Movie Review: “Sinister 2″

Starring
James Ransone, Shannyn Sossamon, Robert Daniel Sloan, Dartanian Sloan
Director
Ciarán Foy

Director Scott Derrickson’s “Sinister” remains a chilling movie. It’s a quietly effective horror film that’s anchored by a solid lead performance from Ethan Hawke. Though Derrickson has returned for “Sinister 2,” it’s not behind the camera, but rather as a screenwriter alongside his co-writer from the first film, C. Robert Cargill. Taking over helming duties instead is Irish-born director Ciarán Foy (“Citadel”), and although his sequel doesn’t reach the bar set by its predecessor, it comes close at times.

Deputy So & So (James Ransone) is haunted by the events from the first film, believing he could’ve done more to help Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) and his family. No longer an active deputy, So & So now spends his time tracking down the evil spirit Bughuul. He’s dedicated his life to preventing the demon from harming more families, which brings him to Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon) and her 9-year-old twins, Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) and Zach (Dartanian Sloan), who could potentially be Bughuul’s next victims. On the run from the law and her sons’ abusive father, Courtney hides away in an abandoned house, unaware that it’s haunted, which prompts Bughuul and his pack of possessed kids to lure the boys in by showing them 8mm films of grisly killings.

Much like the first movie, the 8mm footage is truly unsettling, except it’s lacking this time around. Part of the reason why the footage was so horrific in “Sinister” was because we were experiencing it from the point of view of a flawed, human and believable protagonist. We weren’t just watching seemingly senseless murders; we were also seeing the toll it was taking on Ellison. Those 8mm films played a role in his arc, as he was so obsessed in regaining his success as an author that he continued watching the murders. In the case of the sequel, the 8mm films don’t serve as substantial of a purpose, and they’re not pleasant in the way they’re probably intended to be. Since the footage doesn’t carry the same weight as they did in the first movie, it becomes a little tiresome watching people killed over and over again.

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Blu Tuesday: Hackers and Walt Disney Shorts

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Hackers”

WHAT: After being arrested for crashing over 1,500 computer systems in a single day, 11-year-old tech prodigy Dade Murphy is banned from using computers until his 18th birthday. Seven years later and now a senior in high school, Dade (Jonny Lee Miller) is forced to move to New York City with his mother, and before long, he’s back to his old ways. But when Dade and his new friends uncover a plot to frame a fellow hacker for installing a dangerous computer virus, they must prove his innocence while being pursued by the U.S. Secret Service.

WHY: Everyone has at least a few guilty pleasures in their movie collection, and one of my all-time favorites is Iain Softley’s “Hackers.” The film may have been ahead of its time in its portrayal of hackers as the next generation of activists (though it’s done in the most accidental, roundabout way that it barely counts), but the cyberpunk thriller feels incredibly dated and even cheesier than it was back in 1995. After all, this is a movie where Fisher Stevens’ villainous computer geek rides around on a skateboard and demands to be referred to by his handle, The Plague, with a straight face. But while “Hackers” is so stupid at times that it’s amazing anyone could take it seriously, the film is still entertaining in a fun B-movie sort of way. It certainly helps that the cast has such great chemistry – particularly stars Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie, who have since gone on to bigger and better things – because it makes all the absurd costumes and dialogue a lot easier to swallow. Kudos to the gang at Shout! Factory for recognizing the movie’s cult fanbase and releasing it on Blu-ray to celebrate its 20th anniversary, because while “Hackers” is admittedly very silly, that’s part of its charm.

EXTRAS: There’s an hour-long retrospective featuring new interviews with director Iain Softley, actors Matthew Lillard, Fisher Stevens and Penn Jillette, and various crew.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Walt Disney Animation Short Films Collection”

WHAT: A collection of short films produced by Walt Disney Animation between 2000 and 2015, including “Lorenzo,” “The Little Matchgirl,” “How to Hook Up Your Home Theater,” “Tick Tock Tale,” “The Ballad of Nessie” and “Get a Horse!”

WHY: Why: Having already released two volumes of Pixar shorts (with another likely on the way), it was only a matter of time before Walt Disney put out a collection of its own short films. Unfortunately, it becomes abundantly clear while watching the 12 shorts included on this set that they’re just not as good as the ones made by Disney’s sister company. There are a few standouts – like 2000’s “John Henry,” a traditional hand-drawn short featuring some great music; the charming 2012 Oscar winner “Paperman,” about a meet-cute involving paper airplanes; and the incredibly sweet and funny “Feast,” which was attached to last year’s “Big Hero 6” – but there are more misses than hits. 2015’s “Frozen Fever,” a shallow cash-in that should have never made it past the conception stage, is so awful that I couldn’t bring myself to watch it again, while the other two tie-ins, “Prep & Landing – Operation: Secret Santa” and “Tangled Ever After,” are cute but forgettable. Many of the other shorts (listed above) fall into a similar category or worse, which makes the collection hard to recommend to anyone other than the most diehard Disney fans, especially when there’s so little value on the Blu-ray beyond the films themselves.

