Archives for June 2011

The Hills Have Eyes II (2007)

The Hills Have Eyes 2 Poster Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

In the opening subtitles, the audience is reminded of the bloody carnage that concluded the remake of the first “The Hills Have Eyes”. It is safe to assume that any evidence regarding the mutant slaughtering that was bestowed upon that poor family was dissolved by the heat of the sun. This is so because, in this sequel, a military group has decided to base somewhere near the same place without much precaution. The subtitles claim that they are “monitoring for undisclosed reasons.”

I wander as to what the hell they were monitoring in an abandoned desert; the words “undisclosed reasons” are not reassuring enough, especially in a horror movie, but let’s move on. To no surprise, these people end up disfigured and discombobulated, while one ends up deep in the toilet with a few cuts so he can die of mass infection. Oh no, these mutants, they have developed their own sense of humor.

Because the movie is just ten minutes in, we have a group of trainees and their sergeant to save the day. These trainees, they are very idiotic; so idiotic that one would wonder how they made it that far into the program. And so they march on, with loaded rifles that run empty when they need them the most, they march. One by one, they die in brutality, but none of them inspires an ounce of sympathy.

The characters talk and act like they’re in a video game. The setting and the villains function like one, too. The trainees encounter road blocks wherein they are forced to enter the cave in which the mutants dwell in. And in every other room, there is a mutant that they must kill in order to enter the next area that will bring them closer to salvation. At the end, when the sunlight is visible again, there is even a, uhm, Boss Mutant, that is stronger and tougher than the rest, and they must all work together to kill him.

Boss Mutant

In complete boredom, I decided to observe the cave of the mutants, and was pretty astonished as to what I have found. It is my pleasure to announce that the hills doesn’t just have eyes; they also have a refrigerator and a small kitchen. If the characters explored the cave even more, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were able to bump into one of those 3-D TV sets.

Man on Wire

Man on Wire PosterRating: ★★★★½

I look at the movie’s poster and instantly notice a man whose life is dependent upon that thin, almost invisible wire. That man is Philippe Petit, and on August 7, 1974, he was arrested for trespassing. More specifically, he walked, knelt, and danced on a wire he and his friends connected between the Twin Towers. I have a curiosity for extraordinary human feats and a phobia for heights, and the sight of Mr. Petit on that wire was one of the most beautiful and freighting things I have ever seen.

I think that it’s obvious that he succeeded since you cannot arrest a dead man. We all know that what he did was truly remarkable but what confounds many is his reason in doing it. Before I saw “Man on Wire”, I stared at the poster, wondering what type of individual would do this, to risk a life so much that a wrong step could end it. Crazy was the word I thought of that would describe it the best, and then I watched the movie.

“Man on Wire” is the movie where Philippe Petit, accompanied by great direction from James Marsh, explains the events and the ambitions that ultimately led to that memorable day. Early on, we learn that Philippe wanted to “conquer” those Towers when he was still very young. During my childhood, I went from wanting to become a doctor, to a herpetologist, to an actor. Now, I’m reviewing movies. Philippe stuck with his dream, convinced that it was even his destiny. He grew older and became more enthusiastic and optimistic with his goal, which is quite extreme since it was very much illegal and not even constructed yet at the time.

Philippe Petit

Being a documentary, there a lot of testimonies from the people involved on that 7th of August. But it was the testimony of Philippe himself that intrigued and amused me the most. Intrigued by his philosophies in life on how each day could be made exciting, on when the event of death can be classified as a great death. Amused by how much energy and zeal he exerts in sharing his story. He recalls the days and moments of how he and his friends were able to get to the top of those towers. His face and voice so lively all the time. He even acts out some of the most crucial moments of his adventure.

Philippe doesn’t just tell a story; he performs it. In fact, his testimony was so flawless that it even served a narration in the first person perspective during the scenes of reenactment.

The more of Philippe I got to know, the more I understood him and his lifestyle. Eventually in the movie, we arrive to the day featured in the poster. This time, I didn’t just see a man on a wire, I saw Philippe Petit, and things didn’t look so crazy anymore.

