Friday, October 16, 2009

Paranormal Activity

Running Time: An hour and a half

MPAA Rating: R

Micah has just found out that Katie, his long-time girlfriend, is being haunted. She's been followed by a disturbing presence since she was young, and it appears to loathe anybody who gets too involved in her life. This happens to be a serious relationship hurdle for Micah to deal with, and he feels that he must do something to fix the situation. So, he decides that he'll attempt to catch the haunt on film.

There is a common theme in horror movies in which the main characters ignore advice that turns out to be vital to their survival. Micah and Katie are warned by a psychic in the beginning of the film that whatever force they are living with feeds and grows off of negative energy. All they must do to keep the being at bay is to ignore it and remain content with each other. Bringing a camera into the mix doesn’t help either of those things.

The movie incorporates a steady buildup, but is well worth its time for the lasting scare it provides. Having been made to look like uncovered footage, there are no musical cues or ominous tonalities. In avoiding most of the common horror mainstays, Paranormal Activity denies cheap scares and uses another method: to frighten the audience members by disturbing them at an ethereal level. Fear is induced through subtle, unnatural oddities rather than the more common “jump” moments in today’s thrillers. Because of this unique method, the film will affect many of its viewers differently.

Believers in actual demons, ghosts, ghouls and such may want to shy away in respect of the supernatural nature of the plot. While many people have reported having nightmares (if they were able to sleep at all) after seeing this movie, more fantastical claims of actual hauntings have also been made. Steven Spielberg is even said to have returned a home copy to the studio in a garbage bag after believing it to have permeated ghosts into his home.

Oren Peli has created a very inspired work from his own paranormal experiences, and the genuineness shows itself off in his writing and direction. The expected screams and ramblings of most characters in these types of situation are replaced with tears and arguments over responsibility for the events. Peli writes the characters into an inescapable situation, but it is their arrogance and pride that ultimately worsen it. Both of the main actors (who use their real names in the film) do a great job of emoting their fright without exaggerating it, lending visceral honesty to their reactions.

Even though a good amount of information surrounding the phenomenal situation in the film is revealed by the end, there is just enough mystery left keep it strange and terrifying. Those intent on getting sleep after seeing Paranormal Activity have been warned.

Actual Rating: PG-13 While anybody who happens to be afraid of supernatural forces is probably too young (at any age) to see this movie; there is no actual adult material in it beyond “foul” language.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are

Running Time: An hour and a half

MPAA Rating: PG

Max is angry. He is imaginative and rambunctious, but he has no control. He knows that, like the sun, one day his energy will run out and he'll fade away. These are difficult thoughts for a young boy who already has the dilemmas of his age to deal with. Many people learn to cope with life's troubles in their own way, and Max does so by becoming a wild thing.

The movie adds some unique elements to the original Maurice Sendak storybook. Max's behavior is given a cause and his trip into the land of the wild things is given a purpose. Each of the creatures has a unique personality derived from Max’s experiences with people in his homeland. Carol (played by James Gandolfini), whose anarchic and misunderstood nature Max immediately identifies with, specifically seems to provide the boy a means for coming to terms with the father now missing from his life.

What really brings this film to life is the music. Written by Karen O (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), the songs provide a youthful vigor that complements the action on screen. It was built from scratch for the movie and great use within each context shows. Energetic tracks filled with wild instrumentation and playground yells lend credence to the playful scenes in the movie, and Karen O’s soft vocals fit in perfectly with the sentimental points.

Book purists won't be pleased to learn the extent of added material, of course, but may find comfort in the heavy involvement of the original author in the making of this film. Spike Jonze was specifically given the permission of the author, who had previously seen and highly regarded his work. Although this film does take much of the mystery and imagination out of the hands of the viewer, Sendak has given his personal approval of the interpretation after viewing the final product.

In the end, this movie wasn't quite what it could have been. It loses some of its steam toward the middle, when certain scenes feel as though they've been drawn out as long as possible to give the movie a bump to above the acceptable hour and a half mark. There are more shaky-cam running scenes in the film than an episode of "24", which could have easily become redundant and intolerable had it not been for the expressive and enthralling soundtrack. Fortunately, the movie manages to work as presented, and members of the audience may be inspired to search out the wild things within themselves once more.

The easily queasy should be warned; much of this movie is shot by handheld camera, leading to what has become known as the "shaky-cam" effect. This can work out of some viewers' favor, but shouldn't provide a problem for the majority of audience members.

Post-Credits Scene: No

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