Tag: alicia silverstone

The Lodge

The Lodge (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’ “The Lodge” is an excellent example of a movie so reliant on a third act twist that if one were observant enough to see through the fog and recognize red herrings—which isn’t difficult to do—the rest becomes a waiting game. I appreciated the intent: the goal is to tell a story, through the lens of psychological horror, about unresolved trauma and how it can ruin new chapters of its hosts’ lives even before they begin. In order for this to work, however, the screenplay must function both as a drama and a horror picture. It fails to excel in either category which leaves us an experience that is, for the most part, a slog to sit through.

It lays out the pieces in a clear and precise manner. Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh) are still in mourning due to the death of their mother (Alicia Silverstone). She had committed suicide after receiving news that her husband, Richard (Richard Armitage), wishes to marry his girlfriend, Grace (Riley Keough), former member and sole survivor of a Christian cult that committed mass suicide. Already there are parallel details worth noting. Six months after the mother’s death, and just in time for Christmas (of course), the siblings and their soon-to-be stepmother will spend time in a remote winter cabin in order to get to know one another better. (Richard has to leave for a couple of days due to work.) The children despise the new woman in their lives because they blame her for their mother’s death, and the girlfriend is… a bit off even though she is willing to try to make it work between her and the kids.

As the material busies itself with presenting pieces of the puzzle that will prove to be relevant later, I felt no drama emanating from the material. Sure, it’s sad that Aidan and Mia must learn to live without their mother, but the work fails to provide reasons why these two are interesting together or apart. They are not only given so little dialogue, they are left with little to do. I felt as though their anger is superficial and so when Aidan and/or Mia lash out at Grace, in subtle or overt manner, the whole thing comes across like a performance. The notes of action and reaction are present but not the music, if you will.

The same applies to Grace. For a woman who has endured so much physically and psychologically, this survivor is rather bland. Is she meant to be a shell of a person? It is not enough to show one online article of a terrible cult; we must have an appreciation of this particular group through the perspective of the one who lived to tell the tale. (Richard wrote a book about her experiences.) Keough attempts to wring out every drop of emotion in each scene—which is admirable—but I never believed the history of her character. We’re supposed to buy into it, I guess, because she’s a pill popper. By the third trip to the bedroom drawer because she finds it so stressful to interact with her future stepchildren, I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit—not because it is funny but because it is offensively reductive. What does Richard see in her?

Expect no scares; the approach is a slow descent to madness. Expect long takes. Expect plenty of shots of creepy portraits, ugly dolls, and large crucifixes. Expect silence, dim lighting, minimal score. A whole lot of snow. And shivering. Oh, John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is on TV at one point. It made me wish I were watching that terrific, exciting, horrifying movie instead.

Eventually, we are meant to question what’s real and isn’t, who to trust and who to suspect; what is happening and to whom. I was able to predict every step, but I enjoyed the snowy milieu and the feelings of isolation it invokes. The work is so atmospheric but little else to offer. At least it has the courage to end on a dark note. But even then I still felt there is no powerful punchline. Of course it had to happen; trauma and history repeating itself and all that.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (2017)
★ / ★★★★

Despite the picture being plagued with would-be humor involving various bodily functions, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul,” based on the children’s book series by Jeff Kinney, will likely fail to appeal even to its narrow age demographic. This is because the material is not in touch with the core of the series. That is, pre-teen Greg Heffley (Jason Drucker) feels like a loser and so he goes on great lengths to shed what he believes others perceive him to be. In reality, however, he is a good kid who just so happens to get in trouble sometimes—and he need not change a thing about himself. It is not about gross-out and slapstick humor.

It is strange because the screenplay is helmed by the book series’ author along with director David Bowers. One gets the impression that in order to commercialize or make the picture more accessible to non-book readers, a lot of the main source’s heart were cut out. Perhaps this decision is driven by a plot involving a road trip where shenanigans are expected to unfold consistently in order to establish a semblance of fast pacing. In reality, however, the film moves quite slowly because the viewers grow tired of the highly repetitive formula of silliness and high jinks. When it does get to the supposedly heartfelt moments, it falls flat. Deep emotions and realizations are not earned at all.

I take no pleasure in pointing out child performers coming across as rather mismatched to the roles they play. However, it must be mentioned that Drucker is not a good fit to portray Greg Heffley. The character is supposed to command a balance of slyness and sweetness, often during the same scene, but Drucker, even though he emotes the best he can with the material he is provided, does not yet have the range to reach such a balance. He pales by comparison to Zachary Gordon who played Greg in the first three “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” movies. Perhaps Drucker just needs more time to grow accustomed to Greg’s shoes.

