Tag: adventure

After Earth


After Earth (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Having sensed that he and his son are drifting apart, Cypher Raige (Will Smith), a renowned general who is often away on intergalactic missions, invites Kitai (Jaden Smith) to come with him to work so that they can spend more time together. What should have been a relatively safe trip goes horribly awry when their ship encounters a field of asteroids. Their ship heavily damaged, they have no choice but to crash land on Earth, once the home of mankind but is now a haven for creatures that have evolved to kill humans.

A part of me feels bad for M. Night Shyamalan because it seems as though each time his name is associated with a movie, the majority expect or wish for the project to fail. With work like “Lady in the Water” and, to some degree, “The Happening” (I liked parts of it), casual moviegoers have reason to think this way. But “After Earth” is not as bad as the aforementioned pictures; it is mediocre, certainly, but some sections of the film are entertaining.

The script might have benefited from a bit of polishing. While understandable that the heart of the story touches upon a strained relationship between father and son, and to some degree we know exactly where it is going, it need not have been so corny. Some lines sound too forced that at times we are reminded that we are watching a movie rather than being a part of an adventure.

For example, as Raige and Kitai get into a disagreement about the criteria of aborting a mission, out of the blue one of them begins to talk about something else entirely–a recollection of an event that is supposed to be sad or tragic. Instead, I found myself detached and noticing the strings of the puppet show. This approach would have worked only if the screenplay had a tight grip on the human drama of the story. It fails to move us because the moment is not earned.

The film is visually arresting at times. I marveled at the appearance of the abandoned Earth. Admittedly, it is not at all a challenge to discern which parts are CGI (most of them are) but I am somewhat forgiving when it comes to the visuals as long as they are not too showy as to overpower the material. I liked that the dangers on Earth involve animals that many of us are likely to be familiar with but are given slight alteration in size or function.

A standout sequence involves Kitai having to skydive and as a giant eagle-looking creature pursuits him. Shyamalan makes good decisions when it comes to balancing wide shots and close-ups in order to highlight the urgency of the action. The director is not without talent and I wish that more people were more open to giving credit when it is deserved–even if they think that the movie does not work as a whole.

Based on the story by Will Smith and screenplay by Gary Whitta and Shyamalan, “After Earth” is one that I consider to be a “background movie,” appropriate to play in the background during a party or gathering. The slower, less exciting parts give people a chance to catch up and trade gossip. When the action reaches a peak, however, people’s attention is captured until the thrills die down again.

Never Cry Wolf


Never Cry Wolf (1983)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The population of the caribou in the Arctic, once in the millions, has experienced a steep decrease over time so the government needs a scientific justification to exterminate the element that is responsible. It is believed that the wolves, Canis lupus, are to blame. Tyler (Charles Martin Smith), a biologist, is chosen to travel to the Arctic, track the pack, and make careful observations of their behavior.

“Never Cry Wolf,” based on Farley Mowat’s autobiography, is a rousing adventure in the most unexpected ways because, for the most part, the protagonist is by himself. Because human interaction is minimized, the screenplay by Curtis Handson, Sam Hamm, and Richard Kletter, is forced to find the wonder in nature through eye-opening images, alien sounds, and the human experience of a scientist trying to survive in a milieu that is way out of his comfort zone.

The film is almost shot like a documentary. By minimizing the use of score, we get a sense that all of what is happening is real, from Tyler getting ready to board a rickety plane to him watching how wolves interact with their environment and each other. The way in which the camera zooms in on what is ought to be seen commands attention, very direct, but never distracting. There is very little distraction from the experience.

Because conversation is rare, Tyler’s narration is helpful and necessary. While we get a sense of how his scientific mind works and a taste of some of his philosophy, I especially enjoyed that the script allows him to go on a tangent at times. For instance, I liked hearing about the extra cases of beer he ordered while slightly out of it the night before, how he felt about being chosen to lead Project Lupine, and his thoughts of reluctance prior to getting on the plane and being dropped off three hundred miles into the wilderness. The extra information enhances what he goes through because we get a chance to know him as a person rather than just a robotic scientist with a mission from the government.

