★★★★ / ★★★★
“Aliens” picked up as we made the grim discovery that our heroine named Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) had been in hypersleep and wandering in space for 57 years. The second surprise was the fact that humans started to colonize the planet where the aliens had been incubating. To no surprise, the human colony, which included a brave little girl named Newt (Carrie Henn), had lost contact with the scientists and a request was made that Ripley join a crew to investigate the strange happenings. The feel of this installment felt considerably different. While the first one was more about the concept and horror of being abandoned in space, this one was more action-oriented and more concerned about the gadgetry such as the weapons and the vehicles used by the characters. That wasn’t necessarily a negative as long as the tension remained relatively equal or greater than its predecessor. And, in some ways, it was able to surpass the original. A definite stand-out was the alien’s ability to learn via trial-and-error. We learned about the aliens such as they tend to hunt in packs and there was a sort hierarchy among them. By learning more about the enemy, we understood their capability but at the same they became that much more terrifying because we now had the knowledge of their great ability to adapt in order to survive. They showed signs of intelligence, not just creatures that wanted to kill for the sake of killing. Two other elements I noticed about the film were the fact that the aliens were easier to kill and they were much more visible. In Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” the organism was practically invincible and we only really saw the creature’s full body toward the end. In “Aliens,” the approach was much more obvious and body parts (along with the highly acidic blood) were flung all over the place. However, that’s what I admired about the sequel: It was different than the original but it was able to make it work for itself and deliver adrenaline-fueled space action-adventure that kept my heart tugging at a frantic pace until the last scene. That is, when Ripley had a duel against the queen of the aliens using a highly familiar-looking robot from Cameron’s “Avatar.” What it did preserve was the feminist undertone that “Alien” played with which was a smart move because the movie was first and foremost supposed to be Ripley’s quest for survival. If I were to nitpick for a flaw, I would say the crews’ interactions toward the beginning had quickly worn its welcome. I especially found Bill Paxton’s character highly irksome and I wished he was the first one to be killed. A redeeming quality was Michael Biehn as Ripley’s potential romantic interest. “Aliens” was not only highly entertaining but it managed to justify that it was a necessary sequel by playing upon existing ideas and expanding new ones.
★★★ / ★★★★
The constantly bullied Alan Parrish (Adam Hann-Byrd) was the son of an emotionally distant factory owner (Jonathan Hyde) who stumbled upon a magical board game called Jumanji. After a row with his father about being sent to boarding school, he rolled the dice and he was sucked into the game and lived in the jungle for 26 years. The new residents (Kirsten Dunst, Bradley Pierce) of the former Parrish mansion then found the game and started playing, all the while unaware of the dangerous situations of which they were about to face. With the help of Alan and his crush (now 26 years older played by Robin Williams and Bonnie Hunt), the four had to finish the game in order restore peace in their town. “Jumanji” was one of those films I watched so many times when I was a kid because I couldn’t get enough of its manic energy and wondrous sense of adventure. It had emotional resonance for me because the heart of the picture was the bond between the father and the son and at the time my dad was in America while my mom, brother and I were in the Philippines. Every time I saw the movie, I thought about my dad and how much I missed him. I identified with Dunst’s character–how imaginative she was and how she had to take care of her brother. I guess it helped that Pierce looked somewhat like my brother with his curly hair and wisecracks. One of the elements I found to be most effective in the film was its increasing amount of danger every time a character rolled the dice. The board game started off with giant African bats and only became more impressive from there. I found my eyes being fixated on the screen in suspense just in case something would suddenly pop out from nowhere. To balance the excitement and suspense, the picture also had a great sense of humor. I loved the small details like a rhinoceros being barely able to keep up during the stampede, Hyde also playing the villainous Van Pelt whose goal was to kill Alan (talk about father-son issues), all the looting that happened in stores when the town was in absolute chaos, and even the dated CGI (those creepy monkeys!) was all part of the fun. It didn’t take itself too seriously but it didn’t dumb down the material for its audiences so it became a solid popcorn entertainment. The film could have been stronger if it had more scenes between Alan when he was a kid and his father. There was a real pain and sadness in their strained relationship. The revelations that happened much later would have been more moving and bittersweet. For a movie being older than 15 years, “Jumanji,” based on the novel by Chris Van Allsburg and directed by Joe Johnston, is still fresh and better than most kid-friendly adventure movies out there today.
