Review: Haunt

The creepy poltergeist at the center of Haunt.

The creepy poltergeist at the center of Haunt.

With limp found-footage flicks like Devil’s Due and Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones piling up at the box office, it’s gratifying to see that there are writers and directors out there devoted to making actual, full-blooded horror. Enter director Mac Carter and writer Andrew Barrer, two newcomers to the genre who prioritize mounting suspense over jump-out scares in Haunt, to great effect.

Haunt, about two teens (Liana Liberato and Harrison Gilbertson) simultaneously exploring first love and interacting with malicious ghosts, is a scarily effective frightfest precisely because it flies in the face of the trash that has been polluting the horror genre in recent years. There’s no nausea-inducing shaky-cam, no frustratingly ambiguous ending and, best of all, no characters so moronic that you actively root for their demise.

Instead, Carter cunningly exploits his limited setting for maximum suspense, turning the house Gilbertson’s character moves into a dread-filled labyrinth that’s as much an antagonist as the ghosts that roam its halls. The cinematography on display is eerie and uncommonly beautiful for a horror film, from the desolate forest that surrounds the house to a basement so creepy that I didn’t go down into my own for a few days after viewing (just to be safe).

Carter is aided by Barrer’s screenplay, which never goes for easy scares or one-note characterization. As such, when the scares really kick up a notch during the film’s pulse-pounding final act, they’re both remarkably effective and feel completely earned.

Liberato and Gilbertson’s strong lead performances also elevate Haunt above other recent horror fare. They share a soft, natural chemistry not unlike Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley’s in The Spectacular Now, and, thanks to them, the romantic subplot of the film never feels extraneous. Particularly, Liberato, with her expressive eyes and graceful screen presence, makes a strong case for herself as one of our generation’s next great scream queens.

In supporting roles, Silver Linings Playbook’s Jacki Weaver chews the scenery as the sinister previous occupant of the house, who lost her husband and children to the vicious supernatural being inside it, and Ione Skye shows up briefly as the supportive mother of Gilbertson’s character. Machinations of the plot render Skye’s character ultimately peripheral, but the actress is clearly invested in the role and turns in a believable performance.

Sadly, the impact of Haunt is slightly lessened by its final few minutes, which conclude the story on a decidedly bitter and disturbing note. Carter and Barrer’s ending intentionally subverts conventions of the genre, and while many will applaud it for that, it’s a testament to the strength of the acting on display in Haunt that I was dissatisfied with the slightly rushed nature of its final scare.

Still, Haunt is the best horror film of 2014 so far, and it heralds the arrival of some major talents, so I’m willing to forgive it that shortcoming. It’s refreshing, well-acted and delightfully spooky. So what are you waiting for? Go get Haunt-ed. Your nerves won’t thank you, but you won’t regret it.  A-

Advertisements

DVD Review: The Bling Ring

bling-ring

The empty-headed protagonists of Sofia Coppola’s film mirror the movie’s equally superficial presentation.

I count myself among the fans of Sofia Coppola, a member of Hollywood’s most notable dynasty and the director of Lost in Translation and Somewhere. Coppola’s hazy, stylish direction has served her well in the past and has also positioned her as one of the most interesting directors working today. So it was with great curiosity that I sat down to check out her latest, a fact-based crime drama about a group of privileged California teens who robbed the houses of multiple Hollywood A-listers. Unfortunately, I soon realized Coppola’s dreamy, distant MO was precisely the wrong approach for The Bling Ring to take. Though gorgeously filmed, The Bling Ring is infuriatingly feather-light and shies away from turning a critical eye to the actions of its characters.

That’s not to say that The Bling Ring is a total failure. On the contrary, Coppola gets some great performances out of her young cast. Most notably, Emma Watson plays way against type as vacuous socialite Nicki and completely pulls it off. If the film had been released in the fall, I could easily see A24 making an Oscar bid for the actress. Watson, best known for her role as the brainy wizard Hermione in the Harry Potter franchise, commits to Nicki’s contemptible selfishness but never delves into caricature. It’s a tribute to her performance that Nicki is never dismissed as a simpleton; conversely, she’s one of the film’s most fascinating, complex creations.

Katie Chang is also great as the Bling Ring’s dauntless leader Rebecca, who’s terrifying in her obsession with everything related to her celebrity idols. It’s hard to tear your eyes away from her, because Chang inflects every line of dialogue with dozens of emotions all tangled up in each other. Israel Broussard, who acts as our entry point into the dangerously fame-oriented world of restless California youth, holds his own against the girls, though his contributions to the film are rarely as compelling as Chang’s or Watson’s. Leslie Mann, in a small but important supporting role, presents The Bling Ring‘s protagonists’ inevitable future, playing a laughably self-deluded single mother committed to teaching her greedy, hollow-eyed daughters about their innate goodness.

The film is equipped with a terrific, pulsating soundtrack that speaks volumes about its characters. Sleigh Bells, Kanye West, Azealia Banks and Frank Ocean are the obvious stand-outs, ranting about the frivolous, drug-fueled lifestyles led by the film’s fame-obsessed subjects, The dance-ready soundtrack provides The Bling Ring with an eerily fluorescent, audiovisual glow.

Surprisingly, Coppola’s detached direction is the film’s weakest link. As she captures the rise and fall of the Bling Ring, cameras hover around the characters as if a documentary crew is filming the proceedings, recording every juicy sound bite and piece of body language. Coppola’s ultimate failure is her unwillingness to probe beneath the surface of her characters’ actions and find out what in their lives drove them to commit such petty, plainly dumb crimes.

