The Fourth Kind (2009)
★ / ★★★★
“The Fourth Kind,” written and directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi, was about a psychologist (Milla Jovovich) who started to notice something strange about the stories of her patients which involved an owl and waking up in the middle of the night. Curious of the weird phenomenon, she started to investigate in order to get to the bottom of what was really going on: was the town in Alaska a place where aliens decided to conduct experiments on people or was the whole thing a case of deep hypnotism gone bad? Osundanmi used the technique of blending in “real” footages with dramatization but it did not quite work for me. I believe the style was a double-edged sword: mixing in the live footages gave the illusion that what we were seeing was real, but at the same time, the more the director used it, the less I believed in its realism. The “real” footages had a very convenient way of turning into static just when a person would start speaking in Sumerian and the persons’ bodies being contorted in gruesome ways. If such things were real, in order to truly scare the audiences, those would have been shown. But other than the whole is-it-real-or-is-it-not-real debate, I found the whole picture to be very convoluted. I wasn’t sure if it wanted to be a horror film, a science fiction film, a hybrid of both, or a mystery picture. Since it did not know what it wanted to be, it did not have a solid footing with its story and so it was pretty difficult to sit through. While the acting was fine, I think the main problem was the writing. I didn’t understand why Jovovich’s son hated her so much–in fact, I was just really annoyed with him because he was just a brat. The whole angle regarding Jovovich’s husband being stabbed to death in his sleep could have been completely taken out. In the end, I thought it was just a weak justification that the movie didn’t have enough meat to tell a well-told story. Also, like most terrible horror movies, the director chose to blast the score when something “shocking” happened. And like most bad horror films, I’m going to say the same thing–amplifying the sound is not scary, it’s annoying. It shows that the movie doesn’t have enough confidence to rely on the images being presented on screen. Scaring us with loud music is not the same thing as scaring us when we’re actually seeing something horrific. I don’t know from where Osunsanmi learned to make movies or who he looked up to before he made movies but he needs to go back to Horror 101 and ascertain why classic horror movies gained such status. It’s about simplicity, a well-written script and slow suspense. It’s not about gimmicks and loud music. I wished I was abducted by aliens while watching this movie because it was just that bad.
The Stepfather (2009)
★ / ★★★★
Nelson McCormick directed this remake of the “The Stepfather” released in 1987 which starred Terry O’Quinn. In this version, Penn Badgley comes home from military school with some worry about his mother (Sela Ward) deciding to get married to another man (Dyan Walsh). Despite his initial suspicions, at first everything seemed to have been going well up until a elderly neighbor recognized that Walsh’s character resembeled someone from America’s Most Wanted. The longer the infamous killer stayed with his new family, the more people started to ask questions about his past. The killer evaded the questions as often as he could but he could only circumvent the issue for so long so he decided to go on another murder rampage. I believe this remake had a real opportunity to improve on a pretty average original film but it didn’t because it directed its focus on impressing the thirteen-year-old girls. In just about every scene that Badgley was in, he was either shirtless or he was wearing a wife beater. It also didn’t help the fact that Badgley isn’t a very good actor. As a fan of “Gossip Girl,” I feel like he’s more suited to television because he lacks subtlety. Other than that, the movie stapled itself to the conventions of slasher flicks such as the big showdown occuring in a dark, stormy night. I found myself rolling my eyes and yelling at the screen how stupid the characters were pretty much the entire film. It’s like none of them has ever seen a movie about serial killers before. For me, the writers were to blame because they deliberately treated the audiences as if they couldn’t think for themselves. Everything was too obvious and painfully generic. Even with the big showdown in the end, the music provided the tension and the images were just there. If the soundtrack was off, I wouldn’t feel any sort of excitement because the characters didn’t have a solid foundation to make me want to root for them. When I watch a movie about serial killers terrorizing families, I want to feel genuine suspense throughout and sympathy for the family. In here, it was all shiny glitters on the surface and no substance. The writers are in desperate need to go back to Thriller 101 and really try to understand what makes a successful thriller for both the young adults and the older ones. My one advice is that half of the picture should be about the tease and the rest about the pay-off. This remake of cult classic “The Stepfather” had neither. I have no idea why studios decided to give this film a green light when the script was beyond egregious.
