Monday Morning Critic – Paranormal Activity 3, Red State, Johnny Depp

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

One thing that interests me about this week’s films is Puss in Boots. Why?

To see if they can craft a film about of what amounted to a comedic sidekick that so profoundly failed in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

I didn’t think much of the sequel, mainly because Johnny Depp went from comedic sidekick to main character when it wasn’t warranted, and that’s the thing that intrigues me about Puss in Boots. To see if the kitty-cat can avoid what I like to call “Captain Jack Sparrow Syndrome.”

It’s when a side character is given a film to headline when it really isn’t warranted. It’s like how Tom Cruise is being bandied about for a Les Grossman film because he nearly stole Tropic Thunder in that role. And while Puss in Boots has a great voice behind him, as Antonio Banderas rules all, part of me can’t help but shake the notion that he’s in the same boat that Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack turned out to be: best used with a strong enough straight man to keep them from becoming overbearing.

Random Thought of the Week

Normally I don’t write about horror films more than once, if at all, but Paranormal Activity 3 did such a remarkable opening weekend number (and the comments on both of our reviews) let me intrigued. You can read my review here and an alternate take from Travis here if you’d like to see more formalized thoughts about the film. But one thing kept popping up about the film in the comments, and discussion amongst my friends, that kept popping up enough to make me want to write about the film again.

The film’s trailers did not really reflect the film it ended up becoming. And in a way I really feel bad for Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman.

Watching the first hour of their film one can see where they’re going with the film. This is meant to be a film about ghosts that’s subtle and haunting. This is the kind of film that mainly works off the first two films; we know what kind of things are going to happen but don’t know exactly when or how. It was building to something big but not completely over the top like how it turned out to be. This really felt like two different films about the same subject meshed into one.

On the one hand you have a film about the beginnings of a demonic possession affecting a family. Katie and Kristie were pretty much screwed from the beginning and this is a film exploring the sort of mythology the first hinted at and the second expounded upon. Instead of dealing with it as adults we’re seeing it through the eyes of a family as it’s just beginning. This is a film that builds up to a powerful ending that helps to flesh out most (if not all) the mythos that the first film hinted at. Joost and Schulman seem to be going for a film that uses the first two as a format, with a toned down finale that builds into the first two. This is a prequel in the truest sense, like how Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist was a psychological thriller also involving a demon that tackled Father Merrin’s first encounter with Pazuzu. That film was taken away from Paul Schrader and turned into a hokey gorefest from Renny Harlin and I’m actually surprised there isn’t a story involving something similar with this film. Why?

Because the film’s bat-guano crazy ending that left with plenty of questions, and no answers, leave enough open for Paranormal Activity 4: The College Years and an entirely different direction than the other two began with. I joked with my date for the second film that the only way you could a third film in the franchise would be to explore a crazy grandma and a cult. And that seems to be the direction of the series (as you know there’ll be a fourth film based on the franchise’s inherent cheapness to make and market) will be: ret-conning an entirely new mythology than the one the first didn’t touch on.

And it’ll be sad by the time we get to Paranormal Activity 6 and we’re sometime in 2020 as we’re dealing with a demon-baby or something equally vapid.

Paranormal Activity 3 just reeks of studio interference based on how the third act of the film came together; it’s as if Joost and Schulman were filming a story and on the off days Renny Harlin came in and filmed an entirely different story and someone tried to edit them together. That’s the only way I can describe the massive difference between the trailers that were released that tried to shed light on the film and the actual footage used in the film properly. And it kind of reflected in the reaction to the film.

Despite the fact that it had the biggest opening ever for a horror film there isn’t that palpable buzz you’d imagine a film gets after a $54 million opening. Especially considering it’s the best opening of the franchise so far and an R-rated film in a genre that generally has $100 million as the top end of potential box office grosses it’s kind of shocking that there isn’t a buzz. It feels more like a Twilight film in that it’s presumed a certain fan base saw it and loved it, nothing more, as opposed to being a massive hit that tons of people saw.

For a film that cost less than $10 million in production, and probably a similar amount in advertising, it’s already profitable before it hits DVD. But it just doesn’t feel like the mega-hit it is, which is sad in a way.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – Red State

I’ll never forget how I was introduced to Kevin Smith movies. I was at an overnight soccer camp and was given two wacky roommates. Aaron was from the South Side of Chicago and went to a Catholic high school and Brian was a good old boy from west Texas. I ended up playing against Aaron that year, oddly enough, in a tournament.

