★★★★ / ★★★★
I had my reservations prior to watching this film but after I saw it, I could finally understand why “Poltergeist” is considered as a horror classic. What I love about this picture is that it’s an unconventional horror movie. It focuses on the family and makes the “scary stuff” secondary or even tertiary. Credit definitely goes to Steven Spielberg (even though it’s directed by Tobe Hooper who also directed the original “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”). Being a big Spielberg fan, I immediately noticed his signature style of storytelling: the timeless feel of feeling like a kid again, problems with at least one parental figure (obvious or otherwise), excellent pacing, and a generous offering of eye-opening visual and special effects–all of which never outshine the film’s emotional core. I must commend JoBeth Williams for playing the mother of the house. I found her to be really touching during those scenes when she would engage with the parapsychologists (Zelda Rubinstein and Beatrice Straight). Even though all types of paranormal phenomena are happening around them, Williams’ yearning for her missing child (Heather O’Rourke) resembles a mother’s yearning for her child who recently died. Not only are those scenes moving, they are integral to the story’s overall feel. The film is smart enough to establish the family first before truly getting into the paranormal, but at the same time it didn’t take a long time to get there. Once the horror started, it never lets go: the scenes are in the least creepy and truly memorable in its most daunting. I also noticed how “The Others” and “The Sixth Sense” took some of the big ideas from here and made them their own. Even though some people would say that the special and visual effects are outdated, I think most still hold up to this day. As for those that are undeniably dated, their powers lie in the concepts (for instance, an invisible demon dragging a person to and across the ceiling) and they leave so much for the imagination. “Poltergeist” will scare people who believe in ghosts, especially haunted homes. My culture believes in the existence of ghosts (even though I personally don’t–but I do believe in the possible existence of an afterlife) so this film gave me some serious goosebumps.
Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
★★ / ★★★★
This could’ve been one of the best sequels of the “Halloween” franchise but it doesn’t reach that level because this installment tried to do too much. The magic and effectiveness of the first film starring Jamie Lee Curtis lie in minimalism: there’s not a lot of special effects (smoke, fog, rain, explosions) and the soundtrack is pretty much non-existent except during the stalking and killing scenes. And if the filmmakers do use the soundtrack, they use the theme song, not some rock and roll instrument-bashing snippets that tend to turn the audiences deaf. This one had those negative elements and it made the images unrealistic. Moreover, the writers could’ve completely eliminated the cult storyline. Dabbling with the occult is the worst one can do when it comes to writing a “Halloween” storyline because the franchise thrives on realism. The point is to make a realistic scary movie that can possibly happen on a Halloween night. That’s why the first one became a classic; because what the audiences are seeing is so relatable and real. The best part of this film was Michael Myers’ (George P. Wilbur) return to Haddonfield because that’s where everything started. It’s fun to watch Paul Rudd taking the lead but I have to say that whenever he smiles, I could not help but smile back or even laugh out loud because I’m reminded of how funny he is in his other films (especially in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”). But I think he can carry horror films quite well. Yes, this one is pretty scary because Michael Myers has more brutal ways of killing but those negative elements I mentioned tend to offset the scale from “pretty darn good” to “just mediocre.” If one decides to see this film, see it for Paul Rudd and Donald Pleasence’s final turn as Dr. Sam Loomis, the original psychiatrist who saved the lovable Laurie Strode (Curtis) from the hands of the seemingly invincible psychopath named Michael Myers.
