The International (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
This film, astutely directed by Tom Tykwer, reminded me so much of “The Interpreter” because it’s realistic when it comes to the complexities of international crime and relations. Clive Owen and Naomi Watts star as an Interpol agent and assistant district attorney, respectively; as the two leads get closer to the truth, their morals are questioned, they gamble their lives and the lives of those they love. Their main goal is to bring down the source of international corruption led by the IBBC. To say that that particular task is incredibly difficult is putting it lightly because bringing down the IBBC means dealing with economists, politians, bankers and terrorists. What I admired about this film is its patience: it’s not afraid to let its characters talk about the technical inner workings of banks to the point where the audiences get utterly lost. Although most people will get frustrated with it because they claim to not know what is going on, I enjoyed it because that’s what makes it real. That issue of not knowing made it that much more suspenseful. Speaking of suspense, the writer, Eric Singer, knows how to effectively build tension. Just when you think everything is going to go wrong, nothing does; when you think everything is going to go right, something goes incredibly wrong. Right from the beginning, the film established its craft and intelligence; I felt like I was watching the best episodes of “Alias.” Right away, it was able to show what some people are willing to do in order to accomplish their endgame. This is one of the first adult movies of 2009 and definitely not for everyone. There are not a lot of action scenes but when those action scenes appear, they are intense and heart-pounding. If one is looking for a typical action film, this is not the one to see. However, if one is looking for an intelligent script, moral and business ambiguities, this gets a high recommendation from me.
Transporter 3 (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
This is arguably the darkest installment out of the first three, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best. In fact, I think it’s the worst because it’s lacking a particular element that made the first two so much fun to watch. Jason Statham is great as usual as the transporter of goods, but this time around the object that he’s supposed to deliver happens to be a person (not that that’s anything new). She is played by Natalya Rudakova, which I thought ruined the entire film. She’s as useless as a screen door on a submarine because her character is not particularly strong or smart. She’s not very sensible either because she chooses to take drugs and drink vodka despite her dire predicament. I kept waiting for her character to get shot in the head (hence for the film to get better) but it never happened. Without her annoying voice and distracting freckles, I think I would’ve liked the movie more. As for the elements I did like, the action is still kinetic and it delivered a cartoonish sense of humor. I also liked Robert Knepper as the villain; I think he’s exemplary in roles that require a certain griminess like his character on “Prison Break.” Olivier Megaton, the director, didn’t spend enough time to set up the bad guys’ endgame so I ultimately didn’t care for the story. He also spent too much time exploring Statham and Rudakova’s lack of chemistry, as if he’s trying to force the film’s audiences to like her. I can’t stop complaining about her because she doesn’t have any redeeming quality. (And the fact that she forced Statham to strip doesn’t count despite a glorious sight.) I love the “Transporter” series because it’s pure escapist fun, but I would say skip this one to spare yourself from rolling your eyes and pulling your hair out.
Transporter 2 (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★
This is the case in which the sequel is better than the original. Even though its predecessor had more story, this one is more focused because all it wanted to do was entertain by showing its audiences one action sequence after another. Jason Statham is back as the mercenary Frank Martin but this time around, instead of transporting drugs or women, his job is to take a kid named Jack (played with spunkiness by Hunter Clary) back from school every day. Since he is a son of an important politician (Matthew Modine), he is targeted by Alessandro Gassman whose intentions are revealed later in the film. One of the things I liked about the picture is that it started off with a kidnapping but it eventually became something more sinister. I didn’t see it coming so I thought that was well done. I also liked the references to the first film (this time with paint instead of oil) and how it provided a scene similar to the ridiculousness of the first (the stunts using a fire hose). But the best scenes include model-turned-actress Kate Nauta and her duels with Statham. I wish they had more hand-to-hand combat; I didn’t like that Louis Leterrier, the director, avoided something that could be great. Yes, violence against women is a horrible thing in normal circumstances but if one assassin faces another assassin gender should not be an issue. Ultimately, I thought this film was extremely fast-paced. It didn’t feel like I watched a ninety-minute movie. Even though it might have been a little too cartoonish, I think it worked because its intention was not to tell an insightful story but an entertaining one. It more than succeeds on that level.
★★★★ / ★★★★
Even though this animated film is targeted toward children, what I love about it is that it’s not afraid to show menace in order to engage its older audiences. Written and directed by Henry Selick, “Coraline” reminded me of a blend among “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “James and the Giant Peach,” “The Orphanage” and “Alice in Wonderland.” Not only does it have many implications about growing up and dealing with the realities of life, it also has something to say about alternate realities and the power of imagination. I thought Dakota Fanning as Coraline is an excellent choice because Fanning has that certain edge that’s both friendly yet sarcastic at just the right moments. Teri Hatcher as Coraline’s mother and Other Mother is a good choice as well. Having seen Hatcher in “Desperate Housewives,” I thought she was more comedic more than anything so wasn’t sure that she was going to deliver. However, she proved me wrong. The stop-animation is absolutely stunning. Right from the first scene, you can easily tell that the filmmakers did the best they could to produce a work of art that deserves to be remembered for a very long time. I’m willing to bet that this film will be regarded as a classic, like “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” in about a decade or two. Sure, it’s scarier than the films previously mentioned but that’s what makes it different from other children’s movies. This animated flick is not afraid to use certain adult language, show certain exaggerated body parts, and a story that can potentially drive children to their parents’ bedroom on the night after watching it. Even I got scared during the last thirty minutes because there are a lot at stake for Coraline. I believed that she truly was in danger and could get hurt by the malicious Other Mother. Some stand-out scenes include Coraline’s discovery of Wybie Lovat’s mouth being sewn open to produce a smile, the atmospheric second mission involving a theatre and dog-bat hybrids, and the last five minutes which involves a metallic hand and a reference to “The Ring.” All of the eye-popping (sometimes literally) adventures aside, this is a story about a person not being taken seriously and how that frustration gets the best of us. That frustration then drives us to turn toward the seemingly better alternative only to realize later on that we’ve had it so good all along.
