Mini Reviews (February 2017)
Rings (February 7/17)
An entirely needless followup to The Ring and The Ring Two, Rings follows perky coed Julia (Matilda Lutz) as she inexplicably watches the infamous cursed video and subsequently must solve its mysteries before her seven days are up - with the bulk of the movie oh-so-tediously detailing Julia's investigation into Samara's tragic past. The degree to which Rings ultimately crashes and burns is somewhat disappointing, surprisingly enough, given that the movie boasts an impressively captivating pre-credits sequence set aboard an airplane (where a soon-to-be-victim learns that there really is nowhere to hide from Samara). It's a solid opening that is in absolutely no way indicative of what's to come, as the movie, written by David Loucka, Jacob Estes, and Akiva Goldsman, segues into a midsection that's devoted almost entirely to Julia's aforementioned investigation - with the heavy, heavy emphasis on this ensuring that Rings predominantly comes off as a weak rehash of the 2002 original. There's little doubt, as well, that filmmaker F. Javier Gutiérrez's decision to bathe the proceedings in often impenetrable darkness contributes heavily to the nigh unwatchable vibe, while the hilariously misguided third act, which introduces an entirely pointless human villain, ensures that Rings ends on as negative a note as one could possibly envision. (This is despite a final few minutes that clearly should've been the starting point for the picture.)
Sleepless (February 7/17)
Based on 2011's Sleepless Night, Sleepless follows grizzled cop Vincent Downs (Jamie Foxx) as he embarks on a violent quest to save his son from the clutches of a sinister criminal (Scoot McNairy's Novak) - with the movie transpiring mostly within the confines of a typically expansive Las Vegas casino. Filmmaker Baran bo Odar, making his English-language debut here, delivers an opening stretch that doesn't exactly bode well for what's to come, as the narrative emphasizes the surprisingly complicated antics of a whole raft of scarcely-developed characters - including Dermot Mulroney's sketchy casino owner, Michelle Monaghan and David Harbour's dogged federal officers, and Gabrielle Union's concerned nurse. The ensuing multitude of subplots does prevent the viewer from wholeheartedly embracing the central protagonist's plight, and yet there does reach a point at which the various threads begin to converge and the plot appreciatively streamlines - which paves the way for an impressively propulsive midsection that's rife with tense, action-packed sequences. (There is, for example, an exciting hand-to-hand fight in a kitchen that ultimately stands as a highlight.) And although the film hits a lull in the buildup to its third act (ie the wheel-spinning is palpable), Sleepless concludes with a stirring, surprising climax that effectively cements its place as an uneven yet entertaining contemporary actioner (albeit one that's right in line with its equally erratic predecessor).