Archives for May 2011

The Town

Rating: ★★★★½

A single square mile in Boston called Charlestown contains more bank robbers than any other municipality in America. And it is here where the setting of one of the best films of 2010 takes place. “The Town” is a powerful force that explores thoughts deeper than that of most films about organized thieves.

We are introduced to four criminals who are about to empty out an innocent bank. Two of them, Doug and James, are given much attention throughout the movie. The other two are, uh, well I believe there hasn’t been a successful heist before in movie history that featured less than four guys. So there you go.

Because this is just the opening scene, the cops arrive right after the crooks get away, and in movie rules, they’re just in time. But the movie is not about the cops, but the criminals. And the characters of Doug and James, superbly acted by Ben Afleck and Jeremy Renner, provide us with great material to study.

You see, in the city of Charlestown, the lifestyle of crime is passed down to the children by the families that dwell in it. In these families, if you refuse to rob a bank, then you’re a rebel. Doug is a member of such a family. He steals because his parents stole. This is the culture he grew up in, and because he is isolated in a town that shares that culture, never was he exposed to other forms of life. And then he meets Claire, a woman that could point Doug and his friends to the cops.

Her kindness and openness is something Doug has never encountered before, and he desires to stay with her. Doug wants to leave Charlestown, thus leaving the life he grew up with. But James is the opposite, who believes that Charlestown is the only place to live for people like “them.”

Excellent acting, writing, and directing accompany “The Town.” Much connection is developed between criminals and audience. In later robberies, we learn more about these crooks, and this time, we care for them. Even scenes of shoot outs and car chases are used for a higher purpose, and that is to test our empathy with the people involved. This is a superb crime thriller. Actor, writer, and director Ben Afleck knows what he’s doing, and Hollywood should let him do more.

The Fog (2005)

Rating: ½☆☆☆☆

The movie industry has come up with some truly brilliant villains that shook our emotions and took over our nightmares. And then there’s the rest of the pack, which are so laughable you’d wonder how they escaped from the circus and found their way in a horror movie.

We all unfortunately remember the maniacal hotel room in “1408.” Leave that room, and you still won’t be safe, for the evil elevator in “The Shaft” will consume your soul. Leaping off a window won’t help, ‘cause M. Night Shyamalan’s villainous air will catch up to you, and eventually, your unguarded lungs. Flee to Antonio Island, and there you will come face-to-fog with the fog in… “The Fog.”

This is an awful movie. By now, I would normally mention enough plot holes, technical errors, and logical fallacies to prove my point, but do I really need to? Trying to prove that “The Fog” is a terrible movie is like trying to prove that the sky is blue, that the grass is green, that global warming is… Anyway, it is a waste of time, and in this case, a waste of words in a review. But I’ve already started, so I’ll give it a shot.

“There is something in the fog” says one resident of Antonio Island. That person may be correct, for people are starting to be murdered near the fog. The terror doesn’t stop there; this mysterious fog can break windows, blow up radars, and bang on doors. Pretty impressive for a fog. (Tame it, and I’m sure it can also wash your car.) Things are not shaping up to be good for our heroes, who are of course a couple of ill-witted teenagers. A growing body count might inspire a great idea to leave the island, but they stay anyways, and the movie continues.

I hope you don’t mind if I spoil the fact that there are ghosts in the fog, and in most ghost stories, them ghosts are not really there for the reason the heroes are suspecting them of. Here, the ghosts are after revenge, aiming to kill the descendants of the people that murdered them. All these stupid supernatural shenanigans eventually lead to one of the most random and useless and illogical endings I have ever seen. It’s solid proof that “The Fog sucks.” I would love to point it out, but I’ve already wasted enough words.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Rating: ★★★½☆

“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” is a treat for children and a torture for diabetics. There is so much food in this movie that the characters literally had to build a dam just to contain all of it. And that was just the leftovers.

