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US actress Emma Stone arrives for the French premiere of ‘The Amazing Spiderman’ in Paris on April 11. (AFP)
‘Oculus’ blurs perceptions, reality ‘Rio 2’ a zippy musical trapped inside a tedious kiddie movie

 LOS ANGELES, April 12, (RTRS): A haunted mirror, a murderous father and two siblings seeking revenge form the plot for the new supernatural thriller “Oculus,” which blurs perceptions and reality with ghostly scares. “Oculus,” out in the United States and Canada on Friday, follows a young woman, Kaylie, who reunites with her brother Tim after his release from an institution where he was held for a decade for killing their father, who had murdered their mother. Kaylie is convinced that a large ornate mirror in their home caused the mental instability and subsequent demise of her parents, and is determined to clear her father’s name of murder by proving the mirror is haunted by a manipulative entity. “Kaylie is not running from the entity, she’s running to it, and the worse it gets, the more happy and excited she gets because it’s verifying everything that she believed, so it’s just counteracting everything that we’re used to,” said British actress Karen Gillan, discussing her character. The film flits between past and present, and what is real is constantly called into question as the two siblings try to right a heinous wrong. In one particularly unsettling scene, Kaylie bites into an apple, only to find it’s a light bulb.


“To play with who’s sane, who’s insane, we start off thinking that Kaylie is completely together and then we gradually think that maybe she’s totally unhinged,” Gillan said.
“It’s all about perception because that’s what the mirror plays with,” she added.
“Oculus” is the latest release from producer Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions, the company behind the runaway success of “Paranormal Activity,” a film made for $11,000 that grossed $193 million at the worldwide box office, spawning a franchise for Paramount Pictures, which distributed the films. Five “Paranormal Activity” films have grossed $807 million globally.
The “Paranormal” franchise deals with a supernatural demonic entity that haunts the interconnected families featured in each film, and has set off a new wave of ghostly horror films. “Horror movies have gotten much more supernatural-focused, and I think that’s what the trend is at the moment, but I think at some point it’ll swing back to more real, horrible events,” Blum said.
Blum said the budget for “Oculus,” which will be distributed in the United States and Canada by Relativity Media, is on par with his other successful recent horror films “Sinister,” “Insidious” and “The Purge,” placing it between $1.5 million and $3 million.
“Oculus” is expected to take in $13 million at U.S. and Canadian theaters in its opening weekend, according to Boxoffice.com. Relativity paid $2.5 million for domestic distribution rights.


Experience
Scotland native Gillan, 26, had her breakthrough role in 2010, playing Amy Pond on British time travel sci-fi television series “Doctor Who,” an experience that she called “my three years of drama school.”
Since then, she has been cast as the villain Nebula in the upcoming Marvel film “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a role that she shaved her long red hair for.
“The female villain in the film, that is something I’ve never done before, it’s brand-new territory, and I just thought I’m going to have some fun with this,” the actress said.
In addition to shaving her head, Gillan trained for two months to get into the physical shape of Nebula, a sadistic assassin employed by super-villain Thanos. She said she is fascinated by human behavior and psychology.
“Finding the motivation for her to be the baddie is quite interesting. It’s like being a lawyer, finding the redeeming features so that she’s not just bad for the sake of being bad,” she said.
“And it’s just fun to play the baddie,” she added with a laugh.

The best kids’ movies awaken a childlike sense of awe and wonder in us all. The not-so-great ones prompt a childlike sense of fidgeting, as you start squirming around in your seat and wondering if this thing is ever going to be over and can we go home, please?
The latter is the presiding sentiment of
“Rio 2,” a sequel to 2011’s “Rio,” an animated film whose only real defining characteristic was that it was less crappy than the “Ice Age” movies. (Granted, its other memorable feature, in certain quarters, was the fact that it grossed nearly half a billion dollars worldwide. Hence, another visit with characters that barely anyone over the age of nine can remember.)


Since their last dreary adventure, macaws Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway) have settled down in environmentally protected bliss in Rio, where they’re now raising three hatchlings. The family is the last of the blue macaws - or so they thought.
Blu and Jewel’s human keepers Linda (Leslie Mann) and Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) stumble upon evidence of more blue macaws deep in the Amazon rainforest, which prompts Jewel to plan a family vacation to the jungle, despite Blue’s continued citified-ness. (Get ready for lots and lots of jokes about fanny packs and GPS.)
Blu feels even more out of his element when forced to go beak-to-beak with Jewel’s father Eduardo (Andy Garcia) and her childhood boyfriend, Roberto (Bruno Mars). And if those two weren’t adversaries enough, there’s also a nut-tree turf war with the local parrots, as well as a greedy developer (Miguel Ferrer) illegally cutting down trees and trying to stop Linda and Tulio from having the rainforest declared off-limits.


Oh, and did I mention that cockatoo Nigel (Jemaine Clement) is seeking revenge against Blu because of things that happened in the first movie that have completely slipped my mind? Nigel has followed the birds down the Amazon with lovesick poisonous tree frog Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth) in tow.
Chenoweth gets the movie’s best scene, a musical number in which she laments the fact that she can never embrace her beloved because of her toxic touch. It’s a song that allows the Broadway and TV star to trill, belt and generally diva it up to the hilt. The musical moments, on the whole, stand out as the highlights of the film; whether it’s the Sergio Mendes contributions to the score, a psychedelic dance routine that suggests Busby Berkeley choreographing the Enchanted Tiki Room or Clement breathing hammy new life into that chestnut “I Will Survive,” “Rio 2” becomes watchable when the flat characters shut up and sing.


Alas, the music eventually stops, and we’re back to the umpteenth movie about the outsider proving himself and saving the day; even Eisenberg and Hathaway sound bored out of their wits.
There are a handful of amusing gags, most of them having to do with jungle creatures auditioning for a Carnaval extravaganza, but the film too often crawls when it could be launching skyward.
If there must be a “Rio 3,” let it follow the lead of the surprisingly delightful third “Madagascar” movie, which followed two unexceptional installments. Hire Noah Baumbach as a co-writer, throw a polka-dot afro on one of the characters - do whatever it takes.
Otherwise, we’ll be stuck with another dreadful “Ice Age”-ish franchise, albeit with brighter plumage. Cue the fidgeting.
 

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