Tag: emily blunt

Your Sister’s Sister

Your Sister’s Sister (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

As his closest friend, Iris (Emily Blunt) feels that Jack (Mark Duplass) could use some time for himself after the death of his brother so she invites him to stay at her family’s vacation home. He accepts but when he gets there, it turns out that Iris’ half-sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), is also using the place in order so sort things out. Half-mistaken as a peeping Tom, suffice to say that things between Jack and Hannah start awkwardly but the two soon find a connection over a bottle of tequila.

Based on the screenplay and directed by Lynn Shelton, “Your Sister’s Sister” has a great ear for dialogue partnered with winning performances but its weak third act keeps us at arm’s length unintentionally instead of drawing us in and feeling convinced that the ending is right for the specific story being told.

The three performers are able to function on a synergistic wavelength in order to make their respective characters and the emotions they go through believable. Duplass plays Jack with a schlubby vulnerability that is familiar but appropriately comforting, Blunt gives Iris the necessary energy as the mediator between two people she loves, and DeWitt injects Hannah with an edge messy enough to leave us wary of her intentions. We can predict that the relationships will be challenged but there is something about these characters that make us want to know more.

Because it is essentially a three-person show, we get to dive into the dynamics between Iris and Hannah as well as the special friendship between Irish and Jack. There are no big scenes of sweeping realizations. Most of the information they learn from one another are played either through laughs when a story is recalled or a joke is made or silence if a sensitive matter is introduced and using words does not feel right as a tool for comfort. They think and behave like real people making the best out of the cards that have been handed to them.

Three-quarters through, however, the picture drops the ball with a deafening thud. Once secrets are out in the open, the material goes through the usual motions of sad music playing in the background and montages of silence between characters that is so typical, it is comic more than dramatic. With such intelligence and heart that manage to guide the screenplay for more than half of the race, is leaning on clichés really the only way to conclude the story?

The final shot is a dare for critical evaluation. I did not find it annoying, but I found it tripe and too easy. It rings false because the writer-director has not found a way for the audience to get over the awkwardness we feel for them. It feels like a season finale of a sitcom still learning to stand on its feet instead of a film that is complete where we can believe that these characters can go on to live their lives after it fades to black.

A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Director John Krasinski encourages viewers to imagine living in a world where one must learn to exist with making as minimal noise as possible. Because failing to adhere to a certain decibel level relative to the baseline sound of the environment almost certainly results in monstrous creatures running toward the source of detectable noise. What better way to entangle us into this universe than employing silence to give to us room to ponder and consider. It is so engrossing, eventually we are conditioned to look at a room and note every object that might create the slightest noise. It is a high-caliber survival story.

To call a movie “adrenaline-fueled” is a wilted cliché, but it is most appropriate here. During its well-written and consistently well-timed rising action, when a family of four (Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe), initially a family of five, is thrusted into one horrific situation after another, it felt as if I had run several laps around the theater. I could feel my heartbeat pulsating out of my chest in both anticipation and reaction; it is clear that the material understands the critical balance of suspense (anticipation) and thrill (reaction). It knows how to engage the viewer at the most primal level—and it is not just because a family we grow to care about is in mortal danger. We imagine ourselves in their shoes, how we might react given a set of extremely challenging circumstances.

Although a horror film, we are inspired not to look away—a trait that genre greats tend to have in common. The reason is because although we might be terrified of what is unfolding in front of our very eyes, our innate curiosity to learn or discover overpowers our fears. And so we look on. This is a horror project that invites rather than repels—which is so beautiful to come across because this approach is now a rarity in modern, certainly mainstream, horror filmmaking. Nowadays, it is more about parading guts and gore or shaking the camera relentlessly rather than building upon the threat until the inevitable boiling point.

