Friday, April 22, 2005

The Amityville Horror / * (2005)

When the most fascinating character in a movie comes in the form of an old haunted house, you are either dealing with something very precarious, or very stupid. Bearing in mind the source of the new remake of "The Amityville Horror," it is wise to consider the latter. Derived from a popular horror film franchise that began in 1979, this dry and stagnant upgrade stays true to its antecedent in one explicit way: by allowing all its core human players to be upstaged by the notion that a physical dwelling looks and sounds like it may be inhabited by an evil presence. Beyond that, director Andrew Douglas takes an even more unfortunate road: he remains so close to the atmosphere and conflict of the original that you feel like you're looking at nothing more than a bunch of nothingness sketched out on tracing paper. The original "Amityville" feature was by no means a treasure of cinema to begin with, and such a notion makes it even more painful to sit through this time around. The remake does absolutely nothing to modify or improve upon its predecessor, which makes it completely pointless.

Friday, April 1, 2005

Sin City / **** (2005)

The metropolis at the heart of "Sin City" is a sensuous haven of mass corruption and peril, its foundations rooted in the innocent blood that is spilled across miles of murky terrain. Characters rise from a cesspit of cruelty and ascend even more dangerous ladders; they taunt, tantalize and manipulate each other like criminals without higher authority, and their moral convictions are seldom about sensibility as much as they are about foolish and wanton desires. But experience in the shadows has nonetheless made them survivors, and when the intensity of their quick-witted instinct kicks into high gear, narrative conflicts become platforms for all sorts of social and political intrigue. Many of the city's more determined citizens also take great pride in sharing their personal insights with the audience - via sober voice-overs, they obsess over details, persuade with colorful analogies ("He had the wrong luck of being born in the wrong century."), and shamelessly blur the lines on what constitutes right from wrong. In a place as merciless as Basin City, however, endurance comes down to not just stealth or wisdom, but the demand to see only in terms of black and white. There is no middle ground to tread here, just one extreme after another. And there comes a point when you suspect everyone involved likes it that way, too.