J.C. De Leon's blog

SXSW Review: Sinister



Horror movie fans have been duped for years now. They've longed for an original idea in horror. For a while it was the "found footage" subgenre. The premise is that the events taking place in front of you are really happening and therein is the terror of the film. It worked a few times, and now it all seems unoriginal -- the best ones one-up a previous good found-footage film by having more gore and/or elements of the supernatural. It's a band-aid on the need that horror film fans have when it comes that genre.

Sinister, which had a "secret screening" at SXSW this weekend, is an anti-found-footage film. Its terror lies in the feeling that it gives you while watching because the events unfolding are genuinely terrifying, not because it wants a part of your brain to realize that these things are really happening. It's a saving grace for horror film fans, and it's the film they've been waiting years for.

Ellison (Ethan Hawke) is a true crime novelist. In his mind, he's a has-been true crime novelist who yearns for the glory days of having a New York Times bestseller once again. To regain that past glory, he's moved his family to the town where a grisly murder once took place. His family doesn't know that he's moved them into the very house that these murders took place, and his kids, along with the local police force, would much rather Ellison go back where he came from.

SXSW 2012: J.C.'s Most Anticipated Films


Killer Joe

I haven't been writing about film for very long. I've always been passionate about it, but I never had the kind of access to it that I have now. Though I still have a lot to learn and great colleagues to learn it from, I know that in a short time, I've come a long way.

How do I know this? As little as three years ago, when the SXSW film lineup would come out, I'd scour it for hours figuring what I'd want to see later that year. This would result in maybe three to five films a year from SXSW that I'd look forward to. This year, based on cast, writers, directors, studio affiliations, past festivals and general industry knowledge, I can glance at this year's lineup and easily identify upwards of 20 films I am chomping at the bit to see.

I've compiled a list of ten films that I'm really anxious to watch at SXSW 2012:

10. The Last Fall (schedule) and The Announcement (schedule)
These are both sports movies, which if you know me, you know that I love. The Last Fall examines what goes on in a player's mind when his playing career is over, and The Announcement is a documentary about the day Magic Johnson retired from the NBA due to being HIV positive. Incredibly compelling stories, neither of which have ever really been told. Here's the trailer for The Last Fall:

Review: Project X


Project X

I have a pretty hard and steady rule for movie reviews I write: I don't like to talk about myself. It doesn't matter what I have to say about Project X though, because there's an audience for this film, and that audience is certainly not critics. This film is a teenager's wet dream. It's got raging hormones, beer, drugs, naked women, adults to revolt against, and of course naked women. What's there not to like? Well depending on your age, there's either plenty to like, or plenty to hate. I didn't think I was an "uncool" old guy until I saw this movie, it's kind of disheartening to think I was putting myself in the adults' shoes and all I wanted was for those damn kids to get off my lawn.

It's Thomas Kub's (Thomas Mann) birthday, and he's kind of a shy kid. Not all that unpopular, but not one of these kids who's making high school the time of his life. Not like his friend Costa (Oliver Cooper), who's that kid that we all knew in high school who could always talk us into trouble. He's slick, knows everyone, and you should never listen to him ever. So when it comes time to plan Thomas's birthday, guess what happens? They embark on a mission, and that mission is to thrown an epic party and if possible, get laid.

Review: Wanderlust



If David Wain fans have one thing to be thankful for, it's the fact that the usual cast of character actors in his projects must genuinely like each other if they work together so much. It shows in the comfort level they have with each other and makes it so they can make comedies that get bolder and bolder. Wanderlust certainly is bold.

Unfortunately, that comfort level and willingness to cross the line might have been too much, resulting in a movie that just feels kinda flat. I don't know if moviegoers who aren't familiar with some of David Wain's other films will quite be ready for what seems at first like a good-hearted comedy about a down-in-the-dumps couple discovering themselves in a hippie commune. Wanderlust is definitely good hearted, but it's also a joltingly graphic film.

