★★ / ★★★★
Based on a manga by Taiyo Matsumoto, “Tekkonkinkreet” was about two children aimed to protect their city from people who either wanted to change the city for the better or demolish it altogether to build an amusement park. Although the medium is animation, the story is not for children because it is very violent and the issues it tackles are geared more toward adults. While I did admire its ability to take risks, it did not completely work for me because it started out as a story grounded in reality but elements of the paranormal or fantasy somehow was added into the mix. It became really confusing, especially toward the end, not only because the movie simultaneously showed events that were actually happening in the real world, it also showed what was in the characters’ heads, and possibly scenes of the future. Perhaps the reason why I didn’t quite get it was because I needed more background information. But then again I always judge a film as a stand-alone piece of work; it should be able to hold up without having to read the source from which it was based on. Undoubtedly, there were some positive things such as the intense chase scenes and the imagination embedded in the metaphysical and surrealistic scenes. Directed by Michael Arias, I wish “Tekkonkinkreet” had less visual stimulation and instead worked more on its emotional resonance. I was interested in the two main characters’ relationship with each other and their society. It would have been a great opportunity to explore how their role as homeless kids, who had to steal from citizens and live in an abandoned car, was directly affected by cops who really cared about their well-beings (and vice-versa). What I love about animes and animated features in general is that it is limitless when it comes to giving its audiences images and emotions. However, there are those animes that simply fail to get me to care or keep my attention due to that lack of balance between the two. Unfotunately, this film is one of those animated pictures that left me bewildered in a negative way.
Dead Man Walking (1995)
★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Tim Robbins, “Dead Man Walking” tells the story of a man on death row (Sean Penn) and a nun (Susan Sarandon) who takes his request to be his spiritual advisor despite people’s attempt to dissuade her from doing so. I thought this film was particularly effective because it was able to provide multiple insights regarding the issue of capital punishment, while at the same time I was curious whether or not Penn’s character really did pull the trigger that resulted the death of the two teenagers. Not only that, we really got to know the grief of the teenagers’ parents (Raymond J. Barry, R. Lee Ermey, Celia Weston); that their rage and hatred do not come out of nowhere and that some of them might even be willing to move on. I was really touched by this film in its entirety because I felt like I was watching real people instead of actors merely playing their parts. The interactions between Penn and Sarandon–especially the close-up scenes–got me so involved to the point where I found myself beginning to truly understand the convict’s fear of death even though he is a racist, disagreeable, unfriendly man. Whenever they argued, I felt genuine tension between the two but I still could feel that Penn needed her and Sarandon cared for him. The issue of redemption was also explored. I’m not a big fan of religion but even I have to admit that it was effectively used in this film. Robbins managed to avoid telling a story that was self-righteous and manipulative, which I think was a difficult task because the picture ultimately geared us to sympathize for the convict. As a person who do not support capital punishment, I thought “Dead Man Walking” was able to both entertain and educate (and even enlighten, which is on a different level altogether). This is a strong film with so many layers to it so, naturally, I’m recommending it to anyone–even to those who do not have an opinion about the death penalty.
Set It Off (1996)
★★★ / ★★★★
This film was about four ladies (Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, Kimberly Elise) who decided to pull off several bank robberies to untangle themselves from each of their respective binds. Smith wanted to put her brother through college, Latifah wanted to customize her car, Elise needed the money to get her son out of the city’s protective custody because they suspected that she was a negligent parent, and Fox was fired from her bank teller job because she “didn’t follow procedure” when another group of criminals robbed the bank she was working in. I’m glad that this film did not fall into an all too common trap of featuring criminals who do “bad things” just because they were African-American. F. Gary Gray, the director, actually took the time to establish each of the four leads so the audiences could truly understand their motivations. I actually rooted for the leading ladies even though, indeed, they decided to rob banks and harmed people along the way. I felt the desperation of each character. I completely understood that their actions were not who they were on the inside. In fact, they really were good people who were pushed into a wall without any means of escape other than to attack the aggressor (in this case, the cops and the law). I also liked the fact that Latifah’s character being a lesbian was not a big deal. It was simply who she was and there was no need to comment on it. Still, this picture is far from perfect. The four characters have street-smarts so I expected them to get better at what they did (robbing banks) as the film went on. Instead, eventually all of them became too sloppy and risk-taking. Not one would them suggested that they slowed down or planned things more thoroughly especially when the banks that they decided to rob became increasingly more difficult to get through. Despite its shortcomings, I’m giving this movie a recommendation because it was nice to see Black actresses carry an entire film. Most pictures I’ve seen of this kind usually go to white men so “Set It Off” offers a nice change.
