Tag: ellen page

Flatliners


Flatliners (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

The title of this horror-thriller is a direct critique of its second half, a complete nosedive from an interesting premise that starts off having a certain level of energy with potential to genuinely entertain had the screenplay been more willing to remain one step ahead of its viewers. Instead, “Flatliners,” directed by Niels Arden Oplev, eventually relies on delivering the expected turns and predictable jolts that plague modern horror and supernatural thrillers. What results is a marginally passable, late-night cable movie.

When it touches upon the realities of being a student in medical school, the material commands intrigue. Perhaps the most engaging moments are instances where students must compete with one another. Just about every time a colleague provides an incorrect answer to a superior’s question, there is almost a sigh of relief from his or her peers. But when a correct answer is given, one can feel the dagger-like looks of jealousy or envy. The picture might have been stronger if there had been more scenes that anchored the more unbelievable aspects of the story.

The plot revolves around Courtney (Ellen Page), a medical student fixated on the possibility of an afterlife due to the death of her younger sister. To discover whether there really is an afterlife and experience how it is like, she decides to recruit two of her peers (Kiersey Clemons, James Norton) to help her with an experiment: stop her heart, wait for two minutes from the second she flatlines, and revive her. Naturally, things do not exactly go planned and so others (Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev) must learn about the macabre experiment. The setup is more intriguing than the positive and negative repercussions of crossing to the other side.

It does not leave much to the imagination. On one level, there is generous utilization of special and visual effects. While not overdone, it might have been better from a storytelling point of view for the characters to describe what they had seen instead of showing us every bit of white light, floating orbs, and stylized images of whatever is around the city. A character recalling a memory is another way for us to connect with him or her; we are not simply invested in what is being recalled but also how it is done.

On another level, take notice of the script. Every character is written to vocalize his or her every thought. This characteristic is television-like, particularly in sitcoms where this strategy is almost always used due to the limited running time of thirty minutes. But this is no sitcom. As a result, the level of mystery does not fully take off and, perhaps most importantly, the second half drags. It got boring to the point where one could simply cut and paste so-called scares from other mediocre supernatural horror-thrillers and it would not have made a difference.

Written by Ben Ripley, “Flatliners” might have been jolted to life with an injection of imagination. Many people are curious about the afterlife, or whether it exists in the first place, and so one would think that those in charge of the film would ensure that numerous possibilities are presented. One way to have done this is to have introduced different schools of philosophy, perhaps each character embodying one, and making the characterization cinematic. Instead, what results is a horror film without much flavor or ambition.

To Rome with Love


To Rome with Love (2012)
★ / ★★★★

At one point in “To Rome with Love,” written and directed by Woody Allen, a character says, “Whoever imbecile conceived this moronic experience should be taken out and beheaded.” And although my sentiment for this picture does not reflect that line exactly, it comes really, really close. I hated this movie.

I was at a loss on what Allen wishes to communicate or convey to the audiences. I cannot imagine anyone that can relate to this film on a pragmatic or emotional level because all four story strands are given an element of absurdism so off-putting that it is difficult to discern whether the writer-director is making fun of his subjects or he is simply wishing to make a movie that feels light and inconsequential. Either way, it is a lose-lose situation especially when expectations are high. Allen is a seasoned writer-director. What is produced here is egregiously bad—slow in pacing, a bore to sit through, one of the most worthless experiences I have had in quite some time.

Out of the four strands, perhaps one that is most marginally interesting is a young architect, Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), who falls in head over heels with his girlfriend’s best friend, Monica (Ellen Page), an actress, who is visiting Rome after having broken up with her boyfriend who turned out to be gay. Although Jack’s girlfriend, Sally (Greta Gerwig), fears that her beau will grow attracted to Monica eventually, she keeps looking for ways for the two to spend time with one another. The situation could have been rife with potentially funny truths and consequences, but the screenplay loses the big picture consistently, opting to focus on behavior—such as aside comments with a sort-of imaginary character (Alec Baldwin) that can be seen and unseen by the trio whenever convenient—rather than the real emotions that are encountered when such a situation arises.

