Archives for September 2011

[REC] 2

[REC] 2 PosterRating: ★★★☆☆

The foremost flaw of “[REC] 2” is its futile attempt to include a baffling, supernatural plot within its generic, but nonetheless scary, concept. To begin with, the first “[REC]” wasn’t even the kind of film that opens itself to the possibility of a sensible sequel, but here it is anyway, along with the promise of a third and fourth installment.

“[REC] 2” is an immediate continuation of the original’s conclusion. The fast-acting, death-inducing virus is still contained inside the quarantined apartment, surrounded by snipers and covered with some sort of special, government plastic. If there are any human survivors trapped inside, the authorities are determined to keep them in that state. We revisit the apartment when we follow a group of SWAT officers, who are commanded by a Health Official.

[REC] 2They charge into the zombie-infested building with thick armor and heavy weaponry, but their reasons for entering it in the first place are rather unclear. Surely, this isn’t a rescue mission, for in the first film, anyone who tried to leave the building was rewarded with a bullet to the face. Once inside, we are informed that their objective is to come up with an antidote against a disease no one outside the apartment has contracted. Yes, a more reasonable option would be to burn down the building until it resembles dust, but no, because that idea wouldn’t be enough for three more “[REC]” movies.

Besides the practical questions it raises, “[REC] 2” degrades itself by becoming more complicated than it needs to be. It tries, and fails, to combine the straightforward idea of zombies with the paranormal principles of demonic possession. It fails as a strategy for horror, and it fails when placed within the context of the original film. If a demon is responsible for the infections, doesn’t that make the quarantine useless? Can the special, government plastic contain the devil? By squeezing ideas where they don’t fit, this sequel damages the reputation of the original by contradicting its own purposes.

“[REC] 2” still manages to earn a positive score when seen in terms of the filmmakers’ Intention in relation to the audiences’ Expectation. You don’t go looking for a film like this and expect to be enlightened by logic. There are well-made moments of fright and gore. Except for the unnecessary, awkward demonic traits, the zombies are standard in their behavior, as usual. They are here to chase the living and scream at them, while the people are treated as nothing more than running meat, doomed with the impending scene where they won’t be able to run fast enough.

Horrible Bosses

Horrible Bosses PosterRating: ★★★½☆

Nick, Dale and Kurt are average Americans with reasonable and respected intentions in life. Some of their aspirations are no different from our own. Nick is the hard-working office employee who is always the first to arrive and the last to leave. He dreams of a big promotion, which he clearly deserves. Dale is committed to the woman he loves. His plan is to marry her, sustaining their relationship through his earnings as a dentist’s assistant. Kurt is content with his role in the chemical company he’s in. He smiles in the thought that he could one day be in charge. Nick, Dale and Kurt are such harmless, typical fellas that, when they agree that it would be best to kill their bosses, we wonder how evil their superiors could be.

The bosses in “Horrible Bosses” are indeed what the title suggests them to be, and more. Besides being horrible, they’re also psychotic, perverted, delusional, and mean. They make other people’s life miserable because they can. They take advantage of their authority by engaging in activities that can only be classified as either immoral or illegal. I describe these bullies from observations I made during office hours. How do these people entertain themselves on a Holiday?

Jason Bateman and Kevin Spacey

The first of three bosses is Dave Harken, played by Kevin Spacey. Dave is so skilled at publicly humiliating others that he might as well host the next Oscars. Dave knows that he can easily make Nick’s dream come true, but won’t. Next up is Jennifer Anniston’s Dr. Julia Harris, the world’s horniest dentist. Julia’s instinctive habit of seducing the nearest conscious male would make an ordinary man rejoice, especially if you’re her assistant, but not Dale. He fears that Julia’s regular sexual stunts will jeopardize his engagement. And then there’s Bobby Pellitt (Colin Farrell), who has recently took command of the chemical company that employs Kurt. Because everything that Bobby touches turns to a strip club, Kurt is not confident that the company will last long.

Charlie Dale and Jennifer AnistonReliable critics claim that, if you want a great villain for your movie, you need to (1) have the right actor play the role, and (2) let him or her have fun with it. It’s easy to say that Spacey, Aniston, and Farrell thoroughly enjoyed their visit on the opposite side of the conflict. In an age where most villainous roles are given to Mark Strong, you can’t blame the three for making the most of their opportunity. Extra credit is given to Aniston who surprises the audience by finally trying something different. It’s about time she took a break from the undemanding genre of the romantic-comedies.