The picture’s excellence lies in its willingness to take its time. Observe the key scene where the father decides to take his son by the river. While there, they must wade through water, open traps, and acquire fish. But the son, clearly traumatized by what tends to happen when they make noise, would not even get in the water. The father recognizes that forcing the boy isn’t the right way to go. And so they share a conversation, a quiet moment in a not-so-quiet place, in which it is implied that the timid youngest must learn to push through his apprehension in order to learn and survive. I argue that this sensitive moment is the heart of the picture. Although there is no action, and it is important there isn’t one so we get a chance to focus on both the images and what is being communicated, it wonderfully captures what the story is about. No, it is not about monsters killing people.

Time will tell whether “A Quiet Place” is a modern classic. In my eyes, it already is. Its premise is creative, its execution most entertaining, and it is highly efficient in communicating what it hopes to accomplish. In addition, it dares viewers to observe every scene as if it were a visual novel; it assumes that we are intelligent by avoiding to spell out every beat, pause, and implication. And it reminds us that sound need not be used so much in film given that every other element is elevated.


Sicario (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Only about a half a dozen movies come out a year, oftentimes fewer, that are written and executed with such surgical precision that one cannot help but hold one’s breath out of trepidation that it would somehow trip and lose momentum. Fear not: “Sicario,” written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Denis Villeneuve, is a treasure that not once loses its shine. It is as clear as summer’s day that it is an all-rounder, one of the best movies of the year.

It tells the story of an idealistic FBI agent named Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) who is given the opportunity to join a team, temporarily, where she can make more of an impact in taking down a Mexican drug lord. She volunteers to work for an advisor for the Department of Defense, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), but she quickly realizes that something is amiss—beginning with a top secret trip to Mexico and an illicit course of action where lives are put in danger and taken away. She gives an ultimatum: To be given the truth and some answers or she will walk away.

Blunt fits the role like a glove. She moves so naturally, elegantly and yet there is a brittle toughness to her, as if she has something to prove. This sense of purpose is critical in order to convince us that the FBI agent she plays believes in what she does so wholeheartedly that at times she becomes blind to the complexities of the politics—politics of laws and government agencies, politics of land and borders, politics of ethics and morality.

Also take note of the way Blunt’s eyes always appears to be moving, often in a confused panic, searching for something. When I looked into those eyes, I saw a person who is drowning, struggling to make sense of where she is and what she is doing. In a way, Kate is us, the audience, in that she is new to the chess game of what is really going on out there. The character arc that Kate undergoes is one of the more subtle and wonderfully executed I have had the pleasure to observe and dissect in quite some time.

Like many exemplary suspenseful crime-thrillers, the picture knows the art of holding back on the score. This allows us to focus on the images—beautifully shot particularly feminine portraits in profile and wide shots of men in gear and their silhouettes. We hear barking of a lively dog. The distant chirping of crickets. The roar of jet engines. The whirring blades of a helicopter. The rat-tat-tat of assault rifles. The thud of lifeless bodies hitting the ground.

There are instances when words are not required to communicate a feeling. Sometimes, for instance, a barking of a dog functions as a foreshadowing. We must be alert to these sounds—and what they might signify—in order to experience and appreciate the film fully. Once the score is utilized, however, it creeps in, takes ahold like rheumatic branch and amplifies our concerns and fears.

“Sicario” is the kind of feature film I look for: the story and characters are designed for intelligent audiences; it is teeming with unsaid words and unexpressed emotions and yet we comprehend what the filmmakers are attempting to accomplish; and it holds up a mirror to our current lives thereby showing us what is wrong with it without coming across like a lesson or a lecture. The work demands attention and afterthought.

Into the Woods

Into the Woods (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

A baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) wish to conceive a child but their previous attempts had been unsuccessful. A witch (Meryl Streep) who lives next door reveals that this is so because she had cast a curse on the baker’s family when he was an infant and it can only be reversed if she is provided the following by the third midnight: a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, a slipper as pure as gold, and a cow as white as milk. These items can be found by venturing bravely into the woods.

