Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Double Feature: Stoker & 21 and Over

There are two reasons I haven't really been writing lately. Two weeks ago it was because I was vacationing in Florida and did not see a single film in that time. Last week it was because this is March, and there's hardly anything worth watching, let alone writing about. I WAS looking forward to The Croods (look for my Open Letters review soon), but other than that I've been massively let down by most of the titles early this year. The big ones have either been disappointing or outright bad, and I admit it's been a struggle to look ahead and see the potentially great movies releasing in the next few months, from Iron Man 3 to Star Trek Into Darkness to Elysium. But the idea of gems hidden in the rough compels me to go back to the theater, and I'm going to tell you about two such titles, with the psychological thriller Stoker and the raucous comedy 21 and Over.

In the first, Mia Wasikowska plays India Stoker, a quiet, somewhat creepy 18 year-old whose mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) doesn't understand her and whose father Richard has just died in a car crash. While the two women try to recover from their family tragedy, they are visited by Richard's distant brother Charlie (Matthew Goode), who stays in their home in an effort to help them cope. But when people close to the family start disappearing, India wonders where Charlie has been her entire life, and how he will affect both her and her mother. Soon a new side to India opens, one hidden long away. She has to decide whether she wants the potentially-harmful Charlie gone from her life, or whether she wants him all to herself.

I've learned never to trust anyone with a Green Thumb.
Stoker is most notable for being the American debut of South Korean director Park Chan-wook, best known for the classic Oldboy. His movies are generally very adult matters, and this film earns its R rating not through graphic depictions of violence and sex (those are there too) but through the kind of psychological horror that not many modern filmmakers would touch. Chan-wok follows in the footsteps of Hitchcock, not just in content but creatively, as well. He creates perfect camera angles many couldn't copy and features exquisite scenes such as an erotic piano duet (yup, never thought I'd put those words together) and one bit in particular that focuses exclusively on Kidman's face and showcases her amazing talent. Speaking of the actors, Wasikowska and Goode play up the creepy to a perfect degree, though I doubt anybody would have expected otherwise. While Stoker also has a talented supporting cast, it's the trio of leads who really keep your attention and never allow you to grow bored.

Seriously. Wow.
Unfortunately, these are the best parts of Stoker, which opens up the floor to the worst as well. The story isn't properly fleshed out, with the narrative swerving into completely unnecessary territory all the time. It also takes its sweet time finding a rhythm, and while it does eventually settle into a groove that finishes out the final act, there was all this setup that you almost wish you hadn't had to sit through; if a movie is better when you've shown up twenty minutes late, then it's doing it wrong. There are also some serious logic problems that never get explained, character motivations that remain obscured to ridiculous degrees, and no real sense of urgency or responsibility for their actions. This is a good screenplay by Wentworth Miller (yes, the Prison Break actor), but it could have used a ton of polishing before shooting began.

The creepiest eyes in Hollywood.
I did like Stoker, but if I'm being fair this a movie with a hell of a lot of problems. It has a bunch of Hitchcock's flair but almost none of his dedication to quality, though at least it is a better debut for a Korean director than Kim Ji-woon's The Last Stand. Stoker has a few a surprises, mixing it's psychological thrills with erotic noire, and the result is a decent - if far from perfect - place to start. Still, this might be better off as a rental, as I'm not sure the experience from watching this can be appreciated in a movie theater when sitting in a dark home theater wrapped in a blanket is DEFINITELY the way to go.

Far less original (but almost certainly more irreverent) is 21 and Over, directed by the writers of The Hangover, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. In it, former high school best friends Casey (Skylar Astin) and Miller (Miles Teller) surprise their Straight-A bestie Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) on his 21'st birthday, with the intent of giving him a night of drunkenness and debauchery. But troubles arise in the form of Jeff's strict father, who has scheduled a Medical School interview for him early the next morning. What start off as "just one drink" quickly becomes more than a dozen, and when Casey and Miller have an unconscious Jeff and no idea where they are, it's a race against time to get him into bed and somewhere on the way to sobriety before morning, whether that means infiltrating a sorority, escaping angry mobs, or outrunning the cops. They've got until 7 a.m. to set things right. Until then, everything that can go wrong, WILL go wrong.

