Me and Orson Welles (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) was magnetized toward the arts so when the opportunity of working with Orson Welles’ (Christian McKay) production of “Julius Caesar” had presented itself, Richard just had to be in the play despite lacking theater experience. Through a week of rigorous rehearsals, Richard fell for a secretary named Sonja Jones (Claire Danes) who everyone admired but earned the nickname of being an Ice Queen. Little did Richard know that he had to compete with Welles for Sonja’s affections. I understand that this movie must have been a big deal for Efron because it gave him the chance to finally be considered as a serious actor. In a way, the actor had parallels with his character because Richard wanted to be taken seriously despite his age and lack of connection in the entertainment business. Unfortunately, the movie barely kept my attention. I could not connect at all with Richard because there did not come a point where he had a clear vision between wanting to have the girl or wanting to achieve his dreams. Obviously, he could not have both. To an extent, his lack of understanding about what was more important was understandable because he was young, but I think the writing should have presented a key moment when the audiences would realize that Richard was worth rooting for even though he did not know exactly what he wanted. There were two characters who overshadowed the protagonist. One was Danes as an elegant woman who knew what she wanted and would do anything to go where she wanted to go. Unlike the main character, she had experience and was wise despite the fact that I did not always agree with her actions. The other character that fascinated me was Gretta Adler (Zoe Kazan), an aspiring young writer who liked to visit museums for inspiration and when she felt down. Kazan was absolutely charming and, more importantly, the zeal she embedded in her character did not feel forced. Generally, Efron was satisfactory as Richard, albeit too safe, but his lack of intensity was magnified when he had to interact with Danes and Kazan. Furthermore, I do have to say that his optimistic one-liners made me cringe. “Me and Orson Welles” was surprisingly weak especially since Richard Linklater was the director. In most of his films, he has such a great ear for dialogue and sharp vision in terms of capturing actors in their most natural state to the point where it almost looks effortless without sacrificing the characters’ multi-dimensional personalities. “Me and Orson Welles” was very uneven, especially in its first half, and ultimately disappointing.
Men in Black II (2002)
★ / ★★★★
Several years after Agent Kay’s (Tommy Lee Jones) memory had been erased, Agent Jay (Will Smith) kept having trouble with finding the right partner for him on the field. This was particularly problematic because there was an alien that landed on Earth which took the form of a supermodel (Lara Flynn Boyle) with plans of obtaining ultimate power by finding the so-called Light. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, “Men in Black II” fell into a trap of delivering bigger and better special and visual effects but dumbing the material down considerably. While its predecessor was smart in terms of delivering references of other science fiction pictures and television shows, the sequel was unfunny and downright disappointing. Instead of further exploring the partnership between Agents Kay and Jay, the movie focused on the aliens such as the annoying talking dog and two-headed alien played by Johnny Knoxville. I didn’t care about how the aliens looked like; I cared about the material’s level of imagination. There were also too many distracting and unnecessary cameos from Michael Jackson and Nick Cannon. What’s the point of making a cameo if their appearances weren’t even funny? Establishing the heart of the picture should have been easy. Since the two agents have been apart for so long, I wanted to know how they’ve changed over the years. For instance, their positions, in comparison to the first film, had essentially been switched around. Since they now had the chance to walk in each other’s shoes, how have their opinions of each other changed? Or was there even any change? What made the first one so enjoyable was not solely because of the visuals. It was because of Jones and Smith’s brotherly chemistry with a bit of friction on the side. In this installment, they were barely given a chance to interact in a meaningful way. They were constantly running around like kids in the playground. They didn’t seem to slow down but we grow tired of watching them because everything was recycled. I did like watching Rosario Dawson as a witness to a murder in a pizzeria but the script did not do her justice. Furthermore, the romance between her and Smith’s character was desperate and unconvincing. Their interactions were almost as awkward as the extended silences in between scenes when audiences were signaled that something funny just happened and it was their cue to laugh. I didn’t laugh. I wasn’t amused. I was angry because the freshness that I knew it should have had was not translated onto the screen. Perhaps the filmmakers thought we had been “deneuralized” and wouldn’t notice the fact that we’ve seen everything they had on here before.