Based on James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s play of the same name, “Into the Woods” offers a neat concept of combining well-known fairy tales and attempting to mold an original story without the expected, well-ironed lessons and neatly tied ending. On several levels, the movie works. Once it starts, for those of us who have not seen the original musical, we wonder if and are excited as to how the screenplay will manage to weave in the various subplots together. However, let us not forget that the picture is, in its core, a musical. None of the songs are instantly memorable. Not one of them demands to be heard a second time. There is not one perfectly choreographed number powerful enough to make any sort of a cultural impact.

When the characters sing, I wanted to put my palms onto my ears and press hard. I found the songs to be so forced—many of them relying on sweeping crescendos to create a semblance of emotion. The melodies usually do not match the lyrics. The lyrics are either too wordy or there are too many syllables packed together in a meter to be considered pleasing to the eardrums. For a musical that is supposed to be very successful, I was at a loss how it had managed to reach such a status. Is it the costumes? Do key elements in the musical fail to translate on screen? In any case, evaluating the movie as is, it doesn’t work.

The material is at the top of its form when it is treated like a children’s book. Notice that in certain sections of the film, the narrator comes in, provides a bit of background or informs us what is about to transpire, and the characters are allowed to interact with one another. It may come across slightly robotic at times, but the pacing is fast and to the point. The experience is smooth—like reading one or two lines on the page, looking at the pictures, and turning onto the next page. There is a rhythm that is easy to follow and so we overlook or forgive the picture’s shortcomings.

But then the singing starts up again. Because the music is an experience to be endured, we notice little things like a handful of the performers’ voices perhaps not being too well-suited to musicals. An exception is Daniel Huttlestone who plays a dim-witted boy named Jack, assigned by his mother (Tracey Ullman) to sell their cow for no less than five pounds. Also during the musical numbers, observe that the woods looks like a set equipped with fake leaves, fake fog, fake shadows, fake emotions. We even grow watchful of the makeup on the actors’ faces. It shouldn’t be this way.

For what it’s worth, “Into the Woods,” directed by Rob Marshall, takes some risks that I appreciated. The interactions between Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) and the Wolf (Johnny Depp) have a sexual undercurrent that is certain to go over kids’ heads. Cinderella and Rapunzel’s princes (Chris Pine and Billy Bagnussen, respectively) have their highly amusing moments. And Streep, as usual, elevates the material by playing a character that is over-the-top but not exactly cartoonish. Be forewarned, however, that while the film is tolerable, its failings are distractingly conspicuous.

Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Five years since the invasion of extraterrestrial beings called Mimics comes hope that these formidable creatures can be eradicated once and for all. To claim surefire victory, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) spearheads Operation Downfall which involves troops being airdropped on a beach in France, closing out the west side of Europe as the Chinese and Russians do the same from the east.

Brigham assigns Major Cage (Tom Cruise) to be with the troops, as a symbol of support and as additional hand in the defining battle, but Cage insists that he is not at all combat-ready. He urges that he remains only as a spokesman for the United Defense Forces. The next day, Cage wakes up at Heathrow Airport, stripped off his title, while final preparations for the crucial attack are made.

Confident in execution and proudly wearing its inspirations on its sleeve, “Edge of Tomorrow,” based on the screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, is a rousing, funny, entertaining sci-fi action with enough brains and visual spectacles to satisfy a spectrum of audiences. Note, however, that it is neither the most thoughtful movie about mortality nor an allegory of facing the so-called Other, but it impresses on multiple facets, mainly on the level of a summer blockbuster flick—and that is not a backhanded compliment.

Cruise shows that he is a seasoned actor not because he does his own stunts and capable of delivering lines in a very intense way when absolutely necessary—although these are impressive on their own—but because he is aware that in order for his character come across as a believable protagonist, he must act as he if he were in a dramatic picture even though the genre is clearly science fiction. Notice the subtle transition of cowardly Cage to someone who commands a fiery will to protect a woman he has fallen in love with (Emily Blunt) and win against the alien invaders. Subtlety in acting is uncommon when it comes to movies that, in Roger Ebert’s immortal words, blow stuff up real good.