Flint Lockwood wants to become an inventor. He knows that the small island that he lives in needs his genius. But nobody wants to listen to his ideas because everything he creates either breaks something, or someone. But then, the island’s economy fails, and its citizens are forced to eat nothing but slimy sardines. Flint becomes inspired, and he decides to construct a food-making machine whose name is never successfully pronounced in the entire film.

This is where the fun begins. Flint’s machine works! Literally, it is raining food. That one sentence is basically enough to describe “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” When that first cheeseburger fell from the sky, I knew that I was about to see things I have never seen before in a movie. Here is an animated film that simply wants to be, how should I say this, savored.

You’ll get to see ice cream for snow, spaghetti for tornadoes, a pool of cheese, pizza boats, liquorish ropes, and pretty much everything you can find in a fast food menu except for the salad. Bulimics would throw up by just watching this.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Rating: ★★★★☆

In her 1969 essay, “Trash, Art and the Movies”, Pauline Kael said, “Movies are so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them.”

What we’ve got here is a franchise that is absurd and preposterous, long and loud, silly and stupid. It has sailed to many seas and crossed numerous tides. These pirates have found treasures of all sorts and sizes, except common sense. We don’t need this franchise, but what elevates “Pirates of the Caribbean” from trash trash to great trash is that it fully recognizes its absurd, preposterous, long, loud, silly and stupid self.

I’ve always believed that dumb movies can be celebrated if it stuffs its empty brain with fun and humor. And it seems that there is not a moment in this movie where the characters treat the plot with any form of seriousness. Even when our heroes are at a state where their lives are in grave danger, they somehow manage to squeeze in a punch line and laugh, and we are invited to laugh with them.

Blood and alcohol, mostly alcohol, run through his veins. Yes, Captain Jack Sparrow has returned for a new adventure. This time, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly are nowhere to be found. Their long-awaited absence has paved way for an actor whose character actually requires some skills for acting. His name is Ian McShane, and he plays the notorious and naughty Blackbeard.

Because he never seems to change his clothes, Jack Sparrow is a pirate who is easily identified, and he is captured by the soldiers of London. When he is confronted by King George II, Sparrow learns that his former nemesis, Barbossa, is no longer a pirate and is now working for royalty. Also, Barbossa is missing a leg, but that’s a whole other story.

Also, word is out that the location of the mythical Fountain of Youth is discovered, and after Sparrow escapes imprisonment, a three-way race between the English, the Spanish, and the Pirates ensue. First one to show up at the fountain receives an extra long life. Along the way, we see some really cool stuff. During our first night on Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, a mutiny is lead by Captain Sparrow, which sadly fails. Blackbeard is not pleased, and we soon learn that his sword can control the ship really well, so ropes all around tie themselves around the unfortunate crew and they are suspended in the air for punishment. Hold on. Since Blackbeard has complete control of his ship, why does he need a crew to scrub his filthy deck in the first place? Because he is evil. That’s why.

Also, I must say that the Queen Anne’s Revenge has a flamethrower, which Blackbeard effectively uses in one of the film’s most thrilling sequences involving dozens of pretty, sexy, man-eating mermaids.

All of these moments are a visual treat, and are lots of fun. Compared to the other sequels, “On Stranger Tides” even uses less special effects and features a less complicated plot. And the additional energy provided by Blackbeard and Angelica, Jack’s former lover, gives new life previously drained by Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan. The changes are good, but I have reason to believe that the factor that makes this franchise afloat is that wily, charming Jack Sparrow.

I think most people like Jack Sparrow because he demonstrates a kind of freedom that we all desire to live out every once in awhile. Also, he talks like a drunk and runs like an idiot, which makes everything all the more fun when he’s battling against those sexy, man-eating mermaids.

