Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★
“Bad Times at the El Royale” has more in common with independent cinema of the ‘90s, particularly Quentin Tarantino’s earlier works, than it does with empty, flashy, and impatient suspense-thrillers of today. It is written and directed by Drew Goddard with terrific energy, rousing creativity, and perspicuity in untangling the numerous and complex character motivations. What results is a highly entertaining non-linear picture in which the viewer is given the gift of possibilities. It is established early on that just about anything can happen—and it does—so we wonder whether right can prevail over wrong, if good can trump evil—or at least a semblance of these opposing categories.
A Catholic priest (Jeff Briges), a singer (Cynthia Erivo), a vacuum cleaner salesman (Jon Hamm), and a hippie (Dakota Johnson) check into the titular motel, situated between a literal state line of California and Nevada, run by the sole employee Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman). Over the course of the night, these individuals would reveal themselves to be something else other than how they wish to be perceived. Great care is put into each character. And just when we think we have them figured out, the propulsive film screeches to a halt and introduces extraneous but fascinating flashbacks.
I admired the picture’s willingness to take its time. Clocking in at almost two-and-a-half hours, there is never a dull moment. When characters speak, we are inspired to listen because he or she, one can argue, is a certain type of archetype. And yet it is not so obvious that the work becomes more of an academic exercise than a visceral experience. Like other great films, subtext is there should one wishes delve into the work further. When characters do become silent, it becomes a moment of rising apprehension. The tease of whether or not violence might occur at any moment is executed with glee and verve. It is clear that Goddard has an understanding of neo-noir thrillers, particularly in how to use every ticking second to keep viewers’ expectations up in the air. Imagine betting a large sum of money on a coin flip—and the coin flip being in slow motion.
Goddard gives his work a sense of freedom. I claim that the work could have been only eighty minutes in duration if it had undergone liposuction—wall-to-wall suspense and thrills from the first minute until the moment the end credits begins. Had this been the case, it would have been a significantly lesser experience because the beautiful details are actually embedded in the fat. I loved moments when characters simply sit down, share a drink, and converse—not because it furthers the plot but because it helps our understanding of the players. There are even moments when the camera remains still to capture how a woman sings in addition to how well she sings.
Performances are just about impeccable across the board. Bridges as an aging man with memory issues is equally compelling as Erivo who portrays a black soul singer who made a difficult but moral choice of taking the much longer route toward possible financial success. Notice how the camera’s movements match that of Bridges and Erivo’s styles of acting. It adapts when only one actor is on screen and then again when both of them must share a frame and connect. Also notice how the established rhythms are shattered when the dastardly Billy Lee, played with great fun by Chris Hemsworth, sashays into the frame nearly two-thirds of the way through the story. The mesmerizing, devilish dance would make Hitchcock proud.
Jagged Edge (1985)
★★★ / ★★★★
Though it has been four years since Teddy Barnes (Glenn Close) walked away from practicing law, a case involving the murders of a woman named Page Forrester (Maria Mayenzet) and the household help puts her right back into the courtroom. The main suspect is Page’s husband, Jack (Jeff Bridges), the editor of The San Francisco Times, because he is the sole beneficiary to all of her multi-million dollar assets. Mr. Forrester’s case does not look good because a janitor claims to have seen the murder weapon, a serrated hunting knife, in Jack’s country club locker. Despite this, Teddy believes he is innocent.
“Jagged Edge,” written by Joe Eszterhas and directed by Richard Marquand, is a courtroom thriller that is very much like soup. It is made up of many ingredients, from Teddy wrestling with her guilt of having sent an innocent man to prison, colorful people answering questions under oath, to a prosecutor with one thing to hide but a lot to lose. Though the basic structure is familiar, it is executed with so much energy that is quite easy to buy into the story and try to figure out the killer’s identity. I did not guess correctly.
Close does a wonderful job playing a strong defense attorney, a gentle mother of two children, and a woman slowly falling for her client. In each respective scene, she is very good, but when two or three spheres touch each other, she excels. Close has a knack toward wearing a lot of subtle emotions on her face especially when she sits still. I could not help but wonder what sorts of questions her character thinks about when she stumbles over her expectations being derailed just a few degrees.