As for the film’s heroes, their comedy is found in the fact that they are idiots when it comes to murder. If these people attempted to fulfill their mission in the real world, they’d be in jail by dinnertime. The movie allows them to be invisible idiots to maximize the gags.

“Horrible Bosses” is a funny movie, but I wouldn’t recommend it to people with ears not used to frequent mentions of private parts. Like many recent R-Rated comedies, it follows the footsteps of “The Hangover”, which proved that dark comedies could be a huge financial success. I’m happy for them, but don’t expect me to support a sequel. I don’t mind if I never get to know what these crazy bosses do on a Holiday.

Scream 4

Scream 4 PosterRating: ★★½☆☆

“Scream 4”, also known as “Scre4m”, knows its genre well enough to prove its superiority over the dumb horror films it proudly mocks, but it doesn’t come close to matching the quality of some of the great horror films it celebrates. Considering the franchise’s satirical nature, the past decade has provided director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson with much material to work with. The movie succeeds when it sticks to the self-aware antics that it’s known for. Too bad this sequel often abandons this clever concept for ideas we’ve all grown familiar with.

Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), one of the survivors of the first three “Scream” films, has returned to Woodsboro to promote her new book. She unwisely decides to visit her hometown near the anniversary of the first Ghostface massacre. Since it was death anniversaries and her surprise visits that triggered the massacres, you would think Sidney would keep a safe distance from Woodsboro, but no worries. Upon news that a new Ghostface has started a killing spree, Sidney re-unites with fellow survivors, Dewey and Gale, who are now married. The mature age of the three has granted them a major advantage over the new generation of students. We all know that, in horror movies, adults have a lower mortality rate than teenagers.

Neve Campbell and Emma Roberts

Neve Campbell and Emma Roberts

The best thing about this franchise is that it occupies a world that acknowledges the existence of horror movies and the people who are obsessed with them. Almost every horror flick made in the past 30-40 years takes place in a different time and universe where there are no horror movies that could serve as a lifeline to its young characters. As a result, teenagers would always commit the same mistakes that would get them killed, or raped, or eaten. For example, when a victim is chased in her house, she would immediately run up the stairs instead of going out the back door, trapping herself and assuring her own death. The characters in the original “Scream” were fun because it was populated by smart, informed teenagers who ended up dead because of a smarter, better-informed villain.

The new characters in “Scre4m” have devolved in the sense that even though they have memorized the formulas of the genre, they can no longer apply it to earn a more worthy death, if you get what I’m saying. As the movie drew longer, we begin to ask ourselves on when these horror geeks lost their clutch of the situation by wandering off alone too many times and running up on too many stairs. Despite losing some of its strengths, “Scre4m” is still a good movie by standards of recent slasher films, but it fails when criticized by the standard set by the original “Scream”. And since this is the fourth installment, we might find the irony in how some parts of movie have become guilty of what its predecessors were trying to scold. Has the sequels created its own tiresome formula?

Ghostface (Left) and Gale Riley (Right)

Ghostface (Left) and Gale Riley (Right)

Most of the movie’s faults and missteps occur in the middle and concluding stages. The opening sequence is a masterful stroke of bloody brilliance, both reliving the frightening method of Ghostface while, at the same time, engaging in humorous discussions regarding the dishonorable horror trends of the past decade. It reminds us of the recent birth of Torture Porn and its immediate overuse. It bluntly shows its disapproval of remakes, and it rebukes “new clichés” that has been made possible by the advance in technology. When was the last time a teenager tried to get a signal on his/her cell phone and lived long enough to see the next sunrise?

“Scre4m” could have kept going on this path. It could have been consistently smart, and entertaining, and insightful, but no. It decided to save some of the good stuff for more sequels. What was initially a clever satire that once revived the genre it loved has betrayed itself by agreeing to participate in dishonorable mass production for the purpose of a few extra paychecks. Disappointing. How long can they keep this up? “Scr5am”, “S6ream”, “Sc7eam”, etc.

I Am Number Four

I Am Number Four PosterRating: Zero Stars

“I Am Number Four” is an insolent and oblivious lump of trash that has been reused and recycled by countless studios controlled by cash-chugging dimwits. Even the most careless of eyes won’t fail to notice its touches of unacceptable stupidity. The movie is so incompetently made that it doesn’t even meet the incredibly low standards of a Dumb Action Movie. “I Am Number Four” is significantly lower than that.