The Kite Runner

Rating: ★★★★½

Young boys Amir and Hassan are best friends who live in the same home. Amir enjoys writing stories that Hassan eagerly listens to. Hassan can’t read the stories to himself because he is illiterate. The year is 1978, a time where Kabul is yet to be touched by foreign invaders. Peace abounds the streets while kites fill the sky. Children all around the neighborhood gather in pairs for popular kite-flying competitions where the goal is to engage in aerial assaults until only your own kite is left.

Amir and Hassan participate in such contests, and when they are successful in cutting down the kite of a competitor, Hassan is the one who runs for it, accurately predicting where the kite will land. Not only does Hassan run after the falling kites for Amir, but he also protects him from the bullies. Hassan demonstrates his unconditional devotion for his best friend in a tragic scene where he is attacked in ways I cannot mention in this review. Amir witnesses the event from a distance, but does nothing to help. He walks away.

Hassan survives, but not without wounds. In the following weeks, the two boys remain silent to one another. One tries to manage his pain while the other hides in his guilt. There is a heartbreaking moment where Amir does something to force Hassan and his father to move away. Every time Amir sees the face of Hassan, he is reminded of his own cowardice, and he doesn’t want to be reminded anymore.

Now Amir and is alone with his father, Baba. And when the Soviets invade their country, the two are forced to flee to the United States, where Amir grows up, falls in love with an Afghan general’s daughter, and gets married. This romance is deliberately hurried because “The Kite Runner” has a greater purpose, a greater story to tell.

One day, Amir receives a phone call from his home land. This is where the movie rightfully began. Amir is told that he can right the wrongs of his past, so he returns to Kabul and is surprised to what he has to see. Because the film mostly follows the life of Amir, we see present-day Kabul through his eyes, and it’s devastating. Kabul is now a place empty of kites; where limbs are sold for survival, where children are given away for money. We feel the grief that Amir feels for his land because we know what it was before, and now it’s gone. This is an emotional, captivating journey about a lost friendship with an opportunity for redemption.

I write this at a time where blockbuster movies are being released and advertised. Plots will be recycled, characters will be repeated, and stories will be retold. If we can look pass the advertisements, we might be surprised to find movies like “The Kite Runner.” These are movies that are made by Storytellers and not by Businessmen.

Rubber (Quick Review)

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Rising from the dirt of the desert, we see Robert. He, or it, is a tire. We are not quite sure where Robert is headed and what he wants as he strolls through desolate and barren lands. Our view of Robert as an innocent and lost tire completely changes when he bumps into a bunny, which he blows up. (A bunny!) How does Robert do it? Through his supernatural telekinetic powers. Of course. I’m pretty sure Robert is the most evil and violent tire in the history of the movies.

When watched as it is, “Rubber” is basically a horror comedy about a killer tire on the loose. Look closer, and it’s an 82-minute wink to Hollywood and its appalling habit of repeatedly abusing the worn-out outlines and formulas that make up most of the movies today. I think writer and director Quentin Dupieux is on to something here. 2011 will showcase 27 sequels. One of them will mark the return of Alvin and those darn chipmunks, which I hope would one day bump into evil and violent Robert.

 

I Spit on Your Grave (2010)

Rating: Zero Stars

“I Spit on Your Grave” is a horror film that is sickening, sadistic, cynical, disgusting, depressing, revolting, maddening, dirty, empty, and eternally worthless. This is one of the most deplorable things I have ever seen so far in my life. And I’m not just talking about the movies.

Let’s get this over with. A novelist by the name of Jennifer Hills decides to spend some time alone in a cabin in the woods. Five wicked men, along with their mentally retarded “pet”, stalk her. She is later verbally abused, beaten up, humiliated, and raped. The men don’t feel the need to hurry as they take turns in imposing their evil upon Jennifer. While one of them rapes her, the others assault her with spiteful words or actions. Sometimes both. She manages to escape. She disappears for awhile. When she returns to the screen, she captures and tortures each of her punishers until they are dead. When the last of them perishes from a shotgun blast, Jennifer releases a cold, faint smile, and the movie ends.