Please leave your air horns at home.
21 and Over is a combination of The Hangover, Project X and any college antics movie from the 70's. In fact, despite the multitude of offensive statements, excessive cursing and insane situations depicted in the movie, there's very little in this film that could possibly shock its potential - and very forgiving - audience. Lucas and Moore are definitely following a path laid forth by their predecessors, blissfully ignoring minute complications like idiotic characters, offensive stereotypes and bad examples, thanks to the people watching that simply don't care about those things. Sure, ignore the fact that the next morning these guys are going to be suffering from some severe alcohol poisoning, and the rest of the film STILL doesn't make any reasonable sense.

This would have been a much shorter movie if they'd just had the one drink.

And yet 21 and Over's egregious sense of ego is actually what makes it so charming. See, the filmmakers realize and then explore exactly what guy friendships are all about. Best friends come back together after long periods apart and instantly remember what they loved about hanging out. Guys will eternally have their friends backs, even faced with long odds and impossibilities. Even when they fight, it's bare-knuckled brawling one minute and all-forgiven back-slapping the next. While Casey and Miller definitely have their issues with one another (like the guys from The Hangover), they don't hold back and keep their mouths shut, because that's not what guy friends do. But neither do they let it get in the way of their mission, and the pair never lose focus on what's important: getting Jeff Chang home and ready for his appointment before his father finds out.

It doesn't hurt that despite its sameness, 21 and Over is still a very funny, occasionally shocking good time at the theater. Is it better than Revenge of the Nerds or Animal House? No, but it hangs on nicely with the drug and alcohol-infused comedies of the modern era, and the cast of Astin, Teller, Chon and Sarah Wright make for a charismatic group of young actors worthy of your ticket purchases. Unapolagetically rude and crude, you can't get much funnier at the movies right now.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Open Letters Monthly: Oz the Great and Powerful

Just in case you thought that there were still some sacred things out there, Disney popped out a prequel to the 1939 classic (and perennial top 100 movie) The Wizard of Oz this past weekend. While Oz the Great and Powerful is questionable to overtake the popularity of the film and book series that inspired it, I have to admit a certain fascination with the world and wonders of Oz, and even if you're a movie purist you have to admit some of your own. The real question is whether it makes James Franco worth watching.

Carnival magician Oscar Diggs wants to achieve greatness, to be one of the greatest men of all time. Unfortunately, he's a two-bit philanderer and actor, with his true self nowhere near the surface. When a twister violently whisks him to the world of Oz, he is immediately assumed to be a wizard of great power, tasked with ridding the land of the mysterious and evil Wicked Witch. But while he at first is only interested in riches, he quickly learns the benefits of his abilities, and strives to be the great and powerful wizard the people of Oz imagine need him to be.

Oz the Great and Powerful is directed by Sam Raimi and stars James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff and Joey King.

Click here for the full review at Open Letters Monthly.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Look Who's Coming to The Weavings

It's (well past) time for Hello, Mr. Anderson's second annual awards post! 2012 was a very unique year for movies. We had the first ever superhero super group release in Joss Whedon's Marvel's The Avengers, the finale to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, the story of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, and the return of the Wachowski siblings to the big screen. Much anticipated titles included an Alien prequel, Peter Jackson's return to Middle Earth, James Bond's 50'th anniversary, a look inside the characters of video games, and Steven Spielberg's presidential biopic.

But while there were many reasons to turn up at the theaters on several weekends last year, much of what was released felt very... status quo. There was little different on either side of the quality barrier, with many decent movies looking sadly akin to their negatively-received counterparts. The Weavings are meant to recognize the best of the best, those who surpassed the malaise that filled much of 2012, and identify the most fun, entertaining and informative releases you should have sat down for last year. And if you missed them? That's why the good lord created home media. Sit back and enjoy.

Best Supporting Actor

The nominees are...

Javier Bardem - Skyfall
Leonardo DiCaprio - Django Unchained
Dwight Henry - Beasts of the Southern Wild
Philip Seymour Hoffman - The Master
Tommy Lee Jones - Lincoln
Christopher Walken - Seven Psychopaths
Christoph Waltz - Django Unchained

And the winner is...

Much respect to Christoph Waltz, but as good as you were in Django I couldn't quite give you this reward for your performance in the wake of this one by Jones, which single-handedly rejuvinated the aging actor's resume with a performance the likes of which we haven't seen in years. As unrepentant abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, Jones showed an energy that may not be repeated anytime soon, and this was at a time when many thought his best years might be behind him.

