30 August 2011


Zoe Saldana portrays Cataleya in a scene from "Colombiana."
Early in “Colombiana,” young Cataleya (Amandla Stenberg), recently a witness to her parents' murder at the hands of a Columbian drug lord (Beto Benites), tells the man who has taken her in, an unspecified relative (Cliff Curtis), that she does not want to go to school; she wants to be only one thing: a killer. To make a point that never becomes clear, her uncle(?) pulls a gun, shoots up a random, passing car, causing it to crash (the innocent driver's fate is left a mystery), then continues the conversation—on a busy city street—in front of a school—as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

The movie, too, never gives another thought to this character's evil act and later tries to use him as a sort of conscience for its young heroine, who grows up to become Zoe Saldana (”Avatar,” “Star Trek”).

The adult Cataleya is a killer all right, one of the serial nature. She even leaves behind a signature at each of her victims, a cattleya, the variety of orchid for which she is named. Her body count tops 20, each one connected to the man responsible for the death of her parents. She appears to be able to kill at will—in one ludicrous scene, she gets herself arrested to take out a man behind bars—so I'm not sure why she hasn't gotten to the big bad sooner.

26 August 2011

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Bailee Madison is shown in a scene from "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark."

In this hyperactive digital age, "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is almost antiquated in its approach to horror.

And that is its greatest strength.

Produced and co-written by Guillermo del Toro, the filmmaker responsible for "Pan's Labyrinth" and the two "Hellboy" movies, and directed by rookie Troy Nixey, "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" stays away from the blood and guts that dominate so much of modern horror in favor of building suspense and creating scares through whispers in the dark, the production design of its creepy old mansion and placing the audience in the shoes of its protagonist, a young girl sent away from her mother in California to live with her dad in Rhode Island.

Guy Pearce is Alex, the father, an architect living in the dilapidated Blackwood Manor while he restores it with his new, younger girlfriend, Kim (Katie Holmes). He's lost when it comes to dealing with Sally (Bailee Madison), a sullen little girl who desperately wants to return to her mother.

20 August 2011

Conan the Barbarian

Jason Momoa portrays Conan in a scene from "Conan the Barbarian."
I'm trying hard not to come off as a broken record, but 3D at the movies needs to go away. And it needs to go away yesterday.

"Conan the Barbarian" surpasses last year's "Clash of the Titans" for the worst use of 3D I've seen. Director Marcus Nispel has a hard enough time presenting a coherent action scene in two dimensions; add a third and what a mess we have on our hands.

And it's not just in the action scenes, of which there are many. The use of 3D—which was added in post-production via computers—is a constant distraction. A fantasy film must draw the audience into its world; an unrelenting reminder that you're watching a movie might as well be its death knell.

Beneath this nonsense, there actually is a kind of entertaining movie, in a pulpy, B-movie sort of way.

18 August 2011

Fright Night

Anton Yelchin is shown in a scene from "Fright Night."
Evil has a new name.

And that name is ...

... Jerry?

Actually, it's not new at all, as "Fright Night," with refreshingly old-fashioned, bloodthirsty, bursting-into-flames-in-the-sun (no sparkling allowed) vampires, is a remake of the 1985 film written and directed by Tom Holland.

This new version, directed by Craig Gillespie ("Lars and the Real Girl") and written by "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" veteran Marti Noxon, is a tight little horror movie, well staged and acted, and with a fair amount of comedy sprinkled among the scares.

Right off the bat, the movie establishes its suburban Las Vegas setting, a cookie-cutter neighborhood in the middle of the desert, the kind of mind-numbingly ordinary locale that is the perfect spot for a monster hiding in plain sight. It's a place where teenagers can go missing without the outside world taking notice.

12 August 2011

30 Minutes or Less

Aziz Ansari, left, and Jesse Eisenberg are shown in a scene from "30 Minutes or Less."
The principals of "30 Minutes or Less" all appear to be acting in different movies.

Jesse Eisenberg, as Nick, the pizza delivery guy who's kidnapped and ends up with a bomb strapped to his chest and orders to rob a bank, plays it straight and sincere. He's suitably terrified and desperate both to save himself and prevent harm from coming to those close to him.

Aziz Ansari, as Nick's best friend, Chet, a substitute elementary school teacher, employs the loose, riffing style of a Judd Apatow movie. It works for him, and he gets most of the movie's laughs.