★★ / ★★★★
A couple played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lynn Collins decided to flip a coin because they couldn’t make up their mind regarding how to spend their Fourth of July holiday. Once the coin was flipped, we were immediately taken on two paths: the couple spending their time with the girlfriend’s family (the talented Olivia Thirlby among them) and the couple finding a cell phone in a taxi which criminals desperately wanted in their hands. I really liked the concept of the movie but it just didn’t move me in any way because it was very uneven. I understood that a big part of the picture was its use of contrast but I felt like it spent more time developing the thriller aspect (the cell phone) instead of balancing it with drama (the family). They could have done so much with the family such as expanding the tension between the boyfriend and the girlfriend’s mother or perhaps going deeper into the uncle’s illness. Instead, the movie focused on the characters running all over New York City; while initially it was exciting because I was curious about why certain people wanted the cell phone so badly, over time the tension caught a bad case of diminishing returns. I just grew tired of the couple making one bad decision after another. I was even surprised that they managed to survive for so long. I found it difficult to believe that the couple trying to survive was the same as the two who were having dinner with nice and welcoming people. While the events were very different from one another, it would have been nice if we saw certain characteristics of the lead characters that crossed boundaries set by the cinematic style. There was also a disconnect between the level of acting between Gordon-Levitt and Collins. When the former tried to achieve depth, the latter almost always decided to go for the obvious, not just in the way she said the lines but the body language lacked subtlety. I wished that Thirlby was the lead female instead because, from what I’ve seen from her other films, she can achieve subtlety without sacrificing charisma. Written and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, I saw potential in “Uncertainty” but it took far too many missteps and I lost interest in it over time. While the use of contrast was nice, it didn’t quite break out from the usual patterns to go for that element of surprise. It needed more time to ponder over why one small decision could lead to big (and sometimes unfortunate) events in our lives. I guess I needed the movie to actively connect with its audiences instead of just being stuck in its own universe. With such an interesting premise, I thought it would be more versatile in terms of its tone (especially since McGehee and Siegel both directed one of my favorite films “The Deep End”–the masterful balance of thriller and drama) and it wouldn’t be afraid to take risks time and time again. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
Ninja Assassin (2009)
★ / ★★★★
I wanted to see this movie because the trailers looked so much fun. I thought it was going to be action-packed and it would be above trying to justify itself with creating ridiculous storylines. Instead, it was bogged down with melodramatic character history and I couldn’t help but question when those scenes were finally going to be over and actually feature some martial arts. Rain played an orphan who was raised to be a ninja but decided to seek revenge against his clan (led by Shô Kosugi) after they killed his close friend who also happened to belong in their group. Meanwhile, Naomie Harris, despite knowing about the lethal nature of ninjas, decided to expose the ninjas and the murders they committed. I honestly had no idea why she did it. I guess it was hard for her to decide between how valuable her life was and fame via unveiling a group of people who were experts in hiding in the shadows for centuries. Any reasonable and logical person would know that choosing the latter would be downright stupid. But I suppose the picture needed to have a reason–any reason–for her to meet a ninja who she could run around with all over Europe and get into action sequences. Speaking of action sequences, as limited as they were, I was even more disappointed with the fact that it was almost incomprehensible. I didn’t mind much the disappearing acts that the ninjas seemed to innately had but I had a big problem with the way the action sequences were shot. Although there were some interesting ones such as the battle scene inside Harris’ home involving shadows and a flashlight, the rest were either annoying because I couldn’t discern who was who or if the good guys or the bag guys were winning or the scenes had no feeling of tension at all. Of course I flinched when I saw gratuitous amount of blood–I liked the bathroom scene–but that was about it. I wasn’t actually excited that the action was happening and I wasn’t impressed with the choreography. Overall, even though I was willing to look past through the weaknesses of this film, “Ninja Assassin, directed by James McTeigue, couldn’t help but disappoint. At times I felt like I was watching a really bad music video where I had no idea what was happening or why. At least music videos, on average, only last about three to four minutes. It was a mind-numbing experience and I wished I saw something else that wouldn’t have resulted to losing my brain cells.
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (2009)
★ / ★★★★
Adapted from a short story by David Foster Wallace, “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” stars Julianne Nicholson as a graduate student who gathered varying perspectives from men about what women wanted emotionally, sexually, and physically. Or so that was what I got from the movie considering it did not bother to explicitly state what the main character wanted to accomplish. And since the lead character was conducting her own anthropological research, I saw this film as if I was reading an essay or a laboratory report consisting of a clear hypothesis, evidence which supported the hypothesis, deviance from the expected outcome, and a thoughtful discussion in the end. I thought this movie had an interesting idea but unfortunately the execution was weak and unfocused. John Krasinski, the director and the actor who played the lead character’s boyfriend, had made too many cuts just when a scene was about to get interesting. For instance, I wanted to know more about the man who claimed that there were three kinds of men in bed. I also thought that the director had too many scenes that didn’t contribute to the film as a whole. He would start a scene in which the lead character’s friends would gather and ten seconds into it, we would be on a completely different scene. Those elements were so distracting to the point where I became more frustrated with the picture as it went on. I wanted to know more about the people being interviewed such as the student with outrageous ideas about rape and how it could actually help someone’s well-being and the man whose father made it his career to hand towels in the bathroom. Most importantly, I wanted to know more about the main character. Since I didn’t get to know her much, the impression I got by the end was that she was weak and, as edgy and smart as she was, maybe she was the kind of woman who needed a man by her side. I think this is the movie’s biggest problem: it didn’t know its protagonist so the vision and focus was lacking. I think this adaptation was a missed opportunity because there were really good supporting actors such as Chris Messina, Lou Taylor Pucci, Will Arnett, Ben Shenkman and others who weren’t quite pushed to do their best or didn’t have enough screen time so the audiences couldn’t really see what they were capable of. In the end, I was left confused more than educated or inspired. And for a movie that was only an hour and twenty minutes long, it felt so long because it didn’t know what it was doing. It was like reading an essay or a lab report with so many words but so little content.
