Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
Based on a book by Roald Dahl, “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” directed by Wes Anderson, told the story of Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) who promised his wife (Meryl Streep) that he would stop stealing food from farmers when she told him that she was carrying a child. Twelve years later, right around the visit of Mrs. Fox’ nephew (Eric Chase Anderson), Mr. Fox felt the need to return to his schemes and eventually got his entire animal community into trouble. The first thiry minutes of this animated film was strong. I was amused with the scenes involving Mr. Fox sneaking into the farmers’ respective lands and facing different and fun challenges. I also liked the scenes that highlighted the insecurities of Ash (Jason Schwartzman), Mr. and Mrs. Fox’ son, when he would often compare himself to his cousin, especially in terms of physicality and athleticism. Those were enjoyable because it had a certain energy and excitement so I couldn’t help but look forward to what would happen next. Unfortunately, like in most of Anderson’s work, the movie began to run out of fuel past the forty-minute mark. When the animals were forced to live underground, the picture felt like it didn’t know where it was going and random references to other films started popping up like the plague. The attempts for dry humor were unoriginal and I could feel the material’s desperation to get any kind of laugh. Despite many things happening at the same, unlike the first third of the film, the material no longer felt fresh. It lost intelligence, tenderness and spark. In fact, the characters started to blend amongst one another. As a result, I merely saw the animals as pests instead of creatures that supposed to reflect us humans. While I thought the animation was interesting to look at (and I did embrace its flaws), the way the story unfolded wasn’t strong enough to get me to care for the characters. Quirkiness could only get a movie so far and unfortunately, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” relied too much on the superficial. Other actors who contributed their voices include Bill Murray, Michael Gambon and Willem Dafoe. However, I didn’t recognize their voices because the picture was too busy trying to deal with the conflict between the animals and humans to the point where it didn’t have enough time to take a minute and convince us why we should care. For all I care, the big names’ voices could have been played by unknowns and it wouldn’t have made a difference. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” received a lot of comparisons with Pixar movies. However, I think Pixar films are much more effective because they are aware of the fact that since we’re not seeing human faces, they highlight the animated characters’ human characteristics to lure us and, more importantly, keep our attention. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” managed to lure me but it didn’t keep me interested.
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.
I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell (2009)
★ / ★★★★
I decided to watch this movie because I loved Matt Czuchry in “Gilmore Girls” and I wanted to see what else he could do outside of that show. Directed by Bob Gosse and based on a novel by by Tucker Max, “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” was about three guys (Czuchry, Jesse Bradford, Geoff Stults) who went to another city to go cruising and visit strip clubs for a bachelor party. This picture was unapologetically crude throwing gay jokes and lines about being violent to women like there’s no tomorrow. But in a way, I expected those because I read the film’s reviews prior. However, the issue I can’t forgive was its unbearable writing. With movies like “The Hangover” and “Hot Tub Time Machine,” they’re successful (or partially successful) because even though those movies had characters who acted like teenagers, the jokes were funny and we could root for the characters in some way. In this movie, I didn’t see anything special in any of the characters because the writing rested on frat boy typicality. When the movie tried to persuade the audiences that the lead character had some sort of a realization that his narcissism was ruining people’s lives, I just didn’t believe it. In fact, I literally scoffed during his redemption scene. If they were going to tell really mean jokes for pretty much the entire film, the filmmakers should have had the bravado to not follow Gosse’s book and really stick with what the main character was about: his love for himself and himself only. Suddenly changing a character for the sake of having a happy ending doesn’t work with a movie like this. For me, it shows that even though the material was edgy, it was still afraid to push the envelope. I have to admit that I did laugh with some of the lines that were said, especially by Bradford. There was something about his geekiness that somewhat reminded me of myself especially when I get in a really bad mood. I thought that out of the three, he was the most interesting. He had a heart despite his (sometimes funny, sometimes annoying) temper tantrums. As for Stults’ character, he was just boring. There was no dimension to him at all and I think he failed to take responsibility for his own actions. People might say he’s the nicest guy out of the three jerks but I’d argue otherwise. “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” had probably ten minutes of great material but the rest was just empty calories.
★★ / ★★★★
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.
