Paper Towns Review

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When it comes to horror films, the subtle subversion of a trope is a good start to make me appreciate your film a little more. Maybe you didn’t stick the landing, but at least you did something new and didn’t back off from it. Horror isn’t the only genre where this rule applies, though. Romantic comedies, spy films, political thrillers, and so on are all welcome to changing elements of their formula up just a little bit. When it comes to Paper Towns, it attempts the minute formula change to a rather run-of-the-mill coming of age story. In its attempt to do so, it also backs itself into a corner where it becomes forced to acknowledge and then dismiss its one interesting hook.

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The East Stretches a Thin Plot to Unearth Moral Complexities

The East Theatrical Poster

The East Theatrical Poster

TitleThe East
Genre(s)Action, Drama, Mystery
Director(s)Zal Batmanglij
Release Year2013

There were many times in The East where I became curious as to what side the main character, Sarah (Brit Marling), was on. Ultimately that is the crux of this film. Sarah begins as a morally ambiguous character who is shaped by what she experiences throughout her stint with an eco-terrorist group known only as “The East”. Everything else that happens in the film falls under the categories of predictable, brash, and pretentious. There’s a message in The East and it’s conveyed with ease, but what ends up being the lasting effect of the film is its ability to portray a character who walks the line between good and evil.

The main plot of The East is stretched to a fairly lengthy runtime of two hours, and it becomes painfully noticeable because of how run-of-the-mill everything feels. “The East” is an organization that could be compared to the environmental version of “Anonymous”, and Sarah is an undercover agent attempting to find out who “The East” is, and what their next attacks will be. These attacks generally constitute giving corporations a taste of their own medicine; an ‘eye for an eye’, if you will. The moral dilemma begins when Sarah wrestles with whether this “terrorist” organization is truly comprised of terrorists. This explains why there are a handful of attacks of which we watch Sarah join “The East” and the question becomes whether these attacks are justified, or overblown acts of vengeance. By having these “jams”, as they’re referred to in the film, the movie is able to flesh out Sarah’s character in between each one, as well as provide some tense thriller aspects when the actual “jams” occur. 

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Stoker: A Haunting Look Inside Family and Adolescence

Stoker-International-Poster

Stoker Poster

TitleStoker
Genre(s)Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Director(s)Park Chan-wook
Release Year2013

To look at one’s family and decide where you come from and who you are most like is probably one of the more difficult things in life; especially when you’re a Stoker. Park Chan-Wook’s English language debut, Stoker, is what anyone would expect a Park Chan-Wook film to be; disturbed, moody, beautifully shot, yet right when the movie starts, it feels restrained. Now as any Park fan would know, this isn’t something he is particularly known for. Park, the director of The Vengeance Trilogy and Thirst, gives us his version of the coming-of-age film…if you were surrounded by this family.

Stoker begins with our narrator, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), as she mourns the death of her father (Dermot Mulroney). Living with her estranged mother (Nicole Kidman), India feels alone and isolated by her classmates and residence. That is, until Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) arrives. It is from here that the discovering nature of the film plays out, as we delve deeper into the reasons for Charlie’s arrival and explore the aftermath of India’s father’s death.

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Safe Haven is That Nicholas Sparks Movie About Letting Go of the Past

As opposed to being as vague as possible while reviewing this, I’ve decided to spoil everything in the movie. My reasoning is simple: the movie’s twists are what make the film entertaining, even if they’re not actually good. My short review: don’t see it unless you like Nicholas Sparks movies. Actual spoilers are after the jump though.

Safe Haven Theatrical Poster

Safe Haven Theatrical Poster

TitleSafe Haven
Genre(s)Drama, Mystery, Romance
Director(s)Lasse Hallström
Release Year2013
IMDB6.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes12%

If Nicholas Sparks is best known for anything, it’s consistently churning out below-average romantic dramas that will get all the women to swoon over their attractive star, and sob over every piece of contrived sadness. Never does Sparks go out of his comfort zone, dealing almost exclusively with issues of memory loss, cancer, or both. But Safe Haven is ironically enough, the first film that feels genuinely edgy, though it’s that same kind of contrived edginess intended to show that he has some other side to him. This side shares some elements of his previous films, such as the incorporation of cancer, but also delves into a severe case of alcoholism and abuses of power. With some good casting, besides the horrendous Julianne Hough, Lasse Hallström has crafted his second, and most promising, adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel yet.