Black Irish (2007)
★★ / ★★★★
Here’s another indie film that suffers from the Everyone Must be Depressed Syndrome. After all, it’s about an extremely dysfunctional family whose members are emotionally distant from one another. Michael Angarano plays the youngest of the McKay family and is surrounded by people he wants to look up to but are often disappointed with them: a father who keeps secrets and seems to have no positive outlook on life (Brendan Gleeson), a mother who cares too much about what other people would think so she guilts her children into doing the “right” thing (Melissa Leo), a brother who everyone gave up on because he can’t control his criminal proclivities (Tom Guiry), and a pregnant sister who wants to escape her family’s suffocating environment (Emily VanCamp). Even though each of the actor is featured and sewn into the big picture in some way, I felt like it was too forced. Stories about families must be organic because they have a natural connection to one another despite their idiosyncrasies. Angarano is really coming into his own; he’s come a long way from “The Brainiacs.com” and “Will & Grace.” Like in “Snow Angels,” he’s able to add layers and complexity to his character even though the movie is barely above mediocre. As for Guiry, I’m tired of seeing him as a damaged tough guy like in “The Mudge Boy.” Whatever happened to that nice harmless kid in “The Sandlot”? Even though I think he’s extremely talented, I think he’s repeating the same characters. I knew Emily VanCamp would have no problem with the dramatic scenes. Ever since “Everwood,” she proves to me time and again that she can look sad without trying. In essence, I felt that Guiry and VanCamp are merely cruising along and that really frustrates me because I know they can perform at a higher level. Perhaps they could have done so if the writing and direction (both credits go to Brad Gann) are sharper. Since this is Gann’s directoral debut, clichés tend to pile up on one another. But the nice thing about this movie is that it offers the characters some kind of hope at the end of the tunnel. Even though that hope is somewhat bittersweet, it’s what the characters desperately needed (so did the audiences). I also liked the fact that not everything in the film is solved because it gives the picture some sort of realism. I’m not against recommending this film because it does have some memorable scenes. But I’m not going to enthusiastically recommend it either because it has the kind of story that has been featured by better films.
★★★★ / ★★★★
This is one of the strongest Bond entries because it hints at the beginning of a more serious Bond mixed with more intricate action sequences. There’s a certain sinister tone, especially in the first half where most of the espionage scenes can be found, which made me more interested in what was going on and what is eventually going to happen. This is Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as 007 and he is more than welcome to walk in the shoes of a beloved character because I believe he is as dangerous and charismatic Sean Connery. Even though he may appeal more to the modern fans of the Bond franchise, he has that classic fun factor that older fans can definitely appreciate. Brosnan is able to deliver the classic one-liners with a certain serious but undeniablly fun swagger. As for the supporting cast, I think the group is one of the most memorable: Sean Bean as Agent 006 proves to be 007’s match physically and mentally, Izabella Scorupco as Natalya Simonova is the smart and beautiful Bond girl, Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp is the femme fatale who specializes in squeezing people to death, and Judi Dench as the cold but lovable M. The story of “GoldenEye” may be a bit unbelievable at times (especially back in 1995 during the first’s release) but it’s more relevant today because of technology’s exponential advancements. All logic and credibility aside, the action sequences are mind-blowing (the tank scene alone is reason enough to watch), the style is slick, and it’s fast-paced. Directed by Martin Campbell who will direct “Casino Royale” about ten years in the future, “GoldenEye” is a must-see for all Bond fanatics and spy film enthusiasts. (And did I mention that I believe this has one of the best opening squences in Bond history? So much was accomplished during the first five minutes, followed by an astonishing opening credits with Tina Turner.)
Boy A (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★
Originally a novel written by Jonathan Trigell, this feature film directed by John Crowley is ultimately about about rehabilitation and redemption. Even though it’s more focused on the rehabilitation outside of a facility, I think it’s more interesting because it also manages to tackle the philosophical question of others’ knowledge (and lack thereof) of a particular event in one’s life–how that knowledge can change the way they think and act around the person of controversy. Andrew Garfield does an amazing job as Jack Burridge who was sentenced to jail as a child because of a murder he committed. With the help of Peter Mullan’s character who is like a father figure to Jack, Jack is given the chance to reintegrate into a society that he left (or of which that left him?). Garfield, within the first five minutes, proved to me that he truly regrets the past and wants to lead a normal life again. He has that childlike quality that is extremely charming, but at the same time there are moments in the film that shows the audience that the evil inside him–which most likely resides within us as well–is not fully expunged despite his best efforts. Garfield gives us a really complex character study; how a person that is continually challenged and reminded of his past reaches some sort of breaking point even though many things are seemingly going in the right direction. Another stand-out performance is from Katie Lyons as Garfield’s girlfriend. She’s strong and spunky, determined and a bit over-the-top–which is a perfect fit for Garfield because he tries to dim his light since he doesn’t want to get much (positive and negative) attention from people. Some of the highlights in the film include Garfield’s dance when he was under the influence of ecstasy (I thought that was kind sexy), Garfield and Lyons’ intimate conversations, and the final scene. The last scene blew me away because it was so powerful when it comes to engaging the audience. The film’s strength and downfall were the flashback scenes. Even though those scenes are necessary to explain what happened in the past and they were placed in the right moments in the film, the flashbacks brought up new questions that weren’t really answered in the end. Perhaps if one read the novel, the answers would be clearer but those that did not might be a bit confused. Still, this is a very good movie that gathers momentum as it goes on and doesn’t break its spell until after the exemplary last scene. This is a thinking person’s movie because it essentially comments on (and even questions) human psychology. It is also the kind of film that ignites discussion.
