Enough Said


Enough Said (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a masseuse, and Marianne (Catherine Keener), a poet, meet at a party. The two get on so well that Marianne hires Eva to be her masseuse. But at that same party, Eva meets Albert (James Gandolfini). They, too, get along very well that they agree to go on a date. Eva and Marianne become friends while Eva and Albert become lovers. Eventually, Eva learns that Marianne and Albert are formerly married.

“Enough Said,” written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, could have taken a television sitcom route: harmless, constantly going for easy laughs, sentimental turn of events, easily solvable problems. Instead, the picture accomplishes a small feat. It does so by taking a sitcom-like premise and telling a story that is human. It has funny and sad moments. We are frustrated with the characters at times. We come to recognize the good and the bad in all of them.

We get details of the blossoming relationships. First, the connection between Eva and Marianne is allowed to go beyond girlfriends who gossip. We get a sense that Eva is envious about certain aspects of Marianne’s life: the gorgeous house, the unconventional but very cool career, recognition for the work she produces. Meanwhile, Eva has a more simple life… but perhaps a more harmonious one. While the inner workings of the poetess’ mind does not get ample screen time, the difference in their moods and perspectives are significant enough so that we are able to make knowledgeable conclusions.

Second, and perhaps more obvious, is Eva’s relationship with Albert. Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini share great chemistry, she with her infectious laugh and he with his outpouring of compliments but meaning every single one. Since each performer is charming in his or her own way—sometimes on the same level, other times on competing wavelengths—it is easy to root for Albert and Eva being and remaining together. We know that the elephant in the room will have to be recognized eventually. I wished the screenplay has done it sooner.

Not only is putting the revelation near the end of the picture predictable, it circumvents a further opportunity to dig deeper into the characters. The fallout of the discovery is less powerful than it should have been. Furthermore, though the last twenty minutes remain well-acted, I could not help but feel slightly disappointed because the material went exactly to places I had expected it would go. It should have gone with a path that is less traveled because the material is more than good enough to take on a risk so it can be memorable.

There is a subplot about mother-daughter relationships. While tolerable, it feels too much like a distraction. It would have been funnier if it were shown that the teenagers—hormonal as they are—were more secure with themselves than their parents.

Five Feet Apart


Five Feet Apart (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

Make no mistake that the romantic drama “Five Feet Apart,” based on the screenplay by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis, is a fantasy. It is for those who wish to see something romantic on the surface with occasional sad moments involving life and mortality surrounding a disease we do not yet have a cure for. Keeping in mind that the protagonists—patients with cystic fibrosis, one of them infected with the highly resistant bacteria B. cepacia—engage in dangerous practices, like not following protocol of maintaining a distance of six feet and engaging in all sorts of physical contact, it is, for about half the time, a tolerable experience. The leads sell the movie.

Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse play Stella and Will, respectively. Stella is adamant, some would say obsessed, when it comes to keeping up with her regimen so she can live until she gets a new pair of lungs which, in theory, may prolong her life about five years. Will, on the other hand, appears to not care about taking his medication on time, if ever. Of the pair, he is the one infected with the formidable bacteria which makes him ineligible for a lung transplant. Currently, he is participating in a trial that may eliminate B. cepacia. Richardson and Sprouse play their roles with gusto. While I felt their chemistry is forced initially (there is a meet-cute at the neonatal intensive care unit), I found myself invested in their relationship eventually. It may have something to do with how the performers look at one another. They know how to speak with only their eyes.

Elements surrounding the leads function as a sledgehammer to the face. Notice that each time something even remotely sad occurs, you can bet an indie folk song will or has already begun playing in the background in order to escort us on how to feel or what to think. It is unfortunate because there is a convincing drama here that goes beyond young people who are sick coming across romance. Because numerous potential distractions are introduced, like sappy music and cringe-worthy one liners (rubbish like the human touch is almost as important as the air we breathe—I’d like to test that theory), the power of the experience is lessened. Not to mention characters constantly coming up with elaborate surprises that may compromise other patients’ safety.

