Thursday, November 18, 2010

Higgens Network: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I

Now we near the end. The best finales are the ones that make it seem like there can never be another installment. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I accomplishes this with gravitas.

At this point in the story, hope is slim. Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is back in power, Dumbledore is dead, and Harry Potter is being hunted down by every Death Eater in his path. The only chance for survial is to track down and destroy the final horacruxes, pieces of Voldemort’s soul, so that the man can fall as well.

With no clues or guides, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) have no choice but to hide. They have no choice but to take dangerous chances, but now there is a new level of stakes. This isn’t about winning the House Cup, but life and death. This is a horrifying film. It is filled with death and despair as the characters are tormented externally and internally.

They are frustrated by their lack of direction—which should not be seen as a fault of the film, but as high praise. Breaking the film into two parts means director David Yates can accomplish all of the powerful emotional moments. The cinematography is jaw-dropping at times as it conveys the toils these three are facing This is the most impressive movie on a technical level. Familiar sets have shifted into a more fearsome arena and the score matches the power.

This is an epic and serious movie. There are other films in the franchise if you want the light-hearted whimsy. This film is here to validate all the build-up of tension and darkness. There are moments of respectful levity, but it’s still with the context of fear.

Despite all of its impressive qualities, there are imperfections that arise. Screenwriter Steve Kloves should not have added so many new characters and elements into the final part. Having a new prime minster makes sense in the book but it doesn’t mean much in the movie, aside from having the chance for Bill Nighy to give a speech.

It can’t be the book but the film knows how to have the emotions that matter. Radcliffe gives an Oscar worthy performance that shows how much has led up to this point. The final installment will be this July. It has been a very bumpy road to the conclusion, but thanks to the direction of Yates the end has the potential to be extraordinary.

Film Yap: The Success of Harry Potter

This Friday, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I will open to thousands of theatres across the country. This new film has been labeled as one of the cinematic events of the year and it’s not even the final chapter. If you’re not a fan of the series, the title seems foreign to you. What are Deathly Hallows? What is this Part I nonsense? Why are so many midnight tickets sold out?

Franchises like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings have had decades to build up a strong fanbase. Comic book heroes like Batman and Superman have been around for just as long and have had plenty of iterations to excite fans. So how did Harry Potter become one of the movie events of the year, when his first book came out just over ten years ago?

The success of the book series has been talked about by a million other sources. It was a phenomenon that captivated audiences, especially young readers in an unprecedented way. Warner Brothers was smart and started working on the first film while the books were picking up steam. How they approached the first book set the standard for what made everything possible.

They took the property seriously. Handling this book was like filming The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or The Great Gatsby. This wasn’t a time where they could just call it “Harry Potter” in name only and have it be about young wizards in love. It was an expensive project and it paid off. As the train pulled into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, fans were gasping that their beloved image was realized in a wonderful way.

The people behind the movie were top notch as well. Having actors like Alan Rickman, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, and John Hurt brought a level of prestige to the picture especially with them bringing their A-game. Director Chris Columbus was a success from his Home Alone films and screenwriter Steve Kloves was just off his Oscar nomination for Wonder Boys.

This dedication continued as the cast expanded to include Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Toby Jones, Gary Oldman, Timothy Spall, Jason Issacs, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, David Tenannt, Helena Bonham Carter, Imelda Staunton, Jim Broadbent, and now Bill Nighy and Rhys Ifans. These are some of the finest actors working today and their performances reflect this isn’t just a simple thing to amuse the kids.

This was a level of respect and trust that still isn’t seen today as other studios try to replicate the success of these films. Films like The Golden Compass, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightening Thief, and The Spiderwick Chronicles are made in hopes they will catch fire like Harry Potter. All of those are bestselling series, but not in the same caliber as Harry Potter. (But what is?) Those movies just dipped their toes in the water instead of really focusing on making a special film. Starting a franchise is a risk but if all the pieces are there then that has a better chance. People did not flock to Pirates of the Caribbean because they loved the ride so much. People saw the movie because it had a great story with great performances and everything looked amazing.

