Perrier’s Bounty (2009)
★ / ★★★★
Michael (Cillian Murphy) owes a man named Perrier (Brendan Gleeson) a grand and two thugs, Ivan (Michael McElhatton) and Orlando (Don Wycherley), will make sure that he makes a payment in full by the end of the day. If Michael failed to do so, he would recompense with more than a few broken bones. However, when one of the henchmen ends up dead, Perrier starts a bounty for Michael—to be delivered alive just so he can suffer. Soon, Michael and his neighbor, Brenda (Jodie Whittaker), find themselves running all over Dublin as various men hope to get their hands on the reward.
Written by Mark O’Rowe and directed by Ian Fitzgibbon, “Perrier’s Bounty” comes across as recycled, barely watchable trash. Although it is clearly inspired by Guy Ritchie’s signature movies, it does not have enough meat on its bones and substance in its marrow to create first-rate entertainment that engages the eyes, heart, and mind. Instead, it is mostly composed of scenes with slight bantering between the characters but none of them are particularly witty or funny. Thus, it feels like a chore to sit through and I was left wondering when it was going to take off. It never does.
Despite the flying and ricochetting bullets, the heart of the film is Michael’s relationship with his father. Jim (Jim Broadbent) tells his son that he is dying. Although Michael is taken aback by the news, he has very little time to sympathize given his current situation. Murphy and Broadbent make a somewhat amusing odd couple because they are good actors. However, one never believes that their characters are true father and son.
The reason is because the screenplay rarely bothers to tackle the human drama head-on. When the two are about to connect in a meaningful way, the scene is often interrupted by men with guns and mean-looking demeanors. Is it because the movie is supposed to have this “tough” quality to it that it is afraid to deal with real emotions? Is it because the film is made for men? Are “real men” unable to handle emotions like the struggle in communicating their love for their own fathers? On many levels, I found it insulting in its reductionism.
The action is nothing special. I suppose I enjoyed the fact that Michael, far from a killer, does not really know how to shoot a gun: he looks at his targets, looks down, and presses the trigger with the hope of hitting someone. I did not find Perrier’s thugs that intimidating either. They look like actors trying to be these so-called tough guys but not actually embodying them. Expectedly, most convincing is Gleeson. I am convinced this man can play anyone or anything. He can tell a story just by standing in one spot and glaring at someone.
And then there is the romance subplot that is far too contrived. Of course Michael and Brenda will eventually get together. I saw no reason to have Brenda as one of the major characters since what she does most of the time is whine about her current boyfriend. I sensed that the writer had no idea how to create an interesting female character so he chose to rely on stereotypes.
“Perrier’s Bounty” is devoid of suspense, thrill, drama, comedy, and action. It does not challenge us to do anything other than to sit in our chairs and watch images go by. If that isn’t a depressing experience, I don’t know what is.
★★ / ★★★★
A man enters a confessional and confides in Father James (Brendan Gleeson) about being sexually molested by a priest when he was only seven years of age. Although that priest is now dead, the parishioner still wishes to inflict revenge on what was done to him, thereby threatening to kill Father James—better to punish an innocent man than a guilty one so everyone is sure to pay attention.
Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, “Calvary” moves at a leisurely pace to the point where one is inspired to wonder where the story is ultimately heading. I enjoyed the main character simply interacting with people in town—those who believe in God and those who do not—because a handful of them have quite a character, but the movie fails to deliver in the third act. Thus, it is most anticlimactic and one cannot be blamed for thinking what point the writer-director hopes to convey. It is not a film for mainstream consumption. Be prepared to listen and to not receive expected answers.
The script has an ear for dialogue. Each person that Father James comes across has a specific voice and point of view so even though he meets quite a number of different personalities, we remember them when they make another appearance. And because most of them, whether they know it or not, have a bleak perspective on life and may have a reason to be angry or lash out, we try to guess the identity of the man in the first scene.