The plot is a mixture of the opening scene of Steven Spielberg’s excellent “Saving Private Ryan” and Harold Ramis’ highly amusing “Groundhog Day.” Cage gains the ability to reset the dreaded day over and over as long as he dies—by accident, by being killed, or by his own hand. He is a smart character and able to learn quickly from his mistakes. The drawback is that he is stubborn and he tends to lose track of the bigger picture when his love interest is involved. I enjoyed that the screenplay is aware that believable heroes have both internal and external flaws. Imperfections keep the audience watching.

Admittedly, the conceit of resetting the day began to wear me down eventually. Although I knew it was necessary to the plot and the story, I wished that the writers had found a way to change the rules of the game halfway through instead of pushing it until the final quarter. Yes, the picture changes gears eventually.

I wanted to know details about the invaders. For example, what do the aliens want from Earth exactly? We never learn for sure. There is one line of speculation during the first ten minutes of the film and the rest is thrown out the window. Are there many others out there with Cage’s ability? There is talk of the person with the reset ability being psychically linked to the aliens, but given that there are other humans out there with the same or similar ability, can they connect with each other’s thoughts?

Perhaps these are not questions I should be asking. But my point is this: It would not have hurt the film if it had been more ambitious. It gets the look exactly right, from the so-called strength-amplifying jackets that soldiers must wear to fight against Mimics to the bare ruins of once beautiful cities that tourists from all over the world once relished, but the scope of its universe feels very limited. Great science fiction films are unafraid to take risks and go beyond what the audience expects.

Directed by Doug Liman, “Edge of Tomorrow” is nonetheless a movie worth seeing because it is fun, energetic, visually striking, and has a sense of humor. One word of warning: If one goes into this looking for plot holes (it must be terrible being a cynic), one would likely see them and inevitably be disappointed. But if one goes into it just hoping to be entertained, one would likely get exactly what he or she wants. Sometimes that is more than enough.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) works for a firm that represents a sheikh (Amr Waked) who wishes to introduce native Atlantic salmon and the sport of salmon fishing into the Yemen, so she contacts Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), a fisheries specialist, to ask if this course of action is possible. The scientist responds and expresses that the idea is ridiculous, claiming that salmon live in cold waters and Yemen is anything but wet let alone cold. But Sheikh Muhammed is determined and willing to pay millions to get what he wants. Soon, plans are underway, the British government onboard, with the consultant and the scientist teaming up to make the unfeasible project feasible.

Though propelled by a bizarre idea, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” based on the novel by Paul Torday, is rendered beautifully, from its rapturous landscapes to the human relationships involved in taking fish out of their natural habitat onto somewhere new which, in theory, will serve as a symbol of East and West having a closer, stronger link.

The film is anchored by a professional relationship between Harriet and Dr. Jones, the screenplay playing upon the idea that opposites tend to attract. Blunt plays Harriet with a commanding joie de vivre, intelligent but unafraid to be silly, open to new experiences without losing track of what she considers to be her roots. McGregor, on the other hand, portrays Dr. Jones as a cerebral person but far from blind to the poetries and ironies of words and situations, one who is hungry for something exciting while keeping the majority of the yearning repressed, and having a very droll British humor. There is a joke about him acting like someone with Aspergers syndrome and the material gets away with it.

Their eventual romance is underplayed which is the right decision in a movie like this. If there had been more relationship viscera about Dr. Jones’ marriage and Harriet’s boyfriend (Tom Mison), focus would have been on the melodrama instead of the attempt of making the impossible possible. Despite minimization of the central character’s original relationships prior to them falling for one another, it is nice that we are allowed to understand and sympathize with the scientist and the consultant’s struggles. For a while, there seems to be an equal number of reasons why they should not be together as opposed to the alternative.

