Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

Sequels, prequels, alternative imaginings… they’re everywhere. When did straight-up sequels become so boring? We now need accompaniments and side-films to ‘bolster’ the original. We’re apparently hungry for them. This can sometimes lead to a bit of confusion with the cinema-going audience: when exactly is this film set? This should be less of an issue when a franchise follows the traditional numbering of 1, 2, 3 etc. You’d naturally expect 2 to follow on from 1, and so on and so forth. But no. There’s something spooky going on with Hollywood’s numbering system right now, primarily driven by the Paranormal Activity series. So with that being said, where does the fifth instalment, which drops the numbering, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, fit in?

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

This really is the question: where does it fit in? The Paranormal Activity franchise has been going for some years now. It began with a fresh take on the found footage format and introduced is to Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie (Katie Featherston) – the latter of which was haunted / followed by a demon that would later possess her and send her on a killing rampage. Then, in Paranormal Activity 2 we got an immediate prequel about how Katie got the demon onto her, but also finished after the events of 1… in 3 we got an even deeper prequel to 1 and 2 of Katie and her sister being haunted as kids… in 4 we got a sequel to 2 (keeping up here?), which showed Katie and her stolen nephew. So, where does Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones go? And why bother with the change in numbering? For all intents and purposes this is Paranormal Activity 5, although that would then confuse things considering Paranormal Activity 5 will be released later in 2014…

Yes, it’s a confusing mess. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones was hinted at as a post-credits scene in Paranormal Activity 4. Apparently, this series of films is huge in the Hispanic community, so they decided to focus onto a Hispanic family living in southern California. The film follows Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and his family after he wakes up with a bite on his arm. He develops all manner of seemingly supernatural powers and ends up being able to communicate with an entity that’s following him. Over the course of the film we follow Jesse’s corruption by the spirit. which changes him from the good time guy he used to be into something more… demonic.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

So, it’s semi-familiar territory here. We have our favourite invisible demonic force back again for the fifth time. Plus, we’ve ditched the fixed cameras and resorted back to the Blair Witch Project-esque handicams. Although this shakes up the Paranormal Activity format, it also loses one of its reasons for being charming: increasing audience familiarity with the surroundings. It’s this fact that had you surveying every scene like a detective to pick up on the slightest twitch of curtains or grunt and groan. Although this format has been somewhat worn out after four instalments, it’s a trademark of the series… which has been lost.

But what of the scares? Unfortunately, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones still relies on jump scares and loud noises. It still has that ominous sub-bass rumble to accompany the tense scenes (a marvellous trick to get you on edge), but the scares are all too forced / LOUD NOISES. That being said, it was nice to see a slight variation introduced into the scare cauldron. We actually see some demonic powers being used for the first time; it’s no longer just an invisible creature stomping around (although the powers are only seen through the possessed individuals). I’m almost hoping that at some point they reveal this demon. Although that’ll have the Jeepers Creepers effect (i.e., the creature ceases to be scary), it’s needed. After all, this series is going to have to end at some point isn’t it? Why not bring the demon out? Having said all that, I’d say Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones succeeds at scaring more than its immediate predecessor.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

Fans / followers of the franchise will ultimately be rewarded / disappointed though. As I mentioned at the outset, the series has chronology issues for sure. This film will just add to this confusion. Despite the rebranding, this isn’t a separate entity; it still fits into the existing set of events as some sort of bizarre prequel / sequel / accompaniment. That’s spoiling nothing, and keeps EVERY option open for you!), but it’s true!

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones isn’t the shot in the arm that the franchise has been calling out for recently. It seems like we’re constantly spinning in a demonic vacuum and not advancing the overarching plot all that much. There are scares there for the more nervous amongst us / those with hearing aids turned up too loud, but again the film fails to capture the magic of the original Paranormal Activity. Paranormal Activity 5 best advance things along with this Katie plot, or it can expect me to deliver an even more damning verdict…

But then again, Paranormal Activity may be another bloody prequel. The sequencing currently stands at 3, 2, Marked Ones, 1, 4… and I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t taught that bizarre numbering order when I was back in school. Let’s end this review in a similarly odd way: And that’s all I have to say about that really / Or I may unleash my own demonic rage / Something that truly reinvigorates the franchise again / Firstly, I’m hoping for something new and inventive.