A standout is the young man named Milo (Killian Scott). He tells Father James about his murderous feelings and consults whether he joining the army might be a good idea. Although the subject of conversation is quite amusing on the outside, the longer we dig into the scene, it becomes clearer that Milo is dead serious about his concerns, desperate for advice. Clearly, he has issues and perhaps see a counselor but he is given an interesting recommendation by the thoughtful priest.
Another noteworthy person is a rich man who appears to have it all but in actuality has nothing of value. Michael (Dylan Moran) often talks about his expensive paintings, wine, and property—so repetitive and superficially enthusiastic that at some point we wonder if it is a way to convince himself that what he has is enough to be happy. He speaks and his voice echoes in his palatial home, but there is no joy or laughter to make the place come alive. He does have a wife and children but they’ve left.
The picture is shot beautifully, the dark blues and grays complementing a rather cold, cheerless, and unexciting lifestyles of its subjects. The warmest it ever gets is the image of an establishment being burned to the ground and the priest feeling heartbroken at the sight of it. It is the first time I sensed rage in him—silent but absolutely there, one that cannot be mollified by mere apology.
Song of the Sea (2014)
★★★★ / ★★★★
After grandmother (voiced by Fionnula Flanagan) finds young Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell) lying along the shore in the middle of the night, she is all the more convinced that Saoirse and her elder brother, Ben (David Rawle), should not be raised in an island. So, with the father’s consent (Brendan Gleeson), Granny hauls the siblings to live in the city. However, ever since that curious night, Saoirse has gotten increasingly sick.
“Song of the Sea” is a wonderfully made, Miyazaki-level animated film that is full of deep emotions, Irish folklores, and surprising turn of events. It is for everyone: young children, adults, ages in-between, people who love and crave the medium of animation, as well as casual viewers on the lookout for gems that might be worth remembering years from now.
The style of animation likens that of a pop-up book. The foreground is almost always flat at first glance but there is something about the background that is constantly alive. And yet the latter does not desaturate the power of what should be the center of attention. On the contrary, the foreground is underlined, especially when it counts, because the eyes of the characters are so expressive, we wonder at the thoughts unsaid.
Saoirse is not yet able to talk but there is not one moment where she is boring. This is a testament to the sheer power of the images. We are able to surmise what she is possibly thinking or feeling when her brother is not very kind to her even though it is her birthday, when Granny uproots them from the only place they have ever known, when her brother decides to share his beloved shell flute. Great animated films share a common quality: Put the picture on mute and one is still likely to have an idea about what might be occurring.
The mythical elements are captivating. Having seen John Sayles’ “The Secret of Roan Inish,” I thought I would not be as engaged because I knew what a “selkie” was. This film is able to explore what a selkie is more deeply because animation allows a level of fantasy that live action pictures might be limited to. We encounter fairies—not the Disney kind—and even then they are written as having a sense of humor or sense of irony to them. Saoirse and Ben encounter creatures that are fascinating, from the extremely long-haired Seanachai (Jon Kenny) to the fearsome Macha (also voiced by Flanagan), mother of spirit-collecting owls.
Directed by Tomm Moore, “Song of the Sea” is not just about how Ben learns to become a better brother. So many animated films stop with delivering a lesson. Not this one. It is about celebrating a specific culture and sharing the magic to those who may not be familiar with Irish, Scottish, and Faroese folklore. It is about family—how it comes apart and being brought together again even though it is not perfect. Perhaps more importantly, it is about celebrating the medium, without or with minimal help of a computer, and pushing what it can do when it comes to telling a specific type of story.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★
Five years since the invasion of extraterrestrial beings called Mimics comes hope that these formidable creatures can be eradicated once and for all. To claim surefire victory, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) spearheads Operation Downfall which involves troops being airdropped on a beach in France, closing out the west side of Europe as the Chinese and Russians do the same from the east.
Brigham assigns Major Cage (Tom Cruise) to be with the troops, as a symbol of support and as additional hand in the defining battle, but Cage insists that he is not at all combat-ready. He urges that he remains only as a spokesman for the United Defense Forces. The next day, Cage wakes up at Heathrow Airport, stripped off his title, while final preparations for the crucial attack are made.