Best Supporting Actress

The nominees are...

Amy Adams - The Master
Carmen Ejogo - Sparkle
Anne Hathaway - Les Miserables
Helen Mirren - Hitchcock
Maggie Smith - Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Emma Watson - The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Kristen Wiig - Friends with Kids 

And the winner is...

How does a woman take the best advantage of such limited screen time? By packing the most heart-breaking, emotionally-devastating performance you can into what time you have. There's a reason Hathaway's Fantine was the centerpiece of the marketing for Les Miserables, and she delivered with a spectacle that left nary a dry eye in theaters across the world. It was to the film's credit and detriment that she was cast in this overly important role; the credit being how wonderfully amazing she was, the detriment being how just about everyone else paled in direct comparison.

Best Soundtrack/Musical Score

The nominees are...

Django Unchained - Elayna Boynton
Les Miserables - Claude-Michael Schoenberg
The Man with the Iron Fists - RZA and Howard Drossin
The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Michael Brook
Pitch Perfect - Christophe Beck and Mark Kilian
Rock of Ages - Adam Anders and Peer Astrom
Sparkle - R. Kelly, Curtis Mayfield, Kier Lehman and Andre DeJuan

And the winner is...

These all were good musicals and/or had great soundtracks, don't get me wrong. What puts Pitch Perfect above the likes of Django or Les Mis is not the originality of the music (we've heard it all before), but the energy and system in which it's delivered. Pitch Perfect made a capella COOL, and that fact alone is not to be understated. Without that hook this is just a funny college comedy, but the music lends the story credence. Including all-vocal renditions of such modern classics as "Right Round", "Let it Whip" and "Don't You (Forget About Me)", listening to the soundreack is almost more fun than watching the whole movie again. And that final performance! Pitch Perfect was one of last year's unsung heroes, thanks chiefly to the music it showcased.

Best Special Effects

The nominees are...

The Amazing Spider-Man
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
Marvel's The Avengers

And the winner is...

This was yet another tough decision. Every single one of the movies listed above had outstanding effects, crisp sound, and visuals aplenty. So how did I go with box office flop Dredd over the likes of the more successful The Avengers and Life of Pi? While everybody else was spending through the nose to make their effects so darned lovely (and in the case of one company, filed for bankruptcy afterward), Dredd was making things just as pretty for about half the cost. It's spectacle of violence and gritty realism was impossible to ignore for those who actually bothered to see this on the big screen, and if you're a fan of classic sci-fi flicks like Robocop or Alien, this instantly becomes a must-rent.

Best Leading Actor in a Comedy

The nominees are...

Mike Birbiglia - Sleepwalk with Me
Jack Black - Bernie
Bradley Cooper - Silver Linings Playbook
Mark Duplass - Safety Not Guaranteed
Anthony Hopkins - Hitchcock
Frank Langella - Robot & Frank
Bill Murray - Hyde Park on Hudson

And the winner is...

It wasn't the heavy prosthetics, excessive makeup or excellent writing that created the perfect embodiment of Hollywood's most historically well-known director; you could have put those on anybody. But with Anthony Hopkins as the base, you have one of the greatest living actors perfectly masquerading as one of the all-time masters of horror. That Hitchcock was a great movie was due to several factors, including great casting and writing. But without Hopkins stealing his own show, it might have all been for naught.

Best Leading Actress in a Comedy

The nominees are...

Emily Blunt (Twice) - Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and Your Sister's Sister
Judi Dench - Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Ari Graynor - For a Good Time, Call...
Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook
Aubrey Plaza - Safety Not Guaranteed
Jennifer Westfeldt - Friends with Kids

And the winner is...

I personally thought that Silver Linings Playbook was a quality, but VERY overrated romantic comedy. But if there was one thing good enough to fool you into thinking it was one of the year's best, it was Jennifer Lawrence, who immediately captured your attention and never, EVER let go. Emotional trauma is not something easily portrayed in movies, often manifesting itself in comedic, derogatory roles. Lawrence not only made it all feel REAL, but she outdid the talents of actresses twice her age and with a billion times the experience. This was easily one of the most impressive performances of the year, and that she made it appear so effortless makes you wonder what else she might eventually be capable of.

Best Leading Actor in a Drama

The nominees are...

