★★★ / ★★★★
Adapted from Susanne Bier’s “Brødre,” “Brothers,” directed by Jim Sheridan, was about two brothers: a Marine (Tobey Maguire) who loves his family and kids (Natalie Portman, Bailee Madison, Taylor Geare) and an ex-con (Jake Gyllenhaal) who recently got out of jail. The (very intense) final forty-five minutes shook me to the core when Maguire’s character finally returned to his family after being captured and tortured by the enemy for months. But as great as the last third was, I was also impressed with the way the film tackled subjects such as redemption in Gyllenhaal’s character wanting to do good for his brother’s family by playing with the kids, fixing up the kitchen, and helping them move on from a death in the family. During the first few minutes, it also established the fact that even though the brothers were so different from one another (highlighted in scenes where the father expressed pride in one and disappointment in another), there was a strong bond between them and nothing could change their love for one another. I was moved especially when their relationship was challenged in the last forty-five minutes; I felt like the two actors were really brothers when they conversed because there was a sort of intimacy between them. I also liked the way it showed the ugliness of returning from war and being traumatized by the events that happened there. Although it tackled the issue with sensitivity, it wasn’t afraid to be honest regarding what could potentially happen to someone who had a severe form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the symptoms that came with it such as paranoia, rage and disorientation. It was heartbreaking to watch the children become afraid of their own father, the wife not knowing how to respond to her husband’s physical return (but not mentally and emotionally), and the way Gyllenhaal’s character dealt with his brother’s suspicions and anger. The only problem I had with the film were the scenes which involved Maguire being kidnapped by the enemy. I think if all those scenes were left out and the audiences were left to wonder what really happened to Maguire’s character, it would have been that much more haunting (such as using a title card stating “a few months later” and the like). A sudden shift from a warm, loving person to a cold person who was on a verge of a psychotic breakdown would have had a far more impact on me. Nevertheless, “Brothers” is a strong movie that relies on the characters and subtle (sometimes explosive) acting instead of soldiers trying to survive in war zones. It felt personal so I couldn’t help but think about it after a while.
Ginger Snaps (2000)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle star as Brigitte and Ginger, two very close sisters who started off as extremely fascinated with death and the macabre. But when a werewolf attacked them in the playground one night and Ginger was turned into a werewolf, their strong bond was challenged not only by the slow and painful transformation but also because they were beginning to grow up. Desperate to bring her sister back to normalcy, Brigitte formed an alliance with a charming high school drug dealer (Kris Lemche) and tension began to accumulate until the very impressive final showdown. This film reminded me of two things: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Heathers.” I thought the film was particularly astute because it wasn’t just a regular horror film with a scary werewolf killing everyone in its path. It was able to use being a werewolf as a metaphor for adolescence and its physical, emotional and psychological hardships. That metaphor was always at the forefront and it was able to use (dark) humor to comment not only on the characters but the audiences who probably went through the same thing: feeling like an outcast, being overshadowed by siblings, feeling suffocated by family, and feeling like school doesn’t really foster or appreciate one’s talents. I also admired the fact that this picture was not afraid to kill off characters both to prove a point and to entertain. The dialogue was very hip but not too quirky to the point where it seemed like it was only trying to be the coolest thing of the moment. I have to admit that I did get sort of scared right from the very first scene when the kid found a little unpleasant thing while playing in the sandbox. But what really convinced me that this was a superior horror movie was the first werewolf attack. There was something very sinister about it: with the way the camera loomed behind the trees, rapidly budged when there was an attack and the fact that I just don’t see a lot of movies where main characters of their age were put in a situation and really tackle it in their own unique way. With movies about preadolescents, especially horror movies targeted to them, things are usually a bit lighter. So I was really surprised with how this one turned out; I’ll even go as far as saying that this probably one of the best werewolf movies I’ve seen. Lastly, I have to mention how the last few scenes reminded me of original “Halloween” classic because the final battle was set inside the house and as the minutes passed by, the frame got tighter and tighter until the heroine had no choice but to confront her biggest fear. I had a great time watching “Ginger Snaps” because it had so many exemplary ideas that were actually realized. This coming-of-age feminist gorefest definitely earns a place in my film collection.
The Road (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, “The Road” focused on a father (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they traveled to the south of the United States, on foot, in hopes of finding a place where they could be safe from cannibals and starvation. A post-apocalyptic film in every respect, the look of the picture was very bleak–everything was grey and characters were covered in mud and grime. The only warmth that was present was the bond between the father and son as they evaded gangs who killed and ate people and who had stooped so low that they were willing to molest children. Mortensen did a great job portraying a father who wanted to be a model for his son just in case he met an untimely death. I was impressed because even though his character was nurturing (the mother, played by Charlize Theron, passed away), there was a certain toughness about him that was so precise when circumstances turned for the worst. On the other hand, I was very annoyed with Smit-McPhee’s character because he was so whiny about everything. For having a father who obviously tried his hardest to protect and provide for him, during the first half, the kid found every reason to whine and mope. I seriously wanted to shake (or punch) the kid to knock some sense into him. Fortunately, during the second half, he grew on me because he provided a much needed heart to the story, especially when they met an old man and a thief, Robert Duvall and Michael K. Williams, respectively. As much as this film was depressing, I didn’t think it was monotonous like some audiences suggested. I thought it was very suspenseful, especially the scene when the father and son went into a cellar to find the most horrific images. Strangely enough, I also thought it was hopeful because of the strong relationship between the two leads. They kept talking about a “fire” inside them (a religious implication, I’m not entirely sure) that helped them to continue their journey while at the same keeping their humanity. The tone was complex and it was definitely easy to get lost in bleak atmosphere if one was not emotionally invested in the characters. As the film came to an emotionally draining conclusion, I started to think about life and how it would eventually end for myself, my friends and my family. It just made me incredibly sad and I couldn’t help but turn on the waterworks. “The Road” may not have been as strong as critics expected it to be but it’s nonetheless a solid film with a heart despite the exploration of the darker side of humanity. There was something very poetic about the whole experience right from the start so I was glued all the way through.
