January 3, 2010

Paranormal Activity: Holy Crap!

So my "don't have time to watch a movie" drought is slowly lifting. With a three-day weekend for New Year's and a $1.99 coupon for Blockbuster (glad I had one to use, because otherwise... screw Blockbuster), I decided to spend an evening with a movie. I was torn on what to rent, but I had wanted to see Paranormal Activity since it came out in theaters (never got around to it), and I love a good scary movie.

Each night's occurrence is neatly chronicled, adding a lot of tension.

I went in wanting to scoff at this movie. I really did. I was skeptical; ghost movies don't really scare me at all (The Ring, The Grudge, White Noise, and all that stuff just doesn't do it). Plus, I tend to take what some people consider to be "scary" with a grain of salt. Being that I love horror movies, I'm a bit desensitized to terror. I remained hopeful but cautious as I put the DVD in.

What did I come out thinking? Paranormal Activity is like the scariest damn episode of Ghost Hunters you've ever seen.

Word on the street is that Paramount had considered remaking the shoestring-budget film as a big-ticket Hollywood vehicle. I'm glad they didn't go that route; somehow I'm picturing Jessica Biel gasping at CGI ghosts and I'm not impressed. Going the "Bair Witch" route was such a good choice.

Micah is getting on her nerves.

The "this is real" aesthetic helps a great deal, making what might seem ridiculous completely unsettling. Bottom line: I was scared. For nearly the whole film, my palms were sweaty. I jumped. I yelled out. I waited at least an hour before going to bed.

I really dug the low-key stuff. I can't help but shake my head at anybody that complains about being bored. I let myself get immersed into the film to the point that every little bump, every gentle movement of an inanimate object, made my body tense up. The incidents start out small and keep building up, so that every time the camera is set up to film the bedroom at night, the suspense of what will happen next is paralyzing.

I think I had this same look on my face through the movie.

As much as I gush about the structure of the scares, I can't say Paranormal Activity would rank as one of my "favorite horror movies." It's not. It is flawed. While the home video angle works for the most part, the film suffers even more than "Blair Witch Project" and "Cloverfield" when it comes to characters who just don't know when to put the freakin' camera down. It never bothered me in Blair Witch (loved that movie, by the way). Cloverfield's "Hud" grated my nerves with his dedication to his cameraman duties. Paranormal Activitie's Micah takes the cake, though.

The psychologist doesn't like Micah, either.

It's obvious that we're supposed to be frustrated with him; as the eerie events escalate, the man is ever-stubborn in his efforts to record the phenomena. His girlfriend's fears are usually met with juvenile whit and sarcasm that only dissipate when things get really heavy. But yet, he's always holding that damn camera. This required some suspension of disbelief on my part. Plus, Micah remains stubborn and ignorant through the whole film. He keeps doing stupid things and never develops at all. You just wanna give the guy a roundhouse kick to the face.

...But I really can't expect well drawn-out characters and a perfectly fabricated "reality" here. That's not what the film was selling. What it was in the market for was scares, and it delivered.

A flippant Micah battles the demon in his swimming pool during the thrilling conclusion.

January 2, 2010

Dinner Rush (2000)

I've had a dilemma recently: I don't seem to have enough time to sit down and watch a movie! Between work and a lot of side projects, I end up having to choose between sleep or goof-off time (sleep is always good!) Luckily, Christmas break remedied this problem a bit. On Christmas morning, as I ate breakfast at my family's house, waiting for the rest of the folks to make it down, my mother (remember her influence?) turned on the TV and switched to the Independent Film Channel, because her recent favorite movie was coming on: Dinner Rush!

Duncan wishes someone would lend him ten grand to give to the sharks.

She had simply fallen in love with the film, which centers on a single night inside a popular Italian restaurant in New York City. I figured I'd like it, but the invitation to watch it came abruptly. Right in the morning? I've got things to do! I put those thoughts away quickly, because Dinner Rush is totally captivating.

The film opens with a mob hit, setting up the viewer to expect a typical gangster drama. Nope. After the credits, we settle into a fancy restaurant, owned by Louis Cropa, a former bookmaker who now considers himself "a legit restaurateur." He wants to turn the business over to his son, but doesn't like the changes he's made to the cuisine: the old-school spaghetti and meatballs of his beloved Italy have been replaced with fancy dishes that appeal to the "artsy" crowd.

Louis talks traditional Italian cuisine with his son.

The "artsy crowd," however, is keeping the business thriving. As we watch throngs of people come in and sit for hours chatting and enjoying their meals, we kind of want to pull up a seat as well.

Waitresses and cooks work diligently while chatting; people sit at the bar and play trivia games with the charismatic bartender; and two greasy-haired gangsters come for dinner and demand a "sit down" with the owner.

Wait, what?

When the capos come to eat at your restaurant, you better treat them nicely.

Seems Louis's favorite cook, Duncan, the only one who will cook him a "traditional" Italian meal, has a gambling problem, and has gotten in deep with the mob.

Don't let this plot point tease you. The film is more about setting than story, and I love this. I'm a sucker for setting, and watching "Dinner Rush" is like sitting down in your favorite hangout and enjoying some people-watching.

Anybody who's ever worked in a restaurant is likely to identify with the characters, like the waitress who wants to strangle the annoying art critic at one of her tables; or the bustling cooks who are trying not to crack under the pressure of their boss; or the hostess, who, between needed cigarette breaks, has to put on a smiling face, no matter how unpleasant the guests are.

The bar is one of my favorite spots of the restaurant, probably because the bartender is cool as hell.

Louis's crisis does come to a satisfying resolution, but the true enjoyment comes from the ride, not the destination. Sit down and enjoy Dinner Rush with your own home-cooked meal and get ready for a high-class, leisurely evening.

Screencaptures provided by www.moviescreenshots.blogspot.com