Sucker Punch (2011)
★ / ★★★★
After their mother’s death, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) and her sister were left in the hands of their evil stepfather (Gerard Plunkett). When he found out that the sisters were the heir to the fortune he hoped to receive, he was possessed by rage and tried to hurt the girls. Commotion ensued and Baby Doll was accused of accidentally killing her sister. She was sent to a mental hospital where she eventually planned her escape with other patients (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung). Directed by Zack Snyder, there was no denying that “Sucker Punch” delivered visual acrobatics galore. The action sequences looked dream-like, appropriate because much of the fantastic elements occurred in Baby Doll’s mind, and the girls looked great in their respective outfits. However, it was unfortunate that there was really nothing else to elevate the picture. The acting was atrocious. Blue (Oscar Isaac), one of the main orderlies, for some reason, always felt the need to scream in order to get his point across. I understood that Isaac wanted his character to exhibit a detestable menace, but he should have given more variety to his performance. Sometimes whispering a line in a slithery tone could actually pack a more powerful punch than yelling like a spoiled child. I was astounded that we didn’t learn much about Baby Doll’s friends. They were important because they helped our protagonist to get the four items required if she was to earn her freedom. I wondered what the sisters, Sweat Pea and Rocket, had done to deserve being sent to such a prison. They seemed very close. Maybe for a reason. The girls were supposed to have gone crazy in some way but there was no evidence that they weren’t quite right in the head. If they were sent to the mental hospital for the wrong reasons, the script should have acknowledged that instead of leaving us in the dark. They, too, could have been framed like Baby Doll. Overlooking such a basic detail proved to me how little Snyder thought about the story. “Sucker Punch” tackled three worlds: the mental institution, the brothel, and the war against Nazi zombies. Too much time was spent in the whorehouse, the least interesting of them all, and not enough time in the asylum. Though beautiful to look at due to its post-apocalyptic imagery, I could care less about the battle scenes with the dragons, giant samurais, and Nazi zombies. The reason why Snyder should have given us more scenes of Baby Doll in the asylum was because that was Baby Doll’s grim reality: in five days, she was to be lobotomized. Those who’ve played a role-playing video game in the past five years are aware that the games have mini-movies during key events in the story arc. Those images were as good as the ones found here and some of the stories in those games are quite compelling. If images were all this film had to offer, then why should we bother to watch it?
I, Robot (2004)
★ / ★★★★
Detective Spooner (Will Smith) was assigned to investigate the suicide of Dr. Lanning, the main scientist in charge of commercialization of robots on 2035. Spooner suspected that the murder was staged to look as a suicide by a robot named Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk) and it was only the first step of the robots’ plan to take over the world. “I, Robot” completely missed the mark to make an intelligent film about humans’ increasing dependence on technology. Much of the movie was a predictable set-up to make the main character run after or shoot at something. The uninspired false alarms were transparent. For instance, early in the movie, Spooner saw a robot running with a purse. He thought it was trying to steal the purse. Naturally, smart audiences would most likely surmise it was simply delivering the purse to its rightful owner because no tension was established regarding rogue robots yet. Spooner looked like a fool because his fear was only in his mind. The scene would have been more effective if placed after the murder of the prominent scientist to serve as a small rising action, regardless of the pettiness of the crime, to make us believe that perhaps the robot was up to something more devious than it seemed. Another scientist that jumped into the mix of the mystery was Dr. Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) who, despite all the reasonable doubt placed in front of her, could not seem to make up her mind where to place her loyalty. For a character who was supposed to be the voice of reason regarding the advantages of having robots in the home or at work, her logic was flawed. Her character was tantamount to those horror movie characters who decided to look for something in a dark room during the most inopportune times. Her eventual acknowledgement that the detective was right to be suspicious of the robots felt too forced. Granted, I did admire the special and visual effects. There were two action sequences that I thought were exciting to watch. The first was when Spooner had to face about a hundred robots in an underground freeway while going about 125 miles per hour. The second was when the robots climbed on their manufacturer’s building in an attempt to stop Spooner and Dr. Calvin from ruining their revolution. I do have to say, however, that there was another glaring inconsistency concerning those two scenes. In the first, the detective had a very difficult time destroying the robots. He had to use his car, gun, and high speed to survive. But in the latter, he was able to use his hands to rip the robots apart. Finding out that Alex Proyas, who directed the slightly brilliant “Dark City,” directed this film was all the more disappointing. If the film’s special and visual effects had been stripped away, not a thing would have kept it afloat because it lacked heart and intelligence. I found it ironic that Haley Joel Osment in Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” and Arnold Schwarzenegger in James Cameron’s “The Terminator” were far more convincing robots despite the fact that they were played by actual humans.
