Oculus

April 11, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff
Directed by: Mike Flanagan (“Absentia”)
Written by: Mike Flanagan (“Absentia”) and Jeff Howard (debut)

For a solid two minutes in “Oculus,” it seems like the filmmakers are about to turn the possessed-object-terrorizes-a-family formula on its ear, offering up a plotline wherein one character nearly convinces us that the protagonist has actually fabricated a reality in which the destruction of her childhood was caused by a haunted mirror and not, in fact, that special brand of extraordinary human misery that sometimes tears people apart. It’s always an exciting little zap when horror movies find new ways to tell a story and subvert clichés but, no, it’s a haunted mirror after all. This doesn’t make it bad, really, just more of the same.

The haunted mirror in question was once in the childhood home of Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites), an antique brought in by their father (Rory Cochrane) to class up his office. The mirror’s arrival is followed by increasingly strange and deadly occurrences in the house. Plants die, the family dog succumbs to a mystery illness, and their mother (Katee Sackhoff) begins to lose her mind after staring blankly at the mirror for hours. The paranormal activity comes to a crescendo with Kaylie and Tim fleeing their possessed mother and father, both of whom end up shot to death; their mother by their father, and their father by Tim. Kaylie ends up in foster care, Tim ends up in the back of a police car.

Eleven years later, Tim is scheduled for release from the mental institution he’s been confined to since the shooting, while Kaylie has spent years tracking down the evil mirror on a mission to kill it. She brings Tim to their childhood home with an elaborate plan including cameras, computers, and a boat anchor meant to destroy the mirror once and for all. But the mirror has other plans, and starts to fight back.

The two plotlines of “Oculus” unfold almost at the same time, jumping from present day to flashbacks for the entirety of the film, eventually co-mingling the timelines to a most confusing effect. The climax in particular is a labyrinth of flashbacks and editing tricks that doesn’t earn its shocking ending; instead it feels like someone jamming a bunch of Final Cut Pro sequences together until they get to the part that goes splat. And storytelling tricks aside, the film can’t escape the fact it’s borrowing from predecessors like “The Shining,” “Friday the 13th” and “Paranormal Activity.” Still, though, “Oculus,” produced in part by the WWE, is solid enough for a decent Saturday night scare and mercifully wrestler-free.

Riddick

September 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Vin Diesel, Katee Sackhoff, Matt Nable
Directed by: David Twohy (“Pitch Black,” “The Chronicles of Riddick”)
Written by: David Twohy (“The Chronicles of Riddick,” “Waterworld”)

The term “pulp” gets tossed around quite a bit when it comes to movies that some people find charming in spite of their obvious drawbacks. Whether it’s bad acting, sub-par special effects, or a story that an over-caffinated 3rd grader would reject as too scattershot and unrealistic, when a film registers as pulp to a viewer, all sins are forgiven. Sure, to the rest of the world, the film sucks. But to those who have allowed the pulpiness wash over them, the movie becomes endearing, something unappreciated by the masses. Which brings us to “Riddick,” both the movie and the character, Richard B. Riddick.

Introduced 13 years ago with little fanfare in the small-scale sci-fi thriller “Pitch Black,” Vin Diesel’s Riddick was a deep-voiced antihero that struck the right note with fans and corresponded with Diesel’s  “Fast and Furious”-fueled rise to fame. With that success came madness, apparently, as Diesel and director David Twohy followed their cult hit with the fantastically bombastic “The Chronicles of Riddick,” which, in hindsight, plays like a proto-”John Carter” complete with the subpar box office and obtuse mythology (I mean they called it “The Chronicles of Riddick” for crying out loud). The giant shrug that greeted that film paired with Diesel’s fading stardom seemingly marooned Riddick on the remote planet of failed sci-fi/fantasty franchises, whiling away his days with whatever Mark Wahlberg’s character’s name was in Tim Burton’s “Planet of the Apes” and the polar bear from “The Golden Compass.”

A few more successful “Fast and Furious” movies, though, earned Diesel the movie-star right to make a new Riddick adventure, albeit without the budget “Chronicles” was able to command. After some unnecessary house-cleaning bridging “Riddick” to its predecessor, the film becomes lean and sparse, foregoing the epic feel audiences rejected the last time out and instead turning Riddick against a small crew of bounty hunters and a planet’s worth of lethal alien reptiles. Eventually the mercenaries hunting Riddick must form an uneasy alliance with the criminal if they hope to make it off the planet alive.

While I suspect “Riddick” will undoubtedly find fans that appreciate it as a pulp sci-fi adventure, most audiences will likely find it a chintzy knock-off of things they’ve seen numerous times before, including “Pitch Black.” The bounty hunters are all cribbed from every space-faring bounty hunter to hit the screen since the beginning of time, the dialogue is pure string cheese peppered with curse words, and the alien landscapes evoke all the awe and wonder of a Canadian soundstage wallpapered in green screen. The two most interesting characters end up being a computer-generated alien dog and Katee Sackhoff’s microwaved spin on her role as Starbuck in “Battlestar Galactica,” only this time she gets to cuss for real instead of having to resort to saying “frak.” Riddick may be the unlikeliest franchise in Hollywood right now, which makes its pulpiness even more disappointing.