Quid Pro Quo


Quid Pro Quo (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

I’ve actually heard of the existence of a group of people who want some of their limbs cut off in order to be complete, but I can’t pinpoint exactly where I heard it from before. Hence, the subject matter of the film wasn’t that shocking to me. Nick Stahl is one of my favorite actors to watch because he always manages to use his charisma to his advantage. Most of the time, I find it very difficult not to identity with his character because his face has a certain sadness that makes me want to know more. A lot of people might quickly write him off for playing the same role time and again but I think his acting has subtlety so each role is a little different than the other. In “Quid Pro Quo,” although his character has learned to embrace his disability, he stumbles upon a pair of shoes that can magically make him walk. Even though that may sound literal and a bit unbelievable, I think it’s more symbolic than anything else which can be backed up toward the end of the picture. After he wears the shoes, it made me realize that maybe he’s not so comfortable with being a disabled person after all no matter how strong he tries to be. Maybe he repressed his frustration so much that he forgot how important it is for him to be able to walk again. Vera Farmiga is just as complex. While Stahl wants to walk, Farmiga wants to be paralyzed. Just when I thought I got her all figured out, such as why she wants to be wheelchair-bound, a piece of information is introduced at the end of the movie which can explain why she wants to be paralyzed. In a strange way, this reminded me of “Secretary” (although not as twisted and darkly comic). Both are strange but still manages to be sensitive with the subject matter and not look down on people who do lead such lives. A first time writer and director, I think Carlos Brooks has it in him to make a great film in the future.

Appaloosa


Appaloosa (2008)
★ / ★★★★

Western is my least favorite genre so I’m probably not the best person to listen to when it comes to reviewing a western film. I’m most familiar with modern westerns like “Brokeback Mountain,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “There Will Be Blood.” However, I know how to ascertain and elucidate why I like or dislike a movie. “Appaloosa” did not work for me for two main reasons: it lacked focus to be thoroughly engaging and it did not have enough material to tell an insightful story. While Ed Harris (who also wrote and directed the film) and Viggo Mortensen did a good job in their respective roles, I felt like their relationship wasn’t explored enough. Were they merely friends or are they more like brothers? Although the tone of the film is masculine, most great westerns that I’ve seen leave room for softness and vulnerability (or otherwise, “feminine” qualities). If walls are consistently up, how are the audiences supposed to identify with and understand the characters? Renée Zellweger didn’t do a bad job but she sounds like she’s from a completely different film. The story focused on her a bit too much while sacrificing potentially rousing action scenes. However, I did like the occasional comedic moments because it shows that the actors and filmmakers are not afraid to have fun with the project. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that I did not like this film because I caught myself zoning out from time to time. Whatever happened to featuring vast landscapes and the poetry of brotherhood? Is Harris simply trying to offer something different to the genre or did he clearly miss the point? I have patience when it comes to certain pictures when most people do not. I’m guessing that a casual moviegoer, especially a person who is not partial to western films, will be bored out of his or her mind.

Love Songs


Love Songs (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★

Although the ending is abrupt, it impressed me because of its implications. Deceptively simple on the outside, this French film has something to say about young love/lust and it is executed in just the right way without being too heavy-handed with its messages. Even though the template of the picture is the three-way romantic relationship between Louis Garrel, Ludivine Sagnier, and Clotilde Hesme, I thought the relationship between Garrel and Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet–how Leprince-Ringuet brought Garrel back to life, more aware than ever, after a certain tragedy was the best part of the film. I love how this movie uses musical numbers when a certain character cannot put his or her thoughts into the right words. It’s true to life because relationships (romantic or otherwise) get complex and sometimes we can’t say what we want to say in order for others to understand our point of view. It’s very honest and the singing voices reflected that honesty–the actors actually sang without attempting to make the voices polished or grand (like in most American musicals). Written and directed by Christophe Honoré, one can tell that this movie had a low budget but that doesn’t stop it from trying to achieve something great. The only quibble I have with “Les Chansons d’amour” (“Love Songs”) is it didn’t explore Garrel’s relationship with Leprince-Ringuet enough. They are really opposite and it would’ve been beneficial if they had a little more conflict while at the same time learning from each other.

The Man of My Life


The Man of My Life (2006)
★ / ★★★★

This movie is all over the place. I gave up trying to figure out its purpose about half-way through. This film is like an unnecessary overextended vacation–we get shots of adults talking and children playing, but all of them don’t seem to amount to anything. I get the idea that Bernard Campan does not have a sense of self and he tries to find it by interacting with Charles Berling, whose character happens to be gay. But at the same time, I feel like they can’t really learn from each other–at least not in a meaningful way–because their relationship is only by means of utlity. Their conversations are shallow and choppy; maybe I’m lost in translation but a great movie resonates through language barriers. Partly written and directed by Zabou Breitman, I thought he could’ve done a much better job with the pacing (cutting off thirty minutes or so) and escalating the drama a bit more (why can’t some of the adults notice that Campan and Berling are around each other a little too much?). In the end, I felt like nothing great is at stake so I couldn’t feel for the protagonist. I couldn’t relate with any of the characters, especially Berling’s because he sees life in such a negative light. The filmmakers tried to justify Berling’s pessimism by introducing a story regarding his relationship with his father. It felt contrived, if not forced, so I didn’t buy it at all. Although some people have strained relationships with their father, they learn to rise above it and be strong people. So it begs the question: how can Campan learn something about his life from Berling if Berling doesn’t even know himself? Avoid this one especially if you’re a person of logic.