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
Based on Lionel Wigram’s comic books, “Sherlock Holmes,” directed by Guy Ritchie, was an underwhelming experience because it was very confusing at its worst and only somewhat exciting at its best. Unlike most people, I didn’t mind the “upgrade” from the traditional Sherlock Holmes. Holmes in this film was a sleuth who was extremely observant, logical and knew martial arts. In fact, I welcomed such a change because I like watching different interpretations of characters embedded in our pop culture. In “Sherlock Holmes,” the popular detective (Robert Downey Jr.) and his partner Dr. Watson (Jude Law) investigated the strange murders Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) promised would happen right before his death. Was something supernatural going on or was there a logical explanation to all of it? To make things more complicated, Holmes’ former love interest (Rachel McAdams) came into the picture with tricks up her sleeve and loyalties that were even harder to read. I didn’t like the fact that all the explanations were given to the audiences toward the end of the film. It would have been so much more engaging and less confusing if Holmes shared what he was thinking from time to time instead of just trying to be funny or getting under Watson’s nerves. After all, despite the modern interpretation, his core character should have been a detective first and perhaps a comedian second (or fifth). While Downey Jr. and Law did have good chemistry, it wasn’t enough for the movie to feel concrete as we headed toward the climax. I also didn’t feel like they had a really strong bond–like they complemented each other. The picture was too busy shaping the action sequences (which I found entertaining) that it neglected (or didn’t care about) character development. However, in a way, I kind of expected it because Ritchie’s films are usually heavy on style and light on substance (“RocknRolla,” “Snatch”). Still, I hoped that he would strive for something more as a filmmaker instead of resting on what he already knew. The picture also could have used another dimension by standing on the line between logic and magic throughout most of the film. When the answer is too obvious, it’s difficult to feel engaged. “Sherlock Holmes” isn’t a bad movie but it is a generic one. That’s my main problem with it. If you’re going to take a really popular character and change it drastically, you’re going to have to be willing to push the envelope all the way instead of just halfway through. Perhaps the sequel will do a better job with taking risks because the cast and crew will be more comfortable in their respective roles. (Or at least they should be because this installment was a success in the box office.) It needs to stop trying to be so amusing and focus on the detective work at hand without confusing and alienating their viewers.
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Director Tim Burton who rarely fails to deliver cinematic magic in his work, whether the story takes place in a fantasy world (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) or the real world (“Ed Wood”), takes a step backward in a sort-of sequel of “Alice in Wonderland.” Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now ninteen years old and was asked by a pompous lord for her hand in marriage despite the fact that the proposal was simply driven by societal pressures and conveniences. Before making her decision, she ran as far away as she could only to end up falling in a hole that led to a world full of strange yet familiar creatures such as Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the Red and White Queen (Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway, respectively), twins with hydrocephalus (Matt Lucas), a smoking blue caterpillar (Alan Rickman), a cheshire cat (Stephen Fry), and many others. My biggest frustration with this film was that there were far too many cuts which led to scenes with no gravity or even amusement. I understand that it was rated PG and a huge portion of the picture was geared toward children. However, proven by Pixar’s range of fantastic work, the rating should not inhibit the film from engaging both children and adults. This could be done by instilling the audiences a sense wonder to the point where they forget they were watching a film for kids. My second biggest frustration was that I did not connect with any of the characters despite them being strange, which is very uncharacterstic in Burton’s work. The characters lacked heart so being strange was not enough if we were not able to root for them. I could not even root for Alice because she just unaware most of the time and she was not exactly the most courageous. I also understand that the characters were based on Lewis Carroll’s work but at the same time Burton is the kind of director that takes risks and he just failed to do that here. While the animation was nice because everything was bright and energetic, I did not feel that sense of wonder that the title had promised. Something I did not notice that a friend of mine pointed out was its lack of consistency, especially with Depp’s character. He claimed that Depp changed his accent from one scene to the next. While I did agree that the story was at times inconsistent, I would like to think the accent issue was intended because I think it worked with the character’s craziness. Depp has proven that he’s a great actor time and again and I think he made a concious choice of changing accents from one scene to another. I was disappointed with this film but I did not hate it because I saw potential–potential to be so much darker, funnier and more involving. I think if the writing had been stronger and had it not been limited by the PG rating, the movie would have been more enchanting and memorable.