Mamma Mia! (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
I thought I would dislike this movie because I’m not a fan of musicals nor am I a big fan of ABBA (even though I’m familiar with some of their songs). What saved and (surprisingly enough) elevated this picture is its sheer enthusiasm to entertain its audiences. It’s not afraid to be silly or too light or even feature some bad singing. It takes a lot of courage from the director (Phyllida Lloyd) and writer (Catherine Johnson) for the film to embrace its inconsistencies, flaws, and logic so I must commend them for it. Even though the film is full of stars such as Amanda Seyfried and her three potential fathers (Stellan Skarsgård, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth), the actors that truly shine are Meryl Streep (as Seyfried’s single mother) and her two best friends: Julie Walters and Christine Baranski. As the three older women in the film, they managed to single-handedly make me smile and laugh whenever they’re on screen. I love the fact that the director was not afraid to show the actresses’ aging bodies. I mean this in a good way because most films try to hide qualities of someone’s body that don’t fit “the norm.” In this movie, flaws are very welcome and even celebrated. Even though I thought that the characters could’ve solved the identity of Seyfried’s father in the first five minutes by taking a paternity test, if they hadn’t dragged it out, there would be no movie. Plus, musicals are not to be taken seriously; the genre’s aim is to simply make someone feel good. As for Seyfried, I think she’s a star. From the moment I saw her in “Mean Girls,” I knew she would be a celebrity and I think she has a bright future ahead of her if she continues to choose different but rewarding roles. I must also commend Streep for impressing me once again. She has such a well-rounded repertoire and she’s quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses as I see more films. In here, she’s wounded but strong, not to mention that she has a great singing voice. The best scene has got to be when she sang “The Winner Takes It All” on a cliff with Brosnan. She did it with such passion to the point where it gave me goosebumps and realized that I could 100% identify with her character even though we’re completely different. I expected to dislike this movie but I was glad to be proven wrong. Yes, most people will completely dismiss this film by pointing out its flaws. But I think it’s deeper to appreciate it for its flaws especially when it made a person feel good by the end of the day.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008)
★ / ★★★★
When I read this film’s scathing reviews (to say the least), I thought people were just being way too hard on it so I still wanted to watch it. Despite people’s advice (and insistence) to stay as far away from this movie as possible, I still hoped that I would like it even just a little bit because I love the first two “Mummy” installments (they reminded me of the spirit of the “Indiana Jones” franchise). This time around, I’d have to agree with everyone else; this is as bad as they say it is. First of all, they replaced my favorite actor from the franchise: Rachel Weisz. I thought she was perfect as Evelyn O’Connell because she excels at being bookish-smart and rarely depending on chance in order to reach some sort of success. It means that she’s perfect for Brendan Fraser’s character, Rick O’Connell, because he’s too goofy for his own good (which often leads him to trouble) and only depends on luck in order to get the upper hand. Maria Bello, Weisz’s replacement, interprets the character so differently, I felt like she was Rick O’Connell’s unwelcome second wife. She’s one dimensional, not that strong, and lacks charisma. Not to mention she doesn’t have chemistry with Frasier. Moreover, even though Luke Ford as Alex O’Connell is nice to look at, I didn’t find him as witty and as plucky as the younger Alex O’Connell (Freddie Boath) back in “The Mummy Returns.” In fact, I found Ford as interesting as an inert plank leaning against a wall. Brendar Frasier, despite his best efforts and fun energy, was sidelined. To me, the focus of this film was the conflict between Michelle Yeoh and Jet Li’s characters. Not only did the camera spend too much time on them (even though I really liked their martial arts scenes), the story is really about a thousand year old thirst for power and revenge. And somehow, Frasier and the gang managed to get tangled in its maelstrom. As for the film’s pacing, it didn’t really get interesting up until the forty-minute mark. In fact, I was kind of getting sleepy which is not a good sign because I love action-adventure films. I love watching characters travel from one place to another, seeing exotic locales, and winning at the end of the day. In this film, I didn’t really care about the characters because I never thought they were in any real danger. I literally rolled my eyes from when the Yetis appeared up until the end. Just when I thought that’s the worst of it, a dragon appeared… and then a giant monster that could bring down planes. In a nutshell, it just got too ridiculous. As much as I love the “Mummy” franchise, I’d have to urge everyone to skip this one and see something else–something that truly captures how it’s like to go on an adventure.