I looked forward to Teddy’s interactions with the District Attorney Thomas Krasney (Peter Coyote). Although details of their former partnership are largely absent, the sheer power of the two of them being within five feet of one another is uncomfortable. They want to win the case because they think they are fighting for what is right. And yet they also want to win because it means the other is the loser. The competition between the two is enjoyable.
What does not work is the first and last ten minutes. There is a level of exaggeration in showing a masked intruder breaking into a house that it feels sort of like a bad reenactment of a crime. Accompanied by a score that is meant to be suspenseful but is actually cheap, I thought about really trashy horror-thrillers where the sole point is to show women getting sliced up. I would have preferred for the crime to have been painted in our heads solely through the dialogue and images presented in the courtroom.
The romance between Teddy and Jack has some sweetness which is nicely balanced with the way Teddy interacts with her two children. (She is divorced.) There is only one scene when the two worlds collide but I admired that the moment is treated with honesty even though it is what we come to expect. The screenplay and direction pay close attention to potentially throwaway but personal moments and so there is something at stake when the camera is in the courtroom.
Hell or High Water (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Hell or High Water,” written by Taylor Sheridan, offers a plot involving two brothers who decide to rob banks in rural areas of Texas but it should not be mistaken for a standard action picture that has nothing on its mind other than a final battle between men of crime and men of law. Credit to the writer for creating a thoughtful and intelligent story about men driven by a purpose and in their journey finding themselves fueled by desperation.
The story’s template is all too familiar and so we believe we know exactly where it is heading. But most refreshing about the film is its ability to surprise consistently, whether it be in terms of plot direction, the beautiful interior details of its characters, or the symbolisms between the land and the men living in it. And although the picture consistently moves forward with a sense of purpose, notice it is willing to slow down at times so we can pay attention a little closer to the plain faces of men and women in these small towns. Here is a picture about poverty in forgotten places of America, where the poor remain poor for generations and the banks keep their eyes on the profit at the cost of human dignity.
The performances are precise and worth looking into. Ben Foster and Chris Pine play the brothers, Tanner and Toby, respectively, with such electrifying intensity that scenes where they remain quiet usually command a high level of tension. Quite opposite in temperament and personality, we cannot help but wonder which is the more dangerous: Tanner the more dominant and explosive of the duo or Toby the more intelligent and patient of the pair. Early on we realize how and why the brothers’ partnership works—and, equally important, why it is a formidable force, a fascinating challenge, for a nearly retired Texas ranger, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges).
Bridges brings his expected strong presence—a trait that many viewers take for granted. Bridges has numerous amusing lines, especially when interacting with his American-Indian partner (Gil Birmingham), but also appreciate instances when he doesn’t say a word and his eyes communicate paragraphs in just a few seconds. Bridges is such an experienced performer that he is able to communicate something entirely different by simply changing the way his character breathes or gives out a look a few degrees to the left. Right from the very first scene where we meet his character, we know that the ranger is highly intelligent, curious, and one who has captured a lot of criminals in his time. This makes him either a wonderful protagonist or antagonist—depending on which party the viewer ends up rooting for.
Aside from eye-catching shots of the land and the horizon, here is another beautiful detail the film offers: there is no standard hero or villain despite an ordinary plot involving cops and robbers. Since the material takes on enough detours in order to get us to understand what makes its characters tick, either way we become convinced soon enough that the material, directed by David Mackenzie, will offer no expected dramatic ending. There is only life and the continuation of that life with positive or negative consequences based on what had transpired.
★ / ★★★★
Nick (Ryan Reynolds), a former cop, is dead, finds himself sitting in front of Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker), director of the Rest in Peace Department stationed just above Boston, and faces a decision: to join the department and hunt Deados, spirits that somehow managed to escape Final Judgment, back on Earth or to embrace the possibility of being sent to hell. Nick chooses the former and he is paired with Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges), an older gentleman who died during the Old West. Though the new duo are off to a rocky start, their bickering is set aside when they discover strange goings-on involving Deados and chunks of gold.
