Relativity Media via Everett Collection
It seems only fair to mention that growing up, I was terrified of mirrors. Couldn't look at them, couldn't sleep with them in the room, could barely even think about them for fear of conjuring up the darkest conceivable images of what might be living on the other side of their nefarious glass faces. So, yes, I might have been an easy mark when it came to Oculus. But even without lingering childhood phobias, you won't walk away from the film free of tremors. Even more impressively, those looking for something meatier than a few jump scares won't be disappointed either.
Oculus paints itself with a long, coarse, hyperactive mythology, granting us a "history" of the demonic mirror in question that dates back to centuries and abounds many questions. But really, the conceit is simple: it's a mirror that f**ks with people. It makes you see things, makes you think things, and makes you do things you wouldn't ordinarily. It ruined the lives of two children when it corrupted and killed their parents (Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane), and threatens to finish the deed when the estranged siblings reunite in adulthood to enact revenge. Tim (Brenton Thwaites) has spent the past decade in a mental hospital, chalking up the supernatural nightmares of his childhood to psychiatric delusions. His sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan), the "together one" with a job and a fiancé, has spent her time tracking down the haunted antique to do away with it once and for all. Back in their old house with the mirror in her possession, Kaylie sets her meticulously constructed plan into action, with a reluctant Tim in tow.
And yes, obviously, everything goes awry.
Relativity Media via Everett Collection
The mirror's grasp on the minds of its victims exhibits an impressive imagination in writer/director Mike Flanagan. Oculus doesn't hit us with a long supply of ghoulish figures, opting instead for haunting mind games that really land in the construction of an unsettling aura: because of the nature of the mirror's powers, we never know if and when what we're seeing is real. It's not a particularly new conceit for horror or thriller, but it's one that works well. Especially when you're engaged with the people suffering through this tormenting reality.
And we are. The horror of the movie isn't relegated to the mirror's demonic trickery. The far more interesting material exists between the emotionally distant siblings. While Kaylie clings to the only companion she has in the trauma that tore her family apart, Tim wants to leave his nightmares behind him, and perhaps his sister as well. Jumping between flashbacks and the current timeline, Oculus plays with relationships in a terrific way: those between parent and child, husband and wife, brother and sister, and — most importantly — past and present selves.
Oculus is far from a "fun" movie, but it does seem to be playing a few games with its ideas — the ideas inherent in the malleability of perception, or the delicateness of relationships. Although it doesn't quite deliver in its conclusion, Oculus works through its premise with aplomb. While it might well have gotten away with the concept of a "spooky mirror" just fine, it opts instead to tackle many of the concepts that horror was invented to explore. And the result isn't just interesting, it's genuinely scary.
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Ten years ago, tragedy struck the Russell family, leaving the lives of teenage siblings Tim and Kaylie forever changed when Tim was convicted of the brutal murder of their parents. Now in his 20s, Tim is newly released from protective custody and only wants to move on with his life; but Kaylie, still haunted by that fateful night, is convinced her parents' deaths were caused by something else altogether: a malevolent supernatural force -- unleashed through the Lasser Glass, an antique mirror in their childhood home. Determined to prove Tim's innocence, Kaylie tracks down the mirror, only to learn similar deaths have befallen previous owners over the past century. With the mysterious entity now back in their hands, Tim and Kaylie soon find their hold on reality shattered by terrifying hallucinations, and realize, too late, that their childhood nightmare is beginning again...
Oculus is in theaters on April 11, 2014, but you can win this stellar prize pack before it hits the big screen! Entering the giveaway is incredibly easy; all you have to do is:
1. Follow @Hollywood_com starting April 4, 2014.
RT and follow for a chance to win an epic prize pack in our #OculusGiveaway http://t.co/fq53uZkSjI #SeeYourEvil
— Hollywood.com (@Hollywood_com) April 4, 2014
One (1) winner will receive a $250 American Express gift card, along with an Oculus iPhone case, eye mask, timer, stadium cup, and a UV color reveal t-shirt.
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It's hard to believe, but there was a time in Hollywood when no one thought a Batman movie was a good idea. Flashforward to 2012, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises is tracking to be one of the biggest opening weekends in box office history. Oh, how times have changed.
