Mini Reviews (January 2013)
The Guilt Trip, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, Cube²: Hypercube, Texas Chainsaw, Mama
The Guilt Trip (January 2/13)
The Guilt Trip casts Seth Rogen as Andrew Brewster, a struggling inventor whose efforts at selling his latest product, a cleaning agent called Scioclean, necessitate a road trip across the United States. After discovering that his mother (Barbra Streisand's Joyce) gave up her first love to marry his father, Andrew surreptitiously plans a reunion and invites Joyce along on the journey - with the trip that ensues naturally rife with comedic episodes and emotional revelations. It's a familiar yet promising setup that's employed to curiously subdued effect by filmmaker Anne Fletcher, as the director, working from Dan Fogelman's screenplay, has infused The Guilt Trip with a persistently low-key feel that's compounded by a continuous lack of laughs - which is unusual, to say the least, given the presence of several seemingly can't-miss set pieces (including a Great Outdoors-like steak-eating competition). The movie's relatively watchable atmosphere, then, is due almost entirely to Rogen's charismatic turn as the beleaguered central character, with the actor's affable work heightened by his palpable chemistry with costar Streisand - which ultimately does ensure that the film is at its best when focused on the pair's conversations and arguments. It is, as a result, fairly disappointing to note that the movie's heartfelt moments fall completely flat, with Fletcher's less-than-energetic sensibilities preventing the viewer from working up any real attachment to or affection for either of the protagonists. The end result is an almost passable endeavor that could've been a lot worse (and a lot better, admittedly), with the missed-opportunity atmosphere especially disheartening given the potential of both the premise and the cast.
Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (January 6/13)
A direct sequel to its two predecessors, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III details the chaos that ensues after a bickering couple (Kate Hodge's Michelle and William Butler's Ryan) are captured by the series' cannibalistic clan - which includes Leatherface (R.A. Mihailoff), Mama (Miriam Byrd-Nethery), and Tex (Viggo Mortensen). There's little doubt that Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III gets off to a rather disastrous start, as the movie's opening half hour is devoted almost entirely to the exploits of the aforementioned couple - with the hopelessly bland nature of these two characters, combined with underwhelming work from both Hodge and Butler, holding the viewer at arm's length right from the get-go. It doesn't help, either, that scripter David J. Schow has infused the thin narrative with a distressingly uneventful feel, with much of the film's midsection devoted to long stretches in which characters, including Ken Foree's Benny, attempt to avoid the murderous advances of Leatherface and company (which is, for the most part, accomplished by far too much stumbling around in the dark). Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III improves slightly as the action moves into the cannibals' oddly well-kept home, as the film is temporarily lifted out of its doldrums with an emphasis on the family's bickering and their mean-spirited mistreatment of their two captives. The entertaining atmosphere proves to be awfully short-lived, however, and the movie closes with more incoherent running and hiding - which ultimately does cement the film's place as a typically underwhelming horror sequel (and let's not even get started on the distressing lack of gore here).
Cube²: Hypercube (January 26/13)
Sporadically compelling yet ultimately disappointing, Cube²: Hypercube follows several strangers, including Kari Matchett's Kate, Geraint Wyn Davies' Simon, and Grace Lynn Kung's Sasha, as they find themselves trapped in a series of rooms where the laws of physics are clearly irrelevant - with the movie, much like its superior predecessor, detailing the dwindling survivors' ongoing efforts at solving the mystery of the title locale. There's little doubt that Cube²: Hypercube gets off to a less-than-promising start, as Andrzej Sekula kicks off the proceedings with an almost shockingly incompetent sequence that paves the way for an underwhelming opening half hour. It's just as clear, however, that the movie does improve demonstrably once it passes a certain point, with the narrative's puzzle-like nature, coupled with an emphasis on head-scratching yet intriguing interludes (eg one of the rooms contains grizzled, parallel-reality versions of two characters), ensuring that the midsection is, for the most part, far more engaging than one might've anticipated. The watchable atmosphere begins to palpably dissipate as the film passes the one-hour mark, with the decision to separate the various characters resulting in a final half hour that's distressingly tedious. (It doesn't help, either, that the filmmakers offer up an entirely needless human villain.) The unsatisfying and fairly confusing conclusion only compounds the movie's various problems, and it's ultimately impossible to label Cube²: Hypercube as anything more than a typically disappointing straight-to-video horror sequel.
Texas Chainsaw (January 27/13)
Texas Chainsaw, which ignores the series' sequels and picks up directly after the events of the original, follows a young woman (Alexandria Daddario's Heather) as she travels to Texas to take possession of an enormous house that she's just inherited - with problems ensuing for Heather and her friends as it becomes increasingly clear that someone (ie Leatherface) is living in the basement. Overlooking the utterly needless 3D presentation, Texas Chainsaw immediately establishes itself as a significant improvement over the various other entries in this enduring franchise - with, especially, the film standing in sharp contrast to the nigh unwatchable remakes/reboots from Michael Bay's production company. Director John Luessenhop has infused the proceedings with a briskly-paced sensibility that's heightened by an ongoing emphasis on appreciatively over-the-top kill sequences, with the admittedly hoary setup paving the way for a narrative that's been stuffed with fun, gleefully over-the-top set pieces (eg Leatherface at a carnival!) It's worth noting, too, that Luessenhop thankfully doesn't shy away from extreme instances of gore (eg Leatherface actually saws one poor sap in half), and, even more impressive, the filmmaker effectively peppers the movie with a handful of surprisingly tense sequences (eg the survivors frantically attempt to open a gate as Leatherface approaches). And just when it seems as though the film is beginning to run out of steam, Luessenhop, working from a script by Adam Marcus, Debra Sullivan, and Kirsten Elms, takes the narrative in an entirely unpredictable (and, admittedly, wholly ridiculous) direction that buoys the viewer's interest and results in a better-than-expected third act - which ultimately cements Texas Chainsaw's place as a consistently engaging horror sequel that is, for the most part, far more entertaining than it has any right to be.
Mama (January 31/13)
Inspired by a short film, Mama kicks off with a striking sequence in which a distressed businessman (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau's Jeffrey) murders his wife and absconds with his two young daughters (Megan Charpentier's Victoria and Isabelle NÚlisse's Lilly) to a remote cabin in the woods - with Jeffrey's attempts at murdering his kids thwarted by a malevolent demon known only as Mama. After spending several years living in the woods with Mama, Victoria and Lilly are rescued and sent to live with Lucas (Coster-Waldau), Jeffrey's brother, and Annabel (Jessica Chastain) - although, as expected, Mama doesn't take too kindly to the intrusion. There's ultimately little doubt that Mama fares best in its opening stretch, as filmmaker Andrés Muschietti does a fantastic job of establishing an atmosphere of moody dread - with the partial reveal of the title character certainly as creepy and ominous as one might've hoped. It's only as the movie segues into its narrative proper that the viewer's interest slowly-but-surely begins to flag, with Muschietti's decision to employ a pace that's often suffocatingly deliberate draining the proceedings of its tension and, eventually, forcing the viewer to wish that the director would just get on with it, already (ie the novelty of Mama suddenly popping up behind unsuspecting characters wears off awfully quickly). The movie's progressively uninvolving vibe is compounded by an increased emphasis on Annabel's Ring-style investigation into Mama's origins, while the anticlimactic finale, which is rife with second-rate computer-generated imagery, ensures that Mama ends on as underwhelming a note as one could possibly imagine. The end result is an almost typically disappointing modern ghost story that possesses few overtly positive attributes, which is a shame, really, given the potential afforded by both the stirring prologue and the impressive roster of performers.