The land is like another character. The snowy mountains, largely untouched by man, evokes an air of majesty. The pride of the mountains in contrast with Tyler’s humility as a person about to become a part of it has poetry and lyricism. The environment is a constant challenge. In one scene, we can see for miles. In the next scene, everything is enveloped by fog, so white that I wondered for a second if the actor was standing on a white screen. But then you look a little closer and see the white creeping along. It is so surreal, almost like looking into a dream.

It dares to straddle the lines between amusement and fear, suspense and disgust, curiosity and thrill. A question: what is for dinner when you run out of food out there in the tundra? The answer made me cover my eyes, squirm in my seat, and squeal out of revulsion. I yelled out, “You’re not going to eat that! No!” Unless I am watching a horror film, it is rare that I feel the pressure to voice something out and direct it to the screen. But this is not an isolated, gross-out scene. It actually becomes relevant to the plot.

I can sit here and easily give plenty more praise on the technical elements of “Never Cry Wolf,” wonderfully directed by Carroll Ballard. It truly is that rich. But I will not because its magic should be experienced rather than be read about. Instead, I will say this:

I think it is exactly the movie that I needed to see because soon I will be going on my own foray into research. It moved me because it touches upon fear, the fear of the unknown. Like the protagonist, I will have to move to a new place, acclimatize to the climate and culture, and perhaps learn through trial-and-error first before hitting my stride. Though the film is not afraid to peek at dark corners, its message is largely hopeful: the pursuit of contributing to science can lead to personal growth and rewards that many will never get a chance to dream about let alone possess. It made me feel like I am ready.

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back


Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The Death Star was destroyed but the war between the Empire and the rebels was far from over. The rebels aggregated in Hoth, a planet covered in ice, and Darth Vader (David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones) had just found them. There was a full-on attack on our heroes and they lost. Upon their retreat, they were divided into two groups. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) traveled to Dagobah to find a master Jedi called Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) upon the request the ghostly Obi-wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness). Meanwhile, their ship unable to go into hyperdrive, with some amusing consequences, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) attempted navigate their way through an asteroid field in order to evade Vader and his pesky minions. “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back,” directed by Irvin Kershner and from the original mind of George Lucas, was a quintessential sequel: it proved that just because the special and visual effects were grander and the action-sequences were more heart-pounding, the story and character need not be sacrificed. Although the picture didn’t mention how many months or years had passed since we last saw our beloved characters, we didn’t need to. Luke was more mature and more confident in the way he approached problems, the robots were more useful and wise-cracking, Chewbacca was more lovable, and the arguments between Han Solo and Princess Leia felt more like necessary friendly bantering/flirtation instead a hindrance to the story’s mood and momentum. The sequel challenged itself by constantly offering us something new. Let’s take the environment. In its predecessor, the characters spent a third of its time navigating their way through a barren desert. In here, we were immersed in a chilly tundra. Instead of going straight to the action of Vader’s troops demolishing the rebel base, it wasn’t afraid to take some risks like Luke being kidnapped by the Abominable Snowman-looking creature. It had a sense of fun. We never truly believed that Luke was in real danger. However, it was a necessary scene because it reminded us of Luke’s increasing connection to The Force, a key element in eventually defeating the evil Empire, and that he was no longer just a farmer trying too hard to be a Jedi. There was also an interesting contrast between scenes of the swampy Dagobah where Luke trained and the futuristic floating city where Han Solo and company took refuge. Despite the differences in images, the alternating scenes didn’t feel forced because the characters were consistently working toward a common goal. “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back,” unafraid to explore its darker themes regarding loyalty and betrayal, unexpectedly romantic and chock full of surprises, was an adventure in the highest order.

