Dredd – What with the gun control debate raging and violent films being put under the microscope as a result, it’s hard to recommend a film like Pete Travis’ Dredd. Yet, I am going to stick by my original take on this stylish thriller as there is more art than artifice here as the dystopian society at the film’s core can be seen as the end result of a world in which violence is the only rule of life. Karl Urban is quite effective in the title role as a cop of the future who is free to act as judge, jury and executioner. He and his rookie partner (Olivia Thirlby) find themselves trapped in a massive high-rise apartment complex run by the drug kingpin Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) who has sent out her minions to bring them down, lest they shut down her operation. Constructed much like The Raid: Redemption, the movie represent a video game in which our heroes must advance one bloody level at time before they reach their prey at the top. Along the way there’s mayhem aplenty and it’s rendered with great style and meticulous detail by Travis who offers up a gritty, blood-soaked palette of a society that lives by the gun and has sacrificed its moral soul as a result.
Frankenweenie – The biggest criticism I’ve always had with Tim Burton’s films is that he simply doesn’t know how to end a movie. Often, his third acts are woefully predictable or wildly out of control. And while Frankenweenie does fall under the later category, I still couldn’t help but admire this loving homage to the classic Frankenstein movies of the 1930’s. Young Victor (voice by Charlie Tahan) is a science whiz and he uses his skill to bring his dog Sparky back to life after he’s been hit by a car. And while the young boy’s heart is in the right place, if you have a zombie dog running around the neighborhood you’re just asking for trouble. Allusions abound to James Whale’s Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein as well as other horror classics and every reference is done with the utmost respect. As I said, things spin out of control during the third act but there’s enough charm to this project to help see it through.
Looper – Smart science-fiction is a rare commodity but writer/director Rian Johnson fits the bill here with this smart, existential time travel tale that finds an assassin named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) hunting down his future, older self (Bruce Willis). Yep, it’s a twisty-turny kind of a tale that gets even more convoluted once a single mother named Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon) are thrown in the mix. Johnson keeps the story moving at a nice clip and while the premise may seem a bit much, all of the pieces are laid out in a way that’s easy to follow. While some may be able to see the ending coming, it took me by surprise and ended up being one of the most thoughtful, poignant conclusions I’ve seen in a long, long time.
The Possession – Child-possession movies are a dime a dozen, but this fact-based tale from Ole Bornedal subscribes to the less-is-more approach and winds up creating some very effective chills. A young girl named Emily (Natasha Calis) is the target of the malevolent spirit that’s been trapped in a box for ages. She happened to purchase this at a garage sale and her dad (Jeffery Dean Morgan) can’t help but notice a change in her behavior soon after. Soon, he’s concerned enough to call in the help of a Jewish exorcist (Matisyahu) as they determine that what Emily has purchased is a dybbuk, which according to Hebrew folklore is a blessed container used for the containment of evil spirits. Bornedal goes out of his way to slowly lay out the story, taking the time to let us get to know the family in question, which includes Kyra Sedgwick as the mother. This pays off handsomely in the end as the final exorcism becomes a harrowing affair as we’ve become emotionally invested in Emily’s plight and that of her parents.