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.
★ / ★★★★
Couple Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson) visited a rich friend (Donald Faison) in Los Angeles. After a night of partying, alien spacecrafts shrouded in bright blue light descended in the city to collect humans. Directed by Colin Strause and Greg Strause, “Skyline” was a cheap knock-off of Matt Reeves’ creative and sometimes menacing “Cloverfield.” But in this case, the characters used a telescope to observe the aliens from a distance and decide whether to stay in the hotel or take their chances in the streets. Despite the great special and visual effects, the film was ultimately an unrewarding experience because there was not a coherent story. Only toward the end did it (somewhat) answer why the aliens abducted humans in hundreds or even thousands. Even then the explanation did not make much sense which was just as quickly followed by another ridiculous and unnecessary twist. The diversion convinced me that the material did not have confidence in its justification involving why the aliens that looked like a hybrid between reptiles and robots needed human beings. Another cinema sin it committed was a lot of the interesting shots were found in the trailer. There was a good reason why the trailer did not show much of the characters because the people who we were supposed to root for did not reflect who would actually survive a real alien invasion. For example, after the first attack which abducted one of their friends, the protagonists decided that it would be smart to go on the roof to see what was going on and take some pictures. The only weapon they had was a pistol and the character who wielded it was not even a good shot. Joshua Cordes and Liam O’Donnell, the writers, were to blame for the protagonists’ lack of intelligence and heart. Elaine being pregnant was not enough for me to care if all she ever did was whine and wait for her boyfriend to rescue her. Lastly, the writers should have allowed the aliens to be much more vulnerable. They were pretty much indestructible. When one was ran over by a truck, it came back to life. When the main ship was attacked, it was capable of regeneration. Without giving the characters a fighting chance to win the war, why should we continue watching? Just when I thought it could only get better because it was so bad, it got worse. Aside from many unintentional laughs, I can’t quite find a quality that I genuinely liked about it. I’m a fan of Balfour because he makes strange choices in his TV appearances and likes to take chances in films like Clément Virgo’s “Lie With Me.” He makes the material work for him. I would like to see more of him but he’s so much better than what this picture had to offer.
Children of the Damned (1964)
★ / ★★★★
A psychologist (Alan Badel) took notice of six kids (in which the leader was played by Clive Powell) with great intelligence who came from vastly different cultures. The psychologist wanted to gather them for further study because he believed they could serve to the betterment of mankind. Anton Leader’s “Children of the Damned,” inspired by John Wyndham’s book, was a huge miscalculation. Unlike the first film, its goal was to explain every ounce of detail regarding the background of the children in question and their purpose for existing. The lessons were painfully heavy-handed. I failed to feel the tension that the film wanted to portray because I kept wondering why it felt the need to preach. For instance, there was no good reason for the military to be called in other than the fact that the movie wanted to comment on various nations’ proclivity for war. It was obvious that the political backdrop was the Cold War and the events reflected a nation’s paranoia that it is no longer the most technologically advanced. I didn’t mind the political angle but in the end, the message was we should all co-exist peacefully because we occupied the same planet. While I do believe that the lesson was nice, even five-year-olds know that war is bad and unity is good. It did not know the difference between simplicity and naïvity so it failed to keep my attention for very long. I thought the performances were especially weak. In the first film, the kids were able to speak. It was easy to have a gist of their personalities even though they were cold as ice. In here, the children kept a strict communication through their minds and it made them boring. When they finally were given the chance to talk, they said nothing interesting. While the adults discussed issues such as evolution and survival of the fittest, I thought it was ironic that the movie’s concepts failed to evolve. When the children and a foolish aunt took refuge at a church, it seemed as though the filmmakers ran out of creative ideas; everything else felt like a contrivance for the explosive finale. “Children of the Damned” is a frustrating and almost laughable sequel because it sucked all of the magic and curiosity from Wolf Rilla’s “Village of the Damned.” A splash of droll scenes could have elevated the project because its seriousness made it one-note. What it critically needed were major rewrites in terms of its script in order to get rid of mixed messages and direction with vision, focus, and confidence.
