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Mini Reviews (December 2007)

Grayson Arms, Hitman, Look, Alvin and the Chipmunks

Grayson Arms (December 11/07)

Despite the inclusion of slasher elements, Grayson Arms primarily comes off as a slow-moving drama revolving around a rundown apartment building's quirky denizens - including a pair of identical twins (played by Jennifer Carpenter), a crotchety old lady (Michael Learned) and Judd Nelson - and their efforts to cope with a serial murderer that's randomly knocking off tenants. Though the movie never quite manages to completely engage the viewer, Grayson Arms does remain surprisingly watchable throughout - with the better-than-expected performances certainly playing a key role in the film's mild success (Carpenter is especially good as differing twins Sarah and Tessi). The film is eventually revealed to be somewhat less successful in terms of its overtly horrorish attributes, as - in addition to a kill lifted directly from What Lies Beneath - the killer's identity proves to be fairly obvious right from the get-go. Such problems are exacerbated by a tedious finale in which the surviving characters are chased around a dark basement, and there's subsequently little doubt that Grayson Arms is at its best during its distinctly low-key sequences.

out of

Hitman (December 11/07)

There's little doubt that Hitman generally comes off just as poorly (if not more so) than a run-of-the-mill, straight-to-video actioner, as the movie suffers from precisely the same sort of problems that one has come to associate with the genre. Aside from being set (and filmed) in Eastern Europe, the film boasts a series of dull, downright unexciting fight sequences that are worsened by Xavier Gens' seriously questionable directorial choices (ie quick cuts, shaky camerawork, etc). Based on the videogame, Hitman casts Timothy Olyphant as Agent 47 - a mysterious assassin who's forced to go on the run after his equally enigmatic employers put out a hit on him. It's the kind of well-worn storyline that certainly could've resulted in a mindlessly entertaining time-waster, yet Gens - working from Skip Woods' screenplay - is either unable or unwilling to give the viewer a single reason to care about 47's exploits. Aside from a brief montage during the film's opening credits, Woods keeps the character development to an absolute minimum - ensuring that the various questions surrounding 47 (including that weird barcode tattoo on the back of his head) remain frustratingly unanswered. Of course, it might've been easy enough to overlook such deficiencies had the filmmakers bothered to include even a single effective action sequence - though it's ultimately clear that Hitman has been designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator (it seems likely, however, that even the most forgiving action fan will walk away disappointed by this mess).

out of

Look (December 11/07)

It's really quite remarkable just how entertaining Look eventually reveals itself to be, as the film has been saddled with as gimmicky a premise as one could possibly imagine. Writer/director Adam Rifkin offers up a myriad of storylines that transpire entirely from the point-of-view of surveillance cameras, with ATM machines, department-store changerooms, and nanny cams providing a glimpse into the increasingly screwed-up lives of the film's characters. There's consequently little doubt that Look takes an awfully long time to really get going, as the relentlessly shifting perspective does initially come off as something of a distraction. Rifkin's decision to uniformly populate the proceedings with better-than-expected performances certainly goes a long way towards drawing the viewer in, and it becomes increasingly difficult not to get sucked into these admittedly trashy storylines (ie a promiscuous teen seduces her teacher, a pair of psychos embark on a killing spree, a mysterious figure stalks little kids in a mall, etc). And while one can't help but lament the lack of a resolution for a pivotal character, Rifkin's voyeuristic modus operandi ultimately transforms the film into an unexpectedly compelling piece of work.

out of

Alvin and the Chipmunks (December 12/07)

Based on the '80s cartoon series, Alvin and the Chipmunks follows the talking, singing rodents of the title as they move in with a struggling musician (Jason Lee's Dave) and subsequently use one of his songs to become a worldwide music sensation. The sporadically-amusing vibe of the movie's opening half hour is ultimately (and lamentably) replaced by one of sheer tedium, as screenwriters Jon Vitti, Will McRobb, and Chris Viscardi slowly-but-surely place the emphasis on increasingly predictable and sentimental plot developments. The most overt example of this - the inevitable fake break-up that transpires between Dave and the chipmunks - occurs somewhere around the midway point, which ensures that virtually the entirety of the film's second second half comes off as hopelessly melodramatic and downright monotonous. Lee's expectedly ingratiating performance - coupled with the mere presence of David Cross in a supporting role - does provide the movie with all-too-brief instances of entertainment, but there's simply no getting around the fact that Alvin and the Chimpmunks has clearly been geared exclusively towards younger viewers (indiscriminating, undemanding younger viewers at that).

out of

© David Nusair