EXTRAS: There’s a behind-the-scenes look at the process of developing and producing a short film, but that’s the extent of the bonus material.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

Movie Review: “People Places Things”

Starring
Jemaine Clement, Stephanie Allynne, Regina Hall, Jessica Williams
Director
James C. Strouse

Writer/director James C. Strouse has become somewhat of a regular at the Sundance Film Festival; all four of his movies have premiered in Park City, which makes you wonder whether he has an open invitation to screen each new project there. (Not that his previous appearances weren’t fully deserved.) Though it’s been six years since his last film, the Sam Rockwell-led high school basketball drama, “The Winning Season,” Strouse is back with his most personal movie to date. The generically titled “People Places Things” explores pretty familiar territory without bringing anything new to the table, but it’s a nonetheless sweet and honest little indie that’s held together by a great performance from leading man Jemaine Clement.

The New Zealand-born actor stars as Will Henry, a graphic novelist and professor at the School of Visual Arts who lives with his longtime girlfriend Charlie (Stephanie Allynne) and their twin daughters, Clio and Colette (Aundrea and Gia Gadsby), in Brooklyn. While entertaining guests at the girls’ fifth birthday party, Will accidentally walks in on Charlie having sex with another man in their bedroom. Charlie insists that she’s not happy anymore and wants a change in her life, so Will is forced to move into a small apartment in Astoria, only getting to see his daughters on the weekends. One year later, Will is still recovering from the break-up when one of his students (Jessica Williams) sets him up on a date with her mother, Diane (Regina Hall), a literature professor at Columbia University who could be just what Will needs to get him out of his funk. But after he expresses an interest in spending more time with his daughters, and that wish is granted when their nanny suddenly quits, Will’s life becomes chaotic as he must learn to juggle work with raising his kids and pursuing a casual fling with Diane.

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Movie Review: “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

Starring
Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Grant
Director
Guy Ritchie

Hollywood hasn’t been shy about its love for sequels, reboots and remakes this summer, but as far as big screen adaptations of mildly popular television shows go, you could do a lot worse than “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” In fact, though director Guy Ritchie has admitted that he wasn’t overly familiar with the 1960s TV series before signing on to the project, it’s the ideal property for a filmmaker like Ritchie to tackle, because it allows him to cherry-pick the show’s best bits and put his own spin on the material without worrying about stepping on too many toes. That approach worked well for his “Sherlock Holmes” movies, and it’s equally as effective with “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” an entertaining homage to retro spy films that makes up for what it lacks in substance with plenty of laughs and undeniable style.

In 1963, during the height of the Cold War, the United States and Russia agree to temporarily put aside their differences and combine forces when they learn that a secret criminal organization has kidnapped former Nazi scientist Udo Teller to build an atom bomb. The CIA and KGB assign their top agents – American thief-turned-spy Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and hard-nosed Russian Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) – to infiltrate the organization led by the beautiful but deadly Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) in order to rescue Dr. Teller and prevent a global disaster. Assisting Napoleon and Illya on their mission is Teller’s daughter, Gabby (Alicia Vikander), a plucky mechanic whose uncle is their only lead in locating the bomb.

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Movie Review: “Straight Outta Compton”

Starring
O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti
Director
F. Gary Gray

Considering that core N.W.A. members Dr. Dre and Ice Cube are producers of the film about the band that made them superstars, it will surprise no one to discover that “Straight Outta Compton” delivers an almost laughably squeaky-clean version of their life stories between 1986 and 1995. There is no mention of Andre “Dr. Dre” Young’s assault of Dee Barnes (he tried to throw her down a flight of stairs, but not before slamming her into a brick wall), and while they show Eric “Eazy-E” Wright responding with, “But I ain’t no faggot,” upon hearing the news that he has AIDS, they do not mention that Eazy-E in fact issued a statement days before his death, making sure that the world knew that he in fact wasn’t no faggot, and that he contracted the virus the way God intended him to: through heterosexual intercourse, as if there is some nobility in that. We get it, Eazy – you’re not gay. But you’re still dead.

In spite of this whitewashing (it seems vaguely racist to use that phrase to describe a bunch of African-Americans), “Compton” is a highly entertaining film. The concert and studio sequences are intoxicating, and the performance of Ice Cube – by Cube’s oldest son, for crying out loud – is mesmerizing. It’s no reinvention of the musical biopic wheel by any means, but there is an adrenaline rush that comes with a film about a bunch of dirt-poor kids from Compton banding together, compromising nothing, and bending the rest of the world to their will.

The movie begins in 1986, giving the audience brief back stories of the five core members of N.W.A., while making no mention of any previous band affiliations the members had (of which there are several). Andre Young was a dreamer, a supreme DJ talent under pressure to make bank and take care of his baby. O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson was the main brain, equal parts poet and instigator. Eazy-E was the hustler who had the cash to make a recording happen. That recording was the Cube-penned “Boyz-n-the-Hood,” rapped by Eazy (who, if the movie is to be believed, couldn’t rap worth a damn at first) and was a massive hit out of the box. The song attracted the attention of manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), who used his contacts to land Eazy’s indie label Ruthless Records a distribution deal with Priority Records.

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