Friday, February 18, 2011

Quick Takes: Dogtooth, Catfish, The Karate Kid, Paranormal Activity 2

Another strong run in rentals this week.

First off is Dogtooth (2010), an extremely bizarre and fascinating Greek drama about a man who "protects" his children from the outside world by confining them to their property. Since birth, the three kids are raised to believe that there is nothing in the world beyond that fence in the yard. No television, no books, no phone -- everything is self-contained and masterfully orchestrated. Things begin to fall apart as the dad brings in an outsider to help fulfill the teenage son's sexual needs. It's a shocking film, but at the same time, it's quietly observant and heartbreaking. Not for the squeamish. 4/5

In what is possibly my favorite documentary of the year, Catfish (2010) follows a young man in New York City who enjoys a long-distance friendship/relationship with a family in Michigan. He is friendly with the young girl who paints beautiful pictures, is smitten with her older sister and is respectful of their mother, who balances a chaotic household every day. The funny thing is that he never actually met any of them. Over time, he begins to realize that some things don't quite make sense with this clan. What he discovers is surprising and heartfelt. Some debate the authenticity of the film. But the way I look at it, real or not, it's a fascinating portrait of our times. 4.5/5

The powers that be decided to remake an 80's classic, The Karate Kid (2010), which was met with skepticism by everyone I know, including myself. Here's the surprise: it's not all that bad! This remake is actually a respectful homage to the original, featuring many of the same key plot points. Despite the fact that there is no karate in the film at all, Dre Parker (Jaden Smith, clearly a star) goes through the same transformations, beat by beat, that Daniel Lorusso went through. Jackie Chan surprised me with an actual performance here; it's his best work that doesn't involve crazy stunts. Though overlong and completely unnecessary, this is a rare remake done well. 3/5.

Finally, the biggest surprise of the week. The sequel to last year's hit, Paranormal Activity, is actually really, really good. In fact, I may go so far to say that it even improves on the original. Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) takes the same basic structure -- a family is disturbed by the things that go bump in the night -- and adds several new dimensions. First, instead of focusing on a couple, we have a family that features an inquisitive teenager, a frightened toddler and a protective pooch. And second, the family is directly connected to the couple featured in the first film. How the two films tie together is ingenious. The perfect double bill on a dark and stormy night. 4.5/5

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