George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) are a young married couple looking to take that next step in their lives, owning a tiny apartment in New York City. George isn't so sure, but Linda really loves the place and feels it's where they need to be. They're in a good place in their lives: George has a good job, and Linda is getting ready to sell a documentary about penguins to HBO, so it makes sense to buy property at this point. Well, when HBO passes on Linda's documentary and George's job lays him off, they don't have much choice but to go to Atlanta to live with George's irritating brother Rick (co-writer Ken Marino).

Review: Safe House


Safe HouseIt's hard to imagine a movie starring an ass-kicking Denzel Washington and a non-comedic Ryan Reynolds would be something of a chore to get through, but Safe House is at times. It's not really the actors' fault, though. When you've got a story that isn't the most original, and therefore has to be filled with cliche after cliche, you can't really end up with anything other than just an okay film that has a few good fleeting moments and that's about it. It's not to say that Safe House is terrible, because it's not -- it's a more than competent effort from a director at the helm of his first American feature. Daniel Espinosa even proves here that he directs action very well.

Matt (Reynolds) is a young C.I.A. officer who hopes to one day be an active duty field agent. For now he's been relegated to being a "housekeeper" of a South African safe house, meaning he spends hours upon hours in an empty building that the C.I.A. might one day use, but usually never will. On this eventful day, a known international fugitive and former agent Tobin Frost (Washington) has turned himself in to the C.I.A. in order to escape some people trying to kill him. This is the first action Matt has seen, and Tobin Frost is his responsibility, but there seems to be nobody Matt can trust, not even the C.I.A.

Ryan Reynolds is certainly not out of his element in Safe House, but the movie missed the mark by not allowing his sense of humor to come through. Reynolds is certainly capable of holding his own in an action film, but when he isn't being funny while doing it, he comes off as stiff and unnatural. Of course, the argument can be made that that was the way the character was written -- trouble is, the film isn't that deep. Denzel Washington is an unrelenting badass, yeah, but he's not doing anything here that you haven't seen in any Tony Scott film that Washington has been in. Speaking of Tony Scott, it's clear that his visual style served as an influence on the look of the film, which should please fans of films like Man on Fire and The Taking of Pelham 123.

Review: Chronicle



If there's one trend in Hollywood that has worn out its welcome pretty quickly, it's the "found-footage" genre of filmmaking. Since The Blair Witch Project in 1999, Wikipedia lists 79 other film projects in the genre. In the grand scheme of things, 79 films in 13 years may not seem like that many, but when you consider that the biggest problem with the genre is that the movies are on some level all the same, therein lies the issue. We need something different, and we need it badly.

Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity deviated from the formula a little bit but at the heart, they weren't that different. Chronicle promises something different, but can it deliver on that promise? Director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis certainly have had a hard task before them.

The plot of Chronicle is pretty simple. Andrew (Dane DeHaan), an unpopular loner, decides to document everything in his life as a way of opening up. Naturally, everyone thinks it's weird, including his cousin Matt (Alex Russell). One day while at a party in an abandoned part of town, Andrew, Matt and their friend -- the popular Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan) -- discover a weird hole in the middle of a field. Of course, in abandonment of all sensible logic, they go down the hole and discover something mysterious. The next day after their discovery, they've figured out that they have the ability to move things with their mind, and that they're getting stronger by the day.

Review: Man on a Ledge


Man on a Ledge

Man on a Ledge is one of those films where the reaction you have toward it will be based upon the mood you're in going into it. On the one hand, you've got a cliché-ridden mess that at times seems like it took pages out of a screenwriting textbook and put them up in a theatrically released movie. On the other hand, you've got a cool, tense and more importantly fun heist flick starring some good actors.

What's funny about Man on a Ledge is that the first two acts of the film are the type of cliché-ridden piles filled with plot holes the size of the Grand Canyon that might make your head explode, but the third act is good enough and original enough to save the movie in the end. It's an impressive debut from director Asger Leth, and he has proven he can get a lot of out of a sizable cast.

