Sinister (2012)

Don’t Worry, Daddy … I’ll Make You Famous Again.

I actually found myself in a position that I could fulfill a couple of things all at the same time by reviewing one movie.  It’s a horror movie so it goes into the October Horrorthon, it was a request that I could take care of from my friend Kori, and it was also a movie in theaters now and I had not been to the cinema in a while.  The problem that I had was that the movie she requested was one I had never heard of, and I typically won’t honor a request made for a movie in theaters until it comes out on DVD because theaters are too expensive to see things I don’t give a shit about.  At least until I get famous in a couple of months and they start paying to get me to see their movies.  But I talked with my friend Jordan about this request and he said the trailer looked pretty good.  I checked it out and it did actually pique my interest.  Not enough to pay full price for the ticket, but I could certainly be inspired to check it out for $5 at my local theater.  And that’s how I ended up watching Sinister, co-written by C. Robert Cargill, co-written and directed by Scott Derrickson, and starring Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Clare Foley, Michael Hall D’Addario, James Ransone, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Fred Thompson.

The Oswalt family – father Ellison (Ethan Hawke), mother Tracy (Juliet Rylance), daughter Ashley (Clare Foley), and potentially-other-daughter-that-they-claim-is-a-son-but-I’m-not-convinced Trevor (Michael Hall D’Addario) – move into a house that will supposedly help Ellison finish his next novel.  He’s a true-crime novelist who hasn’t had a hit since his first book and has made the creepy and dangerous decision to move into the actual house where the murders his book are about took place, unbeknownst to his family.  Turns out that four members of a family were hanged from a tree in the backyard and the remaining daughter went missing.  Ellison finds a box in the attic that contains several reels of Super 8 footage that start innocently enough but turn into murders.  There’s “Pool Party” where the family plays in the pool and then cut to them tied to deck chairs and being drowned, “BBQ” which starts as a barbecue that cuts to the family being immolated, “Sleepy Time” which is the family tied to the beds and then getting their throats cut, and “Family Hanging Out” which is of the hanging murders.  Inside these videos, Ellison sees a dark figure that is either a demon or a Juggalo, and with that he starts having strange and scary occurrences around the house.

I didn’t build up any sort of expectation for this movie going in, and it met them.  It’s good.  Not great, just good.  It’s not entirely unlike the movies that they put on their poster because they share the same producer (Paranormal Activity and Insidious).  In fact, it’s got a lot of elements that can be found in Insidious.  The evil thing’s whole goal is to lure kids into the spirit world through their dreams, and that is exactly what happened in Insidious.  But I wouldn’t say these movies were too alike.  I guess these kinds of movies are always going to share a few similar themes.  What I did take issue with was that it really didn’t scare, at least not in any way I respect.  I don’t like movies startling me.  It doesn’t take a quality filmmaker to startle someone.  All you really need to do is be really quiet for a little while and then have something pop out.  It generally feels cheap in a movie, even if it is sometimes effective.  They do create tension pretty well to lead up to those moments, but the actual “scary” thing was usually just something popping out or a goofy scene of dead kid ghosts running around a house.  The story of the movie was fine, but certainly not innovative.  It’s all about something evil that kills people for watching a movie.  But this time the evil thing was named Mr. Magoo (Wikipedia says it’s Bughuul, but I know what I heard) and not Samara from The Ring.  And they also spent an awful lot of time on the other part of the story: Ellison wanting to write a new hit book.  But that part of the story got me annoyed right from the start.  First, why would you ever intentionally move into a place where you know people were murdered?  I don’t necessarily believe in ghosts, but I also don’t believe in finding out the hard way.  And his whole idea of moving there to help him write his story about it seems like bullshit.  I’m writing this review about the movie, but I didn’t have to move into a haunted house to do it because I can just use my imagination.  And this whole thing started to ruin his family life, but I didn’t feel like he was that interested in that even though he acted like he was because I think he was trying to kill his son/daughter, Trevor.  Early on in the movie (and it’s actually one of the scarier parts) he finds his kid in a box that he didn’t know how he got in because the kid has night terrors (that also have nothing to do with the movie).  Later, when he hears a noise upstairs, Ellison starts vigorously looking through boxes with a knife trying to find the source of the noise.  If your kid was pulling the same nonsense, you would’ve stabbed him in the face.  And I wouldn’t really have minded.