Asking Hollywood to make good films is a frivolous request but the stats speak for themselves. The All Time Domestic Box Office is filled with movies that are still beloved to people’s hearts. These are the films like Avatar, Star Wars, The Dark Knight, E.T. and The Lord of the Rings. There are plenty of films on this list that I think are dreadful, but they made an impact with someone because of the consideration that was put in to them.

The Harry Potter films are not perfect films, but they can show how you can make a modern franchise into a success.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Higgens Network: Morning Glory

Bare in mind, that we all know Broadcast News exists. That’s a fantastic romantic comedy that played with convention while still being very funny. Morning Glory isn’t trying to be Broadcast News; it has more in common to be the next The Devil Wears Prada, which isn’t a coincidence since they have the same screenwriter.

Rachel McAdams gives another strong performance as Becky, a chipper neurotic news producer. She was in charge of a small morning show in New Jersey, but was laid off for budgetary reasons. Desperate, she applies to every show in the area. The only one she can get is Daybreak, another morning show that is unhappily ranked 4th in the ratings.

The show has been rotating producers because no one can get it to work. Instead of falling into the usual tropes, Becky does not get overwhelmed by the difficult nature of the show. She immediately fires Modern Family’s ­­­­­­­Ty Burrell and starts to find a new anchor to match up with Diane Keaton’s “Colleen Peck.” She goes through a ton of network legal documents to discover she can use Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford). He has been a beloved news correspondent for decades, but now he’s become infamous to work with.

Roping him into Daybreak is not the jumpstart the show needs. He refuses to take part in all of the frivolous segments or be helpful to anyone on the crew. Ford’s performance really reminded me of how he is during interviews. He’s annoyed at the praise from his past performance and just seems bitter. Yet Ford knows how to play that for some solid comedy and an honest performance.

The story is too conventional. There are no surprises at any turn because when it presents Becky with a fork in the road of A and B, it’s always the overly traveled A. This really applies to the relationship subplot with Patrick Wilson, which is too separate from the story. There is nothing to challenge, which means most of the details of the movie will fade over the years.

The lasting power of the movie is the tone it creates. It’s a very solid cast and the movie has a surprisingly competent visual style to it. Cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler has been on an impressive run lately with Sunshine and director Roger Michell has done some unconventional films since his Notting Hill days, including Changing Lanes and Enduring Love. Together they experiment with shots and movement to subtly add some nuances to the storytelling.

Beyond just the technical elements, there is a clear sense of fun to this movie. It’s light and not very ambitious, but it provides for a lot of solid laughs and an enjoyable use of its time.

Film Yap: Wallander Series Two

Kurt Wallander is a name that is not as well known in the United States as other fictional detectives. He is the protagonist from the Henning Mankell novels. They have sold very well in Europe as well as here. Sweden made its own cinematic versions of the books and now BBC in cooperation with Masterpiece Mystery has created their own set with Kenneth Branagh.

The latest DVD set is Series Two, which includes the adaptations “Faceless Killers”, “The Man Who Smiled” and “The Fifth Woman.” Each tale is 90 minutes long and they are irregularly compelling. They are slow moving stories but there is something unique at the core of them.

What stands out with this series is not the cases, but how the cases impact Wallander. He’s a very good detective, but in a realistic setting. He’s not the exaggerated genius of Holmes or Poirot, but a devoted man to justice. He takes on such a burden with each case that it seems like he could psychological collapse at any moment. There is such sadness in the character and it’s conveyed perfectly by Branagh.

The most compelling part of this season (and the whole series) is the personal life of Wallander. The scenes with his daughter and father always stood out as something special, because it wasn’t just his reactionary status from the daunting and troubling cases. Once the themes go beyond the procedural aspect, it’s also fascinating. The questions it poses about society and existentialism are complex and thrilling in their own nature.

