X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
★★ / ★★★★
The government had found a drug that could suppress the mutant gene which recently became available to the public. Magneto (Ian McKellen), more than ever, was desperate to eliminate humans due to their intolerance against Mutants. Meanwhile, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) came back from the dead but, Phoenix, her other fiery and unpredictable personality had almost completely taken over. It seemed like not even Professor X (Patrick Stewart) could control her. Written by Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn, “X-Men: The Last Stand” felt like it settled with one concept and allowed the action scenes to take control of the material. As it went on, I wondered when it was going to offer us something fresh. The idea of finding a cure to a mutation could have gone in a million interesting directions, but the script didn’t break away from the topic of humans versus mutants. Humans were bad, mutants were good–except for the ones who chose to team up with Magneto. We just knew they were bad because they wore leather jackets, had tattoos, and rode motorcycles. There was a painful lack of depth. The introduction of Beast (Kelsey Grammer), a key figure in the United States public relations, could have been a chance for the material to acknowledge that not everyone in the government wanted to “cure” Mutants. There was irony in the way he looked versus the manner in which he carried himself. He looked like an animal but he was professional, smart, and very likable. The fact that the filmmakers didn’t do more with the character was beyond me. Did we really need more sloppily put together action sequences? The tension between Mutants and humans became increasingly complicated because the root of the problem wasn’t black and white. Further, the characters weren’t utilized in an interesting way. For example, it seemed like Rogue (Anna Paquin) only wanted to be cured because she wished to be able to touch Bobby (Shawn Ashmore), her boyfriend, without a glove. She became very jealous when she saw Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and Bobby get close physically. The complexity between Rogue and Iceman’s relationship was suddenly thrown out the window for the sake of typical teen drama. Rogue looked selfish. She didn’t even get to help in the final battle. The writers needed to sort out her priorities. As for Angel (Ben Foster), he wasn’t given much except to look pretty while flying around the city. I wanted to know how he felt with the fact that his father didn’t accept him for who he was to the point where he felt the need to cut off his wings when he was a child. If Angel’s scenes were completely removed from the film, the final product would have been the same. That subplot’s lack of connection to the main storyline reflected the picture’s main weakness. Directed by Brett Ratner, “X-Men: The Last Stand” did exactly the opposite of what made its predecessors very entertaining. The material having imagination didn’t necessarily mean expensive-looking special and visual effects. It meant bringing out the magic from within the characters and reminding us why we loved them even though they were genetically dissimilar from us.
★★★ / ★★★★
Written by Mark Polish and Michael Polish, “Northfork” told the story of a community in Montana forced to be uprooted from their homes because the area that they lived in would soon be underwater. Six men (James Woods, Graham Beckel, Josh Barker, Peter Coyote, Jon Gries, Rick Overton) were assigned to persuade the residents to move out of their homes by any means necessary. On the other side of the spectrum, a dying child (Duel Farnes) was dropped off to an orpanage by his parents to be in the hands of a priest (Nick Nolte). In the child’s mind, the child tried to persuade ghosts (Daryl Hannah, Robin Sachs, Ben Foster, Anthony Edwards) that he was an angel and therefore they should take him with them when they leave Northfork. I love the fact that the film and was not really about anything; there was a plot but there was no story yet it was such a pleasure to watch. The way it played with the atmospheric images of the landscape to match the very eccentric characters somehow moved me. Even though there were times when the scenes with the six men did not completely work for me because some of the humor were not easily accessible, I couldn’t help but appreciate those scenes because of the creative visual puns. For me, the stronger scenes were the ones focused on the dying child. I was on the verge of tears when I thought about how his parents just left him to die because it was more convenient for them and how desperate he was leave the world of the living. There was a nice contrast between how alive he was in his mind and how weak he was in the “real” world which made the experience all the more touching. My favorite aspect of the film was the fact that it was very open to interpretation. I saw it as a story of loss and renewal. The residents may be losing the comfortable world they lived in but outside their comfort zones is a possibility of a better life. The boy may be losing his life but the result might offer a world where he need not be abandoned. “Northfork,” directed by Michael Polish, is a challenging picture. Less thoughtful audiences may be quick to judge and claim that nothing happened and therefore it wasn’t a worthwhile experience. Others may argue that it borderlines insularity. I may agree to an extent but I thought it worked because it captured the mindsets of residents living in a small town. I admired the ambitious philosophical questions it raised. I just wished it had more scenes when the camera would pull into a wide shot and showcase the breathtaking landscapes that were about to be erased.
