Blue Velvet (1986)
★★★ / ★★★★
The film started off when Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) found an ear in the field during his return to hometown after his father became ill. The protagonist then took the ear to a detective (George Dickerson) and fell in love with his daughter (Laura Dern). The daughter shared some of the information she heard from her father’s office to Jeffrey and the two began spying on a mysterious singer (Isabella Rossellini) that might be involved in murder. Written and directed by David Lynch, being familiar with some of his work, I expected “Blue Velvet” to be strange, fascinating and visceral, but I did not expect to like it because I think his films sometimes feel too mysterious to the point where it’s difficult for me to connect with the reality of the happenings on screen. So I was surprised when I found myself warming up to the characters because they had clearly defined sets of moral codes despite their weird fetishisms and strange reactions to certain revelations. Lynch’s masterful use of tone (and changing it when necessary at the most perfect intervals) reflected the characters’ mindsets when they anticipated something bad about to happen and when they actually faced their biggest fear such as getting caught in the act of doing something illegal or immoral. But what I admired most about “Blue Velvet” was not its philosophical ideas or implications about what was real and what wasn’t. What I admired most was the acting from three fronts: MacLachlan’s, Rossellini’s, and Dennis Hopper’s as the villanous Frank Booth. MacLachlan had this natural child-like charm about him but I felt as though he always kept a secret because of his shifty eyes and the way he would put himself in dangerous situations for the sake of curiosity. Rossellini was as seductive as she was difficult to read. She reminded me of those femme fatales in noir pictures of the 1940s; I couldn’t take my eyes off her because she exuded an aura of sensuality and danger. As for Hopper, he was the spice of the picture. He was absolutely insane, sadistic, menacing–and I loved him for it. He was so dynamic and just when I thought I knew what he would do next, he managed to surprise. I can understand that “Blue Velvet” may be difficult to swallow because it directly tackled polarizing figures (such as Dern being the girl-next-door and Hopper being the evil figure) without giving the audiences answers that were certain. I always talk about looking for a light at the end of the tunnel for the characters when it comes to movies that are dark and uncompromising. But even the light that I experienced in the end of this picture made me feel very uncomfortable. It was hopeful on the outside but I felt like the joke was on me for wanting to buy it. It was a weird feeling but I thought it was the perfect way to end such an enigmatic experience.
★★★ / ★★★★
The plot of “Devil,” based on the story by M. Night Shyamalan, is simple: five people (Bojana Novakovic, Jenny O’Hara, Bokeem Woodbine, Geoffrey Arend, Logan Marshall-Green) are stuck in an elevator and a cop (Chris Messina) tries to save them. But here’s the first twist: one of the five is the devil and it is up to us to determine who it is. I know it’s strange to mention but I really liked the opening credits. The images were upside down which suggested that what we were about to see was not ordinary and we should expect the unexpected. The film was not particularly scary. I was more curious than scared. Since the movie is only about an hour and twenty minutes, it had no choice but to get to the meat of the happenings beginning with a suicide that supposedly signaled that the devil was coming. Since the material wasn’t too scary, I wished it was more character-driven. Instead of merely mentioning the characters’ respective backgrounds, I wanted more flashback scenes. By showing us actual images regarding where they come from, the audiences become active participants and it allows us to interpret what we see. It also allows us to judge whether the characters deserve to be in their current situation. Since the film had religious overtones (Jacob Vargas had some funny moments which were nice breaks between intense scenes), allowing us to judge implies that we are gods and it is up to us to categorize the sinners. The movie gave me the creeps. The characters trapped in the elevator were observed by the cops and the maintenance people through a camera. (The film could have commented on the nature voyeurism and the difference between experiencing something first hand versus through the lens, but it didn’t.) In one of the scenes, the devil’s face appeared on screen. That didn’t do much for me. But for one barely noticeable split second, as a person who likes to relish every frame, I saw that one of the characters had horns on his/her head. It led me to the correct answer regarding the identity of the devil. Indeed, I questioned whether I was right again and again because I had this feeling that the filmmakers were trying to trick those who saw the minute detail, but it was nice that they didn’t. I desperately wanted a rewind button to see if my mind was simply playing tricks on me because I was very into the moment. In the end, I had a plethora of questions left unanswered. For instance, I didn’t quite understand why the devil gave one of the characters a chance to come clean but the others weren’t given the same chance. If the devil, as it claimed, really wanted this particular person’s soul, why give that person a chance? But perhaps I’m just being too analytical. I am aware that “Devil,” directed by John Erick Dowdle, is the first of “The Night Chronicles” trilogy. Hopefully, the series continues not only for the purpose of possibly answering some of the questions in my head but also because I thought the film was a nice treat. It had a concept that reminded me of situational horror movies of the 1970s and 1980s. It was a refreshing break from the torture porn so-called horror movies like increasingly uninspired “Saw” franchise. What “Devil” lacked in blood made up for its curious nature.