Sometimes the details of the mysteries fall by the wayside as it’s unclear how each clue lead to the next person. Some of this is the pacing and the stillness. It requires patience and dedication because nothing will be spoon-fed to you. Its presentation is interesting in that it ranges from amazing imagery and scene construction to more standard fare. What is absolutely working is Branagh’s masterful performance. As an incredibly accomplished actor, it’s riveting to see him give perhaps his best performance of his career.

Dissecting the three episodes, the greatest of the three would be “The Fifth Woman” because it’s the most personal of the stories for Wallander. No his daughter isn’t kidnapped by terrorists, but to say any more would ruin the impacting moments that were heart-breaking.

The DVD and Blu-Ray of Series Two has two featurettes. The first is called “Wallander Country” which looks at the production, specifically how it uses the Sweden landscape. This was a really cool examination on the expectations of locations and how to use it as a style. It’s a bit too overnarrated, but the anecdotes are worthwhile. The other one is called “Being Kurt Wallander” which is the cast musing on the character and the audience reaction to him. I wish this one had more of Branagh talking about Wallander and less film clips.

Faceless Killers: 3.5 Yaps

The Man Who Smiled: 4 Yaps

The Fifth Woman: 4.5 Yaps

Extras: 3.5 Yaps

Film Yap: Monsters

The word “monsters” is wonderfully vague. It can mean vampires or werewolves or any sort of creature that mysteriously stands in your way. In the new film by Gareth Edwards, the monsters are aliens. They are not here to make diplomatic communication or to blow up the planet. They are similar to animals in that, they just found a new environment and a new threat.

Years after they landed around Mexico they have started to spread their terrain. People around the world call it the “Infected Zone” and scientists are devoted to calculate how quickly it will grow. Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able) is a young heiress who wants to return to America. She is going to be married soon and her father wants her home. Andrew Kaulder is a photographer in Mexico who photographs the grim images because that is what sells. In order to appease Samantha’s father who owns a newspaper, he agrees to get her back to American and through the Infected Zone.

When Paranormal Activity was made for such a low budget people were impressed but not surprised. It’s a movie in one location with trick effects instead of complicated ones. Monsters is reported to just have cost $15,000 and that is incredible. The two characters travel through beautiful and frightening terrain and every once in awhile they catch glimpses of why they should be afraid. The CGI is fantastic and looked better than big budget films like Clash of the Titans.

Unlike other films of its genre, it’s structured more like last year’s Sin Nombre. The performances are more naturalistic and that allows for more honest intimacy between them. It is this sort of care that Edwards puts into this movie that makes this special. The plot is nothing really extraordinary, but it has such a delicate atmosphere that feels fresh. There are all of these opportunities to examine this changed world from a smaller level. It shows how individuals are affected, not world superpowers.

I don’t want him to be in charge of the next Hollywood disaster movie; I want him to continue with this niche he’s created. This chance to have personal films with an exemplary use of special effects. This does not mean Hollywood should pull a Paranormal Activity 2 and quadruple the budget for no reason. Having it low means Edwards gets to make the movie he wants to make and that’s what allows Monsters to feel special.

4 Yaps

Monsters is currently available OnDemand and in select theatres across the country.

Film Yap: Mysteriously Masterful Masterpiece Mystery

The past few weeks have been a lot of fun on Twitter because every Sunday my feed explodes with comments about the latest episode of Sherlock on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery. I had tuned into the show because I’m a big fan of the writer Steven Moffat, who has written some of my favorite programs in recent years including Coupling, Jekyll and the current season of Doctor Who.

Moffat is quite the draw for some, but why else are so many people suddenly tuning into PBS programming? Don’t they know The Walking Dead is also on?! It’s because lately Masterpiece Mystery has become incredibly compelling. Sherlock just finished its three episode run (90 minute episodes) and it was such a hit here and in England a second series has been commissioned.

It is a modern take on the famous detective that focuses on what made the original stories so compelling. It isn’t just blogging and texting, but a return to really clever cases with a fun spin on it. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Sherlock as “a high functioning sociopath” and Martin Freeman (BBC’s The Office, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) does not play Dr. John Watson as a buffoon, but a worthy friend.