The Day the Earth Stood Still


The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

I haven’t seen the 1951 version by the time I wrote this review so I’m not going to compare the 2008 version to that one. That said, it’s interesting to me how Keanu Reeves can be so good at playing robotic characters (like Neo in “The Matrix” franchise) but so bad at playing real people that are supposed to be emotionally crippled or conflicted (as Alex Wyler in “The Lake House” and Detective Tom Ludlow in “Street Kings”). I thought he was effective here as Klaatu, a humanoid whose role is to determine whether the human species need to be obliterated in order to save the Earth. He was creepy, convincingly powerful, and had a definite sense of purpose. He claims that if the Earth dies, everything else will perish along with it but if all humans die, the Earth and everything that it nurtures will go on living. I thought that was a decent reasoning so I went along with it. What’s unforgivable, however, is its lack of human emotional core. That’s when Jennifer Connely and her step-son (Jaden Smith) come in. Their backstory isn’t enough to convince me why Reeves should spare the human race. In the end, I wanted to see an apocalypse because humans are portrayed as violent people (the United States army) and incapable of standing up to authority, such as when Kathy Bates (as the president’s Secretary of Defense) followed what the president wanted her to do despite her best instincts. There are only four things I liked about the movie which saved it from utter failure: the somewhat brilliant visual effects, Gort as Klaatu’s automaton companion, the idea of humans’ nature regarding a precipice and change, and John Cleese as the Nobel prize-winning professor who we meet in the middle of the picture. The rest is junk, which is a shame because the movie is started off very well. The director, Scott Derrickson, could’ve made a superior film that is more character-driven and less visually impressive. After all, the story is about humanity and why we should be saved from extinction. Since the director lost that core (or maybe he didn’t find it in the first place), the final product is a mess. This picture can be an enjoyable Netflix rental on an uneventful Friday night but do not go rushing into the cinema to see it.

Changeling


Changeling (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

Angelina Jolie should at least be nominated for an Oscar because she held this film together. I couldn’t take my eyes off her to the point where I noticed every spasm on her face every time there’s a revelation or when she feels cornered by pretty much every authority figure she encounters. Clint Eastwood did another great job with taking his audience to a specific moment in time and make us believe that that universe is both beautiful and tragic. However, I don’t think this is his best film due to the problems in its pacing. Toward the last twenty minutes, there were scenes that could’ve been endings but ultimately weren’t. Even though the additional scenes added some sort of closure with the characters and its audiences, a masterful work would’ve felt natural instead of forced. Aside from Jolie, other great performances include John Malkovich as the reverend who fights against the corrupt ways of the LAPD and Jeffrey Donovan who refuses to listen to Jolie’s claims that the child who the LAPD returned to her was not her son. Amy Ryan also did a great job as Jolie’s friend in the psychiatric unit. Even though she did not have many scenes, she’s memorable because she did the best she could with everything she was given. As for the story, it’s very engaging especially when Jolie gathers evidence that the child who was returned to her was not her real son. I have to admit that I did get teary-eyed during various moments in the picture because I really did feel Jolie’s plight; it felt like the odds are against her but somehow she still summons the strength to fight back. I also admired the film’s theme of attempting to find the evasive truth–how the truth cannot be fully achieved because “truth” sometimes relies on the perspective of other people. The question of when the right time fight and the right time to let go is also explored in an insightful manner which could’ve been a disaster in less experienced hands. With a little bit more focus on the story and a better pacing, this could’ve turned out to be a masterpiece. That said, I’m giving this an enthusiastic recommendation because of the strong performances and touching story based on what really happened to Christine Collins and her son back in 1928.

Journey to the Center of the Earth


Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

I almost gave this a two stars out of four because there were moments where I thought it diverged too much from the adventure and focused a little bit too much on lame/unnecessary character development. With a family-friendly summer blockbuster film, one expects breath-taking action sequences right after another instead of a forced attempt of sentimentality. Still, I decided to give this film three stars because there were some truly memorable scenes such as the mine ride, the cave of crystals, the T-Rex, and the geyser. Brendan Fraser, like in “The Mummy” films, is really likeable as a scientist whose lab is about to be shut down; Josh Hutcherson continues his role as a kid who’s a little bit sarcastic but often keeps something up his sleeves; Anita Briem is also a neat addition because she provided energy when the story tends to slow down a bit. I did not see this in 3-D even though the entire picture is designed to be seen in such a format so I can’t comment on how much or if it’s better than on a flat screen. Still, there’s plenty of visual eye candy and adrenaline for those who just want to sit back and not think too much. But I must admit that I really like the science in the film: how Fraser’s character used kinematics to determine how high they are from the ground as they free fall, the application of Geology when it comes to recognizing certain rocks and their properties, the concept of bioluminescence (the production and emission of light when chemical energy is converted to light energy), and more. It made the movie that much more fun for me because I’ve taken classes that deal with those concepts. (I am a certified nerd/geek/dork.) This is the kind of movie that a babysitter can let kids watch because it’s pretty harmless, there’s a plethora of bright colors, and pretty funny one-liners. It could’ve been a lot better but it could’ve been a lot worse.