The Reader (2008)
★★★★ / ★★★★
If Kate Winslet doesn’t get nominated and win two Oscars for her performances in “Revolutionary Road” and “The Reader,” I would be very disappointed with the Academy. Having seen pretty much all of the films that generated the most buzz in the Best Actress category, I can vouch that she’s the one who truly deserves it. In “The Reader,” Winslet shines as a woman who gets sexually entangled with a fifteen-year-old boy, played with such vulnerability and innocence by David Kross. Strangely enough, even though their relationship is taboo, I’m willing to admit that I did find chemistry between the two of them. In the first half of the picture, Stephen Daldry, the director, was smart enough to focus on the two leads’ hunger. That hunger is presented both emotionally and physically but never completely separate. Both of the characters intentions are never completely clear which makes the film that much more interesting. I was often questioning myself about who was really using the other. Just when I thought it was about to lose its focus, the second half was able to summon all of its power and give its audiences reasons why they should care for the Winslet and Kross (played by Ralph Fiennes as time went on). Even though the two are deeply flawed, we relate to them in many ways because they tend to choose the more difficult path in order to keep protecting their secrets. Such secrets may seem so simple at first glance but there’s a lot of shame in those secrets, especially those that belong to Winslet’s character. Some of the best scenes of “The Reader” are its silent moments when the images do not require an explanation. Having said all of that, I think this film would’ve been much stronger if the last thirty minutes were more fluid. I thought there were many “final” scenes where the film could’ve ended. The “choppiness” could’ve been taken care of with a little bit more time. I’m giving this a high recommendation for the reasons mentioned previously but especially for Winslet’s performance. But the real surprise for me was the newcomer Kross, who I hope to see more in the future. He’s so brave for deciding to star in a film of this caliber. He not only sheds his clothes but ultimately his soul–which is far more challenging for any actor his age.