Every episode is exciting and fun (and leagues better than Robert Downey Jr.’s version). This is a different pace than the usual Masterpiece Mystery fare, which is usually a bit dry. But there are more shows that reaching a wider audience. Kenneth Branagh stars as the titular Wallander based off the bestselling Henning Mankell series. Branagh’s presence brings in a new audience and his performance is so outstanding it causes people to keep watching.

The show itself looks rather amazing at times, as well. It’s full of haunting imagery and deep themes. This is an excellent response to what people are clamoring for with mysteries. With the popularity of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and the Red Riding Trilogy, people clamoring for quality mysteries that have a focus on intelligence.

Masterpiece Mystery is putting out high quality productions that rival things that are in theatres. Television is becoming a hotbed for cinematic storytelling, often with higher emotional factors. I’ve seen more enthusiasm about one episode of Mad Men (or even…Glee) than any non-Inception summer film. Television is becoming something incredible special and inventive and Masterpiece Mystery is setting itself up as the staple for high quality intelligent mysteries. I only expect more and more great things from them, especially with this heightened attention.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Higgens Network: Due Date

Todd Philips has become one of the most profitable comedy directors after his hits like Road Trip, Old School and The Hangover. The latter is now the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time. So will Due Date be a success?

It definitely has a great cast. Robert Downey Jr. can do no wrong right now and Zach Galifianakis is finally a popular name. They both use their comedic skills to make their characters seem fresh in a routine movie. Downey Jr.’s Peter Highman is a busy architect who is trying to get from Atlanta to Las Angeles to be home in time for the birth of his first child.

Galifianakis is a lovable but stupid want to be actor named Ethan Tremblay who keeps inadvertently causing Peter to detour his trip. It’s the standard road trip movie almost identical to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Some tropes work better than others. Having the characters use drugs isn’t that funny, but these two make it fun. The random characters they meet aren’t that great but, again, actors like Danny McBride know how to raise the material.

That’s the major difference between this and The Hangover. The script for this doesn’t work as strongly on the comedic level. Few lines are worth repeating because they require someone like Galifianakis to make it work.

On the other hand, there is something that Phillips knows how to do really well. He knows how to have very realistic relationships between men. The friendships in Old School and The Hangover were top-notch beyond just the actors’ chemistry. Phillips has really tapped into how males behave around each other and that pays off really well in key scenes.

The romance of the movie is between friends, which is odd since the crux of the movie is about Peter racing to be a father. His wife, Sarah (Michelle Monaghan), is constantly worried about them. Through a contrived subplot, their marriage is actually in jeopardy but there doesn’t seem to be any actual stakes at hand. The real focus is whether or not Peter will be pushed to the point of killing Ethan or they will become best friends. Not all elements of this arc works, but when it does it ends up being rather special.

There are still laughs throughout but there aren’t any really great comedic set-pieces. It doesn’t reinvent the road trip movie but just provide a consistently entertaining entry into the tired genre.

Film Yap: For Colored Girls

With a title like For Colored Girls it seems to suggest this is a film for a select audience. It’s not just suggesting, but almost demanding. So can this film work if you a white boy, like me? Not exactly, but it doesn’t work for colored girls as well.

This is based off the beloved play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. The play is composed of twenty poetic monologues from different women. Tyler Perry has taken those speeches and tried to compose a singular story out of it. It’s an ambitious effort with plenty of cracks.

There are too many plotlines to keep track of what’s going on. There is Janet Jackson as Jo, another prada wearing devil with less subtly than Meryl Streep. She’s mean to her assistant, Kimberly Elise who is been abused by her husband. There are neighbors to Thandie Newton who is a proud sexual being except when she’s being judged by her little sister, Tessa Thompson, and her mentally questionable mother, Whoopi Goldberg. There is also Anika Noni Rose who endures a brutal date rape, Loretta Devine who needs money for her charity, and Phylicia Rashad who watches over everyone.