Daniel Day-Lewis - Lincoln
Jamie Foxx - Django Unchained
John Hawkes - The Sessions
Hugh Jackman - Les Miserables
Suraj Sharma - Life of Pi
Jean-Louis Trintignant - Amour
Denzel Washington - Flight

And the winner is...

What else can I say at this point? In what was already the best recent movie for many of its contributors (director Steven Spielberg, screenwriter Tony Kushner) and featured dozens of excellent performances (from the likes of Weaving winner Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and David Strathairn), Daniel Day-Lewis - arguably the greatest actor of this age - stepped up and knocked it out of the ballpark. With the ability to easily embody any man living, dead, or other, there simply is no substitute for having this man as your main actor. That isn't to disparage any of the other worthy nominees, but if Day-Lewis made a movie every year instead of every few years, he'd have more than a dozen Oscars by now.

Best Leading Actress in a Drama

The nominees are...

Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark Thirty
Helen Hunt - The Sessions
Jennifer Lawrence - The Hunger Games
Eva Mendes - Girl in Progress
Elizabeth Olsen - Silent House
Emmanuelle Riva - Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis - Beasts of the Southern Wild

And the winner is...

Even if this had been a stacked deck of nominations (I realize I was reaching a bit for Lawrence's nom here) I firmly believe that the award would still belong to Jessica Chastain. Not only has this woman come out of nowhere to become one of Hollywood's most darling contributors, but she does so by playing the field, with each character under her belt both fundamentally and obviously different from anything else she's done before. This was a woman who carried a film more by saying NOTHING for thirty minutes than many actresses have the ability to say in a full two-hour motion picture. There's greatness in Chastain's future, and I can't wait to see it realized.

Actor of the Year

The nominees are...

Bradley Cooper - Silver Linings Playbook, The Words
Mark Duplass - Safety Not Guaranteed, Your Sister's Sister, Zero Dark Thirty
Joseph Gordon-Levitt - Looper, The Dark Knight Rises, Premium Rush, Lincoln
Tom Hardy - The Dark Knight Rises, Lawless, This Means War
Bill Murray - Moonrise Kingdom, Hyde Park on Hudson
Channing Tatum - 21 Jump Street, Magic Mike, Haywire 
Denzel Washington - Flight, Safe House

And the winner is...

I was sorely tempted to give this one to Duplass (if for no other reason than he also directs), but I don't think anyone could believe that Joseph Gordon-Levitt's rise to stardom was going to get overshadowed by Duplass' eager and excellent albeit understated contributions throughout 2012. Gordon-Levitt has been an excellent actor almost since his debut, and every blockbuster is matched by an obscure, indie performance in which he more than justifies his continued employment. The only other man who came close to Gordon-Levitt's year was Tatum, and the former has been a better actor for much, much longer, and is still far more versatile.

Actress of the Year

The nominees are...

Amy Adams - The Master, Trouble with the Curve
Emily Blunt - Looper, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Your Sister's Sister, The Five-Year Engagement 
Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark Thirty, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, Lawless
Judi Dench - Skyfall, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 
Anne Hathaway - Les Miserables, The Dark Knight Rises
Anna Kendrick - ParaNorman, Pitch Perfect, End of Watch
Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook, The Hunger Games, House at the End of the Street

And the winner is...

This was almost a three-way tie between Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt. Each actress put out multiple movies, garnered a ton of attention and of course were wonderful every single time. But while Blunt never quite stood at center stage and Chastain's contributions paled in the face of her own 2011, Lawrence took huge strides as both a performer and as a star in the making. Sure, part of her success can be attributed to her starring role in the tentpole Hunger Games saga, but she was easily the best actress every time she appears on the screen, and should continue to do so for some time to come.

Best Film: Genre/Superhero

The nominees are...

The Amazing Spider-Man
Cabin in the Woods
Marvel's The Avengers
The Raid: Redemption

And the winner is...

It's not just that The Avengers is the first genuine superhero "group" movie made up of Marvel's previously separated blockbuster pieces. It's not just that it was handled with care by Geek Guru and director extraordinaire Joss Whedon. It's not even that it was one of the most exciting feature films of 2012. What made The Avengers so special is that it had ALL those things, and a ton more besides. Too long have comic book fans been rebuffed by studios who didn't give a damn about them as long as they paid for their tickets and sat in their seats. When Marvel Comics developed their very own film business, the respect they had for their readers and potential viewers heralded a brand new era in comic book movies, one which ought to continue with some success in the years to come.