The Bling Ring attempts to satirize the media’s focus on the celebrity lifestyle without ever getting to the heart of what makes that lifestyle so appealing to many in the first place. The film suffers because its characters are never portrayed as complete individuals; instead, they’re empty vessels designed to project Coppola’s oddly simplistic ideas about the actual crimes. Perhaps that’s the point, that there’s nothing going on beneath the glamorous exteriors of her protagonists, but that vacuity does not a very compelling drama make.

Instead of the in-depth character study that I had expected, The Bling Ring is a middling, skin-deep retelling of the Hollywood Hills burglaries. Though Coppola’s actors turn in great performances, The Bling Ring is ultimately as disappointingly hollow and superficial as its protagonists. C+

DVD Review: Evil Dead

Mia (Jane Levy) is one of the unfortunate teens at the center of 'Evil Dead.'

Mia (Jane Levy) is one of the unfortunate teens at the center of ‘Evil Dead.’

“Leave this book alone,” warns scrawled handwriting across the pages of the barbed wire-bound Naturom Demonto at the center of Fede Alvarez’s relentlessly gory Evil Dead reboot. Seems pretty clear to me. Alas, even the nerdy bookworm (Lou Taylor Pucci) in this inferior horror update appears illiterate. And so, let the carnage commence.

I’ve made no secret of my distaste for “torture porn” flicks like SawHostel, and now Evil Dead. I simply don’t see the appeal in a film with no gimmick other than brutally torturing all of its characters in place of plot. Sam Raimi’s original was different; sure, it wrought havoc on an unsuspecting group of college students, but it did it with style and slick, dark humor. Unfortunately, all of that wry self-awareness has been sucked out of this new, darker Evil Dead, replaced only by buckets upon buckets of blood.

Make no bones about it, Evil Dead is one of the most repressively violent and gory horror films ever made. It positively wallows in the misery of its characters, putting each of them through the cinematic equivalent of a meat grinder. Nothing is off-limits as far as the violence goes. Mirror shards, razors, nail guns, shotguns, crowbars, and (of course) a chainsaw are all utilized in sickening ways. It’s not so much exhilaratingly gory as unabashedly gross.

Another level on which Evil Dead fails to entertain is the intelligence of its characters. Say what you may about me looking for logic in a movie called Evil Dead, but just about everyone in this movie is relentlessly, mind-numbingly stupid. A clever set-up shifts the characters from taking a vacation in the woods to setting up camp away from civilization in order to help a drug-addled friend (Jane Levy) go cold turkey, but when all of the limb-hacking and demonic possession kicks in, it’s difficult to buy that anyone in the group, even vacuous protagonist David (Shiloh Fernandez), would attribute it to withdrawal.

Yet dismiss it they do at first, until the brutality inflicted on the characters by a filthy-mouthed she-demon reaches levels even they can’t ignore. But by then, all that’s left for them to do is die in ludicrously bloody ways. To be fair, blood has more screen-time in this movie than any of the actors. Still, it would be nice, for once, to find a horror movie filled with good actors who play reasonably smart characters.

Instead, we get one great performance and a host of mediocre ones. Suburgatory‘s Jane Levy, playing recovering smack-head Mia, is terrific both as a girl disillusioned with the world around her and, when possessed, as a gleefully evil demon bent on the destruction of everything around it. Sadly, the other characters are as one-dimensional as the pages of the Naturom Demonto, communicating nothing convincing apart from terror. The worst of the bunch is the dull Shiloh Fernandez, miscast in a lead role. Nothing he says is convincing, and some of his decisions are so moronic that some might actively start campaigning for his violent death.

Perhaps mediocre performances would be more acceptable if Evil Dead delivered some scares or humor with its gore. Shockingly, there’s neither. Alvarez is far too focused on bloodshed to build any sense of dread, and the script is utterly lacking in the tongue-in-cheek humor that made the original a cult classic. As a result, we’re left with a film that calls itself Evil Dead but shares almost none of the same DNA. If relentless gore is your style, by all means, check out Evil Dead. It does gross extremely well. But if you’re looking for anything more, this remake is dead in the water. C-

DVD Review: A Good Day to Die Hard

Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney share some father-son bonding time.

Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney share some father-son bonding time.

There’s a special place in hell reserved for movies like A Good Day to Die Hard, the fifth and unquestionably worst entry in the Die Hard franchise. Everything about this sequel reeks of laziness, from the nonsensical, practically nonexistent plot to John Moore’s appallingly sloppy direction. It’s all shockingly, relentlessly terrible. The acting’s pretty deplorable too, and even Bruce Willis disappoints, sleepwalking through a script that succeeds in turning his most enduring character into an irritating one-note caricature.

What little story there is in this movie finds John McClane tracking down his erstwhile son (Jai Courtney, agonizingly wooden), who has wound up in a Russian prison. Before you can say “Yipee-kay-yay,” McClane is thrown headfirst into a terrorist plot involving a nuclear power struggle between two corrupt Russian officials. From there on, A Good Day to Die Hard is all but incomprehensible, zipping from set-piece to set-piece in an utterly futile attempt to conceal the fact that there’s absolutely nothing going on behind all the explosions and gunfire.

Perhaps A Good Day to Die Hard would be at least half-way tolerable if it yielded some interesting action sequences or memorable lines. No such luck. In fact, the only thing worth watching on the screen is the occasional fireball. Each scene is less interesting than the last, and good luck trying to follow any of the film’s action. Moore’s inept direction makes searching for any logical flow in the movie’s action sequences a Herculean task that’s just not worth it.