The Green Hornet (Quick Review)

The Green Hornet Poster Rating: ★½☆☆☆

Seth Rogen plays an overly talkative, trash-talking man-child by day, and an overly talkative, trash-talking vigilante by night. The man will not shut up. “The Green Hornet” is less about the comic book character known as the The Green Hornet and more about Rogen’s pretentious and narcissistic love affair with himself. The supporting characters here only function as mere targets for Rogen’s self-glorifying cheap shots.

Think about the role he has prepared for the lovely Cameron Diaz. The woman has a certain charm that only a few actresses posses in Hollywood. Yet, she is only in this film so Rogen’s character can talk about how hot she is. I’m thinking that only someone like Megan Fox could actually feel pride in a pitiful role like this one.

Another person who shares the same misfortune as Ms. Diaz is the great Austrian-German actor, Christoph Waltz. His abilities here are so restricted that Rogen may have forgotten that Waltz has an Oscar. When we see Waltz appear on screen, we are only reminded of “Inglorious Basterds”, and we could just recall how brilliant that movie is while we wait for Seth Rogen to finish whatever the hell he’s trying to say.

Red Riding Hood

Rating: ½☆☆☆☆

So this is what you get when you insert the Twilight characters into a children’s fairy tale. “Red Riding Hood” is a wannabe horror movie starring dumb and lifeless teenagers who are tremendously drunk with hormones. Alcohol may produce better behaviors.

The setting is a medieval village in the woods. A girl named Valerie stands out from the crowd because she wears a bright red cape and because she is played by Amanda Seyfried. Right across her is Peter, the hunky wood chopper. His face appears to be stuck in a state of no emotion. Even when he’s really mad, we can’t feel a single thing. I think it’s a talent.

Peter is like a less pale and less sparkly version of Edward Cullen, whose hair is so perfectly in place we begin to think real hard as to where he got his hair care merchandises. In a scene where Valerie and Peter are about to part ways, Peter steps backwards real slow, making sure that she gets a good look at his pretty face. Why Valerie, what vain men you have.

We try to look away from this repugnant romance, but all we see is the jealous Henry. You see, Henry also has an interest for Valerie, which makes life all the more difficult for the girl. Now a love triangle is formed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you, dear reader, suddenly remember Twilight. “So if Peter and Valerie are, like, Edward and Bella, then I guess Henry is, like, Jacob?” A-ha! If so, then I must say that I already prefer Henry, because at least he actually has the decency to keep his shirt on. 

I must also say that a hungry werewolf is terrorizing the same medieval village. It’s hard to believe, but yes. While these youngsters stare, flirt and drool in the name of love (lust), a deadly beast roams the night in search for its latest human dinner. I, for one, identify the werewolf as a good thing. If them bastards are capable of living out their sexual fantasies during a werewolf threat, how much worse would they have behaved without it?

But no worries. Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) has arrived, a well-known hunter of the woods who specializes in putting down werewolves. He has brought with him a few henchmen, some weapons, and a hollow, metal elephant. Again, hard to believe, but yes. Why does this werewolf hunter have an elephant-shaped steel device? What does he plan to do with it? Is it for the werewolf’s inconvenience? Will they even be able to fit that darn beast inside the elephant’s small opening? What does the teenagers think of all this? Should they place their trust into Father Solomon?

Mr. Solomon’s credibility has been considerably lowered due to his fetish for hollow, metal elephants. Even his werewolf-catching techniques are unsure. At his arrival, he informs everyone that the werewolf is what one of the villagers turn to when a full moon occurs. He uses Valerie as bait and waits for the beast. This is all wrong. Why not just gather all the villagers in a circle during a full moon? Whoever turns to a werewolf will finally give Father Solomon the shot to make use of his hollow, metal elephant.

Big Fish

Rating: ★★★★½

What a magical movie this is. “Big Fish” challenges our faith and imagination with tales that sound too marvelous to be true, too extraordinary to be believable.  But the strongest emotions are found between the broken relationship of a dying father and his doubtful son. After years of no communication, they are reunited when human age reaches its fragile state. The son sits on a chair as he observes his weak father, who lies in what could be his deathbed.