The casting of Eisenberg and Page does not work because these performers are driven by innate quirkiness. The attention is further focused on behavior—which is a problem in the first place. Because the two are so idiosyncratic, the tone is almost always off. They need a co-star who can function as a sounding board for their peculiarities. As a result, we are never really convinced about what Jack sees in Monica and vice-versa. Although I thought Gerwig does an adequate job in playing the role of an insecure girlfriend, she is not the ideal co-star. She, too, can be too quirky but the saving grace, I suppose, is that she does not have very many lines.

Two stories I found ridiculously boring involve Allen playing the father who meets the Roman family of his daughter’s boyfriend and an ordinary man (Roberto Benigni) who suddenly finds himself being stalked by the paparazzi. The former does not work because we never really believe that Allen’s character, Jerry, is once an opera director who rarely received good reviews for his work. I was at a loss on what Allen was thinking when he decided to cast himself in this role. It does not fit him in any way, shape, or form. All we see on screen is the director of the film wanting some sort of attention.

The latter does not work because the screenplay never allows us—in a meaningful way— into the life of a man suddenly finding himself considered as a celebrity. While the message of celebrity being an evanescent thing is crystal clear, that is a truth that is obvious. Wouldn’t it have been so much better or interesting if we learned how special this ordinary man really is despite the chaos unfolding around him? We rarely saw his family. I was not convinced that Allen had a rudimentary understanding of what it means to be a part of the working class. His work here reeks of privilege. I found it repelling.

I would like to think that Allen is smarter than this. I want to convince myself that he made this movie as a joke—that people will be brave enough call garbage as garbage rather than art regardless of the name behind it. I sensed no effort put into this work. It is not funny. It is not sad. it is not tragi-comic. It is nothing. It is less than nothing. I felt as though I wasted my time and I advise you not to waste yours.

Touchy Feely


Touchy Feely (2013)
★ / ★★★★

It is difficult to believe that “Touchy Feely” is from the same writer-director as the fresh, funny, and wonderful “Humpday.” While the latter is full of characters that feel very human, the former offers not one believable character, let alone someone we want to get to know beyond the surface level. The figures on screen are nothing but walking caricatures, solely defined by the anxieties that plague them.

Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) is a massage therapist with happy clients because she is good at her job and she has a personality that makes customers want to return. However, when she develops an aversion to touching people’s skin, her livelihood is threatened and she begins to feel inadequate. This takes a toll on her relationship with Jesse (Scoot Mcnairy), her rebound guy. Conversely, prior to Abby’s breakdown, her brother, Paul (Josh Pais), is barely able to keep his dental practice running due to a lack of customers. Unlike Abby, Paul is awkward, withdrawn, not very good at relating with others. Abby’s misfortune proves to be the beginning of Paul’s great luck: word has gone around that each person he touches is magically cured.

Perhaps the situation is supposed to be mildly amusing because it certainly does not work as a drama. First, it lacks a dramatic core. While the central relationship involves a pair of siblings who cannot be any more different, we never believe that they care for one another. When they sit to have dinner together, I saw actors spewing out lines instead of a family who is trying to make it work. Second, the screenplay fails to provide good reasons as to why we should care about its main and supporting players. As a result, sitting through the picture is like listening to a bunch of strangers whining about their problems. I thought they all needed to see a counselor.

The subplots are awkward and lack energy. Jenny (Ellen Page), Abby’s niece, has a crush on Jesse. But then there is an appendage involving Jennt wanting to leave the nest to go to school but feeling guilty that her father will not approve. One or the other requires focus. If she has no interest in being a dental assistant, then what is she interested in? Where does she see herself after college? If the material chooses to explore the crush, what does Jenny see in Jesse exactly? How might her feelings for Jesse change her seemingly close relationship with Abby? The screenplay does not bother with specifics and so there is no drama worth looking into.

When not even Allison Janney, playing a woman who can detect people’s energy, can save the movie, then that is saying something. “Touchy Feely” is a complete misfire—an interminable bore. I was mystified as to what the writer-director, Lynn Shelton, hoped to accomplish. I wondered if she watched the movie and was absolutely convinced that her work was worth other people’s time.