Cars crash into each other without rhyme or reason, explosions inexplicably destroy every part of a room other than where the protagonists are standing, and every character is apparently made of rubber. The real-life mechanics that the rest of the Die Hard movies at least partially observed go completely out the window here, and the result is a movie that feels simultaneously phony, disjointed, and pointless.

As McClane defies basic laws of physics and falls from extraordinary heights merely because the shoddy script calls for it, the movie betrays the everyman-versus-the-bad-guys spirit of its predecessors, sacrificing every inch of credibility (and fun) in the process. Die Hard was once a great franchise, but A Good Day to Die Hard does everything it can to taint its legacy by insulting the audience at every turn. As Willis incessantly growls “I’m on vacation” to himself or anyone who will listen, beating a half-fun line to death then kicking its motionless corpse for a full hour and a half, it’s painfully clear that the real screenwriters were as well. F

Photo Courtesy: Twentieth Century Fox

DVD Review: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Katie Holmes explores a seriously creepy house.

Katie Holmes explores a seriously creepy house.

There are a few moments in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, an effective but flawed frightfest written and produced by first-class scaremonger Guillermo del Toro, that shred the audience’s nerves like cat claws on curtains, but many more that fall disappointingly flat.

All of the best scares center around the various horrors suffered by pint-sized protagonist Sally Hurst (Bailee Madison) as she investigates a creepy Victorian manor being restored by her apathetic father (Guy Pearce) and his concerned girlfriend (Katie Holmes). Contrary to what the film’s title suggests, she is and should be very afraid of the house’s dark corners, where hundreds of nasty little creatures lurk with sinister plans for Sally.

It’s a solid premise for a horror movie, but also where Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, adapted from the 1973 ABC TV movie of the same name, hits its first snag. Though the film’s setting lends it a nicely spooky atmosphere, the movie’s resident monsters are not nearly as terrifying as they’re meant to be. Part of the problem is that they are rendered in truly egregious CGI far too often, and this robs them of all mystery. The creatures would be much scarier antagonists if they weren’t shown so clearly and instead stayed in the shadows, making only one or two appearances throughout the entire movie. As it is, they’re painfully overexposed and ultimately no more terrifying than Spiderwick Chronicles-style gremlins.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark also suffers from a glut of groan-inducing horror tropes, aside from lazy writing and B-plots abandoned almost as soon as they’re introduced. Flashlights never work when they are supposed to, doors never open when they need to, and smart protagonists uncharacteristically make boneheaded decisions when the script calls for it. Too many scares rely on cheap, predictable jump-out ploys. That being said, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark doesn’t rest on its laurels; it at least tries to make something out of those tropes, ramping up the tension to almost unbearable levels as the film enters its final act.

Madison is the film’s ace in the hole, expertly communicating Sally’s curiosity, naivety, loneliness, and anger in just a few glances whenever she’s on screen. She’s a lively, three-dimensional character with believable strengths and weaknesses. Thanks to Madison’s emotive performance, Sally is the only character audiences will be hoping gets out alive. Unfortunately, not so much for Holmes and Pearce. The two are resigned to bland, static roles, though Holmes tries harder to make her reluctant mother character admirable and sympathetic than Pearce, who simply chews the scenery.

Despite some nerve-fraying scenes and a palpable sense of dread that permeates the entire movie, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark never breaks away from its script’s piled clichés to become a bona fide horror movie on its own terms. The most disappointing thing about the film is del Toro himself. Though his name is slapped across the cover, his influence is nowhere to be found. The creatures hold none of the majesty, beauty, or mystery of other del Toro creations, and the film’s scares are never as effective or thoughtful as those in his other projects.

Though its ability to build tension is admirable, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark squanders a promising premise with a lousy script and lacks the richer psychological scares of the original TV movie. Madison and Holmes give it their all, but their performances are undermined by the script’s mediocrity and lackluster special effects. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is ultimately an example of a perfectly serviceable horror flick that could have been so much more. B-

 

Image Courtesy: Miramax.

Marvel Unveils ‘Avengers 2’ Title Card and More

This title image for the 'Avengers' sequel was unveiled Saturday.

This title card for the ‘Avengers’ sequel was unveiled Saturday.

Marvel Studios held their annual panel in San Diego Comic-Con’s Hall H Saturday, revealing a trove of information about their upcoming second phase of superhero movies.

Perhaps most significantly, the title of the sequel to last summer’s  The Avengers, set for May 1, 2015, was revealed to be Avengers: Age of Ultron.

For readers not familiar with the comics, Ultron was a sentient robot originally created by Dr. Hank Pym, aka Ant-Man, who has yet to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ultron was created for good but soon became obsessed with power, modifying himself and eventually warring with Pym.

The Comic-Con teaser seems to suggest that Marvel may not be following the comics to the letter on this one. The title reveal began with a video of Iron Man’s mask. As members of the Avengers repeated lines from previous movies, the mask was spun around, battered and distorted, eventually morphing into Ultron’s distinctive fanged metallic skull.

If this footage is to be believed, Marvel may adapt Ultron’s origin story to make one Tony Stark his creator, holding off on introducing Pym until his planned solo movie, to be directed by Edgar Wright, in Phase Three. Director Joss Whedon offered no clues.