I found the picture at its most interesting when it is willing to show how it is like to live with cystic fibrosis. It may look ugly or unappealing at times, but showing a person cough up thick mucus, struggling to breathe, and looking extremely ragged is what makes the work human. We look at Stella’s room, for example. While it is well-decorated, it looks lived-in despite her having moved in recently. We get the impression then that she spends the majority of her time in that room. Although she has her computer, cell phone, and handy-dandy to-do list, she must feel so trapped in that space. She FaceTimes with her friends while they are on vacation and we feel every bit of Stella’s jealousy. She puts on a happy face anyway.

“Five Feet Apart” is competently directed by Justin Baldoni, but it is not a work that stands out among medical romantic teen dramas because it fails to offer enough narrative surprises. As clichés pile up like Tetris blocks, it dares to test the patience. The final thirty minutes, for instance, is especially weak. I found the musical chair involving who may live or die to be a grave miscalculation. Instead of feeling invested, I felt like I was being toyed with.

Le dernier des injustes


Le dernier des injustes (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

In 1975, director Claude Lanzmann had the chance to interview Benjamin Murmelstein, a rabbi chosen by the Nazis to become one of the Elder of the Jews and lead Theresienstadt, a concentration camp built to house seven thousand soldiers but fifty thousand Jews were sent there to die from various diseases and malnutrition. The place came to be known as a “model ghetto” as the Nazis used it for propaganda—like it was some kind of town ideal for a vacation.

“The Last of the Unjust” offers a wealth of information from a primary source. Hearing from someone who was actually there and survived the horrors is an unreal experience. But the way the material is presented at times is very dry. There are plenty of long takes, from Murmelstein attempting to recollect the events that happened thirty years prior to the interview to long intervals of the camera scanning the place from left to right. It tests the patience but those who stick with it will take away something valuable. Though a necessary viewing, it is not for everyone.

Away from the interview, the camera is utilized in such a way that we are inspired to ponder about the holocaust. We visit various places like a crematorium, a Jewish cemetery in Prague, and what is now known as the Old New Synagogue. It takes its time to look at works of art. We even see areas that were once places of death but are now establishments where people go to drink and dance. The camera is used to place an emphasis in history and our role in preventing something like the holocaust from happening again.

We watch videos of Nazi propaganda. I felt as though I was transported back in time. Observing the dejected faces, I felt disgust and anger that a systematic extermination of human beings could be conceived—let alone be executed. We are then shown, in present time, of the train tracks that lead to Auschwitz. I imagined thousands of people boarding the trains, packed like sardines.

The documentary is most powerful when Lanzmann asks Murmelstein the difficult questions. The subject talks about his important role in embellishing Theresienstadt, the power he had there, and his relationship with Adolf Eichmann, one of the men responsible for organizing the mass deportation of Jews to concentration camps. “Were you acting to save the ghetto or yourself? Do you consider yourself a hero?” These are two questions I also wanted to ask Murmelstein.

After World War II, he was accused of being a collaborator. And for good reasons, I think. Notice the manner in which he speaks and the changes in his body language when delving into the details of his role in the “model ghetto.” Was he proud of what he had done? If so, which aspects of his actions? He spoke very confidently, as if he held a very prominent position there. He might have been a leader but certainly the Nazis were always in charge. He discloses enough details—he is an undoubtedly engaging storyteller—and yet we suspect that certain secrets went to the grave with him.

Anon


Anon (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

The high concept sci-fi thriller “Anon,” written and directed by Andrew Niccol, possesses a curious idea, but the execution is so dour and so slow that at times experiencing it feels more like a chore than entertainment. In the middle of it, one considers the possibility that the story might have been better off had it been shaped as a tight episode of “Black Mirror” instead of a feature film. At times the pacing is not at all appropriate for the type of technology or future it attempts to criticize.

Niccol presents a future without privacy in which the government has complete access to every single thing that nearly every single person does every second of every day—with the exception of a select few, most of them hackers, who have found rather creative ways to remain anonymous. Should investigators wish, they are able to review records of past events taken from people’s recollections. No warrant is required. Initially, this level of access appears to be highly beneficial because there is a killing spree in New York City.

Detective Sal Frieland (Clive Owen), a man still mourning his young son’s death, is assigned to the case. The prime suspect: an anonymous hacker named only as The Girl (Amanda Seyfried) whose speciality is in removing or altering memories of her clients. The police force aims to capture her, but she is consistently one step ahead. Clearly, it requires more than ingenuity to take her in.

