Tag: blake lively

The Shallows

The Shallows (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

Shark flick “The Shallows,” written by Anthony Jaswinski and directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, is saddled with an eye-rolling backstory involving a medical student named Nancy (Blake Lively) who is considering to drop out of medical school due to her mother having recently died from cancer. Despite this limitation, it remains a solid creature feature because the filmmakers understand how to build tension and release it at the right moments.

The audience is provided a clear mental map of the situation. The shore is about two hundred yards from the rock that Nancy uses as refuge after an initial heart-pounding shark attack. There is a floating whale carcass about thirty yards away from the rock. There is also a nearby buoy. We learn when high and low tides begin and end. Nancy has the acuity to take note how fast the hunter swims from one location to the next. The more information given to us, the stronger our engagement with the picture. Along with Nancy, we try to figure out the best possible solution, like trying to solve a complex math problem.

The film starts out like a summer music video: energetic, colorful, our heroine’s sun-kissed beach-ready body front and center. Slow motion is employed just in case we do not already get the point. We appreciate the beauty of the warm sand, the alluring embrace of the ocean, and how tropical trees sway just so along the breeze. It is appropriate, even fitting, given the sudden shift in tone waiting about twenty minutes in. As real in life, terror strikes when least expected. It adds horror to the entire experience.

Lively is a surprise to me because in just about every scene she proves she is a true performer. Prior to this film, I thought she was pretty but certainly more of a television actress than someone who belongs in feature films. I was very happy to have been proven wrong. Even happier to learn that she can spearhead a movie—a horror movie, no less, which requires a specific skill set to hold together.

Take note of the moments when her character’s body is harmed in some way. Lively has a way of limiting her character’s movements in the forthcoming scenes to the point where it becomes almost claustrophobic to watch Nancy. Every sudden movement looks painful, each ounce of energy sacrificed in order to outsmart a fearsome predator. Lesser actors might have simply relied on their physical attributes to get by. Here, Lively makes the choice to actively and consistently engage with the character and so we relate with the protagonist every step of the way. She even finds a convincing way to relate with a co-star… that just so happens to be a bird.

Horror films usually have a difficult time delivering an ending that feels exactly right for the story being told. The reason is because the writers feel the need to console the viewers more than once that the character will be all right. “The Shallows” is no exception. It should have had one less scene because the penultimate scene’s final line communicated everything that needed to be expressed.


Savages (2012)
★ / ★★★★

Chon (Taylor Kitsch), a war veteran, and Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a botanist, run a successful, independent cannabis business. When a drug cartel, led by Elena (Salma Hayek), gets wind of their operation, Chon and Ben receive a video of seven men being decapitated. If they do not comply to her demands of a forced partnership so her business can gain the duo’s network and expertise, especially since their product is more addictive than the norm, she collects their head. When Chon and Ben try to leave the country with the sort-of girlfriend, O (Blake Lively), they share in every imaginable way, Elena kidnaps O to get what she wants.

“Savages,” based on the novel by Don Winslow, is an exercise of boredom punctuated by extreme ridiculousness attempting to sashay as mild entertainment, beginning with Lively’s sexually aroused zombie narration that is more soporific than purportedly poetic.

In order for the film to work, it almost needs to function as a relationship drama because its core is supposed to be the connection among Chon, Ben, and O. Instead, the writers, Shane Salerno, Don Winslow, and Oliver Stone, relegate O into regaling us with her blonde locks, bedroom eyes, and long legs as if we are supposed to care for her on the sole basis of her being genetically gifted. Prior to the two guys being caught in Elena’s drug underworld, there is a plethora of redundant talk about love being the binding element among the trio but is never actually shown. It’s as if O’s idea of love is that of a young teenager’s who has neither experienced the world nor has an idea of what it really means be loved beyond giving a fellatio in the men’s restroom in a tacky mall.

Although the relationship’s emotional level leaves a lot to be desired, what the trio have on a physical level is even more maddening. There is one somewhat sensual sex scene, a threesome among the main characters, in the entire film and it is frustrating because the filmmakers show not an once of courage to see it through. We see O kissing Ben and then O kissing Chon. They begin to take their clothes off. And that is it. Because physical intimacy is a big part in our protagonists’ relationship, it is only natural to allow the sex to run its course. Furthermore, the actors are easy on the eyes so it makes sense to actually use them.

I imagined that if this had been written and directed by the French, shying away from the sensuality and sexuality would not have been an option (or had been minimized at most). Instead, we are given in-your-face but mostly meaningless violence. Why do we need to see a person putting a hole in and through someone’s skull so often? If its aim is to show the ruthlessness of the drug business, it establishes that already sans level of violence often seen in horror pictures, all gore and bereft of ideas.

Directed by Oliver Stone, “Savages” has one good thing going for it which is Elena’s maternal issues. It’s amusing that she’s essentially a crime boss but her biggest worry is her daughter not wanting anything to do with her. She’s so desperate for her child’s affection that at times she almost wants to reach out to O, her captive. Although this strand is interesting, it never delivers on its promise.