It was a super intensive camp, the kind where you’re training 10-12 hours a day; thus when you’re not on the pitch or not in the cafeteria (this was at a small Wisconsin college) you’re napping in your dorm room to rest up for the next session. This was the middle of Midwestern summers, which are pretty bad for most unless you’re from the South. The cold to us in the Midwest rolls off us like heat for almost any southerner I know. Even Brian complained about the heat and he was used to worse, so it was pretty bad as far as I was concerned. When a good old boy with a cowboy hat is bitching about how hot it is you know it’s unpleasant.

I had brought up a stereo with a CD player in it but hadn’t brought any CDs because I figured to listen to local radio. Aaron, however, brought up a collection of stuff and one of them happened to be the soundtrack to Clerks. After listening to it I did what any sane, rational 16 year old would do immediately thereafter: find the local video store and rent the film. After that I made my parents watch it with me, bought a copy for my own viewing and then made everyone I know watch it. My copy on VHS was the one that was used in my college fraternity’s stuff to pass down; I was the guy

I’ve been a major Kevin Smith fan ever since and Red State was one of the films of 2011 I was looking forward to the most this year. So I’ve been following the film and all the shenanigans that have come out with it. You can read all our coverage of Red State by clicking here, by the way, and a lot of what has happened over the past year has been wild enough that Kevin Smith seemingly has positioned himself as the “rebel looking to change Hollywood” more so than “Red State is the greatest film that’s ever been made, ever” because the film seems to be of secondary focus to Smith’s ego. And there’s a good reason why.

It’s not very good.

It has a pretty simple premise. A Craigslist-type hooker (Melissa Leo) lures three teenagers (Michael Angarno, Kyle Gallner and Nicholas Braun) into a cult led by a crazy man (Michael Parks). And then the FBI invades and a Waco style standoff begins between the two.

The film is a bit of a mess that comes down to one thing: Kevin Smith isn’t a horror film director. He’s a comedy director and there’s a world of difference between the two. It showed with Cop Out and I think is accentuated with Red State. I may not be a big fan of horror films, far from it, but a good one is much more of a visual affair. It has to create atmosphere and requires a director better at telling stories that way as opposed to letting them develop in a more organic fashion. A comedy director is more of a shower in that he shows a story as its happening and mainly has to stay out of the way of his actors. He has to push them in different ways; comedies are much more about character-building and that requires much more out of an actor and a screenwriter.

Any sort of flaws in both can’t be camouflaged like you can with a horror or action film.

A good horror film, I like to think, is like a good action film: it doesn’t demand as much intellectually but requires a lot more on the audio/visual level. It’s a different story-telling method, nothing more, and Smith doesn’t have that visual sense the film needs. He’s shooting it like he’s directing a comedy, with a more organic feel, but it’s completely off for the tone the film’s material warrants. If he was playing it as a parody of horror films in a sense I think he’s getting at something; I laughed fairly regularly during this film and that’s obviously not the film’s intent.

It ends up becoming a bit of a mess by the end; the film’s denouement is underwhelming.

As someone who writes on film I’m disappointed because I expected a lot out of a film with so many people endorsing it. As a Kevin Smith fan I’m disappointed because the film he’s hyping isn’t the film I saw.

Recommendation to avoid.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

In Time – In a world where you’re alive only as long as you have time, Justin Timberlake makes a shock to the system.

See it – It’s being marketed as a dumb action film but this is a film I think has something more to it than JT trying to make like he’s a tough guy.

Puss in Boots – Antonio Banderas is back in an origin story about the cat that saved the Shrek franchise from the third film on.

See it – That little cat rules all and I’m curious to see if they can make a well-rounded character out of comic relief; it’s Captain Jack Sparrow syndrome. Johnny Depp’s signature character was fun in small doses but the fourth Pirates film.

The Rum Diary – Johnny Depp in Hunter S. Thompson’s unpublished novel.

Skip it – I get this odd feeling about the trailer that I can’t shake. That it looks quirky but just ends up becoming rancid; Johnny Depp hasn’t been a reliable indicator of a film’s quality lately (The Tourist, the fourth Pirates film)

Anonymous – Roland Emmerich takes some time away from blowing up national monuments to explore the “true authorshop” of Shakespeare’s plays. In Limited Release.

Skip it – While it’ll be interesting, one imagines, to see a director pander for an award as opposed to box office receipts, my gut says that this’ll be passable at best.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @MMCritic_Kubryk.

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