The look of the movie was a little hit or miss for me.  I appreciated the movie because the amount of time they relied on gore for scares was nearly non-existent, but the product placement was really starting to bug me.  Apple either fully funded this movie or the people making it are just fully in love with it.  Ellison spent 90% of the movie either on his Mac or using his iPhone.  I liked when he used his iPhone though because I could totally relate to it.  Instead of having an actual flashlight for one scene, he used the flashlight app on his phone.  I do that all the time.  I have flashlights all over the place in my house too, but they’re not on me 24/7 like my phone is.  But the Apple stuff actually leads to a plot hole that I found.  When Ellison is trying to wipe his hands of the whole situation, he deletes the stuff off of his Mac.  You know Time Machine won’t let you actually delete stuff!  Apple thinks you’re retarded!  Another thing that really worked my nerves in this movie was that they felt the need to show us how everything was being activated with a series of quick cut montage edits that seemed straight out of Hot Fuzz, except Hot Fuzz knew they were doing it out of comedy.  I started to get the feeling that the filmmakers really wanted me to know how to use a Super 8 projector because they had to show us exactly how the film was spooled in, then the lens clicks into place, then you spool it through the bottom reel, and then you flip the switch to turn it on.  How do I know that even though I’ve never seen a reel to reel projector in real life?  ‘Cause this movie wouldn’t accept me leaving without that knowledge.  And then they started doing it with the coffee machine too.

I can’t say I had any problem with any of the performances in the movie.  They were all either fine or good.  Ethan Hawke was not a likeable character, but he did a good job at the character.  He spent most of the movie being terrified by stuff, but he did a good job of it.  I just didn’t like that his character kept watching old video of him saying that he values the justice his books bring so much over the fame, but then would risk his family’s life to get another hit.  I guess that’s just making the character more human though.  Juliet Rylance tended to get on my nerves, but I think I take a negative stance on any lady in a movie that is a buzz kill.  If he listened to you, there wouldn’t be a movie.  So shut up and get to dying.  Though his part in the movie was not that big, I liked James Ransone as the Deputy.  He was funny and vaguely dimwitted, but not so much so that it was unrealistic.

Sinister was a bit of a risk for me, going in with completely no idea what I was in for, but I would say it was not without its charms.  I just don’t know if I’m confident saying those charms were enough to recommend seeing it in theaters.  The story seemed to take a lot from other horror movies like The Ring and Paranormal Activity, but the comparisons were not so overwhelming that I’d say it was the same movies.  The performances were also good.  I guess the biggest problem was that the scares were mostly cheap and not much more than startles.  I don’t regret seeing this movie in theaters, but I also would’ve been completely comfortable waiting to RedBox it.  Sinister gets “Children exposed to these images were especially vulnerable to Magoo’s abductions” out of “That symbol is associated with a Pagan deity named Magoo.”

Let’s get these reviews more attention, people.  Post reviews on your webpages, tell your friends, do some of them crazy Pinterest nonsense.  Whatever you can do to help my reviews get more attention would be greatly appreciated.  You can also add me on FaceBook and Twitter.  Don’t forget to leave me some comments.  Your opinions and constructive criticisms are always appreciated.

Men in Black (1997)

We’re Not Hosting an Intergalactic Kegger Down Here

After watching Snow White and the Huntsman, I felt I had the time to catch a second movie, but we’ll get to that in a couple of days.  This movie was the third part in a trilogy, so it stands to reason that I would review the first two movies first.  I remember the other two movies as being very funny, really cool, and really imaginative.  But, as with so many movies, you never really know how well they’re going to hold up to the scrutiny of today.  We’ll find out in my review of Men in Black, written by Ed Solomon, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, and starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio, Linda Fiorentino, Rip Torn, Tony Shalhoub, David Cross, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Mike Nussbaum, John Gries, Tim Blaney, and Richard Hamilton.