Got all that? Now as they experience all of the terrible things without any sort of proper arc for the movie, they become further betrayed by the script. There are two things that Perry does wrong with it. The first half of the film is awkward dialog in that everyone is talking about things that happened before the movie began. It’s just unnecessary exposition, which creates an unbearable pace where it feels like nothing is moving forward.

Once the plot does move forward, it abruptly stops past the hour mark. Then the monologues begin. The film feels like it’s ending ten times because instead of fulfilling the full movie’s arc it’s just repeating the final scene for each undeveloped character. What’s worse is that the speeches are so far apart from the rest of the dialog. The whole movie has been stilted, sure, but at least realistic. These monologues are poems. These are the not the voices of any of the characters and it’s just seems like insanity when they are randomly inserted.

Perry never earns any of the endings because it’s like it wasn’t listening to the monologues. The film seemed to just be about the difficult things about being a modern woman, but then there are random bits like “I had convinced myself that colored girls have no right to sorrow.” Where did that come from?! That was never part of the movie at all.

Having speeches like that are candy for actors, but their tears and passion just seem wasted. There is a good movie in the heart of all this, but Tyler Perry was not the one to make it.

2 Yaps

Film Yap: Evil on the Rise

Lately villains seem to be on the rise. Films like Despicable Me and Megamind are films where the bad guy is the one we root for and follow for the duration of the film. It’s not just kid’s films. There are also the musical sensations of Dr. Horrible and Wicked. I think people are actually rooting for Jigsaw in those Saw films. It didn’t used to be that way. They were supposed to stay behind and be evil and let the hero take care of the story. Hell, the movie Hook was still about Peter Pan.

So are there villains out there in older films, that could have the plot refocused to them? Of course there are or there wouldn’t be an article. So let’s check them out.

All the President’s Men – Richard Nixon

This actually just the movie Nixon starring Anthony Hopkins. Whoops.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – Joe Lefors

This year people were conflicted about the George Clooney movie The American. Peronally I loved the pacing and the delicate nature but still wasn’t a big fan of the overall plot. Now imagine the character is searching for Butch Cassidy and Sundance instead of just delivering a gun. It can be argued whether or not Lefors is actually a villain, but anyone who wants to shoot down Paul Newman and Robert Redford earns the title for me.

Carrie – Billy Nolan

This is actually just the movie Grease starring John Travolta. Whoops.

Chinatown – Noah Cross

Absolutely! I would definitely watch Noah Cross for two hours. Just doing his evil chores and making sure everything is going okay. Huston’s performance is so dynamic and menacing that even when he’s filling out his corrupt paperwork, it would be cinematic. Sadly, Huston has passed away but if we can find an actor who could capture just 1/16th of what Huston brought to the table, this could be something special. Also making this film wouldn’t be blasphemous because The Two Jakes already took care of that.

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial – The Government

Okay take Independence Day but take out all of the silliness, add a bit of the intelligence from Contact and then mix in a lot of the paranoia from The Day the Earth Stood Still. Have there be a new guy in charge of America’s intergalactic department who just wants to keep America safe, but his ambition and patriotism has made him lose focus. It isn’t until he sees ET say goodbye to Elliot does he understand. That’s when he calls off the thousands of missiles aimed at the ship. Also they never had flashlights; they had guns.

Raising Arizona – The Lone Biker of the Apocalypse

This would be so cool if there was this parallel story where this version didn’t have any comedy or absurdism. It’s just this unstoppable killing machine with a theological mission. It would like be seeing both sides of The Coen Brothers. Oh wait, they already did this and won Best Picture for it.

Rear Window – Mr. Thorwald

Having the entire film from Jimmy Stewart’s perspective was a great idea. In fact this is probably Hitch’s best film. But don’t you see the opportunity for a black slapstick comedy. Mr. Thorwald murders his wife, but becomes increasingly paranoid that there is a group of people somewhere watching his every move. They’re even meeting to talk about it, to analyze it. Eventually he just snaps and wants to attack his stalkers. Then his reality is further questioned when he is defeated by a camera.