★ / ★★★★
Dr. Miranda Grey (Halle Berry) worked in a psychiatric hospital in which her current case was a woman (Penélope Cruz) claiming that she was being raped while she was in her cell. Dr. Grey surmised that the woman’s story was simply a reflection of an abused childhood. Of course, on a dark, stormy night, the psychiatrist got into a car accident because she attempted to avoid hitting a girl standing in the middle of the road. The next thing Dr. Grey knew, she woke up in a cell as if she was one of the patients in the hospital. “Gothika” was not a smart supernatural thriller. Instead of using images of a ghost as a backdrop of deeply rooted psychological problems, it used the paranormal in the most literal way. We were supposed to believe that the ghost could be touched (and possess someone despite the fact that the person didn’t believe). We were supposed to believe that the ghost was trying to communicate in order for it to find some sort of peace. We were supposed to believe that ghosts only appeared when lights flickered in quick succession.How was I supposed to believe in such things if I couldn’t believe for one second that Dr. Grey and his colleague (Robert Downey Jr.) were competent doctors? I knew they knew psychological terms because they had no problem throwing them at each other (perhaps as foreplay because the two were obviously attracted to one another), but I didn’t feel like the actors embodied their characters in such a way that I could feel an air of presence about them when they entered a room. Downey was too quirky to the point where I thought he suited being a clown more than a doctor. Berry seemed like a first-year graduate student who didn’t know how to adapt when a situation turned grim. (Initially, I thought it could work. Just take a look at Clarice Starling in Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs.”) Instead, in the most crucial times, she shrieked and hid and then did more screaming and hiding. The script needed some serious work. For supposedly intelligent individuals who ran a psychiatric hospital (where the film took place for the majority of the time), both the material and the characters lacked logic. Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, the pacing was deathly slow and borderline soporific. I didn’t find the quick editing and the booming soundtrack scary in the least. In fact, I was annoyed because I kept wondering when it would focus on the real issue at hand: the question involving Dr. Grey’s sanity. It never did. “Gothika” is a meandering picture with painfully mediocre storytelling techniques. The Best Unintentional Laugh should go to the scene when Berry’s character declared, “I don’t believe in ghosts… but they believe in me.” I don’t believe in either.