The direction allows the landscapes to breathe. Though it does not barrage us with overhead shots of the water, the desert, and the grassy mountains, we get a specific feel for each of them in the backdrop of characters walking from one place to another or simply by standing still. The simplicity in the way it is shot looks sharp, clean, and effortless. My only complaint is that I would have liked to have seen more fish.

“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” directed by Lasse Hallström, is slightly inadequate only in the political maneuverings executed by Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), the press secretary to the British prime minister, who hopes to use the eccentric project–and a bit of spinning–to establish better international relations. It is supposed to be a satire, I guess, but it looks and feels more like a farce. Such scenes manage to take away some of the poetry and rhythmic groove that make us want to believe and participate in the mystic veins of having faith, the exhumation of the land, and the conflicting matters of the heart.


Looper (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) does not mean for him, his future self, to get away, a momentary hesitation that allows Old Joe (Bruce Willis), sent from year 2074 by a criminal organization using a time machine to be executed and disposed of in 2044, to escape which prompts the boss (Jeff Daniels) to initiate a hunt to kill the two. It is the only way to minimize further changes in the future. The problem is Joe wishes to live a full life even though he already knows that being a looper, an assassin of the present assigned to murder people sent from the future, comes with an expiration date of age thirty. Meanwhile, Old Joe hopes to alter the past by killing a person called The Rainmaker in order to undo the death of his wife.

Written and directed by Rian Johnson, “Looper” explores a handful of interesting and intertwining ideas about the people affected by time travel, outlawed by the government upon its discovery, and avoids many details and technicalities of the concept itself. There is a difference and it is an important one because by focusing on the former, the writer-director constructs a story that we can, first and foremost, invest in or care about and, secondly, appreciate a fictionalized world of flying motorcycles and people with the ability to move objects using their minds due to a genetic mutation that affects ten percent of the population.

I enjoyed that the interactions between current and future Joe are kept to a minimum. Their one conversation set in a diner is imbued with an electric dialogue that is ironic and funny but serious and intelligent, too. This scene is not only a stand out because of the script. It is the point when we can observe how alike–or different–the actors are with respect to them playing, essentially, the same person. One is able to match the other not simply in terms of quirks but, for example, how one delivers a calculating gaze to a threatening or curious figure. The way in which they place stresses on particular words are also fun to pick up on.

Though it was easy for me to divorce between actor and makeup, I would have preferred that Gordon-Levitt was not given prosthetics so that he would look more like Willis. Since the picture functions on a relatively high level of imagination, it would have made sense for the filmmakers to assume that we had the initiative and the capacity to imagine the two actors, given that their performances complement each other well, playing a variation of one character.

What works less effectively is that the script does not give enough details about the organization led by Abe (Daniels). Is its goal more related to business like running a drug cartel and strip joints or is its objective more concerned about the bodies that come from the future? Furthermore, while Abe is nicely played by Daniels because he tends to choose quiet over hyperbolic menace, we do not see the character do much other than give orders. For someone who is supposed to be the leader, he does an awful lot of waiting for everyone else to do their jobs right. Ultimately, watching him does not feel like we are being engaged with a character who has much purpose underneath the archetype of a mob boss of some sort.

“Looper” may be and is faulted for its irregular pacing particularly when the story takes a detour on a farm. I respected this change of pace because it ties in to the idea that the picture is not just a sci-fi action film padded by chases and bullets flying. It takes a risk worth noting. It gives itself a chance to turn its attention toward one or two moral questions by setting aside almost half of its entertainment value. This approach is not common but it sure is admirable.