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009)
★ / ★★★★
I knew I wouldn’t like “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” from the moment I saw the trailer because I’ve never exactly warmed up with the lead actor. Matthew McConaughey plays a photographer who gets his way with just about any woman he encounters. But when he goes back home for his brother’s wedding (Breckin Meyer), he sees the woman (Jennifer Garner) who he fell in love with as a child and is visited by the ghosts of his former lovers who tell him the error of his ways. Everything about this film was painfully predictable. From the bad-boy-turned-good lead character to a stressed out bride, it was all too formulaic to be even slightly inspiring. I think one of the fatal errors of the movie is that it didn’t give us a reason to care for McConaughey. During the first few scenes, he could still have been established as a player but if there was one or two sensitive moments when he was just by himself and regretted where his life was going yet can’t quite break from it, that could have been a good start because there was tension. Instead, we get to see a series of cruel stunts from him such as breaking up with women over the internet (over group chat!) and trying to desuade his brother from marrying the girl (Lacey Shabert) of his dreams. But what I loved about this movie was Garner which was not a surprise at all. I just love looking at her because she may look tough on the outside at times but I always feel this light coming out of her. I wanted her to just get over McConaughey and fall for the doctor who the bride set her up with. Inspired by Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” directed by Mark Waters, was a very weak attempt at a modern romantic comedy. It desperately needed some edge, focusing of the main storylines, a much needed heart from the main character, better jokes and a significantly more astute dialogue. There were times when I thought to myself, “I don’t know anyone stupid enough to say something like that.” I felt like I was watching high school students trying to put together a wedding instead of adults. Perhaps the writers are partly to blame for writing such a soft and very simplified material. And to be honest, I really don’t understand why this picture even got a green light for production. A romantic comedy can still be successful with a bit of alterations from the usual fare. Watching “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” was, quite frankly, like eating bad cheese.
★ / ★★★★
If I were to describe “Pandorum” in one word, it would be “convoluted.” When Ben Foster finds himself in a space ship waking up from an extended hypersleep, he had no memory of where he was and what he was doing there. Upon further exploration of the ship, he found Dennis Quaid as the lieutenant who was supposed to be in charge during their cycle. He, too, just woke up from hypersleep. They then decided to help each other find a way to a nuclear reactor to reset the failing power of the ship and then take control it. The catch was that the ship was teeming with aliens that are hungry for human flesh. I really like science fiction films because it often begs the question of “what if?” Unfortunately, although this picture was set hundreds of years into the future, it just didn’t feel futuristic. The characters talked like people living today, cursing from left and right included, and for people who are supposed to be smart, they didn’t act that way. The overall look of the picture didn’t look futuristic at all. In fact, it looked grimy and uninspired–like something that one could easily see in a video game. Speaking of video games, the action sequences were subpar. Half of the time, I couldn’t see a thing because not only was the environment really dark, the camera would shake uncontrollably to match the dizzying movements of the characters. None of it worked for me and I grew tired of it after thirty minutes. However, I did like the idea of “pandorum.” It’s a psychological term when a person in space goes through a mental break for unknown reason. Two major symptoms include paranoia and bodily sensations that aren’t there yet the person believes otherwise. That concept somewhat came into focus when Cam Gigandet appeared on screen. Unfortunately, the writers couldn’t help themselves and had to write in a riduculous twist that completely took me out of the experience. This movie was not without potential. If there were no aliens and therefore no annoying action sequences, the film might have had a chance to really explore the silence and isolation that the characters were going through. With such an interesting concept, the aliens were just too literal for my liking. It was too literal to the point where unintentional laughs were unavoidable because what was happening on screen was so ludicrous. And I’m not even going into the very typical one-liners. I say skip “Pandorum” and rewatch “Alien,” “Aliens” or “2001: A Space Odyssey” if you’re looking for an unforgettable space adventure.
The Grudge 3 (2009)
★ / ★★★★
“The Grudge 3,” directed by Toby Wilkins, started off pretty creepy as we got to observe Jake (Matthew Knight) being committed in a mental institution under the care of a psychiatrist (Shawnee Smith). We then cut to the siblings (Gil McKinney, Johanna Brady, Jadie Hobson) who were taking care of the apartment complex where Jake and his family used to live. Just when I thought that this second sequel will be better than “The Grudge 2,” it became bogged down by the conventions of the horror genre. For instance, a character deciding to enter a dark apartment from which a strange noise could be heard, a character having a moral dilemma concerning her family, and the all-too-obvious false alarms that might have worked if the material had a superior story. The bad and downright cheesy dialogue was just too much for me so when the characters were ultimately placed in front of the malevolent ghosts, I couldn’t help but not be scared. Admittedly, the shocks such as when the ghosts would appear out of nowhere which was aided by a booming score worked for me. But the aftershock was not present, an element that I believe is crucial for horror pictures. The side stories bored me half to death. The fashion model boyfriend (Beau Mirchoff), the Japanese woman with a mysterious link to the curse and the psychiatrist hoping to find some answers slowed the story down immensely. In my opinion, “The Grudge” is not all that scary. I’m surprised a lot of people embraced the first few movies (including the Japanese originals and the American version starring Sarah Michelle Gellar). There’s something about the entire franchise that seems redundant to me. I’m not entirely sure if it’s the fact that the curse is unbeatable or if it’s just the same kind of characters making the same bad decisions. If it’s the former, it begs the question of what the point is for watching the movies. And if it’s the latter, I can’t help but blame the lazy writing; it can’t be that difficult to establish a well-rounded character who we care for and root for up until the very end… and he or she not dying in the process. If you’re not a fan of the series in the first place, there’s absolutely no reason for you to see “The Grudge 3.” But if you are a fan and you do decide to see it, expect more of the same.