While escaped convict/former police officer Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) seems to have found his freedom, he inexplicably checks into a very nice hotel room with a great view, sits down for a nice meal and then promptly walks out onto the ledge of his room. As the requisite circus gathers underneath, he asks the NYPD for his own negotiator. They figure out that he checked into the room under an assumed name and begin scrambling to figure out his identity. All the while across the street, a diamond heist is taking place and Nick's motives become clearer to the audience.

Review: Contraband



Moviegoers don't ask for much in the month of January. For the most part, they understand what they're in for and don't have very lofty expectations. However, when they see ads for a film like Contraband with a cast lineup including Mark Wahlberg, Giovanni Ribisi, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster and J.K. Simmons, the expectations might be a little high, even for January. Director Baltasar Komákur manages to helm a competently made action movie that has a few minor problems with it, but is actually a halfway decent January release.

In the port town of New Orleans, legendary smuggler Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) has long since retired and leads a modest life running his own business and living with his beautiful wife Kate (Beckinsale) and their two sons. When his brother-in-law gets in trouble with local drug dealer Tim Briggs (Ribisi), Chris must take it upon himself to come out of retirement and make "one last run" in order to save his brother-in-law and prevent any danger from happening to his own wife and children.

All of that is fine and dandy and has the makings for a very exciting film. The trouble is, Contraband doesn't have enough faith in its viewers to know where all of the chess pieces are placed before the action takes place. You hear someone call Chris Farraday the "Houdini of smuggling" several times and thankfully each time they have a different example of why he's given that moniker, but after the second time, we get it, dude is good at smuggling things.

Review: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol


Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol

Films from this summer such as Fast Five and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and this weekend's holiday release Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, have proven that sometimes going back to the well can produce great results. Studios aren't always content to throw some actors in front of a camera, put up a familiar title and hope droves of movie fans come out to support the franchise -- in these cases, they're actually hiring great directors to create some truly exciting films. For Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, filmmaker Brad Bird was given the task of shooting not only his first ever live-action feature, but the first Mission: Impossible film in five years, when it seemed like the series definitely wrapped up in 2006.

Opening in the middle of a mission, we see an agent running from armed assailants and escaping in a pretty spectacular manner. In typical spy film fashion, this circumstance will be explained later -- the opening of the film is mostly an elaborate prison break where Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has been for some time after his retirement. He is given a mission to infiltrate the Kremlin in Russia and obtain files that contain launch codes for a nuclear missile strike. Ethan and his team are set up and blamed for an explosion that occurs at the Kremlin and it is up to them to not only clear their own names, but help stop a start to nuclear war between Russia and the US.

Review: Young Adult


Young Adult

The latest film from director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), Young Adult, is incredibly hard to review. It's not often that a movie can be a very great one centered on a character so vile, yet so damned relatable that you might find yourself questioning either your current status in life, or your status at some other point in your life. The brilliant Diablo Cody has proven once again that she can write a film tackling issues that force the viewer to think about them rather than just sit in a theater with a turned-off brain.

Different people will see Young Adult and gain different perspectives on the film. Is it a love story? Yes, albeit an extremely twisted one. Is it a story about depression? Yes, but you could argue it isn't clinical depression as much as an intentional unwillingness to let oneself be happy. All of these are true, but for me, the heart of the story is a simple one about the proverbial "one that got away" told from a woman's perspective.

Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is a slacker. True, at first glance she doesn't look like a slacker, but this very beautiful woman very obviously has some issues. Despite being a successful author of a popular children's series, she wakes up in a stupor every day, usually hung over. Stumbles over to her fridge where she chugs two-liter bottles of Diet Coke like she hasn't had a drink for days. She's got a cute Pomeranian that she feeds and then leaves out on the balcony while she gets her Wii Fit workout on. This is her life, and there's not much to it.

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