I, Robot (2004)
★ / ★★★★
Detective Spooner (Will Smith) was assigned to investigate the suicide of Dr. Lanning, the main scientist in charge of commercialization of robots on 2035. Spooner suspected that the murder was staged to look as a suicide by a robot named Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk) and it was only the first step of the robots’ plan to take over the world. “I, Robot” completely missed the mark to make an intelligent film about humans’ increasing dependence on technology. Much of the movie was a predictable set-up to make the main character run after or shoot at something. The uninspired false alarms were transparent. For instance, early in the movie, Spooner saw a robot running with a purse. He thought it was trying to steal the purse. Naturally, smart audiences would most likely surmise it was simply delivering the purse to its rightful owner because no tension was established regarding rogue robots yet. Spooner looked like a fool because his fear was only in his mind. The scene would have been more effective if placed after the murder of the prominent scientist to serve as a small rising action, regardless of the pettiness of the crime, to make us believe that perhaps the robot was up to something more devious than it seemed. Another scientist that jumped into the mix of the mystery was Dr. Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) who, despite all the reasonable doubt placed in front of her, could not seem to make up her mind where to place her loyalty. For a character who was supposed to be the voice of reason regarding the advantages of having robots in the home or at work, her logic was flawed. Her character was tantamount to those horror movie characters who decided to look for something in a dark room during the most inopportune times. Her eventual acknowledgement that the detective was right to be suspicious of the robots felt too forced. Granted, I did admire the special and visual effects. There were two action sequences that I thought were exciting to watch. The first was when Spooner had to face about a hundred robots in an underground freeway while going about 125 miles per hour. The second was when the robots climbed on their manufacturer’s building in an attempt to stop Spooner and Dr. Calvin from ruining their revolution. I do have to say, however, that there was another glaring inconsistency concerning those two scenes. In the first, the detective had a very difficult time destroying the robots. He had to use his car, gun, and high speed to survive. But in the latter, he was able to use his hands to rip the robots apart. Finding out that Alex Proyas, who directed the slightly brilliant “Dark City,” directed this film was all the more disappointing. If the film’s special and visual effects had been stripped away, not a thing would have kept it afloat because it lacked heart and intelligence. I found it ironic that Haley Joel Osment in Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” and Arnold Schwarzenegger in James Cameron’s “The Terminator” were far more convincing robots despite the fact that they were played by actual humans.
The X-Files (1998)
★★★ / ★★★★
In 15,000 B.C., an extraterrestrial-looking creature attacked a caveman. In present day, a boy fell into a hole and was attacked by the same type of creature but in liquid form. Despite the fact that The X-Files had been shut down, Special Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) attempted to uncover a government conspiracy involving the alien life form and a possible alien colonization on Earth. Having seen the first five seasons of the highly popular and ingenious television show, most of the film made sense. However, I was not convinced that people who had not seen the show or had only sporadically seen a few episodes would be able to follow the story and ultimately find it rewarding, let alone recognize the references it had to specific episodes. Non-regular fans of the show might not feel the same impact when certain key characters met their demise. However, what I loved about it was Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, the writers, remained true to the material, such as highlighting the strictly professional relationship between the two protagonists, it brought something new to the table involving the Black Oil (which started in the third season), the important of science to possibly explain paranormal occurrences, and the characters’ quest to capture the ever-elusive truth. It was also able to retain its humor with the actors’ typical deadpan delivery of their lines to situational false alarms drenched with irony. The picture reminded me of science fiction movies in 70s and 80s because it shrouded the alien creatures in darkness. Even though its special and visual effects were capable of delivering at a first-rate level, it was very careful from revealing too much. Only toward the very end did I think it went a bit overboard with the visual effects. In the fifth season, Mulder, for good reasons, lost his faith about extraterrestrial life being on Earth. I understood that the writers needed to restore his faith so the show could continue. However, showing us too much felt strange because the show thrived upon implications. I felt like Carter and Spotnitz could have found a better way to change Mulder’s mind. “The X-Files,” or “The X-Files: Fight the Future,” directed by Rob Bowman, was a solid movie for ardent fans. It moved the story forward by answering some of our important questions from the past five seasons as well as asking new ones. Unfortunately, it could just as well have worked as a three-part episode arc. There were other “mythology episodes” that deserved to be adapted as a feature film.