Green Lantern

Green Lantern (2011)
★ / ★★★★

When Hal was young, he witnessed the death of his father due to an aviation accident. Almost twenty years later, we came to discover that Hal (Ryan Reynolds) followed his father’s footsteps and became a successful test pilot. Meanwhile, two entities had been in war for a millennia: a group of warriors known as Green Lantern Corps, powered by will, and Parallax, powered by fear. The latter was quickly gaining the upper hand by literally eating the souls of its enemies. When one of the leaders of the corps, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), made an emergency landing on Earth after being attacked by the evil Parallax, he managed to pass his powers onto unsuspecting Hal. “Green Lantern,” directed by Martin Campbell, was sloppily put together. A myriad strands were introduced but not one achieved an above average level of thought nor a minutiae of common sense, so the film ultimately felt flat. Let’s take the romance between Hal and Carol (Blake Lively) as an example. Supposedly, the two of them had known each other for more than half their lives. I found that very hard to believe. While the two obviously cared for each other, perhaps even on a romantic level, I found it frustrating that they didn’t know how to communicate as adults and as close friends. If you’ve been friends with someone for a very long time, that certain connection, which often defies explanation, should be palpable to a third party. But I never felt that special connection when Hal and Carol were on screen. In fact, the whole thing felt forced. There were a lot of puppy dog eyes and polite smiles, like I was watching some teenage soap opera where characters pretend to be dumb yet they have the nerve to complain about the fact that no one is getting what they want. The screenplay, by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg, came off as rather desperate in injecting a human element into the story. I actually would have enjoyed the movie more if Hal and Carol were given the time to sit and talk about their feelings for up to three key scenes and defined their relationship once and for all. Then focus on the action, without the hammy and frivolous will-he-or-won’t-she interruptions, because 1) I wanted to see the war between good and evil and 2) watch things blow up in the city. The decision to put petty romances between action sequences made the project disjointed. As a result, the momentum failed to build and I ended up not caring. Another one of Hal and Carol’s childhood friend was Hector (Peter Sarsgaard), a formerly corpulent boy who preferred to stay indoors and read books rather than to play outside. Eventually, Hector became an agent of evil after being infected by an alien life form. But why was his transformation necessary? Since the writers offered no answer to that question, it was pretty much implied that brainiacs were less than so they deserved to be punished. That wouldn’t have been the case if we had a chance to observe Hector being black-hearted as a child in the first place. “Green Lantern” need not have been too serious nor abound with grand special effects to qualify as a decent superhero movie. It just needed to tell its story with clarity.

The Town

The Town (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

An adaptation of Chuck Hogan’s book “Prince of Thieves,” writer-director Ben Affleck hemled “The Town,” a story about four bank robbers (Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Slaine, Owen Burke) in Charlestown pursued by a determined FBI agent (Jon Hamm). In the opening scene, the four criminals did what they normally didn’t do: take a woman (Rebecca Hall) as a hostage because someone tripped the alarm. Later, in an attempt to ascertain if she knew of their identities, Doug “accidentally” met the woman they took hostage and the two fell in love. I’ve read reviews comparing this film to Michael Mann’s “Heat” and Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” but I don’t think “The Town” is quite at the caliber of those two. While it did make an entertaining commercial heist film, I didn’t think it was as gritty as it wanted to portray. I wished the material had dug its nails into the characters a lot deeper. By putting more pressure on them, I think it would have been more successful at showing us who these characters really were. I really thought about the importance of character development in this picture because in one of the scenes, Doug and his crew used police uniform as a disguise to successfully steal money for their boss (the fascinatingly menacing Pete Postlethwaite). It meant that cops and criminals were essentially the same, their similarities are (or should be) more pronounced the more we looked into them. But, no matter how hard I tried, that’s not what I saw or felt while watching “The Town.” I thought it spent too much of its time focusing on the romance between Affleck and Hall which I understood as necessary because Doug was the conscience of his crew. In the end, I felt uneasy rooting for Doug because the film tried to sell that he was a good guy when he was really not. There’s a difference between sympathizing with a bad guy and masking the bad guy into a good guy. I believe “The Town” crossed that line. However, I recommend “The Town” because I was always interested in what was happening on screen. Aside from some stupid decisions done by smart characters, such as Doug choosing to be a bystander at a critical time instead of running away as fast as possible, I felt something for each of them. Furthermore, I noticed that the acting was strong and I was surprised with some performances, especially by Blake Lively’s. Despite not having many scenes, whenever she was on screen, I was magnetized toward her and I couldn’t believe she was a glamorous rich girl on “Gossip Girl.” Lastly, the three heist scenes became more exciting as they unfolded. What “The Town” needed was less romanticism because crime is anything but. It would have been nice if it tried to do something different with its subgenre. Instead of sticking out as an example, it simply blends in with the others.