The Goonies


The Goonies (1985)
★★ / ★★★★

In Richard Donner’s “The Goonies,” a group of kids found a map containing the location of a pirate treasure. Brothers Mikey (Sean Astin) and Brand (Josh Brolin) had a week before their family were forced to move because their parents could no longer afford their home. But when Data (Jonathan Ke Quan), Mouth (Corey Feldman) and Chunk (Jeff Cohen) agreed with Mikey to search for the mythical treasure for one last adventure, they stumbled upon the hiding place of three Italian criminals (Anne Ramsey, Joe Pantoliano, Robert David) on the run from the cops. Their hiding place contained a secret passageway that led to an underground cave that housed the legendary pirate ship. “The Goonies” would appeal to kids because they would most likely be able relate to the characters’ silliness and quirkiness, the soundtrack was energetic, and it played upon the universal idea of children’s penchant for treasure hunting. Despite being a kid at heart, I wasn’t that entertained. There were far too many people in the cave. The two girls, Andy (Kerri Green) and Stef (Martha Plimpton), were completely unnecessary. The romance between Andy and Brand dragged the picture’s momentum. How could we root for their romance if they weren’t fully realized characters? The fact that the picture kept suggesting that there could be something between Andy, around sixteen years old, and Mikey, who was still in elementary school, was more awkward than funny, creepy than cute. I felt like the girls in the movie were added simply to appeal to the same sex. I wish they made their exit when they stumbled upon a well where three guys above could have taken them home. I grew tired of their whining. I enjoyed the film most when the guys accidentally triggered booby traps. It was like watching a light version of Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” exciting but we never truly felt that the characters were in any real danger. We were simply curious to see how the protagonists would adapt to the quickly changing environment. I did wish, however, that the criminals were more dangerous. Most of the time, they acted more like cartoon characters. I didn’t buy for one second that they were smart enough to pull off breaking someone out of jail as they did in the first scene. “The Goonies” wasn’t rich with subtlety. The child actors’ lines often felt forced and it was obvious when some of their lines were dubbed. They probably ran out of takes. Still, the movie was entertaining and charming in its own way. Based on Spielberg’s story, I couldn’t help but wonder how sharper and stronger it might have been under his direction.

The Adventures of Tintin


The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell), a journalist with an appetite for adventure, recently purchased a model of The Unicorn, an ill-destined 17th century ship built during the reign of Charles II, for a meager price. It was believed to have been carrying a secret cargo when the ship, led by Sir Francis Haddock, was ambushed by greedy pirates. Unaware that there was a scroll hidden in its mast, Tintin left the model unattended and was purloined by the henchmen of Sakharine (Daniel Craig), a mysterious gentleman convinced that the piece of paper held a clue to the location of great treasures. Based on the comic books by Hergé, the film embraced a high-octane energy similar to the “Indiana Jones” series. The way one action sequence led up to another, guided by John Williams’ uplifting and suspenseful score, felt natural and I was impressed to have been lured each time. I was particularly drawn to the Wire Fox Terrier, Tintin’s best companion named Snowy, and the way the camera glided with him when he was compelled to rescue his master from dangerous situations. The comedy entered the equation when, like most dogs, Snowy was tempted by food instead of focusing on the mission at hand. The style of animation was quite astonishing. Battles occurred on land, air, and sea and each offered something unique relative to the challenges presented depending on the environment, our protagonists’ level of fatigue, and the bad guys’ aptitude for violence. Moreover, it was surprisingly confident in presenting certain realities. At one point, a man who knocked on Tintin’s door to warn him of the danger he was about to be thrusted into was bombarded by about a dozen bullets. For an animated film targeted for kids, I felt somewhat uneasy when it showed the man’s ravaged body hitting the floor, leaving clues using his blood, and gasping for his last breath. I admired that the screenplay by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish made room for some darkness. It elevated the material from what could have been a silly treasure hunt to something with history and gravity. But unlike the “Indiana Jones” series, the picture, directed by Steven Spielberg, did not have great emotional payoffs. While there were emotional peaks like when Tintin and Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), the last descendant of The Unicorn’s captain, struggled to find a way to survive a plane crash, the treasure was exactly as we envisioned. It was too literal and bereft of implications, uncharacteristic of Spielberg’s work. I wanted to be more surprised about the content of the treasure and what it meant not only to acquire it but to keep it. Perchance there was a reason why it remained hidden for so long. After it was revealed, I didn’t feel as though evading bullets, being lost at sea, and almost getting decapitated was worth it. The final scene “The Adventures of Tintin” left more to be desired in a negative way. The journey didn’t feel complete due to a lack of closure. I felt as though the screenwriters wanted to end the story, but they couldn’t find a way to capture the essence in turning the last page of a great adventure.