The story revolves around a hunky, probably shape-shifting alien who is on a crucial mission to, uhm… Forget it. I have no idea what this is about. Why I can’t tell you the movie’s plotline may not exactly be my fault. In an earlier scene, Number 4, the alien, makes use of quick, lazy narration in an attempt to explain to us his past life, present predicament, and future threats. What we know is that he was originally from the planet Loraine, which was destroyed by the douchey Mogadorians. Nine children, blessed with extraordinary powers, were able to escape and flee to Earth with one guardian assigned to each of them. Number 4 was one of the children. The others are Number 1, 2, 3… and so on.

Number Four and The Girl

Number Four and The Girl

What we don’t know are these: How did the Numbers travel to Earth? Why Earth? How did they land here without getting noticed? Why do they look like us? Can they change their appearance? How long have these invading imposters been here? What do they do for a living? Why do the Mogadorians want them dead? How did the Mogadorians land here without getting noticed? Since they’ve already killed Numbers 1, 2 and 3, how were they able to operate in stealth while basting their alien cannons in all directions? Why does Number 4 enroll in a school after finding out that the Mogadorians want him dead? Shouldn’t he be busy with more important things? Does this movie have a subtle message that school should be prioritize above everything else? Or is just because aliens like to study real hard?

Mogadorian

A Mogadorian

While we try to figure these things out, Number 4 has gone under the name, “John Smith”. We follow him as he picks up his class schedule and finds his designated locker, where he meets The Girl. Also, he comes across a douchey football player. So, here he is, an extra-terrestrial being with extraordinary powers, capable of feats no human has achieved before, and the movie is diligent in showing us his conflicts with the school bully. Yes. In between Number 4’s encounters with the bully and the girl, we briefly cut to 30-second snippets where the Mogadorians are simply onscreen. This is to remind us that they are real villains, and not the douchey football player. In one scene, they are seen shopping… in a supermarket. In another scene, they are seen driving… a car. Yes. “I Am Number Four” does not set any stakes, nor does it point to any direction, nor does it gives us any reason to care. This prime example of clueless filmmaking becomes more evident in the transition of numerous scenes, which is set up through, oh dear, text messages.

Number 4 is played by a dude named Alex Pettyfer. He is one of those actors who once realized that he might have a career in Hollywood after one too many sessions with his mirror. Robert Pattinson seems a lot less bad after we see Mr. Pettyfer. The Girl is played by Dianna Agron. Why I literally can’t remember the name of her character may not exactly be my fault.

If you don’t mind, I’ll go ahead and skip to the movie’s climax. This is the part where you should correct me if I’m wrong. Number 6 arrives to lend 4 some help against the Mogadorians. During this sequence of badly choreographed fights and second-rate special effects, a portion of Number 4’s earlier narration came into mind. He was specific when he informed the audience that the Mogadorians must kill the Numbers in ascending order. So, if the Mogadorians are to succeed, they would have to kill 4, find 5 while trying to avoid 6, kill 5, go back to 6, then kill her. If I was a Mogadorian, I’d be worried if 9 arrived instead of 6. All these Numbers have worn me out. I think I’ll end this by stating that “I Am Number Four” might be the first movie ever where it would suck to be #1.

Insidious

Insidious PosterRating: ★★½☆☆

“Insidious” is a horror movie about an average family haunted with supernatural forces that possess a natural tendency to open lots of doors and make funny noises. Most fans of this subgenre will praise it not because it is an excellent film, but because the ones that came before it are infinitely much worse. Have you seen “The Haunting in Connecticut”?

The unlucky family in this horror film is the five members of the Lambert family. Each of them is terrorized by a mysterious creature, but most unlucky is young Dalton, who is in a deep sleep and would not wake up. A doctor says that he isn’t in a coma. A psychic claims that his spiritual body is trapped in another dimension she likes to call, The Further. Dalton’s parents, Josh and Renai, are, to say the least, confused. Whether any of these explanations makes sense or not is not a major concern, because the story mainly serves as an opening to provide scares.

“Insidious” is conscious of the genre’s obvious clichés, but it avoids some of them by conforming to an unhelpful, alternative idea that is soon to be a cliché itself. Characters living in haunted houses are often so traumatized by the ghouls that they forget about the possible action of, you know, leaving the house. The Lambert family makes the practical decision of abandoning their home early on in the film, only to have their efforts thwarted when they are told that it’s not the house that’s haunted, but their son. “Oooooooo”. So, instead of one haunted house, we get two haunted houses.