The Cell (2000)
★★★ / ★★★★
A psychiatrist (Jennifer Lopez) decided to go into the mind of a deeply catatonic schizophrenic serial killer (Vincent D’Onofrio) who turned his victims into dolls after torturing them. The reason she did it was because she felt as though she failed trying to help a former child patient who also had schizophrenia. She was able to try to help people despite their catatonic states because of an advanced technology which allowed connection between two or more psyches. I enjoyed this film even though the happenings outside of the mind were kind of weak. It reminded me of a very light hybrid of “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Saw” franchise. I just did not believe the chemistry between Lopez and Vince Vaughn, an FBI agent assigned to the case. And I wished that the events that were happening in reality were approached as a gritty procedural drama-thriller to serve as a contrast against the hyperfantasy in the mind. However, the fantasy scenes were fascinating to me because anything could happen. There were some really chilling images in the killer’s mind such as the scene with the horse and when Lopez stumbled upon a room where the killer kept his victims and they looked like really scary dolls. As great as the images were, I admired the concept even more because it was able to hypothesize what could be inside a murderer’s mind–something that a lot of people (including myself) are curious about. However, I can admit that perhaps not a lot of people would enjoy this movie because it asked the audience to take a huge leap of faith. First, we had to accept the idea that a machine that was able to dive into someone’s mind could work despite the ethical reasons why we shouldn’t. Second, it was almost as though the movie asked the audience to sympathize with the killer–not his actions per se, but the person who was abused time and again as a child (Jake Thomas) who happened to have a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia. Written by Mark Protosevich and directed by Tarsem Singh, I’m giving “The Cell” a recommendation based on the fact that it was wildly imaginative at times and it was able to keep my interest despite the heavy material. However, I don’t recommend it to people who are looking for a more typical thriller involving the good guys looking for a bad guy who kidnapped an innocent and now the good guys had to find that innocent person before time ran out.
★★ / ★★★★
At first, I thought this film was going to be a thriller because of the scene when Keith (Jesse McCartney) told someone his real intentions for befriending one of the most well-rounded and mature girls in school named Natalie (Elisabeth Harnois). Natalie seems to have everything going for her: great grades, intellectually curious, gregarious, athletic, and on the verge of getting into an Ivy League school. But then she meets Keith: a smart guy who is a bit rough around the edges who is unlike anyone in school. He’s actually interesting because he has substance but he does not boast his intellect on everyone’s faces. Natalie does not get along with Keith in the beginning; that is, up until she starts falling for him. I liked the powerplay between the two, which pervaded half of the picture. However, somewhere during the half-way point, it started falling apart because it spent too much of its time trying to conceal Keith’s secret. The mature Natalie became an immature, emo Natalie who actively risked her life and others’ just because she felt overwhelmed by everything going on around her, such as problems with her boyfriend, declining grades, and losing a potential scholarship. Keith’s secret was strangely fascinating to me. I had several theories ranging from him being a serial killer to an early CIA agent recruit. So when I ultimately found out his secret, I could not help but feel a bit underwhelmed because of the expectations that came with my (reasonable, at least in my mind) hypotheses. The second part of the film was chaotic to say the least. For about forty-five minutes or so, I felt like I was watching a bad teenage play and everyone happens to overact to every situation. It did not feel real and I felt repulsed by what was happening on screen. And the “lesson” of the film did not work for me on any level. Basically, the film justified (or tried to justify) Natalie throwing away everything she worked so hard for. That is not a good message at all to teenagers, especially when they should be encouraged to be the best they can be. Directed by Todd Kessler, “Keith” is pretty unoriginal but Jesse McCartney fans might be happy to see him show his acting abilities.
