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.

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Watchlist: What We’re Looking Forward This Summer

Logan faces ninjas in this summer's 'The Wolverine.'

Logan faces ninjas in this summer’s ‘The Wolverine.’

Here at the Cinema Sentinel, we tend to get excited about movies. It doesn’t matter the genre, the stars, or the budget; what really gets us amped up are the films that draw us in, take us places, and make us see things we’ve never seen before. The summer season is always best for spectacle, but there are all kinds of terrific-looking films coming out this year. Take a look below at the Cinema Sentinel’s most anticipated movies of the summer:

1. Pacific Rim – Guillermo del Toro’s massive tribute to Japanese monster movies could easily be the breakout hit of the summer. When giant monsters from beneath the ocean floor rise and wreak havoc on humankind, a new weapon is developed – huge robots controlled simultaneously by two pilots sharing one mind. This sci-fi epic has a lot going for it – del Toro never disappoints, the visual effects look jaw-droppingly awesome, the cast boasts great actors like Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, and Ron Perlman, and did I mention giant robotsOpens July 12 

2. Much Ado About Nothing – Movies based off Shakespeare plays are a dime a dozen, but this adaptation looks intriguing. Why? Two words: Joss Whedon. The geek god behind The Avengers is not the first person who comes to mind when I think of the bard, but he has made a lot of really interesting choices while directing his Much Ado About Nothing. Fun fact: the entirely black-and-white film was shot entirely at Whedon’s home in Santa Monica in only twelve days. Whedon’s cast is also terrific – Amy Acker, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Fran Kranz, Alexis Denisof, and plenty of other avowed Whedonites. It looks like a really nifty adaptation, setting the action in modern times while maintaining Shakespeare’s original dialogue. The trailer (below) has pulled off the Herculean task of making me excited about a Shakespeare adaptation – give it a watch. Opens June 21

3. Man of Steel – I was dubious at first, but I’m really starting to buy into the idea of Zack Snyder’s darker, weightier Superman. After the success of The Dark Knight, it was only a matter of time until someone decided to reimagine the Man of Tomorrow with a handful of dramatic gravitas, but Man of Steel doesn’t look like a rip-off in any shape or form. Henry Cavill is looking more every day like a great Superman, and I’m excited about the supporting cast, which includes Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, and Kevin Costner. If Man of Steel can strike a balance between its serious tone, high-powered story, and thrilling visuals, it could end up a truly super Superman. Opens June 14

4. The Bling Ring – Sofia Coppola is one of the most stylish, interesting directors working today, and she has a terrific story to work with here. Based on the true story of a group of teenage burglars who targeted celebrities, The Bling Ring has an opportunity to tell an absorbing tale while simultaneously making a statement about the materialistic nature of modern society and the American Dream. I couldn’t be more excited that Emma Watson is stepping out of her comfort zone to play the remarkably shallow Nicki, and I’m confident that Leslie Mann and Taissa Farmiga will also turn in great performances. Opens June 14

5. The Wolverine – After the disappointing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I’m optimistic that this summer will finally yield a worthy stand-alone movie for everyone’s favorite adamantium-clawed X-Man. Set in Japan long after the X-Men trilogy, The Wolverine pits Logan (Hugh Jackman) against the Yakuza and several dangerous foes, including the deadly Silver Samurai (Will Yun Lee) and a venomous mutant by the name of Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), all while he struggles against his own immortality. The Japanese arc is one of my favorite storylines for Logan in the comics, and with Oscar-nominated director James Mangold at the helm, I truly believe that this could be the best X-Men installment yet. A more vulnerable Logan, a picturesque Japanese backdrop, and entire armies of ninjas? What more could a fanboy ask for? Opens July 26

6. The World’s End – The third and final installment in Edgar Wright’s Britcom trilogy (after the equally fantastic Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) looks more bonkers and hilarious every time I see a new trailer.  Starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, along with a bunch of other terrific Brits (including Paddy Considine, Rosamund Pike, and Martin Freeman), The World’s End centers on a group of five friends who reunite after twenty years in hopes of completing a legendary pub crawl, culminating in famed pub The World’s End. As the night goes on, the friends realize that something’s off about the villagers, and Earth is actually under attack by aliens. With any luck, The World’s End will recapture the same manic energy and nonstop laughs that made its predecessors instant cult classics. Opens August 23

7. The Spectacular Now – There are very few teen dramas that look too good to pass up, but The Spectacular Now is one of them. The buzz from Sundance has been overwhelmingly positive, and the two leads are played by talented up-and-comers Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole) and Shailene Woodley (The Descendants). The film focuses on the unexpected romance between a popular, devil-may-care high school senior (Teller) and his studious ‘good girl’ classmate (Woodley), as the two learn things about themselves that had never occurred to them before. It looks like a moving, thoughtful, and well-acted coming-of-age drama, and, to me, those kinds of films are always welcome. Opens August 2

