Friday Flicks: Is ‘Paranormal Activity 3′ Out of the Ordinary?

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Grab some popcorn! NewsFeed’s Glen Levy brings you the movies you should check out (or avoid) this weekend.

Paranormal Activity 3

Tagline: Discover how the activity began.

Whether you’re a fan of the Paranormal Activity franchise or not, there’s no denying that the number crunchers behind it knew that they were onto something. The low-budget, high scare factor resulted in the 2007 original reportedly being one of the most profitable movies ever made, based on return on investment. Screams clearly equal success.

A follow up was released in 2009 and now, two years on, the third installment is upon us though, rather confusingly, it’s a prequel set 18 years before the events of its predecessors. The basis of the story remains much the same, showing how siblings Katie (Katie Featherston in the first film) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden in the second) were traumatized at an early age. Meanwhile, their father Dennis (Chris Smith), becomes obsessed with trying to uncover the source of noises that echo through the house. As always, your tolerance is entirely dependent on accepting that the film’s premise of found footage, which has been put together at a later date, is a conceit you can live with (even if some of the characters literally cannot).

And give the studio credit for not just having a running time that never outstays its welcome (84 minutes!) but a film directed by the obviously talented Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. They may not mean much to you but their documentary from last year, Catfish, quite possibly wasn’t as truthful as they would have us believe. In other words: they’re perfect choices to extend the Paranormal Activity franchise and have probably all but assured that we’ll get to do this again in two years time.

(MORE: TIME’s Full Review of Paranormal Activity 3)

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Tagline: If you trust me, and I hope you do, then you will let me in.

Paranormal Activity 3 would like to think of itself as a powerful psychological thriller but it’s been beaten to the punch this week by Martha Marcy May Marlene, which truly is one, even if the title sounds more like a soppy romance.

Elizabeth Olsen plays Martha (it’s not giving anything away to reveal that at various points, she was also known as Marcy May and Marlene), who is trying her level best to get her life back on track after fleeing from a cult in Connecticut and its charismatic leader (John Hawkes, who nearly stole the show in last year’s Winter’s Bone). But though she turns to her once-estranged older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law Ted (Hugh Dancy), Martha just won’t get to the bottom about the events of her disappearance.

As with Paranormal Activity, flashbacks are employed but, in the eyes of the critics, this is a finer film by far, with young hotshot American director Sean Durkin garnering some serious praise in his full-length debut (he also wrote the movie). If Durkin keeps this up, he’ll never need helm anything remotely resembling a soppy romance.

(LIST: TIME’s Top 10 Films of 2010)

Margin Call

Tagline: Be First. Be Smarter. Or Cheat.

Durkin isn’t the only debut writer/director on show this week: J.C. Chandor joins the party with Margin Call, set in the financial crisis of 2008. Remember those dark and distant days when the money-making institutions couldn’t get their act together? At least we’ve moved on!

And Durkin’s got moving by assembling an impressive cast for this economic collapse thriller. Stanley Tucci’s risk-management executive, who has just been canned, offers a puzzling leaving gift of sorts (“Be careful,” he warns, which should always set the alarm bells ringing) to bright young thing Zachary Quinto (trying to show the same amount of logic as his Spock in the Star Trek reboot). Quinto soon figures out that the firm’s leverage has spiraled out of control but, instead of his bosses ‘fessing up, they hatch a plan to ditch their worthless holdings onto an unsuspecting market, and try and make hay while the sun still shines (or at least before it sets for good).

Set over a short space of time, what you get are the likes of Paul Bettany, Demi Moore, Kevin Spacey, Simon Baker and Jeremy Irons outdoing each other in the acting, anger, and, well, a-hole stakes. One of Spacey’s other movies sums up the mood on show: Horrible Bosses.

(LIST: 25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis)

Johnny English Reborn

Tagline: Laugh At The Face Of Danger

It’s one of the great ironies that in his native Britain, Rowan Atkinson is as well known for his acclaimed comedy work (Blackadder, Not The Nine O’Clock News) as the lesser work for which he only seems to be recognized for overseas (Mr. Bean). And he continues to blot his copybook when he releases the silly stuff, which is a category into which this sequel to Johnny English must fall.

For those who care, eight years on from the original, Johnny English Reborn finds MI-7′s hapless secret agent honing his skill set in a remote region of Asia. But when his bosses (namely Gillian Anderson, shame on you!) find out about an attempt on the Chinese premier’s life – that was geographically convenient! – they bring Johnny back in.

Thanks to a plethora of high-tech gadgets, our Johnny on the spot is able to unravel an intricate conspiracy that runs all the way through (say it ain’t so!) the KGB and CIA. It’s hard to blame Atkinson for making a no doubt very nice living from hokum such as this, but it’s always dispiriting when fine actors such as Richard Schiff and Dominic West, who have graced two of the greatest TV shows of all time (The West Wing and The Wire), crop up as well as Rosamund Pike (special agent Kate Sumner) who has actually appeared in the fictional inspiration for this film: James Bond. In short, this is not the kind of English we care to speak.

NewsFeed’s Flicks Pick: Because they’re scary for the wrong reasons, we’re covering our eyes when it comes to Johnny English Reborn and Paranormal Activity 3. That leaves a tie between our movies of the week, Martha Marcy May Marlene and Margin Call.

LIST:The 100 Best TV Shows of All Time

Glen Levy is an Executive Producer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @glenjl. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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