Confident in execution and proudly wearing its inspirations on its sleeve, “Edge of Tomorrow,” based on the screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, is a rousing, funny, entertaining sci-fi action with enough brains and visual spectacles to satisfy a spectrum of audiences. Note, however, that it is neither the most thoughtful movie about mortality nor an allegory of facing the so-called Other, but it impresses on multiple facets, mainly on the level of a summer blockbuster flick—and that is not a backhanded compliment.
Cruise shows that he is a seasoned actor not because he does his own stunts and capable of delivering lines in a very intense way when absolutely necessary—although these are impressive on their own—but because he is aware that in order for his character come across as a believable protagonist, he must act as he if he were in a dramatic picture even though the genre is clearly science fiction. Notice the subtle transition of cowardly Cage to someone who commands a fiery will to protect a woman he has fallen in love with (Emily Blunt) and win against the alien invaders. Subtlety in acting is uncommon when it comes to movies that, in Roger Ebert’s immortal words, blow stuff up real good.
The plot is a mixture of the opening scene of Steven Spielberg’s excellent “Saving Private Ryan” and Harold Ramis’ highly amusing “Groundhog Day.” Cage gains the ability to reset the dreaded day over and over as long as he dies—by accident, by being killed, or by his own hand. He is a smart character and able to learn quickly from his mistakes. The drawback is that he is stubborn and he tends to lose track of the bigger picture when his love interest is involved. I enjoyed that the screenplay is aware that believable heroes have both internal and external flaws. Imperfections keep the audience watching.
Admittedly, the conceit of resetting the day began to wear me down eventually. Although I knew it was necessary to the plot and the story, I wished that the writers had found a way to change the rules of the game halfway through instead of pushing it until the final quarter. Yes, the picture changes gears eventually.
I wanted to know details about the invaders. For example, what do the aliens want from Earth exactly? We never learn for sure. There is one line of speculation during the first ten minutes of the film and the rest is thrown out the window. Are there many others out there with Cage’s ability? There is talk of the person with the reset ability being psychically linked to the aliens, but given that there are other humans out there with the same or similar ability, can they connect with each other’s thoughts?
Perhaps these are not questions I should be asking. But my point is this: It would not have hurt the film if it had been more ambitious. It gets the look exactly right, from the so-called strength-amplifying jackets that soldiers must wear to fight against Mimics to the bare ruins of once beautiful cities that tourists from all over the world once relished, but the scope of its universe feels very limited. Great science fiction films are unafraid to take risks and go beyond what the audience expects.
Directed by Doug Liman, “Edge of Tomorrow” is nonetheless a movie worth seeing because it is fun, energetic, visually striking, and has a sense of humor. One word of warning: If one goes into this looking for plot holes (it must be terrible being a cynic), one would likely see them and inevitably be disappointed. But if one goes into it just hoping to be entertained, one would likely get exactly what he or she wants. Sometimes that is more than enough.
Raven, The (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Set in 1849, the Baltimore police has a mystery on their hands. As a mother and daughter are gruesomely murdered in their own home, the perpetrator is nowhere to be found despite the fact that the cops can hear the killings in action seconds before they demolish the door. Except for the entrance, there appears to be no other exit other than a window which is nailed shut. Detective Fields (Luke Evans) is assigned to solve the case. Upon closer examination of the room, he realizes something: this murder is exactly like one of the stories published by Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack).
Although the concept of “The Raven,” based on the screenplay by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare, glistens with promise, its potential is mostly hindered by miscast performers and unearned fluctuations in tone that take viewers out of the experience and prevent them from completely buying into the requisite twists and turns of the mystery.
Cusack as Poe is at times a chore to watch. He excels in capturing Poe as a drunk, desperate to get another drop of alcohol from a bartender, because his affliction is given an air of light comedy. However, when the events turn deadly serious as the body count increases, Cusack does not seem conflicted enough as someone who feels indirectly responsible for the twisted killer replicating his art.
