★★★ / ★★★★
I have no idea why critics didn’t like this movie. I feel like they all read one really good negative review and they all jumped on the bandwagon. “Surrogates,” directed by Jonathan Mostow, was set at a time when humans could simply purchase a robot and use it as a surrogate to do whatever they wanted via a machine invented by Dr. Canter (James Cromwell). For years, everything was fine until an assassin killed the son (through his surrogate) of Dr. Canter using an advanced weapon. This immediately became a problem because people always thought that there was a fail-safe designed to protect them in the comforts of their homes. Agent Greer (Bruce Willis) and his partner Agent Peters (Radha Mitchell) were assigned to find out who the murderer was, what kind of weapon he had and who hired him. But that was just the surface of the mystery. I couldn’t help but compare this film to the dreadful “Gamer” because it basically had the same concept: living one’s life through another whether that particular “another” is sentient or not. I think “Surrogates” is far superior because it looked like it was set in the future, it brought up interesting questions about the difference between consciousness and actually living one’s life, there was a sense of urgency from beginning to end and it was actually entertaining without surroundering to the depravity of violence. I loved that the writers (Michael Ferris, John D. Broncata) chose to show us how Willis’ character was like when he used a surrogate (near the beginning of the picture) and how he was like without his surrogate (the majority of the picture). Making Willis’ character aware of the wrongness of the whole surrogacy situation (especially the scenes with his wife who’s addicted to using her much younger surrogate) and that he was capable of being hurt out in the world full of robots made us root for him. The action and chase scenes were surprisingly effective because the film constantly played on the suspense instead of just giving us one mindless explosion after another. There were also some very neat scenes that involved hijacking of surrogates which meant double identities and double-crosses were potentially abound. There were some twists that I didn’t see coming that sort of paved the way for some plot holes but I didn’t mind it because the movie was so much fun to watch. It was so creepy watching people acting like robots, especially when they would “deactivate” and looked as if they were in a catatonic state. “Surrogates” is not a perfect film but it’s not as terrible as critics claimed for it to be. It definitely had some great ideas that were executed quite nicely so I think it’s worth watching.
Angels in America
★★★★ / ★★★★
Since this film runs for six hours, Netflix divided the movie into two discs. I will review the first half and then the second half because I saw the latter a couple of days after I saw the former. I admire the first part of this picture because it’s not afraid to fuse realistic and fantastic elements that share one common goal: to show how the AIDS epidemic, pretty much unknown at the time, impacts those people who have been infected and those they care about. But it actually rises above its main thesis: it also manages to tackle issues like denial of one’s homosexuality, what it means to be a lover and a friend, power struggle in the business world, relationships by means of convenience…
On top of all that, the performances are simply electric, especially Al Pacino, Patrick Wilson, Meryl Streep, and Emma Thompson. We don’t see much of Streep and Thompson in the first half but whenever they’re on screen, they completely involve the audience because they know how to balance the obvious and the subtle so well. They have a certain elegance that no ordinary actor posesses. As for Pacino, he’s a master of reaching one extreme to the next without ever having to sacrifice his character’s believability. I can argue that he’s one of the most complex characters, out of many, that this film (which is based on a play) has to offer. As Pacino’s protégé, I think this is Wilson’s best performance that I’ve seen. As a closeted Mormon homosexual, he tries so hard to hide who he really is to the point where his emotional pain becomes physical. In most of his scenes, I could feel his sadness, anger, frustration, and (eventual) relief–all at the same time. He has such a poetic face that’s so expressive; I couldn’t take my eyes off him. His relationship with his wife, played by Mary-Louise Parker, is complicated, to say the least, because Wilson considers her as more like a friend but she considers him to be a husband. Other noteworthy actors include Justin Kirk as an AIDS patient who is abandoned by his lover, played by Ben Shenkman. Jeffrey Wright is amazing because he speaks the truth without apologies. He plays multiple characters like Streep, Thompson, and Kirk but Wright is the one that I can relate with the most. The idea of escape is crucial ranging from experiencing hallucinations to doing or saying the opposite of what the person actually means to do or say.
As for the second half, the idea of interconnectedness is more prevalent. Since the characters are finally established, they are allowed to interact and play with each other a bit more. This means that strong acting is at the forefront. But what I found most frustrating was the fantastic elements overshadowing reality half of the time. Even though those fantasy scenes do contribute to the overall big picture, they are so cheesy and slow to the point where I found myself checking the time. I was more invested with the reality because the characters that we care about are dealing with things that have something to do with reality like disease and acceptance. Faith is merely the background and focusing on it too much is distracting at best. I thought the way the film ended was handled well; not everything is neatly tied up and the way the actors looked into the camera to convey their last messages was, strangely enough, effective.
This film has such a huge scope but it delivers on more than one level. I found it consistently interesting because it is character-driven and the characters behave like real people. In end, pretty much all the characters have changed in some way. Even though this was released back in 2003, I still consider it to be one of the most important films of the 2000’s.