★★★★ / ★★★★
I’ve heard of Klinefelter’s Syndrome in several Biology courses but I’ve never seen a film that focuses on the condition. Inés Efron does a great job as Alex who has not yet made a decision whether to continue as a female or get an operation to become a male, but has recently decided to stop taking pills which contain hormones that aim to retain her femininity. Her parents invite a doctor and his family; things get complicated when Alex meets Alvaro (Martín Piroyansky). Since this is the first film I saw about XXY Syndrome, I was surprised by its mature sensitivity. During several points in the film, just when I thought it was going to take the Lifetime route, it completely turns to a different, more daring direction. I don’t know if I felt pity or sympathy for Alex (maybe it’s understanding) but I wanted to scream for her. Every time I look in her eyes, I feel like she desperately wants to escape but couldn’t. She tries to love her body but she’s always reminded by others that she’s different so she constantly reevaluates herself. Even though she has supportive parents and some supportive friends, some strangers are so cruel to her to the point where I wanted to jump into the movie and fight for her. Her relationship with Alvaro is so fragile but I feel like they reach some sort of understanding. Whenever they’d interact, they feed off each other’s differences to the point where they reach some sort of comfort around one another. Toward the end of the picture, we get to learn more about Alvaro and his need for approval from his father. That confrontation scene before they left Alex’ beach house felt like a punch in the stomach to me. It was so honest but painful, yet it was also beautiful and a relief. The use of color and tone of this film reflected the characters and I absolutely loved looking at it; it’s almost like poetry but composed of images instead of words. I must also commend this film’s focus because each scene has something to do with the big picture. I love films like this because even though it’s emotionally exhausting, it feels so rewarding because we feel that much more knowledgeable about something we didn’t know much about. If you’re a fan of the blurring between two extremes, such as gender and sexuality, this film receives a very enthusiastic recommendation from me.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
This sequel is arguably just as good as the original mainly because of the exotic locations and earnest acting. Two and half out of the four storylines worked for me: Amber Tamblyn’s pregnancy scare and her fear of everyone leaving her someday, America Ferrera’s accidental acting gig and her fear of growing distant from her friends, and half of Alexis Bledel’s lost love (Michael Rady) in Greece. I usually love watching Blake Lively (and I did love her here) but the storyline involving archeology and her grandmother felt forced. Every time the film would focus on her so-called life challenges, the momentum of the picture slowed down tremendously. As for the part that didn’t work for me regarding Bledel, it mostly has something to do with her acting. This was also a problem in the first film but whenever she’s about to cry, it feels really forced to the point where it’s borderline laughable. I can read it in her eyes–her questioning about whether she’s exuding enough tears and emotion. Out of the four, acting-wise, I think she’s the most dispensable. However, there’s something about this movie’s energy that kept me interested. I believed that the four leads really were college students because of the way they talked to each other and the questions that they raised (and eventually answered) when no one was around. Even though I’m not the target age group, I could relate with some of the girls, especially Tamblyn’s serious and introspective persona (not to mention her love for movies), because I have gone through the fears of losing one’s high school friends when I moved on to college. Overall, I’m recommending “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” because it has nice life lessons and the actresses are interesting to watch.
★★★ / ★★★★
It’s interesting to me when I look back on how the “James Bond” franchise changed over several decades. I can understand why many people consider Sean Connery as the best 007 because he can be dangerous and charming at the same time–and looks like he’s having fun. “Thunderball” is the fourth Bond picture and it’s different from the first three because it has so many cheesy but (sometimes) amusing one-liners. I consider this movie to be uneven because even though rousing action sequences are still present, they are immediately followed by tedious dialogue that only occasionally push the story forward. It’s a shame because the picture truly shines when the audiences are actually seeing SPECTRE’s plan in action, all the while knowing that Bond will somehow keep them from succeeding. It’s hard for me not to recommend this Bond installment because the femme fatales are interesting (Claudine Auger as Domino and Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe). The audiences know their motivations but that doesn’t mean their goals are predictable. Adolfo Celi as Emilio Largo (also known as SPECTRE #2) is a good villain because he can go head-to-head with Bond. Celi’s character has been parodied many times such as in the “Austin Powers” franchise. And there are many memorable scenes such as the underwater battle scenes in the ocean, when the wounded Bond evades his enemies during a parade, the scene where Bond is trapped in a swimming pool infested with sharks… I just wish that the script would’ve been written better. When it’s time to take a scene seriously, it falls apart because someone would say or do something unintentionally funny. Still, I say go see it for the gadgets, interesting use of color, realistic fight scenes, and memorable side characters.
Live and Let Die (1973)
★★ / ★★★★
This isn’t my favorite James Bond film even though it has a nice balance of action and humor. At times I felt like it was too light to the point where it’s impossible to take the more serious scenes… well, seriously. Rooger Moore is a mediocre 007 because he lacks a certain edge that Sean Connery has. Moore is a bit too goofy with his one-liners and I wanted him to be more dangerous. One of my major problems is that the film somewhat relied on the belief of tarot cards coming true. That lack of realism really bothered me and I wish the writers eliminated it from the story. It’s a shame because the premise started off well: three agents were killed from different sides of the globe and Bond has to find a connection on why it happened. While the beginning is brilliant, the execution and the conclusion are less than impressive. Come to think of it, I don’t think they answered all of my questions regarding the premise. It simply answered the “why” aspect in one of the scenes and completely forgot about it for the rest of the picture. Somehow, Bond manages to meet a girl who can see the future and become crocodile food. Although the latter scene is very impressive (it’s arguably the best scene of the film), it hardly makes up for the rest of the film’s inconsistencies. Bond is supposed to be the center of the story but there were many scenes where he could not be found. If I were to estimate the net time Moore was not on film, it would be around twenty minutes. When introducing a new actor playing Bond, the smart move is to put him in front of the camera 95% of the time (or more) so the audiences will get a chance to get to know him more. By the end of this film, I felt like Moore was secondary to the big picture.