Perhaps it has something to do with the romantic angle of the picture. Poe and Emily (Alice Eve) are in love but the two cannot be together out in the open because her father (Brendan Gleeson) despises Poe. While it might have been interesting as a subplot, eventually, however, Emily becomes a pawn in the killer’s game—too predictable, very limp in that a man’s weakness is a woman.
Meanwhile, Evans as the head detective is a bore. He has two reactions: looking quiet, brows furrowed, very determined to solve the case and yelling when things turn for the worse. One may expect that Fields’ lack of sense of humor might somehow complement Poe’s lighter side. They would be wrong.
This is because the screenplay fails to provide scenes in which Poe and Fields relate to one another as passionate people of their chosen professions and, on the most basic level, as human beings. When they are in the same room, it is all about business. The essence of their relationship does not at all seem to permeate through scenes when they are not the focus. In other words, their connection feels limited only in scenes that we see.
Despite a lack of chemistry between an actor and his character in addition to the character’s lack of genuine connection with others, the film looks great. I was surprised that it actually shows us bloody corpses, severed body parts, and at times the actual murder. Its most memorable piece is perhaps the giant scythe swinging like a pendulum which moves closer and closer to a man’s body, threatening to cut him in half. The tunnels underneath the city is also visually striking. The setting is given appropriate lighting and awkward camera angles are employed to induce suspicion in us that something is bound to go wrong.
“The Raven,” directed by James McTeigue, is a prime example of a story, at least on paper, that pulses with enough creativity that it might be considered a good idea to create. But since the actors recruited are not quite fit for the role, when it inevitably hits some bad notes, the discordant elements are all the more amplified.
Safe House (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★
A stultifying life in a C.I.A. safe house in Cape Town, South Africa was not a job that Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) found especially gratifying. Having been stationed in the same spot for twelve months, he was more than vocal with his superior, Barlow (Brendan Gleeson), about a highly sought out case officer position. However, the job required an extensive field experience, something that Weston didn’t have much. When Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) was taken to Weston’s safe house which was quickly ambushed upon his arrival, Weston took it upon himself to present Frost to the proper authorities. It just might be the field experience he needed to advance his career. “Safe House,” written by David Guggenheim, was an exciting espionage action-thriller only when Frost and Weston were together. It also did a good job establishing excitement prior to the first moment they were able to occupy the same room. Perhaps it had something to do with the way the actors approached their characters. Reynolds was able to highlight Weston’s ambition and greenness by portraying a level of fear and uncertainty when the character faced life-changing decisions. Do I shoot this cop who thinks that I’m the bad guy? Do I snap this fellow agent’s neck who’s trying to kill me when he has no idea that he might be working for a traitor of this country? Despite shaky cams and quick cuts, Daniel Espinosa, the director, was smart enough to slow down the material and allow it to breathe. Even though the angle of humanity within a cutthroat job was not delved into in especially thoughtful ways, the decision separated it from nondescript action flicks where raining bullets was the one and only source of entertainment. On the other hand, Washington was magnetic as a man so involved in whatever he felt needed to be done, at times I wondered if he actually enjoyed or craved the aggressiveness natural in his profession. As an agent that had gone rogue nine years ago, selling information to terrorists in the meantime and wanted by agencies in four continents, I enjoyed that it was difficult to gauge what exactly it was he intended to accomplish. It was established that it may appear that he was doing one thing but he was actually doing another. He certainly shouldn’t be trusted. It was fun that he wasn’t meant to be trusted. Reynolds and Washington fed off each other’s energy which made an otherwise unremarkable template more than what it was.Other reasons why the picture worked were the extended car chases and its accompanying sounds. When our protagonist’s vehicle crashed into other cars, I noticed by jaw clenching as bullets showered the car and glass crunched from the impact. It was wise to minimize the number of times when the camera pulled away from the action because it gave the illusion that we were in the passenger seat, receiving one whiplash after another. A special mention to Joel Kinnaman as Keller, a safe house keeper toward the end of the film. I was so fascinated with the way he moved and carried his character. When he blinked, I thought, “What is he thinking?” Kinnaman may be someone to watch out for. “Safe House” was padded by a bland bureaucratic talk, a romance heavy on the eyelids, and a gauzy main villain. If anything, the film was lucky to have charming presences which elevated its more pedestrian corners.