Best Film - Animated

The nominees are...

The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Rise of the Guardians
The Secret World of Arrietty
Wreck-It Ralph

And the winner is...

It's actually kind of amazing: Pixar studios returns from an off year (in which Cars 2 became their least-liked motion picture) to produce Brave, only for that to turn into just another Disney Princess movie. Meanwhile, Disney Animation - which had suffered creatively since the rise of computer animation - manages to build a completely unique universe and an unbelievably great, almost Pixar-like wonder of a film in Wreck-It Ralph. There's no doubt that Disney has finally reached the next level in storytelling, and between Wreck-it Ralph, Frankenweenie and Tangled, their output the next few years on the animated front once again deserves our collective attention.

Best Director

The nominees are...

Ben Affleck - Argo
Wes Anderson - Moonrise Kingdom
Kathryn Bigelow - Zero Dark Thirty
Tom Hooper - Les Miserables
Martin McDonagh - Seven Psychopaths
Steven Spielberg - Lincoln
Quentin Tarantino - Django Unchained

And the winner is...

A few years ago, my then-girlfriend and I sat down with a rented copy of Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, a poignant war movie that refused to glorify conflict and put a new, much-needed spotlight on the so-called War on Terror. It earned a ton of attention, blew up the acting career of one Jeremy Renner, and eventually won the Best Picture Oscar in a year in which many thought the award would go to James Cameron's technically-brilliant Avatar. But as great as The Hurt Locker was, Bigelow managed to outdo herself with Zero Dark Thirty, a hodgepodge of several threads that not only doesn't implode under its own weight, but soars. Bigelow's masterful hand in this, from the cold torture opening to the largely-silent final twenty minutes is a masterpiece, is the only reason this movie even remotely works, let alone stands out as the best movie of the year.

Best Film - Comedy

The nominees are...

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Moonrise Kingdom
Pitch Perfect
Seven Psychopaths
Sleepwalk with Me
21 Jump Street

And the winner is...

Many of you might not have seen Seven Psychopaths when it came out back in October, but if you did then you know you have your favorite psychopathic moment. Was it the cold opening with the Jack of Diamonds killer? Sam Rockwell's irreverent nuttiness? The amazing Christopher Walken's comeback after years of second and third-tier status? The cemetery scene? Tom Waitts? There was very little wrong with this movie, which eschewed sensibility for hilarity and refused to censor itself, while never really taking itself too seriously. This is as must-see as comedies get, as long as you don't mind a little blood splatter.

Best Film - Drama

The nominees are...

Django Unchained
Les Miserables
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Zero Dark Thirty

And the winner is...

The extremely talented cast. A two-and-a-half hour experience that never feels long. And an inside look at how we hunted down one of the world's most notorious terrorists. This is what Zero Dark Thirty has to offer, along with the aforementioned deft hand of director Kathryn Bigelow. It's a masterful storytelling exercise, one which needed telling, and while there was some competition from some unlikely sources (Affleck? Lincoln?), Bigelow's masterpiece was not just the best drama of the year, but also the best picture overall.

This concludes the second annual, VERY long Hello Mr. Anderson award post, 'The Weavings'! Hope you enjoyed reading it! Any movies or performances you felt were snubbed? Comment below and let me know what your favorites were from 2012, or perhaps what your biggest hopefuls are for 2013!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Open Letters Monthly: Jack the Giant Slayer

Wow, I've been gone for a little bit, huh? This week was an abysmal one for writing, almost as bad as the weekend grosses for Jack the Giant Slayer, 21 and Over, The Last Exorcism Part II and Phantom. I'll return to regular posts next week, but while it's generally accepted that nothing good hits the movies this time of year, you would at least hope that an up-and-coming star and a generally reliable director would be enough to carry a potentially fun movie.

In an ancient age of kingdoms and legends, Jack is just a simple farm boy, tricked into trading his pony for a handful of beans. When one manages to send his house and a wandering princess into the clouds via a giant beanstalk, he joins a group of knights seeking to rescue the young woman from her fate. But they'll have more to contend with than heights, as charlatains, Giants and other dangers threaten to make sure that nobody - Jack included - will ever make their way back down to Earth.

Jack the Giant Slayer is directed by Bryan Singer and stars Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, John Kassir, Eddie Marsan, Ewen Bremner and Ewan McGregor.

