Archives for April 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

Rating: ½☆☆☆☆

I don’t think many filmmakers spend much time, money, and energy on a movie they think people will hate. If this is true to the creators of “Battle: Los Angeles”, then they must have scornfully assumed that most people are dumb suckers with short attention spans whose approval can be easily bought by the sight of nonsensical explosions and shoot-outs shot in an incomprehensible mess. I hope that the reader of this is not one of those who encourage such assumptions.

Los Angeles is enjoying a normal, beautiful, quiet day. But then, meteorites start falling from the sky, and inside them are aliens who immediately start shooting at poor, innocent civilians at the beach. This massacre is viewed way up in the sky through a television with a lot of static. This requires less editing than usual, since we can’t really see what’s going on anyway.

Prior to this unfortunate invasion, we are introduced to a small group of soldiers. They say six, maybe seven, lines of dialogue while their names are flashed on the screen. Next thing we know, they’re exchanging gunfire with the aliens. Would we care if any of them die? After all their names have been flashed, we can almost be sure that the loser will do something unexpectedly heroic, that the guy who has a letter prepared for his wife will die, and that his last words will be him making sure that the letter gets to her.

Also, we can rationally guess that the only girl in the team will be badass, and that the guy who seems like a jerk will do something completely unselfish, and that the leader who doesn’t have the respect of his team will redeem himself in the end. We could be sure of these things because the only time we get to spend with these people without their guns are the set-ups that will lead up to such obvious happenings. Game show contestants are given more characterization than these brave Marines.

On the other side of the battle are the pesky, world-invading aliens. Funny how they are smart enough to use meteorites for space travel but lack the necessary common sense to take cover when they are being shot at. Take away their weapons, and they’d be useful for target practice. From a news coverage heard in the background, we learn that the aliens might want our water, and then we go back to the action. These aliens are neither intimidating nor interesting.

The action scenes themselves could have been some kind of consolation to the boredom brought to us by the citizens of both Mankind and Non-Mankind, but no luck. Marines and Aliens are either crushed, or shot at, or blown up, or crushed by an object that blew up after being shot at. All of this is senseless enough, but director Jonathan Liebesman adds to the mayhem by choosing to hold a rolling camera the same way a cheerleader holds a pompom. The resulting images will blow your mind. *wink*

Unstoppable (Quick Review)

Rating: ★★★☆☆

The runaway train in “Unstoppable” makes a pretty threatening villain. It weighs thousands and thousands of tons. It is carrying dangerous chemicals and is speeding out of control without an engineer, or anyone. It wants no ransom, makes no demands, and not open to any negotiations. Stand in its way, and you’re on your own. An engineer and a conductor attempts to stop it before it crushes a lot of stuff. “Unstoppable”, directed by Tony Scott, is well-made, competently acted, and suspenseful. And, and, uhhh… Darn it! I had a feeling this was going to be a Quick Review.

Cop Out

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

There are some great cop movies. There is a fair amount of enjoyable cop movies. There are plenty of cop movies that are terrible. There are occasions where cop movies reach the point of beyond bad. Skip five more steps down that can be used to describe the quality of cop movies, and there you will find “Cop Out”.

Jim and Paul are partners. They love their job, but their job can’t seem to love them. On the road, they are surrounded by asshole criminals. On the station, they are surrounded by bigger asshole co-workers. In the beginning of the film, they get suspended, which means by the end of the film, they will regain their honor. Anyway, between the beginning and the ending, Jim and Paul embark on a journey.

Because they are honorable cops who are dedicated for the greater good, the two of them, without any form of authority, hunt down a missing baseball card, look for a missing car that doesn’t contain the missing baseball card, investigate a case about a Mexican gang leader who kills one of his henchmen every 20 minutes because he misses his missing car, and some other issues that I didn’t really forget but refuse to include here.

Anyway, Cop Out is supposed to be a comedy where most of its laughs are supposed to be caused by Jim and Paul, who are played by Bruce Willis and Tracey Morgan. There are jokes every minute or so, and most of these jokes are continued way after the punchline have been delivered. One scene features Paul dressed as a cell phone on the sidewalk. The punchline was the half-second it took me to realize that that was supposed to be funny. Yet, he keeps wearing the suit for at least 8 minutes. The rest of the jokes are delivered in the same elongated, unfunny manner.

