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Paranormal Activity 2: Equally Frightening, Less Original
The original Paranormal Activity owed much of its success to the realistic mystique suggested by its reality-TV aesthetic. It was the centre of the film’s viral marketing campaign and the reason why word spread amongst filmgoers.
Regardless of the film’s quality, there was something fresh and intriguing about a film fuelled by classic horror thrills as opposed to the gallons of flesh and blood spewed in every Saw film. Despite their differences, both franchises share the same cold ambivalence towards their victims. A disregard for human life is usually prevalent in classic horror affairs.
The second Paranormal Activity is fully aware of the obstacles that it faces. The novelty of the found footage gimmick won’t have the same effect as its predecessor; plus, the mystery is now out in the open. So instead of going the Saw route by rehashing the old story, the film circles back to the events that led to the first Paranormal Activity, making it technically a prequel.
It turns out that Katie (Featherston), the tormented girlfriend in the first film, had a sister named Kristi (Grayden). Kristi is blissfully married and has just given birth to a little boy. She’s living peacefully with her husband and his daughter from a former marriage until weird things begin to happen. Doors shut all by themselves, lights turn on and off with no one around, and things mysteriously move around the house.
Like the first film, these events are never fully understood. However, this time, Paranormal Activity 2 supplies us with a narrow mythology that explains the hunter demons and their motives. It’s an added bonus to the main attraction, which is wisely given the most attention. The jump-out-of-your-seat scares are still there, and they are more intense and frightening.Paranormal Activity 2 manages to recreate and capture the exact formula that made the original a surprise hit. It’s a more competent piece of filmmaking; and at least, the film avoids falling into the trap of merely recycling the original. By expanding the mythology and toning down the gimmickry, Paranormal Activity 2 serves as an effective prequel, but it also lacks the freshness of its predecessor.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.
On the surface, Robert Zemecki’s slick and a technically pristine WWII-set romantic-espionage-thriller looks like a winner. Boasting an impressive cast and a script by Peaky Blinders’ Steven Knight, everything about Allied points to success. However, although visually striking and overall satisfying in terms of action, it’s the film’s central story - the romantic pairing between Mr. Pitt and Ms. Cotillard – fails to ever really get going, leaving the film a little hollow and difficult to invest in.
Set in 1942, the story begins with the introduction of Canadian intelligence officer, Max Vatan (Pitt), who finds himself on a mission in Morocco with French Resistance fighter, Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard), who is to play the role of his wife during a covert operation that involves assassinating a high-ranking Nazi official. After successfully carrying out their assignment, the pair’s pretend relationship soon turns into the real thing with the duo soon marrying and welcoming a baby girl into the world, as they settle in war-torn Britain.
However, things are soon turned upside down for Max when he is informed by his by-the-books boss, Frank Heslop (Mad Men’s Jared Harris), that Marianne is currently under investigation and that she, in fact, may be a Nazi spy. Given seventy-two hours to prove her innocence before he will need to kill her, Max soon sets out on his own investigation.
Aesthetically, the film embraces an old-Hollywood approach, with a certain sense of nostalgic glamour and elegance present through the minutes. Told through a wonderfully slick lens frequent Zemeckis collaborator, cinematographer Don Burgess, there's a certain style and sophistication to every single frame. But while the film is pleasing to the eye and Steven Knight’s script boasts plenty of moments of suspense and intrigue, there‘s a serious lack of heart missing from the story, which turns the more passionate moments into melodrama.
In addition, the romance between the two leads is never really sold. Both Pitt and Cotillard definitely look the part and when they are not onscreen together, their performances are affective. However, it’s when they share the screen and viewers are asked to buy into their love story that it all goes south. Allied is a functional and an effective WWII spy thriller. It’s just not as captivating or engaging of a romance-drama that it sells itself to be.