Another Day in Paradise (1998)
★★ / ★★★★
I like Larry Clark’s movies (“Kids,” “Bully,” “Wassup Rockers”) because each one has some sort of lesson in them. But the characters learn (or don’t learn) such lessons in many gritty and very realistic, if not all too painful, ways. I had a difficult time watching “Another Day in Paradise” because it did not start off well. The story was about how two criminals (James Woods and Melanie Griffith)–kind of like Bonnie and Clyde–took two juvenile delinquents (Vincent Kartheiser and Natasha Gregson Wagner) under their wing. One could tell that despite how they seemed to mesh well on the outside, something was about to go wrong because each character was driven by his or her own end game or naïveté. I kept waiting for the point of the story where everything suddenly changed but it didn’t quite deliver until the last twenty to twenty-five minutes. The last section of this movie was so powerful, I considered giving this film three stars. There was something about it was so sad and so haunting to the point where it really made me think about the characters and the choices they’ve made that got them into such an irrevocable mess. Such scenes reminded me why I loved Clark’s pictures in the first place because the message had a voice but it was still able to be quite poetic, which reminded me of some of Gus Van Sant’s strongest movies. Even though the movie did look small and was quite rough around the edges, the acting is top-notch especially from the young Vincent Kartheiser. I’ve seen him on the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” spin-off called “Angel” and thought he was just fine there, but I didn’t think he would be able to deliver such gravity and emotional power as he did here. If the first hour of the film only focused on the more human and sensitive aspect of the story instead of showing the characters stealing, doing drugs, and risking the lives they obviously don’t value, maybe “Another Day in Paradise” would have been much stronger. In my opinion, there were way too many scenes that featured self-descructive behavior to the point where I got sick of it and just wanted to pay attention to something else. With a little bit more work in the editing room and reshooting some scenes, this would have been a hit for me.
★★ / ★★★★
I never read the series written by Stephenie Meyer so I won’t compare the film to the novel. However, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised that I liked this film, in parts, because of all the negative reviews from both fans and non-fans of the book. Kristen Stewart stars as Bella Swan, a girl that recently moves in Fork, Washington and eventually befriends a vampire played by Robert Pattinson. It’s only a matter of time until they fall for each other and problems regarding the collision of their different worlds start to arise. I mentioned that I liked this movie in parts. I really enjoyed “Twilight” up until Stewart finally realized that Pattinson was a vampire. The way that Catherine Hardwicke, the director, framed the awkwardness and stupidity of high school students was really good. (I really do mean that as a compliment.) I wasn’t that surprised because she directed admirable pictures like “Thirteen” and “Lords of Dogtown.” What didn’t work for me was when the romantic aspect was being explored. I felt like Bella’s IQ dropped twenty points when she finally figured out Pattinson’s nature. She knows he’s dangerous but she doesn’t put in any effort to stay away; she also becomes a typical damsel-in-distress which was a completely different main character during the movie’s first few minutes. I thought Bella was going to be consistently tough, edgy, not to mention having a mind of her own. I felt like she needed a man in order to feel safe and that’s not a good message to girls and women. While I didn’t mind the whole teenager-dating-a-hundred-year-old-guy aspect of it because I was a fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (the Buffy-Angel relationship, not the Buffy-Spike ridiculousness), I felt like the movie would’ve been more interesting if it consistently explored why these vampires are dangerous, their histories, and more importantly, their varying abilities. It was nice that the vampires in this movie could walk around in daylight, have reflections and have certain abilities that others do not have. I thought “Twilight” recovered its focus during the baseball scene: James (Cam Gigandet) was a convincing threat to Bella so I was engaged. But then the movie dropped the ball again during the last few scenes. I expected that not all my questions will be answered because this was only the first of the series. I particularly wanted to know more about Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) and how he’s different than Edward Cullen. I felt like this movie had an equal amount of positives and negatives so I’m going to give this a mediocre rating. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be (granted, my expectations were really quite low) and hopefully, it gets better as the series progresses.