Cold Mountain (2003)
★★★ / ★★★★
This film, directed by Anthony Minghella, would’ve been a masterpiece if it hadn’t been so uneven. One of the things that bothered me most was the lack of a real relationship between Nicole Kidman and Jude Law’s characters prior to Law leaving to participate in the Civil War. I felt like they just met, instantly fell in love, and the audiences are supposed to buy it so easily. I get that faith is one of the driving forces of the film but, with its running time of about two-and-a-half hours, it could’ve left room to establish a concrete relationship between the two leads. Renée Zellweger deserved her Oscar as Ruby Thewes because she had a great comedic timing, energy, and she came at the right time when the film started to become too depressing. Even though her acting is (arguably) over-the-top, I thought it was necessary because her character is supposed to contrast of that of Kidman’s. Kidman and Zellweger’s little adventures in the farm made me smile. As for Law’s adventures that are bigger in scope, it was nice to see some familiar actors playing very colorful characters: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Cillian Murphy, Jena Malone… I didn’t like this film as much the first time I saw it. But upon giving it a second chance, I realized that Mingella provides a plethora of beautiful images that reflect how a character is feeling and thinking. Not to mention the soundtrack manages to elavate those images and feelings on an entirely new level. He also has a talent of telling a story that spans for a long period of time. In fact, one of my favorite scenes was when Kidman and Law were finally reunited; that scene was smart enough to linger a bit because it gives the audiences a chance to look back on how different the two characters were from when the film started. With a little more improvement on its pacing, this romance epic would’ve been more memorable. Charles Frazier, the book’s author from which the film is based upon, should be proud of this picture because it got pretty much everything right.
Hard Candy (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★
When I saw this back in 2005, I wasn’t yet familiar with Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page. Even though I did notice Wilson’s convincing acting, it was Page who stole every scene. Her character is smart (but not as smart as she believes herself to be), cunning, and twisted in every way imaginable. After watching “Hard Candy” for the first time, I made a promise to myself that I would watch out for her because she not only has the talent for acting but also the subtlety that most young actors don’t have or not yet learned. When “Juno” came out, I instantly recognized her and I knew what she could bring to the table (and she didn’t disappoint). This film is not for everyone because of its subject matter: a seemingly innocent girl decides to hook up with a thirysomething man online; in a span of fifteen to twenty minutes she reveals her true intentions and the film asks its audiences to feel for the potential pedophile/ephebophile. I found this film to be both daring and interesting because most films about molestation focuses on a male taking advantage of a female. It’s about time the tables are turned. Even though the picture is edgy and tries to push the envelope, I never thought it was gratuitous–it may have been disturbing but it was never gratuitous. Technical aspects such as the use of warm and cool colors should also be noticed and appreciated. This also works as a cautionary tale for people who find romantic interests online. You never really know who’s behind the screen and what they really want so it’s smart to always be cautious no matter how friendly they may sound. David Slade, the director, helmed this as the kind of film that will keep someone guessing up until the very end.
Desperate Hours (1990)
★ / ★★★★
This is the kind of film that proves that a talented cast means nothing if the execution of the story is weak and uninvolving. Mickey Rourke, Anthony Hopkins, Mimi Rogers, and David Morse’s characters are one-dimensional and annoying. The only character that I was remotely interested in was played by Lindsay Crouse. She was smart and I was at ease whenever she had a plan on how to attack a certain problem. Another big problem I had with this picture is its inconsistency. In the first fifteen minutes, it was established that Rouke’s character is smart and deadly, almost assassin-like in his movement and has an uncanny ability to find another person’s weaknesses. But in the last fifteen minutes, all of those qualities were thrown out the window; he almost was as stupid as his henchmen. Since Crouse is the strongest in this, I was actually more interested on what was going on outside of the house, where the hostage wasn’t happening, than inside. It’s not supposed to work that way because the dramatic core is the family’s interactions with the criminals. Instead, nothing much happens inside the house other than threats being thrown at one another and long moments of merely standing around. If Michael Cimino, the director, paced this film better and reshot a couple of scenes, it may have had the chance to redeem itself. Instead, we get an extremely slow-moving picture that isn’t even thrilling in the least. If one is interested in a much better hostage movie, I recommend “Panic Room” starring Jodie Foster instead. At least that one has an interesting premise and hostages that one can root for all the way to the final scene.