8. Elysium – Thoughtful sci-fi is a rare breed, but director Neill Blomkamp proved with 2009’s District 9 that philosophy and CGI aliens can mix with astounding results. His follow-up, Elysium, shares District 9‘s penchant for social commentary but now also boasts a Hollywood cast and budget. The film examines a future where the wealthy 1% live on an advanced space habitat orbiting Earth, while the rest of mankind struggles to survive on a filthy, overpopulated, crime-ridden Earth. The two come into conflict when Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) attempts to break into Elysium to find the medical technology needed to save a young girl’s life. He comes up against vicious opponents (including nasties played by Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley) who are determined to enforce Elysium’s strict anti-immigration laws. While District 9 made powerful statements about xenophobia, segregation, and human identity, Elysium looks to take on hot-button topics like class issues, health care, and immigration. District 9 earned Oscar nominations and critical acclaim, and Blomkamp’s follow-up looks equally appealing and fascinating. Whether or not the Academy likes it, Elysium will be a gritty, entertaining, smart, and introspective sci-fi thriller. I can’t wait. Opens August 9

9. World War Z – Based on the gripping Max Brooks novel, this apocalyptic horror thriller is the biggest unknown of the summer in my book. Brad Pitt, who produced the film, also stars as Gerry Lane, a UN employee who travels the world after a zombie outbreak in search for answers about where the epidemic originated. The scale of the film is massive, and the budget is rumored to be one of the largest of all time. Tons of talented people have been involved with the screenplay, including Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof, J. Michael Straczynski, and Matthew Michael Carnahan, so I have high hopes. Depending on whether its good or bad, World War Z could either prove to be a runaway hit or a colossal failure. It’ll be interesting regardless, and I’ll be front and center to find out. Opens June 21

10. This is the End – Adding to the glut of post-apocalyptic flicks hitting theaters (note the large amount on this list alone) is this oddball raunchy comedy with a strangely appealing premise. After all manner of apocalyptic events destroy LA, a group of actors including James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, Jay Baruchel, and Craig Robinson (playing filthy, fictitious versions of themselves) must work together to survive. The trailers look hilarious so far, and an over-abundance of celebrity cameos will make the movie all the more entertaining. I’m most excited for Emma Watson’s ruthless survivalist, but I’m also looking forward to a weird Michael Cera and dirty-mouthed Mindy Kaling. Opens June 14

Honorable Mentions: The To Do ListFruitvale StationYou’re Next, The Heat, White House Down, and The Way, Way Back

Photo Courtesy: Tumblr

What Did the TV Networks Do Wrong?

ABC's 'Happy Endings' was one of the many TV casualties.

ABC’s ‘Happy Endings’ was one of the many TV casualties.

So long, Go On. Happy Endings, not so much. Do No Harm, do not resuscitate.

The past few weeks were rife with cancellations over at the major television networks. Between ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and The CW, 39 shows have met their maker (as of press time) so far in the month of May.

Investigating the carnage, there are some trends in which shows were axed and which ones made the cut.

All but two of NBC’s half-hour comedies were given pink slips. Critically-acclaimed, consistently solid Parks and Recreation survived, as did perpetual underdog Community. Whitney, Guys with Kids, Animal Practice, Go On, Up All Night, The New Normal, 1600 Penn, The Office, and 30 Rock weren’t so lucky (though, in all fairness, those latter two shows went into the 2012-13 season knowing that they were filming their final seasons.) None of this year’s freshman comedies connected with a large audience, though The New Normal had a small, devoted following and Up All Night’s demise is more attributed to the departure of star Christina Applegate over “creative differences” with the showrunner than ratings.

It’s worth analysing what went wrong with the major networks this year. Though NBC killed the most shows, the other networks also had significant failures. With the exception of Nashville, ABC cut all of their new dramas, also killing low-rated comedies like Happy Endings, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23, and Malibu Country. CBS’s much-anticipated Dennis Quaid drama Vegas underperformed and was shuffled to Friday nights to quietly perish. And The CW, which only green-lights a few new shows each year, experienced two embarrassing flops in Cult and Emily Owens, M.D.

A clear problem the networks had was with advertising. The CW’s Cult arrived with little-to-no prior notice and was canned after only seven episodes. Advertising for NBC’s Guys with Kids failed to convince audiences that the show was anything more than an image from The Hangover recycled into a bland comedy. And the Peacock network’s Do No Harm arrived and left television without ever showing up on my radar. The ads for that last one showed a guy in scrubs, with a poorly Photoshopped face superimposed over his cupped, raised hands.

Another mistake the networks made was assuming that they knew what people wanted to watch on TV. NBC’s Deception tried to copy ABC’s freshman hit Revenge without generating any of the same social-media heat or intrigue. A blander version of an already far-fetched guilty pleasure was not what most browsers were searching for. CBS’s Golden Boy ripped off every other cop procedural on TV without even pretending to bring something original to the table. Meanwhile, ABC struck out with ambitious pilots without giving any thought as to how sustainable their concepts were, green-lighting Last Resort and Zero Hour without noting how viewers had previously rejected ‘event’ TV shows like FlashForward, Awake, Alcatraz, The River, and (surprise!) The Event.

