Archives for January 2011

Death at a Funeral (2007)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Parties are places for fellowship and happiness. Rob Schneider films are instruments of torture. Funerals are ceremonies allowing people to withdraw their sorrow. “Death at a Funeral” is a comedy that chooses to release its tricks in a place where it is not supposed to.

The tricks themselves are nothing new and has been used by countless of comedies before. It comprises a modest gentleman taking the wrong drugs, turning him to a hallucinating idiot. There is an old man who complains all the time. He curses when things are going bad. He curses when nothing is going bad. (May God bless his grandchildren.) Gags about naked men in public and jokes about a man’s feces finding its way to another man’s orifice are given a relative amount of screen time.

This kind of farce, slapstick, and silly humor no longer inspires laughs when found in movies that have the same plot structure and style of a comedy starring Adam Sandler. But in Death of a Funeral, the screwball comedy works. And this is due to one large aspect of the movie: Location. Find a naked, hallucinating man on The Jerry Springer show, and it’s a typical day. Find a naked, hallucinating man in the middle of a funeral, and it’s funny.

At the start of the film, we are introduced to the invited guests that are on their way to pay visit to the deceased. Again, in funerals, everyone is expected to behave, give respect, and share encouraging words with one another. But while the characters are yet to arrive, we get a hint of their day-to-day personalities, issues, phobias, desires, and motives. Once near the coffin, they all try to evoke the same sad face that I made when I first saw “Twilight.”

Eventually, things go horribly wrong, and things get immensely funny, because that’s when real personalities start to show, and it’s the kind of personalities that you don’t usually find when attending a funeral.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Rating: ★★★★½

The world that Scott Pilgrim dwells in seems like a paradise for all who cherish the activities and cultures of the teenage life. Here is a world centered on teenage relationships, video games, comic books, and rock n’ roll. It allows a freedom that the youth could celebrate on a daily basis. The influence and sightings of adults in this movie are almost, if not entirely, absent.

Not only are the young characters here privileged with such an exciting reality, but they are also presented with powers of many possibilities. I am thinking of a scene that could be used as an example. Oh, yeah. After an evil ex-boyfriend has been stripped of his supremacy by the vegan police, our hero head butts him, and the weakened villain explodes, leaving a pile of coins just waiting to be the fed to greedy slot machines. In a world where sudden death turns into instant riches, one would suspect that murders would be much more rampant, but not here. Given the limitless possibilities, the characters actually behave quite well.

But before any exploding takes place, we are introduced to our hero, Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera). He enjoys his time with his rock band. He often gets along with his gay roommate, Wallace. He is happily dating a girl named Knives whom he really likes. Scott Pilgrim is satisfied with where he is and who he’s with, until of course he literally meets the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Now Scott wants to be with Ramona, but she warns him that that couldn’t happen. You see, Ramona has seven evil ex-boyfriends who all want to kill Scott. Not good.

If Scott really wants Ramona, he must not only fight the bastards, but defeat them. Yes, I know. The plot for “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is one that is shallow, but what it lacks in plot it makes up for just about everything else. The script is vigorously funny and when the dialogue pauses for some ass-kicking, there is a display of imaginative visuals accompanied by some invigorating soundtracks.

The director is Edgar Wright, who I am a giant fan of. Wright is a comic genius, a master of satire, and probably the only director in Hollywood today who can use the nuisance of quick cuts and make them enjoyable and hilarious. Those who have seen “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” cannot argue with this truth. And like “Scott Pilgrim”, his two previous films are also without a complex plot, but it is his passion for filmmaking that elevates every film that he involves himself with.

If “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” feels and functions like a video game, then Edgar Wright is its programmer. But Wright is also a gamer, and he enjoys his creation, and allows himself to have as much fun as he can while making them. His passion is contagious, and we can only hope that he never runs out of coins to keep playing.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Just halfway through their journey and the Pevensie kids are already accepting gifts from Santa Clause. Because they have been good kids all year, they are rewarded with daggers, arrows, swords, and healing potions. Normal is this kind of happening in Narnia, a magical place where being attacked by wolves and chased by the police are the exact same thing.

