Culver City Observer -

MOVIE REVIEW DOUBLE FEATURE:

ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE ● LIGHTS OUT

 

August 4, 2016

ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE

Scrat's back and as to be expected, he's up to his old tricks again; this time inadvertently creating the solar system thanks to his never-ending pursuit of that elusive acorn. That's right folks! The ICE AGE franchise continues with this fresh and funny fifth installment, ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE.

As has become the story standard, everyone's favorite saber-toothed squirrel Scrat and his mishaps are the catalysts or inspirations for each film. Remember the splitting of the continents? Scrat. And now we learn about the creation of the solar system as Scrat sits in a vast icy wasteland trying to hold on to a lone large acorn when he stumbles into an alien spaceship frozen inside a glacier. Needless to say, Scrat's antics get the acorn stuck in controls prompting levers to start moving and in turn, the spaceship. Now loose out in space, things get even crazier as Scrat and his flying takes on all the bells and whistles of a pinball machine, ultimately knocking planets and asteroids and comets around resulting in the solar system as we know it.

Meanwhile, down on prehistoric Earth, we catch up with some of our favorite friends and family, woolly mammoth Manny and his wife Ellie, their daughter Peaches who's now engaged to a hipster mastodon named Julian, that slippery lisping sloth Sid and of course, Diego the saber-toothed tiger and his better half Shira. Also on hand are Granny, Louis and Crash and Eddie. As every dad throughout time can relate to, Manny is less than happy about Peaches getting married - especially to Julian. Ellie isn't too happy either, but knows that you have to use psychology in order to get one's child to do what the parents want.

As if Manny's woes about Peaches' impending nuptials aren't enough, he's got an even bigger problem. It's his wedding anniversary. And he forgot. While Ellie and Peaches have planned a huge surprise party, Manny has done nothing for his wife. But remember all that banging and crashing Scrat is doing in outer space? Well, all those loose asteroids and meteors flying around start heading towards Earth. As they burn up entering the Earth's atmosphere, a spectacular fireworks display unveils in the skies, something for which Manny takes credit as it being a surprise for Ellie. With love in air and the party in full swing, it looks like the night is a huge success; that is, until asteroids and meteors too big to burn up start crashing into the Earth forcing everyone to run for their lives, and Manny to be in the doghouse with Ellie. And in the midst of it all, who should appear but another old friend, Buck the one-eyed weasel.

Smarter than the average mastodon or mammoth, Buck quickly realizes what is happening and why. Given this isn't your average meteor shower, and because there have been extinction level events in the past from meteors, there must be something on Earth that is drawing all the meteors. And Buck knows just what they need to do. Head to the Valley of the Meteors.

With some grand infusions of science talking about magnetism, and with instructional commentary provided inside Buck's brain by Neil deBuck Weasel, the solution is clear. Remove the magnetic field that's attracting the meteors. And of course, somehow Buck, thanks to another special brain appearance in the form of Pythagorus Buck, is able to devise a countdown clock giving our prehistoric residents a reason to put a spring in their step as they head for the valley. But Buck has another reason to make speedy tracks. He's got dinobirds Gavin, Roger and Gertie hot on his tail.

As our intrepid travelers make their way, they soon encounter the utopian village Geotopia, led by the Shangri Llama. A heavenly fountain of youth where no one ages and everyone is beautiful thinks get a bit heady when the source of the youth is discovered - meteors.

Can our troupe stop the meteors and destruction of Earth? Will the utopian society be destroyed? And what the heck is Scrat doing now?

Returning to the voice acting fold are Ray Romano, Queen Latifah, Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer, Wanda Sykes, Simon Pegg and more. The breakout voice performance, however, comes courtesy of one of the hottest talents out there today, Adam Devine, who steals the show as Julian. With a hipster bro 'tude, Devine is at his best when going toe-to-toe with Romano's Manny. Devine's voice performance alone is worth the price of admission. Also an entertaining new voice in the mix is Jesse Tyler Ferguson as the Shangri Llama, along with Jessie J as the beauteous Geotopian sloth Brooke, Michael Strahan as a sexy Geotopian rabbit named Teddy with the hots for Granny. Of course, Nick Offerman is beyond fun as the evil dinobird Gavin. And yes, it really is Neil deGrasse Tyson voicing Neil deBuck Weasel.

Returning director Mike Thurmeier and new co-director Galen T. Chu, along with writers Michael J. Wilson, Michael Berg and Yoni Brenner, take a new tact with ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE in its celebration of the sidekicks as Manny, Ellie and Peaches really take a back seat to Buck (a fabulous Simon Pegg), Sid, Crash and Eddie (perfectly voiced by Seann William Scott and Josh Peck) and a scene-stealing Granny voiced as only Wanda Sykes can voice! But what they also do is expand the adventures and corresponding emotions. Silliness may always triumph, but this go round we feel the love - parental love, love of family and friends - as much as - fear of loss, fear of loneliness, fear of old age, fear of extinction.

