Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Review: The Visit - PLUS 11 MINI REVIEWS (aka The First TWO THIRDS of 2015)

Hello readers... It's been FAR TOO LONG.  I have slacked off ALL YEAR on this blog and have just bypassed a slew of reviews.  I appologize (writing these can be time consuming) and I will get back to my normal review process ASAP.  I may end up writing shorter reviews but I'd still like to keep pace with what I'm viewing so you know what to see next time you go to the movies.

It's time to get back to form with the film I saw yesterday, M. Night Shyamalan's return to prominence with The Visit.  But first, I would like to make up for it by listing all the movies I've seen so far in 2015 along with a quick 1-2 sentence review of each one.  Here they are, listed in chronological order of viewing.

50 Shades of Grey - Not as bad as one would think thanks to a solid performance from Dakota Johnson.  Also not over the top from a risque factor. (3 JRs)

Chappie - A better effort from Neill Blomkamp than his last film Elysium.  Sharlto Copely motion capture is spot-on and the rap duo from Die Antwerp actually livens up the story. (3.5 JRs)

Avengers: Age of Ultron - Definitely not as good as the first Avengers.  A bit longer than it should have been but still entertaining thanks to Downey Jr. and company. (3 JRs)

Mad Max: Fury Road - Amazing visuals and a frenzied pace help this movie feel like nothing else I've seen in a long time. George Miller nailed this from a creative perspective and Theron, Hardy and company are just along for the ride.  Best of 2015 so far. (5 JRs)

Jurassic World - THIS is what a sequel to Jurassic Park is supposed to look and feel like. Terrific action, effects and a solid lead performance from Chris Pratt. I love all the tie ins to the original film and thankfully this makes me able to forget about films 2 and 3 in the franchise. (4.5 JRs)

Inside Out - Thought provoking and clever, this is one of Pixar's best efforts. Amy Poehler owns this film and provides the heart and soul that makes the audience question what is happening in their own mind.  Brilliant creative filmmaking and a near perfect movie for all ages. (4.5 JRs)

Terminator Genisys - Arnold is back and funnier than ever as he brings an old-man take to his legendary Terminator character.  Emilia Clarke is great to look at and brings a powerful performance in a supporting role as Sarah Connor. Some of the effects don't work well and the pacing is off at times but this was still an entertaining film to watch (3.5 JRs)

Ant Man - I love everything Paul Rudd does but this movie was just slow and plodding at times and I never really got into it. One of the worst Marvel movies I've seen and a franchise I just don't care that much about. (2.5 JRs)

Trainwreck - Amy Schumer is pretty funny but Bill Hader's talents seem to be wasted here.  I just laughed a couple of times, mostly when Lebron James is on screen but this was not one of the funnier movies I've seen in a while.  Back to the drawing board, Judd Apatow! (2.5 JRs)

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation - Supremely entertaining action film that is turbocharged by the ever ageless Tom Cruise. Over the top stunts and sweeping locations make this film franchise the "fun" James Bond.  Kudos to the gorgeous Rebecca Ferguson for giving us a strong female presence in the series. (4 JRs)

Meru - I stumbled across this film a few weeks ago as it was playing at a local theater near my work. This is a documentary that chronicles three mountain climbers' recent attempt to reach the summit of a major peak within the Himalayan mountain range. Fantastic visuals from climber and videographer Jimmy Chin help make you feel that you are 20,000 feet in the sky with the trio. Probably the most visual documentary I've ever seen and one that deserves an Oscar nod. (4.5 JRs)

I haven't seen all that many films in 2015 thus far but that's bound to ramp up these next few months as the "Oscar Bait" movies start churning out from the studios.  Yesterday I sat down to watch a (shockingly) enjoyable film from Night who has consistently disappointed me ever since The Lady in the Water came out.  That and all of his subsequent films have fallen flat and made me question the talent of the man who directed such gems as The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs and (yes I enjoy this one) The Village.

The Visit tells the story of a brother and sister who travel to rural Pennsylvania (because what is a Night movie without a Pennsylvania setting) for a week-long visit with their grandparents.  Their mother, played by a sometimes-serious (for a change) Kathryn Hahn, had a falling out with her parents years ago and looked them up on the internet in an attempt to reach out.  The children have never met their grandparents and are allowing their mother to go on a cruise while they are gone.  She keeps in touch with them over multiple Skype sessions.

All during the visit, the children (Becca, played by Olivia DeJonge, is an inspiring filmmaker) are shooting a documentary to show their Mom when they return. This sets up the classic found-footage film style originated by The Blair Witch Project and made famous by the Paranormal Activity franchise. All we see in the grandparents' house is shot through the eyes of the two children. Joining Becca is her brother Tyler, an aspiring 13-year-old rapper who completely steals the movie thanks to a hilarious performance by Ed Oxenbould.  The bulk of the film focuses on the interaction between the children and Nana and Pop-Pop as the audience wonders if the elderly duo are possessed or simply bat-shit crazy.

This movie is way scarier than I thought it would be. Night takes full command of the found-footage style of filmmaking and brings us jolt after jolt as the creepy grandparents go crazy in the house.  The rural setting and brisk Fall weather add to the spooky tone.  Overall the pacing is well done but the abrupt violence near the end of the film is a bit off-kilter and doesn't really fit well with the rest of the movie.  Night brings us a twist towards the end of the film that is unexpected and welcomed.  It doesn't feel forced or added on as some of his failed recent twists have been.

The real reason this movie works so well is Night's ability to get the best performances out of his child actors. Like Haley Joel Osment and Abigail Breslin before them, DeJonge and (particularly) Oxenbould deliver believable performances that make us empathize with their situation and laugh along the way. The final tag scene during the credits features a rap by Oxenbould that brought out the most powerful laugh I've had in a movie this year.  That kid is one funny little dude.

In summary, I would recommend this film to anyone who wants a good scare mixed with a few solid laughs.  Not quite as scary as the Babadook (which I saw on video earlier in the year - shouts to Jaime Brito!) but still a solid entry in the horror department, The Visit is a triumphant return to form for a director I once had so much admiration for.  Here's hoping Night can build off of this and steer clear from anything that resembles The Happening. A solid 4 out of 5 JRs for one of the more entertaining movies I've seen this year.