A war is at its peak, and Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie are evacuated to a safe home outside the country for safety. The youngest of the bunch, Lucy, hides inside a large wardrobe during a game of hide and seek. Before Peter could count to a hundred, Lucy has already made a faun friend named Mr. Tumnus at the snowy forests of Narnia.

None of Lucy’s siblings believe her testimony of an entire world behind the wardrobe at the spare room. All of this change, of course, when all four of them stumble upon the land of Narnia. Their initial reactions to what they encounter show what kind of people they are. Peter, the eldest, does not want to let his siblings down as the leader of their pack. Susan, the oldest girl, always wants to take the smart step, and dislikes any risk. Edmund, the youngest boy, is somewhat of a selfish jerk while Lucy is the complete opposite of him.

Like all action-adventure movies, their traits are tested near the end with situations that only they can control. Negative characteristics are conquered while positive traits are enforced. “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” is the first of The Chronicles of Narnia book series by famous author, C.S. Lewis. Kids will enjoy this, and adults who have read the books when they were children may just have an equally good time.

Here you’ve got your talking animals, fights between good and evil, and the moral lessons that come along the way. Narnia may be an unusual world for the Pevensies, but it is all familiar in Hollywood. The story may be weary, but its construction is full of skill and diligence.

A great (and righteous) display of special effects enhances the world of Narnia. Take into account the character of Aslan. He is an animated lion, and he very much looks like the real thing. You can see his hair move with grace as it follows the direction of the wind. But let us remember that special effects are not affected by the wind, which means, the makers of Aslan had to imagine their own wind. A windy day in Narnia is a busy day for Aslan’s animators.

The Last Airbender

Rating: Zero Stars

The release of “The Last Airbender” is one of the worst happenings in the entertainment industry since, I don’t know, “The Happening.” M. Night Shyamalan has decided to make a summer movie to prove on a bigger scale that he is, after all, a terrible filmmaker. If he continues with his career, I’m afraid that even Michael Bay would start making fun of him.

Okay. So the world is composed of four main tribes that could manipulate, or “bend”, the world’s four main elements: Air, water, fire, and earth. These tribes are kept in harmony with each other with the existence of the Avatar; the one who can master all four elements and has access to the Spirits. One day, the Avatar disappears, and the Firebenders want to dominate the world. All of the preceding information is narrated in the opening minutes over a black screen with some words. After that, the plot begins, and I very quickly missed the black screen with some words.

“The Last Airbender” is a dismal display of all things one can find awful at the movies. Its uninspired storytelling will disappoint most fans of the animated series while it will confuse and anger those who are unfamiliar with it, such as myself. The characters here have the onscreen presence of an extra. Our heroes, Aang, Katara, and Sokka, release faces empty of emotions. They say their lines without a trace of conviction. The agents of these actors might wanna start searching for new clients.

But maybe much of the fault isn’t of the actors. The script is written by Mr. Shyamalan, and the more I heard of it, the more I became sad. The conversations are formal and bland and perfunctory. I swear, you will find much more exciting dialogue in the nearest barbershop.

I must say that I gave up on the plot and its characters before I even reached midpoint. And with that, I cannot help myself with some obersvations. During the film’s first third, I noticed that the Firebenders traveled on sea. Wouldn’t that be unwise, since they are up against the Waterbenders? I guess not, since the Firebenders has control over most of the world. But a flaw that obvious cannot be left that way, and it will be eventually used in a way only a movie as dumb as this one would bother even doing.

Of course, there is a battle near the end. In preparation, one of the Waterbenders advises his people to get rid of all fire sources, since the Firebenders can only manipulate fire, not create them. When the assholes arrive, the place is illuminated with torches and lamps, but no worries. So the bastards are winning, and the last Airbender/Avatar decides to contact the heavens for some wisdom. How can the now Waterbending Airbender beat the sea-traveling Firebenders? M. Night Shyamalan, you and your TWISTS. Ha.

Piranha 3-D

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Mindless horror movies have an undying appetite for the youth, for they are fresh meat. This reflection reached its truest form in “Piranha 3D”. As you may already have guessed, flesh-eating piranhas are on the loose. The bastards will eat through human flesh within seconds. Seconds. We’re gonna need lots of teenagers.

