There have been some very good movies that were made over the years about Conspiracy Theories. What they end up doing is taking the most believed or plausible explanation for the events under question and make a film committed to that. Oliver Stone's masterpiece JFK is one of the best examples of it, but films like From Hell and All the President's Men are others. Anonymous is a film like those in that it looks at the theory that William Shakespeare did not actually write anything, but was just a front for the real writer who had to stay in the shadows. Unfortunately for Anonymous, this Conspiracy Theory is way too complex and doesn't hold water.
I'm not sure who this movie is made for. You would probably be interested in seeing this if you really loved Shakespeare's work and/or British Royal history; but if you do, then you'll not enjoy all the blatant inaccuracies in order to establish its point. But if you don't really enjoy Shakespeare and/or know very little about British Royal history, you'll probably really enjoy it; but let's be honest, you're not interested in seeing this in the first place.
Everything about the movie is top quality though. This is by far director Roland Emmerich's best film. He's the guy that is the Hollywood go-to for blowing up the world. His legacy until now has been films like Independence Day, 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow. Prior to this, his crowning achievement was The Patriot with Mel Gibson but the look and scope of Anonymous dethrones that in the attention to costumes, prop details and using Emmerich's experience with CGI to recreate the landscapes of 16th Century England.
The acting is tops as well. Usual goofball Rhys Ifans (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 1, Notting Hill) is shockingly great in this darkly dramatic role as The Early of Oxford aka the true "William Shakespeare." But he's joined by A-quality performances from Vanessa Redgrave (Cars 2, Mission: Impossible), David Thewlis (the Harry Potter series, The Big Lebowski) and Rafe Spall (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) who steals every scene he's in as William Shakespeare, who they portray as a showboating, blackmailing, drunken moron. He's very funny to watch but this portrayal is one of vast inaccuracy, even within the context of the conspiracy. And there is an example of the downfall of this film.
Any true fan of Shakespeare can sniff out the rewriting of historical events to make a puzzle piece fit where it doesn't and that sticks in your craw too much to fully enjoy the film. The order of when plays were released is mixed up, Shakespeare's contemporaries are amazed at hearing things for the first time that they actually all did before he did, deaths of famous figures are jumbled about to make the story stick better, etc. Not to mention the fact that the story itself is so hard to follow and keep all the characters straight that motives for massive plot points get lost at the fast pace of this 130 minute film.
In the end though the film stands as a wonderful send-up to Shakespeare's words...whoever wrote them. Anonymous is beautifully framed in modern times by explaining to the audience that no matter who actually wrote them (historians are 95% sure it actually was Shakespeare, by the way) that the words were so perfect and beautiful that they define what it means to be human. And for that, I respect and liked this film. The rest is history. Anonymous (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B
Goddamnit! The Paranormal Activity movies are some of the most fun and most scared you can have in a theater. From the very first seconds of all these films, you’re put on edge. Part of that is because you know what’s in store for you but the home movie, do-it-yourself aspect of the films give you this impression that you’re right there with these characters and you’re just as alone as they are. They’re the kind of horror film that makes you want to be a horror director since they are the closest to duplicating the sensations you feel as you walk through a haunted house that I’ve ever experienced.
In the third (and hopefully final) installment, we find ourselves in 1988 at the beginning of the story to find out what happened to our lovely ladies from the first two films when they were younger. Yes! This is EXACTLY what I was hoping for in a trilogy, but sadly Paranormal Activity 3 made the fatal mistakes that any prequel runs the risk of doing. If you’re gonna be the ballsy bastard that wants to take on a popular franchise and show us how it all began, those puzzle pieces need to line up perfectly for us. I don’t want any air bubbles trapped in between since in the end that will make me ask more questions than feel the satisfaction of knowing the answers. That’s a killer for a prequel.
Paranormal Activity 3 attempted to answer all the questions, and they did answer some, but its execution is confusing and doesn’t gel with the legacy we’ve come to know. There are HUGE holes in the plot of this film and it makes me wonder how such glaring problems could have passed through the hands of so many people who made it. I can’t tell you what they are without giving away some spoilers. I also won’t because if you don’t remember the story up to this point, it won’t ruin the movie for you at all…in fact it might make it better. Also, if you never saw the first two films, you’ll probably enjoy this more than if you were a massive fan of the first two.
