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New Release Movie reviews - 19 October
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 *** (88 minutes) M
After the jitter-filled journey back to the 1980s in the outstanding Paranormal Activity 3, things swing back to the present day in the fourth installment of this hugely successful haunted house series. And what better way to zap things up than by having a creepy kid move in? When things start getting weird, tech-savvy teenager Alex (Kathryn Newton) sets up webcams all over the house so she can monitor the movements of suspected spirits. Directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost use silence and stillness to great effect, building a huge degree of tension to deliver a pleasingly high quotient of drink-spilling shocks. For all its digital gleam, PA4 is refreshingly old-fashioned from the jump-out-and-say-boo school, joyously employing a host of traditional horror movie tricks with consummate skill. (See our list of Horror Movie Principles). Though it's not as good as PA3, this jaunt is a heck of a lot better than the first two amateurish entries that kicked off a new franchise by using the video verite techniques introduced by 1999's game-changing The Blair Witch Project. And it's a remarkably smart franchise, indeed. Set largely in one location and shot on video, these films are extremely cheap to make and, by dutifully giving easy-to-please horror fans precisely what they want, have rung up around $200 million apiece, give or take. And, yes, there will be a Paranormal Activity 5. For a glimpse, be sure to stick around to the very end of the credits.
TO ROME WITH LOVE *** (112 minutes) M
After the surprise triumph of Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen returns with another charmer set in a foreign city. This time it's Rome, with its cafes, narrow streets and famous ruins framing a pleasing comic buffet of four short stories, all told in parallel and each of varying interest. The best involves an architect (Alec Baldwin) whose encounter with an architecture student (Jesse Eisenberg) allows him to relive a bumpy relationship through his eyes, with the aid of his girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) and her sexy, seductive best friend (Ellen Page). Also fun: the reality-TV satire about an ordinary family man (Roberto Benigni) who becomes famous for no reason; and the tale of the retired music producer (Allen, in his first on-screen dabble since 2006's Scoop) who discovers an undertaker with a brilliant operatic voice. Fans will notice far more fun and far less angst than usual here, and will no doubt enjoy Woody's Roman frolic all the more. At 76, he's clearly at the top of his game.
SAVAGES *** (129 minutes) MA
Who better to guide us through the morally murky world of the modern, business-savvy drug dealer than American cinema's favourite bad boy Oliver Stone? When California dope growers Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) are approached for a "friendly" merger by some Mexican heavies, they're strongly advised by their corrupt cop pal (John Travolta, in fine form) to politely accept the offer for their own good. Yet they resist. This, of course, leads to trouble and blood and machine guns and torture and kidnapping and drug duchess Salma Hayek in a black wig screaming into computer monitors and plasma tablets while trying to be a good mother. With their mutual girlfriend Ophelia (Blake Lively) having been taken, the boys have to revise their ethics to get her back without being sliced and diced by the villain of the piece, played with suave brutality by Benicio Del Toro. Stone's camera is as kinetic as usual; the sun-drenched locales are a pretty, colour-saturated blur; the performances are solid; the film a good piece of gritty, grown-up entertainment. One question, though - has Oliver Stone lost his movie mojo? The socio-political fire that gave such excoriating edge to Platoon, Salvador (both 1986), Talk Radio (1988), Born of the Fourth of July (1989), JFK (1991; his brilliant, loopy conspiratorial fantasy) and Nixon (1995) seems to have cooled considerably since 9/11. Interesting footnote: Oliver Stone wrote the screenplay with Don Winslow (on whose 2010 novel the film is based) and Shane Salerno, who is working on a remake of Fantastic Voyage (1966) and whose self-funded documentary about reclusive author J.D. Salinger (author of The Catcher in the Rye) is due out soon.
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED *** (85 minutes) M
As inconceivable as it sounds, here - finally - is an interesting take on time travel. And it doesn't involve aliens or killing A magazine ad placed by a small-town supermarket employee Kenneth (everyman du jour Mark Duplass) asking for a companion to travel with him back to 2001 attracts the attention of bored journalist Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), who drags along two interns: cynical semi-goth girl Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni), the standard virginal geek who has the not-so-secret hots for Darius. Their mission is to see just how nuts he is but Darius, who is sent in after Jeff flubs his first contact, sees sweetness in his motives for wanting to change his personal timeline. It's a small, richly nuanced, engaging piece of romantic fluff with a decent sci-fi tinge that doesn't overplay its quirkiness. Director Colin Trevorrow, working from a screenplay by producer Derek Connolly, builds to a surprising climax. Even the world-weary Jeff provides some emotional grist as he tries reconnecting with a lost love.