Observe and Report (2009)
★ / ★★★★
Was this supposed to be a comedy? I was skeptical because the laughs were very sporadic and the drama sometimes overshadowed the jokes. Seth Rogen stars as a mall cop who one day decided that he was going to be a police offer in order to impress a makeup counter girl (Anna Faris). When a flasher started pulling off stunts at the mall, Rogen’s character thought that by catching the guy, it would solidify his place in the police academy. But a detective (Ray Liotta) was also determined to catch the flasher and he would do anything in his power to stop the lead character from achieving his goals. I thought this movie was going to be light because of the cast. It turned out that our lead character had Bipolar Personality Disorder (BPD) and that was often made fun of by showing that he was violent, quick-tempered and had delusions of grandeur. I didn’t appreciate it at all because I’ve learned about people with BPD and it is far from a laughing matter. But the so-called jokes didn’t stop there. I also didn’t like the all-too-common gay jokes; there’s a way to be politically incorrect yet still remain funny as long as the jokes are good-natured and everyone is in on a joke. This one simply started throwing things out there in a random fashion without some minute thought regarding its writing and direction. The best scenes in this picture were anything with Faris in it because I think she’s just naturally funny and charismatic even if the quality of the material doesn’t give her justice. But at the same time I think she’s miscast because the lead character was supposed to realize that the girl he liked didn’t like him back–at least not while sober–and she was just using him for convenience. Faris’ character needed some more aggression and maybe even a bit of sexiness and darkness. Nonetheless, the rest of the picture didn’t quite hold up because all of the characters are more like caricatures. Everyone is playing the extreme stereotype (especially the alcoholic mother played by Celia Weston) and I quickly got tired of it. Written and directed by Jody Hill (“The Foot Fist Way”), “Observe and Report” was a huge disappointment considering that the cast’s talent was completely wasted in one-note jokes and unfunny (in fact, quite cringe-worthy) slapstick.
Fear(s) of the Dark (2007)
★ / ★★★★
“Peur(s) du noir” or “Fear(s) of the Dark” documents the graphic artists/directors’ (Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti, and Richard McGuire) worst nightmares via an animated medium. I expected this little film with a fascinating premise to be scary but it ended up being a disappointment. I could withstand the first two stories but as it went on, it became very confusing, especially with the intermissions regarding the man with the dogs that attacked random people. Supposedly, there was a connection among the disparate storylines but other than the whole nightmare theme and black-and-white composition, I didn’t find anything about it worth pondering over. If these were the directors’ worth nightmares, they should consider themselves lucky because I’ve had much scarier dreams. What I did like about it, however, was the soundtrack. Whenever the music was turned on, since I wasn’t that much interested in the story, I noticed it and it elevated the creepiness factor. Another reason why I was disappointed was because I expected it to be more accessible. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a niche film, in fact, most of my favorite films belong in that category. However, it didn’t quite work for me because I felt as though it held back a lot. I think it relied too much on the subtleties. When it comes to horror films, the kind of horror that impresses me the most are the ones that have the ability to balance the obvious and the subtle. This one being an extreme, it repulsed me as much as a film that might rely, say, on the obvious. Since I didn’t feel like it pushed itself, I felt even more disappointed because I felt like the whole experience was a waste of time as the credits started rolling. While this animated feature had a lot of nice ideas and the images are stylized, I’d honestly rather go to a museum to see and touch weird-looking objects. This was really painful for me to watch and I found myself constantly checking how many minutes I had left. To me, that is one of the ultimate signs of a bad movie. But if the premise sounds interesting to you because you haven’t heard of an animated collection of horror shorts, then I say take the risk and watch it. You might end up liking it more than I did.
My Life in Ruins (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
I loved Nia Vardalos in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” so I was excited to watch this movie even though the critics disparaged it without remorse. There’s something about her that I love watching on screen–a certain look or attitude that never fails to make me smile. Unfortunately, I wasn’t at all impressed with this film because it offered nothing new. In fact, it relied upon the usual stereotypes regarding tourists: the rude Americans, the cute old people with idiosyncracies, the rich couple who was emotionally detached from their child and vice-versa and others I wouldn’t even go into. Vardalos played a travel guide who wanted to do something more with her life but she couldn’t quite leave Greece because she seemed to get nothing but rejection letters from the universities she applied to. She didn’t like being a travel guide but decided to stick with it anyway because of the money. Her dislike for her job was reflected in her very analytical way of interacting with the colorful tourists. Eventually, however, she learned to open up and let her hair down. I wish that this movie was edgier. I liked the fact that it had colorful tourists but they didn’t have to be so annoying, especially the Americans. Americans are annoying–we get it. There’s no need to keep hammering it into our heads. By getting rid of the clichés, the picture would’ve looked smarter and more self-aware and wouldn’t have felt so lazy in its writing. I liked the tender moments between Vardalos and Richard Dreyfuss, a man who was still grieving upon the death of his wife. The insight that he offered to her were believable enough for me to think that that, yes, Vardalos was able to take and process it all then evaluate what was going on with her life and eventually find a way to fix it. But those scenes lost their power because there were far too many scenes when the tourists were being shown as dumb; it was supposed to be funny–which it was once or twice–but I quickly got tired of it because I wanted to see something new. As for the romantic angle between Vardalos and Alexis Georgoulis, I didn’t buy it for one second because they lacked chemistry. Either that or the film wasn’t just developed enough for me to finally go along with it once it happened. I say skip this film if you have better things to do. Otherwise, it’s just another average movie with interesting sceneries but ultimately has an empty emotional core.