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Cloud Atlas Breaks Away From Traditional Film Conventions in Glorious Fashion

Cloud Atlas Theatrical Poster

TitleCloud Atlas
Genre(s)Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction
Director(s)Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Release Year2012
IMDB8.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes64%

Genres can be a constriction on a film, letting itself be restricted by boundaries set by the type of film it is. It is more often than not, the movies that defy their genre which intrigue and ‘wow’ audiences. The problems that can arise in any of these films are that they might be plagued with jarring tonal shifts and disconnected story elements which feel like they’re from another film altogether. So what Cloud Atlas has done is provide multiple stories that intersect in many ways, yet retain completely different genres, from science fiction to thriller to comedy. Adapting David Mitchell’s novel of the same name was a daunting task to begin with, and what the Wachowski Siblings and Tom Tykwer have done is craft one of the most ambitious films since the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and defied the preconceived notion of how a movie should unfold.

There’s so much to discuss in this film, and it’s hard not to point out the obvious first: Cloud Atlas will divide an audience. It can never be unanimous that this movie is incredible. The ambition is there, but many won’t be able to get past the simple stories and somewhat confusing narrative structure. If one was expecting the movie to play out like Mitchell’s novel does with only one story to pay attention to for a while, that is not what is happening here. The movie cross cuts between stories and then returns to them in no time at all, so every story will remain fresh in your head, unlike how the novel presents it which is a much more linear manner. Unfortunately, what this does is encourage confusion and bewilderment as a scene from 1973 cuts to a 1936 sequence and then to a 2144 story, but the cuts feel natural and at no point disconnects the audience from the stories being told. Not only are the stories interspersed over long periods of time, but they are also separated geographically, taking place in England, San Francisco, and even South Korea. The movie is divisive among audiences and it is because the film does not do what the general audience expects it to: follow the general conventions of a film. The only thing that is generic about Cloud Atlas are the majority of its individual stories that it has to tell, but even then, the fact that they all connect in even the smallest ways is a testament to the power of simplicity.

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The Cabin in the Woods is One of the Smartest Films of the Year

There are massive spoilers in this review. There’s just no way around it. To avoid being disappointed by having the plot ruined, simply go and see the film that everyone has been raving about. Even if you don’t like horror films, this is so much more.

The Cabin in the Woods Theatrical Poster

TitleThe Cabin in the Woods
Director(s)Drew Goddard
Genre(s)Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Release Year2012
IMDB7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes91%

Oh how advertising can absolutely ruin your excitement to see a film. Being marketed as a generic, run-of-the-mill horror film is the worst thing that can happen to you from a critical standpoint, but from a commercial point of view, there’s a high chance of success. People don’t go to horror films to think, they go to be scared. How I would have loved to have been in the audience when The Cabin in the Woods premiered in theaters. To see those expecting a generic horror film introduced to two characters who begin the film by talking about fertility issues in what seems like a clip from The Office, must have been an incredible experience. This film is the perfect deconstruction and criticism of horror films, while still being a solid addition to the horror franchise. But what I will try to express throughout this review is that there is so much more to The Cabin in the Woods, from homages to outright insults, all while delivering the perfect mix of horror and wonder. This movie is more than what the advertisements sold it as, and there is no shortage of enjoyment for horror fans and those who normally avoid horror films like the plague.

Check out the rest of the review after the jump

Sinister has the least inspiring title to write a title about, apparently

Sinister Theatrical Poster

TitleSinister
Genre(s)Horror, Mystery
Director(s)Scott Derrickson
Release Year2012
IMDB7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes62%

It’s that time of the year again when scary movies roll into theaters hoping to make an easy dollar just by being out before Halloween. It’s just smart business, really. The problems that result in releasing a film now is people who generally associate this time of the year with mediocre-to-awful horror films, might avoid the lesser known horror flicks and stick with what they know best. With a well-established franchise like the Paranormal Activity series, you at least know what you’re getting yourself into. That’s where Sinister works for me: I had virtually no idea what was going to happen. With some fresh ideas to bring to the table, Scott Derrickson (previously known for The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the horrendous The Day the Earth Stood Still remake) has crafted a genuinely creepy film that falls into some known horror clichés but never stays in them for too long. It opens strong and ends even stronger, delivering the frights and thrills that a horror movie needs, all the while being bolstered by a strong performance in its leading man, Ethan Hawke.

Admittedly, I don’t watch a lot of horror films. I don’t like the aftereffects that can possibly result from seeing something really creepy, and I also just assume that most are going to be drab because of their tendency to end in the same pitfalls as every other horror film. It’s a genre that feels like a lot of people have given up on trying to do something new. The found-footage idea was fresh once upon a time, but now its been beaten to death. Even then, I never really found the appeal of films like Paranormal Activity, because they just didn’t scare me. So knowing I don’t see many horror films and expect them all to falter like every other one, perhaps the bar was set low for when I went to see Sinister. It’s not an overly original film, but with its lead and some of the unique things it does, I couldn’t help but be strung along.

Check out the rest of the review after the jump