I would like give more reasons why I hated “Cop Out”, but that would be elongating a review about a movie that is doesn’t need careful observation to be deemed terrible. To these kinds of movies, I usually give zero stars, but not this time. I liked how Willis and Morgan did everything they could to make this movie work. They are “okay” actors, and will get better recognition when placed in Better Movies. Admit it. “Cop Out” could have been worse. It could have starred Seth Green and David Spade.

Flipped

Rating: ★★★★½

Remember your first love? Remember those days where much of your thoughts and actions were invested in trying to spend time with your special someone, while that person diligently avoided you, or vice versa? Well, if no, “Flipped” will be more than happy to take you back to that point of your life where the world isn’t much of a concern, where responsibilities were minimal, where feelings were everything.

Most of “Flipped” takes place in the year of 1963, a time where kids are required to talk to each other in order to achieve an actual conversation. (“What is this In-ter-net?”) Young Bryce, and the rest of the Loski family, has just moved in to a different neighborhood. And a new home comes with new neighbors. Bryce is getting ready for second grade, who believes that it will be torture because Juli Baker from across the street is publicly in love with him. Juli is trying to get Bryce to like her while Bryce is trying to get Juli to leave him alone. Now tell me, when you were younger, were you a Bryce or a Julie?

We see that these kids act out their immediate emotions, and we know that they have yet to understand the depth and reasons behind them. What’s to adore other than Bryce’s dazzling eyes? So what if Juli likes to spend hours on top of a tree? These kids didn’t really ask these questions to themselves, but they didn’t need to. They are in the second grade, and are reasonably immature. But, as Bryce and Julie grow older, more mature, they start seeing things at a deeper, more curious perspective. A few years have passed, and Bryce and Juli notice things about the other that were invisible to them before, and their feelings start to flip.

The two of them can’t fully comprehend what’s gotten into them. How can this be? How can a boy with eyes that dazzling have an attitude so unattractive? How can a girl so annoying at first turn out to be so amazing? The opposite sex is something of a mystery. Young girls dream of their first kiss while boys of the same age dream of their first car. This difference is demonstrated in a scene where we see how a snake eats breakfast. To the boys, it’s cool. To the girls, it’s icky.

Growing up could be terrifying. We learn of so many things so fast. “Flipped” doesn’t only cause us to remember our good ‘ol days, but it also helps us understand some of the things we never did get the chance to figure out. In the many happenings between Bryce and Julie, we get to see each event from the point of view of them both, and we are never tempted to take a side. The movie doesn’t want us to take sides. Rather, it makes us cheer for both boy and girl, which is something very few romantic comedies aim for nowadays.

“Flipped” is such a lovely film. I think what makes it all the more loveable is that it contains real people. We never do question the emotions of Bryce and Juli because, in one way or another, we’ve been there, and it’s fun to have movies like “Flipped” that makes us remember.

Burlesque

Rating: ★½☆☆☆

“Burlesque” is a 119-minute movie that could have worked if it trimmed down around 60 minutes of its running time and became what it really wants to be; an exceedingly long music video starring Cher and Christina Aguilera. Whenever they’re not singing, the movie attempts to lure us into a story that’s not even good enough to be used in, uh, music videos.

Aguilera plays Ali, a sweet young girl who works as a waitress in Iowa. This girl can sing, believe me. And dear Ali believes it too. That is why she quits her job and heads to Los Angeles hoping to fulfill her dream as a singer/dancer/performer. Ali eventually enters a club called, The Burlesque Lounge, and it is there where she wants to start.

In these early scenes, we see Christina Aguilera projecting an uncanny charm. We see minimal make-up accompanied by some… no, a lot, of clothes. Where were we? Oh, yeah. Pretty Ali desperately wants to work in Burlesque, and so she approaches Tess (Cher), the club owner, and does her best to convince Tess that she’s Got What It Takes.

Of course, Tess is a bit doubtful and ignorant in the beginning. (This is where the movie gives Ali some time to meet The Guy whom she will later fall for.) So, Ali works extra hard to reach the top, and the closer she gets to her dream, the less clothes she wears. We know that she’s made it when there’s barely anything there anymore. And now that Ali is where she wants to be, we see a lot of song and dance numbers. These performances are full of talent and fashion, and they are all worth a look and listen.

Fans of Cristina and Cher will enjoy these parts, and are most likely not to mind every clichéd, uninteresting, and uninspired moment that happens between them. The required, dull romance between Ali and The Guy are only delayed by unreasonable fights, and their first conflict is made possible by a wet towel. Not a metaphor. Much time is spent during this conflict. I wonder what madness can be brought forth by two wet towels. It will take me a long time before I find a person who enjoyed all 119 minutes of this movie.

