Tag: chris columbus

Gremlins


Gremlins (1984)
★ / ★★★★

The horror-comedy “Gremlins,” written by Joe Dante and directed by Chris Columbus, is an excellent example of a movie so reliant on special and visual effects that substantive portions of the story are ignored altogether. It is a shame because it starts off with a curious premise: a teenager (Billy played by Zach Galligan) is given a mogwai by his inventor father (Hoyt Axton) as an early Christmas present. But, according to the Chinese shop owner where the cute, furry creature came from, three rules must be followed: do not expose it to bright light (especially sunlight), do not expose it to water, and do not feed it after midnight. Naturally, the rules must be broken so we see what happens next. Still, must it be so boring?

The movie is rated PG and so it is expected that children be exposed to this drivel and find it entertaining somehow. I find it insulting that the material belittles how smart children can be. I think intelligent kids would find it repetitive and preposterous because the filmmakers fail to offer a consistent sense of wonder. There is no central idea or concept that ties the movie together.

Sure, the mogwai is adorable with its big eyes, floppy ears, and how it is able to utter short phrases but… what else? After about thirty minutes of capturing our attention, the screenplay proves it has nothing of value to show or say. There are bits and pieces of characters making remarks regarding foreign items, tools, or appliances being inferior compared to American. What else is foreign? The mogwai. But this angle—which could have been interesting—lacks supporting details.

Speaking of lacking, there is a sweet, potential romantic connection between Billy and Kate (Phoebe Cates). Galligan and Cates share such solid and believable chemistry, their characters can sit together at a table and say nothing yet they would still be adorable. So, why aren’t these two allowed to speak like actual teenagers who, by golly gee, may actually want to get to know one another a little better? Notice how their scenes almost always feel rushed. As it were a chore to have two humans share a whiff of intimate dialogue. Maybe it is easier to show puppets causing trouble (and murder) around town. Its priorities disgusted me.

It isn’t like the mogwai in its final form looks that impressive. It looks cheap—the angry eyes, green skin, sharp teeth—and it moves like a robot. We’re supposed to laugh, I guess, that the mogwai (which have multiplied at an alarming rate), have watched television and so they try to emulate what they’ve seen like hanging out in bars, smoking, getting drunk, gambling, and the like. And when it goes for the horror (read: lame jump scares), there is no sense of craft or suspense. It is all about delivering something ostentatious like someone getting stabbed, or bitten, or being thrown out of a window. These violent scenes are not even remotely darkly comic because to do so requires cleverness. And the movie is supposed to entertain children?

As I sunk into my chair racking my brain as to how “Gremlins” became a “classic,” I realized how nostalgia is a hell of a drug. This movie is awful because it is simply a parade of midget scaly monsters causing chaos in a small town—comparable to a generic episode of “Goosebumps” which is actually more merciful because each episode is only about twenty minutes. This movie is nearly two hours. (It feels longer.) There is no story worth telling here, just filmmakers who needed to make money. It is clear their hearts weren’t in it. And if the movie could be destroyed by sunlight, I say expose every copy because it is junk and deserves to be forgotten.

Pixels


Pixels (2015)
★ / ★★★★

Congratulations to the screenwriters, Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling, for taking a really cool premise and diluting it down to tripe so worthless, so unimaginative, and so unfunny, the film is actually insulting to sit through. For most of the picture’s duration, I sat in my chair with an increasing feeling of embarrassment and anger for everyone involved—but especially for the audience going into this with any sort of positive expectation.

In 1982, young Brenner (Anthony Ippolito) and his friends competed in the Arcade World Championships. During the competition, it was announced NASA planned to send a time capsule to outer space and a videocassette from the competition would be included. More than thirty years later, extraterrestrials that received the package send weapons inspired by the 1980s arcade games to attack a U.S. military base in Guam under the false belief that the videocassette contains a declaration of war. It is now up to adult Brenner (Adam Sandler) and his pals (Kevin James, Josh Gad) to face the invaders’ challenges and save the planet from extraterrestrial domination.

The special and visual effects look cheap and ugly. The video game characters shown are always pixellated—with one most unnecessary exception toward the end—and so the action sequences are never convincing, always cartoonish. No tension is generated from the colorful pixels and so the elaborate set pieces end up looking like a bag full of garbage being blown up. Take note of the final battle in the U.S. capital. The visuals look like a made-for-TV movie with a severely limited budget. If I were to scrape the bottom of the barrel for a positive comment, the film is only very mildly entertaining because we cannot help but try to recognize the ‘80s references.