Filled with grief, disbelief and contempt, I glared at the screen. Who would do such a thing? How dare its makers use the art form that is film for something like this? While viewing it, I could not help myself but be curious of the actors. Why did Sarah Butler, the girl who played Jennifer, agreed to be here? What did her friends and family thought of her decision? Did they support her? To the five men, how did they feel about themselves? What was the relationship of the actors during cuts?

The film’s first half is a freak show showing us the seemingly endless suffering of Jennifer in an attempt to gather our sympathy. It works, but it gets there through completely miserable methods. What is both perplexing and infuriating is how the movie continually spits on Jennifer until she becomes an object of our sympathy, and then suddenly turns her into this instrument of pain that is devoid of conscience and emotions. Can rape do that to a person? Maybe. Can it invoke the act of vengeance? Maybe. But will it solve the problem? Hm.

Another hateful thing about “I Spit on Your Grave” is that it suggests a controversial topic regarding “justified vengeance“ then abandons the possible consequences to it once it has finished what it sets out to do. Does the death of the five men end Jennifer’s problems? What if these men have equally evil relatives and friends, and start to look for her? Now things are even worse. The movie never considers any further possibilities because it is persuaded that what it’s got so far can generate enough, uhm, entertainment.

Violence has a place in the movies. I do not dismiss it when it is done well and with the right reasons. “Saving Private Ryan” and “City of God”, to name a couple. “I Spit on Your Grave” uses violence in its cheapest and most unnecessary form because it is meaningless, prolonged, and exploitive.

I will never fully understand this, but there is an audience for this film. Some of them will be men who just want their girlfriend to hold their hand tight while he covers her eyes with his shoulder. Today, they can be excused. The rest, on the other hand, will be people who sincerely experience pleasure at the sight of human suffering labeled as “entertainment”, and nothing else. They smile and cheer as they look up at the screen the same way the five men smile and cheer as they look down upon poor Jennifer.

Red

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Any film that features Helen Mirren operating a mounted machine gun in a pretty white dress deserves at least three stars. And a movie that miserably fails in maximizing the fun it could get from its solid cast should not earn anything above the rating of four.

Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malcovich, and Helen Mirren are outstanding actors. All of them are above the age of fifty, which is obviously not the common age for a lead role in action flick these days. That is why I admire Bruce Willis very much. At age fifty-five, he can still star in big-budgeted, stunt-filled action movies without suffering straight-to-DVD or plastic surgery.

In the past few years, most of the images I see in the posters of this genre are “young” men who either look like a supermodel or a wrestler. Or Dwayne Johnson. Or Jason Statham. But anyway, the entire punchline of RED is that we get to see old-er people fire the guns and detonate the explosives.

The lack of reality, physics, and common sense either means that the makers screwed up the plot, or they knew that it didn’t matter in its form of entertainment. I’d go for the latter theory because of its classic use of Russian power. One would normally wonder how Bruce Willis got into CIA headquarters so easily, but when one finds out that a Russian helped him, you do not ask questions.

It is evident that the filmmakers and the actors here are having a blast. We see a lot of silly stuff, but we know that it is done in the spirit of fun, and it is fun. But as I have mentioned in the opening of this review, we don’t get to see enough. I feel that the script was not worthy of a cast with this caliber. What held the writers back from giving these actors much more to work with? Were they actually worried about the plot? But they already got that covered. They have Russians.

High Tension (Haute Tension)

Rating: ★★½☆☆

It’s also high on fear, suspense, blood, blades, severed heads, dead bodies, and scratches. The actors hired for this production were paid not to memorize scripts. No. Though you will hear screams like, “Aaaahhh!” a few times, I doubt those lines needed much effort to remember. I’m imagining probable outtakes in the DVD extra where the cast rehearses moments of massacre while the crew waits for the third bucket of blood to be delivered.