The House of the Devil (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Set in the 1980’s, “The House of the Devil” was a horror film about a second year college student named Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) who took up a babysitting job from a husband and wife (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) so she could pay the rent for her new apartment. Desperate for the money, she still took the job despite many weird signs that perhaps the people she was babysitting for had something up their sleeves. I was surprised by how good this movie was. Written and directed by Ti West, the film had a sense of authenticity; it looked and felt like it was made in the 1980s because of the music, the fashion and hairstyles and even minute details like the lighting, the lead character’s plucky and funny friend (Greta Gerwig), and the font used during the opening and closing credits. During the first fifteen minutes of the movie, I was very curious how West managed to get such various elements together to make such a convincing small horror film. I loved that this picture had such a great sense of timing and well as rising action. This is not the kind of movie for teenagers of today because it doesn’t have jump-out-of-your-seats moments like in more common slasher flicks. This is a patient movie that thrives on the details. Strangely enough, like Sam, I found myself becoming more and more paranoid the longer she stayed in the house, especially when she started hearing odd noises in the kitchen sink. Although built on the classic false alarms and increasing sense of dread without actually showing anything, I was also impressed with the fact that it could turn grizzly if it wanted to. Those moments pulled the rug from under my feet and I couldn’t help but voice out my thoughts. I really rooted for the character because she was a very nice girl who just really needed the money so she wouldn’t always rely on her parents. She wouldn’t even take a little harmless revenge earlier in the film when someone stood her up. The last twenty minutes of this film was pure terror. All the tension it built up finally burst and I found myself having no idea where it was leading up to. “The House of the Devil” is an effective exercise in giving its audiences small bits information and chilling us to the bone. I think people who have no idea what to expect will love this film the most because of its ability to surprise. With a little bit of patience, one will come to realize that this small picture is really one of the better horror flicks of 2009. I just hope that more people will seek this out on DVD. It’s not very often that horror movies assume that their audiences are smart. I’ve seen a plethora of horror movies from the 1980s and “The House of the Devil” was a really good homage.
The Grudge 3 (2009)
★ / ★★★★
“The Grudge 3,” directed by Toby Wilkins, started off pretty creepy as we got to observe Jake (Matthew Knight) being committed in a mental institution under the care of a psychiatrist (Shawnee Smith). We then cut to the siblings (Gil McKinney, Johanna Brady, Jadie Hobson) who were taking care of the apartment complex where Jake and his family used to live. Just when I thought that this second sequel will be better than “The Grudge 2,” it became bogged down by the conventions of the horror genre. For instance, a character deciding to enter a dark apartment from which a strange noise could be heard, a character having a moral dilemma concerning her family, and the all-too-obvious false alarms that might have worked if the material had a superior story. The bad and downright cheesy dialogue was just too much for me so when the characters were ultimately placed in front of the malevolent ghosts, I couldn’t help but not be scared. Admittedly, the shocks such as when the ghosts would appear out of nowhere which was aided by a booming score worked for me. But the aftershock was not present, an element that I believe is crucial for horror pictures. The side stories bored me half to death. The fashion model boyfriend (Beau Mirchoff), the Japanese woman with a mysterious link to the curse and the psychiatrist hoping to find some answers slowed the story down immensely. In my opinion, “The Grudge” is not all that scary. I’m surprised a lot of people embraced the first few movies (including the Japanese originals and the American version starring Sarah Michelle Gellar). There’s something about the entire franchise that seems redundant to me. I’m not entirely sure if it’s the fact that the curse is unbeatable or if it’s just the same kind of characters making the same bad decisions. If it’s the former, it begs the question of what the point is for watching the movies. And if it’s the latter, I can’t help but blame the lazy writing; it can’t be that difficult to establish a well-rounded character who we care for and root for up until the very end… and he or she not dying in the process. If you’re not a fan of the series in the first place, there’s absolutely no reason for you to see “The Grudge 3.” But if you are a fan and you do decide to see it, expect more of the same.