The Five-Year Engagement

The Five-Year Engagement (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Tom (Jason Segel) felt it was time for him and his girlfriend, Violet (Emily Blunt), to get married and settle down so he proposed to her exactly a year since they met during a New Year’s Eve party in San Francisco. Violet was happy and excited to accept the proposal but this was before she found out that she’d been accepted to attend the University of Michigan to further her studies in social psychology. Although Tom agreed to uproot his career as a sous-chef in the West Coast and move with Violet to Michigan, he became increasingly unhappy upon realizing that his life, personal and professional, had grown stagnant. “The Five-Year Engagement,” based on the screenplay by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, had good bits of comedy but was at its prime when it took an unblinking look at a relationship, once healthy and mutualistic, being swarmed by jealousy, guilt, and resentment as one’s success became hand-in-hand with the other’s failure. Casting Segel and Blunt as a couple was both surprising and effective. One rather ordinary-looking and the other quite stunning, the actors were given the responsibility to build and continually work on their chemistry in order to create a believable couple whom we cared about as a duo as well as individuals. Over time, we came understand what Tom saw in Violet and, perhaps more importantly, what Violet saw in Tom. We’ve all come across couples and wondered what one was doing with the other given that we happen to believe that one was not quite on the “same level” of attractiveness as the other. I enjoyed that the writing was aware enough to acknowledge that fact without being so blunt about it. Furthermore, in order to balance negative emotions like fears and insecurities, there was also a lot of sweetness and tenderness between Tom and Violet. Interestingly enough, however, the supporting actors’ ability to steal the spotlight benefited and hurt the the film. Chris Pratt as Tom’s best friend and Alison Brie as Violet’s sister had hilarious lines of dialogue that each time they were on screen, I was excited by the unpredictability of their comic performances. Pratt and Brie commanded such presence that at times I wished the picture was about them. With a running time of about two hours, the bulk of Tom and Violet’s relationship, specifically after they moved to Michigan, contained a lot of sadness which eventually began to feel like a trial. The situations and feelings that were explored were absolutely necessary to story but the pacing was occasionally slow-moving and the various attempts at humor by the central couple were neither consistently funny nor as exciting as the couple serving as foils. Instead of the subplot involving Violet and her professor, arguably the weakest and most predictable part of the film, I would like to have seen the material explore the pressures that Tom and Violet felt from their parents, how the latter kept pushing them to just get married already. A lot of it was played for laughs but when it took a more serious approach, it was both genuine and challenging. Directed by Nicholas Stoller, it was apparent that the struggle between making a strong artistic statement about modern couples and achieving commercial success hindered “The Five-Year Engagement” from reaching its true potential. For what it is, however, it was still a good show.

The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, “The Adjustment Bureau” was about a U.S. Congressman named David Norris (Matt Damon) and his accidental discovery of men in hats (John Slattery, Anthony Mackie, Terence Stamp) whose jobs were to make sure that fate went according to plan. The event that triggered it all was David’s chance encounter with Elise (Emily Blunt), incidentally, the night David was destined to lose the election. The moment David and Elyse met, they immediately felt a spark, a signal that perhaps they just might spend the rest of their lives together. But the mysterious men in hats and their boss upstairs knew that David and Elyse were not meant to meet each other, let alone be together, so they were willing to do whatever means necessary to keep them apart. The film was a successful hybrid of romance and science fiction. Its casting should be recognized. From the moment David and Elyse met in the men’s restroom, Damon and Blunt convinced us that their characters were perfect for one another. They played each other off with ease. From the awkward “What are you doing in the men’s restroom?” look to the way the their bodies moved closer to each other as their first conversation went on, the picture convinced us that they had chemistry. Casting was fundamental but critical because if their interactions lacked charm, we wouldn’t have been emotionally invested. If we didn’t want them to end up together, the conspiracy that wanted to keep them apart would have been ineffective. I admired the fact that there was not a defined good versus evil. The agents of the Adjustment Bureau were assigned a job and their job just happened to involve separating forces that greatly attracted each other. There were some plot holes, especially since the film took the liberty to fast forward in time for several years without explaining some events that happened in between, and misplaced expositions designed to explain what was happening and why certain things had to happen a certain way, but such elements were almost expected in high concept movies. For me, what mattered more was the material always looked forward so its pacing was steady. Like people in love, as long as I remained curious about the mystery and how the romance would eventually turn out, I learned to live with its imperfections. Unlike most films with romance in their veins, David and Elise’s fate as a couple wasn’t perfectly clear. There was a discussion of death which could serve as a foreshadowing. There was a question whether we should leave someone we love if we knew that our presence in their lives hindered them from reaching their potential. But there was also an implication that if enough unpredictable ripple effect were created, perhaps fate could be changed even in the slightest ways. Directed by George Nolfi, “The Adjustment Bureau” was able to reach a balance between intelligence and heart. But what it required from us was a little bit of imagination.

