie was the sense that you had no clue what was going to happen next. Things were done with light and shadow that made even ordinary vistas creepier; you looked long and hard at the footage, trying to determine what was moving all by itself or was about to. You were thrown off-guard in nearly every frame.

This time that doesn’t happen so much. The trouble with sequels is that you do have a clue what’s going to happen next and let’s face it, the sequel follows the original here pretty faithfully in terms of structure. Of course as a studio film the new one has a budget which while miniscule by Hollywood standards is still quite a bit more than the first movie.

Featherston and Sloat (who are top-billed in the credits) make only cameo appearances. The new family may have more dynamics because there are more members (including the nanny Martina (Vivis) who dabbles in Hispanic spiritualism on the side. However, there just isn’t as much realism in the relationship as with the first couple, who bickered and flirted and kidded each other so naturally they felt like a real couple. Here, this is more of a typical Hollywood family who  act the way Hollywood thinks families act.

I don’t have a problem with that, but in a case where you’re trying to give the movie a documentary you-are-there kind of feel, it makes it more difficult to achieve that feeling. The first movie did it; the second movie doesn’t and that is really where the crux of the differences between them lies. There are scares, sure – plenty of them, mostly of the gotcha variety but the atmosphere of absolute dread, the feeling of being trapped in an inevitable spiral that was going to end badly just isn’t there.

Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of reasons to rent this movie, none the least of which is that it is competently made, it gives you some background about events in the first movie and lays down the seeds for the next one which hopefully might give the series closure, or at least this chapter of it (the beauty of the concept is that it can be set to different houses and different families easily). I suppose that the movie already has a strike against it in that if you’ve already seen the first, this might not feel as new and refreshing. I imagine if you watch this one first you’ll wind up being fonder of it than the original. Still in all, it doesn’t really sour you on the franchise and while it doesn’t measure up in terms of impact, it still packs plenty of wallop of its own.

WHY RENT THIS: Some nice scares and a bit of explanation behind the first film.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Far too formulaic. The relationship between Daniel and Kristi is far less convincing.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of bad language and a bit of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The name of the father’s character – Daniel Rey – came from an indie rock producer who among others produced albums for the Ramones and the Misfits, posters for each can be seen in Ali’s room.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $176.7M on a $3M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: X-Men: First Class

Paranormal Activity


Paranormal Activity

Things that go bump in the night.

(2009) Supernatural Horror (Paramount) Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Friedrichs, Amber Armstrong, Ashley Palmer, Randy McDowell, James Piper, Crystal Cartwright.  Directed by Oren Peli

We think of haunted houses of being old Victorian mansions and Gothic monstrosities in fog-shrouded, rain-soaked streets with black cats and kudzu aplenty. However, paranormal activity can occur even in the most innocuous of settings.

Katie (Featherston) and Micah (Sloat) have been together for a few years now and have taken the big step of moving in together, into a beautiful suburban San Diego home. He’s a day trader and a pretty typical modern 20-something guy. She’s an English student and a pretty typical modern 20-something gal. They have high hopes for the future.

Then strange things begin to happen. Doors open and shut of their own accord. Things fall off of shelves. They are awakened by loud bangs in the night. Micah, however, being a pretty typical modern 20-something guy, has a major league digital video rig. He determines to film the goings on in the house; this becomes something of an obsession with him. As things escalate, Katie grows more terrified (she’s had experience with paranormal events in her past), Micah grows more determined and the strain begins to show on the couple. The question is: what does this entity want?

This is as successful a horror movie as you’re likely to see, both from a profit standpoint (see below) but also from an artistic standpoint as well. The movie has almost no budget and very few visual effects that aren’t practically generated. This is a found footage movie consisting entirely of Micah’s videotaping which can be both good and bad; it allows us to be privy to some very intimate moments for the couple (not the sexual kind) but also leads to long periods of really not much going on.

Fortunately, Featherston and Sloat have a natural chemistry together; they act and feel like a real couple, with Featherston getting exasperated with Sloat and Sloat being a guy about things. They argue, they kid each other and they show each other affection the way couples who have been together for awhile do. There are other actors here (such as Friedrichs as a paranormal expert) but it is Featherston who is onscreen for nearly every shot with Sloat being more often the voice of the guy holding the camera.

There are some genuine scares here but the movie goes for atmosphere more than anything else. The movie works because it generates a mood and relies on that to elevate the tension. The scares pop the balloon nicely, leaving us unbalanced for most of the film which is what a good horror movie is supposed to do.

The fact that the setting is so ordinary and mundane makes the film even creepier. It could be taking place in our own homes. And that ability to make it relatable is what makes the movie all the more effective. A lot has been made of the film’s very effective marketing campaign, the low budget and the big box office. All these things have tended to obscure the fact that this is a well-made horror movie that will keep you hooked until the very end. Now that the Saw franchise has come to an end, Halloween has a new franchise to look forward to.

WHY RENT THIS: One of the most effective “found footage” movies yet. Surprisingly good performances from unknowns Featherston and Sloat. Atmospheric and scary yet believable.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Starts out very slowly and there are a lot of stretches where nothing exciting happens..

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a lot of bad language and some really disturbing moments.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The entire movie was filmed in director Oren Peli’s home.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Limited Edition comes with an unrated version with an alternative ending, a collectors card with a film cell on it and a limited edition t-shirt.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $193.3M on a $15,000 production budget; the movie was a blockbuster and maybe the most profitable movie ever on a budget under six figures.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Paranormal Activity 2