Tag: djimon hounsou

Serenity


Serenity (2019)
★ / ★★★★

Points for “Serenity,” written and directed by Steven Knight, for trying to rise above a standard thriller involving a boat, an abused wife, and a murder plot. There is a massive but elusive fish, a mysterious businessman who sticks out like a sore thumb, a combat veteran who is estranged from his son, a lone bar on an island where everyone appears to get information, and acknowledgements of rules being changed suddenly. There are psychic connections and a bird that follows the boat around. At one point, even our protagonist declares that there are strange goings-on. It is all very aware and ambitious, but these disparate elements never come together in a way that makes us feel as though it is worth the time and effort we invest in attempting to put the pieces together.

The problem lies in the screenplay. It relies on one big twist that is revealed about halfway through and smaller twists dispersed throughout the remainder of the story. After the game-changing revelation, it forges on telling the story it initially presented, but this is an incorrect decision, you see, because the more interesting angle is the one not being explored. Once we know what is really going on, the initial story, and whatever happens in it, feels so inconsequential. If I sound like I am being vague on purpose, that is because I am. Pulling out the rug from under us is quite neat, and to spoil it would reduce the film into pointlessness.

This leads us to the second major problem. Brilliant twists do not make a movie, not even in superior films like “The Sixth Sense,” “The Crying Game,” “The Usual Suspects,” “Se7en,” and even “Sleepaway Camp.” In these aforementioned movies, take away the respective reveals and the picture is still able to stand strong on its own. In Knight’s work, however, the pieces are not only amorphous and nonsensical, there is no convincing emotional arc. The main character, Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey), a father who chases a fish so obsessively because he has not seen his son in years, undergoes numerous suffering—psychological, financial, physical—but we are not compelled to learn more about him, his lifestyle, and those around him.

The film is beautifully photographed, especially shots of the fishing boat leaving the harbor and when the camera looks into the deep water before fish is pulled out of it. There is also some excitement when there is silence and suddenly the clicking of the fishing reel builds up to a heart-racing staccato. This should have been a segue for the viewer to understand Baker Dill’s all-consuming quest of reeling in Justice, a large tuna. But these postcard-worthy shots are disconnected from the neo-noir thriller with moments of paranoia. It made me wish that I was at the beach instead of sitting inside the movie theater hoping for all the ideas to come together.

The performances are fine, nothing special. I must note, however, that those hoping to see McConaughey in various states of nakedness are likely to have a ball. For instance, we watch him jump off a cliff and swim in the ocean with nothing on. Perhaps, to some, that is a selling point. For me, though, Anne Hathaway who portrays an abused wife is the most watchable because she, as usual, milks every moment. As I walked out of the theater, it struck me that I don’t remember her character’s words, but I do remember how Karen holds her eyes when she is desperate, the way she moves her body when she is humiliated, the manner in which her lips quivers just so when freedom is at arm’s reach. Like the audience, the actors deserve stronger material.

Baggage Claim


Baggage Claim (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

The premise of “Baggage Claim,” written and directed by David E. Talbert, sounds so ridiculous and so contrived that it cannot possibly happen to anybody but, I must admit, enjoyed it anyway because I felt the actors having fun in their roles. Since there is a consistent level of joy to their performances, I was interested in what would happen next even though I suspected it would too willingly traverse a familiar path.

Montana (Paula Patton) is a flight attendant who has been a bridesmaid nine times. Since she is not getting any younger, she wants to get married. And soon. Her sister has just gotten engaged. A co-worker, Sam (Adam Brody), has an idea: instead of looking for new men, why not reconsider exes? After all, people can change. It is the holidays which means travel season. All Sam and Gail (Jill Scott) have to do is to find out when and where these exes are traveling to and from. It is up to Montana to show up.

Patton is astonishingly beautiful and extremely likable so not for one second did I believe that her character is having any trouble getting a boyfriend to propose to her. However, the actor made me believe that Montana is desperate, imperfect, and blind to what is right front of her. She is inside her head to much, the kind of person who loses track of the big picture. We all know that she will realize eventually that the perfect guy is right there all along. So what is the picture’s source of entertainment?

The answer is in the supporting characters. Gail, the protagonist’s the big-bosomed friend, is played to perfect comic timing by Scott. In every scene she is in, my eyes go directly to her, always anticipating what she might say next. That is a feat considering that Patton has a strong presence even when she just stands there. Sam, Montana’s the gay co-worker, is given very funny moments as well. His personality is less brash than Gail but the timing and the delivery of his sarcasm as well as the attitude is there. Though Gail and Sam have opposite personalities, we can understand why they get along and why they are friends with Montana. A lot of romantic comedies do not quite get the chemistry among friendships right.

Some of Montana’s prospects are complete caricatures (Taye Diggs, Trey Songz) but a man named Quinton (Djimon Hounsou) is worthy of being explored more. Hounsou plays Quinton with a quiet confidence and grace. They appear to be perfect for each other. But there is a catch. There is always a catch. And that’s life… even though what he offers Montana is a fantasy.