The picture is fond of detours when the story is best told straight: Frieland’s grief and alcoholism, pressure from high-ranking officials to protect the sanctity of a technology currently on the verge of being utilized nationally, a suspect possibly a misunderstood persona. With every left turn, which is meant to become an interesting subplot, notice how the pacing tends to slow down. The reason is because these elements are nothing new or compelling; they are simply plugged into this particular world and unnecessary plotting is written around them. Remove the futuristic world altogether and realize there is nothing worth seeing here. Therein lies the problem.

Owen and Seyfried are fine; they try to do what they can with the material. I am almost certain they have been instructed to speak in a low-key way in order to amplify the mystery of the setting. Normally, these are expressive and emotive performers. It feels like they hold back here. When their characters show more varied expressions, particularly during the final act, it comes across as false because they are quite muffled throughout the picture’s duration. The sudden disparity took me out of the supposed drama.

“Anon” wants to be taken seriously and the photography reflects this yearning. The images are drenched in neutral colors. Primary colors appear to be banned. Voices must be kept under a certain decibel. The sun’s rays are barely seen despite numerous shots of skyscrapers. I suppose this level of control should be applauded, but I wished the same effort was made to create an extremely efficient screenplay. There is more style than substance here.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw


Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
★ / ★★★★

Intelligent people will most likely get bored of “Hobbs & Shaw” about twenty minutes in because it reveals its hand too early. Instead of consistently finding new or creative ways to entertain, it offers only two tricks: loud and busy action set pieces and rapid-fire banter between the titular characters (Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, respectively) who despise each other. The strategy suffers from diminishing returns and by the end one cannot be blamed for finding any excuse to get up from his seat without the intention coming back. I stayed all the way through and regretted it. I could have spent one hundred thirty-five minutes enjoying the outdoors.

The bombastic action film is directed by David Leitch and his penchant for complex sequences shows, whether it be a car-motorcycle chase across the busy streets London or hand-to-hand combat in a sanitized Russian underground laboratory. He proves to have an eye for what looks good during wide shots or, by contrast, shots that are up close and personal. However, it is surprising that there are screenwriters at all (Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce). Because for every well-lit and marginally impressive choreography, there is at least three cringe-worthy dialogue to go with them. It feels as though the script is written by people without imagination or at least an inkling of how people actually talk in every day conversations. Action movies must be grounded in some way; not everything must be elevated.

This is most problematic during the occasional dramatic moments, particularly when Luke Hobbs (Johnson), a federal agent, and Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), an M16 agent who also happens to be Deckard Shaw’s (Statham) younger sibling, find similarities in each other. These exchanges are forced and superficial—awkward and uncomfortable at best. The dialogue also fails to work when the subject of family, particularly being estranged, is broached. These would-be personal moments lodged between action sequences are worthy of the biggest eye rolls. To say the quality is television-like would be an insult to good television with well-written dialogue.

Even the action scenes fail to command a high level of excitement despite increasingly elaborate skirmishes. Here we have a villain named Brixton (Idris Elba) who is part-human and part-machine. Despite all the talk surrounding Brixton being a formidable enemy, notice how he and his team loses in every key confrontation. As a result, especially during the second half, he becomes significantly less intimidating. Introducing science-fiction elements in the “Fast & Furious” franchise is not the problem; the issue lies in the lack of more profound or intriguing ideas behind them. Due to this shortcoming, the work comes across as just another lazy cash grab.

“Hobbs & Shaw” fires blanks. Although it is loud, busy, and appears to look expensive on the surface, it offers an empty, nearly joyless experience. It does nothing to push Johnson, Statham, Kirby, and Elba as performers. The work rests on the actors turning on their charisma and nothing else. At least they are getting a paycheck to sleepwalk though a subpar film. We, on the other hand, must pay money and put in the time to sit through it.

Pet Sematary


Pet Sematary (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

The second reimagining of Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” is better than the first—but not by much. It is composed of the same mistakes that modern horror movies tend to make: a noticeable score designed to tell the audience what to think and how to feel, silly jump scares that can be predicted beat by beat, laughable instead of genuinely horrifying violence, and a rushed final act that offers minimal catharsis. The viewer is likely to walk away feeling cheated because of the generic nature of the experience.