The Young Victoria

The Young Victoria (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Future Queen Victoria’s (Emily Blunt) mother (Miranda Richardson) and stepfather (Mark Strong) desperately tried to convince their daughter to sign away her power until she was 25 years old before she turned 18. However, Victoria wanted to run her empire despite her age and inexperience. Meanwhile, she also had to deal with Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) who craved more power and Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) who was sent to court Victoria in order to gain political advantage. I am somewhat torn about this film because while I did admire its consistently strong acting (particularly from Blunt) and it had an unconventional feel in terms of telling a period picture, I felt like it did not have enough gravity to really get me to be interested in its history. Perhaps period movies are just not my cup of tea. However, I really did try to get into the conflicted characters and the difficult circumstances that plagued them. For instance, I empathized with Victoria’s mother but at the same time I wanted to shake her because she chose her current husband over her daughter time and time again. I understood her fears of not being wanted in a society where aging women were dispensable so she clung onto people that could protect her. I related to her because wanting to be valued is a universal feeling. Furthermore, I had a feeling that the film had a hard time balancing Queen Victoria’s political decisions and the repercussions of her actions (and inaction) alongside her romance with Prince Albert. Just when one of the two became interesting, it switched gears and I was left frustrated because I wanted to feel more involved. Since I did not know much about England’s history, a lot of the plot was a surprise to me. The scenes were elegantly shot particularly the scenes during and after Victoria was finally crowned, the dinner scene in King William’s court (Jim Broadbent) when everybody had to try to be polite even though not everybody liked each other, and the extreme close-ups when Victoria and Albert were face-to-face after not seeing each other for extended periods of time. “The Young Victoria,” directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, needed more focus in terms of Queen Victoria’s role in politics. In the end, I did not feel much growth from her in terms of managing her empire; the feeling I got was she needed a man to help her run her empire. If it were not for the title cards in the last two minutes, I would have came to a conclusion that Queen Victoria was not an effective leader of her people.

The Wolfman

The Wolfman (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Set in a Victorian-era Great Britain, “The Wolfman” told Lawrence Talbot’s (Benicio Del Toro) horrific transformation and the bloody mayhem he caused after surviving a werewolf attack. Emily Blunt and Anthony Hopkins also star as Lawrence’s delicate sister-in-law and mysterious father. I think this movie would have benefited greatly if it had a shorter running time. Even though the middle portion had a number of exciting scenes with bucketloads of blood and body parts flying around, it lagged because the character development felt forced. It was almost as if the movie was following a pattern of one werewolf attack after fifteen to twenty minutes of dull conversations. The acting also could have used a bit more consistency: I felt like Blunt was stuck in a sappy romantic period piece, Hopkins doing another rendition of his character in “The Silence of the Lambs,” and Del Toro was left in the middle of it all and sometimes looking confused. As for the werewolf hunter played buy Hugo Weaving, I found it difficult to root for him (or were we even supposed to?) because he lacked charm and power. He was just desperate and angry throughout the entire film and I needed to see another dimension. Moreover, I found the flashback scenes to be completely unnecessary (and irksome). Instead of cutting those out and leaving the audiences to interpret what they think happened in the past (the character did a lot of talking so the pieces were certainly there), everything was spelled out so the picture lacked a much-needed subtlety. However, there were a few stand-out scenes that I thought had real sense of dread: when Del Toro rushed into the fog to rescue a gypsy kid from the werewolf and all we could see were rocks and fog, the scene in the asylum where doctors from all over gathered to witness a “cured” man who “thought’ he was a werewolf, and the scene where Del Toro first transformed into a monster. Like most horror movies, even though this picture delivered the gore and the violence, it lacked focus because the writing was not strong enough. There was a lack of a natural flow from one scene to the next so the film at times felt disjointed and I was left to evaluate where we were in the story instead of focusing on what was happening on screen at the time. “The Wolfman,” directed by Joe Johnston, was a nice attempt at a solid horror film about cursed humans who were slaves to the full moon but it ultimately came up short. It’s not a bad DVD rental but I wouldn’t rush to see it in theaters.