Old Edward Bloom (Albert Finney) is a devoted storyteller who believes that true stories could use a little fiction for entertainment purposes. On the day his only son, Will, was born, he was out of town selling home appliances. Not a very exciting story for such a very momentous event. When Will is set to be married, his father shares with everyone the false account of how he caught a really big fish with his wedding ring the same day Will was born. This draws smiles from his listeners, but not from Will, who has heard the same lie repeatedly throughout his life. He walks away. And he doesn’t return until old Edward becomes confined to his bedroom.

Other than the tale about the big fish, Edward has shared more of his past experiences with Will, which he starts to recall in great detail. A series of flashbacks begin, and we are introduced to the mysterious memories of Edward, which gives an opportunity for director Tim Burton to indulge in his obsession for all things weird. Edward narrates as nostalgia kicks in, but it’s Tim Burton who supplies the imagination.

Each flashback explores a specific section of Edward’s life; they function like episodes, and every one of them has something different to say. Views of love, life and death are seen through a world full of optimism and energy. When young Edward, played by a vigorous Ewan McGregor, convinces himself that he has discovered how he dies in the future, he develops a kind of foolish valor that deserves applause only from the most committed of masochists.

He becomes a local hero in his town of Ashton. One of his many valiant services includes a moment where he charges into a burning fire without a protective suit. Edward makes the firemen look overpaid as they stand outside and watch him rescue a poor puppy. Later on, he enters a dark and dangerous forest even though a safer route is available. Because Edward has advance insight regarding his demise, he approaches life at lightning speed and with a positive soul. When he goes all in to pursue Sandra Templeton, the girl of his dreams, we can only wish that we possess the same kind of determination.

Edward’s stories are full of encouragements as much as they are full of dubious aspects. (Did he really buy a field of flowers just to impress the girl?) Yes, they are amusing, but surely, they are only fairy tales, right? We then go back to reality, and Will continues to shake his head, wondering if he’ll ever get the chance to know the truth about his father’s life. Old Edward continues to insist that his words are facts.

As the movie draws to its final minutes, we shift from Edward’s stories to Will’s thoughts. Everything that happened before was a joyful ride, but when we start to see things from Will’s perspective, “Big Fish” adapts a heavier tone that can almost be described as tragedy. Because Will has gotten used to his father’s constant retelling of the untruthful story regarding his birthday, we can’t blame him if he starts to doubt every story his tells him from that point on. I believe that the greatest lesson that one can acquire from “Big Fish” are not from the events that cause the laughs, but the tears.

In the end, fact and fiction are never fully separated. Maybe what the movie wants is to leave us within Will’s state of mind, and not inside Edward’s. Just when we are about to say goodbye, a little truth shows itself, which could be enough to slap our skepticism to shame. And then, the things that we dismiss ridiculous at first may be the same things that become the source of our comfort. Looks like that old storyteller knew what he was doing after all.

The Way Back (Quick Review)

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Siberia. Mongolia. India. What these places have in common in “The Way Back” is the footsteps of a small group of people who have a matchless desire to go home. The latest film by Peter Weir, director of “The Truman Show”, follows the extensive and exhausting journey of convicts who are imprisoned not just by guards and fences, but by lands that have been conquered by communism.

Escaping the Siberian gulag was the easy part; a 4,000-mile walk awaits them. During this journey, our eyes are treated with some magnificent imagery. The snowy mountains and scorching deserts are exhibited through great cinematography by Russell Boyd. It’s weird how these paintings of nature are also what could drive our “Walkers” to death. “The Way Back” causes mixed emotions in its irony that the things that could bring so much pleasure to our eyes are the same things that torment the film’s heroes.

At one point, with bodies thinner and teeth more rotten than the week before, the convicts run into a beautiful Polish girl. She is played by the beautiful Saoirse Ronan, a rising Irish actress who has yet to answer any of my occasional tweets. Like the brave men from the gulag, I persevere.