Guard, The (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
When a man was found dead in an apartment, Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson), along with McBride (Rory Keenan), a cop from Dublin on his first day of work in the small town, was called in to investigate. Boyle surmised that the murder involved the occult due to the mysterious number painted onto the wall next to the body and a pot placed between the man’s groin. Meanwhile, an FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) was brought in from the United States to stop crooks (Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong, David Wilmot) from intercepting five hundred million dollars worth of cocaine. Inevitably, the two crimes were related so Boycle and Everett were forced to work with each other despite a very offensive and awkward first impression. Written and directed by John Michael McDonah, “The Guard” was uproariously funny mainly because of Boyle’s foul mouth. He was unable to keep his thoughts in his brain as long as he felt he had something to say. His racist remarks were very offensive, like publicly saying that he thought criminals only consisted of black people, but since he lived his entire life in a relatively isolated town in Ireland, he wasn’t even aware of his indiscretions. Yet his ignorance was no excuse. From the way the comedy was executed, we laughed at him because he didn’t know any better, not because his claims necessarily had merit. On the other hand, Everett was the humorless straight man who just wanted to get the job done. He was professional, charming, and patient but such qualities were tested whenever Boyle was around. Imagine being forced to work with someone you don’t like, but you need that person to achieve the same goal. As the Irishman and the American engaged in verbal sparring over drinks, the criminals almost did all the work so that they would eventually get caught. Because of this, the picture adopted an unconventional pace. We knew that the criminals’ and cops’ paths would eventually cross. Interestingly, it was actually the criminals who found Boyle first instead of the other way around. What I liked was the fact that the crooks weren’t just bad. They were bad and very funny. The small surprises made a lasting impact without coming off as forced. The film was also effective when the unlikely duo was apart. While Boyle’s interactions with the little boy (Michael Og Lane) with a pink bike and dog was rather whimsical, the scenes with his dying mother (Fionnula Flanagan), who lived in a care home, were funny and at times heartbreaking. The time they spent together showed us where Boyle got his fiery personality from and his overall capacity to do good. Just because he had a proclivity for spitting out racial slurs, it didn’t mean that he was incapable of being good person and a good son. What “The Guard” needed to be truly incendiary were more scenes of uncomfortable tension. When one of the cops accidentally encountered the bad guys, the camera remained a few feet away. The lens should have been up close to the cop’s face because he knew as well as we did that there was no possibility that the crooks would let him walk away alive. They had half a billion dollars to lose. Many men kill for much less.