The “found footage” approach to this one feels more forced than before, however directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman did incorporate one of the most suspenseful film techniques ever in a modified oscillating desk fan that might be the scariest character in the film. I don’t blame Joost and Schulman for the movie’s shortcomings at all. These were the two guys that brought us an equally scary but totally different movie called Catfish. This was a documentary about predatory online delusions (listen to my interview with both of them at the bottom of this review) and being documentarians brought a fresh aspect to this mockumentary franchise.
Although I liked this one the least in the series, it’s far from disappointing in the scare-the-s**t-out-of-you trademark. There are few horror movies that can build such palpable tension that it makes me shield my eyes from the screen like a kid, but these consistently do just that. I just wish it kept me up at night by making me remember all the terrifying moments rather than keeping me up trying to figure out how the stories come together.
Paranormal Activity (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B+
Click here to listen to the interview with directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Review Coming Soon...
Whenever a movie is mostly shot and then not released for a while, there's reason for concern. The Rum Diary is a labor of love from star Johnny Depp. It's based on the the novel by (my favorite author) Hunter S. Thompson, who wrote the book as a young man, shelved it for decades and then sold it in 2000. Depp is not only a huge fan of Thompson's but was one of his best friends toward the end of his life. I appreciate the passion for wanting to make this movie, but shelving a book works and shelving a movie doesn't.
Depp met Thompson when he played him in another film based on one of his books called Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. This is still one of my favorite comedies of all time and it was shot with pure venom by director Terry Gilliam (12 Monkeys, Time Bandits). The script and scope of the film captured the pure Gonzo craziness that Thompson wrote in as best as a movie could. I've read The Rum Diary and I'm fully aware that the tone of the that and the tone of Fear and Loathing are polar twins, however it still didn't duplicate the attachment that Fear and Loathing had to its source.
One area of shortfall was in not allowing Gilliam to return as a director. Instead Depp turned to Bruce Robinson, who hasn't made a film in 20 years and even the ones he has directed aren't very good. The look of the movie is crisp and authentic to 1960, when it takes place, but it moves at an almost agonizing pace. Some of that might be intentional, since this is about Thompson when he was a young man and first getting into journalism. This is pre-drugs, pre-psychotic, pre-mania...you know the good ol' days when he was just a raging alcoholic. The writing style of the book is vastly different than anything else he wrote, so it makes sense that the movie would be too.
But parts of the book are introspective and pitch dark. One key scene involves a gang rape of a gorgeous and drunk female character played in the movie by the stunning Amber Heard (Zombieland, Drive Angry). The brutality is described in the book because of how it makes the characters react and it's hard to get through but crucial. This scene is watered over so gently in the film that it confuses anyone who hasn't read the book as to what is actually going on or why reactions are so strong afterward. Mistakes like this abound in The Rum Diary. It takes the potential of a deeply emotional and funny story and makes it stilted and disjointed.
That's not to say the film is a total wash. It showcases a very impressive cast that features Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, Battle: LA), Richard Jenkins (Let Me In, Hall Pass), Giovanni Ribisi (Cold Mountain, Avatar) and the best of the film, Michael Rispoli (Kick-Ass, Taking of the Pelham 123). It also has one of the best production designer, costume designer and prop masters in a while. Since it takes place in 1960 Puerto Rico, the attention to flawless time capsulated detail is of the same quality of AMC's Mad Men.
I still enjoyed this film because I will always love Thompson and the words he left behind. He was an inspiration for me and it's nice to see his legacy kicked off and given respect in The Rum Diary. But my same adoration is also the undoing for this film. I'm sure even Johnny Depp shares my disappointment a little since I felt like I knew Thompson, where he really did. The Rum Diary (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C
How much time has to go by before we forget that Justin Timberlake was once a pop star? Â Better question; how many movies does he have to star in for us to forget? Â In Time marks his second attempt at being a leading man since his turn in the romantic comedy Friends with Benefits. Â He impressed most people as the devilish Sean Parker in The Social Network, but is he good enough to shoulder the load of a entire film that dares to do more than just put asses in seats with a promise of pretty faces having sex, like his last film? Â No, he is not.