Public Enemies (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Based on “Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-43” by Bryan Burrough, Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” stars Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, a notorious bank robber in the 1930’s. Along with his friends, they rob banks but do not take the citizens’ money, have intense showdowns with the police, and find intense ways to escape from jail. Just when I thought Dillinger was simply a tough (yet charismatic) criminal with some immutable principles, he falls in love with Billie Frechette (the lovely Marion Cotillard) and the couple’s bond is challenged by going through myriads of trials. What I love about this film was its action scenes. They reminded me of that infamous scene in “Heat” when all the audiences could hear were silence, rushing footsteps, and guns going off. Those scenes, especially the climactic cabin scene at night, are reasons enough to see this film. Another aspect I liked about the picture was that it didn’t try too hard to be cool. With most gangster films I encounter (even though I enjoy them), at times I’m taken out of the experience. With “Public Enemies,” not for one second was I distracted because the scenes had an innate organic flow despite the film being a period piece. Lastly, I enjoyed the idea that we didn’t know much about Dillinger’s past. There’s something about him, right off the heart-pounding first scene, inclined me to think that how he reacts to certain situations is more important than how he became the way he is. However, this film definitely had its weaknesses. Now that I had more time to think about it, I felt that it was a bit too long. While I did enjoy how the FBI agents (led by Christian Bale) found ways to find their targets (sometimes through illegal means), they were a bit repetitive. I get that Mann was trying to show that there are no good guys but did we really need to see Bale getting theatened by his superiors? Right away, I knew that he was a serious man all about reaching his goals (but still maintaining some sort of ethics) because if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have been assigned to catch Dillinger. If the film had been about two hours long, it would have been leaner and some weaker extraneous scenes could’ve been cut out. Nevertheless, “Public Enemies” will reward the audiences who are willing to think about the subtleties of each character. If not, then the very realistic action scenes should be more than sufficient.
Desperate Hours (1990)
★ / ★★★★
This is the kind of film that proves that a talented cast means nothing if the execution of the story is weak and uninvolving. Mickey Rourke, Anthony Hopkins, Mimi Rogers, and David Morse’s characters are one-dimensional and annoying. The only character that I was remotely interested in was played by Lindsay Crouse. She was smart and I was at ease whenever she had a plan on how to attack a certain problem. Another big problem I had with this picture is its inconsistency. In the first fifteen minutes, it was established that Rouke’s character is smart and deadly, almost assassin-like in his movement and has an uncanny ability to find another person’s weaknesses. But in the last fifteen minutes, all of those qualities were thrown out the window; he almost was as stupid as his henchmen. Since Crouse is the strongest in this, I was actually more interested on what was going on outside of the house, where the hostage wasn’t happening, than inside. It’s not supposed to work that way because the dramatic core is the family’s interactions with the criminals. Instead, nothing much happens inside the house other than threats being thrown at one another and long moments of merely standing around. If Michael Cimino, the director, paced this film better and reshot a couple of scenes, it may have had the chance to redeem itself. Instead, we get an extremely slow-moving picture that isn’t even thrilling in the least. If one is interested in a much better hostage movie, I recommend “Panic Room” starring Jodie Foster instead. At least that one has an interesting premise and hostages that one can root for all the way to the final scene.
Hallam Foe (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★
Right from the get-go, the film establishes that the protagonist (Jamie Bell) is a strange but very sad character because he doesn’t know how to cope with his mother’s death. He acts out by spying on people, breaking into people’s homes and going through their things, all the while jotting down what he has seen, felt, and done after such actions. He also happens to believe that his stepmother (Claire Forlani), his father’s former secretary, killed his mother. That first part of the film was compelling because Bell was able to make the audience feel for him even though the things he does are creepy and borderline criminal. I found it difficult to blame the protagonist because not only is he really young and not aware of the consequences of his actions, I could tell that he really did love his mother… or maybe he loved her too much to the point of utter dependence. Taking that important parent figure from his life at such a young age damaged him emotionally and psychologically so I found his flaws to be reasonable if not relatable. The second part of the picture when Bell moved to the city and met a look-alike of his mother (Sophia Myles) was a bit less compelling because there were so many distractions that slowed the plot down (the scenes during his job which was supposed to serve as an escape, his nightly adventures in the streets, et cetera) .The only thing about the second act that I found to work in all levels was his sexual attraction to his look-alike mother (and how he stalked her at first). It says a lot about his desperation and the lack of closure regarding his mother’s death. The last act when Bell returns home was jawdropping and heartbreaking at the same time. By the end of the film, I felt like the main character grew so much despite still being a bit flawed and fragile. The story doesn’t tie everything up regarding the characters’ lives but offers hope that there’s a light at the end of the interminable tunnel of bleakness and confusion. This film provides an interesting character study and I only recommend it to those that are interested in how a character evolves over time.