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
★★ / ★★★★
It’s a shame that this film is just barely mediocre because it started off really well. It managed to introduce the three-nippled main villain named Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) and establish how dangerous he is within the first three minutes in a convincing manner. It got me really excited because I wanted to see him face off with James Bond (Roger Moore). If I were to make cuts and edits to this Bond installment, only about forty minutes will make it to the final product. The rest of the movie is junk and I find it unforgivable, especially when the movie takes place in exotic places like China and Thailand. Instead of taking advantage of the beautiful locales by telling an exciting and astute story, the filmmakers injected lackadaisical chase scenes one after another. Not to mention the fact that they brought back an incredibly useless and annoying redneck character from “Live and Let Die.” Rooger Moore is not my favorite 007 because he’s just so dull to look at and I just want to fall asleep when he speaks. He has no authority like Sean Connery and Daniel Craig. His charisma doesn’t do it for me either. The only stand-out scenes that saved this film are found in the last twenty minutes. Lee and Moore’s interactions are interesting not only because they constantly measure each other up, they also make the film spicy because their characters reach some sort of admiration and understanding for each other. I wish they met somewhere near the beginning of the picture and made them chase each other until the final scene. Instead, Bond gets into all kinds of side-quests that have absolutely nothing to do with the big picture. Unless you’re a die-hard Bond fan, skip this one because it has nothing special to offer.
★★★★ / ★★★★
This is one of the strongest Bond entries because it hints at the beginning of a more serious Bond mixed with more intricate action sequences. There’s a certain sinister tone, especially in the first half where most of the espionage scenes can be found, which made me more interested in what was going on and what is eventually going to happen. This is Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as 007 and he is more than welcome to walk in the shoes of a beloved character because I believe he is as dangerous and charismatic Sean Connery. Even though he may appeal more to the modern fans of the Bond franchise, he has that classic fun factor that older fans can definitely appreciate. Brosnan is able to deliver the classic one-liners with a certain serious but undeniablly fun swagger. As for the supporting cast, I think the group is one of the most memorable: Sean Bean as Agent 006 proves to be 007’s match physically and mentally, Izabella Scorupco as Natalya Simonova is the smart and beautiful Bond girl, Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp is the femme fatale who specializes in squeezing people to death, and Judi Dench as the cold but lovable M. The story of “GoldenEye” may be a bit unbelievable at times (especially back in 1995 during the first’s release) but it’s more relevant today because of technology’s exponential advancements. All logic and credibility aside, the action sequences are mind-blowing (the tank scene alone is reason enough to watch), the style is slick, and it’s fast-paced. Directed by Martin Campbell who will direct “Casino Royale” about ten years in the future, “GoldenEye” is a must-see for all Bond fanatics and spy film enthusiasts. (And did I mention that I believe this has one of the best opening squences in Bond history? So much was accomplished during the first five minutes, followed by an astonishing opening credits with Tina Turner.)
Live and Let Die (1973)
★★ / ★★★★
This isn’t my favorite James Bond film even though it has a nice balance of action and humor. At times I felt like it was too light to the point where it’s impossible to take the more serious scenes… well, seriously. Rooger Moore is a mediocre 007 because he lacks a certain edge that Sean Connery has. Moore is a bit too goofy with his one-liners and I wanted him to be more dangerous. One of my major problems is that the film somewhat relied on the belief of tarot cards coming true. That lack of realism really bothered me and I wish the writers eliminated it from the story. It’s a shame because the premise started off well: three agents were killed from different sides of the globe and Bond has to find a connection on why it happened. While the beginning is brilliant, the execution and the conclusion are less than impressive. Come to think of it, I don’t think they answered all of my questions regarding the premise. It simply answered the “why” aspect in one of the scenes and completely forgot about it for the rest of the picture. Somehow, Bond manages to meet a girl who can see the future and become crocodile food. Although the latter scene is very impressive (it’s arguably the best scene of the film), it hardly makes up for the rest of the film’s inconsistencies. Bond is supposed to be the center of the story but there were many scenes where he could not be found. If I were to estimate the net time Moore was not on film, it would be around twenty minutes. When introducing a new actor playing Bond, the smart move is to put him in front of the camera 95% of the time (or more) so the audiences will get a chance to get to know him more. By the end of this film, I felt like Moore was secondary to the big picture.