Viewer fatigue was one of the biggest reasons for the failure of a lot of shows this season. After years of the same, it seems that audiences are sick of hospital shows, for one. Grey’s Anatomy barely earned a pickup this year, while ABC staple Private Practice winked out of existence. FOX’s The Mob Doctor flopped simply because it couldn’t convince viewers that it could provide a worthwhile twist on the typical formula for hospital dramas. NBC’s Animal Practice hinged on the idea that viewers would flock week after week to watch a medical comedy with a Capuchin monkey scampering around in a lab coat (the network was so confident that the show would be a colossal hit that they pre-empted the London Olympics for it back in August). The CW’s Emily Owens, M.D. applied some high school angst to the medical drama formula but still didn’t draw an audience. Do No Harm, a hospital drama attempting a Jekyll/Hyde twist, also fell victim to genre fatigue, becoming the lowest-rated-in-season drama debut in modern television history. It was cancelled after only two episodes. ABC’s Body of Proof, a consistently low-performing procedural about an unconventional medical examiner, also got axed. It appears that hospital-based dramas and comedies are going the way of the TV western or game shows.

Viewers evidently also tired of another type of show: the ‘family life’ sitcom. FOX’s Ben & Kate, CBS’s Partners, ABC’s How to Live with Your Parents, Malibu Country, and Family Tools, and NBC’s The New Normal all perished during cancellation season after attempting to draw audiences with quirky characters and saccharine plotlines. Though Modern Family is still a ratings juggernaut over on ABC, viewers are evidently not interested in also finding similar shows to watch.

Whether the networks will learn from their snafus this past TV season remains to be seen. If one was to judge by the TV upfronts, which featured a familiar blend of copycats (NBC’s The Blacklist is evidently Hannibal-izing The Following and crossing its fingers, hoping for the best) and dull family sitcoms (The Family Guide, Welcome to the Family, The Millers, The Goldbergs, even a sitcom called The Michael J. Fox Show), that would be a resounding “No.” Oh well. At least there’s always HBO.

Image Courtesy: E Online.

Movies to Look Forward to in May

The Great Gatsby – Baz Luhrmann’s lavish take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel of love in the Roaring Twenties will certainly be a treat for the senses, but I’m optimistic that it will also highlight the story’s fascinating characters and remain faithful to Fitzgerald’s weighty themes of corruption, extravagance, and heartbreak. With actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, and Joel Edgerton on board, and Baz Luhrmann’s distinctive visual flair, this Gatsby is actually starting to look pretty great. DiCaprio looks perfectly cast as the titular Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire who embarks on an affair with the shallow, materialistic Daisy Buchanan (Mulligan). This adaptation has a lot of potential, and if it is received with the same adoration that readers still show the novel after more than half a century, Gatsby could be the runaway hit of the year.

DiCaprio channels his inner Gatsby.

DiCaprio channels his inner Gatsby.

Iron Man 3 – In this, the third outing for Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, the man in the iron suit is confronted by his most dangerous foe yet, a mysterious terrorist called the Mandarin. As Tony’s personal world is torn apart by a ruthless foe, he embarks on a quest for vengeance. With Lethal Weapon helmer Shane Black at the wheel, Iron Man 3 is poised to erase the empty, dull spectacles of its predecessor with a more grounded, intense, and certainly dark storyline. When you look at the supporting cast, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, and (in an inspired bit of casting) Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin, Iron Man 3’s critical and commercial success are all but assured. A smaller but just as action-packed superhero piece might be just the kick Marvel needs to start its Phase Two group of films after the colossal grandeur of The Avengers.

Tony Stark rallies his troops in this official concept art.

Tony Stark rallies his troops in this official concept art.

Star Trek Into Darkness – It took long enough, but geek god JJ Abrams’ follow-up to his 2009 resuscitation of the Star Trek franchise is finally here. And, like Iron Man 3, JJ Abrams is taking the crew of the USS Enterprise on a darker, more serious adventure this time around. When an unstoppable terrorist attacks Earth and targets Starfleet, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew track him to a war-torn world, where they find themselves fighting for their lives. The film’s ace in the hole is certainly its villain, played by Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch, about whom Abrams and the rest of the cast have been strangely silent. Whoever Cumberbatch turns out to be (my money’s on a relation of Khan), audiences are in for an exhilarating space adventure.

Spock and Kirk face off against new adversary John Harrison.

Spock and Kirk face off against new adversary John Harrison.

Fast and Furious 6 – Usually, I wouldn’t get excited for a Vin Diesel action vehicle, especially a sequel. However, the Fast series’ last two installments have been surprisingly solid popcorn flicks with originality and a gleeful devil-may-care feel. This time around, the series moves even further away from its street-racing origins, as Dom Torreto (Diesel) and his crew team up with former adversary DSS Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) to take down criminal mastermind Owen Shaw. Torreto must try to keep his emotions in check when he learns that his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), whom he believed dead, is alive and working with Shaw. Expect another edge-of-your-seat blockbuster with flair to spare.

A member of Torreto's team takes a leap of faith.

A member of Torreto’s team takes a leap of faith.

Images courtesy:

http://thegreatgatsby.warnerbros.com/

http://www.hdwallpapers.in/

http://www.startrek.com/article/a-look-at-2013-star-trek-into-darkness