Children of the Corn (1984)
★ / ★★★★
After church, Job (Robby Kiger) and his father went to a diner for breakfast. It seemed like a regular Sunday in Gatlin, Nebraska but something sinister happened. The kids started to give each other strange looks and the next thing we knew, they started killing the adults around them. The only kids who did not seem affected were Job and his sister (Anne Marie McEvoy) who had a gift of foretelling events through drawing. When a couple (Linda Hamilton, Peter Horton) accidentally ran over a boy, they eventually decided to stop by Gatlin to report the incident. The picture started off strongly. The thought of kids murdering people without reason, including their parents, gave me the creeps. I was curious about what triggered the strange events and the endgame of those involved. Unfortunately, the film failed to give any answer. Instead, it spent half of its time showing us the couple driving on a seemingly interminable freeway. While their interactions were somewhat amusing and the establishment of their characters necessary, there wasn’t enough edge to hold my interest. I saw one distraction after another which made me think about the weakness of both the writing and the execution. I wanted to know more about the psychic sister. What made her and Job unsusceptible to the urge to commit murder? Instead, the picture focused on the many speeches of Isaac (John Franklin) and almost caveman-like Malachai (Courtney Gains). It was obvious that the material wanted to comment on taking religion too seriously along with their respective scriptures word-for-word, but focusing on that one aspect diminished the creativity and imagination that should have been applied to the overall story. It would have been more haunting if the monster or devil known as “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” was not shown but merely implied. It wasn’t that I was unconvinced my the special and visual effects (I’m always more concerned about the concept), but the idea that some force could drive children to madness was enough. Sometimes simplicity is key. It just needed to elaborate on its big ideas and consistently raise the bar instead of recycling horror movie clichés. Based on Stephen King’s short story and directed by Fritz Kiersch, “Children of the Corn” was a huge disappointment because it had such a promising first scene. When the couple walked around a seemingly abandoned small town, I felt like I was there. It needed more creepy moments like that instead of its dull fixation on human sacrifice.
Due Date (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) was on his way back to California because his wife (Michelle Monaghan) was expected to give birth soon. But Peter’s luck turned for the worse when he met Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), an aspiring actor with a dog, at the airport. They both got into a car accident. Then they accidentally switched each other’s luggages. They even ended up sitting near each other on the plane. The two ended up talking about bombs on terrorists before take-off which prohibited them from flying. Despite all the unfortunate events and the fact that Peter couldn’t stand Ethan’s crazy antics, they decided to go on a cross-country road trip. Directed by Todd Phillips, the film was a broad comedy with two main characters we couldn’t help but dislike. Peter had a faux confidence about him but he was very sensitive to comments that one could easily let go. When threatened, he showed his mean-spirited sense of humor. One of the ugliest scenes was when he actually hit a kid in the stomach and the boy was left writhing in pain on the floor. It was supposed to be funny. On the other hand, Ethan, having the gall to try to pass off as twenty-two years old, was a total imbecile. I wondered how he made it through life not taking anything seriously. Or worse, living a life so completely unaware that other people needed their personal space. However, the film had few moments of hilarity. The bathroom scene was particularly memorable as Peter gave Ethan hypothetical situations and the aspiring actor had to prove that he had the talent to make it in Hollywood. Even though they didn’t necessarily get along, I felt a strange camaraderie growing between them. Unfortunately, with each good scene, a bad one always came after. Writers should know that when they feel like they should throw in an obligatory car chase, their material is in trouble. I just didn’t see what was so amusing about regular people doing their jobs and they ended up getting hurt because Peter and Ethan had a one-track mind. Casting actors like Jamie Foxx, Danny McBride, and Juliette Lewis was a waste. They were asked to play stereotypes, but I wasn’t convinced, in the five minutes of screen time they were given, that they injected something unique to their characters in order to make their roles memorable or worth watching. They certainly didn’t make Peter and Ethan any funnier or more charming. “Due Date” failed to make me laugh on a consistent basis. I chuckled (and was grossed out) during the masturbation scene and smiled when Ethan discussed getting a perm. But it wasn’t enough. Maybe the writers should have aspired to write a dark comedy screenplay instead.