★ / ★★★★
Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) and Anne-Marie McCoy (Vanessa Williams) were graduate students who became increasingly involved in a series of murders in the projects. Word went around that if one said “Candyman” five times while alone in the bathroom, Candyman (Tony Todd) would appear and kill the daring summoner in the most gruesome way possible. Was it simply an urban legend designed to scare those who lived in the violent neighborhood or was there something darker that needed to be explored and revealed? Based on the short story “The Forbidden” by Clive Barker, “Candyman” failed to generate genuine scares because it neglected to define what was fantasy and what was reality, and it was plagued by characters who were supposedly smart but almost always chose the stupid decision when the occasion called for it. Take Helen for example. Despite the murders, she decided to drag her friend to the scene of the crime without taking any sort of precaution. She had no knowledge about the people who lived in the projects or how to effectively communicate with those connected to the infamous murders. She only had one thing in mind: She had to take pictures in order to avoid a “boring thesis.” Nevermind the men who could easily get their way with them. Nevermind offending those who just wanted to move on from the grizzly incidents. When Helen seemed to descent into madness, there were a plethora of unintentionally funny moments. As she awoke covered in blood with no memory of how she got there, she decided to pick up a meat cleaver next to a beheaded dog. Did it not occur to her that what she just touched could potentially be the murder weapon and she was getting her fingerprints all over it? And were we expected to believe that a baby that Candyman abducted could live for over a month without food or water? After all, the film eventually implied that Candyman was only real in Helen’s mind. There were many glaring inconsistencies so I was constantly taken out of the experience. The writing was weak and the direction was no better. There were more than a handful of unnecessary shots of bees which were designed to give us the creeps, Candyman’s face appeared on the screen to make us jump out of our seats, and nonsensical decisions placed too conveniently to trigger one set of events to another. Directed by Bernard Rose, “Candyman” lacked genuine tension and suspenseful sequences that basic horror films should have. It would have been an entirely different experience if the writing was more focused and, more importantly, if the graduate students thought and acted like excellent detectives instead of blond sorority girls typically slayed early on in standard slasher flicks.
The Roommate (2011)
★ / ★★★★
Sara (Minka Kelly), a freshman in college, moved into her dorm but her roommate hadn’t move in yet so she decided to go to a frat party with the fun-loving Tracy (Alyson Michalka). When she got back, Rebecca (Leighton Meester) was waiting for her in the dark. A couple of days later, Rebecca began to get clingy. She went through her unsuspecting roommate’s possessions when she was alone in the room, waited for hours on end until Sara got back, and even answered Sara’s private calls. When Sara wanted to hang out with other people, Rebecca would mope about. She just wanted to be Sara’s only friend. Directed by Christian E. Christiansen, what “The Roommate” needed was inspiration and a spark of originality. It was stuck in tried-and-true formula of roommate from hell pictures and I was far from impressed. I was surprised that it didn’t take advantage of social networking websites, like Facebook and Twitter or even a blog, when Rebecca wanted to know more about Sara. I found it unbelievable that every time the psycho roommate wanted to know more about her prey, she would just ask in person. Sara, supposedly an aspiring designer, someone who could think outside the box, almost made it too easy for someone to be obsessed with her. It wasn’t creepy and so the momentum failed to build in a steady manner. The picture had many distractions but the one that tested my patience was Sara’s relationship with a frat boy by day/drummer by night boyfriend named Stephen (Cam Gigandet). There were too many make-out sessions and moments when they would look into each other’s eyes and smiled. It felt like some moldy, cheesy, unfunny romantic comedy. I expected them to be partners in researching what was wrong with Rebecca when Sara began to suspect that perhaps there was something seriously wrong with her roommate. Only toward the end did I feel like Sara was truly in danger and that, too, was disappointing because of the way the final confrontation was shot. Not only was it dark, the camera shook relentlessly and it was difficult to see who was throwing a punch. It didn’t help that Kelly and Meester looked very similar. Naturally, the two girls tried to fight over a gun. I didn’t care who would grab it first; I was too pre-occupied with disbelief that Sonny Mallhi, the writer, couldn’t come up with a better weapon for the two women to fight over. I got the impression that the filmmakers didn’t even attempt to give us something new and that upset me because I felt insulted. “The Roommate” was unabashedly lackadaisical and it was a rather empty experience.
