Chuck Koplinski: Modern effects, fiery performances revitalize 'Carrie'

While it might not be "Citizen Kane," Brian De Palma's 1976 version of "Carrie" is a film that many fans view as a landmark horror film.

Not only was it the first big-screen adaptation of a Stephen King novel, but its strong female protagonist was, at the time, a progressive step. Equally unheard of was the fact that the two main performers, Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, were nominated for Oscars for their work, a rarity for a genre exercise of this sort.

So the inevitable question is, "Why bother to remake it?"

Of course, the answer is "To make money!" as the brass at MGM Studios has taken to raiding their vaults looking for films they can remake or produce sequels to. And while this new version of "Carrie," directed with tact and a sense of violent grace by Kimberly Peirce ("Boys Don't Cry") won't make anyone forget De Palma's film, it's strong and distinctive enough to stand on its own.

For those unfamiliar with King's tale, it revolves around Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz), a sheltered young woman who might as well walk around with a bull's-eye on her forehead as her odd nature makes her prime fodder for the catty bullies who target her day after day. Things reach a head when she has her first menstrual period at an inopportune time, resulting in an embarrassing video being posted online and many of her callous classmates being suspended for their insensitive behavior.

However, now that she's become a woman, Carrie realizes she has the power to move things with her mind, an ability she learns to control with fantastic and fatal results.

What with the modern bullying epidemic raging, the film has an added resonance, and Peirce does a find job of stressing Carrie's underdog statue without ever making her a martyr.

It comes as no surprise that Julianne Moore, as Carrie's psychotic, damaged mother, would make an impression. The actress strips herself bare, wearing the character's haggard demeanor with a sense of determined righteousness that's frightening in its focus.

Meanwhile, Moretz effortlessly garners our sympathy as Carrie. While she might overplay a moment or two early on when the character is discovering her powers, she breaks our hearts as she conveys her feelings of pain and alienation, her expressive eyes being her most powerful tool.

To be sure, advances in special effects make for a more imaginative climax when Carrie reaps her revenge, but that we feel anything at all (exhilaration, fear, regret) during the Sturm und Drang is because of Moretz's fine work as well as Peirce's focus on her main character's pain and purpose rather than the mayhem resulting from it.

'Carrie' (3 stars out of 4)

Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde, Portia Doubleday. Ansel Elgort, Judy Greer, Demetrius Joyette and Barry Henley.

Directed by Kimberly Peirce; produced by Kevin Misher; screenplay by Lawrence Cohen and Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa, based on the novel by Stephen King.

A Warner Brothers release. 100 minutes. Rated R (bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexual content) At AMC Village Mall 6 and Savoy 16.

Also new in theaters

Action titans clash in fun "Escape Plan." (2-1/2 stars) Make no mistake: "Escape Plan" is nothing more than a B-movie with an A-list budget.

It wasn't uncommon to see similarly plotted flicks of this sort with Jim Brown and Leon Isaac Kennedy playing on the bottom of a double bill at drive-ins in the 1970s. (Truth be told, the ones with Linda Blair and Sybil Danning seemed to hold my attention more for some odd reason.) Be that as it may, its familiarity doesn't prevent the film from being fairly entertaining as it provides an opportunity for two acting lions to gracefully enter the winter of their careers.

Sylvester Stallone stars as Ray Breslin, an expert in security design and theory who hires out to be put into prisons around the country and test their fallibility. Having never been in a hoosegow he couldn't break out of, he takes on a challenge from a mysterious client who offers Breslin's company $5 million if he can escape from a state-of-the-art penitentiary where the worst of the worst are housed.

Despite reservations from his business partners (Amy Ryan and 50 Cent), our hero takes the challenge and soon regrets it. Blindfolded and taken to an undisclosed location, Breslin finds himself in a vast open area that houses a myriad of self-contained, seamless cells made of thick, clear polymer slabs. There's no easy way out, but the reluctant captive soon finds an ally in Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a lifer with an agenda of his own.

Director Mikael Hafstrom keeps things moving at a brisk pace but more importantly keeps his cast reined in as the film is one in which campy performances could easily take hold. The two veterans know all they have to do is stand around and glower to make their presence known, which they do with ease and just the right amount of gravity as well as levity.

However, I suspect that Jim Caviezel as Warden Hobbes was warned time and again not to twirl his imaginary moustache as he flirts with giving a porky performance throughout. Thankfully, Sam Neill shows restraint as a sympathetic prison doctor, so it all evens out in the end.

Though there are a couple attempted plot twists, there's not a whole lot of "new" here, which is fine. If you're at all interested in this movie, it's because you're a fan of Stallone or Schwarzenegger, and you simply want to see what they're up to. The answer is, the same ol', same ol', and for some, that'll be enough.

Star's allure can't rescue "Fifth Estate." (2 stars) The cult of Benedict Cumberbatch has grown by leaps and bounds in the last two years, fueled by full-bodied turns from the actor in the English television series "Sherlock" and films such as "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and "Star Trek Into Darkness."

Without question, he's a talented actor, and he has a certain dweeb charisma that's appealing.

However, he has hardly built up a body of work or is so distinctive as to explain why his fans are so many and so manic. Maybe it has something to do with that name.

I will say one thing about the Cumberbatches (the name members of his fan base have taken): They simply won't accept their idol in just any old piece of sensationalistic entertainment as proven by the lackluster performance of "The Fifth Estate," (only $1.7 million in its first weekend) in which the actor plays Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.

For a movie that features such a hot-button topic, as told by director Bill Condon, the film is a bit of a bore and fails to do what anyone with a passing interest in the topic would want — namely to delve into what might make Assange tick. It's a decidedly vague portrayal as he's presented as a bundle of contradictions who comes across as a social crusader — yet you probably shouldn't trust him with your money or your younger sister.

A far more comprehensive look at Assange can be found in the documentary "We Steal Secrets: The Secret of WikiLeaks," in which director Alex Gibney doesn't shrink from giving his subject a taste of his own medicine, an approach "The Fifth Estate" takes a pass on.

For DVR alerts, film recommen-dations and movie news, follow Chuck Koplinski on Twitter at @ckoplinski. For his blog, head to http://www.news-gazette.com/blogs/cinema-scoping. Koplinski can be reached via email at chuckkoplinski@gmail.com.

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