Mission: Impossible II (2000)
★ / ★★★★
Dr. Nekhorvich (Rade Serbedzija) was on the plane to the United States after he discovered a virus named Chimera, fatal to its host within twenty hours of contact. However, the only way to transport the virus safely was to inject it inside a living person. The plane never made it to its destination. Meanwhile, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) was assigned by his superior (Anthony Hopkins) to recruit Nyah (Thandie Newton), a professional thief, so that she could reconnect with Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), former beau and rising international terrorist. Incidentally, Ambrose used to double for Hunt during missions back when he was still an IMF agent. He’d gone rogue and he planned to profit from the virus by forcing a pharmaceutical company CEO (Brendan Gleeson) to surrender his company. Based on the screenplay by Robert Towne and directed by John Woo, “Mission: Impossible II” was everything Brian De Palma’s “Mission: Impossible” was not: gone were the atmospheric paranoia that kept the characters from fully trusting each other, the heart-pounding scenes in which silence was successfully executed to attain the highest levels of suspense, and the thrilling possibility that anyone could drop dead at any time. Instead, we were subjected to more hand-to-hand combat, slow motions that featured Cruise’ well-shampooed and well-conditioned hair, and forceful, supposedly meaningful, glances between Hunt and Nyah, both of whom shared no chemistry. I wouldn’t have a problem with the direction the filmmakers wanted to take if more thought was put into it. The elements of great drama, a bridge to a solid action movie with a heart, were certainly there. Nyah was trapped between two men, obviously attracted to her, who used to work for the same team. But how were Ethan, not as Hunt the IMF agent, and Sean, not as Ambrose the criminal, different and similar to each other? The closest we got to getting to know them was toward the end when they tried to kill each other from their motorcycles. Ambrose knew how Ethan worked and processed information given that they went through the same training. There should have been more scenes when Ambrose took advantage of the fact that he knew who he was up against. Ethan, on the other hand, didn’t know much about Ambrose. He saw the man as just his double. It would make sense if he took a while to get accustomed to his adversary. Furthermore, there was a duality involving Greek mythology: Chimera, a monster with a head of a lion and a tail of a serpent’s head, and Bellerophon, a hero most famous for slaying Chimera. Incidentally, Chimera was the name of the virus and Bellerophon was the name of the cure. But how was Chimera and Bellerophon related to Ambrose and Hunt, respectively? The film missed another opportunity to further explore its characters independent of blazing guns and egregious slow motion montages. What bothered me most was the script seemed desperate to turn Ethan Hunt into James Bond. Doing something different for a sequel does not mean it’s acceptable to be disloyal to the original character. It means giving us something unexpected but still hanging onto his core, the reason why we rooted for him in the first place.
Secret of Kells, The (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Young Brendan (voiced by Evan McGuire) had been living within the fortified walls of a medieval outpost all his life in which his uncle Abbot Cellach (Brendan Gleeson) was the no-nonsense leader. Brother Aidan (Mick Lally), with a mysterious but incomplete book in hand, successfully escaped from the Vikings’ invasion of his home island and seeked refuge in the outpost. In order to complete the book, he gave Brendan a mission to collect berry-like fruits in which emerald-colored ink could be extracted. The problem was such berries could only be found outside of the walls and in the dangerous forest where dark creatures lived. “The Secret of Kells” had to really earn my attention and keep my interest. After watching so many computer-generated animation, I’m willing to admit that watching an old-fashioned style of animation can be a bit of a struggle. Another factor in the struggle was the fact that I was not familiar with the Celtic culture and traditions so I was initially confused about what was happening and why certain artifacts were important to the characters. However, thirty minutes into the film, I found myself completely engrossed because it told its story in a refreshing way. The images were deceptively simple. Its lack of depth and dimension actually added to the magic because there were times when it created illusions. But there were times when the images were almost abstract, it was hard what to make of them. I did not find it to be a negative quality because my eyes were always busy. I would gloss over an image, fixate on something else for a second, then it occured to me that something I just saw did not make particular sense, and I found myself needing to look back on the initial image. It may sound exhausting but it was actually a fun experience. The strange images aided by various types of animation highlighted the picture’s folk stories and sense of wonder. The story and the dialogue were relatively simple so kids would be able to follow the storytelling with ease. Time was constantly against the characters because they had to finish the book before the Vikings’ invasion. Without the book, knowledge would be lost and their traditions would not be passed to future generations. There was also enough danger and scary imagery, such as when Brendan was attacked by wolves and had to obtain an eye from a mythical serpent, to keep the adults curious and entertained. Directed by Tomm Moore and Nota Twomey, “The Secrets of Kells” had a rich and colorful imagination with an inspired execution. For a children’s movie, I find it strange that I couldn’t help but think about the images and the meaning the behind the images for hours afterward.