In Time is an ambitious sci-fi film from Andrew Niccol, who's written some very impressive movies like The Terminal, The Truman Show and Gattaca. Â However, he's a far better writer than he is a director since attempts like Lord of War and S1mone fell quite flat.
But In Time has a ridiculous premise where, in the future, time is our currency and we all stop aging at 23. Â I give Niccol credit in that he tried to make more than another mindless sci-fi action flick. Â It's really a statement about class warfare and socioeconomic policies. Â Pretty timely considering the current political climate in this country. Â But as current as it seems, it comes across as a script that was written years ago and was never updated. Â For instance, it's not clear why we would ever go back to using pay phones and old muscle cars in the future. Â But all the cleverness in the script gets lost in the stilted dialogue and piss-poor acting from Timberlake.
Even gifted actors as Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins, 28 Days Later) and Amanda Seyfried (HBO's Big Love, Mama Mia!) couldn't make this middle school dialogue seem like entertainment, so I guess it's not all Timberlake's fault but boy is he not ready for primetime.
Aside from a bad script and a poor choice in a leading man, the movie isn't very exciting. Â It's a great concept to make a futuristic Robin Hood, but it gets so lost when a bigger problem is presented as a by-product of stealing time from one of the wealthiest men in the country. Â Not to mention that it would bog the movie down if they stopped to explain why that bigger problem would exist without going into an economics lesson on a scale that would make us all doze off.
So it's needlessly complicated, then confusing with its plot and to top it all off, the action isn't nearly plentiful enough to make us entertained by any of it. Â By the time the movie has reached its exhaustingly excessive 109 minutes, you're just wishing it would end. Â Ironic since the whole movie is about time and always trying to get more because I wish I could buy my time back from the creators of In Time since I feel a bit robbed of it.
In Time Â (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: D+
Horror icon, John Carpenter, brought us The Thing in 1982.Â It was one of the first horror movies I watched as a kid where I had my mind blown over what could be done with special FX makeup!Â It was absolutely amazing to watch a man's head fall off his shoulders, sprout spider legs and eyes and then crawl away.Â If you never saw the original and that sentence makes you think the exact opposite of "amazing," then this prequel to the 29-year-old original will do nothing for you because what made the original so amazing was the prequel's undoing.Â
I love prequels.Â I think it's really fun to watch what happened before the movie you already love.Â In the original they talk about the camp that discovers the alien that can shape-shift into any other living thing but you never see it.Â That camp is what this film is all about but it's the exact same story.Â There is almost no difference between the two, even in the choice of casting Joel Edgerton (Warrior, Animal Kingdom) as the hero because when dude sports a beard he looks EXACTLY like Kurt Russell, who was the hero in the original.Â I did like that the true star of the film was a woman, who was played by the gorgeous Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Death Proof).Â It makes me think of Ripley in the Alien franchise although she's far from the tough-as-nails that Sigourney Weaver trademarked!Â
I love the aspect of how isolating this film is.Â It takes place in Antarctica which is so cold and lonely that it might as well be space.Â Not only that, but I love the spookiness of untrust, where the killer could be lurking inside the skin of any one of the main characters.Â It makes it a very unique horror film that also comes with the joy of seeing great monster makeup and FX.Â Sadly, I saw ALL of that in the original and this one doesn't break any new ground.Â
It's almost like new director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. (no, my cat didn't walk across my keyboard...that's his name) assumed that no one saw the first one and could get away with just remaking it.Â I'm not against remakes either.Â If they're done well, I think they can potentially be better than the original.Â But I think prequels are way better and I especially don't appreciateÂ it whenÂ prequels don't want to call themselves remakes, which is exactly what The Thing did.Â
Is it scary?Â Not really.Â Is it cool?Â At times.Â They disapointed me at times by using CGI to create some of the monster FX the original accomplished with old school make-up AND still looked faker than it did in 1982, but I give the studio credit in simply trying to make a monster movie again; something that sadly seems to have vanished from the lanscape.Â But in a movie about a killer alien that can carbon copy itself into anything, I wish The Thing didn't carbon copy itself into the 1982 original.
The ThingÂ (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C+