In essence, the movie suffers from faulty horror both because of an inadequate style and a habit of repetition. It accentuates its scares by accompanying them with a sudden boom of sound. This adds shock, but it lessens the horror. These moments are repeatedly distributed in slices of split-second frames until we reach the film’s climax, which suddenly becomes over-the-top and, how should I say this, funny.

Lipstick-Face

The final act involves a supernatural rescue mission where Josh enters The Further and looks for Dalton’s spiritual body. This dimension, where naughty spirits roam all over, is a place much like our own, only this realm has too much fog and without electricity. I mention the existence of The Further because, within it, is the most interesting aspect in the very little of what’s in “Insidious”. It is there where we finally meet the demon responsible for Dalton’s absence. His face causes us to suspect that this child-napping bastard is none other than Darth Maul… from Star Wars! Our suspicion, as fun as it was, is later proven wrong when the credits appear. The demon’s name is, in fact, Lipstick-Face.

So Lipstick-Face has Dalton’s spirit in chains. Josh has got to hurry. The psychic informs everyone that Lipstick-Face wants Dalton’s body empty, so he could possess it. And then? What’s Lipstick-Face gonna do once he has a physical body? Doesn’t he know that, in this world, there are taxes?

Contagion (Quick Review)

Contagion PosterRating: ★★★½☆

It’s a nervous feeling, you know, to wonder what kinds of dirty little monsters crawl all over my keyboard when I’m in peaceful sleep. The scariest killers are always those whom we cannot see. “Contagion” is a frightful film because it preys on the universal fear of germs and the diseases they carry with them. It treats its topic with a level of maturity that we can apply in our own surroundings. During the screening I attended, I became more and more cautious of the coughing guy seated in the row behind me.

The epidemic crisis in “Contagion” finds a realistic tone by lining itself with other historical events. If we look back at the time where a major outbreak like The Black Plague took its toll, we’ll learn that we don’t always get the cure or vaccine as soon as we need them. Some diseases are still without a cure until today. (What would things be like if the common cold was fatal?) The movie gives a convincing depiction of how the present world would handle a similar crisis.

An element that elevates “Contagion” from other “outbreak movies” is that it fully realizes the weight of its threat. As a result, we are spared with the false need of a tangible villain in the form of organizations with nothing but money in mind. Though there is a character by Jude Law who theorizes such things, his accusations only exist to be proven wrong. Every health official in the movie does their job, and they do it well. To watch this movie is to grow a renewed sense of cleanliness. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go wipe my keyboard.

Hanna

Hanna PosterRating: ★★★★½

I viewed “Hanna” with a mild curiosity. It feels that it started out as an average revenge thriller that was later enhanced by above average talents. The cast and crew of this film did more for the story that it could have asked of them. Sure, a lot of shooting and chasing goes around, but you can sense an evidence of planning and patience within them. The creators of “Hanna” operated with a vision of an audience with an attention span slightly longer than that of others.

The film opens somewhere near the Arctic Circle. A teenage girl, named Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), has just killed a deer with an arrow, followed by a bullet. She drags the carcass of the animal through the deep, icy snow to a cabin in the woods where her father, Erik (Eric Bana), is waiting for her. Not the best conditions for a teenage girl, I’m sure. We learn that father and daughter have been in this place since Hanna was still an infant. She has been homeschooled all her life. And because Erik is a wanted CIA agent, he forms Hanna into the perfect assassin.

Not everyone gets to master martial arts and firearms at that early age, and the secluded home of Hanna offers little distractions. But, this lifestyle is not without disadvantages. Except for her own father, Hanna has not known any other person. Her books tell her that the world contains so much, and she knows that she is a stranger to almost all of them. That is probably why she was more than eager to find out that her mission will require her to travel in order to eliminate lots of bad guys, including a secretive CIA officer, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett).

Hanna

“Hanna” is less about a plot to assassinate a group of government officials and more about a young girl’s opportunity to discover what it’s like to have a normal life. It’s an interesting and amusing sight to see a girl who has as much awkwardness in her as there is violence. For Hanna, escaping maximum security and assassinating countless of men is the easy part. One of her biggest challenges involves a loud TV and a remote control that she cannot quite understand. Maybe this is why it’s possible for me to like a killer like Hanna and despise a killer like Hitgirl from “Kick-Ass”. Hitgirl is merely identified as a weapon; Hanna is treated like a person.

Saoirse Ronan agreeing to play Hanna is a good sign. Most actresses who started out young in Hollywood usually stray away from good movies as they get older. (What was Lindsay Lohan’s next great starring role after “Mean Girls”?) Saoirse is in the right direction, who always looks for roles that would expand her abilities in acting. Did you know that she was nominated for an Oscar at age thirteen? This girl is a gem, and also, the second prettiest girl my eyes have ever seen.