“R.I.P.D.,” written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, offers nothing but special and visual effects. It lacks the imagination, wit, and comic timing that made the likes of Ivan Reitman’s “Ghostbusters” and Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Men in Black” so rousing and entertaining. Thirty minutes in, one realizes that the film is unable to move on from the first act. One waits for something—anything—to happen. It remains stagnant even way past the one hour mark and it turns into a great struggle to sit through.
Part of the problem is Roy and Nick’s partnership. Though the actors perform their parts with appropriate verve, the writers fail to turn the characters into people with substance. There are only two sides to their interactions: they get into shallow disagreements—which is supposed to be funny, maybe in an alternate universe—or they are on the same page, temporarily, while being in the same room as a Deado. Because their relationship is only two-sided, it gets predictable real quick and one gets no enjoyment watching them.
More painful are the scenes in which Roy and Nick are forced to connect with one another, supposedly in a meaningful way. I did not buy it for a second. It is easy to see through the script and the lack of effort put into it. Why bother to insert such a phony scene when it further cheapens an already weak material? Did it not once occur to the filmmakers that it wasn’t working, that it was better off to leave the sentimentality out the door? Maybe they felt the picture needed to hit the ninety-minute mark.
The monsters are not interesting. All of them are made out to be ugly, bad, and they do nothing other than to function to as figures to be shot at. There are a few chase sequences in the streets of Boston and one does not need spectacles to see through the obvious CGI. There is simply too much thrown on screen for us to be able to appreciate any level of artistry put into the work. I looked up the budget of the film and, to my surprise, it is over one hundred million dollars. This is the best they can come up with?
Directed by Robert Schwentke, “R.I.P.D.” is bottom-of-the-barrel fluff. I found no magic, inspiration, or delight out of it. Sci-fi action-fantasies should be more thrilling. In the least, it should feel alive—vibrant—even if the story involves the dead.
Giver, The (2014)
★★ / ★★★★
After an event only referred to as The Ruin, the Elders (the chief elder played by Meryl Streep) decided to erase all humanity’s memories of the past in order to create a new society defined by true equality. People’s ability to choose is also taken away and the Elders must be respected for never erring. Although people have lived in serenity since then, acts of evil remain—only the practices are more sleuth and hidden behind euphemisms like “release” and “Elsewhere.”
Directed by Phillip Noyce, “The Giver” brims with potential in terms of its capacity to entertain, to get us to be involved emotionally, and to dazzle us in such a way that very few dystopian films aimed at young adults have achieved. Instead, the final work comes across superficial, rushed, and laughable at times due to its glaring contradictions. The screenplay by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide does not provide an effective transition between novel and film so, in the end, there is only potential and mediocrity.
At least it offers some visual splendor. The first third of the picture is in black-and-white to denote a society that is devoid of diversity, flavor, and excitement. As our protagonist begins to learn more about the tyranny imposed upon his community, spots of color are more easily seen—by him as well as the audience.
Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is assessed to have all four traits that could make an excellent receiver of memory: intelligence, courage, integrity, and the capacity to see beyond. He is required to visit The Giver (Jeff Bridges) on a daily basis in order for him to receive the memory of the past—good and bad. But the stark differences between the past and present inspire Jonas to challenge the current system. He feels that the memories should not be contained but be given to everybody.
Underwritten characters are abound. While Jonas can be relatively interesting at times because of Thwaites’ ability to convey innocence and determination, we do not completely get under the skin of the lead character’s inner thoughts and personal turmoil. Thus, he is not a believable savior, certainly not someone we can imagine making it through the challenges given by those in charge. Compared to well-written leads in recent dystopian pictures targeted toward teenagers, such as Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games” series and Thomas in “The Maze Runner” series, Jonas is too bland, without a modicum of urgency and innate fire.
I did not buy into the friendships whatsoever. Scenes involving Fiona (Odeya Rish) and Asher (Cameron Monghan) are a complete bore. We do not learn anything about their lives, let alone how they think or what it is about them that are drawn to one another. They are defined only by their actions toward the end to prove whether or not their friendship with Jonas is strong. The same critique can be applied to Jonas’ family. Mother (Katie Holmes) and Father (Alexander Skarsgård) lack dimension so when they are required to do anything, there is no tension prior to their supposedly defining decisions.