Road Games (1981)
★★★ / ★★★★
Stacy Keach plays a truck driver who likes to play games on the road with his dingo companion in order to eliminate some of the boredom of long drives across Australia. After hearing about a serial killer on the loose who cuts up and disposes bodies all over the place, Keach begins to suspect a man who drives a green vehicle. Since the two stopped in the same area for the night, Keach sees the mysterious potential killer watching the garbage being collected very early in the morning. (As his dog sniffs the garbage bag of interest in an attempt to get food.) Jamie Lee Curtis plays the hitchhiker who Keach picks up and who is eventually taken by the killer. I’ve read from other reviews that Richard Franklin, the director, was a very big fan of Alfred Hitchcock. Being a fan myself, watching this movie was that much more fun for me because I actively looked for certain shots and twists in the story that could reference to Hitchcock’s works. But even if one is not familiar with Hitchcock’s movies, one could still enjoy this psychological thriller because of the suspenseful false alarms and eventual real dangers that the characters had to face. I thought “Roadgames” was very different from other movies about killers on the road (especially American movies of the same set-up). Franklin took the time to establish Keach and Curtis’ characters before really getting into the scares. They talked and formed a genuine connection, so when the two were finally on the killer’s tracks, we couldn’t help but care and wonder whether they really were on the right track and whether or not they would eventually get caught. My favorite scene was when Keach investigated the number of meat in the back of his truck. That scene was done so well because at first I had no idea what he was thinking. But when I finally caught up on why he was so worried, I was so disturbed and I could remember saying out loud that he should get out of the truck as soon as possible. My heart raced so fast because the camera just lingered there as if something was about to go seriously wrong. The scene after that was also very impressive–very Hitchcockian–the way the character got into his own head and trying to persuade himself that everything was alright (which, of course, was not the case). “Roadgames” is now considered a cult classic cat-and-mouse movie and I believe it still holds up today. I wish more people would see this because it did many things that were so unexpected. Instead of simplifying things for the audience, it actually tried to outsmart us which I found to be very refreshing even though it was released back in 1981.
A Perfect Getaway (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
“A Perfect Getaway” tells the story of three couples in Hawaii–Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich; Timothy Olyphant and Kiele Sanchez; Chris Hemsworth and Marley Shelton–and two of them happen to be killers. It’s the audiences’ jobs to guess who the real killers are but it’s actually less than fun it sounds because the journey to get to the revelation is pretty generic. Three-quarters of the film was funny because of all the misfortunes and suspicions of Zahn and Jovovich. While the two did not exactly have chemistry, they were interesting enough as stand-alone characters for comic relief and some sensitive moments. I just wished that the movie had more thrills than comedy because half-way through it, I constantly wondered where it was going (or even if it was going anywhere). David Twohy, the writer and director, did not shape the picture’s tone to a level that rises above tried-and-true formulas of false alarms and supposed twist endings. Speaking of the twist, I’ve read on some message boards that the picture did not quite cheat. I cannot disagree more. There were some unexplained (and ultimately unjustified) scenes that did not at all make sense when one takes the time to look back on what was happening as a whole. I believe that the movie was designed primarily to trick the audiences and the glaring inconsistencies were just too unforgivable for me to believe that it could happen in real life. After the revelation, although I did expect it in some way, it really took me out of the experience and the suspense involving the mystery immediately dissipated into thin air instead of giving me the chills like a really good suspense/thriller movie does. Still, I did enjoy the chase sequences while they lasted. In a nutshell, “A Perfect Getaway” was a highly uneven film but there were some good laughs and exciting chase sequences (when they finally happened). It’s a good DVD rental but definitely not worth seeing in theaters.