My Life in Ruins (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
I loved Nia Vardalos in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” so I was excited to watch this movie even though the critics disparaged it without remorse. There’s something about her that I love watching on screen–a certain look or attitude that never fails to make me smile. Unfortunately, I wasn’t at all impressed with this film because it offered nothing new. In fact, it relied upon the usual stereotypes regarding tourists: the rude Americans, the cute old people with idiosyncracies, the rich couple who was emotionally detached from their child and vice-versa and others I wouldn’t even go into. Vardalos played a travel guide who wanted to do something more with her life but she couldn’t quite leave Greece because she seemed to get nothing but rejection letters from the universities she applied to. She didn’t like being a travel guide but decided to stick with it anyway because of the money. Her dislike for her job was reflected in her very analytical way of interacting with the colorful tourists. Eventually, however, she learned to open up and let her hair down. I wish that this movie was edgier. I liked the fact that it had colorful tourists but they didn’t have to be so annoying, especially the Americans. Americans are annoying–we get it. There’s no need to keep hammering it into our heads. By getting rid of the clichés, the picture would’ve looked smarter and more self-aware and wouldn’t have felt so lazy in its writing. I liked the tender moments between Vardalos and Richard Dreyfuss, a man who was still grieving upon the death of his wife. The insight that he offered to her were believable enough for me to think that that, yes, Vardalos was able to take and process it all then evaluate what was going on with her life and eventually find a way to fix it. But those scenes lost their power because there were far too many scenes when the tourists were being shown as dumb; it was supposed to be funny–which it was once or twice–but I quickly got tired of it because I wanted to see something new. As for the romantic angle between Vardalos and Alexis Georgoulis, I didn’t buy it for one second because they lacked chemistry. Either that or the film wasn’t just developed enough for me to finally go along with it once it happened. I say skip this film if you have better things to do. Otherwise, it’s just another average movie with interesting sceneries but ultimately has an empty emotional core.
Manufactured Landscapes (2006)
★★ / ★★★★
Director Jennifer Baichwal focuses her documentary on Edward Burtynsky’s photography regarding landscapes and connects it with how we continue to neglect our environment as we thrust ourselves into industrialization and globalization. This documentary is different from all the others I’ve seen because it has such an impersonal feeling to it. The narration is minimal so the film lets the images do the talking and it’s up to the audiences to direct themselves on what to think and feel. I have no problem with the issues that the movie is trying to tackle because I do agree that we treat the Earth as secondary instead of taking care of it for future generations. I also agree that it’s horrible that the poor are the ones affected by health hazards because of the mountains of poisonous metals that seem to go on for miles (we dump our computer parts in China–a fact that I didn’t know about). My main problem for giving the movie a mediocre rating is its style. At first I thought it was great: the movie started off with no dialogue as it shows rows upon rows of people working with their hands and with machines. The images are haunting, shocking yet very real all rolled into one. However, pretty much the whole movie is like that and it got redundant. In a nutshell, I got annoyed with the way it repeated itself. It tries to hammer the fact that we’re not taking care of the planet and that people are living in egregious conditions in China. I kept waiting for the moment when the picture finally took itself to the next level but it never did. A lot of critics liked this movie and I can understand why; it was informative and I learned from it. But it was one-dimensional because it didn’t introduce anything regarding groups of people who try to inform others to stop killing our Earth. It didn’t feel finished and it didn’t go full circle regarding its topic; in fact, it got stuck in one place and it seemed to not know what to do with itself. It’s unfortunate because it featured beautiful photographs from Burtynsky. With a little bit more editing and perhaps adding more scenes to elevate the concepts it tried to highlight, maybe I would have liked it a lot more. It certainly had potential but I can’t quite recommend it because it will most likely put people to sleep somewhere in the middle.
