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This week's Film Reviews (Feb 22, 2013)

21 Feb 2013

Sci-fi horror film DARK SKIES and action thriller SNITCH debuts this week.

Film Reviews:-

DARK SKIES (USA 2013) ***
Directed by Scott Stewart

DARK SKIES is a horror sci-fi film about possible alien possession and abduction. The premise is that aliens could have already settled in among us and ready to strike more horrors at any time.

The setting is an unnamed American suburb.  (The film was shot outside NYC and in California.)  A typical American family, the Barretts etch out a living with normal problems like money and relationship.  Daniel (Josh Hamilton) is looking for a job while his two sons wrestle with growing up and female companionship, done quite humorously here.  Jesse (Dakota Goyo) earns the ropes from watching soft porn and practices some moves on his girlfriends.

Strange things begin to occur.  Mother, Lacy (Kerri Russell) sees an ET-like creature in Sammy’s (Kadan Rockett) room.  Sammy, father and mother face blackout spells.  A few of these events are genuinely scary as director Stewart relates them to as much as real life as possible.  He couples the unexplained acts to the marital problems of the couple.  When Daniel decides to set up video recordings in each room of the house, the found-footage look reminds audiences of films like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.

DARK SKIES illustrates how difficult it is to make a real scary film.  There is always one idiot at the screening who will laugh out loud or make comments (especially during he heightened scary segments) to spoil in for everyone else.  DARK SKIES the film is so called because a large portion of the film takes place at night.  There a few scenes with Jessie riding his bike home amidst DARK SKIES.  Though nothing actually happens, the film is at its scariest, for the primary reason of audience anticipation of what could occur.

The first half of DARK SKIES makes quite a good scary film.  But once the script explains the raison d’etre of the aliens, their purpose and how they can handled, the film gets silly and starts to fall apart.  The appearance of the usually good J.K. Simmons as the ET expert does not help either.  Nor the fact that Lacy learns everything about aliends from the internet.

DARK SKIES does not require superior special effects.  The blackouts, electricity surges and other minor special effects work well enough.  Ray’s film relies on the actors to provide the scares and this they succeed quite successfully.  By no means the perfect horror movie, DARK SKIES is satisfying and entertaining enough.

There is always the option in a sci-fi horror film of this sort to go with a closed or open ending.  The trouble with the latter is that audiences usually prefer the closed happy ending.  DARK SKIES opts for the open ending which prompts, once again that idiot in the auditorium to laugh out loud just one more time.  If only aliens would come and abduct this one.

SNITCH (USA 2013) ***

Directed by Ric Roman Waugh

By no means perfect a movie, SNITCH is nonetheless a very likable film, for effort alone.

The plot involves a father John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson) going undercover for the DEA (Susan Sarandon) in order to free his son (Rafi Gavron) who has been imprisoned for a set up drug deal.

The overall story is a somewhat oversimplified look at the drug world and how easily one can win over a drug cartel.  Justin Haythe wrote the original story but director Waugh was hired to do the re-write.  The script contains major flaws but there are details that make the film work – such as the emotional family conflict set-ups and other details.  Waugh did a good job for sure.  The major stand-out flaw is the big sale of 500 kees (kilos) of cocaine that is done in the open of a night.  Real deals are typically done in closed building under protection and made with people the drug guys can trust.  Who would pay thousands of dollars of drug product from a stranger?  Often too, there is one source (overseas) and one product with many distributors.

SNITCH is more a thriller than an action packed film.  Credit should be given to Johnson for crossing the line from action to thriller.  Still Johnson fans should not be disappointed as the film includes a superbly shot chase sequence, the continuity of which beats many recent films (such as ONE GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD.)

Performances are not bad either.  Canada’s own Barry Pepper (has he ever been in a bad movie yet?) as Agent Cooper while Susan Sarandon is good as a female DEA.

The film, based on a true incident is also current in its topical issues.  The maximum sentencing for drug related offences (recently outlined in the documentary A HOME OF OUR OWN) is clearly shown not to be working here.  This message is drummed into the audience from start to end even with a message for one to make some noise about this fact.  The segment of John’s son teaching his father a lesson on integrity (not to snitch on friends) adds a nice touch to the proceedings.

SNITCH emerges at the end as a worthwhile film to watch for its good intentions, thriller aspects and for the overall good effort put in by the cast and crew.

TOWER (Canada 2012) ***

Directed by Kazik Radwanski


TOWER, the story of the life of a 34-year old odd man who could be described as a perpetual loser is a film that goes nowhere, and goes nowhere pretty slowly.

But Kazik Radwanski’s fim (the director who has shot to fame from his award winning shorts) is not without its occasional pleasures.  One is his unique style of telling the story and the other is his fondness of his actor, Derek Bogart who plays Derek, the protagonist.  His use of close-ups is noticeable from start to finish.  It creates the jittery world of Derek, while never pulling back, just as Derek is short sighted, not looking at his long-term future.

Derek lives in his parents'' basement and director Radwanski depicts him as a puzzling specimen to say the least.  He has no career per se, though he is an aspiring computer animator and works construction part-time for his uncle. Solitary but not friendless, he ventures out alone to clubs in the evenings looking to connect with women. He''s both impulsive and cautious, and much of the time he appears slightly perplexed, intently chewing on his thoughts. Derek is not socially awkward; he''s socially peculiar. He suddenly finds himself in uncertain territory when he falls into an intimate relationship with a woman, Nicole he meets (Nicole Fairbairn).

As Radwanski surveys the routines that make up Derek''s life, we see that what defines him more than anything else is his absolute fear of commitment — commitment to a career, to a girlfriend, even to adulthood. Heeding the warning inherent in his animated tale of a green creature that erects a world of rock towers (hence the film title, TOWER) that ends up destroying him, Derek is afraid of building anything of substance in his life. This is in sharp contrast to his married brother who is expecting a baby. Amusingly, Derek does show great zeal and perseverance on one thing: dealing with his family''s raccoon problem.  Needless to say, the raccoon is a metaphor of what is happening in Derek’s life.  Derek is afraid of becoming the person that he actually is at the present. 

Derek has an altercation at the start of the film that results in a bloody cut on his face, just above the top of his nose.  Derek walks around the rest of the film with this glaring cut, like a running joke in the film.  His weird haircut and baldness is also played upon, as Radwanski’s camera seems to love to capture different angles of his baldness.  Though not the perfect leading man in terms of looks, Derek Bogart is a fine actor and also quite sexy in an odd way. 

Though TOWER eventually leads nowhere, Radwanski’s film is totally watchable from start to end and offers audiences what a good original quirky film should be like.

PICKS OF THE WEEK:

Best Film Opening: Snitch

Best Film Playing: Django Unchained


Best Comedy: This is 40

Best Family: The Hobbit  

Best Foreign: A Royal Affair

Best Documentary: Shadows of Liberty

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