Sin Nombre (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
The debut of writer-director Cary Fukunaga was loved by critics and audiences alike, but I was not that impressed with it. “Sin Nombre” was about two groups of people–one from Honduras and one from Mexico–who take a train headed to the border of United States and Mexico. The first group was Sayra (Paulina Gaitan) and her family who attempt to move to America to lead a better life. The other was Casper (Edgar Flores) who was being hunted down by Mara Salvatrucha, a gang he was once a part of, because he committed a crime against them. While I do agree that the film was protrayed in a gritty and realistic way, I found it difficult to identify with the main characters. I felt as though they had this wall that lasted from the beginning of the picture all the way to finish line. I understand that their journey on the train was literal and symbolic but I had trouble sticking with it because of that lack of connection between the characters and the characters to its audiences. I felt as though their situation or story was told in a much better way from other films. If Fukunaga had taken the time to cut off some scenes from the first twenty minutes and expand on the scenes when Sayra and Casper were interacting with each other, it might have had something brilliant to offer. Instead, I felt as though the experience can be summarized as merely glossing over the shell of characters who were going through very difficult times without truly getting into why they were complex. Their motivations were apparent (survival and a better life) but the filmmakers failed to take the story to another level. I noticed that the director tried to inject contrasting images and concepts but those weren’t enough to make up for a lack of a strong core. I had high expectations coming into this film and I couldn’t help but feel more and more disappointed as the fate of the characters began to unfold.
Die Another Day (2002)
★★ / ★★★★
Most people consider this installment as one of the worst in the James Bond franchise (along with “Moonraker”) because they claim that it got too ridiculous with its gadgets (such as the invisible car). For me, I quite liked the invisible car but I didn’t appreciate the fact that it had too many mindless action scenes involving technology. What’s so great about the action scenes in the past 007 installments is that they have some sort of believability. This film involves a satellite that can harness the energy from the sun and focus it in a laser beam and destroy anything in its path. In my opinion, it would’ve worked if that aspect had been in the “Austin Powers” franchise because it’s a spoof; it failed here because it’s supposed to be serious but it’s hard to consider it as such. This is Pierce Brosnan’s final appearance as Bond and it’s understandable because I felt like he was becoming too bored with the role. He didn’t have that spicy swagger he originally had in “GoldenEye” that made me want to invest more in his character. Two actors that stood out to me in this picture are Halle Berry as Jinx and Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves. I love watching Halle Berry not only because she’s beautiful on the outside but because of the way she delivered certain comebacks whenever she’d converse with Brosnan. I also loved that her character is someone that can kick butt but feminine enough to have chemistry with the lead character. Stephens is great as the villain because he has this certain arrogance about him that I found interesting (to say the least) but at the same time, I wanted Bond to pound him to a pulp so he’ll be put on his place. Another positive is that Stephen’s character is young and can actually have hand-to-hand (or sword-to-sword) combat with Bond. The best scenes in the movie involve Stephen and Brosnan exchanging verbal daggers and actually piercing each other with sharp objects. As for the rest of the film, I didn’t care about it that much because the story lacks an extra punch that the best Bond films have. If one is a die-hard Bond fan, one has got to see this for the mere that it’s a part of the entire series. It’s a shame because I remember loving this picture when I was about thirteen years old, back when I haven’t seen many movies. Coming back to watch it, it’s lame in its efforts to entertain because it relied too much on special and visual effects without establishing the film’s emotional core first.