I Am Number Four (2011)
★ / ★★★★
John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) was an alien passing as a normal teenager. John and Henri (Timothy Olyphant), his guardian, led a nomadic lifestyle because the Mogadorians, an alien race that destroyed their planet, were on the hunt for the nine chosen ones. John happened to be number four on their list. John and Henri moved for Paradise, Ohio and it seemed like any other town in the middle of nowhere. But when John met Sarah (Dianna Agron), he found a reason to stay. “I Am Number Four,” directed by D.J. Caruso, could have been an interesting if the filmmakers had paid more attention to the characters instead of the CGI. When the best part of the film consisted of a battle between two giant CGI monsters, that is usually not a good sign. Casting was partly to blame. Pettyfer lacked enough dimension and angst for us to want to get to know him. The deadpan delivery of his lines worked against him because the script was already so thin. He was charismatic when he smiled but that was about it. There were some shots where I thought his pose could’ve made a great American Eagle summer ad, especially in the beginning when he was at beach, but I wasn’t interested in John’s story. I found myself more interested in the stronger actors like Sam, John’s friend who was bullied at school because he was interested in aliens, played with wit by Callan McAuliffe. Since he was pushed around like a nobody yet never seemed to fight back, most of us could easily relate to him. We wanted him to throw a punch or try to pull off a mean prank against his tormentors. He said cheeky things like his life being one big episode of “The X-Files.” But as the picture went on, Sam wasn’t given very much to do, perhaps because he didn’t have any superpowers. Instead, he ended up babysitting John’s dog. The picture had serious issues in terms of its pacing. It took too long to get into the meat of the story. I found it too preoccupied with delivering clichéd images like someone, in slow motion, strutting away from a massive explosion. Questions such as why the Mogadorians wanted to kill the nine, the importance of the rocks Sam’s father collected, and why Number 6 (Teresa Palmer) was intent on finding Number Four were awkwardly tacked on during the last forty minutes. Lastly, the villains were completely forgettable. All of them looked alike–bald and with teeth in desperate need of braces. If one stood out as a character foil against John, it would have been far more interesting. Based on the novel by Pittacus Lore, “I Am Number Four” was too much computer and not enough imagination. It felt like a very rough sketch of a television pre-teen flick on the CW.
★ / ★★★★
Eight people (Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Topher Grace, Walton Goggins, Oleg Taktarov, Danny Trejo, Louis Ozawa Changchien, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) with great ability to kill awoke in free fall toward a strange jungle. Eventually, they learned they were bait for alien creatures who liked to hunt and learn about their prey’s skills in order to adapt to dangerous situations. Nimród Antal’s “Predators” was devoid of fun and creativity. I would like to start off with Adrien Brody’s performance. As an action star, Brody failed to embody a convincing attitude, the confidence required for me to keep interested and want to root for him. In every scene, whenever a discovery was made such as their role in the jungle and survivors revealing themselves from past carnage, Brody remained wooden and completely unconvincing. Perhaps his idea of masculinity was not conveying emotion to any situation, which was completely wrong. I wanted to feel his anger that he was sent to a situation in which he did not agree with and his frustration toward the other survivors as they made one stupid decision after another. For example, when one said not to split up, the next scene showed the characters doing exactly the opposite. If Brody had reflected what the audiences would have felt if they were in his character’s situation, he would have been that much more relatable. Playing a sensitive and charming hero would have been a great antithesis against hard bodies in the 70s and 80s action flicks. The only twist I liked was Laurence Fishburne’s appearance as the unpredictable Noland who had an imaginary friend. As he talked about his experiences about trying to survive in the jungle, I had forgotten that I was watching an actor. The film suffered from many unnecessary twists, especially toward the end when we came to realize that one of the eight had other intentions apart from escaping the jungle. I was left in the dust wondering why the writers felt the need to put in a twist. It felt desperate as if it was aware that the action sequences offered nothing new to the genre. In the end, it was all confusion and chaos lacking in genuine suspense and purpose. As for its visual and special effects, they were not used to the film’s advantage. Instead of hiding the alien creatures in the shadows, astutely done in John McTiernan’s “Predator,” to pique our interest and to heighten the horror, the movie revealed too much too quickly. Either the filmmakers had no control of their project’s tone or it was purposely done that way because they designed the picture for Facebook and Twitter generation. It gave nothing for people who relished subtlety and irony.