Legally Blonde (2001)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Law school is for people who are boring, ugly, and serious,” claimed one of the characters from the film but Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) begged to differ. Elle, the head of her sorority, could easily be labeled as a dumb blonde because she was used to using her beauty and penchant for saying “like” every other word to get what she wanted. But when her boyfriend (Matthew Davis) broke up with her because he claimed he wanted to start being serious since he got accepted to Harvard Law School, Elle did her best to get into the same school and excel. The picture was pretty much a case that highlighted (in pink) the lesson about not judging a book by its cover and the importance of self-reliance. Although Elle started out as a girl who depended on a guy, I immediately connected with her because of Witherspoon’s sense of fun and wit. It was like she was channeling a valley girl version of Tracy Flick from Alexander Payne’s “Election,” with equal determination minus the desperation. Without Witherspoon’s ability to balance the airhead laughs and genuine intelligence, I think the project would have fallen apart because it would have been one-dimensional. In a nutshell, Witherspoon proved why she was a star and kept the movie afloat despite the predictable supporting characters. For instance, I would have loved to have seen Selma Blair being someone other than an overprotective law student, Victor Garber as a cutthroat lawyer, and Jennifer Coolidge as a soft-spoken manicurist. While they played their roles well, an extra spice was missing because I did not see them evolve in a non-transparent way. “Legally Blonde” could also work as a satire for elitist jerks in educational institutions. In high school, if asked if I could choose between beauty and brains, I would have easily chosen brains. But now that I’ve graduated from a university, I am a bit more hesitant because having a brain does not necessarily equate to having a good heart and therefore having emotional intelligence when it comes to dealing with people. The uptight and snobbish law school students depicted on this movie were not at all dissimilar from some people I met in college. So, in a way, even though I’m not a blonde or an airhead (although I like fashion), I can relate to Elle because she meant well and she tried her best to not be affected by negative energy that surrounded her. I also like to balance and apply my knowledge of pop culture and the other things I’m passionate about in every day conversations. Based on a novel by Amanda Brown and directed by Robert Luketic, “Legally Blonde” is a very enjoyable movie because although it is as light and sweet as cotton candy, it packs a punch.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★
Two very attractive assassins (Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt) decided to get married, unaware that the other worked for their agency’s rival. Five or six years into their marriage, they found out the truth and they were assigned to kill each other or else they would be the ones that would end up dead. I saw this movie back in 2005 but it was not at all what I remembered it to be. While it did have over-the-top and very in-your-face destructive action sequences, I did not expect it to have more than a handful of funny running jokes. Some of which included living in suburbia and adhering to its unstated rules, keeping their extracurricular activities a secret (or is their extracurricular activity their marriage?), the rut of being in a relationship where both are sick of trying to pretend to be normal and, most common of all, the increasing frustration on both parties when sex was taken out of the equation for quite some time. I thought the picture was at its peak in its first two-thirds when the characters were not aware of the truth and the decisions they had to face when finally found out each other’s true identities. It was painfully obvious that they weren’t going to kill each other (I thought it was hilarious that Jolie hit Pitt in the face multiple times but not vice-versa) but I had a good time picking sides regarding who would outsmart the other (I was on Jolie’s team). The two leads were very different and that’s the reason why the movie worked. Mr. Smith liked to have fun on the job and wasn’t afraid to detach from the plan and let his instincts take over. Mrs. Smith, on the hand, was very dedicated to sticking with the rules and was not willing to compromise both on and off the field. The last third was more or less a typical action picture where the protagonists tried to evade grenades, raining bullets and rocket launchers. I started to get bored but at least Pitt and Jolie looked good and it was obvious that they were having fun. As for the supporting actors like Vince Vaughn and Adam Brody, they did not bring much into the film but when they were on camera, it was a nice break from the deafening explosions and pots and pans hitting the floor. However, it would have been nice if there was some sort of twist involving those two. Written by Simon Kinberg and directed by Doug Liman, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” is a very commercial action movie that everybody can watch and have a good time. With movies like this, it’s easy to try too hard and difficult to be effortless. Fortunately, with Pitt and Jolie’s charm and a great script, the film was effortless when it came to balancing action, comedy and sexiness.