Super 8

Rating: ★★★★☆

“Super 8” is a sweet and thoughtful love letter to the art of filmmaking, but its advertisements has cunningly disguised it as a monster-infested thriller. Though elements of a sci-fi movie are found here, “Super 8” shines the most when its settles down for simple storytelling, which has unfortunately become an uncommon service from big-budgeted, modern-day Hollywood.

It is summer break for the students of the small town of Lillian, Ohio, and a pack of youngsters set out to make a zombie movie of their own. The director is a brisk and lively Charles, who commands his cast and crew as if he’s paying them in return for their cooperation. But Charles’ allowance isn’t what these kids want. For Cary, he’s just awaiting for the opportunity to blow something up with his firecrackers. For Joe and Alice, this project provides a temporary escape from their lives at home. Their dads, whose partners are no longer by their side, are emotionally distant.

With an ambitious auteur like Charles in command, their movie will not be easy. As early teenagers, they are bound by limitations set by the law, and their parents. These kids will have to be more creative and resourceful. This need for extra effort is demonstrated when Alice uses her dad’s car without permission so they could get to their next shooting location: a remote railway station.

Everything seems to be in place, and just before they could start shooting, they notice that a train is about to pass by. Charles identifies the train as great production value. The scene can go on without it, but its presence will make the moment more believable, more entertaining. But then, like in most Michael Bay films, something goes horribly wrong on the set. The train is violently derailed. Lots of heavy containers fly through the air, but movie magic allows our heroes to survive.

One container starts to get hammered from the inside out. What’s within it, I shall not reveal. In this review, let’s just call it, The Threat. During the film’s first hour, The Threat remains hidden. We are not even teased with a glimpse of it. However, we feel its effects. Dogs run away from Lillian. The power starts to fluctuate. People begin to disappear. Even car engines and electric appliances are stolen. (This Threat, it is very stealthy.) J.J. Abrams, writer and director, wisely uses The Threat as a tool for suspense, and not just a scary face that can smash lots of stuff.

Citizens start to scramble in panic, but the kids investigate this mystery. Once again, their age has restricted their actions, and that’s a good thing for the audience. Most of the entertainment in “Super 8” comes from the innovations that our heroes must carry out in order to overcome The Threat. Because we are blessed with such radiant characters, The Threat merely functions as, how should I say this, production value.

For its genre, “Super 8” is an innovation itself. Its choice of heroes makes it engaging, because they are required to perform beyond their comfort zone, and their curfew.

The Other Guys

Rating: ★★★½☆

Only in a film by Adam McKay will you see scenes involving cubicle flute-playing, willful self-stabbing, and testicle drum-rubbing portrayed with such passion. And only a man named Will Ferrell will do all these acts just because he can. The Other Guys succeeds in further extending McKay’s and Ferrell’s track record for being the most haphazardly ambitious comedians in Hollywood.

A quarter pound of illegal drugs needs to be recovered, and twelve million dollars worth of property damage later, they are recovered. No thanks are due to New York City’s cockiest detectives Danson and Highsmith, who are uproariously played by Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson. But they are not what this movie is about. Living beneath, far beneath their shadows are Allen Gamble and Terry Hoitz.

Danson’s and Highsmith’s spotlight are later emptied for reasons I shall not discuss, and Terry notices that vacant spotlight and desires to fill it at the first opportunity that he can. But he can’t do it alone, and must first convince Allen to go with him in the field and prove themselves worthy of more than mere paperwork at a desk. Oh, but Allen has different, less dangerous goals than Terry, which inspires some exchange of words, a few dozen fights, and a couple of felonies if I’m not mistaken.

The amount of arguments in “The Other Guys” is similar to that of McKay’s previous film, “Step Brothers”. But here, the fights are less offensive, has less testicles, has more substance, and, dare I say it, has more maturity. Unlike “Step Brothers”, much of the comedy in “The Other Guys” is drawn from how one reacts to the actions or words of the other, and how that reaction leads up to that character’s impending action. A good example of this is a scene where Terry tells Allen how much he hates him. The comedy is not from Terry’s speech of hatred, but by the unexpected counter-speech from Allen.