Marvel also teased the rest of its upcoming slate:

Thor: The Dark World (Nov. 8, 2013) – Little more than some extra footage from the upcoming sequel was revealed, though Tom Hiddleston appeared as Loki to whip the audience into a frenzy. From what we know already, The Dark World will take Chris Hemsworth’s hammer-wielding demi-god to more alien worlds as he battles the Dark Elves, led by the mysterious Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). Thor will team up with erstwhile brother Loki and love interest Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) as he attempts to stop the Dark Elves from destroying worlds he has sworn to protect and everyone he holds dear. The film, directed by Game of Thrones helmer Alan Taylor, will have a grittier, more Viking-influenced feel, according to insiders.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April 4, 2014) – Most of the cast members appeared at Comic-Con, including Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson (reprising her Black Widow role in a bigger part), Emily VanCamp (as mysterious Agent 13) and Sebastian Stan (as the titular antagonist, one of Cap’s close friends from the ’40s brainwashed by the villainous HYDRA organization). According to producer Kevin Feige, the film is “a 70s political thriller masquerading as a big superhero movie” and will find Cap taking on a powerful enemy in Washington, D.C. Frank Grillo will appear as villain Crossbones. Anthony Mackie will also feature as flying hero Falcon. As directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, the film will deal with Cap’s adjustment to modern life and his growing relationship with Black Widow. Robert Redford, not in attendance at Comic-Con, will play shadowy villain Alexander Pierce. A fight sequence between Cap and Crossbones in an elevator was screened, along with some lines from Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury.

Guardians of the Galaxy (August 1, 2014) – Surprisingly, lots of cast members from James Gunn’s oddball sci-fi space-set adventure showed up at Comic-Con. The story will find an American pilot teaming up with alien ex-cons to transport a powerful artifact. Footage screened showed protagonist Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) attempting to steal an artifact from a temple before encountering Djimon Hounsou’s Korath, and a futuristic mug shot scenario where each member of the Guardians is profiled. Here’s a run-down of who’s who:

Peter Quill/Star-Lord – Chris Pratt beefed up to play the film’s lead protagonist, a devil-may-care gunslinger with an alien father and human mother. Wanted on charges of “minor assault,” according to the footage.

Yondu – Michael Rooker shaved his head for the role of the Guardians’ founding member, an expert hunter.

Gamora – Avatar actress Zoe Saldana is under heavy makeup as green alien assassin Gamora, the adopted daughter of heavyweight villain Thanos. She’s the last of her species, according to Saldana.

Drax the Destroyer – Wrestler Dave Bautista plays a human reborn as a green warrior with the sole purpose of killing Thanos, after the villain murdered his family.

Ronan the Accuser – Lee Pace will be portraying a villain, the leader of the evil Kree race.

Korath the Pursuer – Djimon Houstou took the role of one of Ronan the Accuser’s Kree allies to set an example for his young son, who is a big fan of superhero movies.

Nebula – Doctor Who actress Karen Gillan revealed at Comic-Con that she had shaved her head to play the villainous Nebula, a space pirate.

The Collector – Benicio del Toro signed a multi-picture deal with Marvel before signing on to play the ancient Collector, a being who finds interesting lifeforms to keep for himself.

Yet to be cast are the voices of Groot, a tree-like member of the Guardians, and Rocket Raccoon, a pint-sized Guardian. Thanos, who cameoed at the end of The Avengers, is rumored to be making an appearance.

Source: EW.

Image Courtesy: Marvel.

Review: Pacific Rim

A damaged Jaeger collapses after a battle in 'Pacific Rim.'

A damaged Jaeger collapses after a battle in ‘Pacific Rim.’

Director Guillermo del Toro clearly never identified with those people who live by the adage ‘less is more.’ His movie Pacific Rim, a sci-fi epic that pits human-powered robots against giant monsters, is as colossal a summer blockbuster as there ever was or ever will be. Del Toro’s greatest directorial challenge is ensuring that it never collapses under its own weight. Miraculously, he pulls it off. Pacific Rim succeeds against all odds; it’s a visually dazzling powerhouse that packs both emotional resonance and an unfailing sense of fun. In a word, it’s awesome. In two words, it’s really awesome.

As towering human-powered robots called Jaegers fight even larger monsters called Kaijus to save humankind from annihilation, the sheer size of Pacific Rim‘s action is jaw-dropping. Even more shocking is how Del Toro miraculously keeps the film’s battle sequences coherent and clear, never losing his footing despite the film’s scale. It’s a testament to his talent that a scene’s action can encompass an entire city without the audience losing track of what’s what.  

Pacific Rim‘s top-notch cast also helps the movie soar, particularly Idris Elba, who’s outstanding as stoic commanding officer Stacker Pentecost. His performance, complete with booming voice, soulful eyes, and surprising emotional depth, demands the audience’s attention. The chemistry between leads Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi, two unlikely Jaeger pilots who become humanity’s last hope against the Kaijus, is also terrific. Del Toro staple Ron Perlman shows up to deliver some cheesy but still great lines as larger-than-life black marketeer Hannibal Chau. And Charlie Day nearly steals the show as an energetic scientist studying the monsters, providing laughs and heart in equal measure.

However, the biggest thing that Pacific Rim has going for it is ever-present energy, courtesy of del Toro. This is his ode to the Japanese monster movies of his youth, executed with due reverence, visual gusto and expert aplomb. No matter how large the action gets, del Toro successfully emulates the simple magic of a kid playing with toys in a sandbox, letting the audience bask in that youthful exuberance as well. His boundless enthusiasm for the genre shines through.

