Movie Review ~ Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

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The Facts
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Synopsis: After being “marked,” Jesse begins to be pursued by mysterious forces while his family and friends try to save him.

Stars: Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Gabrielle Walsh, Renee Victor, Noemi Gonzalez, Richard Cabral, Carlos Pratts, Eddie J. Fernandez, David Fernandez Jr., Kimberly Ables Jindra, Tonja Kahlens, Frank Salinas, Molly Ephraim

Director: Christopher Landon

Rated: R

Running Length: 84 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: By the time you get to the fifth entry in any series a routine fatigue sets in.  One need only look at Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, Saw V, or the fifth James Bond film You Only Live Twice to see that if the keeper of the keys to an established franchise isn’t on top of things, you’ll be lucky if you’ll see the green light of #6.

Though it didn’t quite make the 2013 cutoff to keep up with the established release schedule of one per year like the previous three Paranormal Activity installments, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones earns an ever-so-slight passing grade due to it being an improvement over Paranormal Activity 4 and for confidently taking the series into new territory.

Never fear, however, because the series formula remains intact with a bunch of unknown actors going up against dark forces – all captured on handheld cameras that seem to always be looking at the right  place at the right time.  The previous movies have mostly been shot with stationary cameras that pick up the ghostly hauntings of various California families that all seem to be part of a larger story of evil demons, crafty cults, and sneaky witches.

The first three Paranormal Activity films did a nice job of weaving their overlapping characters together and moving the mythology forward in admirable ways and if 4 didn’t do much in the way of advancement of character or overall plot it still had its moments.  So hearing that the series was shifting things out of the suburban valley and into an urban community in Oxnard, CA where the cameras would move with the actors I was curious to see what writer/director Christopher Landon (who wrote the last three entries) had up his sleeve.

Turns out that what Landon had prepped was a needed shot in the arm for the series, providing several interesting turns that shows there could be several chapters left in this formulaic novel.  Found footage movies can be rough to watch but Landon and cinematographer Gonzalo Amat (The Devil Inside) keep the action framed well without a lot of shaky shots and skewed angles that can cross your eyes and turn your stomach.

The problem I consistently have with movies shot in this way (like Chronicle) is that you have to suspend more than a little disbelief that during some of the more terrifying moments the person filming wouldn’t have dropped their camcorder and ran for the hills.  After all, if you’re trying to escape a coven of witches, wouldn’t you want both hands free to claw your way out of a boarded up room?

Another aspect of the film I took issue with was an increased level of violence, profanity and nudity, something noticeably absent from the franchise until now.  With one shot of full female nudity, more blood than before, and a colorful vocabulary from our better than average newcomer leads, the series feels like it gave in to peer pressure in trying to stay current.  What made these films so refreshing initially was the feeling the filmmakers were charting their own course with each new entry and not running alongside what their contemporaries were doing.

The film doesn’t skimp on frights and happily doesn’t save them all for the traditional final freaky act.  Landon makes nice use of a modern oujia board in the form of a popular 80’s game and ratchets up the tension as the movie moves toward its twist of a climax that winds up being not so much a game changer but one that hits the soft reset button for future entries.

Neither a home run nor a strike out, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones comfortably rides that mediocre fence with one foot firmly planted on the what-the-hell-I-liked-it side.  If you’re a fan of these types of fright films or the series as a whole you’ll want to check this one out to get your first scares of 2014 taken care of.

Movie Review ~ Drew: The Man Behind the Poster

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A documentary on legendary movie-poster artist Drew Struzan.

Stars: Drew Struzan, George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Michael J. Fox, Frank Darabont, Guillermo del Toro, Steven Spielberg, Sam Witwer

Director: Erik Sharkey

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 97 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  You may not know the name Drew Struzan but if you’ve seen a poster for a movie in the last 30+ years you most definitely have seen his work.  In a new documentary (available on Netflix) director Erik Sharkey charts the rise of Struzan through his humble origins as a starving artist (literally) to his early work designing album art for musicians and eventually into his legendary period of churning out some of the most iconic poster images in the history of film.

Along with his contemporaries John Alvin and Richard Amsel, Struzan’s poster designs are world famous for their complexities and innate way of telling you an entire story within one single image.  Unlike the majority of posters today that are Photoshopped to death with poor construction, Struzan’s hand-painted works are sometimes better than the movies they are advertising.  There’s a beauty to these paintings that can’t be mimicked by modern technology which makes the work he does all the more valuable.

Though I don’t usually add extra photos to my reviews, here is a small preview of some of Struzan’s body of work.  Can you name the movies these teaser images come from?

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While the documentary covers all the bases on where Struzan came from and how he came to do what he does so well, the film is painted with broad strokes that manage to be informative while keeping the viewer at arm’s length.  That’s partly, I suppose, because Struzan seems like a straight-forward guy that has had little of your typical Hollywood conflict.  Soft-spoken and humble, aside from a lawsuit involving paintings that were stolen by an associate of his there doesn’t seem to be anyone that has a bad thing to say about him.

What’s more, Struzan comes off as a genuinely nice guy, a family man that chose to stay home in his early days with his wife and young son while his colleagues partied like rock stars with their rock star clients.  Struzan alludes to a painful childhood raised by parents that “didn’t like me” and locked him out of the house when he returned from his first semester away at college.  Not much more is said of this and I’m guessing Starkey didn’t push Struzan on a subject that obviously has some pain attached to it.

With interviews from many of the stars and directors Struzan has provided art for, the documentary is a mostly just a genial piece of pro-Struzan propaganda and I’m totally OK with that.  If it comes off feeling like you’re simply paging through one of Struzan’s impressive coffee table books with voice-over narration from the man himself, it doesn’t matter because it still makes for worthwhile viewing.  A must watch for any true cinephile.

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The Silver Bullet ~ Blended

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Synopsis: After a bad blind date, a man and woman find themselves stuck together at a resort for families, where their attraction grows as their respective kids benefit from the burgeoning relationship.

Release Date:  May 23, 2014

Thoughts: Wow…it’s hard to believe that it’s been sixteen years since Drew Barrymore (Big Miracle) and Adam Sandler (Hotel Transylvania) first worked together in the smash hit, The Wedding Singer!  That 80’s set film was a pleasant retro flashback and succeeded because Barrymore was operating a peak charm and Sandler’s laid-back vibe had yet to be obliterated by a seemingly never-ending string of juvenile garbage films.  After reuniting in 2004 for 50 First Dates, Barrymore and Sandler are joining forces again to see if lightning could strike for a third time.  While Sandler’s films have miraculously made a boatload of money and Barrymore works consistently, neither has made a memorable film for ages…so could this pleasant (but very silly) looking comedy really work to their advantage?  The Wedding Singer director Frank Coraci is back on board which could be a good thing…until you see he was also at the helm for dreadful efforts like Around the World in 80 Days, Zookeeper, and Sandler’s Click.

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