If you’re a fan of the Batman movies or any non-comic translation of the Bruce Wayne character in the past 40 years, you have one man to thank: Producer Michael Uslan. A New Jersey native and avid comic book fan, Uslan knew from an early age that Batman was meant for bigger and better big screen adventures, and took matters into his own hands to acquire the rights. After being mentored by DC Comics’ Sol Harrison and completing law school, Uslan became a studio attorney for United Artists, and when he felt he had enough know-how in his back pocket, he aggressively pursued the Batman film rights. The rest is history.
In anticipation of The Dark Knight Rises, I sat down with Uslan to discuss Batman’s history on screen, the turbulent journey to convince Hollywood the character could be a success, and the evolution of style and substance that’s helped Batman remain part of pop culture for nearly 75 years.
In short: you’re the reason Batman ever became a movie.
Michael Uslan: It was one of my better ideas.
But from the sound of it, bringing the character to screen the way you envisioned it was a hard battle in the beginning.
Uslan: It was a really tense fifteen years. By the time Ben Melniker and I bought the rights, it was a ten-year human endurance contest.
If you think back today, it almost doesn’t make sense, like today it would be an obvious thing to do. Why was it so difficult then?
Uslan: Well, you really have to set it in the context of the times. When I was first out there pitching Batman, it was the late 1970s. And the generation that was running Hollywood, and by that I’m including executives, I’m including agents, and a lot of talent pool, were brought up in what I like to call the “seduction of the innocent” generation.
Back in the early-mid 1950s, there was a huge post-World War II rise in juvenile delinquency in America. And Dr. Fredric Wertham, a psychiatrist who had his own clinic up in Brooklyn, began speaking at garden parties, and PTAs, and churches, talking about the horror of comic books. That comic books were creating a generation of juvenile delinquents. And he proved it by interviewing some 100 juvenile delinquents at his clinic, each one admitting during questioning that they had read a comic book. Therefore, Dr. Wertham concluded that comic books cause juvenile delinquency. Now, in his book that he published, called Seduction of the Innocent, he also claimed that girls growing up reading Wonder Woman would become lesbians, boys growing up reading Batman and Robin would become homosexuals, and that comic books cause asthma, because children were staying indoors to read them instead of playing in the fresh air. His diatribe was picked up by churches and PTAs and schools, and a whole generation of parents, clergymen, teachers, administrators, and politicians who were looking for an easy witch hunt, an easy place to lay the blame for a generation of children that seemed to have gone wrong. There was a federal investigation that had just started under Senator Estes Kefauver of New York, when things changed.
Two things happened that changed everything (and I’m sorry for giving you this background, but I just want you to appreciate it in the context of the times): the industry decided to self-center itself, so the comic book industry formed what they call the Comics Code Authority, which would be a censorship board that would heavily police comic books for themselves and keep the feds out of it. But maybe the biggest thing that happened was the advent of rock and roll. All of the sudden there was a new, easier, bigger target. And rather than cities like Jersey City and St. Louis burning comic books — which they had done — they started to burn Elvis Presley records.
The devil’s work.
Uslan: Exactly. So there is an entire generation of adults and young adults who grew up under that. And when I went out in Hollywood in the late '70s, that’s the generation that I ran smack into. Not only did they refuse to believe that Batman would be viable as a big movie done in a dark and serious way, they looked down their noses at comic books, they considered them cheap and probably lurid entertainment for children. Nothing more, nothing less. And had no respect for comics, the characters, nor the creators.
There’s a great story that Stan Lee tells, that during this period in the '50s and '60s, first half of the '60s, when the whole world was pointing their fingers and looking down their noses at comics, he would be at cocktail parties in New York City, and people would come up to him and say, “So what do you do?” and he was embarrassed to admit that he wrote comic books, so he would say “I’m a writer,” and then he’d quickly walk away. He said people would follow him and go, “Really, you’re a writer? Well what kind of things do you write?” And he said, “Well, I write children’s literature,” and then he would quickly walk away. And he said then they would follow him and say, “Well, specifically, what kind of children’s literature do you write?” And he said, “Well, I write comic books,” and then he said that they all walked away. So that kind of sets the background. Even Warner Communications, which had acquired DC Comics at that time, looked down at comics. They were kind of embarrassed that they owned a comic book company.
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Comics, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment]
While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.