A mild earthquake has just shook Lake Victoria. It is a special earthquake for it is weak enough to keep a boat from overturning but strong enough to cause a giant crack at the lake bed. Anyway, the person on the boat is played by Richard Dreyfuss, who is calmly humming the words of “Show Me the Way to Go Home.” He is lucky to have survived the quake, and would love to continue humming the rest of that song. Unfortunately for him (and lots of teenagers), beneath that damn crack is a pack of prehistoric piranhas. They are very hungry.

I will not go further into that scene. Meanwhile, it is now college spring break, and lots of teenagers are partying on the beach where there is, you know, water. (There is a small role for Eli Roth.) A small pack separates from the party for they have plans of their own.

Let’s take a quick observation. Starving piranhas are on the hunt. Teenagers are on the beach. What we’ve got here is an impending massacre, and director Alexandre Aja constantly teases the audience of the scene that cannot not happen. “Piranha 3D” often takes us back to the beach party to simply remind us that is it still there. And when we aren’t there, we are taken to the mandatory scenes that play out in movies that involve Killer Animals.

For instance, when a local sheriff caught one of them piranhas, it is immediately brought to the person who is an expert on the subject. This character is played by Christopher Lloyd, who acts and talks like a mad scientist. It is in this scene where everyone, including the audience, is informed about the serious danger that can be caused by the Killer Animal.

Once the threat is established, the local authorities arrive at the beach party in an attempt to stop it. Skip a couple of mandatory scenes and we are presented with one of the goriest slaughter fests among films that have somehow managed to get a wide theatrical release. The type of injuries and fatalities seen here are the kinds one would get when thrown into a giant blender.

“Piranha 3D” has a specific audience, and those who do not belong to that audience will see this as a One Scene Movie, and I can’t even assure if they’ll appreciate that scene. But how will one know if they do belong? Right above, you saw the names of Richard Dreyfuss, Eli Roth and Christopher Lloyd. Did you recognized them immediately, and experienced sweet nostalgia?

Easy A

Rating: ★★★½☆

A lot of people are talking about a girl named Olive Penderghast.  This is because they think she lost her virginity while still at high school. Olive knows this rumor is not true because she (unintentionally) started it. She never wanted to cause the entire student body of East Ojai to create a false image of her, but now that it has happened, how will Olive handle it?

“Easy A” is a comedy about reputation, gossip, and the benefits and consequences of popularity. This is common in most teen flicks, but Easy A takes it on with much wit, humor, and a heroine that is very much lovable. Olive Penderghast seems to be the type of friend that everyone needs; one who is conscious of people and is ready to adapt. She is a smart and pleasant person, but the rumor at school has caused the students to think otherwise. It is at home where her reputation remains undamaged.

This is where we are introduced to Olive’s parents, Dill and Rosemary. The two are able to remain calm (sorta) while the reputation of Olive crumbles among her high school peers. They are calm not because they are unaware idiots, but because they are wise. Dill and Rosemary, always making their availability felt, trusts their daughter to do the right thing. It’s refreshing to see a teen comedy where the heroine actually has a strong, honest and mirthful relationship with her parents, which results to some of the movie’s biggest laughs.

“Easy A” capitalizes from its premise, providing not only great entertainment, but relevant thoughts for the youth. Sometimes, in the adolescent life, what people think you’re doing is just about as important as what you’re actually doing. Let’s take a look at Olive. People think she is a whore, but in truth, she is not. Her false statement has quickly transformed into the image people identify her with. The students body’s false thinking of her may not be who she is, but her lie that caused that thinking tells her something about her own thoughts, which in some way could be true to most of us.

Olive is a fascinating young woman, and it is a good thing that the movie makes the most of her character. “Easy A” doesn’t spend much time on the required romance between The Guy and The Girl. Rather, we witness Olive’s relationships with adults through her parents, favorite teacher, and guidance counselor. When the job of a school employee is threatened, we see a rare and engaging maturity in Olive that isn’t found in the common, dumb teenage comedies of today.

And, of course, “Easy A” could not have been as effective as it was without the actress who played Olive. I am sure that, after this performance, a lot of people will be talking about a girl named Emma Stone.