Saturday, June 8, 2013

Short Takes: Ghosts, Gunslinging Lizards, and A Time-Spanning Epic

Cloud Atlas (2012) – This is a mind bending puzzle box of a film. Based on David Mitchell’s 2004 novel, there are multiple storylines taking place simultaneously, ranging in time from the 19th century to the far future. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Jim Broadbent (among others) play multiple roles in the various stories, many of which share a connection. For instance, a character in one segment might be reading a book about a character featured in another. It’s a clever, intriguing tale about life, love, karma and the things that bind us all together. The performances are first rate. The movie is at times dazzling, thrilling, frustrating and moving – sometimes all at once. This is definitely not your run of the mill big budget blockbuster. Co-directors The Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) have created a beautiful, challenging mosaic that warrants repeat viewings. If you’re in the mood for something challenging & different, give Cloud Atlas a try. You’ll definitely be talking about it afterwards, and it absolutely warrants repeat viewings.

Rango (2011) – This animated tale is a lighthearted spoof of classic westerns. A corrupt mayor is terrorizing a desert town called Dirt. He rations the water and rules by fear, along with his henchmen. He’s also forcing everyone to sell their land to him, for a development project that will make him rich & powerful. A pet chameleon that is accidentally stranded in the desert ends up helping the town and becomes a hero in the process. All the characters in the film are animals; the animation & design is wonderful. You'll believe a chameleon can become a gunslinger. There are many visual references to spaghetti westerns & other classic movies, and the score by Hans Zimmer recalls the Ennio Morricone music from the classic Clint Eastwood westerns directed by Sergio Leone. The wonderful voice cast includes Johnny Depp, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Isla Fisher and Bill Nighy. They were reportedly given costumes to wear, and recorded their dialogue together, to help them get into character. This may resonate more with older viewers than the kids, but it’s a fun film. Directed by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean), Rango won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature of 2011.

The Inkeepers (2011) – Two twentysomething employees of a run down hotel have an encounter with the supernatural in this thriller, written & directed by Ti West. Luke (Pat Healy) has been using cameras placed in various areas of the hotel to make recordings and prove there is a supernatural force there. His co-worker Claire (Sara Paxton) gets drawn into the mysterious events, and tries to help him capture a ghost on film. She becomes fascinated by the strange events that occur, and witnesses some things she can't explain. One of the hotel's guests, a former actress who now dabbles in psychic phenomena, warns the duo not to mess around in areas they don't understand. Is there a ghost or supernatural force present, and what does it want? The movie is definitely influenced by previous films like Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project and The Haunting. The story builds slowly; in fact, the first half of the film is more humor driven, and the second half starts to dial up the suspense & horror, leading to a creepy conclusion. It’s an ok film, with a good cast (Kelly McGillis shines in a nice supporting performance as the actress turned psychic) and some clever direction by West. But you’ve seen this story before, and the movie doesn’t bring anything new to the table. It’s probably worth a look for genre fans, but there are much better horror films out there, including West’s previous scare-fest, the offbeat, terrifying 2009 thriller The House of The Devil.

Cloud Atlas, Rango and The Innkeepers are all available on Blu-ray, DVD and for digital viewing and download. Here are links to the trailers for Cloud Atlas, Rango and The Innkeepers,

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