Friday Movie Roundup: Paranormal Release Pattern

What’s up with this supposedly scary movie called Paranormal Activity?

Paramount Pictures, the film’s distributor, has been sending me e-mail press releases with big, bold-faced titles like “More Than 230,000 Fans “Demand” Paranormal Activity" and "Fans Spur the Film’s Opening in Twenty Additional Cities Across the Country” and “Paranormal Activity Sells Out Midnight Screenings Across the Country.”

Really? —-

Paranormal Activity certainly isn’t normal in two respects: it boasts 1) a $15,000 budget and 2) a curious release pattern in which it debuted recently with midnight screenings in 13 college towns across the country, and followed that up with a “new media” campaign asking audiences in other markets to go to the movie’s Web site and vote if they wanted it to come to their local multiplex.

Apparently someone voted: The film opens here today. So is the buzz surrounding Paranormal Activity the result of genuine audience reaction/interest, or is it the result of a crafty, Web-savvy marketing campaign? (For what it’s worth, not one “moviegoer” has mentioned the existence of the film to me.)

Either way one thing’s for sure: Paramount seems intent on making Paranormal Activity’s release an unique movie event, something that has been woefully lacking in our current cinematic landscape. They've certainly got me piqued. Given they decided not to screen the film in advance of its release today, I'll be in the audience tonight to confirm whether it lives up to its Blair Witch-esque hype.

On the other hand, if Rolling Stone’s hyperbolic quote machine Peter Travers says "this potent fright-fest will fry your nerves and creep you out big time without spending a dime on obvious special effects,” it’s got to be good. Right?

Opening films: 

COUPLES RETREAT — Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau team up yet again (as co-writers and co-stars) in this comedy about four Midwestern couples that visit and exotic island resort. The catch? They unwittingly have to take part in therapy sessions. Peter Billingsley directs. Yes, the same Peter Billingsley who was the tongue-sticking, bespectacled blond kid in A Christmas Story. Jason Bateman, Kristen Davis, Malin Akerman and Kristen Bell co-star. (Opens wide today.) — Jason Gargano (Rated PG-13.) Review coming soon.

IRENE IN TIME — Further evidence that Henry Jaglom’s filmmaking career is on its last gasp, Irene In Time is an all too prosaic story about Irene (Tanna Frederick), an emotional basket case attempting to resolve burning questions about her abandoning father so that she might be able to sustain a romantic relationship of her own. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — Cole Smithey (Rated PG-13.) Grade: C-

MORE THAN A GAME — Kristopher Belman’s documentary looks back to the illustrious high school basketball career of LeBron James’ and the longtime bond he had with four teammates growing up in Akron, Ohio. Given the title, expect plenty of heartwarming material that proves LeBron is more than just a talented dude with a B-ball. (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated PG.) Review coming soon.

MUMMIES: SECRETS OF THE PHARAOHS — The larger-than-life Omnimax format attempts to translate the mummification process into an awe-inspiring feature capable of matching the interactive exhibition Lost Egypt with its replication of a field site and laboratory along with various mummies and smaller-scale video interviews. Mummies, as with most Omnimax presentations, mixes historic reenactments with investigations by contemporary field practitioners engaged in intense studies, yet the great importance notwithstanding, the film lacks the real thrills one might expect, simply because the format cannot imbue the material with the necessary rush and grandeur; it must exist inherently. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens today at Cincinnati Museum Center.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated G.) Grade: B-

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY — Boasting a $15,000 budget and an intentionally obscure release pattern, this Blair Witch-esque horror flick (unknown actors and handheld, first-person camera work) centers on a pretty straightforward premise: A couple moves into a house that turns out to be haunted. (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated R.) Review coming soon.

THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE — After being the inspiration for Meryl Streep’s demanding, commanding, fashion-magazine ice queen in The Devil Wears Prada, longtime Vogue editor Anna Wintour gets a chance to show us what she’s really like in R.J. Cutler’s documentary. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens today at Mariemont Theatre.) — Steven Rosen (Rated PG-13.) Grade: B

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