The film is completely let down by the writing. This time around, Greg’s parents (Alicia Silverstone, Tom Everett Scott) have bigger roles in the story and so it is a perfect opportunity for Greg to learn a bit more about his parents, perhaps even connect with them on a level that the protagonist did not expect prior to being on the road. And yet the screenplay insists on delivering the same old tricks: portraying parents as uptight and lacking the ability to relate to their children. While the picture can have these elements, turning them upside down or inside out once in a while could have paved for more interesting and challenging avenues. Playing it safe is death to comedy.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” lacks freshness as well as a certain verve required to entertain children beyond gross-out jokes. I have a deep dislike toward children’s movies that are adamant in treating their target audience as not intelligent. Kids deserve better than this boring, nonstop barrage of lowest hanging fruit. A better alternative is to allow children to play outside than to have them sit through this incredibly disappointing misfire.

Excess Baggage

Excess Baggage (1997)
★★ / ★★★★

In order to get the attention of her father (Jack Thompson) and appreciate her a little more, Emily (Alicia Silverstone) devises her own kidnapping. Once the ransom is delivered, she tapes her ankles and mouth, handcuffs her wrists, and jumps into the trunk of her car. Everything appears to be going according to plan. That is, until Vincent (Benicio Del Toro) breaks into the girl’s car and drives away with it.

“Excess Baggage,” directed by Marco Brambilla, is a light-hearted comedy sprinkled with enough action to jolt us out of quiescence. Silverstone is deliciously annoying, very appropriate given the bratty nature of her character. When Emily whines, I actually wished that she would swallow wrong which would have forced her to cough, drink water, anything—as long as she stopped talking.

The picture welcomes us to judge Emily based on her looks, the clothes she wears, the car she drives, and seeing what her family owns. I enjoyed that our perception of her is challenged as the film crosses into more a sensitive territory.

Del Toro does a wonderful job in playing a character who is essentially a punching bag. There is a patience and coolness in Vincent that makes me want to know more about him. I liked the fact that he is perfectly aware that his so-called occupation—hijacking cars and selling them for hundreds of thousands of dollars—hurt people, affluent or otherwise, and their pockets. Those eyes, during the silent moments, communicate a story about his past. It is unfortunate that we are not given more information about him. That is a big a problem.

After the bantering duo gets into all sorts of arguments, it appears as though the movie does not know which direction to go: there are cops who see Emily as a mere victim; Stick (Nicholas Turturro) and Gus (Michael Bowen), fellow henchmen of the unseen man with whom Vincent and Greg (Harry Connick Jr.) also work for, want a million dollars from Emily’s father; meanwhile Ray (Christopher Walken), Emily’s uncle and father figure, just wants to get his niece home in one piece.

While the screenplay is able to spend equal time with each strand, none of them creates genuine drama that forces the audience to become more involved. Once someone is hit on the head or in the stomach, it moves onto the next set-up that leads to another beating. Because of the predictable formula it constructs for itself, the story becomes redundant about halfway through and I could not help but wonder if it had ran out of ideas.

The material, however, gives us something new to chew on in the latter half in the form of an unlikely romance between Vincent and Emily. There is a danger to it because there are times when it is suggested that perhaps she is underage. This is another angle worth exploring but the script ultimately shies away from it. Del Toro and Silverstone’s chemistry is so undeniable, I was at a loss why the romance is given no depth.

The problem with “Excess Baggage,” based on the screenplay by Max D. Adams, Dick Clement, and Ian La Frenais, is found in the title. Instead of breezy and exciting, there are far too much fat—characters and subplots—that weigh the story down and very little meat to support its silly screwball skeleton.

The Art of Getting By

The Art of Getting By (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

George (Freddie Highmore), a senior in high school, was in danger of not graduating. Ever since he read a depressing quote about mortality that pushed him to stop caring about doing well in school and forging meaningful friendships, he began to lead his life like a leaf on a stream. But when a popular girl, Sally (Emma Roberts), with whom he had a crush on for years, started to notice and spend time with him, he considered that maybe fatalism was not right for him. “The Art of Getting By,” written and directed by Gavin Wiesen, adopted a passive approach in telling George’s story. While interesting when done right, it failed to work in this instance. There was no sense of urgency nor was there any drastic changes in tone. This technique didn’t make much sense because George was eventually supposed to wake up from his apathy. Even I would have preferred it more if it had taken a more heavy-handed approach. But the lack of logic was not only present behind the camera. George was a young adult who was drowning only he didn’t know it or wouldn’t accept it. Why didn’t his mother (Rita Wilson) and stepfather (Sam Robards), despite the fact that they had their own pecuniary matters to deal with, choose to be more vocal or proactive about their son’s future? They claimed they wanted to see change in him. But when they saw him laying on his bed instead of attending school, they meekly closed the door because he demanded to be left alone. While he was exemplary when it came to looking sad, what would make sense was for either of the parents to drag him out of bed. A good parent, a parent who genuinely cared, would have. Later, we were asked to sympathize for the parents. How could we when it was so obvious that they chose to neglect their child? As for George and Sally, their relationship was supposed to be romantic down to the final second of the film. But notice that when two bonded while skipping class and stalking men in the streets, the soundtrack took over. Remove the soundtrack and it wouldn’t be easy to see that their interactions were, at best, superficial. Nevertheless, there was one scene between them that I liked. On New Year’s Eve, they went clubbing and drinking with their friends from school. While on the dance floor, Sally allowed another guy to cut between them which caused George to retreat. If she was supposed to be likable or even remotely smart, why did let that happen? Girls, if they have an iota of self-awareness, know when guys are into them. She only later appeared to him after he vomited profusely and claimed that she had been looking for him for two hours inside. I didn’t believe her for a second. Later, George called Sally a “hussy.” I laughed because it was true. I wish there were more scenes between George, his teachers (Alicia Silverstone, Jarlath Conroy), and the principal (Blair Underwood). Out of anybody in the movie, they were the ones who actively took a role in letting George know that his life was about to be in the gutter. They weren’t afraid to perform some tough love either. “The Art of Getting By” was misguided even though its intentions were good. By focusing on trivial things like George attempting to win over a girl who was prone to vacillate, it felt superficial. People like the protagonist are, unfortunately, found in many high schools. If they are to be inspired, they need better material than this.


