Underworld: Rise of the Lycans


Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)
★ / ★★★★

I don’t find any good reason for this film to have been made. From beginning to end, I found the story uninteresting, the characters were one-dimensional, the special and visual effects were nothing extraordinary, and the pacing was very slow to the point of boredom. I don’t know how Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen got mixed up in this terrible mess. This prequel to the first “Underworld” installment was about how the Lycans/werewolves got the upperhand over the aristocratic vampires (led by Nighy). That’s pretty much it, really. For an hour and thirty minutes, they showed the romance between a Lycan (Sheen) and a vampire (Rhona Mitra), while also giving audiences one senseless action scene after another. It got exhausting really quickly and I lost interest twenty minutes into the picture. The only reason why I think this sequel was made was because the first two “Underworld” movies were successful. Having realized that success, the studios wanted more money even though they knew that the script was dead on arrival. One of my biggest problems was Nighy’s “moral dilemma” when he found out that his daughter has been sleeping with a werewolf. The movie tries to show that he cares for his daughter by looking agonized and sad in an empty room after he decides that she should be punished. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes (and laugh–or was it scoff?–a bit inside) because if he really did care for his daughter, since he’s the leader of the vampires and as a father who genuinely loves his daughter, he would do anything in his power to make her happy. Instead, I saw him as this tyrant who loves power more than his daughter; he deserves to fall hard on his face and suffer in every possible way. I felt like the director (Patrick Tatopoulos) and writers (Danny McBride and Dirk Blackman) thought that the audiences are stupid. It’s insulting in the least. Please avoid this mess of a movie at all cost.

Valkyrie


Valkyrie (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

I think a lot of people are unfairly harsh on this movie because of the fact that it stars Tom Cruise as Colonel Claus von Satuffenberg, one of the men that tries to assassinate Adolf Hitler. For some reason, people find it difficult to find a divide between an actor’s personal life and repertoire (like with Lindsay Lohan). We all know how it’s going to end so being predictable is not a valid reason on why one should not see this movie. (Assuming that the person knows the basics about World War II.) I’m here to say that this is a solid thriller because Bryan Singer, the director of other good films like “The Usual Suspects,” “Apt Pupil” and “X2: X-Men United,” was able to successfully build suspense up until the last twenty minutes. I enjoyed watching what Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and Tom Cruise have to put on the table. Although the film is fast-paced, it gets really exciting whether these top-tier actors speak to each other as we find out where their loyalties lie. They made me believe that what they were trying to do was important and I eventually found myself hoping that things would turn out differently than it did in reality. I was impressed with the soundtrack because it supported the suspense instead of becoming the driving force. In most less successful thrillers, the latter is the case so it was a nice surprise to not find that here. I was also blown away by the visuals. Everything looks so grand: the architectures, the weaponries, the automobiles, down to the characters’ wardrobes. It was easy to tell that a lot of effort was put into this film. I wish the last twenty minutes could’ve been stronger. I felt like the suspense was sucked out of the film so I found myself not caring. I think those last few scenes were crucial because the filmmakers were supposed to convince the audience that those who tried to kill Hitler were honorable men and women. Instead, the message was lost and we saw one scene of pandemonium on top of one another. It’s a pretty strong movie as a whole; it just needed to deliver all the way through and, unfortunately, the film failed to do that.

Arranged


Arranged
★★★ / ★★★★

I really enjoyed watching this indie drama about an Orthodox Jew (Zoe Lister Jones) and a Muslim originally from Pakistan (Francis Benhamou) who build a friendship out of commonalities despite their religious backgrounds. Even though the crux of this film is about arranged marriages and arguments whether it works or not, it’s not afraid to tackle some issues between Jewish and Muslim people. Diane Crespo and Stefan C. Schaefer, the directors, were efficient with each scene by astutely using contrasting scenes and ideas: man vs. woman, work place vs. home, self vs. family, traditionality vs. modernity… Yet at the same time, Crespo and Schaefer sometimes fused two opposing ideas in order to draw insightful but valid conclusions. I also liked the fact that even though the setting was in Brooklyn, New York, and there’s a lot of diversity on both the background and the foreground, there are still characters so soaked in bigotry but they don’t even know it. What’s more interesting is that though they feel like they’re helping the situation, as a third party, one could feel like they’re making the situation worse as each word is expressed. The writing must also be admired because I felt like the conversations are the kind that I would overhear from friends, random strangers, or even family members (racism, narrow-mindedness at the dinner table and all). Although, personally, I wouldn’t want to be placed in an arranged marriage, as a person of color, I’m open-minded when it comes to cultures who do follow certain traditions. What this movie could’ve improved on was the last three scenes. I thought everything was presented so quickly to the point where it diminished the momentum it had. Still, this is a strong movie for fans of indie dramas and for people who want to learn more about other cultures.

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen


Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004)
★★ / ★★★★

This teen flick could’ve been satirical and I would’ve liked it a lot more. Lindsay Lohan stars as a girl who recently moves to New Jersey and craves to be the center of attention. Along the way, she meets Alison Pill, a goody-two-shoes who, through her interactions with Lohan’s character (and running around New York for a night), was able to find the confidence within herself to be different. I didn’t like the fact that this movie took the safe route way too many times. I know it’s supposed to be a teen flick but superior teen movies have a certain edge. Take “Mean Girls,” for instance. That film has the bravada to know when to push toward certain situations where the characters can truly learn something about themselves. In here, though Lohan’s character claims that she learned a handful of things by the end of the film, I didn’t believe it for one second. I still thought she was a selfish girl who tells lies on top of one another in order to feel important. There was one scene that I thought was really good: When Pill’s character finally confronted the teenage drama queen for being a brat who would rather live in a fantasy world than in reality. I like Lohan despite her personal life because she can really act. However, for me, Pill stole the show here because she has that certain sparkle in her eyes that makes me want to get to know her character more. I thought Eli Marienthal’s character was very underdeveloped considering he’s the “reality” romantic interest of Lohan. Without him, the movie would’ve been the same. Carol Kane, as the director of the play, was annoying at best. She played character with such stupidity, I don’t even know where to begin. I did see some potential in this film and I chuckled here and there. However, it’s too all over the place and soft in its core. You should see “Mean Girls” or “Heathers” instead.