The central characters in “High Tension” are college friends, Marie and Alex, who plan to stay in the house of Alex’s parents to study for their exams. When they arrive, we learn that the place is an Isolated Home, so when a serial killer invades, there will be no neighbours to hear them go, “Aaaahhh!” No time is wasted, and in the first night, the serial killer arrives, who is polite enough to knock on the door before he starts butchering everybody.

Marie is the first to notice that something is not right, so before she hides Under the Bed, she tries to Call for Help. Little does she know that in horror movies, phones will find a way to not work when you most need them. Marie stays hidden, but the killer kidnaps Alex, and locks her away in his truck as he drives away. Now Marie is left alone and forced to try to rescue Alex herself. The plot then leads up to a gas station and a forest, where more hiding and killings take place.

“High Tension” is also high on Horror Movie Clichés, and I enjoyed every one of them. They are done with an evidence of technical supremacy and discipline. Yes, the death scenes are vicious, brutal, and lengthened. (When a throat is slit, the killer keeps cutting deeper off-screen. We get to see the results.) But I was surprised to see this slasher flick devote many of its minutes to quiet, bloodless, gripping suspense. These are the parts where Marie sneaks and creeps her way past the killer, keeping her head.

For most hardcore horror fans, “High Tension” will be the slasher event most of them have been waiting for. Trim down the violence, and it might even earn appreciation for the less bloodthirsty. Three fourths into the movie, I was just about ready to give it a recommendation, and then…

And then.

And then we become witnesses to a plot twist, so impossible, so unnecessary, that it ruins everything in “High Tension”. Everything. The whole movie. All of it. We know that it is unnecessary because we know that it can’t be done. And we know that it can’t be done because the filmmakers themselves didn’t even attempt to explain anything about it.

To have the killer turn out to be Ronald McDonald himself would be a more satisfying twist, because we’d know that it’s only a joke. The plot twist in “High Tension” is proud of itself, and screams, “A-ha! We got you!”, to the audience. And we can’t help but go, “Aaaahhh!”

Life as We Know It

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Okay. Let’s give this a try. Holly and Eric are given the responsibility to raise small baby Sophie after their best friends perish in a horrible car crash. Problem is, they can’t stand each other. Thing is, this is a bad romantic comedy, which means their unwanted roles will only be a disguised blessing where they will find true love… in one another. See where I’m going yet?

This premise will sooner or later take us to a scene where small baby Sophie has unloaded on her diaper. Holly and Eric must change it for the greater good. But, they haven’t done this before, so they are required to make faces that show their disapproval for, you know, poop. And of course, poop will somehow find its way on places where it’s not supposed to be.

Oh. In one of the movie’s earlier scenes, some marijuana is confiscated. In bad romantic comedies, no marijuana remains unused. Later on, it’s in the hands of Holly and Eric, and they use the sweet and innocent art of baking to consume it. Soon enough, the two of them are, I guess, having fun.

And yeah. There’s this guy named Sam. He is a gentle and attractive doctor. Holly likes Sam, but don’t worry. We know the two of them can’t end up together because Sam has not a bad quality in sight. He even has perfect hair. This isn’t a good thing if you’re in a bad romantic comedy because, as Roger Ebert has already pointed it out, “No modern movie hero can have his hair combed.”

Another one. Holly and Eric encounter some problems, which causes Eric to fly to Phoenix. While Eric is at the airport, waiting for the flight, Holly realizes that they’re… meant to be. So, and yes you’ve guessed it, she races to the airport to express her feelings, hoping that Eric is still there. The sight of an airport in times of climax is a sign that one is watching a romantic comedy that’s bad.

Get it now? Good. Your turn. Eric rides a cool motorcycle. We learn in an early scene that he values it. This can only mean one thing. Later on, the motorcycle appears again. This time, Eric attempts to teach Holly how to ride it, which means that the motorcycle will be?