New York, I Love You

New York, I Love You (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

I’ve been waiting for this movie to be released in theaters for more than a year so I was really excited to see it when it finally was. Unfortunately, out of the ten segments (presented in order of appearances on screen–directed by Jiang Wen, Mira Nair, Shunji Iwai, Yvan Attal, Brett Ratner, Allen Hughes, Shekhar Kapur, Natalie Portman, Fatih Akin and Joshua Marston) only about five worked for me–the second (starring Natalie Portman and Irrfan Khan), the third (Orlando Bloom and Christina Ricci), the fourth (Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q), the fifth (Anton Yelchin, Olivia Thirlby, James Caan and Blake Lively), and the tenth (Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman).

I really wanted to love this movie as much as “Paris, je t’aime.” What made the first one so great is the fact that even though we encounter so many different genres and tones throughout the picture, it felt cohesive because we truly get a sense of who the characters were in under five to seven minutes. In “New York, I Love You,” it all feels a little bit too commercial. I felt as though it wanted to impress all kinds of people so much to the point where it held back emotionally and avoided taking risks. I’m also astounded by the fact that there were no homosexual storylines, barely any segments consisting of African-American or Latino characters, and most of clips consisted of a person falling in love or lust with another person. There are many dimensions of love (love for the city, love for a pet, love for oneself…) but it didn’t quite think outside the box. Those missing qualities are crucial to me because New York is supposed to be a melting pot of ethnicities, sexualities and mindsets yet we got to see the same kinds of people time and again. With “Paris, je t’aime,” we get diversity and in more than half of them, there was not a happy ending, which I thought was closer to real life than the stories presented in this film.

The five segments that I thought were standouts had a certain passion in every single one of them, whether it’s about a woman who doesn’t quite feel comfortable about getting married; an artist struggling to read one of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s books and whose curiosity of a woman he’s only met through the phone bothered him to the core; a man who thinks one way about a woman turning out to be someone completely different than we all expected; a teenager who goes to prom with a blind date unknowing of the fact that his date is unlike anyone he expected; and a couple celebrating their marriage that lasted for more than sixty years. Those are the kinds of stories I want to tune into and dissect because hidden layers are embedded in them. What I don’t want to see is someone supposedly falling in love unless he or she has something truly significant or different to contribute. The other five segments that I didn’t quite like should have been taken out and replaced by stories from other genres such as horror or science fiction, or they could have had a different mood or perception such as in a black-and-white reality or featuring a person so wasted in drugs–a way in which we could see the world through their eyes. That would have made more sense to me because we are essentially a drug culture. Or it could have featured at least one fashion model or a fashionista because New York is one of the biggest fashion capitals in the world. Instead of really embracing to tackle issues mentioned previously, the movie was way too safe with those other segments.

Having said all of that, I have to admit that I’m particularly hard on this picture. Since I don’t do half-star ratings, it must be said that I consider this a solid two-and-a-half star movie. When I came out of the theater, I was certain that I was going to give it three stars out of four but after thinking about it a little bit, it made me realize how much potential it didn’t use to create a truly magnificent project. For such a fascinating place like New York City, you just can’t play everything safe and get away with it. At least not with me because I’m big on seeing diversity and reality in certain kinds of films, especially in slice-of-life cinema. I’m not saying at all to not see this in theaters. By all means, please do to support a film released only on limited release. But what I want you to take away from this review is the awareness that what’s being presented on this film is not the gritty and dirty New York but the clean, nice New York we see on a prime time television shows.

Hopefully, the next project from this film series would not be as afraid to branch out.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

This sequel is arguably just as good as the original mainly because of the exotic locations and earnest acting. Two and half out of the four storylines worked for me: Amber Tamblyn’s pregnancy scare and her fear of everyone leaving her someday, America Ferrera’s accidental acting gig and her fear of growing distant from her friends, and half of Alexis Bledel’s lost love (Michael Rady) in Greece. I usually love watching Blake Lively (and I did love her here) but the storyline involving archeology and her grandmother felt forced. Every time the film would focus on her so-called life challenges, the momentum of the picture slowed down tremendously. As for the part that didn’t work for me regarding Bledel, it mostly has something to do with her acting. This was also a problem in the first film but whenever she’s about to cry, it feels really forced to the point where it’s borderline laughable. I can read it in her eyes–her questioning about whether she’s exuding enough tears and emotion. Out of the four, acting-wise, I think she’s the most dispensable. However, there’s something about this movie’s energy that kept me interested. I believed that the four leads really were college students because of the way they talked to each other and the questions that they raised (and eventually answered) when no one was around. Even though I’m not the target age group, I could relate with some of the girls, especially Tamblyn’s serious and introspective persona (not to mention her love for movies), because I have gone through the fears of losing one’s high school friends when I moved on to college. Overall, I’m recommending “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” because it has nice life lessons and the actresses are interesting to watch.