April 17, 2014
Oculus (**) R
Director Mike Flanagan’s horror opus Oculus is based on a 2006 short film entitled Oculus Chapter 3: The Man With the Plan, that Flanagan helmed. It has all the earmarks of such and not in a good way. By that I mean it’s been fleshed out unnecessarily, padded with leaden subplots, and most likely would have played out much better in its shorter format. The film makes a good case for the argument that not all short films should be expanded into feature length, and will serve as a personal example for me to point to for some time to come when making that argument. There are a few genuine scares scattered throughout the thing that probably would have served the film better in its more compact format, but stretched out over a 105 minute running time it proved to be more than a little taxing for this viewer.
The plot of the film mirrors—no pun intended—that of a similar horror entry I remember back in the early 1980s, The Boogeyman. In that film, remade during the last decade, shards of a mirror that witnessed a murder wreak havoc on the lives of everyone that comes into contact with it.
Karen Gilan & Brenton Thwaites & mirror in Oculus
In Oculus we a have a mirror that’s traveled throughout the centuries bringing tragedy to those who come into possession of it (sound familiar?). It finally winds up in the household of Marie and Allen (Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochran), whose two small children, Tim and Kaylie (Garrett Ryan and Annalise Basso) witness horrific goings on during their formative years that they believe are directly related to the mirror.
The story thread concerning Tim and Kaylie’s childhood is framed in flashbacks along with what I would consider to be the main story, which is that of the adult Tim and Kaylie (Brenton Thwaites and Karen Gillan). That main branch of the plot takes place eleven years after the traumatic events of the their childhood. Now Kaylie is intent on destroying the mirror once and for all and documenting it all on video, to boot. Of course the mirror has plans of its own, the likes of which Kaylie and Tim definitely aren’t anticipating.
One of the main problems with Oculus is in its structuring, courtesy of director Flanagan and co-writer, Jeff Howard. The most compelling of the film’s simultaneously unfolding stories is the one set in the present, but each time something interesting or unnerving is about to unfold the film flashes back to the storyline involving Tim and Kaylie, killing all suspense in the process. Since we know that no harm is going to come to the childhood versions of Tim and Kaylie, anything remotely resembling suspense is an afterthought.
Oculus does have some unnerving imagery, particularly during the film’s final thirty minutes, that may give less discriminating viewers some enjoyment. Or, on second thought, maybe it’s best to just stick with the original 20 minute short and do something more productive with the extra time you’ll save.
Rio 2 (**) G
Coming three years after its predecessor, Rio 2, tries really hard to expand the universe established in that first film. Unfortunately, there’s a feeling of staleness permeating the proceedings that grounds the film for me. You can’t fault the filmmakers for not trying because it’s obvious that they wanted to up the ante this time out.
The problem is that they seem to be trying so hard that you can almost hear the plot gears grinding with each new story turn. If the first Rio can best be described as derivative but spirited then the second installment can best be described as even more derivative and much less spirited. Perhaps it’s simply because so many animated family films seem interchangeable these days, but Rio 2 ultimately comes up as a perfunctory diversion sure to please the younger members of the audience and not much else.
The story here picks up with Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and his love interest from the first film, Jewel (Anne Hathaway), living in domestic bliss under the assumption that they are the last of the Blue Macaw species.
Then along come Blu’s human friends from the first film, Linda and Tulio (Leslie Mann and Rodrigo Santoro), with word that Blu and his family aren’t the last of a dying breed after all. Blu, Jewel, and offspring head off to join Linda and Tulio, where Jewel is eventually reunited with her father (Andy Garcia), whom she previously assumed was dead.
There are some attempts at a subplot illuminating the awkwardness between Blu and his attempts at getting acquainted with his father-in-law which is strange since small children won’t pick up on those nuances in the least. Also thrown into the proceedings for good measure is Nigel (Jemaine Clement), the villainous bird from the first film who—surprise!—isn’t dead after all and wants revenge. There are also token appearances from most of the supporting cast of characters from the previous installment.
One of the problems with the film is that there are simply too many characters to keep track of as the film unfolds. We can handle Blu, Jewel, and their children but add a dozen or so more Blue Macaw into the proceedings and it gets to be a bit much. It also doesn’t help that the character of Blu gets lost in the shuffle from time to time and that the songs are not nearly as memorable as the Sergio Mendez compositions in Rio Number One.
The main thing to embrace here is the beautiful animation, which is on a par with that of the first film. There are scenes that are a beauty to behold throughout. Too bad the writers didn’t come up with a story that could match the meticulous look of the film.
Both Oculus & Rio 2 are playing at the Carmike in Hickory, and area theaters.
Questions or comments? Write Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org.