Although Pacific Rim‘s action sequences take up a huge chunk of the movie, they never feel drawn out or artificial. One colossal battle in Hong Kong is terrific fun, both exciting and remarkably innovative. A smaller-scale martial arts scene with fighting sticks is just as cool to watch. And the film’s grand finale, a fast and furious fight to the death on the ocean floor, is a thrilling pièce de résistance.

Throughout the film, Del Toro’s confident direction allows the film to take risks with its narrative and cinematography, and those risks pay off tremendously. For one, Pacific Rim doesn’t shy away from the human cost of war against the Kaijus, capturing both the perspectives of civilians caught in crossfire and of the monster-mashing pilots. As such, the most devastating moment of the movie comes early on, as a terrified young girl finds herself in a Kaiju’s path of destruction. Additionally, the direction often highlights the strange beauty of the movie’s creatures – both the Jaegers and Kaijus are wondrous to behold, dazzling CGI behemoths which move with an almost celestial grace at times.

The only time when Pacific Rim ever really stumbles is when it overreaches with its story. Some ideas the script puts forth about the origins of the Kaijus don’t sit well, and other plot points in the story’s set-up are undeniably weak. But even with those few shortcomings, Pacific Rim ultimately succeeds both as a tribute to Japanese monster movies and a resuscitation of the same. Any gripes with the plot don’t even register once Hunnam and Kikuchi strap into their Jaeger and throw down with fearsome Kaijus in any of the film’s breathtaking action sequences.

As far as action goes, there’s no better film to see this summer. Pacific Rim is an imaginative and thrilling popcorn-pleasure spectacle that doesn’t let gargantuan scale sacrifice a big heart and sense of fun. What more do you need to hear? Go get lost in Del Toro’s crazy-cool childhood fantasy, and experience the breathtaking grandeur of his fully-realized vision for yourself. You’ll be glad you did. A-

Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros.

DVD Review: Lockout

Guy Pearce shoots off bullets and one-liners in 'Lockout.'

Guy Pearce shoots off bullets and one-liners in ‘Lockout.’

Die Hard in space, as sci-fi thriller Lockout could be accurately dubbed, may be the silliest (and stupidest) Die Hard rip-off yet.

Guy Pearce stars as devil-may-care secret agent Snow, who is forced to infiltrate a high security prison to rescue the President’s daughter Emilie (Maggie Grace) after the prisoners rebel and take over. The catch? The prison, MS One, is in fact a maximum security space station orbiting Earth.

Pearce is easily the best part of Lockout, playing Snow as a Han Solo clone, complete with gruff charisma and roguish wit. Luckily for the film and audience, he pulls it off. Trading either barbs or blows with every character he comes across, Pearce effectively establishes himself as a more-than-capable leading man. It’s just a shame he’s given so little to work with.

Lockout‘s plot is as described above, and that’s pretty much it. There are no layers to the concept of MS One, though the writers throw some inadequate tidbits to the audience that make the film’s ultimate simplicity all the more frustrating. The fact that Emilie is on board to investigate rumors of prisoner abuse is one of the film’s only thoughtful ideas, but it’s immediately drowned out by explosions and gunfire and never goes anywhere. An undercooked side plot with Pearce’s character being framed for murder back on Earth is so meager and poorly executed that it’s not worth trying to piece together.

There are a lot of missed opportunities in Lockout, which decides to poorly copy better movies instead of introducing its own ideas. John Carpenter’s Escape from New York is the movie most plagiarized, from the concept to the characters, but almost every idea in Lockout originated in a different, better movie.

Lockout is about evenly split between effective action sequences and ones that look shockingly crappy. The film’s jumpy, amateurish direction does nothing to alleviate sensory headaches caused by the worst of those scenes. Honestly, at times, the level of thought that went into Lockout makes it appear as if it were made by middle school students taking an Introduction to Filmmaking course, albeit ones with deep pockets.

Atrocious direction aside, Lockout not only asks viewers to suspend their disbelief, but to throw basic laws of physics out the window. Pearce tries his damnedest, but it feels like he’s fighting alone. Lockout‘s directors, producers, and writers (including super-producer Luc Besson) are all perfectly content to let the film float around aimlessly like so much space debris. The supporting cast is no help, with Grace floundering in a thankless role and Peter Stormare mangling already cheesy dialogue as a dull government supervisor.

Lockout wants to be seen as a legitimate action thriller, but it can’t even be truly enjoyed as a parody of the same. With mind-numbingly bad special effects and even worse plot points, Pearce’s fine performance doesn’t even come close to saving Lockout from collapsing under the weight of its own idiocy. Lock this one up and throw away the key. C-

 

Photo Courtery: EuroCorp.

2013 Emmys: Surprises and Snubs

BBC's America's 'Orphan Black' was shut out of this year's Emmys.

BBC’s America’s clone thriller ‘Orphan Black’ was shut out of this year’s Emmys.