There is no character worth rooting for because they are all caricatures. I am sick of Sandler playing a slob of a man-child always winning the heart of a successful, beautiful woman (Michelle Monaghan). It appears as though he puts no effort while he is in front of the camera. He just shows up brain-dead because the check is already in the bank. Sandler and Monaghan share no chemistry or even an inkling of intrigue. To be blunt, every time the two are only a few inches apart, especially when they go for a kiss, my gut groaned in disgust.

The writers do not bother writing jokes that are even remotely funny. I probably would have been slightly entertained with some well-made and well-placed puns. But no, what we get is Gad doing his usual shrieking routine as if he were a banshee from hell. My ears felt assaulted. I felt my brain cells dying and going deaf by the second. That’s quite a feat. No one deserves such a punishment.

“Pixels,” shockingly directed by Chris Columbus, is a depressingly bad movie. I felt crippled by its inanities disguised as humor. At one point, I began to consider that perhaps it is confused with regards to its target audience. Further, the film lacks a range of laughs, interesting characters, an arc, and a creative script. Although its premise sounds like an entryway to some mindless but bona fide fun, ultimately it fails to deliver from its great potential.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York


Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
★★★ / ★★★★

A year after the McCallisters accidentally left Kevin alone at home during Christmas, the family decided to go to Miami for vacation in hopes of getting some sun. Once again, the parents (Catherine O’Hara and John Heard) overslept the night before so the family had to rush to the airport in order to catch a plane. But they didn’t leave Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) at home this time around. They actually lost him at the airport because Kevin followed a man with the same coat as his father which resulted to our little protagonist boarding a plane to New York City. The sequel to the highly successful “Home Alone” proudly followed the same formula as its predecessor which was not necessarily a bad thing. While it was slightly weaker than the original because it did not feel as fresh, this installment was still entertaining because Culkin was still endearing as young Kevin and he had a knack for solid comedic timing mixed with being cute as a button. The fantasy of being in the Big Apple, staying in a fancy hotel, and spending as much money as possible was something that we can all to relate to. I have to admit I did salivate when I saw the obnoxious amount of candy and ice cream that surrounded Kevin in his hotel room. The two idiotic burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) from the first movie escaped from prison (now calling themselves “Sticky Bandits”) and planned to rob a toy store in which all of its profits were supposed to go to a children’s hospital. Kevin heard about their evil plan so he planned to punish the two in a relatives’ house currently being renovated before handing them over to the cops. The confrontation scenes were much longer and much more violent. I especially enjoyed the scene with the seemingly endless number of bricks being thrown at the villains. It was very violent but no one lost consciousness or died (there wasn’t even a drop of blood). It felt like watching an episode of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner–the slapstick came hard and fast but every chuckle and laugh was earned. I was surprised that a giant hammer or an avalanche did not make an appearance. “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” written by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus, embraced its cuddly simplicity, but both children and adults would most likely find it very entertaining. Everything felt bigger in scope with excellent supporting actors like Tim Curry as the suspicious hotel clerk and Rob Schneider as the bellboy who just wanted a generous tip but couldn’t get any. It is unfortunate that most sequels lose the energy and charm that made the original material so fantastic. Luckily, It wasn’t the case here.

Home Alone


Home Alone (1990)
★★★ / ★★★★

The McCallister household was frantic a few days before Christmas because the entire family and a few relatives were about to head to France for vacation. Kevin (Macaulay Culkin), one of the youngest of the kids, felt neglected because his siblings and cousins wouldn’t take the time to help him pack his luggage. Not even his parents could take a minute of their time to aid the plucky youngster. So, during dinner, Kevin acted out and was sent to sleep in the attic as punishment. The next day, everyone slept in and had forgotten they had a flight. As a result of their hustle and bustle, they boarded the plane to Europe completely unaware that Kevin wasn’t with them. “Home Alone,” written by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus, was a huge success commercially because it played upon one of a kid’s and a parent’s biggest fear (being alone at home while burglars tried to force themselves in and leaving behind a child, respectively). One of the many smart elements about the film was the fact that the two criminals (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) were kept outside of the house for the majority of the picture. Kevin was forced to create many creative and funny diversions to make the robbers believe that the house had people in it. Much to Kevin’s advantage, the two criminals were complete idiots. (Their modus operandi was leaving the water running in the sink after they’ve looted the place.) What made the film much better than a typical child-in-trouble story was Culkin’s energetic and hilarious performance. He was as cute as a marshmallow but he was precocious so he was able to pull off lines that adults might say. His facial expressions–may it be surprise, joy, or teary-eyed sadness were simply priceless. Surprisingly, I found the slapstick comedy thoroughly entertaining. It wasn’t done just because it was convenient. The slapstick was a result of Kevin using household items (and his toys) as a defense against men who wanted to hurt him. When someone slipped on the ice or when someone was hit on the head with an iron, I couldn’t help but wince as if I was the one in pain. But the whole experience was enjoyable because we didn’t want the villains to get their hands on our tiny but brave protagonist. What did not work for me as much was the creepy-looking neighbor (Roberts Blossom) who turned out to have a heart. The scene dedicated to exploring the man’s backstory (a typical one at that) slowed the story’s momentum. Nevertheless, “Home Alone” is a very charming film. More that twenty years have passed since its release, but it still holds up as one of the favorite family movies often played around Christmas. I cannot image anyone not being entertained by its sharp wit, heart, and manic energy.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief


Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) thought that he was nobody special but was, in fact, the son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd). After Hades (Steve Coogan) kidnapped Percy’s mother (Catherine Keener) because he believed that the boy had stolen Zeus’ lightning, Percy, his best friend (Brandon T. Jackson) and Athena’s daughter (Alexandra Daddario) went on a quest to find a way to go to the underworld, rescue Percy’s mom, and save the world. Based on a series of novels by Rick Riordan, the film impressed me with its special and visual effects but the big picture left me wanting more. It’s strange because for a two-hour undoubtedly thrilling action-adventure, it felt somewhat like an empty experience because it failed to really explore its characters except for exposing their most obvious quirks and dominant personalities. I like Logan Lerman as an actor but there were times when I spotted weaknesses in his acting. Some of the lines he delivered fell completely flat and I caught myself either rolling my eyes or chuckling because I just did not believe the words that were coming out of his mouth. There was a disconnect between him and the character and therefore his character and the audiences. This was particularly glaring during the most emotional scenes when he was supposed to summon sadness or rage. Perhaps if he was given more takes, he could have nailed the lines. However, as far as children’s adventures, I hardly think the movie was a failure. I enjoyed many scenes such as the duel with a minotaur, a nice surprise on who played Medusa (and I think she did a wonderful job), and that brilliant scene in Las Vegas in the Lotus Casino (it was nice that it illuminated why it was called as such). It was fun to watch, despite the characters making unnecessarily stupid decisions, lacking internal dialogue and angst, because it was very energetic and creative when required. If a sequel is in store for “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” directed by Chris Columbus, I’ll be interested in watching it. People have compared this film to “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and its sequel so I’m curious to see if it can grow as a strong franchise. In order for it to achieve “Harry Potter”-level, it is going to need more focus on the story and characters, much stronger acting especially from the lead, and more magic via playing with our expectations and emotions.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
★★★ / ★★★★