Knight and Day (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
June (Cameron Diaz) bumped into Roy (Tom Cruise) at the airport on the way home for her sister’s wedding unknowing of the fact that he was a spy and fellow government agents (Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis) were after him. Before she knew it, June got caught in the middle of two camps but eventually it seemed like she was more than happy her life made a drastic turn because she finally found excitement, love and adventure. “Knight and Day,” written by Patrick O’Neill and directed by James Mangold, offered nothing new to the action-comedy genre but it felt refreshing because the actors were having fun, the filmmakers were having fun and so the audiences couldn’t help but have fun as well. Comparisons to “Killers,” starring Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl, could not be helped because the two were released at just about the same time and both pretty much had a similar concept, but “Knight and Day” was lightyears better because it had energy from start to finish. More importantly, it was actually funny. I was glad to see Cruise starring in a film that somewhat spoofed his more serious roles because it showed me that he had a sense of humor. It was also nice to see Diaz being her usual charming sunny self. Her character’s reactions to unbelievable and often dangerous situations amused me in so many ways. In a way, I felt like she was just playing herself and I appreciated that. The movie worked for me even though it did not attempt to have any sort of character development because I was thoroughly engaged. Each passing scene had a higher level of danger and adrenaline from the one before and I was curious about what creative action sequence I would see next. There was a lot to choose from but the three scenes that put a smile on my face were when Cruise informed Diaz that everybody on the plane was dead and it was about to crash but she thought it was all a big joke, the train scene with a lethal assassin who could easily have been taken right from the “Bourne” series and the motorcycle chase in Spain with the bulls. It is definitely easy to judge the movie before seeing it because we are all aware of Cruise’s controversial life. I say give it a chance because “Knight and Day” is a bona fide, fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat, globetrotting adventure that never runs out of fuel. It’s a good movie to see with the family especially those familiar with Cruise’s golden days.
Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Three friends in their forties who weren’t happy with the way their lives turned out (John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry) and a twenty-year-old with no social life (Clark Duke) accidentally went back in time after getting into a hot tub with magical powers. As ridiculous as the premise was, after watching the trailers, I was open to what it was about to bring. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as funny as I thought it would be. I think the picture was stuck in a rut for too long; when the four were transported back to 1986, the characters spent too much of their time trying to stick to what they did fourteen years ago so that they wouldn’t accidentally change the future. As a result, the film felt stagnant and boring because the characters knew exactly what they had to do. Fortunately, the script eventually rose above the formula and really let the characters do whatever they wanted with little disregard to the consequences of their actions. Out of the four actors, I thought Corddry was the most effective because of his histrionics. Cusack, Duke, and Robinson pretty much played themselves and they kind of blended among each other. While I thought the nostalgia was there (music, fashion, the way people spoke, the bad special effects–which I loved), the picture needed a lot of focus. There were times when I was very confused where the story was going and why the characters were doing certain things. Also, lessons like “friends always stick with each other” was too after school special for me. It was corny, unnecessary and, quite frankly, unfunny. Still, I enjoyed watching the supporting actors such as Crispin Glover, Lizzy Caplan and Chevy Chase. They didn’t have much screen time but their appearances were nice breaks from the randomness that were happening. I’ve heard a lot of people claiming that “Hot Tub Time Machine,” directed by Steve Pink, was like “The Hangover” or that it was as funny or funnier than that surprising box-office success. I very much disagree because I felt like “The Hangover” had more control of its material; it didn’t feel as convoluted as this film nor did it feel like it was trying too hard. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy “Hot Tub Time Machine” in parts but there were extended time periods when I wasn’t laughing. I love everything about the 80s (especially fashion and hair that were so out there) but I felt like this movie didn’t take advantage of that era. I felt like the characters were trapped in that ski resort instead of owning it since it was their second time living through that part of their lives. When you’ve got a ridiculous (but fun) premise, you have to deliver in a big way and make sure to rise above the title and avoid using it as a crutch.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Based on the children’s book by Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, was a visual treat for the whole family. A scientist named Flint (voiced by Bill Hader) had many inventions that led to disasters and over time lost the respect of his community. But when he accidentally sent a machine that had the ability make food from water to the sky, it began raining all sorts of delectable food. At first the citizens of the island enjoyed the strange weather patterns, covered by a colorful reporter (Anna Faris), but the food started to get bigger as time went on, it turned into a disaster flick with food as weapons of destruction. There were times when I thought the picture was trying too hard with the jokes. The slapstick irked me especially when the target of the joke was a smart (sometimes too smart) and awkward lead character. I wish the directors had toned down the physical comedy and really played more with the double meanings of certain words, phrases and puns. A lot of kids (even younger kids) out there do understand play on words which is not common knowledge. I also thought that the movie had a chance to really bring up and tackle social issues such as world hunger and obesity. There were some images thrown in here and there but such moments were too brief. With those criticisms aside, I really did enjoy this animated film because it was creative and imaginative. The surreal images it offered such as giant rolling doughnuts threatening to squash people like bugs, pasta tornados, and palace made entirely out of jello were definitely a sight to behold. It made me think about how magical the film would have been if it was live-action. The movie’s energy level was manic, everything was colorful and there were some really good jokes on the background. I also appreciated the fact that it had a plethora of film references from other disaster movies to strange sci-fi mysteries to dramatic space adventures. Even though the movie had so many random elements, I thought it worked because there was madness happening on screen. Lastly, I thought this was the kind of film that would have benefited with a longer running time. It tried to be so many things, including a bit about father-son relationships, but none of them were fully realized. “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” was a smogasbord of colorful delights and energy that never seems to run out when it really could have used more heart.