I wished the film had enough creativity to not end with yet another chase that involves catching a person prior to a plane taking off. Since the material is composed of familiar ground, the writer-director needed to do something more surprising to make the work stand out, perhaps acknowledging that though plot is predictable, it is still capable of getting the last laugh by offering originality during its closing scenes.

Amistad


Amistad (1997)
★★★ / ★★★★

Cinque (Djimon Hounsou) and other African slaves, taken from their land, kill their Spanish captors while the ship, La Amistad, is on its way to Northeast America. The slaves are eventually captured and find themselves in trial for murder. Meanwhile, Tappan (Stellan Skarsgård) and Theodore Joadson (Morgan Freeman) attempt to search for the right lawyer for the case in order to gain the Africans’ freedom. Enter Roger Sherman Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey), aware that winning is close to zilch if he approaches the case from a typical angle, wishes to argue that the men are “stolen goods” and therefore bound by specific rules already set by the courts.

“Amistad,” written by David Franzoni and directed by Steven Spielberg, thrives on stunning visuals and attention-grabbing performances. The first scene shows how the slaves take control of the ship. While the action occurs in the dark but there is something beautiful, almost poetic, about the way the darkness complements the mutiny and murder.

The recurring theme that the slaves are treated essentially animals makes a powerful statement. For instance, the way a man holds a chair like a lion tamer because he is afraid of being attacked by a colored man, the manner in which kids poke at the chained Africans with sticks as if they were street dogs, and the lack of scenes in which the prosecution attempt to communicate, even through gestures given the language barrier, with the men and women on trial. The aforementioned images are important because they communicate to us that people with dark skin are less than the white man. These images are found either on the side or in the background so it never feels as though Spielberg is hammering us over the head in order to get his point across.

The courtroom scenes are shot with an orange-yellow glow. The color palate remains hopeful despite the fact that gaining the Africans’ freedom is a seemingly insurmountable uphill battle. We all know what will eventually happen because the Supreme Court’s decision has a direct connection to the American Civil War, but my attention is piqued nonetheless.

Anthony Hopkins’ performance as former President John Quincy Adams is sublime. His ten-minute speech toward the end touched me personally. It made me want to learn more about American history especially in terms of what our founding fathers went through in order to establish the building blocks of this country. Hopkins, despite looking like his character is about to fall over every time he takes a step forward, manages to highlight Adams’ strengths: the cunningness of a fox and the heart of a lion.

However, I wasn’t convinced that “Amistad” has reached its full potential. While it is moving and the case is revolutionary, for a film with a running time of about two hours and thirty minutes, it should have had more complexity. We spend most of the time with the defense but barely any time with the prosecution (the lawyer played by Pete Postlethwaite). At most, we see the latter looking shocked or angry or confused. Their emotional outbursts might have been more interesting if the audience is provided some more in-depth background information on how they approach the case. But perhaps its one-sidedness is on purpose, like image of the Queen of Spain (Anna Paquin), a child, jumping up and down her bed instead of governing her country.

Gladiator


Gladiator (2000)
★★★ / ★★★★

When the emperor of Rome (Richard Harris) was murderered by his own son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), Maximus (Russell Crowe), general of the Roman empire, wanted to honor the dying man’s wishes by helping the empire turn into a republic again. This didn’t sit well Commodus because he craved for power and wanted to prove that he would be a great ruler by leading a dictatorship. The first time I saw this film, I wasn’t impressed with it. I thought the story was all over the place, the characters were simplified for the sake of being commercial, and there were a handful of glaring idioms that did not fit for its time (it was set in year 180). While I think that those flaws are still applicable, I found myself liking the movie the second time around for two reasons: this role being one of Crowe’s more moving performances and the intense action sequences. Without a doubt, the picture relied too much on the battles in the colosseum to generate some sort of tension. However, it was effective because we like the characters fighting for their lives such as the friends/fellow slave-turned-gladiators (Djimon Hounsou, Ralf Moeller) who Maximus met along his journey. I caught myself voicing out my thoughts such as “Hurry up and get up!” and “Watch out for that tiger!” No matter how much I tried, there was no way I could have kept quiet because I just had to release some of the stress I felt at the time. I also enjoyed watching Oliver Reed as the man who owned the gladiators; I found his past interesting and I wished the film had explored him more because he could have been a strong foil for Maximus. The scenes they had together were powerful because they respected each other but at the same time they didn’t want too be friendly because, after all, one was “owned” by another. Another relationship worth exploring was between the late emperor and Maximus. They treated each other like father and son but it felt too superficial, too planned. Commodus would walk in on them and feel jealous and unloved. But what else? “Gladiator,” directed by Ridley Scott, was loved by many because everything was grand and it wore its emotions on its sleeve. However, I’m still not convinced that it is Best Picture material because it often chose the obvious over the subtle path too frequently. For a sword-and-sandals epic with a two-and-a-half hour running time, while the action scenes were highly entertaining, there was no excuse for a lack of depth involving most if not all the characters. Therefore, as a revenge picture, it didn’t quite reach its potential.