The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
I was surprised by how much this film was grounded in reality even though the trailers sold it off as a typical “based on a true story” demonic possession. Virginia Madsen and Martin Donovan star as the parents who choose to move in a house with a creepy history because their son’s (Kyle Gallner) cancer treatment facility is nearby. It’s not long until spirits start to get themselves known to Gallner’s character in truly horrifying manners. I really admired the first thirty minutes of this horror flick because things that most people would consider as supernatural are things that can happen to cancer patients going through various therapies (i.e. hallucinations). I wish Peter Cornwell, the director, decided to keep straddling the line between science and the supernatural because it’s very reminiscent of “The Exorcist.” To me, the closer a horror film is to reality, its resonance after I leave the theater is amplified many more times as opposed to a horror movie that’s so unbelievable to the point where it loses its power. Unfortunately, this movie is the latter. Another frustration that I had with it was the film’s use of soundtrack to cue that something terrifying is happening on screen. I was really taken out of the moment whenever the soundtrack would be heard; most of the time, I don’t like outside cues to tell me how I should be feeling especially when the obvious is being shown on the screen. Its scares would’ve been more effective if there was less jarring creepy sounds–let the creaks of each footstep or a body hitting furnitures do all the work. After all, this is a horror film about a house with a questionable past (in the least) so the-less-the-better technique could’ve done wonders. As for its acting, I thought everyone did pretty good but I felt like Gallner was holding back. I’ve seen him in several television shows and movies so I know that he could’ve done more. Still, “The Haunting in Connecticut” had three or four solid scares so I’m giving it a mediocre rating. However, it would’ve been so much better if the booming soundtrack during scares was kept at a minimum or was not integrated at all.
Kiss the Bride (2007)
★ / ★★★★
This movie goes downhill after the opening credits. The story is about a gay man (Philipp Karner) who works in the magazine industry in the big city who one day gets an invitation from his first love’s (James O’Shea) wedding with a woman (Tori Spelling). This is kind of like “My Best Friend’s Wedding” only I can’t sit through it because it sounds like most of the actors are reading off a script. For an LGBT film made for gay men, I found the women to be the most interesting: Spelling, Amber Benson (the bride’s sister) and Jane Cho (Karner’s plucky lesbian assistant). Another aspect I found to be unforgivable was Karner’s character. When he returned to his hometown, I felt as if he felt like he was better than everyone else. His main goal is to persuade O’Shea to call off the wedding right when they see each other. When things didn’t go according to plan, he mopes around like a little kid. I couldn’t identify with the main character at all because he’s too self-absorbed. I didn’t appreciate the twists and turns of the story as well, which was predominant in the last fifteen minutes. I felt like the script was trying too hard to impress. To me, it just highlights the film’s flaws such as its poor pacing, acting and direction. The ending didn’t make sense either. Overall, I just wanted to get to know Benson’s cynical character who was sent to jail for vandalizing a wedding store. She stood out to me because she’s not like any of the cookie-cutter characters. She has drive, anger and thoughts that doesn’t have anything to do about love or weddings. Avoid this film if you can. If you want to see a much better movie with 90% similarities with this movie, go watch “My Best Friend’s Wedding” instead. That one was actually funny and clever. And if you want to see a much better film from C. Jay Cox, check out “Latter Days.”
In Paris (2006)
★★ / ★★★★
There’s a lot of complex dynamics between the characters in this film but most of them were not explored enough. The best scenes were when the two brothers, Romain Duris and Louis Garrel, would talk to each other about women, the value of life and their childhood. I also found the father (Guy Marchand) interesting but he wasn’t given much to do except hover in the background like some sort of annoyance for the two leads. Duris returns home after a bad break-up and stays in bed all day. Garrel tries to find ways to alleviate his brother’s depression by–strangely enough–sleeping with other women. That statement doesn’t make sense but after seeing the entire picture, in a strange way, it does have some hidden meaning. I wouldn’t have gotten it either if Garrel’s character didn’t literally voice it out to his brother in the final scene. Still, this film is very uneven. In the beginning, Garrel talks to the camera and he claims that he’s going to be the narrator. As the film went on, that narration was completely thrown out the window. It would’ve been wiser if Christophe Honoré, the director, was more consistent about the narration because the film got a little confusing at times. One minute we’re looking at something that happened a week ago and the next we’re looking at something that happened a few months ago. The fact that this film is in French (I have no problem with that; I love foreign films) is another issue because there were some dialogues that do not directly correlate with the subtitles. (I know a little bit of French.) Given that handicap, jumping from one moment in time to another makes it that much less accessible. I liked that this film referenced other great filmmakers from the likes Jean-Luc Godard (scenes outside the home) and Bernardo Bertolucci (scenes in the home). Plus, that one scene when Garrel was looking at movie posters of “Last Days” and “A History of Violence” made me laugh due to the fact that Garrel looked at Michael Pitt’s picture with a certain recognition. (They worked together in one of my favorite films “The Dreamers.”) Little tidbits like that made me enjoy this movie despite my frustrations with its techniques. This is definitely not for everyone but if you’re the kind of person that likes to see movies which honor certain signatures of other great filmmakers, check this one out. (I still say it should have been more character-driven…)
Girls Rock! (2007)
★★ / ★★★★
After hearing about this film, I knew I had to rent it because I liked what it was trying to accomplish. However, as much as I like the ideas behind the film, I can’t quite recommend it because I felt like it didn’t have enough focus; it tried to tell stories of about five bands so its an hour and a half running time wasn’t enough to dig deeper into these children’s lives. There were moments in the film–especially near the end–when it captured some of these girls’ loneliness and their reasons for joining the camp. I wanted to know more about that instead of how they make music. There’s also a great message about kids having to learn to work through their problems in front of those same people who they are having frustrations with. It not only applies in a band or group dynamics but also in the real world. However, what I found distracting was the little animations and statistics flashing on the screen. I felt like I was watching a college student’s documentary and those tidbits took me out of the whole experience. Those minutes combined should’ve been used to further explore the campers’ psychology. Still, there were some interesting characters here such as the Korean girl who hates herself, the girl who has a brother with Downe Syndrome and the girl who’s been through a lot of tough times being transferred from one foster home to another. I wish the filmmakers would’ve primarily told their story and then talk about how music has changed them. This is not just about the camp. It also comments on how society is designed to make women feel second rate, how music has changed in the 90s and how that correlates to women and expectations regarding their bodies. Having taken a few Women’s Studies courses, I found it to be insightful but (at times) a bit preachy. Again, this film has a plethora of good ideas but it needed to have an extra punch by working on its execution.