A note to all filmmakers: If you want to make a personal project that you think will touch the viewers or connect with it somehow, write beyond skeletal characteristics. Provide specifics. Do not rest on irony or a one-note joke. However, if you wish to make a personal project for sake of getting it out of your system without it being cinematically qualified, feel free to do so. But keep it in your house.

Super


Super (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Frank (Rainn Wilson) suspects that his marriage is in trouble. His wife is not as loving and energetic as usual. A couple of days later, she leaves with a drug dealer, Jacques (Kevin Bacon), and becomes a tester for the most recent drugs he has acquired. Frank turns to God so he can find a way to get his wife back. After dreaming that he has been touched by God, he comes to a conclusion that he is going to be a superhero, The Crimson Bolt, whose job is to punish evil doers, from people who cut in line to pedophiles.

“Super,” written and directed by James Gunn, is intended to be a comedy with an edgy dramatic undertone, but I found myself pitying Frank more than rooting for him. Acknowledging that feeling is important. How can I laugh at someone and derive pleasure from the images being relayed if a part of me hopes for the protagonist to seek serious professional help?

I saw the lead character as a broken man who just cannot accept that his wife no longer wants to be with him. Since his psychological break goes untreated, the sadness that accumulates in his mind and heart becomes an unmitigated anger. This man chose a wrench as his alter ego’s main weapon. He bashes people’s heads with it until their skulls crack and bleed to death. I failed to see Frank as The Crimson Bolt the superhero; I saw Frank as The Crimson Bolt the psychologically untreated person who desperately needs someone to talk to and possibly in need of medication.

There is one scene, however, that I found really amusing. We all have had the pleasure to line up at the movies–sometimes outside in the cold–after we have paid for our ticket. After waiting for what seems like an eternity, people who think they are privileged or special suddenly decide to cut in line. Frank is unable to put up with it so he decides to leave his position, dresses up as his superhero alter ego, and punishes those who have no sense of respect for those who actually take the time and have the patience to line up just like everyone else. It is funny because it touched upon feelings that we can all relate with and the fantasy of coming up to those who butt in and “punishing” them is realized. Instead of the comedy relying on Frank acting crazy, the comedy is attributed to the situation. By watching that scene, in a way, he becomes our alter ego. It ceases to feel as mean-spirited.

As the picture goes on, Libby (Ellen Page) comes to learn Frank’s extracurricular activities. She figures he can use some help so she embraces the honor of becoming his sidekick. As Boltie, she lusts for violence and laughs at the people she injures. When Frank and Libby discuss what being a superhero means, despite the irony that they aren’t, it works. The two actors feed off each other’s energy: Wilson is more brooding and introspective while Page is more like an unstoppable wildfire. But when the duo turn into The Crimson Bolt and Boltie, once again the maiming, bruising, killing become the source of humor.

I understand that “Super” wants to do something different by piling on bloody violence, dark humor, and psychological breakdown. On that level, I appreciated the effort. But as a whole, the violence feels so gratuitous. Toward the end when people’s limbs are being cut off and bodies are being blown up to smithereens accompanied by colorful comic book subtitles, I wondered how it is different from torture porn. The message becomes, “This is violent! …But it’s fun.” Actually, no, it isn’t. At least not to me.