★ / ★★★★
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, “Che” chronicles the events that transpired when Ernesto “Che” Guevara (Benicio Del Toro) teamed up with other revolutionaries to throw the Batista dictatorship out of power (in Part One) and Che’s doomed mission in Bolivia (in Part Two). I have to admit that I do not know much about Che’s history even though I am familiar with his political beliefs. Having said that, I decided to base this review in terms of whether or not the movie worked as a film, not for its historical accuracies (or inaccuracies for that matter). I wanted to like “Che” because I am a big fan of movies that run for hours and hours. It’s different than movies that run for two hours or less because it doesn’t rush into anything. Most of the time, it provides the audiences extra details of an already rich material. Unfortunately, this film is far from rich. In fact, I felt like the four-hour running time was empty emotion-wise (as well as content-wise) because it failed to get me to care for its lead character. I wanted to know Che’s exact motivations (apart from what he verbally expressed), what shaped his political leanings, and his relationship with other rebels such as Fidel Castro (Demián Bichir) and Tamara Bunke (Franka Potente). Unfortunately, we only skimmed the surface of such issues and the focus shifted to the ennui of the battlefield. I grew tired of the way the director showed unnecessary scenes right after another such as people smoking, staring into the woods and telling jokes. One or two of those scenes would have been fine and would have gone unnoticed. Those scenes did add up (to possibly an hour and a half or more) and I felt like I was being cheated of my time. Still, I decided to keep watching because I desperately hoped that it would get better. So then I looked to the acting, especially by Del Toro because he played the title character. That element was a disappointment as well because I felt as though his performance was confused in what he wanted to portray instead of what he was actually portraying. I didn’t feel power eminating from him that would make him a great leader and have other people who were sick of feeling oppressed being magnetized toward him. Although I’m not familiar with Che’s history, I felt like this film gave his story a bit of an injustice. This was a very difficult film for me to sit through because its tone was monotonous, it failed to offer any sort of insight regarding the uprising, and it didn’t have any sense of urgency. If the filmmakers don’t deliver that spark or energy, then why should the audience care? I’m familiar with Soderbergh’s work, both commercial and independent projects (I’m still in love with his film “Bubble”), and I can honestly say that this movie is one of his weakest. Nothing came into focus and I couldn’t wait for it to be over.
★★ / ★★★★
Sam Rockwell stars as Sam Bell in “Moon,” written and directed by Duncan Jones, an astronaut who was sent on the moon by a company to gather precious gas that could solve the Earth’s energy crisis. Excitement came over him as soon as he realized that his three-year contract was about to expire in two weeks. However, his positive energy was quickly doused when he started hearing and seeing things that he wasn’t supposed to. I can’t help but feel very disappointed in this film because I saw so much potential in it. The feel of the picture very much felt like Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but I appreciated the fact that it tried to bring something new to the table with regards to man’s relationship with machine (the super-computer named GERTY voiced by Kevin Spacey). I hate saying this about science fiction movies in general but I’m going to: it just didn’t feel real. I’m not talking about the visuals (which wasn’t that inspiring), I’m talking about how everything started to play out. For instance, when Sam realized that there was a clone of himself walking around, his reaction was very underwhelming. I don’t know about you but if I saw a copy of myself without my prior knowledge of its existence, I would freak out, throw things at it and attack it in every way possible (basically act like a crazy person) to get the upperhand. I won’t just sit there and play nice with it, especially when the copy is trying to bully me around. I also had a problem with its pacing. For a film that’s supposed to be full of wonder, mystery and surprising twists, it felt strangely stagnant. Once the clone was revealed, there wasn’t much to drive the story forward. Even their interactions weren’t really that interesting except that they seemed to have opposite personalities. The second twist regarding Sam’s life on Earth was sad but ultimately empty because I didn’t care that much about Sam. I agree with critics and audiences that it was eerie and atmospheric but that’s about it. I don’t see it as being a classic because the elements it tried to tackle weren’t fully realized. “Moon” felt like the SparkNotes version of a really dense material full of complex story arcs and mythologies. And it certainly didn’t have that wow-factor that could be found in sci-fi greats.