Village, The (2004)
★★ / ★★★★
The first time I saw M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village” back in 2005, I didn’t like it because I thought it was too strange for its own good and the pacing was too slow. I’m happy to have given it more than one chance because I thought it got better upon multiple viewings. The story involved a small village terrorized by creatures in the woods. For some odd reason, skinned animals started appearing in greater numbers but the leaders of the village (William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson) had no idea what they have done to anger the creatures. As the younger residents (Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, Judy Greer, Michael Pitt) lived a life of relative bliss thanks to the secrets they have not yet discovered, chaos started destroy the village from within until a blind girl, played by Howard, went on an important quest through the feared woods. I thought the second half of the movie was stronger than the first half. While the first half had the bulk of the story, I constantly waited for small rewards that would keep me glued to the screen until its climax. Unfortunately, those small rewards did not deliver so I felt like the story could have gone in any direction. I questioned whether it wanted to say something about the specific group of people in relation to the environment they built for themselves or if it wanted to be a psychological-supernatural thriller. The lack of focus lost me. Fortunately, the second half was when everything started to come together. I’ll try not to give anything away but I enjoyed the way Shyamalan incorporated the reality and the supernatural. Specifically, when Howard went into the woods and encountered something she did not at all expect. There were twists on top of another and it made me think without feeling any sort of frustration which I think is difficult to accomplish. The scenes in the woods were beautifully shot but at the same time the beauty was sometimes masked in an ominous feeling of dread and anticipation. I can understand why a lot of people would consider “The Village” one of Shyamalan’s worst projects especially if they’ve only seen the movie once. The pacing was indeed quite slow and there were a plethora of questions with open-ended answers concerning the characters’ histories and the multilayer mystery surrounding the village. However, the second half piqued my interest (even though I’ve seen it before) and I thought it was very well done without overdoing the twists. At its best, “The Village” is imaginative and unafraid to take risks; at its worst, “The Village” is a bit insular and may drown in its own vanity.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Before returning to Hogwarts for his fourth year, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) was haunted by nightmares involving Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes) hiding and waiting for the perfect opportunity to finally gain his strength. Meanwhile, Hogwarts hosted the Triwizard Tournament in which a champion was chosen from from each wizarding school: Fleur Delacour (Clémence Poésy) from Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski) from Durmstrang Institute, and Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But this year was a unique case because the Goblet of Fire had also chosen Harry, only a fourth year, to participate. I find “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” directed by Mike Newell, one of the most fast-paced installments in the series. I highly enjoy it every time I watch it because I love the way competitions unfold. I was happy that the filmmakers took a gamble and actually showed the competition as very dangerous and intimidating. Up until this film, we did not get to see much blood and dark magic. There was a breath of fresh air in the story because we finally had a chance to see negative tension between Harry and Ron (Rupert Grint), as well as Ron and Hermione (Emma Watson). Both involved jealousy–the former jealousy involving celebrity (or lack thereof) and the latter jealousy involving a budding romantic relationship. On the other hand, Cho Chang (Katie Leung) caught the attention of our protagonist. Much of the humor came from the awkward interactions between the teenagers, the things that went wrong when hormones took charge, and sarcastic remarks. Since the film painted the teenagers as always on edge, there was real tension as they struggled to find their identities. Furthermore, the addition of students from other wizarding schools made the magical universe that much bigger and the issue of camaraderie despite language and cultural barriers was a touching common theme. Given that “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” is my second favorite book of the series, I had very high expectations from the film. I am aware that a lot of hardcore fans did not enjoy it as much as I did because it left out important details (or got it wrong altogether) and that the screenwriters failed to remain loyal to the book in terms of character development. While I do agree to some extent, if I had not read the book, I still would have enjoyed the movie because the adventures were so thrilling. There were some truly scary moments (the third task in the tournament), very curious mystery (the addition of the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody played with great fun by Brendan Gleeson), and there were a plethora of laugh-out-loud comedy (pick any scene that had to do with the Yule Ball). My only minute criticism was that the male actors should have gotten much-needed haircuts.