Phage Factor:

2.5 Stars

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Monsters University (2013)

Monster University (2013)

School and university… they’re formative institutions for many people. You get an education, make friends, and the more liberally-inclined would say they “find out who they really are”. I guess it’s a better place to “find yourself” than on a beach in Thailand though, which is where so many middle class 21 year olds from the UK will tell you. Seeing films set in universities or schools is nothing new; it’s been done time and time again. I think Hollywood actually gave me an impression of what to expect from university: girls, beer and hijinks. Not all of it came true, and I never saw a single red cup at a house party. That seems to be very US-centric… thanks for that American Pie! But the current film doesn’t bring up beer… it’s a kids’ film after all. But it does (scratch on) girls and hijinks… Yes, Monsters University has rolled onto campus, but is it the class clown or is it going to graduate magna cum laude?

Monster University (2013)

First… can I just dwell on the title? Does it bug anyone else that it doesn’t have an apostrophe in there? Shouldn’t it be Monsters’ University? I guess I can let it slip though, and someone will probably enlighten me as to why it shouldn’t be in there. I’m sure they wouldn’t have let that slip! Anyway, Monsters University is the prequel to 2001’s hugely successful Monsters Inc. – yes, that’s a 12 year gap between instalments in the series. Luckily, Disney Pixar have a great DVD / streaming market, because the target audience this film is aimed at is far too young to even have been alive when the first film came out. I’m not sure why there was such a delay in this happening!

Thankfully though, we see the original cast return: namely John Goodman as the voice of Sully (big, blue and furry) and Billy Crystal as Mike (small, green and eyeball-y), plus a whole host of other favourites that fans will recognise from Monsters Inc. Essentially, Monsters University goes back to Uni (who’d have guessed that?!), where Mike is the geeky try-hard student of scaring, who isn’t actually scary, whilst Sully is the cocky, “I don’t need to learn” type that is scary… but can’t apply himself. Mike and Sully turn into rivals, but are kicked out of university… the only way they can get back? To join the house of OK (Oozma Kappa) – a group of monsters that are going no-where. They’re the outcasts – the bottom rung of society. Only by joining OK can they enter the Scare Games… their one chance to get back into their course… but can they work together?

Monster University (2013)

So, you can probably figure out how the plot’s going to play out, as it’s a bit contrived and obvious. But as is the case with so many movies aimed at the younger demographic, that’s to be expected. What’s also expected in these types of movies is humour – both for the kids and for the adults in the audience. This is what’s made Pixar such a gold standard over the past two decades… but Monsters University doesn’t quite hit all the high notes it should do in this regard. The screening I was in had the perfect split of kids and older audience members, but laughter was at a bare minimum… from both demographics. Normally, I’d expect the children to be laughing at this type of movie, but you can only imagine that some of the laughs were lost owing to the setting for the movie: university. No pre-teen kid will have much of an idea of what university entails. It’d have been wiser to set this Monsters instalment in school – a concept that could be latched upon by kids and adults.

Then again, the university setting didn’t elicit copious laughs from the older audience either. In all honesty, the script just wasn’t that funny. Endearing? Yes. Funny? No. I don’t expect belly laughs, but I do expect a wry smile to creep over my face quite frequently, but it was sadly lacking. Don’t get me wrong here – I enjoyed the movie and the runtime evaporated in no time, but I didn’t get the series of laughs that I was expecting from a movie like this.

Monster University (2013)

What I did enjoy were the gorgeous visuals we’ve come to expect and the colourful supporting cast that rounded out the Monsters University world. It all came together well and made the world “pop” – something that Pixar has always been quite adept at achieving. As previously stated, the plot was quite formulaic and the laughs weren’t ten-a-penny, but the film itself? A success… even if it wasn’t quite the big bombastic return of Sully and Mike that I was expecting.

Monsters University enriches the world set forth in Monsters Inc. and contains a lot of fan service in terms of cameos and “origin stories”. Whilst it seemed to miss the mark with the audience I was viewing with, it nevertheless maintained a fun, upbeat vibe that had me compelled from beginning to end. It may not be Pixar’s finest film to date, but it’s another solid entry in their catalogue. Besides, sometimes it’s just good to spend time with old friends yet again. So long as they’re not Cars… or Planes

So whilst Monsters University isn’t a new American Pie 2 in the way it portrays university, it hits a lot of the right notes. Sure, we have no beer pong, no foul language and no sex with pies, but we get the right vibe from it all. Although having said that, I’d like to have seen how the characters would have coped if you’d merged the two aforementioned franchises. Would Stifler pick on little Mike? Would Sully assume the role of Oz the star lacrosse player? And just how would the film deal with the thorny issue of “exotic” magazines? Stay tuned for Monsters Go Wild

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

In our review of The Hangover Part III we focused on the law of diminishing returns; essentially the more you have of something, the less special it becomes. Some franchises can buck the trend and become bigger and stronger as they progress, some coast along pedalling out the same old stuff you’d expect and some totally try and reinvent themselves in later iterations of the franchise by putting “new” spins on the topic. So which tact does the current film take? Well… it’s about cars… going fast… and being driven furiously. Yeah, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the route they’ve taken.