Clueless (1995)
★★★ / ★★★★

Cher (Alicia Silverstone) was not the type of popular girl who loved to bully those who were at bottom of the social ladder. She would rather spend her time shopping for designer clothes with her best friend (Stacey Dash). She was the type of popular girl who cared about her grades because her father (Dan Hedaya) kept her in check and her ex-step-brother (Paul Rudd) implicitly urged her to care more about the bigger issues in life. In her charmingly narcissistic way, she decided to give back to the community via giving the new girl in school (Brittany Murphy) a much needed makeover which led to a series of happenings that allowed her to realize who she was romantically in love with. As light and easily digestible the movie was, I was very entertained by it because the dialogue seemed simple on the outside but there was an intelligence and self-awareness in its core. I liked that the main character was an airhead but she had a defined perspective that she stuck with throughout which made her endearing and consistently interesting. For instance, when she was about to go out in skimpy clothing with the boy she really liked (Justin Walker), her father asked her what she was wearing. She responded by saying that it was a dress and Calvin Klein told her so. Furthermore, it was just refreshing to watch a popular girl not having to result to doing mean things to others just so she could get her way. Yes, she could be a brat at times but that trait did not define her. When her grades were low, instead of scheming of ways to blackmail her teachers (Wallace Shawn, Twink Caplan), she did the unexpected by playing matchmaker. Since she saw the world as a happy place, she believed that by helping others realize how good the world was, everything would come into place for her. Silverstone did a wonderful job playing the wide-eyed barbie because she made her character relatable, genuinely funny and, yes, even smart and witty (I love her scenes in debate class). The picture was honest with its title and it did not get lost in the satirizing the Beverly Hills high school kids when it could easily have been. Adroitly written and directed by Amy Heckerling, “Clueless” became a key figure in teenage pop culture because it was successful in its attempt to embrace the high school clichés but at the same time turning them upside down and pointing the fingers at us. Although we could not help but judge these kids as shallow and annoying, we laughed at (and with) them and maybe even cared about them. I think that says something about us.

Tropic Thunder

Tropic Thunder (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

This is not as funny as everyone made it to be. I thought it spent too much of its time showing people shooting guns and not enough time telling Hollywood jokes. For a two-hour film, I thought it would reach some sort of balance. Written and directed by Ben Stiller, he has some really funny sketches such as the fake trailers prior to the main feature, Robert Downey Jr. as a method actor, Tom Cruise as the over-the-top movie mogul, and not to mention the Oscar scene. Other than those few elements, I simply chuckled through the rest (if they were at least somewhat funny). Jack Black and Ben Stiller weren’t as funny as they could have been. Compared to Downey Jr. and Cruise, Black and Stiller were trying too hard to get noticed; instead of enhancing the experience, it became distracting. But I appreciated the cameos from Tyra Banks, Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Lance Bass, and Alicia Silverstone. They made me pay attention when nothing was going on on screen. What made this movie slightly above average at times was its self-awareness. It’s unabashed when it comes to making references to war pictures like “Platoon” and “Full Metal Jacket.” I love the scene where Downey Jr. recalled the films and actors that focus on mental retardation: Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man,” Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump,” and Sean Penn in “I Am Sam.” If they would have appeared, it would have been that much better. But what really did not work for me was the jungle scenes. When people are shooting guns and running away from the artillery, it becomes chaotic. Those “action” scenes feel like fillers when the jokes are not in the foreground. This is supposed to be a comedy but I didn’t see the comedy behind the violence. Perhaps if this had been a dark comedy film, it would’ve worked… but it wasn’t so it didn’t. The story becomes slow and it feels like the actors are not reaching their full potential because they are left to just run around screaming. If this movie would have been tilted toward the show business instead of the actual war scenes, I think I would’ve enjoyed it that much more.