X-Men: The Last Stand


X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
★★ / ★★★★

The government had found a drug that could suppress the mutant gene which recently became available to the public. Magneto (Ian McKellen), more than ever, was desperate to eliminate humans due to their intolerance against Mutants. Meanwhile, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) came back from the dead but, Phoenix, her other fiery and unpredictable personality had almost completely taken over. It seemed like not even Professor X (Patrick Stewart) could control her. Written by Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn, “X-Men: The Last Stand” felt like it settled with one concept and allowed the action scenes to take control of the material. As it went on, I wondered when it was going to offer us something fresh. The idea of finding a cure to a mutation could have gone in a million interesting directions, but the script didn’t break away from the topic of humans versus mutants. Humans were bad, mutants were good–except for the ones who chose to team up with Magneto. We just knew they were bad because they wore leather jackets, had tattoos, and rode motorcycles. There was a painful lack of depth. The introduction of Beast (Kelsey Grammer), a key figure in the United States public relations, could have been a chance for the material to acknowledge that not everyone in the government wanted to “cure” Mutants. There was irony in the way he looked versus the manner in which he carried himself. He looked like an animal but he was professional, smart, and very likable. The fact that the filmmakers didn’t do more with the character was beyond me. Did we really need more sloppily put together action sequences? The tension between Mutants and humans became increasingly complicated because the root of the problem wasn’t black and white. Further, the characters weren’t utilized in an interesting way. For example, it seemed like Rogue (Anna Paquin) only wanted to be cured because she wished to be able to touch Bobby (Shawn Ashmore), her boyfriend, without a glove. She became very jealous when she saw Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and Bobby get close physically. The complexity between Rogue and Iceman’s relationship was suddenly thrown out the window for the sake of typical teen drama. Rogue looked selfish. She didn’t even get to help in the final battle. The writers needed to sort out her priorities. As for Angel (Ben Foster), he wasn’t given much except to look pretty while flying around the city. I wanted to know how he felt with the fact that his father didn’t accept him for who he was to the point where he felt the need to cut off his wings when he was a child. If Angel’s scenes were completely removed from the film, the final product would have been the same. That subplot’s lack of connection to the main storyline reflected the picture’s main weakness. Directed by Brett Ratner, “X-Men: The Last Stand” did exactly the opposite of what made its predecessors very entertaining. The material having imagination didn’t necessarily mean expensive-looking special and visual effects. It meant bringing out the magic from within the characters and reminding us why we loved them even though they were genetically dissimilar from us.

Inception


Inception (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The film started off like a spy film: the glamorous and exotic locale, fashionable suits, femme fatales. But unlike typical espionage pictures, the first half of the characters’ goal was not to steal a valuable object but an idea located deep inside a target’s dreams. The second (and more difficult) half was to get away with it by allowing the target to wake and continue living his life as if nothing had been taken away from him. This simplified two-step process was known as “extraction,” in which Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) was a leading expert. Cobb was not allowed to return to the United States to see his children so Kaito (Ken Watanabe) made an offer that Cobb simply could not refuse: to plant an idea in a future corporate leader’s mind (Cillian Murphy), known as “inception,” which had rarely been done before. If this last massion was successful, it would lead to Cobb’s freedom. In order to accomplish the mission, Cobb had to assemble a team (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao) with very special talents and they had to dive in the target’s subconscious while navigating their way through defenses set up by the mind and the secrets Cobb kept from his unsuspecting team.

When the movie started, I barely had any idea what was happening. I knew something exciting was happening on screen because of the intricate action sequences and splendid visuals but as far as the story went, it was still nondescript. However, that was not at all a problem because the film eventually established the elementary elements required so that we could have an understanding of what was about to happen. Despite its two-and-a-half-hour running time, I was impressed with its pacing. There was an assigned time for getting to know the lead character in terms of his career, his past, and his inner demons. Once I had a somewhat clear idea of his motivations, I immediately felt that there was something wrong with the way he saw the world and the specifics were eventually revealed in an elegant, sometimes emotional, and often mind-bending manner. Their missions were often sabotaged by Mal (Marion Cotillard), Cobb’s projection of his wife who had passed away, due to an unsolved guilt that he constantly pushed away. Throughout the course of the film, that guilt, like Mal, became more powerful and became a hindrance that the main character and his team could no longer set aside. Anyone with a background in Psychology will truly appreciate the film’s level of intelligence in terms of Sigmund Freud’s revolutionary idea involving the subconscious manifesting in our every day lives and maintaining our mental homeostasis. But what impressed me even more was the minute details in the script such as the characters mentioning topics such as positive and negative emotions interacting and which side had more power over the other, one’s sense of reality while being in a dream… within a dream, and even questions like “If we die in our dreams, do we die in real life?” were acknowledged. That’s one of the things I loved about the film: it was able to present ideas we are aware of but it just had enough dark twist to create something original.