Though there were a lot of locks for the main categories at the Emmys this year, the TV Academy still managed to surprise us here at Cinema Sentinel with some very deserving underdogs scoring nominations and equally shocking snubs. Though we would certainly never want to be in the position of choosing a few nominees out of this past year’s terrific crop, it’s always fun to dissect and disagree with the TV Academy’s picks. Let’s take it one at a time with the six main categories:

Outstanding Comedy Series

This year’s category is almost identical to last year’s, with FX’s Louie sneaking onto the ballot in place of HBO’s Curb Your EnthusiasmLouie was certainly worthy of a nomination – no show still on TV does biting dark comedy as skillfully – but there were some equally deserving but unfairly snubbed candidates. NBC’s Parks and Recreation had a terrific season, far superior to, say, the latest season of Girls (debatably not even a comedy at this point). Parks and Recreation has even surpassed its stylistic muse, The Office, at this point by so completely involving the audience in the lives of its characters despite the documentary format, and it is about time that the Emmys recognize that after years of unfairly ignoring the show. And the total lack of love for FOX’s New Girl, which hit a real groove in its second season, is depressing, if not surprising given all of the deserving candidates this year. The characters on New Girl grew (though some more than others) from caricatures to legitimate protagonists, with strengths, weaknesses and quirks all their own. The scripts were also far better than in New Girl‘s first season, giving each actor time to shine individual while evolving all of the roommates’ relationships in exciting ways. With 30 Rock in the ground, maybe some fresher comedies will get a chance next year.

Biggest Surprise: Louie (FX)

Biggest Snub: Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Outstanding Drama Series

This field was the tightest of any this year, with so many brilliant dramas on the air, and so it’s difficult to argue with the nominees – in particular, AMC’s Mad Men, HBO’s Game of Thrones, and AMC’s Breaking Bad are all at the peak of their storytelling powers. Netflix’s House of Cards deserves a nomination not only for its terrific acting and plot, but also for its very existence. House of Cards is groundbreaking in that it is the first original online web television program to ever receive Emmy attention. If there’s any debating, it would be about SHOWTIME’s Homeland. The complex spy thriller had an undeniably weak second season, despite an extremely strong start. It’s safe to say that the TV Academy is honoring the first half of Homeland‘s second season, not the completely absurd Abu Nazir kidnapping twist of its last few episodes. However, there are other shows more deserving that, with careful restraint, avoided going off the rails in the way that Homeland did. FX’s The Americans had an exhilarating, almost flawless first season. Also on FX, Sons of Anarchy and Justified arguably had their best seasons yet.  On HBO, Boardwalk Empire was conspicuously absent for the first time. And while the same channel’s drama The Newsroom turned a lot of heads, it’s likely that tough love from critics scared off the TV Academy. Meanwhile, SHOWTIME’s Dexter pulled itself out of a nosedive in grand fashion with one of its best seasons in years, to no avail, and AMC’s The Walking Dead also didn’t make the cut, despite its burgeoning popularity and rise in quality. Neither did NBC’s freshman drama Hannibal, which had a surprising amount of awards buzz behind it going into the nominations. In this writer’s mind, the biggest snub in this category would have to be BBC America’s Orphan Black, which succeeded in making sci-fi cool again, as well as smart, sexy and compulsively watchable. Despite the many fantastical aspects of the show’s plot (which are almost certainly what turned voters off), the drama was as gritty, well-acted and fascinating as anything on American television this year.

Biggest Surprise: House of Cards (Netflix)

Biggest Snub: Orphan Black (BBC America)

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama

The heavy hitters are all there, though Jeff Daniels somehow snuck in despite The Newsroom‘s bad press and lack of nominations. This was such a rewarding season of television all around that there were many deserving actors who just didn’t make the cut. Timothy Olyphant was great in this season of Justified. Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire) and Michael C. Hall (Dexter) both got the shaft this year after being nominated last year, allowing Daniels and Kevin Spacey of House of Cards to take their places. Neither Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) nor Matthew Rhys (The Americans) stood a chance, though in weaker years they both would have been up for consideration. Hugh Dancy was truly outstanding on NBC’s freshman drama Hannibal as troubled criminal profiler Will Graham. And Andrew Lincoln of The Walking Dead turned in the most impressive performance on a show built on great performances, showing off his wide acting range this past season as his character sunk to new moral depths. All of them would have been nominated in a perfect world. Sadly, the TV Academy loves to show devotion to its favorite shows, so newcomers often get spurned in favor of mainstays like Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and Jon Hamm (Mad Men).

Biggest Surprise: Jeff Daniels – The Newsroom (HBO)

Biggest Snub: Andrew Lincoln – The Walking Dead (AMC)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama

This category yielded some of the most surprising nominations in this year’s Emmys. Some of them were satisfying, like Vera Farmiga for her excellent work as twisted mother Norma Bates on A&E’s breakout Bates Motel. And some of them were a little frustrating, like Connie Britton on ABC’s Nashville, an uneven guilty pleasure show that went through some considerable growing pains. The category nominated seven actresses, as opposed to the standard six, which suggests the TV Academy struggled to narrow down the contenders, so there were likely many other actresses who were very close to receiving the nod that Britton ultimately (read: inexplicably) earned. Tatiana Maslany played not one but seven characters to perfection on BBC America’s Orphan Black, masterfully differentiating each performance with distinctive looks, styles, accents, and mannerisms. No one else on TV can claim to play both the protagonist and antagonist of their show, along with most of the supporting characters. Maslany’s omission, after her win at the Critic’s Choice Awards, was likely the biggest snub of any category at the Emmys this year. Other deserving candidates included Jennifer Carpenter for her increasingly terrific work on SHOWTIME’s Dexter, Lena Headey and Michelle Fairley of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and Keri Russell, the compelling center of FX’s The Americans. Julianne Margulies was also snubbed this year, though CBS’s The Good Wife had another strong season.