Tropic Thunder (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
This is not as funny as everyone made it to be. I thought it spent too much of its time showing people shooting guns and not enough time telling Hollywood jokes. For a two-hour film, I thought it would reach some sort of balance. Written and directed by Ben Stiller, he has some really funny sketches such as the fake trailers prior to the main feature, Robert Downey Jr. as a method actor, Tom Cruise as the over-the-top movie mogul, and not to mention the Oscar scene. Other than those few elements, I simply chuckled through the rest (if they were at least somewhat funny). Jack Black and Ben Stiller weren’t as funny as they could have been. Compared to Downey Jr. and Cruise, Black and Stiller were trying too hard to get noticed; instead of enhancing the experience, it became distracting. But I appreciated the cameos from Tyra Banks, Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Lance Bass, and Alicia Silverstone. They made me pay attention when nothing was going on on screen. What made this movie slightly above average at times was its self-awareness. It’s unabashed when it comes to making references to war pictures like “Platoon” and “Full Metal Jacket.” I love the scene where Downey Jr. recalled the films and actors that focus on mental retardation: Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man,” Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump,” and Sean Penn in “I Am Sam.” If they would have appeared, it would have been that much better. But what really did not work for me was the jungle scenes. When people are shooting guns and running away from the artillery, it becomes chaotic. Those “action” scenes feel like fillers when the jokes are not in the foreground. This is supposed to be a comedy but I didn’t see the comedy behind the violence. Perhaps if this had been a dark comedy film, it would’ve worked… but it wasn’t so it didn’t. The story becomes slow and it feels like the actors are not reaching their full potential because they are left to just run around screaming. If this movie would have been tilted toward the show business instead of the actual war scenes, I think I would’ve enjoyed it that much more.
★★★★ / ★★★★
There is no doubt in my mind that this film contained some of the best performances of the year. If Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep do not get nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Best Actress, respectively, an injustice would’ve been done. I love how this film’s thesis was established during the first scene: how doubt can be as powerful as certainty. I have three stand-out scenes that I thought were exemplary: the feathers and their symbolism, Streep’s heartbreaking talk with Viola Davis, and Streep’s final confrontation with Hoffman. Out of those three scenes, I’d say the one with Davis is the most powerful because of all the implications. Issues such as the home, color of one’s skin, and one’s “nature”/embracing God’s gift are all mixed to justify a mother’s decision for her son’s safety as the son is put between a rock and a hard place. Even though Davis was only on screen for about fifteen minutes, she gave this film a certain force that is impossible to ignore. I will be immensely happy if she gets an Oscar nomination as well. As for the always great Amy Adams, she’s able to go toe-to-toe between Hoffman and Streep without sacrificing her charm. I think that takes a lot of effort and subtlety, especially when the other two are constantly on the verge of breakdown. One of the reasons why I admire this picture is its ability to conceal the truth. Most of the time, we do not know whether the priest molested an altar boy. By the end, most people have an idea (including the friend I saw it with), but I was still very doubtful. After all, Hoffman is up against a character who will do absolutely anything–even as far as to embrace a total lie (which is something that is totally against her faith)–just to prove that she is right. Sometimes, it’s wiser to turn the other way than to spend more time in the battlefield and experience more destruction. And let’s not forget a character’s shocking reaction right by the film’s ending (which most likely means more than one thing). The title of this film is “Doubt” and not “Certainty” which, in my opinion, ties in with the movie’s central thesis. Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley (including the play), this film is resonant because it has many implications and can generate strong discussions.