I found the exposition to be safe but tolerable. Hoping to spend more time with their children, Louis (Jason Clarke) and Rachel (Amy Seimetz) decide to uproot their family and start anew in rural Maine, away from the hustle and bustle of Boston. In Ludlow, Louis will work in a clinic instead of a hospital while Rachel will stay home with the kids. But when the family cat, Church, dies in an accident, their friendly neighbor, Jud (John Lithgow), has an idea: to bury the cat in the woods where the land has a reputation of bringing the dead back to life. About a third of the way through, although the pacing is slow, each step is purposeful. There is a sense of foreboding. We even learn about Rachel’s relationship with death, particularly the guilt and trauma that linger in her regarding her sister’s passing.

However, once the typical horror elements begin to take over the plot, especially those normally found in slasher movies, the picture falls apart. One gets the impression that screenwriter Jeff Buhler has failed to find true inspiration and so he decides to utilize shortcuts as a substitute. The dead coming back to life should be a terrifying notion, especially if these beings are able to retain their memories and the ability to communicate. Already they are different from zombies who only wish to bite flesh and eat brains. Instead, there is more attention placed in the running around, the stabbings, and the struggles of getting to a weapon. It all just feels so tired and pointless.

There are watchable performances here by Clarke, Seimetz, and Lithgow. The actors who play husband and wife are believable in that the more recent changes in their lives are not easy for either of them. And yet they try to make it work. The widower, too, is a curious character. When he is finally invited for dinner, we feel his joy of being welcomed by the family, including the cat. However, the enthusiastic yet grounded performances still fail to save a screenplay lacking both strong vision and fresh execution. The entire work must be effective as a horror picture above all.

“Pet Sematary” is directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer in a most pedestrian fashion, especially when it comes to the scares. If anything, precisely because the work is both based on a book and a remake of an overrated would-be classic, every second should be dedicated to surpassing them. Instead, it appears to be content in delivering familiar tropes that lack imagination and tension. It feels like another cash grab.

The Unspoken


The Unspoken (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

For a good while of “The Unspoken,” written and directed by Sheldon Wilson, it is a decent horror picture executed with deliberate pacing despite a familiar template of yet another family moving into house that is believed to haunted. But a twist offered during the final five minutes reveals that the picture could have been so much more intriguing because it actually offers something new to the genre. In this case, it would have been preferred had the surprise been revealed a little less than halfway through and then the rest of the time being devoted to exploring the daring idea it puts forth.

The mystery surrounds a house that sits away from an already isolated town where a family disappeared suddenly seventeen years ago. When the police arrived, it appeared to be a crime scene given the blood stains on windows, walls, and various appliances. And yet—not one body was found in or around the house. As it turned out, their clothes were still in their closets and drawers, the car was parked at its usual spot, even dinner remained on their plates. It were as if they simply vanished out of thin air. The only person who made it out of the house, with the help of a police officer, was the babysitter, clearly traumatized from what she had seen. But what did she see? When a mother and son (Pascale Hutton, Sunny Suljic) move into the Briar house, locals recall horrifying rumors and legends.

Jodelle Ferland plays the recently hired babysitter named Angela. Although not a well-written character, Ferland plays Angela with a certain wholesomeness and so we cannot help but root for her despite a dearth of information about who she is and why she is our heroine. Ferland commands the screen during the strange happenings around the house, but I wished that the writer-director had done more with the character since the performer clearly can do more. There are dramatic scenes thrown around here and there—such as her interactions with her father (Lochlyn Munro), friend (Chanelle Peloso), and three town thugs (Anthony Konechny, Jonathan Whitesell, Jake Croker)—but the exchanges lack gravity and intrigue.

The picture can be quite graphic. At its best, it uses actual masks, rubber, and other tactile elements to create gruesome imagery. At its worst, however, we see CGI flies, flying knives and other weapons, people being thrown across the room by an invisible force. Had the picture been stripped bare of such ostentatious mumbo jumbo, a much more grounded and believable experience might have been created. Modern filmmakers really must learn not to use inappropriate visual effects when attempting to tell a small horror story.

Still, I appreciated certain pieces of the film even though I cannot being myself to recommend it. There are a few scenes that show characters moving so slowly toward a suspicious noise. The camera follows with precise patience. We anticipate what it might be. Also note there is a certain eerie quiet to these sequences. Inferior pictures of the genre are afraid of silence. And while this piece offers a few jump scares, it does not use them as a crutch.