Tron: Legacy (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) designed a digital world in where he eventually became imprisoned. He left his young son named Sam in the real world where he was raised by his grandparents. About two decades later, complete with rich boy angst, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) stumbled upon his father’s arcade where he discovered the digital world his old man always talked about. He had one mission: To find his father and get out alive. But that wouldn’t be easy because Clu (also played by Bridges), a part of Kevin designed to correct all imperfections, was on a war path to capture his maker and make his way into the real world. “Tron: Legacy” worked as a video game but not as a successful science fiction film. And like video games in the 80s, the movie was too simplistic so it wasn’t at all engaging. Blue light meant good guys while red-orange light meant bad guys. The story was even driven by a potential end of the world if the good guys failed their mission. Where the heart should have been was simply a hollow case full of bright lights and booming soundtrack. For instance, when Sam finally saw his father after being absent from his life for about twenty years, the characters barely emoted a thing. They stood in their respective spaces for so long and when they did make a physical connection, it felt awkward and forced. If I saw my dad after believing that he was dead for more than half of my life, I would rush up to him before I could even think and hug him with all my might. Tears would be running down my face and not a word uttered from my mouth would be intelligible. And why didn’t the father and son share one meaningful conversation? Instead, what I felt was the filmmakers were afraid to show some ugliness and reactions that reflected reality. The material felt detached and calculated to a tee. Since the picture was set in a literal fantasy world, what it actually needed was gallons of humanity so that its audiences would remain connected despite the impossibilities unfolding before our eyes. Furthermore, the film had trouble telling too much instead of showing. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes during the scene when Quorra (Olivia Wilde), Kevin’s assistant, said that trying to escape was useless because Clu was nearby. Instead of wasting time, what I needed to see was their actual attempt to escape. If they happened to get caught, just surprise me. Don’t warn me about it because my attention notices the egregiousness of the script. Directed by Joseph Kosinski, watching “Tron: Legacy” was like the moment we stop to observe someone playing video games in the arcade for five minutes. It may have engaging music and excellent visuals designed to capture our attention but staying longer was a waste of our precious time.
Men in Black II (2002)
★ / ★★★★
Several years after Agent Kay’s (Tommy Lee Jones) memory had been erased, Agent Jay (Will Smith) kept having trouble with finding the right partner for him on the field. This was particularly problematic because there was an alien that landed on Earth which took the form of a supermodel (Lara Flynn Boyle) with plans of obtaining ultimate power by finding the so-called Light. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, “Men in Black II” fell into a trap of delivering bigger and better special and visual effects but dumbing the material down considerably. While its predecessor was smart in terms of delivering references of other science fiction pictures and television shows, the sequel was unfunny and downright disappointing. Instead of further exploring the partnership between Agents Kay and Jay, the movie focused on the aliens such as the annoying talking dog and two-headed alien played by Johnny Knoxville. I didn’t care about how the aliens looked like; I cared about the material’s level of imagination. There were also too many distracting and unnecessary cameos from Michael Jackson and Nick Cannon. What’s the point of making a cameo if their appearances weren’t even funny? Establishing the heart of the picture should have been easy. Since the two agents have been apart for so long, I wanted to know how they’ve changed over the years. For instance, their positions, in comparison to the first film, had essentially been switched around. Since they now had the chance to walk in each other’s shoes, how have their opinions of each other changed? Or was there even any change? What made the first one so enjoyable was not solely because of the visuals. It was because of Jones and Smith’s brotherly chemistry with a bit of friction on the side. In this installment, they were barely given a chance to interact in a meaningful way. They were constantly running around like kids in the playground. They didn’t seem to slow down but we grow tired of watching them because everything was recycled. I did like watching Rosario Dawson as a witness to a murder in a pizzeria but the script did not do her justice. Furthermore, the romance between her and Smith’s character was desperate and unconvincing. Their interactions were almost as awkward as the extended silences in between scenes when audiences were signaled that something funny just happened and it was their cue to laugh. I didn’t laugh. I wasn’t amused. I was angry because the freshness that I knew it should have had was not translated onto the screen. Perhaps the filmmakers thought we had been “deneuralized” and wouldn’t notice the fact that we’ve seen everything they had on here before.