Chronicle PosterRating: ★★★½☆

The three teenage heroes of “Chronicle” are strangely drawn to the baffling hole in the woods. From deep within this crater comes eerie sounds, and the little light that gleams from it is unexplained. In neglect of the human instinct of self-preservation, the boys jump right in. It wouldn’t be unnatural to fear that these kids would end up injured, missing, or trapped, especially if you’ve seen too many episodes of Man vs. Wild. But what do you know? They not only survived their stunt, but also gained telekinetic superpowers as a result. Lucky bastards.

“Chronicle” adapts the idea of the Superhero Origin story and operates it within the immature and naive world of teenagers. The boys are grateful to have acquired their amazing abilities, but their nature doesn’t lead them to save lives and fight crime. Heck, they’re probably not even old enough to win a battle against their own hormones. The film’s first half gives a depiction on what would happen if astonishing powers where granted to immature beings. Shoppers at malls become victims of telekinetic practical jokes. Leaf blowers are mentally activated in front of pretty girls with short skirts. The scenarios are small-scale and simple-minded, but they’re also amusing and believable, and certainly more original and entertaining than most of the comic book movies of last year.

Dan DeHaan (Andrew) in ChronicleWe are at an age where dozens and dozens of movies are sucked out of materials we’ve already encountered before. And in this pile of sequels, remakes, and rip-offs, we notice this elegant little film that can be distinguished by its desire to be different. “Chronicle” cleverly fuses three genres of distant qualities: the Superhero Origin, the High School Drama, and the Found Footage Narrative. This is a bold and risky artistic approach from director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis, knowing that this is their debut project in Hollywood. Some newcomers are often crammed with dreams and visions, while some run out of steam after a few good movies. (What in the hell happened to M. Night Shyamalan?) I think the movie has provided Trank and Landis with a good start the same way “The Sixth Sense” provided a good start for Shyamalan. My hope is that 20 years from now, “Chronicle” will only be seen as the stepping stone of their careers, and not as the highlight.

The same thing could be said for its leading actors, since “Chronicle” has provided them with their first major role in a widely distributed motion picture. That they didn’t choose a slasher film as a “Career Starter” is a great sign. Slasher flicks have become the go-to genre for young actors hoping to be “discovered” by bigger studios. A problem with this method is that its actors don’t have much space to shine. All you really have do is act stupid and be killed, like the doomed kids in the Final Destination movies. The three boys in “Chronicle” are real characters portrayed by actors whose plans for themselves exceed the thought of being sliced onscreen. Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan play Steve and Matt, two of three three boys who jumped into the hole. They are average students with normal lives, and can handle the weight of having superpowers.

Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan in ChronicleThe third kid is Andrew (Dan DeHann). His complicated life slowly darkens the film’s comical atmosphere. If we discard the superhero elements, we would be left with a concerned observation regarding teenage depression. The movie monitors how his isolated loneliness has boiled into suppressed anger. There are many kids like Andrew: abused and bullied, but chooses to keep it private. Fantasies of revenge run through their minds. This is harmless by itself, but all of this can translate into real danger once you give these kinds of people a power to fight back. When a furious Andrew discovers that his telekenisis can do more than just practical jokes, I became reminded of the troubled teens responsible for the Columbine High School Massacre.

Teenagers will have fun with the early scenes of telekinetic experiments, and if they pay closer attention, they might even learn to have a broader awareness of the people in their age group. I think the special effects were brought up to attract the movie’s target audience. How many teenagers would watch a quiet high school drama about isolated loneliness? Only a few, for sure. The rest would be busy looking for a good excuse to see the 5th, or 6th, Resident Evil movie.

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?


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.

Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens PosterRating: ★★½☆☆

Common sense is not welcome in a movie called “Cowboys & Aliens”. No other non-sequel title in 2011 has given a more tempting wink to the Summer Movie Audience. It presents a preposterous yet enticing idea that feels destined to be a silly, dumb, fun action-comedy. Led by “Ironman” director Jon Favreau, and guided by familiar names like Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg, we feel confidence in its production.

We tone our brains down in eager wait, only to be left wondering in the end why a concept ready for fun was treated with a large and unnecessary amount of seriousness. It forces upon itself a certain level of depth, which the movie has no time for. The attempts at a heavier story prolong “Cowboys & Aliens” to a running time of 118 minutes, where much of it is composed of overlong explanations and faulty, predictable drama. The bossy jerk learns to cooperate, the useless son learns to practice obedience, and the angry rebel learns to smile. Haven’t we seen all of these before? Do they really have a place in a movie called “Cowboys & Aliens”?

The film opens with a wanted criminal, Jake Londergan, waking in the dry desert. Besides the fact that he’s suffering from memory loss, Jake is battered, bleeding, and without shoes. (Jake is having a bad day.) On his left arm, is an alien bracelet precisely made to blow stuff up, like the Predator’s! How did he come into possession of such an item? Did he trade his shoes for it?

Olivia Wilde

The pretty girl named Ella.

With memories still unavailable, Jake makes his way to a small town called Absolution. It is there where he meets a cattleman named Woodrow Dolarhyde, who is still angry at him for stealing his gold. The location and condition sets up the film’s Western atmosphere, but before the two cowboys could duel it out, alien spaceships emerge from the night and start an attack. Ropes… alien ropes… launch from the flying machines, entangling a number of the townspeople which fly away with the aliens.

The stakes are shifted, and the film turns into a rescue mission. The outlaw and the cattleman are followed by some of the townspeople, which include a pretty girl named Ella. Because they have no idea where to look for the alien’s hideout, our heroes come to consult a tribe of Indians. But all they have is some kind of ancient Indian miracle drink, especially made to treat memory loss. Why, that’s exactly what Jake needs! He takes a sip, and the aliens’ secrets are spoiled. Turns out, these aliens came to visit to search for gold. Yes.

Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig

Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig

Jake and Woodrow are played by Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford. The actors have presence, but their characters have no charisma. They are given very little to do in the film’s second act. (Remember the overlong explanations and faulty, predictable drama I was talking about earlier?) It’s unfortunate that it is only at the climax where the film’s title fulfills its promise. If only we arrived there sooner.

In this climax, cowboys and Indians throw spears and shoot guns, while the aliens, equipped with the same bracelet Jake has, run to their opponent and stab them to death. Did they forget that they have the bracelet on? Not very good memory, these aliens have. For their own sake, they should also start looking for the ingredients of the ancient Indian miracle drink.

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.

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*

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.