MOVIES: 'Paranormal Activity 3,' 'Margin Call' & 'The Thing'
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters.
"PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3"
Since this is a horror prequel to a horror prequel, let's call it a horror threquel. Time traveling back to 1988, it reveals how sisters Katie and Kristi Rey were traumatized at an early age by ominous, supernatural occurrences.
Beginning in the summer of 2006, just prior to the events of the previous two films, now-adult sisters Katie (Katie Featherston) and pregnant Kristi (Sprague Graydon) discover a stash of old family VHS tapes from their recently deceased grandmother's (Hallie Foote) house, one of which is labeled "Summer 1988," as the found footage flashback begins.
Celebrating a birthday party, young Katie (Chloe Csengery) and young Kristi Rey (Jessica Tyler Brown) are living with their mother, Julie (Lauren Bittner) and her partner, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), a wedding videographer, and curious about the inexplicable sounds emanating from their new home in Santa Rosa, Calif.
"It's a new house; it shouldn't be making these noises," Dennis grumbles. So he sets up surveillance cameras in the bedrooms, kitchen and living room which chronicle the family's daily activities, complete with Teddy Ruxpin and Lite-Brites, along with those mysterious nighttime disturbances. But Kristi has this imaginary friend Toby. There are phantom footsteps, doors open and close, and the toy closet contains demonic spirits. Then there's that fateful game of "Bloody Mary" in the bathroom.
Terrified and tormented by otherworldly ghosts, sisters Katie and Kristi are creepily cursed by a deeply evil force.
Working from a formulaic, infuriatingly illogical script by Christopher B. Landon (co-writer of "Paranormal Activity 2), co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (creators of the pseudo-documentary "Catfish") amplify the repetitive mythology, effectively prolonging the suspense, leaving much to the viewer's imagination, particularly as a camera mounted on a disassembled swiveling fan base reveals weirdly different things each time the fan rotates from the kitchen to the living room and back.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Paranormal Activity 3" escalates to a spooky, scary 7, especially for Halloween. It's more unnerving and sinister this time, as the low-budget/high-payoff franchise continues.
From Wall Street protestors to global demonstrations against greed, you can't get timelier than J.C. Chandor's topical thriller that unfolds in 2008 over the course of roughly 24 hours, showing how one financial firm dumped worthless assets on unsuspecting customers.
As it begins, there's downsizing at a prestigious company high atop Manhattan's financial district. As risk analyst Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) is unceremoniously escorted from the building, he passes a computer file to junior analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), whispering an ominous warning, "Be careful."
When Peter peeks into the graphs of numbers, a look of utter horror pass over his face. Unless someone can stop it, there's going to be economic Armageddon. So Peter alerts his boss, Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), who, in turn, summons his superior, Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), who recognizes the moral dilemma, muttering, "It's going to get worse before it gets better, much worse."
Dire peril is confirmed by head risk honchos Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) and Jared Cohen (Simon Baker), and panic mounts in the wee hours of the morning as, on the roof, a helicopter lands belonging to ruthless CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons), whose name ironically rhymes with Fuld.
With tense executives gathered around a conference table, Fuld turns to 28-year-old Sullivan, a former rocket scientist, demanding, "Explain this to me in simple terms, as you would a young child or a golden retriever."
Then in a shrewdly decisive move to separate "the fat cats from the starving dogs," the firm's highly paid analysts are offered exorbitant bonuses to liquidate inventory immediately -- at any cost -- as the debacle spirals out of control.
First-time writer/director J.C. Chandor learned Wall Street fundamentals from his father, Jeffrey, who worked for Merrill Lynch for almost 40 years. Chandor's fast-paced, cut-throat dialogue is reminiscent of David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross," as action is primarily confined to the office building.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Margin Call" is an intriguing 8 -- with its release as fortuitous as "The China Syndrome" was to Three Mile Island.
Neither a sequel nor a remake, it's a prequel to John Carpenter's 1982 horror thriller based on Howard Hawks' 1951 "The Thing From Another World" which, in turn, was inspired by John W. Campbell Jr.'s short story "Who Goes There?"
In Antarctica in the winter of 1982, a group of Norwegian explorers from an isolated outpost called the Thule Station discover a deep crevasse containing huge spacecraft piloted by an alien encased in a block of ice. Arrogant scientist Sander Halversen (Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen) recruits Columbia University paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to help him with defrosting in order to examine tissue samples, and you can easily imagine the killing rampage that occurs.
That's when those who survive realize that the alien is a shape-shifter, attacking its human prey, absorbing its DNA and then replicating its victim's appearance -- until the next mutation. Predictably, this leads to anxiety, confusion and paranoia since no one really knows whom the monster has morphed into. The only way to distinguish humans is by their dental fillings since the creature can't duplicate inorganic material. Not surprisingly, everyone's increasing panic is accompanied not only by cumulative carnage but also by a blinding storm.
Written by Eric Heisserer and Ronald D. Moore and directed by Dutch newcomer Matthjs van Heijingen Jr., it captures the creepy, claustrophobic comedic elements of the original yet, as it evolves, it becomes increasingly inconsistent, incoherent and, therefore, unbelievable. To their credit, however, they've included a tough female protagonist and some sexual tension this time; in the source material, there were only men. And there's an edgy political subtext between the Americans and Norwegians.
The device of having much of the dialogue is in Norwegian with English subtitles allows the audience to know what's happening while the American characters are oblivious, like Halversen's dire warning, "The Americans are the real enemy!"
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Thing" is a frigid, frightful 5, filled with gruesome gore, as the post-credit sequence concludes exactly where the John Carpenter classic begins.