The only moments with a glimmer of wonder involve Jonas and The Giver’s private sessions. As memories are being transferred, we get to see glimpses of them. The images are filled with color, energy, and vitality that they completely overshadow everything else, from the lackluster speeches made by Chief Elder to the romance between Jonas and Fiona.
Based on the book by Lois Lowry, “The Giver” will be begging to be remade ten to twenty years from now. I believe that the story can be translated exactly right to the screen. We have the technology for it. We just need screenwriters daring enough to take risks and make necessary changes in order to aid the transition. And because of the depth of the material, the running time will absolutely need to be longer than the current standard.
★★ / ★★★★
Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a software programmer and an arcade owner, wished to hack into his own program which was currently held by a company led by Ed Dillinger (David Warner). But Flynn’s attempts failed because Master Control Program (MCP voiced by Warner) ran a dictorship-like existence inside the program. With the help of Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), a fellow programmer, and Lora (Cindy Morgan), Flynn was able to sneak inside the company. However, MCP had eyes everywhere and, to Flynn’s surprise, it actually had the power to take him inside the game. Written and directed by Steven Lisberger, “Tron” had outdated special and visual effects, but what I enjoyed most about it was the fact that it had an idea and it committed to exploring that idea. The questions that were brought up, such as man’s relationship and increasing dependence with technology, wasn’t very deep but they were satisfactory to get me to care about what happened once Flynn was inside the program. The characters were forced to participate in gladiatorial games in which the loser would cease to exist. When Clu/Flynn, Tron/Alan, and Ram (Dan Shor) took it upon themselves to actively rebel against MCP, I didn’t see the colorful cars as just models for cars but a symbol for a particular character. Although the three were essentially a part of a video game, I cared about them because their challenges, created by Sark (also played by Warner), became increasingly difficult. However, as a whole, I felt like the material was too dependent on its special and visual effects. What the picture needed, especially when the audience had gotten used to the visuals, was more human qualities. I didn’t know who Flynn was outside of his job. He liked to play video games but even that was superficial. In the beginning, there seemed to be a friendship between Flynn and Lora. The friendship was mentioned but the friendship wasn’t shown in a meaningful way. Furthermore, there were a handful of questions that left us hanging. When Flynn was abducted by MCP, what did Lora and Alan do prior to appearing in the game? Was there even a passage of time from the moment Flynn was kidnapped until he returned? I felt as though there were several missing scenes toward the end that could potentially help to wrap up the story. The screenplay wasn’t as tight as it should have been, therefore its story, not just its influential effects, felt dated as well. And why was the film titled “Tron” when he wasn’t, arguably, the hero of the story? Tron felt like a sidekick because Flynn had the strong personality, the playful energy, and, lest we forget, he created the program. But I digress. “Tron” requires some effort to watch which might be attributed to some of the tech talk. Still, I’m giving it a slight recommendation because, image-wise, I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Tron: Legacy (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) designed a digital world in where he eventually became imprisoned. He left his young son named Sam in the real world where he was raised by his grandparents. About two decades later, complete with rich boy angst, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) stumbled upon his father’s arcade where he discovered the digital world his old man always talked about. He had one mission: To find his father and get out alive. But that wouldn’t be easy because Clu (also played by Bridges), a part of Kevin designed to correct all imperfections, was on a war path to capture his maker and make his way into the real world. “Tron: Legacy” worked as a video game but not as a successful science fiction film. And like video games in the 80s, the movie was too simplistic so it wasn’t at all engaging. Blue light meant good guys while red-orange light meant bad guys. The story was even driven by a potential end of the world if the good guys failed their mission. Where the heart should have been was simply a hollow case full of bright lights and booming soundtrack. For instance, when Sam finally saw his father after being absent from his life for about twenty years, the characters barely emoted a thing. They stood in their respective spaces for so long and when they did make a physical connection, it felt awkward and forced. If I saw my dad after believing that he was dead for more than half of my life, I would rush up to him before I could even think and hug him with all my might. Tears would be running down my face and not a word uttered from my mouth would be intelligible. And why didn’t the father and son share one meaningful conversation? Instead, what I felt was the filmmakers were afraid to show some ugliness and reactions that reflected reality. The material felt detached and calculated to a tee. Since the picture was set in a literal fantasy world, what it actually needed was gallons of humanity so that its audiences would remain connected despite the impossibilities unfolding before our eyes. Furthermore, the film had trouble telling too much instead of showing. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes during the scene when Quorra (Olivia Wilde), Kevin’s assistant, said that trying to escape was useless because Clu was nearby. Instead of wasting time, what I needed to see was their actual attempt to escape. If they happened to get caught, just surprise me. Don’t warn me about it because my attention notices the egregiousness of the script. Directed by Joseph Kosinski, watching “Tron: Legacy” was like the moment we stop to observe someone playing video games in the arcade for five minutes. It may have engaging music and excellent visuals designed to capture our attention but staying longer was a waste of our precious time.