The Sound of Music – Nazis

The only way to pull this off is to reverse the emotions of the original movie. Have the first 2/3rds be very somber as some Nazis are rising up the ranks, trying to figure out what’s going on. Then just get silly by the end. We have to earn them not catching the Von Trapps at the end, despite the fact they clearly just performed in front of them. Oh, this will also be a musical as well.

Star Wars – Darth Vader

How awesome would it be to have a trilogy about his upbringing!?! I can’t even imagine it. I hope most of it will be about trade tariffs.

To Kill a Mockingbird – The Dog

Basically it’s just a period piece version of Cujo with subtle teaching of racism/tolerance with a more disturbing finale than Marley and Me because it’s Gregory Peck with a rifle.

So what other movies should have a villainous twist?

Film Yap: The Pacific

The Pacific is a difficult miniseries because of how determined it is to be authentic. 10 hours are devoted to following a series of men through the Pacific Theatre during World War II. It has been described as a “sequel” to Band of Brothers, the other WWII HBO miniseries that was created by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. There is no direct relation between the plots of the two series but both of them use their impressive production values to create a horrifying past in order to properly examine the men who went through it.

In order for a war film to be successful it needs to go way beyond its fight sequences. Those scenes can only provide a visceral thrill up to a point. They can’t just be another crazy Die Hard scene because there is an ethical responsibility to treat these intense moments with respect, not exploitation. That’s why I always judge the war film by its moments between the battles and that is what really worked with The Pacific.

In this series, there are three central characters, which provides for a stronger focus. There is Eugene Sledge (Jurassic Park’s Joseph Mazzello), Robert Leckie (Rubicon’s James Badge Dale), and Jon Basilone (Jon Seda). These were real people and this is their story. They start out together but that doesn’t last too long.

Early on Basilone becomes a war hero at Guadalcanal and returns to the States to become a poster child while the other two stay in the Pacific Theatre jumping from island to island. His awkwardness has been seen in plenty of films, including Flags of Our Fathers. This miniseries isn’t here to reinvent the war genre, but to provide accuracy for these men. The reason this subplot works so well is because it provides a much needed escape from the battlefield and the writing never shortchanges anything.

Having 10 hours allows for the proper amount of time to tell the story. There is no rush to jump to every major battle. The series is ambitious by having long stretches of dialog that’s not about bullets or killing the Japanese. In fact, the series is bold enough to be romantic. There are not women in The Pacific, but there are plenty of memorable ones. There is Isabel Lucas playing Gwen, the woman who hurt Leckie more than any battlefield. Then there is the very intelligent Lena (Annie Parisse), who plays the woman who doesn’t fall for Basilone’s hero status.

Across the world, things are more shocking. Sledge is experiencing most of the story and fights as his friends and him experience something they never imagined. It’s the chaos and the tone that this may never end. Even when they “win” a battle there is no sense of victory or accomplishment. Men die or lose their morality.

HBO discs are never too big on bonus features, but there are some gems in this one. There is a great 20 minute “Making The Pacific” that shows some impressive footage and doesn’t rely on too many film clips. There is also a 10 minute “Anatomy of the Pacific War” which shows more of the tactical elements of the war. There are is also a set of profiles about the real soldiers and more historical context about what is happening.

This is a series that starts off slow, but becomes well worth it by the end. This is very powerful television.

Series: 4.5 Yaps

Extras: 4 Yaps

Monday, November 1, 2010

Higgens Network: Paranormal Activity 2

Last year a horror film did the incredible: interested people. Paranormal Activity wasn’t another torture porn or half-assed slasher film. It was actually an original voice that—prepare yourself—scared people. It wasn’t a perfect film, but it reeked of originality and was done for very little money.

So of course Hollywood made a sequel. This didn’t have to be this way. Just haunt another unexpected suburban house. Instead they insisted on continuing the story. In the first film Katie and Micah are haunted by a demon. They use Micah’s expensive new film camera to capture all of the mysterious actions. It was taking the groundwork set by The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield in a more familiar environment.