The Grey


The Grey (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Ottway (Liam Neeson) was considering to commit suicide the night before he and a group of oil rig workers were scheduled to take a flight to visit home, but he decided against it after hearing a wolf howl from a distance. When their plane crashed in Alaska, miles from the nearest town or city, Ottway and seven survivors (Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, James Badge Dale, and Ben Bray) were systematically hunted and killed by ravenous wolves. As the men dwindled in number, Ottway’s insistence to live became clearer. Conversely, the possibility of Ottway finding refuge turned dimmer. Written by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers and Joe Carnahan, “The Grey” was a cut above us being reduced to passively watching men trying to survive against the cruelty of nature. It forced us to consider difficult questions by immersing us in images that ranged from the grizzly wolf attacks to the chilly landscapes of barren hope. Even though it was difficult to remember the men’s names, the majority of them serving as fodder for the canines, more was revealed about them in the second half of the picture. So when a character, for instance, decided that others should leave him behind because his will to live reached the bottom of the barrel, we felt bad for the character yet we understood where he was coming from. There was no melodrama. The aforementioned scene was especially well-executed. There was no music that served to signal that we should feel a certain way. There was only silence and peace, an acquisition of mental freedom through the act of surrendering. I found beauty in its attitude about death, how it shouldn’t be feared as long as it’s our choice. Notice the contrast between a sweet surrender and a wolf suddenly jumping from behind while the men kept warm around a fire. The title went beyond the color of the wolves that growled from a distance. The adventure was ultimately convincing because the film was essentially about the grey area of life and death. By watching the men march for a seemingly interminable distance, the picture dared us to question how far we think we would be willing to go if we were forced to be in their place. The men were supposed to be “tough” because they were hardened by their time and experiences in prison. Despite their histories and intrepid comportments, we could relate to them because the screenplay gave them a chance to open up and reveal reasons why they wanted to survive. Like them, the majority of us value our families most: we fight for them, to be with them, even if it meant making the ultimate sacrifice. That’s what separates us from other animals like the wolves in the film. They may be able to remember a person who harmed them in some way but they are incapable of loyalty or being connected to their conscience. “The Grey,” directed by Joe Carnahan, also benefited from Neeson’s versatile performance. He was able to keep an interesting balance between being animalistic and humanistic, a requisite for a movie driven by implications about our place in nature. But it wasn’t without a sense of humor. I wondered at some point if barbecued wolf meat was a delicacy somewhere out there.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale


Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Pietari (Onni Tommila) and Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää) snuck onto a restricted mountain where so-called seismic researchers, some Americans, were assigned to excavate something mysterious deep within the ice. The two boys overheard that what was embedded inside was going to redefine the world’s notion of Santa Claus and Christmas. When Pietari got home, he began to research about Old St. Nick and his origins. It turned out that the legendary figure was far from nice and jolly. According to the books, every Christmas, he kidnapped naughty kids, put them in a cauldron, and ate them. Pietari was determined not to get taken. Written and directed by Jalmari Helander, “Rare Exports” brimmed with scintillating originality, enough to inject kids with increasing unease and force the adults to watch with fascination. It was fun to watch Pietari run around and put pieces together because there was something innocent and bold about him. Since he wasn’t taken seriously by adults and fellow children, he felt he had something to prove. His determination and thirst for adventure was similar to the beloved kids from Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” Richard Donner’s “The Goonies,” and J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8.” But like the aforementioned flicks, the film worked as a family drama. Pietari and his dad (Jorma Tommila) lived by themselves where interaction with others required a vehicle due to distance and safety issues. There was a moving scene during Christmas Eve when the two sat on the table and ate gingerbread cookies. Nothing else was prepared. The absence of the key woman in their lives was palpable. Even though it wasn’t fully discussed, we were able to infer that Pietari and his dad were still mourning from the death of his mother and wife, respectively. The son asked his dad whether it would make a difference to him whether he, too, would “disappear” and if he had been good this year. The father deflected the questions with a loud command of sending his son to bed. Sometimes it’s easier to circumvent the truth. On Christmas day, Pietari found that the bait for the wolf trap his father had set the day before was gone. Instead of finding a wolf in the pit, there was a skinny man with a beard. The film played with our expectations some more and threw around very strange red herrings like a kid opening presents with delirium. Our lack of knowledge involving the origins of Santa Claus in their part of the world served as a wonderful, magical, creepy source of tension. The man that the father and son found was critically injured and seemingly unable to understand language. He only responded, with extreme alarm, when Pietari was around. Pietari thought it was Santa Claus and he just had to tell his friends given what he knew. But none of them were to be found. Toward the end of the film, CGI was used profusely, but it was utilized to enhance the experience. “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” was unafraid to tackle darker material yet it was quite satirical. Its brazenness and creativity in putting our little protagonist in the face of danger without coming off as exploitative was admirable.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol


Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

A relatively simple retrieval turned excessively complicated when three IMF agents failed to realize that there was another group interested in acquiring the same documents they were after. One of them ended up dead (Josh Holloway) so it was up to the other two to rescue Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) from a Berlin prison. While the prison break was successful, Hunt, Benji (Simon Pegg), and Jane (Paula Patton) were blamed for the bombing of The Kremlin which meant, in the least, a breach of international relations between Russia and the United States. As a result, the president issued Ghost Protocol: a disavowal of all IMF agents and their activities, which implied they were now rogue agents and, if captured, to be treated as terrorists. It was up to Hunt and company to exonerate the IMF from unjust blame and to prevent the real terrorists from starting a nuclear war. “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” written by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec, was the expected fast-paced and globe-trotting action-adventure escapism with a myriad of twists to spare, proof that the franchise is worth continuing given that it has a strong script and is led by a director with a keen eye for detail and a solid grasp between thrill and suspense. Excellence was prevalent in the first hour and a half. The scene inside the Kremlin where serious Hunt and hilarious Benji had to set up an optical illusion in the hallway using advanced gadgetry, making them invisible to the guard as they broke into a vault, was genius. The scene was done without any dialogue and almost no sound but it garnered so much nerve-wracking tension, a beep on the computer or a silent opening of a door felt as threatening as watching someone put a gun on another person’s head, pulling the trigger, but no bullet comes out. Just a deafening click. Another scene I found myself very engaged in was when Ethan chased a terrorist through a sandstorm in the magnificently urban Dubai. Talk about using the environment as an inspiration for an action sequence. It was a typical cat-and-mouse chase but, like the first scene, made exponentially complicated when sand and wind were raging all over the streets which made our protagonist blind to potential threats like cars swooshing by. However, the film wasn’t without important missing pieces. I would’ve liked to have gotten to know more about the villains. Sabine Moreau (Léa Seydoux), a diamond collector, killed Jane’s partner in the field. While it was very exciting to watch them duke it out in a posh Dubai–and extremely, vomit-inducingly high–hotel room, if we had known Sabine’s background a bit more, either she was painted as more ruthless and cunning or, more interestingly, slightly more sympathetic, then it just wouldn’t be about Jane wanting revenge for someone she lost which, by the way, grew tired as the movie went on. Sentimentality was not this installment’s forté. I was more interested in the relationship between Hunt and Brandt (Jeremy Renner), an analyst bearing a heavy personal secret, who may or may not be a double agent. Furthermore, Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist), the leading terrorist, ultimately felt like a henchman. It was odd that didn’t we get to see Hendricks and Hunt speak to each other. Not one word. Regardless, “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” directed by Brad Bird, had enough highs that gave me chills with how good it was. And guess what? It made me laugh, too.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), youngest of the Pevensie siblings, were left in England to live their cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) while their parents and older siblings, Susan (Anna Popplewell) and Peter (William Moseley), lived in the United States. Edmund and Lucy did not get along with their cousin, but the three of them ended up in Narnia when a painting of an ocean with a ship turned to life. They were taken aboard by Caspian’s (Ben Barnes) crew and explained to them their mission of collecting seven swords and defeating an evil green mist. The third installment of “The Chronicles of Narnia” franchise, based on C.S. Lewis’ books, was ultimately disappointing because it failed to capture a right balance between magic and heart. While it was heavy on the special and visual effects, the fighting scenes felt empty because the picture did not establish a good reason why they were fighting in the first place. Yes, the green mist was obviously a negative entity, but I had questions about who was controlling the mist and what was the common theme that tied the various characters together. Having faith in the majestic Aslan simply did not cut it because the kids from the first two films have grown up. Therefore, their personal challenges, too, should have evolved. The way they chose to deal with their respective challenges should have had a certain level of complexity and it should have always been at the forefront. Hints of such challenges involved Edmund and his feeling that he was always second best. Now that his brother was no longer allowed in Narnia, he thought that it was his turn to be a leader. His expectations were dampened when Caspian was seen as the leader instead of him. Aside from two measly scenes, one was when Edmund tried to enlist in the army and the other when he and Caspian had an argument in a cavern full of gold, the movie did not tackle Edmund’s insecurity in a thoughtful way. The same happened to Lucy as she craved to have her sister’s beauty. Her obsession led her to a dangerous spell but aside from one or two scenes, her problems were seemingly solved. The film should have taken the opportunity to explore that angle because so many girls suffer from low esteem. Sacrificing two or three battle sequences would have been more than fair. I’ve heard that the writers, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, and Michael Petroni, made some drastic changes from the original material. I was fine with it as long as they proved to me that the changes were made for the better. I wasn’t convinced. Despite “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” directed by Michael Apted, looking gorgeous as usual, it was choppy, lacked real tension, and the core characters felt secondary. That was an unforgivable sin.