Angels & Demons


Angels & Demons (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

I enjoyed “Angels & Demons” more than “The Da Vinci Code” for several reasons. First is Ron Howard’s direction: In its prequel (even though, chronologically, “Angels & Demons” happened before “The Da Vinci Code” so it depends on how one looks at it), I felt that Howard was all over the place and missed some crucial information from Dan Brown’s novel. That is why the ending was not as powerful as it should have been. To me, the facinating locales were at the foreground instead of the story. It was so concerned with being so fast-paced that it almost sacrificed its emotions and the details that made the book such a page-turner. In here, the director has more focus and confidence when it comes to tackling certain scenes and some of them are downright impressive (whether it’s about thrills or visual effects). I also liked Tom Hanks a lot more here than I did in “The Da Vinci Code.” Aside from the absence of his ridiculous hair that distracted millions of audiences from the first film, I felt like Hanks is more comfortable as Robert Langdon–he has that certain intellectual swagger but he doesn’t take it too seriously. I have to admit that there were times when I forgot about Hanks playing a role; I was so interested in what was happening, trying to recall if the events that transpired in the novel were being accurately portrayed in the picture. I also liked the lack of chemistry between Hanks and Ayelet Zurer. As strange as that may sound, films have the tendency to attach a romantic angle to “spice things up” when they really do not need to. In fact, most of the time such romatic interests weigh the picture down so I was glad there was none of that nonsense in “Angels & Demons.” It’s really focused in Langdon’s quest to solve the mysteries that were unfolding in the Vatican. Lastly, I have to mention Ewan McGregor as Camerlengo Patrick McKenna. I’m not religious in any sense but the way he delivered some of his speeches were so powerful, I couldn’t help but have my eyes (as well as my ears) glued to the screen. He has a certain subtlety that is both charming and dangerous. Overall, “Angels & Demons” is a pretty entertaining summer blockbuster flick that really shouldn’t be taken all that seriously. It’s interesting to me how religious groups respond to these type of films. If they are so secure about their faith, films like this should not matter in any way. Its goal is to simply entertain and I think it achieved just that.

Prom Night


Prom Night (1980)
★ / ★★★★

I decided to see this classic (but horrendous) slasher flick because I was curious about how different it was compared to the 2008 version. Although both are pretty bad, I can stand this one a bit more because I could sympathize with Jamie Lee Curtis’ character. Even though she’s not in it as much as I wanted her to (considering she’s the supposed star of the film), she made the best of her scenes, especially that dated dancing sequence during the prom. After six years of a little girl’s death, a masked serial killer decides to kill one by one those who are responsible. It’s a simple premise that could’ve been effective. Unfortunately, the stalker scenes lacked suspense, the kills weren’t creative and all of the characters are one-dimensional. That’s a common trap in the slasher film subgenre: the teenagers often are defined by their stereotypes: the nerdy one, the one who loses her virginity during prom, the nice girl, the jealous ex-girlfriend, the list goes on. Paul Lynch, the director, should’ve taken those stereotypes and turned them inside out. That way, it wouldn’t be as predictable. I also had a problem with its pacing. After its introduction, the camera merely follows the characters around prior to the prom. Nothing interesting happens: there’s no insightful dialogue, no genuinely funny or embarrassing moments, fashion disasters–things that do happen in real life. I also must point out the empty schoolgrounds and streets. When a particular character was walking around in the morning or in the middle of the afternoon, one would expect to see people walking their dogs, jogging, or even driving in their cars. In here, those things were noticeably absent so it got distracting. I do not recommend this picture to general audiences because it does get a bit slow. However, this is a must-see for horror film buffs because it does make references to better slasher movies like “Psycho” and “Halloween.”

Elegy


Elegy (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

This picture started out beautifully but as it went on, it got too wrapped up in its own soap opera. I’m not sure whether the original material was the problem (it was based on “The Dying Animal” by Philip Roth) or if it was Isabel Coixet’s style of direction, but what I do know is that it should have been a more effective character study. Ben Kingsley, a cultural critic, falls for Penélope Cruz, one of his students. Kingsley’s character is very obsessive, insecure about his aging body and has a lot of fears about not being accepted by certain people. Cruz’ character is beautiful but she’s also very smart and she sees something in Kingsley’s character that not a lot people do. So, in a way, they’re a fit for each other despite the thirty-year age difference. I also liked Patricia Clarkson’s character and her “purely” sexual relationship with Kingsley. I say “purely” because even though the two desperately want to believe that what they have is merely sex, I could tell by their actions and silent moments that there’s something more about that relationship. Clarkson provided a much needed break between Cruz and Kingsley’s sometimes suffocating (but stirring) conversations. What didn’t work for me was Kingsley’s relationship with his best friend (Dennis Hopper). Not only was Hopper’s character underdeveloped, the tone changed whenever he was on screen so I was constantly taken out of that solemn atmosphere that the film tried to consistently attain. When I look at the bigger picture, I feel like I’ve seen it all before: the strained relationships, the regret and anger that comes with self-doubt, and the man falling in love with a much younger woman. I did like the conversations because they had real emotions and intelligence. However, I can’t recommend this movie because it didn’t quite reach the level and staying power that the first few scenes had promised to achieve.