★★★★ / ★★★★
This is one of those films that I will never forget because of how daring it was (still is) especially back at the time of its release. Lindsay Anderson was able to helm a counterculture film that fuses reality with surrealism and dark fantasy, all the while embracing its satirical nature. This was Malcolm McDowell’s first feature film and it was easy to tell that he was a star. He played his character with such domineering sneer and swagger, it was almost as if he was preparing to star in “A Clockwork Orange” directed by the great Stanley Kubrick. The way McDowell’s character and his friends (David Wood and Richard Warwick) were constantly pushed toward the edge by the faculty was fascinating to watch. Each scene has an implication and a certain bite to the point where I found myself referring back to the earlier scenes and realized that foreshadowing is one of its strongest elements. The final scene involving a bloody student uprising against the school system was done in such a provocative way; I didn’t know whether to laugh or take it seriously. Another element that I found to be interesting was the romance between McDowell and a waitress (Christine Noonan). That one “animalistic” scene was so out of the blue but it was exemplary because it’s as if it symbolizes every student’s frustration in that public school. Lastly, the romance between Warwick and one of the younger boys (Rupert Webster) provided a much-needed sensitivity to the picture. Even though they may not have many scenes where they conversed, when they finally did, I couldn’t help but have a smile on my face. This may have been really controversial back in the late 1960s but I think it’s more relevant today. School shootings have now become far too common because of the way students feel about their teachers, peers and the school’s atmosphere. (On the other hand, one can argue that school shootings happen for no reason at all rather than to inflict pain and violence.) This film does a tremendous job avoiding expected rationalizations for the students’ future actions whenever it could. If one is craving for something different in style and perspective, this is the one to see.
Bad Lieutenant (1992)
★★ / ★★★★
Even though I really wanted to like this film more than I did, I can understand why it gained its cult following. The film features dark alleys and hallways as if to resemble the dark side of humanity. That metaphor is consistent throughout so it’s difficult not to admire Abel Ferrara’s direction. Each scene is so visceral and honest to the point where it was painful to watch; two scenes I can recall right away is the scene that involves a rape and when the lead actor (Harvey Keitel) actually sees Christ. Keitel pushes his acting ability to its limit and it was great to see. His character is extremely difficult to like because he’s on drugs pretty much every hour of every day, he doesn’t really care for his family, he terrorizes unknowing teenage girls and his obsession with gambling ultimately takes a toll on his soul. That latter component, in my opinion, is the one topic that’s fully explored. On the outside, it seems like he gambles for the money but if one were to look closely, it’s more about his desperation to stay in touch with reality. Without living in some kind of risk, it seems as though the lead character doesn’t feel like he exists–at least exist in a meaningful way. As much as I love symbolism and reading between the lines, at the same time, that’s the most frustrating part of this film. It doesn’t really let the audiences know why things are unfolding as they are. It’s open to interpretation so it automatically weeds out those who are unwilling to look past the grimy, nihilistic setting. To me, it needs more focus in terms of exploring its core and why this tortured character ended up the way he is. The pictures gives us a lot of scenes that involve Keitel’s character doing a lot of very bad things but without some sort of background, he becomes the enemy instead of someone we can watch all the way through–not necessarily root for. I admired this film’s many conflicting ideas but I cannot quite recommend it because I feel like it needed more substance instead of just featuring self-destruction for about ninety minutes.
Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
While the animation does look great in 3D, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would because it didn’t have enough heart. Essentially, as the title suggests, monsters must battle aliens. Reese Witherspoon lends her voice as Susan Murphy, a woman who gets turned into a giant after being in contact with a meteorite. Other stars include Seth Rogen as B.O.B the blob, Hugh Laurie as Dr. Cockroach Ph.D., Will Arnett as The Missing Link, Kiefer Sutherland as General W.R. Monger, Rainn Wilson as the villanous Gallaxhar, Stephen Colbert as the President of the United States, and Paul Rudd as Derek Dietl, Susan’s self-centered husband-to-be. Their voices didn’t distract me from the story but I wish the story was more interesting. Even though there’s references to other movies like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and the soundtrack has something to do with outer space such as The B-52’s “Planet Claire,” I found it hard to fully get into the characters because they didn’t show enough vulnerability. They may be amusing from time to time but their other dimensions could’ve been explored. Although this was obviously made for children under ten years old, animated films like “WALL-E” and “Finding Nemo” show that it is possible to include adults while targeting children. The writing just has to be sharp enough to include jokes that are relevant to the film’s universe while at the same time incorporating common issues like friendship, self-reliance and maturation. In “Monsters vs. Aliens,” I felt like the priority was on the visuals instead of the emotion so there was this jarring disconnect between me and the picture. With a little more time rewriting certain aspects of this film, I can see its potential to become as memorable as “Monsters, Inc.” and “Monster House.” Instead, just rent it on DVD instead of watching it in theaters. One won’t be missing much until then.