Saw V (2008)
★ / ★★★★
I don’t know why I keep watching this series. Even though I have a feeling that it’s going to be disappointing, I still feel some sort of excitement whenever they release a sequel. I guess it has something to do with human nature and violence. Everything about this film is recycled. People claim that each sequel adds to the storyline because it provides information that the audiences did not have prior to a specific installment. I cannot disagree more. I think the writers have dug themselves so deep into the “mythology” of the series to the point where there’s five plotholes to each so-called twist. Each sequel then tries to solve those plotholes by trying to tell a story and providing more twists to keep the viewers engaged. It’s an interminable cycle that I think will not end any time soon as long as people are actually willing to pay for a ticket in the cinema. Even though I did enjoy this sequel more than “Saw IV” because it’s more comprehensible, we get too many flashbacks (it’s literally more than half of the film) that practically say, “Look over here! You missed this! Aren’t we brilliant and you’re not because you didn’t figure it out before?” It’s an insult but a laughable one so it becomes somewhat harmless. What worked for me was the rivalry between Costas Mandylor and Scott Patterson. I’ve been wanting these two to collide ever since the first few sequels. (I actually do not remember when each of the character appeared because all of them have the same “story.” Only the torture scenes are different.) Here, they get to battle it out a bit. Another actor that worked for me was Julie Benz even though I strongly believe that they could’ve used her more. She’s a strong actress (I’m still a big fan for her role in of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” and “Dexter”) and it shows in pretty much each scene she was in. What didn’t work for me was the return of Tobin Bell as Jigsaw. No, that is not a spoiler and you will see why. He talks in the same pitch and tone in pretty much every line and I can fall asleep listening to him. If they are going to make a “Saw VI” (which I bet they will), I want to see less of him. As for the infamous traps, I only have one favorite which has got to be the opening scene involving a pendulum. I also liked the part where Benz finally figured out what they were supposed to do right from the beginning. I cannot recommend this picture because everything is like a rerun of the first four movies.
Angels in America
★★★★ / ★★★★
Since this film runs for six hours, Netflix divided the movie into two discs. I will review the first half and then the second half because I saw the latter a couple of days after I saw the former. I admire the first part of this picture because it’s not afraid to fuse realistic and fantastic elements that share one common goal: to show how the AIDS epidemic, pretty much unknown at the time, impacts those people who have been infected and those they care about. But it actually rises above its main thesis: it also manages to tackle issues like denial of one’s homosexuality, what it means to be a lover and a friend, power struggle in the business world, relationships by means of convenience…
On top of all that, the performances are simply electric, especially Al Pacino, Patrick Wilson, Meryl Streep, and Emma Thompson. We don’t see much of Streep and Thompson in the first half but whenever they’re on screen, they completely involve the audience because they know how to balance the obvious and the subtle so well. They have a certain elegance that no ordinary actor posesses. As for Pacino, he’s a master of reaching one extreme to the next without ever having to sacrifice his character’s believability. I can argue that he’s one of the most complex characters, out of many, that this film (which is based on a play) has to offer. As Pacino’s protégé, I think this is Wilson’s best performance that I’ve seen. As a closeted Mormon homosexual, he tries so hard to hide who he really is to the point where his emotional pain becomes physical. In most of his scenes, I could feel his sadness, anger, frustration, and (eventual) relief–all at the same time. He has such a poetic face that’s so expressive; I couldn’t take my eyes off him. His relationship with his wife, played by Mary-Louise Parker, is complicated, to say the least, because Wilson considers her as more like a friend but she considers him to be a husband. Other noteworthy actors include Justin Kirk as an AIDS patient who is abandoned by his lover, played by Ben Shenkman. Jeffrey Wright is amazing because he speaks the truth without apologies. He plays multiple characters like Streep, Thompson, and Kirk but Wright is the one that I can relate with the most. The idea of escape is crucial ranging from experiencing hallucinations to doing or saying the opposite of what the person actually means to do or say.
As for the second half, the idea of interconnectedness is more prevalent. Since the characters are finally established, they are allowed to interact and play with each other a bit more. This means that strong acting is at the forefront. But what I found most frustrating was the fantastic elements overshadowing reality half of the time. Even though those fantasy scenes do contribute to the overall big picture, they are so cheesy and slow to the point where I found myself checking the time. I was more invested with the reality because the characters that we care about are dealing with things that have something to do with reality like disease and acceptance. Faith is merely the background and focusing on it too much is distracting at best. I thought the way the film ended was handled well; not everything is neatly tied up and the way the actors looked into the camera to convey their last messages was, strangely enough, effective.
This film has such a huge scope but it delivers on more than one level. I found it consistently interesting because it is character-driven and the characters behave like real people. In end, pretty much all the characters have changed in some way. Even though this was released back in 2003, I still consider it to be one of the most important films of the 2000’s.