Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4"
After time traveling back to the '80s in "Paranormal Activity 3," this fourth installment in the highly profitable, found-footage horror franchise begins with yet another gimmicky flashback. This time it's to 2006, as a toddler is abducted by his Aunt Katie (Katie Featherson), who has murdered her sister, Kristi.
Returning to November 2011, it follows the Nelsons, a suburban Nevada family caring for a creepy 6-year-old Robbie neighbor (Brady Allen), whose single mother, Mrs. Torrance (a.k.a. Katie), has suddenly been hospitalized. Bickering Doug (Stephen Dunham) and Holly (Alexandra Lee) Nelson have two children: Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp), who is also 6, and his 15-year-old sister, Alex (Kathryn Newton).
It's a bit strange that brooding Robbie has a malevolent friend, the invisible demon Toby, with whom he constantly converses -- and that Wyatt rides his Big Wheel around the house following the supernatural presence. It's also weird that computer-compulsive Alex and her tech-savvy, Skype-chatting boyfriend, Ben (Matt Shively), set up motion-sensing webcams all over the house to acquire the bizarre found-footage.
Screenwriter Christopher Landon and directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who collaborated on the previous installment, use far too many generic shots of inexplicably opening and/or slamming doors, dark hallways and distant noises, along with the family cat ominously scampering past the camera for sudden surprise. The only cinematic innovation introduced in this low-budget sequel is the use of the Xbox Kinect video game system, which covers everything with a ghostly matrix of tiny green projection dots that are only visible on an infrared camera. So expect lots of menacing surveillance footage, very little of which has any significance and some of which elicits laughter. And the potential of a neighborhood coven of witches is never fully explored.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Paranormal Activity 4" drops to a stale, derivative 2, dedicated to the memory of Stephen Dunham, Alexandra Lee's real-life husband, who recently died of a heart attack.
Based on David Mitchell's 2004 best seller, this unconventional, epic fantasy begins with an old, tattooed tribesman, Zachry (Tom Hanks), squatting near a campfire, recalling incredible adventures through many lifetimes.
Written and directed by the Wachowski siblings ("The Matrix" trilogy) and Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run"), the multi-layered narrative is filled with flashbacks and flash forwards, which are meticulously cross-cut with the same actors playing a variety of roles in multiple stories, set in different time periods, spanning 500 years.
On an 1849 South Pacific voyage, a malevolent doctor (Hanks) tries to poison an idealistic San Francisco attorney (Jim Sturgess), who helped an escaped slave (David Gyasi). In Cambridge in 1936, an ambitious composer (Ben Wishow) becomes a musical amanuensis to an aging master (Jim Broadbent). In 1973, an intrepid San Francisco journalist (Halle Berry) investigates the corporate corruption of a nuclear power entrepreneur (Hugh Grant). In 2012, a London publisher (Jim Broadbent) faces unjust imprisonment. In 2144 in Neo-Seoul, a genetically engineered Korean clone (Doona Bae), aided by a courageous rebel (Sturgess), discovers the truth of her existence. And in the 24th century, after a planetary cataclysm, goat-herding Zachry reluctantly trusts an alien emissary (Berry).
Based on the thought-provoking concept that--from womb to tomb -- everything is connected through eternity, the consequences of one person's choices and actions impact another through the past, present and future. What survives is love. And to help differentiate the migration of one single soul during rebirths, there's a consistent comet-shaped birthmark.
Some of the transitions and threads are more smoothly interwoven than others, just as some of the actors -- Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant, Halle Berry -- demonstrate astonishing versatility in a challenging array of interlocking cultural identities that make them almost unrecognizable. Who would think of Hugo Weaving as a domineering female nurse? The costumes, hair and makeup are astounding, along with the photography, production design and editing.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Cloud Atlas" is a unique, awe-inspiring 8. Gorgeous and glorious, it's a visceral and visual feast!
In the screen adaptations of James Patterson's "Kiss the Girls" (1997) and "Along Came a Spider" (2001), Morgan Freeman played forensic psychologist-turned-detective Alex Cross -- and he was quite believable.
Now, that role has been mistakenly turned over to Tyler Perry, best known for writing, directing and starring in the cross-dressing "Madea" franchise. Unfortunately, multi-talented Perry lacks the requisite gravitas that Freeman brought to the role.
Set in Detroit, trenchcoat-clad Alex Cross is on the trail of a savage, sadistic psychopath known as Picasso (Matthew Fox) because of the weird, cubistic charcoal sketches that he leaves at the scene of his tortured murder victims, who are culled from the city's ultra-rich, upper classes.
But soon the homicidal peril becomes personal, as the executioner targets Cross' friends and family. According to his longtime friend/partner, Thomas Kane (Edward Burns), Cross is so brilliant that he should have no problem putting these surrealist clues together. But, as portrayed by Perry, that's difficult to believe.
That focuses attention on the bare-headed, tattooed villain, which Fox (TV's "Lost") plays with a visceral intensity. A bare-knuckle boxer, this creepy serial killer is also known as "the Butcher of Sligo," and it's inferred that he has a congenital insensitivity to pain. (That device was also an integral characteristic of an antagonist pursuing Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson's "The Girl Who Played With Fire.")
Filled with sexualized violence against women and grimly gruesome action sequences
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Alex Cross" is a floundering 4, perhaps best remembered as Tyler Perry's first lead role in a film that he didn't write, direct or produce.