Maybe that’s an unfair thing to levy on Fast & Furious 6, after all we HAVE seen changes… mainly to the titles of the damn movies. We had The Fast and The Furious, then 2 Fast 2 Furious (clever… I see what you did there), followed by The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious, and finally Fast Five. Jesus, is it that hard to decide whether you want to use the definite article in your bloody titles!? Then do you want to stick with numbers? Seemingly reboot the number series on the fourth go? Drop most of the words on the fifth? It’s honestly enough to give you a headache… but there’ll be no such issues with the plotting.

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Yes, this is a movie about cars being driven around. I’m not going to kid you all here by pretending to be an avid fan of the series, as I watched the first two, then got bored, and returned to the series with Fast Five. I actually found 2011’s sequel quite entertaining, mainly due to the inclusion of Dwayne Johnson‘s lawman Hobbs. Thankfully he’s back here too, along with all of the regulars including Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Ludacris, Michelle Rodriguez etc. etc. So what is the “plot” this time around? Well after the gang disbanded after Fast Five, they’re pulled back together to confront a new bad guy, evil British guy Shaw (Luke Evans) – yes, us Brits are evil… again! Why are they helping out Hobbs? Well, it seems like Shaw’s managed to recruit Michelle Rodriguez‘s Letty into his ranks… and she’s the love of Vin Diesel’s life.

The plot is extremely thread-bare and banal. All you really want to see are long, elaborate car chase sequences, a truckload of action and some back-and-forth humour. I can tell you something… you get all of these. Most impressive was the dialogue; I actually found Fast & Furious 6 far funnier than The Hangover Part III. Far, far funnier. The writers are having fun and the snappy banter between all the protagonists is probably the highlight of the movie for me. I’d have been entirely happy to have neglected the cars entirely and just focused on the gang, but I guess that’d be against the ethos of a car film wouldn’t it?

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

So, I had no issues with the dialogue, as I found it quite enjoyable. The acting? Well, again – no real problems here too; mainly because these films don’t require a lot of acting grit. I’m not expecting tears, I’m not expecting poignancy, nor am I expecting some truly touching moments to occur. I get none of those, so it’s just as well isn’t it?! But having said that, the fact that the movie doesn’t require sublime acting does not work in its favour, as it all just feels incredibly vapid. Maybe I’m just not the target demographic for this film – the type of person that giggles and applauds when “car go bang” (they were in my showing… I wish I was kidding).

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Working off this premise, maybe I just over-think the film too much too. Let’s take the final set piece of the film – the plane bit. Ok, now you’re thinking I’m ruining the film aren’t you? You’ve seen the trailer right? The one that spoils EVERYTHING for you? Well, if you have then… well, I guess the film’s spoiled for you. Anyway, the airplane scene… think about it. It goes on for a good 15-20 minutes to be the fitting climax to the “bang bang boom” movie. Now think how long this runway needs to be. A plane… that’s trying to take off… going along tarmac in a straight line for 15-20 minutes. That’s a hell of a long runway! See, it’s this train of thought that makes me think I’m definitely over-thinking Fast & Furious 6 way too much. Maybe I should have just focused on Dwayne Johnson‘s sizeable traps and just thought “damn… that dude works out”. Then applauded like a seal when he pulled off a pseudo-wrestling move.

Fast & Furious 6 isn’t a thinking-man’s film. It’s big, dumb and gets the job done… it’s just a fun popcorn film. I didn’t approach the film expecting much, and it at least surpassed those expectations. I was genuinely impressed at the level of humour, but was just left feeling cold. At Film Phage, we’re not huge fans of this franchise. So the “credits sneak peek” at Fast & Furious 7 didn’t make us tingle all over. It made us roll our eyes and wonder what the “plot” will be next time. Having said that… if they keep the humour levels up, we’ll be there again, as it’s bound to be funnier than anything Todd Phillips writes soon.

Also, we can’t help but wonder just how the hell they’re going to write Fast & Furious 7. Fast7Furious? Faster 7? Fas7? Who knows! Maybe we’re more excited about this than the film itself. I’m not sure if the law of diminishing returns works here for us, as it was already on a pretty low rung (for our interests anyway) when the franchise set out. The crowds keep turning up and the films keep selling. At least they’re (almost) teaching their audience how to count… and drop definite articles.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star