Observe and Report (2009)
★ / ★★★★
Was this supposed to be a comedy? I was skeptical because the laughs were very sporadic and the drama sometimes overshadowed the jokes. Seth Rogen stars as a mall cop who one day decided that he was going to be a police offer in order to impress a makeup counter girl (Anna Faris). When a flasher started pulling off stunts at the mall, Rogen’s character thought that by catching the guy, it would solidify his place in the police academy. But a detective (Ray Liotta) was also determined to catch the flasher and he would do anything in his power to stop the lead character from achieving his goals. I thought this movie was going to be light because of the cast. It turned out that our lead character had Bipolar Personality Disorder (BPD) and that was often made fun of by showing that he was violent, quick-tempered and had delusions of grandeur. I didn’t appreciate it at all because I’ve learned about people with BPD and it is far from a laughing matter. But the so-called jokes didn’t stop there. I also didn’t like the all-too-common gay jokes; there’s a way to be politically incorrect yet still remain funny as long as the jokes are good-natured and everyone is in on a joke. This one simply started throwing things out there in a random fashion without some minute thought regarding its writing and direction. The best scenes in this picture were anything with Faris in it because I think she’s just naturally funny and charismatic even if the quality of the material doesn’t give her justice. But at the same time I think she’s miscast because the lead character was supposed to realize that the girl he liked didn’t like him back–at least not while sober–and she was just using him for convenience. Faris’ character needed some more aggression and maybe even a bit of sexiness and darkness. Nonetheless, the rest of the picture didn’t quite hold up because all of the characters are more like caricatures. Everyone is playing the extreme stereotype (especially the alcoholic mother played by Celia Weston) and I quickly got tired of it. Written and directed by Jody Hill (“The Foot Fist Way”), “Observe and Report” was a huge disappointment considering that the cast’s talent was completely wasted in one-note jokes and unfunny (in fact, quite cringe-worthy) slapstick.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
★ / ★★★★
Everyone told me that this was probably the most pointless movie they’ve ever seen, but I decided to see it anyway because I wanted to judge it for myself. While I don’t think it’s one of the worst movies ever made, I do think it’s one of most unnecessarily long. With a running time of two hours and a half, there were too much action and not enough reasons why we should care for Sam (Shia LaBeouf) and the Autobots except for the fact that the Decepticons wanted the sun’s energy so that they could continue living. What I loved about the first “Transformers” was its sense of wonder. It hid the robots for pretty much half of the movie and developed some sort of heart and genuine funny moments with Sam. But in this picture, everyone’s simply shooting guns and running away in slow motion (especially Megan Fox, which I understand was the eye candy for guys). I also didn’t like the fact that Michael Bay, the director, kept adding unnecessary (and annoying) characters such as those played by Ramon Rodriguez as Sam’s new college roommate, Kevin Sunn and Julie White as Sam’s parents. Their pathetic attempts at comedy were so embarrassing. When I did laugh (or was it scoff?), I was laughing at the characters instead of with them because of their utter stupidity. No one in their right mind would do the things they did. It’s difficult for me because I do like to give credit for films that are ambitious and this is undeniably one of those films. I could feel it wanting to be “bigger and better” than the first but it doesn’t have a concept of overload. The many negatives far outweigh the very few positives. People who would most likely enjoy “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” are those who don’t want to think or even make sense of the plot. (I found myself very confused with pretty much half of the movie.) In other words, mindless action sequences with big explosions and women running around half-naked. That’s completely understandable. After all, sometimes movies are supposed to be pure escapism. I kind of like the fact that Bay still makes movies despite critics and audiences alike tell him that he makes the most brainless movies ever. It’s just that you can still have a popcorn action flick that is funny and intelligent. The writers and the filmmakers just have to try a little harder to put the right pieces together. This film coming out only two years after the first one, I think they rushed into it and made a very messy, very incomprehensible junk. I just hope the third one will be better (the standard is low) because it’s a shame that people actually pay to see something that they can see in a video game at home.