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) had not received any letters from his best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) all summer and it was beginning to get to him until a house-elf showed up at the Dursleys to warn Harry not to return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and stir a bit of trouble. In this installment, bad luck seemed to infect like the plague. Platform Nine and Three Quarters had been disabled so Ron and Harry failed to catch the train to Hogwarts, they were almost killed by the Whomping Willow, and, most importantly, the students saw Harry as the main suspect for the recent dark happenings involving blood being written on walls and students ending up petrified like statues. What hindered this film from being great was the heavy first half that had little to do with the main mystery and the case of trying too hard to impress. It only picked up toward the middle when Harry finally stumbled over a diary that belonged to Tom Riddle (Christian Coulson), a student in Hogwarts 50 years ago. It was easy to notice that the first half tried to tell jokes but most were hit-and-miss (with the exception of Gilderoy Lockhart, played to perfection by Kenneth Branagh, one of the most laughably incompetent professors Hogwarts had the unfortunate luck to hire). Another element that did not work were some of the techniques typically employed in horror pictures. For instance, when Harry would hear voices that claimed to crave for blood, the camera would move from afar and rush toward the classic terrified facial expression. Such horror camera movements and angles were frustrating because they took away some of the magic and humor that the first half desperately needed. I felt as though the filmmakers forced the material to be darker than it should have been instead of letting the storylines fall naturally into place. However, the scenes were bearable sit through because the special and visual effects were much more impressive, particularly when Ron, Harry, and Hermione transformed after drinking the disgusting Polyjuice Potion. And who could forget their visit to Aragog, the giant spider? What I found most disappointing and frustrating was the camera cutting to certain individuals’ facial expressions when the characters would speak of the identity of the person committing the crimes. Perhaps it was because I read J.K. Rowling’s books, but I believe that if I hadn’t, it would have been entirely predictable. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” directed by Chris Columbus, was an awkward transition toward more impressive storylines and more confident direction. However, it was a necessary installment because of the importance of certain artifacts directly related to Voldemort’s endgame and some character development involving why Harry ultimately ended up in Gryffindor House instead of Slytherin.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris) and Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) dropped off an orphaned baby boy with a lightning bolt scar on his forehead on Privet Drive. Ten years later, we learned that Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), unaware that he was a legendary figure in the magical community, was treated like a help by his aunt and her family. On his eleventh birthday, thanks to a giant named Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), Harry found out that he was a wizard and was invited to attend the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The “Harry Potter” series started off strong because it immediately and consistently captured the magic necessary to keep the audiences involved. Considering that this was the first entry in the series, the pace was incredibly fast as we came to meet important characters such as the brainy Hermione (Emma Watson) and friendly Ron (Rupert Grint). It also had to establish certain crucial storylines in which to be explored later such as Snape’s (Alan Rickman) true allegiance, the aunt’s (Fiona Shaw) relationship with Harry’s mother, and, of course, the rise of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (Richard Bremmer). This installment is one of the most enjoyable to watch because it gave us a general tour of the students’ classes. (Am I the only one who thinks Potions is like Chemistry?) In each class, something very memorable happened such as a funny joke or a spell gone awry. Although it wasn’t as dark as the later films, I liked that innocence was highlighted because, when I was a freshman in high school and the university, everything felt new and exciting. I was eager to learn and prove that I was worthy. Harry and his friends enveloped those qualities, especially by Hermione who was considered as a know-it-all. One of my favorite lines was when she stated the fact that being expelled from Hogwarts was worse than being killed. On the other hand, Ron desperately wanted to belong. In terms of performances, there were times when I thought the child actors were still uncomfortable in their roles. They tried their best and were able to deliver most of the time but their inexperience could not be overlooked at times especially when they had to interact with veteran actors like Smith and Harris. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” based on J.K. Rowling’s novel and directed by Chris Columbus, was an instant classic because it successfully established a world we would revist for years to come. John Williams’ score was simply magnificent. As a fan of the books, I was impressed with the amount of information it covered. I wished that the later film adaptations were as complete. It would have been an absolute joy if the movies were three or four hours long because there were other interesting tertiary characters (Oliver Wood played by Sean Biggerstaff, for example) and side quests.

I Love You, Beth Cooper


I Love You, Beth Cooper (2009)
★ / ★★★★

I had a feeling that “I Love You, Beth Cooper,” directed by Chris Columbus, tried to summon those great teen ’80s flicks but instead of being nostalgic, the film fell flat on its face because it ultimately lacked intelligence in its script and its characters. During his speech, the high school valedictorian (Paul Rust), predictably an awkward nerd, decided to declare to the whole school that he loved Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere), predictably one of the cheerleaders, from the moment he laid eyes on her through the years when he sad behind her in class (creepy). Along with that declaration, he put the spotlight under the mean girls and mindless jocks and claimed that they were losers and they would remain losers after high school. Naturally, our protagonist and Beth Cooper ended up talking to each other after graduation, got into a number of misadventures and learned that first impressions weren’t always accurate. Just typing all of that made me bored because I’ve seen it all before. There was nothing original about this movie that I can specifically point to and say that I was impressed with. In fact, I was just annoyed with it especially when the lead character’s best friend who happened to be a film geek would make the most random movie references. That character made people like me look bad; just because we’re film buffs (or getting there), it doesn’t mean that we’re going to reference to every single movie that existed every other second, especially to people we just met. It’s just ridiculous and not funny. I think that was this movie’s problem: it tried too hard to impress when it shouldn’t have because the flaws became that much more glaring. Everything was loud and obnoxious especially the jocks who, I must say, had antisocial personalities and needed serious psychological help. Each character was one-dimensional and it was no fun watching the movie because it lacked depth. Teen movies like “Superbad” or “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” have proven that substance and comedy don’t have to be mutually exclusive. With movies like “I Love You, Beth Cooper,” obviously I expect certain things like plotlines involving losing one’s virginity, sex jokes and even gay jokes. However, can’t help but love the subgenre because it does have the potential to surprise and even inspire. Unfortunately, “I Love You, Beth Cooper” was a disaster and a total waste of time.