Salem’s Lot (1979)
★ / ★★★★
I have a lot of patience when it comes to miniseries, especially the ones based on Stephen King’s novels, because the first hour or so usually consists of slow build-ups. However, this one completely rubbed me the wrong way because it did not have enough small payoffs during the first nintey minutes of exposition. Clichés such as a man (David Soul) returning to his hometown to deal with his traumatic past, the husband and the cheating wife, and a strange man (James Mason) taking care of an even stranger home quickly began to pile up. The horror and the mystery became secondary which is always a bad thing when it comes to movies that are supposed to be scary. I haven’t read King’s novel of the same name so I can’t comment on how closely this film followed its source. However, having been familiar to some of King’s novels, I doubt that the book was as slow-moving, boring and hollow as this one. Perhaps Tobe Hooper, the director, is to blame because he directed the picture with such a lack of urgency. In my opinion, when people start dying in a small town, one would expect the residents to gossip, form outlandish guesses on what was really happening and all kinds of histrionics. In this movie, everyone stayed quiet at home and awaited being visited by a vampire. It just wasn’t believable even for a horror movie. After all, half the fun of watching a movie about strange happenings are observing the reactions of the individuals who are directly affected by such. I was also very annoyed with its use of soundtrack. Like in most horror movies, whenever the soundtrack would come blasting from the speakers when nothing profound was happening on screen, I’m immediately taken out of the situation and I start questioning why the movie is directing me to feel something. For me, a strong movie shows what it wants to show and it has the confidence to allow the audiences feel any sort of emotion. The soundtrack should only fascilitate the emotion and never force it down the audiences’ throats. I’d have to say that “Salem’s Lot” is a complete misfire for me. I really tried to like it because I enjoy most miniseries based on King’s novels. But the more I tried to like it, the more I ended up hating it.
Halloween II (2009)
★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Rob Zombie, “Halloween II” is a complete waste of time. What I really liked with Zombie’s 2007 interpretation of the 1978 classic was that it really tried to tell a story. The 2007 film spent a third of its time explaining Michael Myers’ psychology as a child–something that other “Halloween” movies that came before did not do. With this 2009 sequel, we’re back again on the level of wait-and-kill without any sort of plot to drive the story forward. Basically, Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) wanted to hunt down Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) a year after they had a showdown in Haddonfield. Meanwhile, Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), Michael’s ex-psychiatrist, wrote a book about the killings and tried to wrestle with the media’s barrage of questions and his conscience (or lack thereof). In my opinion, Dr. Loomis’ storyline should totally not have gone in that direction. Instead, we should have followed Dr. Loomis’ mission (or downright obsession) to hunt down Michael and protect Laurie from him. That’s much more interesting (and relevant) than scenes of him signing books and being interviewed on some television shows. As for Michael’s rampage, although I still thought that the stalking and violent scenes were very gruesome, none of it was particularly scary. Well, except for that scene in the hospital which occured during the first twenty minutes (the only effective scene in the whole movie). I also hated the fact that Zombie decided to inject Deborah Myers’ ghost (Sheri Moon Zombie as Michael’s mother) into the storyline. Not only was such a decision poorly executed, the scenes were downright laughable. If I wanted to see a ghost story with a psychological aspect to it, I’d watch “The Others” because that one was actually chilling to the bone (not to mention clever). Slasher fans simply do not pay ten bucks or so to watch a slasher flick with ghosts roaming about and supposedly instigating the broken mind of a killer. I went into this movie with an above average expectations because the 2007 version was very enjoyable. But after watching this movie, I think Zombie should just stop. He doesn’t quite grasp the idea of the brilliance that comes with simplicity and a truly terrifying soundtrack, which defined John Carpenter’s 1978 “Halloween” classic.
Beau Travail (1999)
★ / ★★★★
This movie about French soldiers stationed in Djibouti left a big question mark in my head. At first I thought Claire Denis, the director, was trying to establish the characters via showing us the ennui of military life: from ironing clothes, making the perfect creases to the every day physical and mental training the soldiers had to endure. But half-way through the picture, nothing much changed and I felt myself becoming more and more frustrated with it. I wanted to know more about what made the characters tick. Instead, by the end of the picture, I couldn’t tell them apart (especially since they all have the same haircuts but that’s beside the point), I didn’t know anything about their motivations, and I didn’t know anything about their lives outside of the military. In a nutshell, it felt very one-dimensional. That feeling of detachment made me not care and watching the film was like pulling teeth. I’ve read some summaries from other reviews and they somehow found a story that the film tried to tell. Upon reading those reviews, I really felt like I watched a completely different movie because none of those descriptions matched what I saw (which was pretty much half-naked guys runnning around all over the desert). Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy movies that are stripped down with minimal dialogue but they have to have sort of emotional resonance. I didn’t find that in this picture despite my best efforts to look underneath the surface. The only scene that I genuinely enjoyed was the last when Denis Lavant broke into a dance. It felt like a huge sigh of relief because the rest of the movie felt so controlled, cold and tough. If they had more scenes like that, this train-wreck would’ve been saved. Unfortunately, it was too little too late.