Sanctum


Sanctum (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Frank (Richard Roxburgh), a professional explorer, and his crew (Dan Wylie, Christopher Baker, Nicole Downs, Allison Cratchley, Creamer Cain) were in the uncharted Esa’ala Cave to map out the underground river that ran through it. But their exploration turned grim when it began to rain. The cave was located underground so water from the rainforest began to pool inside. With exits blocked by heavy rocks and powerful torrents, Frank, his crew, his son named Josh (Rhys Wakefield), the project financier (Ioan Gruffudd), and his girlfriend (Alice Parkinson) decided that their only hope was to find the exit the led up to the ocean. Inspired by a true story, “Sanctum” might have been better off as a documentary. Instead, it featured melodrama between father and son. Josh felt distant toward his father because Frank was fully invested in his work and didn’t spend enough time at home. When they shared conversations, the topic consisted of cave diving, mountain climbing, and other extreme physical activities. I suppose Josh wanted his father to ask him about his hobbies or if he ever had a girlfriend (or boyfriend). I found it difficult to connect to their relationship when everyone was yelling all the time. Naturally, as the picture progressed, the two found common ground. As for the survival aspect of the film, I liked that the environment looked threatening. Sharp rocks were abound, the flowing water looked like it could easily knock me over, and the claustrophic space when the characters went underwater looked menacing. However, did the characters have to make one bad decision after another? They were supposed to have had experience in extreme situations one way or another, but their mistakes were elementary. Take the financier’s girlfriend for example. Prior to a crucial dive, she was adamant in not wearing a dead woman’s wet suit. She claimed she would rather, in her own words, “be cold and alive than warm and dead.” Her logic did not make sense to me. Someone should have knocked some sense into her and explained that a wet suit could help keep her alive. I just had to laugh at her in the next scene when she got hypothermia. I thought she deserved it for being so stubborn. The picture needed more quiet moments. The score was distracting especially during the underwater sequences. If most of those scenes were silent and all we could here were the bubbles, there would have been genuine, naturalistic tension because we all know how it’s like to hold our breath underwater and the panic that creeps in when our lungs crave oxygen. The filmmakers should have taken advantage of that instead of allowing the music to tell us what to feel. Directed by Alister Grierson, “Sanctum” failed to show us what needed to be experienced. This was best reflected in the scene when Frank and his crew witnessed something that was supposedly astonishing. The camera focused on their expressions the entire time and never allowed us to see the greatness for ourselves.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides


Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Fearing the Spanish would get to the mythical Fountain of Youth first, King George (Richard Griffiths) assigned Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to lead a British crew to where it was located. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and Gibbs (Kevin McNally) happened to know exactly where it was. Gibbs was captured by Barbossa and just when he was about to get killed, he revealed the map and immediately burned it. He evaded certain death because he informed Barbossa that he had memorized the map by heart. Meanwhile, Sparrow bumped on Angelica (Penélope Cruz), a former flame, whose father, Blackbeard (Ian McShane), was also on a quest to find the fountain. Blackbeard heard of a prophecy of a one-legged man taking his life and he believed that drinking from the fountain would give him eternal life. Directed by Rob Marshall, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” was painful to sit through because it was essentially a compilation of lackadaisical dialogue and uninspired action sequences. Sparrow made a comment about the journey being more important than the destination and I wish the writers kept that advice in mind. The highlight of the picture was the first thirty minutes. When Sparrow impersonated a judge, we were reminded why we fell in love with watching a pirate who acted drunk and loved to make wisecracks during the most dire situations. Impersonating a judge was an act of poking fun of a justice system and its unchanging, sometimes unfair, rules. Being a pirate meant being a rebel and there’s a rebel in all of us. I also enjoyed the scene that came after when Sparrow tried to escape from the hands of British guards while half of his mind was focused on grabbing a cream puff. However, when all the key characters boarded their respective ships, it was downhill from there. The mermaids were interesting because they weren’t just there to look pretty. They could actually defend themselves. Unfortunately, the momentum came to a screeching halt when the romance between Philip (Sam Claflin), a cleric, and Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), a mermaid Blackbeard’s crew captured, began to take center stage. I didn’t care about either character. The romance was predictable and out of place. Given that a mermaid’s tear was requisite for eternal life, it was transparent that Philip had to suffer in some way. With the way Blackbeard treated the mermaid, she wouldn’t give up her tears so easily. There should have been more meaningful scenes between Sparrow and Angelica yet they were reduced to meeting in secret, arguing, flirting, and talking about their past. It was like being in a room with two lovers and we weren’t in on any of their jokes. “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” was unnecessary, at times, excruciatingly, for a lack of a better word, boring. It made me wish there was a wind strong enough to let a hefty two hours and twenty minutes fly by.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time


Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Three Persian princes (Jake Gyllenhaal, Richard Coyle, Toby Kebbell) invaded a holy city protected by a princess named Tamina (Gemma Arterton) because their royal intelligence led them to believe that the city provided weapons to Persia’s enemies. In truth, the false information was created and spread because someone wanted a special dagger that had the ability to turn back time. Based on the video game of the same name, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” directed by Mike Newell, plays out like a typical video game: the main character Dastan (Gyllenhaal) was heroic and had a heart of gold, he met villains-turned-friends (Alfred Molina, Steve Toussaint) along the way, and the identity of the big bad was eventually dramatically revealed even though we could see it coming from a mile away. But prior to watching the film, I decided to have an open mind and not take it too seriously. Surprisingly enough, I quite enjoyed it because its energy reminded me of Stephen Sommers’ action-adventure “The Mummy” although not as funny and creative with the action sequences. I thought the film worked best when it showcased the fighting scenes such as when Dastan would try to evade the enemies by jumping from one roof to another à la Jason Bourne in Paul Greengrass’ “The Bourne Ultimatum” only with more sweat and sand. However, I have to admit that the bickering between Dastan and Tamina did get under my last nerves. I knew that they were going to end up in each others’ arms eventually so I kept wondering when they would actually be useful together in order to finally drive the story forward. Perhaps Arterton was to blame because although she was beautiful on the outside, the way she played her character lacked charm. I thought she could have played her character with more cheekiness and far less self-righteousness. I didn’t understand why Dastan would fall in love with her because she acted like a spoiled brat for the majority of the time. When she wasn’t, she acted like a common damsel-in-distress. “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” ticks all the boxes in terms of what makes a good and entertaining action flick. I especially liked the visual effects toward the end when Dastan and the princess went under the holy city and danger was literally found in each step. However, I wish the filmmakers would’ve challenged themselves more (or, more importantly, challenged us more) by toning down certain evil looks by characters that had murky allegiances so that it would have been less predictable.