As with most movies with grand ambitions, I had some questions left unanswered. What about those instances when we are aware that we are dreaming and we can control what will happen in our dreams? I have experienced such a phenomenon time and again (and I’m sure others have as well) and I was curious if and how the movie could explain such a strange occurrence. And what about those moments when we sleep but we are not yet dreaming? What if our dreams are interrupted? Sure, the team injected chemicals in their bodies to stabilize the feeling of reality in dreams but, as the movie perfectly illustrated, nothing completely goes according to plan. Perhaps I’m just being more analytical than I should be thanks to the fascinating sleep studies I encountered in Neurobiology and Psychology courses. But I believe a mark of a great film is open to question, interpretation and debate. I say we question because we have embraced the material and we are hungry for more. That’s how I know I’m emotionally and intellectually invested in a film. That absolute killer final shot and the audiences’ collective sigh of anticipation for the clear-cut answer as the screen cut to black was simply icing on the cake.

“Inception,” written and directed by Christopher Nolan, was certainly worth over a year’s wait since it was still in pre-production. I remember trying look for more information about it during my midterm study breaks (and getting so caught up in it) so I am completely elated that it was finally released and it turned out to be one of the finest and most rewarding movies of 2010. It may not have been its goal but “Inception” certainly adds a much needed positive reputation to mainstream movies, especially in a season full of sequels and spoon-fed entertainment. I was optimistic early 2010 in terms of the quality of movies about to be released in theaters, especially when Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” came out, but now I am more than convinced that the film industry is experiencing a drought of refreshing and daring ideas. Some critics may compare “Inception” to “The Matrix” (both great movies) but I think “Inception” functions on a higher level overall and it has an identity of its own. Perhaps an injection of new blood that is “Inception” will inspire movie studios to take more risks in terms of which movies they green light. There is no doubt that mindless, swashbuckling popcorn adventures or even extremely diluted romantic comedies have their place in the market. But with the critical and mass success of “Inception,” it shows that audiences are always ready to be inspired by new ideas and to dream a little bigger.

Whip It


Whip It (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

I liked Drew Barrymore’s directoral debut “Whip It” starring Ellen Page but I think it held back when it came to really delivering something different. I loved that the film was about a teeanger who was constantly forced by her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) to participate in pageants only to realize later that she was more interested in roller derby. I thought it was refreshing because there are way too many teen movies out there that focus on (and even glamorize) girly girls and how life is so very hard for them. Give me a break. Seeing tough, rebellious girls on screen, I can identify with them a lot more so I was interested with what was going on in their livies. I thought the first part of this movie was stronger because it was all about pulling away from something the lead character did not believe in and finding something she thought was not only fun but also cathartic. I felt for her wish concerning getting out of the small town she lived in and leading her life however she wanted to. And it helped that Page just had that natural I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude going on. I loved watching the roller derby competition as they busted out interesting tactics to gain points. (I got giddy whenever they pulled out that whip strategy.) But the second half was problematic because it succumbed to the typicality of other teen film fares. For instance, Page’s deteriorating relationship with her best friend, the parents finding out about their daughter’s secret “extracurricular activities,” and finding out about the true colors of a boy the lead character fell for. I’ve seen it all before and I didn’t want to see it in this movie because all I wanted was to have fun. I enjoyed the supporting characters such as Kristen Wiig, Eve, Juliette Lewis, Zoe Bell and Drew Barrymore. Barrymore had small scenes here and there; she stole the spotlight every single time and I almost wished that she had a bigger role. With a running time of two hours, it felt that long at times because the forced dramatic arcs became the forefront somewhere in the middle. Nevertheless, I’ll give “Whip It” a light recommendation because I thought it was enjoyable to watch despite its big flaws. Perhaps with more experience directing, Barrymore can one day create a picture that’s more focused and not resting on recycled material while still telling a story about characters that have some sort of a charming edginess going on.