Just like when Hollywood remade REC and called it Quarantine, they took all of the same Legos to create a blander design. Paranormal Activity 2 records the days and nights of Katie’s sister, Kristi, and her family a few weeks before the first film. Kristi lives with her husband, Dan, her step-daughter, Ali, her new son Hunter, and their maid Marine.

Sure enough, plenty of spooky things start happening and thankfully their randomly film all of their existence. Characters randomly bring a digital camera into their most intimate conversations and never recognize how weird that is. They even go as far as to frame a bunch of shots. They also set up six security cameras in various places in their house. The first movie had reason behind their conversations being filmed; this movie has it because there needs to be a movie. Also instead of letting the scenes play out, they use jump cuts to further remind us of the man behind the curtain.

This set of actors aren’t as good at naturalistic conversations as Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat were. They both return for cameos, but they are what sold the first movie. Their honest banter proved themselves as a relationship and was always conscientious of a camera recording them. This group is just awkward and unbelievable most of the time. Especially when they delve into clich├ęs like saying “It was the wind that slammed the door shut despite the fact the door from inside.”

None of the scares are as memorable and the instance on expanding the mythology is mind-boggling stupid. Of course things are uncovered by the two tired means of discovery: One Google search and relying on a wise Hispanic woman who has known this for years. It is not as “dark” as it thinks it is and it ruins some of the unpredictable nature of the first film. Unless it’s really clever, giving motivation to horror creatures is not a good idea. Especially when it’s as boring as wanting a baby.

This isn’t as bad as so many other horror sequels, but it suffers from being very bland and unnecessary. It’s like how jump scares operate: you’re startled for a second but the more you think back at it, it wasn’t really that impressive. Just loud.

Film Yap: You Don't Know Jack

With a title like You Don’t Know Jack implies this film shall expose a new truth about Jack Kevorkian. His name is basically a punchline today because things have settled down a bit since he was in practice. With this new HBO TV movie, the debate can begin again.

Al Pacino plays Kevorkian, a match that fits so well it’s almost not even fair to anyone else who wanted the part. This is not a biopic. The film begins with him deciding to take his assisted suicide belief to practice. He wants to make his mark on the medical scene.

Kevorkian believes that it is inhumane to have people suffer through agonizing terminal diseases. He believes that if they want to die and are of rational mind, they should be allowed to have that wish granted by a medical physician. Now the film is not preaching this belief, but it is letting Kevorkian make his case.

Unlike other movies that follow a character with a point of view Jack wisely allows there to be plenty of gray area in all directions. The legal opposition is a bit faceless, but at least they have rational points. The film never feels preachy because their portrayal of Kevorkian is warts and all.

Boy does he have warts. He is very arrogant and difficult to control at times. He makes plenty of poor decisions that have serious ramifications legally and personally. The whole journey is so fascinating because of the strength of Adam Mazer’s script. Everything moves at a natural pace without feeling the pressure to include every piece of research that would make this feel like a textbook.

Barry Levinson was in the director’s chair and returned to high form. This is his best film since 1997’s Wag the Dog. Everything is so well crafted while having this dark overtone to the entire thing. Some of the suicides are just heartbreaking and nothing is ever played for melodrama.

HBO has created a standard of making these TV movies that rival most of the Oscar nominated films of any given year. It still hasn’t raised the prestige of an Emmy, but it has changed the Hollywood interest in these projects. It’s no longer just the epic miniseries like John Adams or The Pacific that are gaining interest in big names, but now these smaller films. Not only does this film have fantastic work by Pacino and Levinson, but John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, and Danny Huston. This movie could have easily played in theatres and been a success.

The DVD is pretty bare aside from a 10-minute featurette where they talk about the real Kevorkian and his unique personality. It’s fun to see Pacino examine him as a person and then cut to the actual Kevorkian, who was speaking a lot like the eccentric man in the movie. In fact all of the cast were rather blunt about Kevorkian, especially his disturbing paintings. I wish it was a longer feature but I’m sure this was played between movies on HBO for months. Still, there could have been more on the DVD.

Film: 4.5 Yaps

Extras: 2 Yaps