A member of a secret organization called the Men in Black named Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) is left without a partner when his previous partner (Richard Hamilton) is proven to be too old to do the job anymore.  Meanwhile, James Darrell Edwards III (Will Smith), a NYPD officer chases down a strange man on foot that has two pairs of eyelids and can climb walls.  When he catches him, he tells him that the world is coming to an end and jumps off the roof.  Needless to say, his peers at the precinct don’t believe him, but K does.  After getting the information from him he needs, he uses a device that erases his mind called a neuralyzer, but having seen his potential, also gives him a card to come and potentially become a Men in Black agent.  Though one could say he did less than stellar on the tests, K talks the Agency leader, Zed (Rip Torn), into taking him on.  James Darrell Edwards III loses his identity and becomes Agent J.  Their first case together involves a large, cockroach-like creature wearing the skin of a farmer named Edgar (Vincent D’Onofrio) and looking for something called “The Galaxy”, which is apparently located on Earth.  Finding it would mean the destruction of the Earth, so the Men in Black must intervene.

Men in Black is a really fun and imaginative movie.  It was one of the most fun movies that I can presently remember from my high school days, and it completely holds up.  The writing is pretty basic science fiction fare with a few twists and turns so as to not be predictable and with enough comedy to set itself apart.  At its core, it’s just about the regular stuff of saving the world from destruction by an alien race, but it adds the fish out of water thing with J having to deal with all sorts of things that he was previously unaware of their existence.  Will Smith’s character adds the bulk of the comedy because of this fish out of water stuff.  One of my favorite comedy moments for Will Smith is when he’s in the shooting range to audition for the Men in Black and he shoots only the little girl cutout.  His explanation for why he chose to shoot her is fantastic.  They don’t do very much drama in this movie, and that’s what keeps it fun.  All of the drama stuff is because of K, who we quickly find out is pining over the woman he loved who he can’t keep in touch with because of his job.  That gets a satisfying wrap up in the end.  The part where they save the world from the aliens is almost secondary, but it’s still interesting.  The cockroach creature in the Edgar suit is intimidating in any one of its incarnations.  When it’s wearing the Edgar suit, its skin is hanging off its bones making it look pretty gross, but pretty cool as well.  There’s a bit of a mystery to this part of the story because they’re told the galaxy they’re looking for is on Orion’s Belt, and they need to figure out what that means, but the mystery doesn’t take that long.  The look to this movie holds up very well.  I really like their opening of watching a fly travel down a highway until it’s plastered across a windshield.  The aliens look very good, both in their animatronic forms and their computer generated forms.  It’s all very stylized and cool.  In fact, I figured from the look of it that Tim Burton had something to do with it, but I think it was just the Danny Elfman music that gives that feel to it.

The greater majority of the performances work very well in this movie.  Will Smith is always a delight to watch.  He’s very funny in this movie and even has a few minutes where he gets to be awesome.  Take, for instance, when he was facing off with the cockroach near the end of the movie and he tells the giant, sinister cockroach to ease up out of his face.  He pulls that stuff off just as well as he pulls off the comedy.  Tommy Lee Jones’ most impressive stuff in this movie is the emotional parts.  He doesn’t go over the top with it, but it’s clearly there.  The bulk of the comedy he’s involved with is as a straight man, and he does that fantastically.  Vincent D’Onofrio was a difficult one for me though.  He definitely played the Edgar suit version of himself in an intimidating way, but he also kind of hammed it up at times.

Men in Black was one of the most fun movies of my high school years, and it stands up to the memories I had of it.  At its core, it’s not the most brilliant or innovative story, but the comedy and the creative look it brings sets it apart from the basic sci-fi fare.  And all of the performances in the movie do well to help the movie accomplish the fun it sets its sights on, even though D’Onofrio may go a bit over the top at times.  Men in Black is a great movie that should be in any collection.  Tomorrow, we’ll find out about the sequel.  Men in Black gets “I make this look good” out of “You’ll get used to it … or you’ll have a psychotic episode.”

Let’s get these reviews more attention, people.  Post reviews on your webpages, tell your friends, do some of them crazy Pinterest nonsense.  Whatever you can do to help my reviews get more attention would be greatly appreciated.  You can also add me on FaceBook (Robert T. Bicket) and Twitter (iSizzle).  Don’t forget to leave me some comments.  Your opinions and constructive criticisms are always appreciated.