Click here for the full review at Open Letters Monthly.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Watch the Skis... I mean Skies!

As I sat down for the opening credits of Dark Skies, I wasn't sure what to expect. The Shyamalan-reminiscent alien abduction film wasn't exactly an anticipated release for me, but at the very least I figured I could enjoy a couple hours at the theater with some dark, supernatural fare in the same vein as last year's Sinister. Then words popped up on the screen that immediately altered all of my ideas on what to expect: "Directed by Scott Stewart."

Well, crap.

Longtime readers and/or movie buffs might remember that Stewart is a horrible filmmaker. In 2010, the visual effects specialist made his directorial debut with Legion, about fallen angels and the end of the world. In 2011 he brought us Priest, about a post-apocalyptic vampire-riddled western future. While it shouldn't be wrong for me to believe that either of these would be awesome, I was pained both times by horrible storytelling, an over-reliance on special effects and atrocious pacing. Legion was the worst movie of 2010, and Priest wasn't much better at eighth worst the next year. I'm still not sure why anybody keeps giving him money to make movies, but the knowledge that he was behind the movie I was about to see made me shrink at the idea of what I was about to behold.

Just a couple of normal victims...
The Barretts are a typical suburban family of four; parents Lacey and Daniel (Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton), and sons Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and Sammy (Kadan Rocket). While they struggle through everyday problems (Daniel's unemployed status, Jesse's girl problems), they are largely a happy and healthy family unit. But strange things start to happen around the Barrett residence, including apparent break-ins and items disappearing, neither police nor security consultants can identify what is going on, or how. When Lacey begins to discover clues of a potential supernatural origin, however, evidence suggests that they are the targets of alien beings. As more and more happens, begins to worry that one of them will be taken away forever.

"We have to talk about your school assignment..."
If there's one thing surprising about Dark Skies, it's that Stewart actually succeeded in putting together a creepy movie. The more sci-fi elements of the story are tense and effective, cackling with energy and utterly unpredictable. You're completely unsure what will happen next, and when shocking things happen you either won't be able to take your eyes off the screen or will turn away shrieking. It may not have the constant tension of horror thrillers like Sinister or Insidious, but when it does try to be scary, it usually succeeds. Very reminiscent of early Shyamalan, clues are left out in the open for the audience to find, but they aren't exclusively told that they ARE clues. Its almost as if the director didn't want to play his entire hand in the first fifteen minutes and actually decided to PACE the movie.

"No, go ahead, I'm listening..."
Unfortunately, while Shyamalan eventually got predictable the more movies he made, so does Stewart return to poor form by the end of this movie. First there's the unevenness in casting. Keri Russell can be a talented actress, as we've seen in movies like Waitress. J.K. Simmons is ALWAYS a strong performer, no matter the medium. And both Josh Hamilton (pretty much an unknown theater actor) and Dakota Goyo (Real Steel) prove themselves given a chance to step up. But none of them is consistently used (especially Simmons, who pretty much gets a cameo), and they're all usurped by the annoyance of Kadan Rockett, who is the focus of FAR too much of the movie for a kid who can only do one thing well (and he only does it once). It's almost as if Stewart showed Rockett a clip of Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense and then told him to do the worst emulation possible. It's ridiculous when you have to consider how many kids are probably being auditioned in Hollywood, and THIS was the kid they settled on.

I hate you; please be abducted by aliens.
But Dark Skies' biggest failing is that there's too much that I simply don't care about. What is the purpose of the sub-story of Daniel finding a job? Or Jesse kissing a girl for the first time? Stewart wasn't sure what to put into this story, so he just decided to throw it ALL in. I get that he wanted to show a normal suburban life through the Barretts and how that could not only be destroyed but appear perfectly normal, but including all this stuff seriously hampers the story by bogging it down in so much nonsense. The dialogue is patchy as well, and even the good actors have a difficult time making any decent headway with it. Obviously Stewart needs to stop writing his own screenplays and focus on his visuals, obviously his main strength. Other than that, there's not much here to like.

Spooky. But not great.
Dark Skies is Scott Stewart's best film thus far. However, that's really not saying all that much, as it's still one of the early year's lesser titles. I have to wonder which will come first: Stewart's maturation as an artist, or studios' and audiences' impatience with his final product. This is at least a step in the right direction, but it's going to take a dramatic shift for me to start taking this guy seriously. In the meantime, we all suffer.