Stepping up the production values, animation is improved a hundred fold not only in its use of color and shading, but in the overall production design and metaphoric contrasts and complements. Standout is the beauty and detail of Geotopia, a kaleidoscope of color and wonder which showcases the faceted crystals and geodes with the sparkle and dazzle seen in real life. Not to be overlooked is the dinoworld of Buck, Gavin, Gertie and Roger. Lush, green and floral, it has an Edenesque quality in its design.

John Debney ups the ante with a sweeping score that captures the gravitas of the extinction situation, while tempering it with a lightness befitting the silliness and fun of the film as a whole.

LIGHTS OUT

Who doesn't love a little bit of terror on a hot summer night? And who isn't just a little bit terrified of the dark and things that go bump in the night? Well, LIGHTS OUT is the film for you and destined to be the horror hit of the summer.

Directed by David F. Sandberg from script by Sandberg and Eric Heisserer based on a short film by Sandberg, LIGHTS OUT transcends the genre with ingenuity, technical polish and hair-raising terror. This is the story of Sophie and Diana. Sophie, now widowed, is mother by her first husband to 20-something Rebecca, and Martin. Rebecca long ago left home and has been on her own since 16 or 17, with her only family tie being Gabriel. She and Sophie are just this side of complete estrangement thanks to Sophie's ongoing mental illness and her refusal to take meds.

Blaming the leaving of her first husband and then the death of her second husband Paul for her illness, as Rebecca starts to discover - and as it appears Paul was investigating at the time of his death - Sophie's illness goes back to her childhood and her time in a mental institution where she made a friend named Diana. Ironically, Sophie is not sleeping and Martin hears her talking all night long in her bedroom. On questioning his mother about who she's talking to, her answer is always the same, "my friend, Diana." But it's not just talking that's apparently happening.

Thanks to his mother's behavior, Martin is also not sleeping at night but rather, during the day in class which prompts a call to Rebecca when Sophie can't be found. Rebecca has her own issues going on with a man who clearly loves her and wants to make a commitment, something Rebecca shies away from allegedly due to her father's leaving when she was young. But she won't turn her back on Martin. Caring about her, Bret gets involved in the family drama as the two take Martin to Rebecca's apartment where fear starts to take hold of Rebecca as Martin tells tales of Diana.

Forcing a showdown between Rebecca and Sophie over Martin, truths start to reveal themselves with everything revolving around Diana. Is she real? Is she alive? Is she a figment of imagination? And just why are the lights always out?

Lighting design and use of light, i.e., black light/candle/flashlight/GE bulbs/ all being used concurrently but judiciously, is some of the best lighting design ever in a horror film. Simply outstanding. Scribe Heisserer and director Sandberg have constructed a solid meld of story and visuals with visual reveals interwoven within the script (i.e., the black light). Cinematographer Marc Spicer nails the lensing with effective and intriguing framing and lens focal length, using light and shadow to paint a lush tapestry that is revelatory with lensing of faces and nuanced movements. As Sophie Maria Bello, especially, is hypnotic in her performance and Spicer's camera captures every tic, every bead of sweat, every wringing of the hands, every cower.

Sandberg immediately sets the stage and the tone of the film with Billy Burke as Paul in hiss company warehouse. Stunningly designed and paced. But, it also introduces us to the malevolence at play. To do so at such an early stage goes against the grain for most horror films, but with horror icon James Wan as a producer, it's not surprising to see the boldness of storytelling here. And you've got two of the best horror editors on hand here with Kirk Morri and Michel Aller and their skills show in spades.

Maria Bello knocks it out of the park with her interpretation of Sophie. Tortured from within, Sophie's mania is palpable. One of the best performances of Bello's career. Teresa Palmer is solid as Rebecca (but her eyeliner and false eyelashes need to go) and has a warm chemistry with Gabriel Bateman. But I must say, it's the boys who are the touchstones for the audience. As Martin, Gabriel is a rock. Pragmatic, yet fearful, he makes the family dynamic real while grounding the audience to be afraid but able to face and conquer the fear. And talk about standout stunt work! Bateman is dynamite doing some of his own hairy stunts, like getting pulled under the bed. Nicely done by Bateman and stunt coordinator Mark Norby. Joining Bateman is Alexander DiPersia as Bret. The boys are the cornerstones of love and connection. And in Bret, DiPersia gives the audience the real POV of an outsider with doubts ultimately seeing the truth of Diana.

Kudos to the team in electing to go with as many practical stunts and horror effects as possible, and in their casting Alicia Bailey as Diana. On viewing, it's obvious that Bailey's physicality and "bendability" added much to the presentation of Diana. Prosthetics - especially the hands and talon-spiked fingernails - are superbly rendered and thanks to Spicer's lighting and lensing, heighten the fear within the shadows.

Interestingly with LIGHTS OUT is that while I am one to typically not jump or shriek with horror films and suspense-filled terror, it was the anticipation of the darkness and what lie behind the light, what was seen in the shadows, that had the hairs on my arms standing up repeatedly throughout the film. The unseen anticipation was electrifying.

Sound design is also beautifully rendered, notably with Diana's fingernails that even scratching on wood had that nails on chalkboard tonal quality.

Smartly written, smartly designed and terrifying to a tee, Sandberg knocks it out of the park with LIGHTS OUT.

 

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