Saoirse Ronan

The care given to the development of the characters is extended towards the action sequences. Most action sequences of recent years, which are especially true to 2011, are composed of nothing but bits of frames spliced and edited back together in order to form something… anything… that resembles movement. Directors who resolve to quick cuts are either lazy of their work or uninformed of their craft. The director here is Joe Wright, who is known for his long, continuous, and uninterrupted shots. This is the first time he has done an action picture, and has already proven himself more competent with the genre than someone like Paul W. S. Anderson. Wright’s steady direction, accompanied by a magnetic soundtrack by The Chemic Brothers, is a pleasure for both the eyes and the ears.

“Hanna” is a great film and a fine example of filmmaking. Because action films are more familiar with the public, my hope is that many people will see it, and be astonished by its superiority. My honest hope is that this will cause them to raise their standards, and start looking for more of its kind. People who take serious time to defend something like “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” only tells me that they haven’t seen anything better than it.

We have a long way to go, dear reader. Did you know that “Hanna”, an action picture, was not even released here in my country? I’m starting to think that the Philippines has a grudge against good movies. Or maybe it just doesn’t know what a good movie looks like.

NOTE: Oh, glorious joy! My prayers have been answered! “Hanna”, which was originally denied a June release date here in the Philippines, will be granted a much delayed September 28 release. Even though this is a little too late for me, since I have already seen the film, I celebrate. I can now move on to my next prayer: “May the disgusting, delusional Metro Manila Film Festival be cancelled this year, so theaters can make way for Better Movies.” It doesn’t take an intelligent explanation why I’d rather watch the latest films of Spielberg and Scorsese than the 12th, or is it 13th, “Shake Rattle & Roll” film.

UPDATE (11/14/11): “Hanna” was also denied of the September release date, adding it to the pile of good movies that never made it to the Philippines.

Just Go with It

Just Go with It PosterRating: ★☆☆☆☆

“Just Go with It” is another step down for Adam Sandler’s career. It starts inside the lethargic world of Sandler and ends within the tired formula of the romantic-comedy genre. It’s a long, slow slide from crudeness to mediocrity. The morons that are the film’s characters are appalling upon the moment of their introduction. Unfunny and mentally incompetent, these people roam around the movie’s dead plot until it’s time for them to learn their life lesson while somehow finding a way to remain stupid.

Most of the film’s first half is devoted to Adam Sandler’s compulsion to fool around. Most of the people are around him should be either a hateful jerk or a dumb stereotype, so his character would blend in with the crowd. He plays a rich plastic surgeon, Danny Maccabee. Danny’s heart was broken many years ago. As a coping mechanism, he pretends to be a depressed loser in front of pretty women. His life is so miserable that the women have no choice but to sleep with him just to cheer him up.

One night, he meets a cute blonde named Palmer. His pre-planned lies result in their physical intimacy. He wakes up in the morning convinced that Palmer and himself are destined to be together… forever. Danny is apparently delusional enough to base his conviction on a one night stand. Coincidentally, Palmer is dumb enough to agree with Danny.

Aniston and Sandler

Circumstances require Danny to settle the case with a non-existent ex-wife before he could advance his new romance with Palmer. He goes to his assistant Katherine and asks her to play the part. She is portrayed by Jennifer Aniston, whose starring role in “The Bounty Hunter” helped it become one of the worst movies of 2010. She offers the same contribution to “Just Go with It”, one of the worst movies of 2011. It’s not that she’s a bad actress. Katherine Heigl– now she’s a bad actress. Aniston’s choice of movies just makes her look like one, which isn’t actually much of an advantage.

Anyway, Katherine has two children who, for a price, have agreed to participate in Danny’s scam. These kids are spoiled, selfish, little liars. The movie makes a phony excuse for their existence by taming them by the movie’s end. It suggests that their bad behavior is the result of an absentee father. But the movie resolves the problem by rewarding them with the privilege to be raised by Adam Sandler. Right. Maybe my dislike for the kids is mostly because none of the jokes associated with their characters work. (To be clear and fair to the kids, none of the jokes associated with any of the characters work.)

Adam Sandler’s next film will be “Jack and Jill”, where Sandler will have the sadistic joy of playing two obnoxious, unfunny characters. The movie looks so bad from the trailer alone that it seems it’s gonna give him more than one step down his career.