Allen and Terry are played by Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, who do great jobs at being pissed and pissing the other off. Ferrell is a veteran at this; that is why I’m giving out extra props for Wahlberg, whose moments with Ferrell cause some of the funniest moments of 2010. It is rather regrettable that the final half hour focuses on the plot, which causes a decline in laughs. In a movie like this, thirty minutes worth of plot is twenty minutes too many.

Where the plot is absent the most is when “The Other” Guys is at its funniest, which is its first half hour. Imagine how much funnier this movie could have been if it kept Danson and Highsmith. Imagine if a full pound of illegal drugs needed to be recovered.

The Hangover Part II

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

We’ve been told before to touch not the things that are without fault. Altering that which is already awesome could be a risky act, but repeating it could be even worse, because it shows no diligence and bravery. “The Hangover Part II” resembles its 2009 predecessor so much that it’s probably more appropriate to regard it as a remake, than as a sequel.

The extent of the similarity between the two “Hangover” movies suggests hungry wallets for its makers. When the script is hurried, the shooting will be also. Paychecks are rewarded earlier, and audiences are left to watch a meaner, dirtier, and more offensive version of the same movie. There is a significant increase in violence, coarse language, and public display of privates. To warn viewers that are more sensitive, I would specify which organs to expect, but the setting of the film is Thailand, and if there’s one thing I learned, it’s that we can never be sure of what we see.

The setting is in Thailand because Stu’s fiancée, Lauren, is from that country, and her parents wish that the wedding is to be held there. Phil, Alan and Doug join Stu, which later leads to a beer at a beach with Lauren’s little brother, Teddy. The next morning they uhm… forget it. You know the drill. Our heroes wake up with a lack of memory and a series of questions, and from this point on we are tasked to listen to conversations we have all heard before.

“What did we do last night?”

“Excuse me. Did you know where our friend is?”

“What is going on?!”

Much of the wit of “The Hangover” was caused by its originality and unpredictability, but since both of those elements are no longer here, wit has been replaced by physical humor. It’s no longer about awkward and wacky situations, but separate events where people get constantly hurt. (Although pain isn’t much of a problem for Mr. Chow, the international criminal with a heart for partying and a nose for drugs.  His behavior here calls for the help of the best mental institution in town.)

Even though this is a prime example of Hollywood’s habit of supporting projects empty of originality, the earlier scenes of “The Hangover Part II” gave me something to look forward to. Almost everything before the actual adventure was funny. Alan, who is clearly the film’s star, lives in a world where being a “stay-at-home son” is a position that is to be bragged about. When the film takes an unfortunate turn for the vulgarity, Alan’s facial reactions to the highly R-rated jokes are funnier than the jokes themselves. Zach Galifianakis is the rare comedian who can be funny by just being there.

The relationship between Alan and the rest of the “wolfpack” is entertainment in itself, which is mostly fueled by Alan’s cluelessness and exaggerated allegiance to his buddies. Must they really be drugged into mental oblivion for them to produce good comedy?

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Quick Review)

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

“You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” is a comedy for cynics and pessimists. For everybody else, it’s a tragedy. The prologue of the protagonists exposes them as people pummeled with problems and worries. However, I must say that this isn’t a movie about the problems, but the solutions that are stimulated by minds that are stuck in desperation and misery.

Marriages are ended in exchange for affairs, but not for the reason one would normally suspect. Entering such affairs is also an act of leaving past responsibilities and aggravations, which could bring more pleasure than anything else. This “solution” is put into use by our characters, and we can see that they feel happiness. But then, they stumble upon a thing called Consequences, and it is not startling if they end up with less than what they had before. There is much anguish, anxiety and sadness in “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger”, but not much is done to make up for it.

Problems can cause people to abandon their lives and venture on what they call, “The Road to Happiness.” They believe that what’s behind them is gone forever, when it truth, it just needed a little fixing.