Biggest Surprise: Connie Britton – Nashville (ABC)

Biggest Snub: Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black (BBC America)

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy

Usual suspects Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) and Alec Baldwin (30 Rock) again received nods, but the category also found room to recognize underdogs like Matt LeBlanc for his wonderful, self-aware role on SHOWTIME’s Episodes and Jason Bateman for being the best part of Netflix’s revived Arrested Development. Louis C.K. picked up another well-deserved nomination for his work on Louie, and Don Cheadle was also recognized for SHOWTIME’s House of Lies. The weak spot in that line-up is definitely Cheadle, who suffers from the reputation of his show, generally criticized for listless writing. However, the TV Academy clearly likes Cheadle on TV, as they also nominated him last year, to the surprise of many. As far as snubs are concerned, Jake Johnson should have picked up a nomination for his consistently hilarious acting on FOX’s New Girl. Johnson really came into his own as a romantic and comedic lead for the show this past season, delivering many of the show’s best lines and moments. Despite a greatly improved role, he suffered from the total lack of love for New Girl from the TV Academy this year. John Krasinski was the heart of The Office in its final season, but evidently the show wore out its welcome around the time Steve Carrell packed his bags. Finally, Jon Cryer was also snubbed for Two and a Half Men after the TV Academy gave him the award last year, suggesting the goodwill towards him after the show’s Charlie Sheen crisis has all but evaporated.

Biggest Surprise: Jason Bateman – Arrested Development (Netflix)

Biggest Snub: Jake Johnson – New Girl (FOX)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy

This category included comedy juggernauts like Tina Fey (30 Rock) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep), while still acknowledging the more subtle work of underdogs like Laura Dern (Enlightened) and Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie), in what was probably the fairest distribution of nominations this year. That said, many terrific actresses got shut out, which is particularly frustrating considering the Lead Actress in a Drama category had seven slots this year, while Lead Actress in a Comedy only had six. That seventh slot would have likely gone to Zooey Deschanel for her increasingly expressive and exciting work on New Girl. Deschanel really developed her character this past season, transforming Jess Day from the quirky weirdo of the first season into a fully formed, easily likable protagonist by taking bold risks and consistently humanizing her, particularly in her romantic storyline with roommate Nick Miller (Jake Johnson). Melissa McCarthy was also snubbed for her work on CBS’s Mike and Molly, likely just missing the cut. It’s possible that her lucrative film career overexposed her to voters, who instead opted for lesser-known actresses.

Biggest Surprise: Laura Dern – Enlightened (HBO)

Biggest Snub: Zooey Deschanel – New Girl (FOX)

Nominations for 2013 Emmy Awards

FX's 'American Horror Story' led the pack with 17 nominations.

FX’s horror anthology series ‘American Horror Story: Asylum’ led the pack with 17 nominations.

The 65th Primetime Emmy Awards, honoring the best in television, will air September 22 on CBS. The nominees are below:

OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES

The Big Bang Theory • CBS
Girls • HBO
Louie • FX Networks
Modern Family • ABC
30 Rock • NBC
Veep • HBO

OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES

Breaking Bad • AMC
Downton Abbey • PBS
Game Of Thrones • HBO
Homeland • Showtime
House Of Cards • Netflix
Mad Men • AMC

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA

Bryan Cranston as Walter White
Breaking Bad • AMC

Hugh Bonneville as Robert, Earl of Grantham
Downton Abbey • PBS

Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody
Homeland • Showtime

Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood
House Of Cards • Netflix

Jon Hamm as Don Draper
Mad Men • AMC

Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy
The Newsroom • HBO

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA

Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates
Bates Motel • A&E

Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley
Downton Abbey • PBS

Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison
Homeland • Showtime

Robin Wright as Claire Underwood
House Of Cards • Netflix

Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson
Mad Men • AMC

Connie Britton as Rayna James
Nashville • ABC

Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope
Scandal • ABC

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY

Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth
Arrested Development • Netflix

Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper
The Big Bang Theory • CBS

Matt LeBlanc as Matt LeBlanc
Episodes • Showtime

Don Cheadle as Marty Kaan
House Of Lies • Showtime

Louis C.K. as Louie
Louie • FX Networks

Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy
30 Rock • NBC

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY

Laura Dern as Amy
Enlightened • HBO

Lena Dunham as Hannah Horvath
Girls • HBO

Edie Falco as Jackie Peyton
Nurse Jackie • Showtime

Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope
Parks And Recreation • NBC

Tina Fey as Liz Lemon
30 Rock • NBC

Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer
Veep • HBO

OUTSTANDING MINISERIES

American Horror Story: Asylum • FX Networks
Behind The Candelabra • HBO
The Bible • HISTORY
Phil Spector • HBO
Political Animals • USA
Top Of The Lake • Sundance Channel

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE

Behind The Candelabra • HBO
Michael Douglas as Liberace

Behind The Candelabra • HBO
Matt Damon as Scott Thorson

The Girl • HBO
Toby Jones as Alfred Hitchcock

Parade’s End • HBO
Benedict Cumberbatch as Christopher Tietjens

Phil Spector • HBO
Al Pacino as Phil Spector

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN MINISERIES OR MOVIE

American Horror Story: Asylum • FX Networks
Jessica Lange as Sister Jude Martin

The Big C: Hereafter • Showtime
Laura Linney as Cathy Jamison

Phil Spector • HBO
Helen Mirren as Linda Kenney-Baden

Political Animals • USA
Sigourney Weaver as Elaine Barrish Hammond

Top Of The Lake • Sundance Channel
Elisabeth Moss as Robin

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA

Bobby Cannavale as Gyp Rosetti
Boardwalk Empire • HBO

Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut
Breaking Bad • AMC

Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman
Breaking Bad • AMC

Jim Carter as Mr. Carson
Downton Abbey • PBS

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister
Game Of Thrones • HBO

Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson
Homeland • Showtime

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA

Anna Gunn as Skyler White
Breaking Bad • AMC

Maggie Smith as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham
Downton Abbey • PBS