Whisper of the Heart (1995)
★★★ / ★★★★
Written by Hayao Miyazaki and directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, this animated film showcases a charming tale of a girl named Shizuku (Youko Honna) and her passion for writing. I liked the fact that as the picture went on, we got to see how the lead character evolved from a girl who spent most of her time reading books (and not studying for her high school entrance exams) to a girl who wanted to do something with her talents so decided to pursue writing a book. Of course, side stories were expected such as her relationship with her best friend, the boy from the same grade who likes her, and the mysterious guy who checks out the same books as her named Seiji Amasawa (Kazuo Takahashi). I also enjoyed watching another layer to the story by showing us the dynamics in her home–an overbearing sister, a literary father, and a mother who is going to school–because it explains why Shizuku is such a self-starter, naturally curious regarding her surroundings, and has a natural taste for adventure. Since it was written by Miyazaki, I have to admit that I thought there was going to be more fantastic elements to the story. There were some of that, such as the strange coincidences and when the audiences had a chance to see what the lead character was imagining. But I was glad that this was grounded in reality and it really showed how it was like to make that transition from being a child to being an adolescent. Questions such as what she wanted to do in her life began popping up in her head when she met Seiji, who knows exactly wanted to do with his life. I admired her persistence in turning her insecurities into achievements. There were definitely times when I was inspired. My one problem with it, however, was it did, in fact, run a little too long. Perhaps if twenty minutes were cut off, it would have been much more focused and powerful. Regardless, I am giving this a recommendation because it made me think about where I am in life. It was sweet but not sugary; though it had its sad moments, it was never melodramatic.
The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
★★★ / ★★★★
Considered as one of the most important Spanish films, “The Spirit of the Beehive,” written and directed by Victor Erice, tells the story of a little girl named Ana (Ana Torrent) who, after watching the 1931 version of “Frankenstein” and being told by her sister named Isabel (Isabel Tellería) that his spirit exists, goes off to find a real-life monster. I really admired this film because the use of words was minimal yet it was more than able to convey what the characters were thinking and feeling. It truly captured how childhood was the peak of curiosity and how our perception at that point in our lives may be a bit skewed from reality. The way Ana and Isabel tell stories, play games and tricks on each other reminded me and my brother many years ago. I also liked the broken relationship between a husband (Fernando Fernán Gómez) and a wife (Teresa Gimpera). Little do they know that no matter how much they try to interact with their daughters separately (or not interact), the children feel that there’s something wrong even though they do not yet know how to tackle such feelings. The awkward scene at the table when the whole family was eating together was somewhat elusive because I noticed that there was not a frame in the film that each of the family member was in. I think that divide between the two parental figures was another reason why Ana decided to plunge into her own imagination as an escape. The scenes in their big mansion of a home were painful for me to watch because there was a very noticable lack of stimulation such as books and toys for the two children. At least for me, they looked more alive when they were watching a movie in the town, while they were at school, and when they were roaming around outside. This is a very strong motion picture that should be seen by movie-lovers everywhere. However, one should be warned that it requires a lot of patience because it may get a bit slow at times due to the lack of happenings in the small village that they live in. Nonetheless, it’s a rewarding experience because it works on several angles, cinematically and psychologically.
Nancy Drew (2007)
★★ / ★★★★
I knew this was targeted toward children under ten years old but I decided to watch it anyway because I was in the mood for something light at the time. Still, despite my pretty low expectations, I thought the revival of “Nancy Drew,” directed by Andrew Fleming, was a bit of a letdown. Emma Roberts stars as the lead character who moved to Hollywood with her father (Tate Donovan) in a creepy house where a murdered famous actress used to live. Even though Nancy was naturally very curious and liked to solve crimes, she hesitated to do anything that related to the mystery because she promised her dad that she would try to be a normal teenager. At school, we saw her try to get along with her peers but they thought she was way too weird and dressed in an old-fashioned way. With the help of one of the mean girls’ brother (Josh Flitter) and crush (Max Thieriot), she finally decided to get to the bottom of the murder. Aside from being too sugary, I had big problems with its focus. I felt like it was too all over the place. I wished that the filmmakers had stuck to one thing (preferably the mystery) instead of trying to inject side stories about trying to fit in or being in a cute romance where neither Nancy or Ned did anything about it. (Granted, they were young.) The only part of the film I truly enjoyed was the last fifteen minutes or so where I truly felt that Nancy was in danger because the person/persons responsible for the murder had her surrounded no matter where she decided to run. Nevertheless, I do have to say that Emma Roberts has the potential to be a star. With the right movie and the right role, I think she will skyrocket to stardom. But in here, I felt like it was too much to ask for her to carry the movie especially if it’s not even edgy. This is a safe, non-violent, detective movie for kids that features an independent blossoming young woman. Nothing more, nothing less.