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You Call That Scary?

Hollywood trots out pathetic Halloween offerings. Let’s egg its house.

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Paranormal Activity 4
  • Paranormal Activity 4

Reviews

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4. I don't really go in for horror movies. I can enjoy one if it's well made, but those are pretty thin on the ground. Add to that tendency my increasingly fervent dislike of found-footage movies and you'll have a pretty clear picture of my bias regarding any sort of Paranormal Activity. To date, circumstances have allowed me to avoid this franchise. I figured the trailer-blitz we've weathered for this series had gotten me up to speed. But like all good things, that era has come to an end.

*PA4* apparently picks up five years after the last installment (don't quote me on that), with a possibly possessed lady named Brooke making off with a possibly to-be-possessed infant named Hunter. Into the lives of an affluent suburban family move an odd young mom and her even odder 6-year old son Robbie. After Robbie's mom falls ill and goes to the hospital, our unwitting protagonist family takes Robbie in. And so begins the paranormal activity.            

We view the action primarily from the point of view of 15-year-old Alex (Kathryn Newton). Or, rather, through her video camera, webcam and iPhone (found-footage, remember). She's party to a lot of unexplainable stuff her parents don't want to hear about, and she has her techno-savvy boyfriend, Ben, set up hidden cameras throughout the house to capture evidence. So we get a lot of shots of the living room and the kitchen with nothing going on. Then a chair moves by itself, then a shadowy form moves through the frame, then Alex's sleeping form is levitated out of her bed.

Pretty elementary scare tactics: The filmmakers spike the mundanity of the goings-on with just enough cheap thrills to keep us mildly unnerved. To be fair, there are some heart-in-your-throat moments, but they are too few and way too far between to carry the movie. The idea seems to be to distract us with 75 minutes of almost-unbroken boredom, then freak us out by loading all the deaths into the last 20 minutes. The first half of that plan works. Sadly, the movie stays boring and unremarkable all the way to the end. R. 88m.

ALEX CROSS. The best thing about seeing this immediately after Paranormal Activity 4? The latter makes this one look like a masterpiece by comparison.

Tyler Perry takes on the eponymous character, who was created by thriller novelist James Patterson and previously played by Morgan Freeman in Kiss the Girls (1997) and Along Came a Spider (2001). Cross is supposed to be a genius profiler of the criminal mind and a peerless detective. Alex Cross gives no evidence to support either claim. Perry is so affable, so heart-on-his-sleeve that he's almost impossible to believe as a veteran Detroit cop. He's got a reputation as the coolest, toughest cop on the street, but he seems more like a big ol' teddy bear with a Glock. And when he's called upon to play enraged and out for vengeance, it gets almost laughably bad.

To backpedal a bit, I wouldn't blame Perry for this debacle. He does the best he can, but he's too recognizable and kindly to disappear into a part like this. He was miscast at the start, then misused by director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious, XXX).

Matthew Fox plays Cross' foil, an expert assassin who's also no slouch when it comes to charcoal renderings of his victims. He's listed in the credits as Picasso, so I'll let the writers involved share some of the blame. Here again, weird directing choices derail the performance. Fox seems pretty dedicated to the part, having starved himself to the point of being almost unrecognizable. But his killer plays as an ill-conceived combination of calculating and insane. This ultimately amounts to him yelling and going all googly-eyed, because apparently someone told him that's what sociopaths do.

The plot concerns a French gazillionaire and some barely thought-out industrial espionage, but it hardly matters. Mishandled action, poor plotting, incongruous performances and a complete lack of verisimilitude about sum it up. PG13. 101m.

--John J. Bennett

Previews

CLOUD ATLAS. Epic mindbender alert! This film from the creators of The Matrix and Run Lola Run careens through past, present and future, melding romance, sci-fi and action while exploring the connections that bind people through time. Based on the novel by David Mitchell and starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Jim Broadbent in multiple roles (and prosthetics) apiece. R. 163m.

SILENT HILL: REVELATION 3D. What you have here is a sequel to a poorly received movie that was based on a series of survival horror video games involving evil specters shrouded in fog. Strap on some glasses and they'll jump out atcha. R. 94m.

FUN SIZE. A sarcastic high school senior (Um, hello? Redundant much?) is like totally bummed cuz her mom is making her take her stupid kid brother trick-or-treating, which sucks cuz she and her sassy best friend like totally wanted to go to this awesome party hosted by this totally hot guy. PG13. 90m.

CHASING MAVERICKS. Based on the story of phenom Jay Moriarty, this fictional surf flick recounts the story of a 15-year-old NorCal surfer (newcomer Jonny Weston) who sets out to catch one of the biggest waves on earth with the help of legend Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler). The promotional materials promise "some of the most mind-blowing real wave footage ever captured on film." PG. 115m.

Ring in Halloween week with The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), the stop-motion fantasy film about a gangly, skull-faced troubadour named Jack Skellington who opens a portal between Halloween Town and Christmas Town. Sunday at 6 p.m. at the Arcata Theater Lounge. PG.

The Humboldt County Library's "Based on the Book" series wraps up Raymond Chandler month with The Long Goodbye (1973), directed by the great Robert Altman and starring Elliott Gould as hard-boiled detective Phillip Marlowe. R. 112m. 6:30 p.m. Hosted by the Journal's own Bob Doran.

Continuing

ARGO. Ben Affleck can direct! Here he helms a thrilling and surprisingly funny account of the 1979-80 Iran hostage crisis, starring alongside Alan Arkin, John Goodman and Bryan Cranston. R. 120m.

FRANKENWEENIE. Tim Burton directs this black-and-white stop-motion film about a quixotic boy who resurrects his dead dog. PG. 87m.

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA. Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) runs a posh, monsters-only hotel, catering to the likes of Frankenstein (Kevin James) and the Mummy (CeeLo Greene). PG. 91m.

LOOPER.  Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is a mob hitman in the future who's supposed to kill an older version of himself (Bruce Willis), sent back from the future's future. Smart, trippy sci-fi. R. 118m.

PITCH PERFECT. Anna Kendrick heads the cast in a music-drenched tale of an all-girl a capella group striving to win a championship. PG13. 112m.

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS. This violent, star-studded dognapping comedy from writer/director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) may be uneven, but Christopher Walken has rarely been better. R. 110m.

SINISTER. Ethan Hawke stars as a true-crime novelist who accidentally unleashes some bad supernatural juju that was minding its own business in a box of old home movies. Oops. R. 109m.

TAKEN 2. An ex-CIA agent proficient in the whupping of ass (Liam Neeson) has to protect his family from kidnappers. PG13. 90m.

--Ryan Burns

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