Green Zone (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
U.S. Army officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) decided to go rogue when his team constantly stumbled upon inaccurate intelligence provided a U.S. Intelligence Agent (Greg Kinnear). Miller eventually found an ally (Brendan Gleeson) within the U.S. government and both aimed to expose the false reasons why the United States went to war with Iraq. I’ve read a lot of reviews comparing this movie, inspired by the book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone” by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, to the actual war in Iraq. I chose not to see it from that perspective because at the end of the day the material was fictional. Instead, I saw it as an action picture with an emphasis on Miller’s struggle on three fronts: his loyalty to his country and the American people, his struggle to trust the powers that lead (or controlled) the U.S. government, and the role of the media (specifically Amy Ryan as a New York Times foreign correspondent) in and out of Iraq. As an action movie, I thought it worked. It was suspenseful because I cared about Miller’s dangerous mission to expose the big lie that led the United States to go to war. Paul Greengrass’ signature shaky camera that defined the second and third “Bourne” films worked especially in increasingly enclosed spaces as Miller’s character chased after targets in residential areas. I felt the danger and uncertainty that he and his men felt so my eyes were glued to the screen. I was also impressed with the way Greengrass’ shots shifted between indoors and outdoors. With each shift, the tone changed but it wasn’t jarring or distracting because the intensity regarding what was happening was consistent. But there were some scenes that fell completely flat. The ones that stood out to me in a negative way were the “Don’t be naive” admonitions accompanied by intense eye contact between Damon and Gleeson. I couldn’t help but laugh because it was so heavy-handed and obvious about the messages it wanted to convey to its audiences. I wanted the movie to let the images and the characters’ decisions to speak for themselves and tone down the obvious propaganda as much as possible. Lastly, I would have liked to see Ryan’s character to have done more instead of just standing around begging for a story. Nevertheless, “Green Zone” ultimately worked as a political (but fictional) action picture because of well-shot and involving action sequences. Others may have the usual complaints of, “The camera was so shaky and I got dizzy” but I suppose it’s an acquired taste. I think Greengrass chose that style because he wanted to us to feel like we were right there with the characters.
Black Irish (2007)
★★ / ★★★★
Here’s another indie film that suffers from the Everyone Must be Depressed Syndrome. After all, it’s about an extremely dysfunctional family whose members are emotionally distant from one another. Michael Angarano plays the youngest of the McKay family and is surrounded by people he wants to look up to but are often disappointed with them: a father who keeps secrets and seems to have no positive outlook on life (Brendan Gleeson), a mother who cares too much about what other people would think so she guilts her children into doing the “right” thing (Melissa Leo), a brother who everyone gave up on because he can’t control his criminal proclivities (Tom Guiry), and a pregnant sister who wants to escape her family’s suffocating environment (Emily VanCamp). Even though each of the actor is featured and sewn into the big picture in some way, I felt like it was too forced. Stories about families must be organic because they have a natural connection to one another despite their idiosyncrasies. Angarano is really coming into his own; he’s come a long way from “The Brainiacs.com” and “Will & Grace.” Like in “Snow Angels,” he’s able to add layers and complexity to his character even though the movie is barely above mediocre. As for Guiry, I’m tired of seeing him as a damaged tough guy like in “The Mudge Boy.” Whatever happened to that nice harmless kid in “The Sandlot”? Even though I think he’s extremely talented, I think he’s repeating the same characters. I knew Emily VanCamp would have no problem with the dramatic scenes. Ever since “Everwood,” she proves to me time and again that she can look sad without trying. In essence, I felt that Guiry and VanCamp are merely cruising along and that really frustrates me because I know they can perform at a higher level. Perhaps they could have done so if the writing and direction (both credits go to Brad Gann) are sharper. Since this is Gann’s directoral debut, clichés tend to pile up on one another. But the nice thing about this movie is that it offers the characters some kind of hope at the end of the tunnel. Even though that hope is somewhat bittersweet, it’s what the characters desperately needed (so did the audiences). I also liked the fact that not everything in the film is solved because it gives the picture some sort of realism. I’m not against recommending this film because it does have some memorable scenes. But I’m not going to enthusiastically recommend it either because it has the kind of story that has been featured by better films.