So. Are you a fan of Cher? Are you a fan of Christina Aguilera? If you said “yes” to both questions, watch this movie. If you said “yes” to one of the questions, watch this movie. If you said “no” to both questions, watch this movie, and then tell me how much you hated it.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is an action-adventure produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, which means that there will be loads of stunts and special effects. When used appropriately, I have nothing against special effects, but its application here is entirely for the sake of business.

This is not a good movie, but its degree of badness doesn’t deserve hate. A movie can be considered successful if it generates a profit and, at the same, satisfies its audience. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” was created with a goal to make money. It features enough magical flames and lightning bolts to make a trailer that will attract many young boys, but that’s about it. The story, as shallow as it already is, doesn’t cause any level of excitement. What the movie is really about is the display of the characters’ magical abilities, which is unfortunate because the magic isn’t even that, cool. “Tron: Legacy” got away with its impenetrable plot because, well, The Grid looks awesome.

We begin our story somewhere around a thousand years ago. An evil sorcerer, Morgana, supported by another evil sorcerer, Horvath (Alfred Molina), is battling against good sorcerers Balthazar and Veronica. Balthazar, played by Nicolas Cage, is soon able to trap the two evil ones inside a Grimhold, which is “an inescapable prison.” To ad drama, Veronica gets stuck with them. Now, Balthazar is in search of The Prime Merlinian, the sole sorcerer who can “destroy Morgana once and for all.”

You see, Morgana is a lot like many other villains. She wants to destroy the world. What she plans after that we will never know. Maybe she’ll destroy the next planet, and the next, and the next. A villain’s work is never done. Yeah, so she needs to be destroyed even though she’s trapped in “an inescapable prison.” Would destroying her mean releasing her first, putting our planet’s health in danger? How should I know? I am not a sorcerer.

Anyway, centuries have passed, and only a few things in the world remain unchanged. That includes Nic Cage’s haircut. It is at this time where Balthazar finally meets ten-year-old Dave, the prophesized Prime Merlinian, in New York. Dave is also the one who accidentally releases Horvath, who later releases Morgana, but anyway.

Fast forward another ten years, and Dave is now a science geek who specializes in Tesla coils. He encounters his childhood crush Becky, but they are interrupted by Balthazar and Horvath, and the search for the missing Grimhold is on. The search causes action sequences where fire balls, plasma balls, and standard dialogue are exchanged from one sorcerer to another. Also, a steel eagle, a dragon, and all sorts of sorcery are displayed all throughout New York, which is immediately noticeable for every functioning human eye, except those of New Yorkers.

The story of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is without thought, and the effects are without imagination. Why so many plasma balls? Where were the citizens of New York during this fight to save the world? The movie, I’m sad to say, doesn’t care.

Source Code

Rating: ★★★★½

Colter Stevens wakes up in a Chicago commuter train, and he’s very confused. He can’t remember how he got there, and he has no idea why the pretty lady across him keeps calling him “Sean.” Colter goes to the comfort room and sees not his face when he looks at the mirror. When it seems that things couldn’t get any worse for dear Colter, the train explodes. How frustrating.

Here’s what you need to know. Colter Stevens is a man on a mission, it turns out, and he must identify the bomber of the train he was in so a larger explosion could be prevented. But this is not an ordinary mission, because the military has developed a computer program, or something, called Source Code. With the help of this device, Colter will have multiple attempts at his mission, but each attempt will only be eight minutes long. Because we may never arrive at an actual review of this film if I try to explain the plot even further, for now, that’s all you need to know.

“Source Code” begins like a lot mystery/thrillers. We are introduced to the Hero, the Mystery, the Threat, and the Goal. Here, our Hero is Colter Stevens. The Mystery is the identity of the train’s bomber. The Threat is the possibility of a much bigger explosion, while the Goal is to prevent that explosion. Even with its stimulating sci-fi twist, “Source Code” could have been a failure if it followed the formula of its genre. Watching “Source Code” could have felt, what’s a good word to use here, repetitive, if it wasn’t for the guidance, heart, and skill of director Duncan Jones, the man who was also in charge of making, “Moon.”