Jumanji


Jumanji (1995)
★★★ / ★★★★

The constantly bullied Alan Parrish (Adam Hann-Byrd) was the son of an emotionally distant factory owner (Jonathan Hyde) who stumbled upon a magical board game called Jumanji. After a row with his father about being sent to boarding school, he rolled the dice and he was sucked into the game and lived in the jungle for 26 years. The new residents (Kirsten Dunst, Bradley Pierce) of the former Parrish mansion then found the game and started playing, all the while unaware of the dangerous situations of which they were about to face. With the help of Alan and his crush (now 26 years older played by Robin Williams and Bonnie Hunt), the four had to finish the game in order restore peace in their town. “Jumanji” was one of those films I watched so many times when I was a kid because I couldn’t get enough of its manic energy and wondrous sense of adventure. It had emotional resonance for me because the heart of the picture was the bond between the father and the son and at the time my dad was in America while my mom, brother and I were in the Philippines. Every time I saw the movie, I thought about my dad and how much I missed him. I identified with Dunst’s character–how imaginative she was and how she had to take care of her brother. I guess it helped that Pierce looked somewhat like my brother with his curly hair and wisecracks. One of the elements I found to be most effective in the film was its increasing amount of danger every time a character rolled the dice. The board game started off with giant African bats and only became more impressive from there. I found my eyes being fixated on the screen in suspense just in case something would suddenly pop out from nowhere. To balance the excitement and suspense, the picture also had a great sense of humor. I loved the small details like a rhinoceros being barely able to keep up during the stampede, Hyde also playing the villainous Van Pelt whose goal was to kill Alan (talk about father-son issues), all the looting that happened in stores when the town was in absolute chaos, and even the dated CGI (those creepy monkeys!) was all part of the fun. It didn’t take itself too seriously but it didn’t dumb down the material for its audiences so it became a solid popcorn entertainment. The film could have been stronger if it had more scenes between Alan when he was a kid and his father. There was a real pain and sadness in their strained relationship. The revelations that happened much later would have been more moving and bittersweet. For a movie being older than 15 years, “Jumanji,” based on the novel by Chris Van Allsburg and directed by Joe Johnston, is still fresh and better than most kid-friendly adventure movies out there today.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief


Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) thought that he was nobody special but was, in fact, the son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd). After Hades (Steve Coogan) kidnapped Percy’s mother (Catherine Keener) because he believed that the boy had stolen Zeus’ lightning, Percy, his best friend (Brandon T. Jackson) and Athena’s daughter (Alexandra Daddario) went on a quest to find a way to go to the underworld, rescue Percy’s mom, and save the world. Based on a series of novels by Rick Riordan, the film impressed me with its special and visual effects but the big picture left me wanting more. It’s strange because for a two-hour undoubtedly thrilling action-adventure, it felt somewhat like an empty experience because it failed to really explore its characters except for exposing their most obvious quirks and dominant personalities. I like Logan Lerman as an actor but there were times when I spotted weaknesses in his acting. Some of the lines he delivered fell completely flat and I caught myself either rolling my eyes or chuckling because I just did not believe the words that were coming out of his mouth. There was a disconnect between him and the character and therefore his character and the audiences. This was particularly glaring during the most emotional scenes when he was supposed to summon sadness or rage. Perhaps if he was given more takes, he could have nailed the lines. However, as far as children’s adventures, I hardly think the movie was a failure. I enjoyed many scenes such as the duel with a minotaur, a nice surprise on who played Medusa (and I think she did a wonderful job), and that brilliant scene in Las Vegas in the Lotus Casino (it was nice that it illuminated why it was called as such). It was fun to watch, despite the characters making unnecessarily stupid decisions, lacking internal dialogue and angst, because it was very energetic and creative when required. If a sequel is in store for “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” directed by Chris Columbus, I’ll be interested in watching it. People have compared this film to “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and its sequel so I’m curious to see if it can grow as a strong franchise. In order for it to achieve “Harry Potter”-level, it is going to need more focus on the story and characters, much stronger acting especially from the lead, and more magic via playing with our expectations and emotions.