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.
★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig, this Australian zombie horror-comedy plays more like a science fiction movie more than anything. Rene (Felicity Mason) goes into a farmhouse to escape the zombies that were chasing her after a meteor shower. In the farmhouse, she meets a few others (Mungo McKay, Rob Jenkins, Lisa Cunningham, Dirk Hunter, Emma Randall) and they must figure out what is happening in the town while trying not to get eaten by the zombies. I didn’t enjoy this movie at all due to a number of things. The characters kept asking, “What were THOSE things? Why are they trying to eat us? Are they dead?” as if they’ve never seen a zombie movie before. Moreover, the characters are very one-dimensional. It would have been so much better if the cops were the cowards and the regular folks would have been the leaders. Taking some of those obvious elements and putting them upside down would have given the illusion that the directors were trying to make a better movie. For a horror picture, this is very light on the scary factor. The zombies are slow enough but did the characters have to be slow as well (mentally and physically)? None of them had actual survival skills and I wouldn’t buy for a second that they would survive if there were real zombies running around. If I see a zombie trying to get to me to eat my brains, I would run so fast, I wouldn’t even think about silly things like leaving something behind. The stupid characters were good at three things: screaming, yelling at each other, and asking redundant questions. Lastly, I’m very frustrated with the fact that there were actual aliens in this movie. It was so random and everything was spelled out for us in the end: why there were zombies and why the aliens decided to visit our planet. What made other zombie flicks so successful (1968’s “Night of the Living Dead” and “28 Days Later”) was the fact that there were questions left unanswered. Even if they were answered, those films left a possibility that the truth lies beyond the given explanation. Overall, “Undead” was a random mess of a movie. It is far from creative and it didn’t have enough enthusiasm to keep my attention. I thought “Zombieland” was far scarier and that was a comedy. That should give you an idea with how lackluster this movie truly is.
Broken Sky (2006)
★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Julián Hernández, “El cielo dividido” or “Broken Sky” bides its time (two hours and twenty minutes to be exact) to tell the story of a couple (Miguel Ángel Hoppe and Fernando Arroyo) who started off as loving and eventually ended up cold and distant. One of the main reasons for such a schism was Arroyo fell in love with another man. Although this led Hoppe to seek attention from Alejandro Rojo, does his new partner have the same qualities as his former lover? This movie was painful for me to watch because of the fact that there were extended scenes of lack of dialogue for no reason whatsoever. It would have been fine if the narration was consistent because then the audiences would know what was going on in the characters heads. When we are left to watch the grieving characters doing whatever they choose to do, it’s not a good thing especially when the characters themselves do not know what they should do next. The whole movie was supposed to be poetic because of the music, the passionate sex and the absence of dialogue. But the way I saw it was the director got a bit too lazy. Instead of painting us a picture of the emotional turmoil that the characters were going through, he decided to sit back and “let it all unfold” when, really, there’s absolutely nothing to drive the story forward. Instead, we get redundant scenes of guys being in bed, going to clubs and stalking each other. It wasn’t an insightful or relatable experience when it should have been because most of us are familiar with heartbreak and rejection. This monolith of a movie could have easy been just above an hour long. Now, I can handle movies that are different and have an art-house kind of feel to them. But for me to ultimately enjoy movies that are “different” (or any movie in general), I look for an emotional core–whether such a core is droll, depressing, childlike, suspenseful or simply a slice-of-life–but “Broken Sky” didn’t have that basic quality. We see characters who are sad and angry but if they (and the filmmakers) don’t let us make a connection with them, why should we care what would happen to them? I’ve seen other self-obsessed characters portrayed on screen having an easier time to let me in. If you have insomnia, this soporific picture is your cure.
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.
Year One (2009)
★ / ★★★★
“Year One,” written and directed by Harold Ramis, was another one of those movies that looked really funny on the trailers but was actually devoid of laughs in the actual film. Jack Black and Michael Cera star as Zed and Oh, respectively, as they traveled from their village to many different places mentioned on the Bible. It also had other references from the Bible such as the forbidden fruit and popular characters such as Cain, Abel, Isaac and others. As a Bible farce, this was extremely disappointing because there were so many things that the filmmakers could have done to make the story funny and smart. Instead, it degraded itself into slapstick comedy and we literally see the characters urinating on themselves, tasting feces, and other things I won’t mention. Don’t get me wrong–I think Black and Cera are usually very funny comedians but I don’t know what they were thinking when they decided to sign up for this movie. Just the script itself was so bad; it was random, it lacked energy, and it didn’t have a powerful enough story to drive it forward and for us to ultimately root for the characters to succeed on their mission. At times I wondered whether the actors were literally making stuff up as they went along. The constant winking at the camera annoyed me greatly, which was tantamount to that pesky mosquito that kept buzzing at your ear when you’re trying to sleep. The only thing I liked about this movie was Paul Rudd as Abel, but he was in it for barely two minutes. Other actors such as Vinnie Jones, Hank Azaria, David Cross and Olivia Wilde didn’t add much to the picture because their characters were also one-dimensional. I really wanted to like this movie because every time the trailer was shown in theaters, it never failed to bring a smile to my face. Unfortunately, it was just so mindless to the point where I thought the director didn’t care about his movie. If the passion is absent, why then should the audience care? When I say that this movie is bad, consider it an understatement. Save your precious time and watch or do something else. I wish I did.
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 Soloist (2008)
★ / ★★★★
I did not expect to dislike this movie as much as I did. “The Soloist,” starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx, was about a writer and a talented musician who happened to be a homeless man with schizophrenia and how they taught each other lessons in order to be more secure with themselves and eventually integrate with their families. Unfortunately, most of the elements that made up the film did not work for me. For instance, I think the movie went on for too long neglecting the fact that schizophrenia is a very serious mental disorder and that “friendship” does not necessarily cure it. It tackled the issue of diagnosis and medication in only two scenes, which I found to be absurd given the subject matter of the integration of a person with a fractured mind in society. I also found the pacing of the picture to be quite boring (for the lack of a better word). I wanted to know more about why Downey was so into helping Foxx. It certainly was not because he was a very giving person; in fact, he was sort of a reclusive, self-contained individual who neglected his family. If Joe Wright, the director, had found a way to balance scenes between Downey and his family (Catherine Keener as his ex-wife and a son who we never saw on screen) and Downey and Foxx, I think the audiences would have had a better understanding about his motivations. I also would have liked to see more of the history behind Foxx’ character. There were a few flashback scenes which I found to be very touching, especially his relationship with his mother, one of key figures in his life that pushed him to pursue his musical talent. All in all, I think the film’s fatal flaw is that it tried too hard to reach the most mainstream audiences via sentimentality and not enough common sense. We saw a lot of images of homelessness but it ultimately amounted to nothing–just images of misery and sadness. Also, I really hated it when Foxx’ character would play the cello and we would get random images of colors and buildings of Los Angeles on screen. It would have been so much better if we actually saw him play a piece and observe the passion in his eyes. Lastly, “The Soloist” lasted longer than it should have because of a dozen or so unnecessary dialogue that had nothing to do with the big picture.