Sunshine Cleaning

Sunshine Cleaning (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

Amy Adams stars in “Sunshine Cleaning,” a story about a woman who was in desperate financial situations so she took up a job, along with her sister played by Emily Blunt, cleaning up after crime scenes and suicides. I expected this movie to be more on the comedic side than the dramatic side but it was a nice surprise because it ended up to be a good balance of both. I really got a sense of Adams’ strong female character who, despite her flaws, was willing to go on when life throws an unsuspecting blow to her upward momentum. It was really easy for me to root for her because she was fighting various elements: her rocky relationship with her sister, her son (Jason Spevack) who kept getting into trouble in school because of his strange behaviors, her fling with her high school boyfriend (Steve Zahn) who happened to be married, and her insecurities concerning her thoughts about peaking in high school as her classmates went on to get married and live in nice houses. The only negative I can think of concerning the film was I thought it could have had more scenes to strengthen the two daughters’ relationship with their father (Alan Arkin). Although he was a nice guy, I didn’t feel as though I knew him as well, which was not a good thing because the film’s crux was the way the family as a unit helped each other out when circumstances got difficult. In a way, “Sunshine Cleaning” somewhat worked as a slice-of-life picture where the audiences are transported into the family’s lives and left things in a not-so-perfect way. There were many bittersweet scenes involving the death of their mother and darkly comic scenes when they had to clean up blood and guts off the walls. Directed by Christine Jeffs and written by Megan Holley, “Sunshine Cleaning” wears its indie feel on its sleeve but it was strong enough to go beyond the quirks and damaged characters. In a strange way, it was quite empowering.

The Great Buck Howard

The Great Buck Howard (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by Sean McGinly, “The Great Buck Howard” stars John Malkovich as a magician/mentalist who desperately clings on to the remaining celebrity he has left from his best years of performance. Forced to work on small venues, he one day hires Troy (Colin Hanks), a twentysomething who recently drops out of law school to pursue his dream to be a writer, as Buck Howard’s very own errand boy. I have to be honest and say that I did not expect much from this movie. However, twenty minutes into it, I was really into it because it had a certain insight about the struggles of a person who wishes to break out of the expectations of his parents (in this case, Troy’s dad was played by Colin’s real-life father, Tom Hanks) and follow his true passion. I guess it was easy for me to relate to it because my graduation from the university is just right around the corner. It also had some insight when it comes to satirizing celebrity life. This picture had a plethora of cameos to offer such as Regis Philbin, Conan O’Brien, George Takei, Jon Stuart, and many more. At first I thought Buck was just a washed-up sham who claimed to have known and met all the celebrities he mentioned and that it was only a matter of time until we get to know who he really was. When in fact, the story unfolded in the opposite direction. It had a bona fide sense of humor even though Malkovich’s character was vain and at times quite poisonous with his words. I also enjoyed the romantic angle between Colin Hanks and Emily Blunt. I did not think that the two would have chemistry but, surprisingly enough, they did and the whole thing was magic (pun intended). I also never thought that Colin ever looked like his dad but when Colin and Blunt were on screen, I noticed certain quirky body movements and intonations in Colin’s voice that truly reminded me of his father. In under ninety minutes, this film managed to entertain and surprise me in many ways so I’m giving it a solid recommendation. Lastly, one should not miss Malkovich being brave enough to take his character to the extreme yet not lose heart so that we can ultimately root for him to succeed.