Long Weekend (1978)
★ / ★★★★
“Nature Strikes Back” movies are interesting to me because it offers a different kind of horror. There’s no serial killer running around trying to kill half-naked teenagers and there’s no religious people trying to call an exorcist because of a demonic possession. Unfortunately, “Long Weekend” doesn’t impress on any level for several reasons. Most importantly, the couple (John Hargreaves and Briony Behets) who go on a camping trip near the beach are very unlikeable. The first scene they shared, they couldn’t help but bicker. They bickered on the way to the beach. And they bickered at the beach when weird things started happening. Instead of teaming up and putting their differences aside, they actively chose to blame one another for the things that were going wrong. I got so tired of it to the point where I wanted to shake them and tell them to shut up because they were damaging my ear drums. I actually wanted nature to kill them off so that I could get some peace and quiet. I would have cared so much more about the characters (and rooted for them) if they took care of nature and appreciated its beauty, yet for some reason nature was out to get them. I’m not sure if Everett De Roche, the writer, and Colin Eggleston, the director, were trying to be serious or campy. Either way, they succeeded in neither because the acting, tone and storytelling were subpar. Now, movies about nature suddenly going crazy and going on crazy rampages could work. For instance, Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” is one of my favorites. But this one felt like there was no brain behind it all and the scares involving the animals attacking were downright laughable. (Advice: If the animal looks really fake, don’t go for close-ups.) Just when I thought it was about to be successful at building suspense (the creature hiding in the water as Hargreaves goes swimming was pretty effective), a character does something so stupid so I’m taken out of that precious moment of feeling concerned about what would happen next. As cautionary tales go, the lesson is very obvious: treat nature with respect. But as far as horror movies go, Australia’s “Long Weekend” was more like a very long movie I wished would end after the first thirty minutes.
Thir13en Ghosts (2001)
★ / ★★★★
I decided to revisit this movie because it scared me when I saw it back in middle school. Directed by Steve Beck, “Thir13en Ghosts” was a mess in every sense of the word. A father (Tony Shalhoub), his two kids and the nanny (Rah Digga) were invited to visit a home they inherited from an uncle (F. Murray Abraham) who dedicated his life collecting spirits. Not knowing that there were ghosts locked up in a basement of a mansion made out of glass, the family decided to visit, along with a psychic (Matthew Lillard) and a man (JR Bourne) who let the family know about the inheritance. This movie did not make sense to me. It spent about half of its running time showing the characters walking around the place and arguing. It quickly got annoying because it didn’t help the story to get anywhere near interesting. In fact, I really wanted the ghosts to escape their respective cells and start killing off the characters because maybe then they’d stop arguing and finally face the mission at hand. I was astounded that there were twelve very interesting ghosts (various methods of scaring and killing their victims, for instance) but the audiences never really get to know them other than their names. Some of them were obviously angry and were prone to attack anyone, while some of them looked more sad and just stayed in one corner. It made me wonder about their varying reactions to their visitors. The “scary” scenes were aided by a booming soundtrack so I didn’t find it to be truly scary. The violent scenes might have been gory and kinetic but my actions of flinching and looking away had nothing to do with genuine fear that is requisite of truly chilling horror pictures. If the movie didn’t take itself too seriously, it might have worked in some angle. There were some lines voiced out by the nanny that were very amusing but none of it was enough to save this sinking ship. If Beck spent more of his time actually helming the suspense instead of the violence and loud sountrack, this definitely would have been a rewarding experience. Instead, the audiences unjustly got a movie with loud barks and no bite.
The Unborn (2009)
★ / ★★★★
This horror movie was so bad, I didn’t know whether to laugh or get angry after the final scene. Odette Yustman suddenly starts having nightmares about a boy who obviously wants something from her. It starts off that way but eventually, the evil that was once in her dreams begins to manifest itself in reality, affecting her relationships with her best friend (Meagan Good), her boyfriend (Cam Giganget) and her own sanity. I am not exactly sure how much I should give away because it tried to be about a lot of things but ultimately became about nothing. One minute the lead character was running around (literally–her jogging scenes felt like forever and a day) moping about her mother and the next she was asking people to give her an exorcism. The so-called twists did not make sense to me at all. While it did try to make homage to horror greats such as “The Exorcist” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” it felt contrived and there were definitely some parts where I thought it was merely stealing ideas instead of using such ideas as a template and taking the story to the next level. I did enjoy some creepy images but the suspense was simply not there. When the obligatory “jumpy” scenes arrived, they felt uninspired because it was all sharp film cuts and loud soundtrack to me. When I watch a horror picture, I want my heart to pound like mad and anticipate what’s going to happen next. With “The Unborn,” written and directed by David S. Goyer, I felt like each scene was a punishment I didn’t deserve. I think one of the main problems is the script. The dialogue absolutely killed me. I actually lost count how many times the lead character said, “I know this is going to sound crazy but…” I don’t know if that’s worse or cheesy lines like “I don’t think you’re crazy, I just think you’re hormonal.” I mean, come on. Hasn’t Goyer seen the “Scream” franchise? If you ask me, I think he’s asking to have a bad movie with that kind of writing. Obviously, I’m saying to skip this one because I’ve seen it all before. If you’re interested in a modern exorcism picture, rent the superior “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” instead. That one truly gave me the creeps.