This is just the second film for Mr. Jones, and it is clear that in both of his projects, there is dedication and deepness in its plot and characters. I know, the technicalities in “Source Code” will baffle most of its viewers. (Anyone who can explain Quantum Mechanics in layman’s term, please step forward.) But what we can comprehend here produces excitement, and there is enough tension and suspense that makes us wanna go back to those eight minutes, investigate with our hero, then, well, blow up.

In the midst of anti-terrorism and Quantum Mechanics, Duncan Jones also does something in his films that isn’t even an option in a lot of movies today; he takes the time to let his audience “meet” his hero. How much did you feel for Sam Bell in “Moon”? I’ve noticed that both core characters in Mr. Jones’ films are in a steadfast search of themselves. And, given their situations, there is a resounding impact in their personal aspiration, and it’s all the way a gripping experience.

The only thing in “Source Code” that I am not quite sure of is the ending. There is a moment just after the climax that is a picture of silent beauty. I personally think that that moment would have made a better conclusion, but this is a superior sci-fi thriller nonetheless, which is something you rarely see nowadays.

“Source Code” is the kind of film that all of us should see in the theater, praying that it succeeds at the box office. If it flops, talented filmmakers would be discouraged in making original, quality, mainstream films, and we would end up stuck with more movies that remind us of Michael Bay.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence

Rating: ★★★☆☆

A.I. starts by introducing us to a time where the world has gotten smaller for mankind. Water has risen and has engulfed much land. But as resources depleted, technology increased, and humans have found a way to cope with the circumstances. “Mechas” have been invented. They are robots that resemble our appearance and were created to perform many of our tasks.

“Mechas” would be useful for our economy and industry because they consume no food and need no sleep. Their purpose is to serve, and it is in our convenience that we don’t need to repay them nor serve them back. Maybe a few oil changes and an occasional trip to the carwash, but that’s about it.

A.I. offers intriguing ideas, and Professor Hobby of Cybertronics aims to expand that idea by proposing a new robot, a new product: A child. He explains to his colleagues that this Mecha child would be designed to look, act, and love as a child, and that he would love unconditionally. Twenty months has passed, and the first of its kind is created. His name, or should I say “its” name, is David.

David is taken to a married couple who is grieving over the disease of their son, who is, at the moment, frozen until a cure is discovered. At first, they are unsure of the notion of having a machine for a child, but because of their current emotional distress, and because David and his cute little robot eyes is played by the adorable Haley Joel Osment, Henry and Monica decide to welcome him in the family.

Things are going well for dear David, and Monica is unconditionally loved. But things change when a cure is discovered for Martin (Monica’s biological son), and is brought home. After an unfortunate accident within the family, Monica is forced to give up David, and is left alone in the woods. David is sad, and as he reminisces about the story of Pinocchio which he heard in bedtime, he goes on a quest to become a real boy, and win Monica back. A.I. is largely about David and his goal, which is what prevents the movie from achieving its greater potential.

A.I. asks its audience to lay the majority of their attention, emotions, and opinions on David. There are scenes and moments where our response to them requires us to forget that David is still the machine that he is. Remember that Mechas were created for people, and that their existence is to make our lives more comfortable. During Martin’s absence, wasn’t Monica’s pain relieved during David’s stay? We know that David was created to love, but was he designed with the desire and the need to be loved back? It is rather hard to involve ourselves with a hero who is driven by a love that is programmed. People are driven by emotions and the decisions that result from them, and there lies a better movie.

In movies like this one, people are generally more interesting than the machines. Even if the movie follows the “life” of a machine, it should ultimately tell something about people. One of the most captivating moments in A.I. involves a sequence where young David ends up in a show where failing Mechas are destroyed. For entertainment purposes, a Mecha is shot out of a canon, burned through a ring of fire, and shattered through spinning blades. So much for recycling.

It’s been said that humans act negatively towards things that they are threatened with. In this case, they violently deactivate machines that are capable of lasting much longer than humans if provided with the right parts and replacements. The movie could have stayed on that path and gone deeper, but it always finds its way back into David’s territory, as it prepares us for an ending that is too contrived and sentimental. The movie falls apart in its final minutes.

Despite its problems, I can’t seem to give A.I. a negative rating. It has enough ideas to appeal an audience. It projects many visuals that will cause fascination and wonder. It contains actors that are competent. It was created by filmmakers (Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick) who are ambitious and intelligent. There’s a greater movie in here, and it can be found somewhere outside of David and his cute little robot eyes.