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen
Game Of Thrones • HBO

Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart
The Good Wife • CBS

Morena Baccarin as Jessica Brody
Homeland • Showtime

Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris
Mad Men • AMC

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY

Adam Driver as Adam Sackler
Girls • HBO

Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Mitchell Pritchett
Modern Family • ABC

Ed O’Neill as Jay Pritchett
Modern Family • ABC

Ty Burrell as Phil Dunphy
Modern Family • ABC

Bill Hader as Various characters
Saturday Night Live • NBC

Tony Hale as Gary Walsh
Veep • HBO

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY

Mayim Bialik as Amy Farrah Fowler
The Big Bang Theory • CBS

Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester
Glee • FOX

Sofia Vergara as Gloria Pritchett
Modern Family • ABC

Julie Bowen as Claire Dunphy
Modern Family • ABC

Merritt Wever as Zoey Barkow
Nurse Jackie • Showtime

Jane Krakowski as Jenna Maroney
30 Rock • NBC

Anna Chlumsky as Amy Brookheimer
Veep • HBO

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE

James Cromwell as Dr. Arthur Arden
American Horror Story: Asylum • FX Networks

Zachary Quinto as Dr. Oliver Thredson
American Horror Story: Asylum • FX Networks

Scott Bakula as Bob Black
Behind The Candelabra • HBO

John Benjamin Hickey as Sean
The Big C: Hereafter • Showtime

Peter Mullan as Matt
Top Of The Lake • Sundance Channel

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE

Sarah Paulson as Lana Winters
American Horror Story: Asylum • FX Networks

Imelda Staunton as Alma Hitchcock
The Girl • HBO

Ellen Burstyn as Margaret Barrish Worthington
Political Animals • USA

Charlotte Rampling as Sally Gilmartin
Restless • Sundance Channel

Alfre Woodard as Ouiser
Steel Magnolias • Lifetime

OUTSTANDING REALITY SHOW HOST

Ryan Seacrest
American Idol • FOX

Betty White
Betty White’s Off Their Rockers • NBC

Tom Bergeron
Dancing With The Stars • ABC

Heidi Klum
Tim Gunn
Project Runway • Lifetime

Cat Deeley
So You Think You Can Dance • FOX

Anthony Bourdain
The Taste • ABC

OUTSTANDING REALITY COMPETITION

The Amazing Race • CBS
Dancing With The Stars • ABC
Project Runway • Lifetime
So You Think You Can Dance • FOX
Top Chef • Bravo
The Voice • NBC

OUTSTANDING REALITY PROGRAM

Antiques Roadshow • PBS
Deadliest Catch • Discovery Channel
Diners, Drive-Ins And Dives • Food Network
MythBusters • Discovery Channel
Shark Tank • ABC
Undercover Boss • CBS

OUTSTANDING VARIETY SERIES

The Colbert Report • Comedy Central
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart • Comedy Central
Jimmy Kimmel Live • ABC
Late Night With Jimmy Fallon • NBC
Real Time With Bill Maher • HBO
Saturday Night Live • NBC

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA

Nathan Lane as Clarke Hayden
The Good Wife • CBS

Michael J. Fox as Louis Canning
The Good Wife • CBS

Rupert Friend as Peter Quinn
Homeland • Showtime

Robert Morse as Bertram Cooper
Mad Men • AMC

Harry Hamlin as Jim Cutler
Mad Men • AMC

Dan Bucatinsky as James Novack
Scandal • ABC

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN DRAMA SERIES

Margo Martindale as Claudia
The Americans • FX Networks

Diana Rigg as Olenna Tyrell
Game Of Thrones • HBO

Carrie Preston as Elsbeth Tascioni
The Good Wife • CBS

Linda Cardellini as Sylvia Rosen
Mad Men • AMC

Jane Fonda as Leona Lansing
The Newsroom • HBO

Joan Cusack as Sheila Jackson
Shameless • Showtime

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

Bob Newhart as Arthur Jeffries/Professor Proton
The Big Bang Theory • CBS

Nathan Lane as Pepper Saltzman
Modern Family • ABC

Bobby Cannavale as Dr. Mike Cruz
Nurse Jackie • Showtime

Louis C.K., Host
Saturday Night Live • NBC

Justin Timberlake, Host
Saturday Night Live • NBC

Will Forte as Paul
30 Rock • NBC

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY

Molly Shannon as Eileen Foliente
Enlightened • HBO

Dot-Marie Jones as Shannon Beiste
Glee • FOX

Melissa Leo as Laurie
Louie • FX Networks

Melissa McCarthy, Host
Saturday Night Live • NBC

Kristen Wiig, Host
Saturday Night Live • NBC

Elaine Stritch as Colleen Donaghy
30 Rock • NBC

OUTSTANDING ANIMATED PROGRAM

Bob’s Burgers • O.T.: The Outside Toilet • FOX
Kung Fu Panda: Legends Of Awesomeness: Enter The Dragon • Nickelodeon
Regular Show: The Christmas Special • Cartoon Network
The Simpsons • Treehouse Of Horror XXIII • FOX
South Park • Raising The Bar • Comedy Central

 

Image Courtesy – FX.