Then there are Danny McBride and Nick Swardson doing what they do—whatever that is (it certainly isn't comedy).

07 August 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Caesar the chimp, a CG animal portrayed by Andy Serkis, is shown in a scene from "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."
Their endgame is the planet. But first, San Francisco.

In "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," a prequel to the original 1968 "Planet of the Apes," it is there, in the not-too-distant future, that scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) is developing a virus for use in gene therapy that not only repairs brain cells but improves them. His goal is a cure for Alzheimer's disease, which has all but taken his father (John Lithgow) from him.

Of course, before it can be used on humans, the virus must be tested. That's where the apes—chimps, specifically—come in. When one test subject goes on a violent rampage, Will's boss (David Oyelowo) attributes it to the virus, ends the program and orders the chimps put down. Only the virus is not to blame. The ornery chimp was protecting a perceived threat to her baby, which she birthed in secret.

Will takes the little simian home, names him Caesar and, to his astonishment, watches him learn at a pace that far outdistances that of a human of the same age, the smarts inherited from his test-subject mother. Will also uses the virus to treat his father, who makes a remarkable recovery.

05 August 2011

4th Chesapeake Film Festival set for September

EASTON — The Chesapeake Film Festival returns from Sept. 23 to 26 for its fourth year, with screenings of more than two dozen films at venues in Easton, Cambridge and, for the first time, Chestertown and Chesapeake College.

Each year, members of the CFF board of directors and advisory committee travel to film festivals across the country, including the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, and South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, to scout films and network with filmmakers and producers—all in effort to bring the best in independent film to the Eastern Shore.

“Not all of us can go to Sundance. Not all of us can go to South by Southwest,” said Liza Moore, the festival’s filmmaker liaison. “But somebody from the committee will go, and they actually can bring them back here. So you’re getting that same experience.”

The CFF slogan is “Watch. Think. Discuss.”

Zombies invade Delmarva in Cambridge couple's horror-comedy

From left, Stefan Gural, Wendy Renee Cade, Connor Smith, Lacey Hancher, Brett Cover and Alexis Droke from the locally made movie "Dead on Delmarva" are pictured.
CAMBRIDGE — John McDonald and Karen Harrison had never made a movie. They have no background in filmmaking. But that hasn’t stopped them.

“Have you ever sat around and watched a movie and said, ‘I can do better?’” Harrison asked. “That is what happened with this.”

The “this” she is referring to is “Dead on Delmarva,” a zombie comedy she and McDonald, her fiancĂ©, wrote together and shot last fall at locations in Dorchester, Talbot and Caroline counties.

“I’ve just loved stories since I was a kid,” said McDonald, who is also the director, during an interview at his and Harrison’s Cambridge home.

McDonald and Harrison each write short stories—“She’s a big-time horror freak, and I’m a science fiction/fantasy freak,” he said.

They’ve always enjoyed watching zombie movies together and had been joking about making one of their own when they learned the late ‘80s film “Redneck Zombies” had been shot—on a $10,000 budget—in Delmar and that Harrison works with one of the writers and one of the actors.

04 August 2011


Rainn Wilson is shown in a scene from "Super."
Available Aug. 9, 2011, on Blu-ray and DVD.

Superheroes have been deconstructed so much that it is practically its own genre at this point. In the tradition of such wildly different films as “Watchmen” and “Kick-Ass” comes “Super,” writer-director James Gunn’s independent feature mixing humor with disturbing acts of violence.

Frank (Rainn Wilson, better known as Dwight Schrute on “The Office”) is a good guy but a bit of a loser. He spends his days as a fry cook, and he’s experienced exactly two perfect moments in his life—marrying Sarah (Liv Tyler), a recovering drug addict, and helping a police officer catch a mugger. He’s so clueless that he doesn’t notice his wife slipping back into her old ways. When the man who steals her away from him, a drug dealer named Jacques (Kevin Bacon) who operates out of the local strip club, comes to their house looking for Sarah, Frank lets him in and cooks him breakfast.

Late one night, mired in depression, parked in front of the TV, Frank comes across the Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion), a superhero on the religious channel. The Avenger comes to Frank in a dream, giving him all the inspiration he needs.