True Grit (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a plucky fourteen-year-old girl, was adamant about finding Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), her father’s cold-blooded killer, and getting even. She left her grieving mother and siblings at home while she went to town to hire a competent bounty hunter. She crossed paths with an alcoholic U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) who was first reluctant to tackle the task. Mattie desperately wanted him because she claimed he had “true grit” or the right spirit she was searching for. Mattie and Cogburn were accompanied by a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) who also wanted to bring the criminal to justice. The western genre is normally not my cup of tea, but I couldn’t help but enjoy this film. Steinfeld’s energetic performance as a headstrong girl who wanted vengeance instantly caught my interest especially the very amusing scene when she tried to sell back the horses her late father bought. In just one simple scene, Steinfeld established that Mattie was intelligent, resourceful, and unafraid to bluff when the occassion called for it. She saw adults as untrustworthy so she had to be self-reliant and use fear to motivate others. Adults saw her as a child who didn’t know any better. On the positive side, she could get away with certain things that older folks simply would not. Much of the picture’s humor was embedded in the scenes where Cogburn and LaBoeuf tried to ascertain which one of them was the more effective lawman. Cogburn, aging and a drunkard, just didn’t know when to quit while he was ahead and LaBoeuf was difficult to take seriously because he walked around as if he already deserved to be respected. Bridges was successful in delivering the softer side of a man who wanted minimal contact with the world. Meanwhile, Damon complemented Bridges’ character by wanting to be seen, heard and admired. It was obvious that both were having great fun with their roles. As opposite as Cogburn and LaBoeuf were, the two could make a great duo when the situation turned grim. I admired the look of the film because I felt transported to that era. The contrasting images of the blistering hot desert and the bone-chilling snowy nights not only were great visually but they reflected what the characters felt, especially Mattie since we saw the story from her perspective, during their arduous journey. I just wished we had a chance to get to know Chaney a bit more in order to make room for another layer of complexity. Based on Charles Portis’ novel and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen, “True Grit” was a straightforward and character-driven revenge story. Simple is not something I’m used to when watching Coen brothers picture. Maybe that’s the irony.
Crazy Heart (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Based on the novel by Thomas Cobb and directed by Scott Cooper, “Crazy Heart” told the story of a 57-year-old musician named Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) who traveled from one small town to another to perform songs that people loved back when he was in his prime. Completely trapped in the habit of smoking and alcohol, he slowly began to change his ways after meeting a charming music writer (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her son. Bad Blake also had to deal with stepping out of the shadow cast by an artist he used to mentor (Colin Farrell), reconnecting with his 28-year-old son and writing new songs so he could stop living from paycheck to paycheck. The thing I liked most about this movie was its simplicity even though it was a double-edged sword. Between scenes with other actors, we got to see Bridges perform with his guitar and bare his soul. While the songs were definitely easy to listen to (and I’m not much of a country fan), I felt that it was meaningful to Bridges’ character because he had a look in his eye that he actually lived through the events that he was singing about. So I thought Bridges did a great job serving as an intermediate between the songs and the character’s life experiences. However, I wished that the film had spent less time building on the romance between Bridges and Gyllenhaal because I felt as though the whole thing became redundant (and sometimes forced). I understood that Gyllenhaal’s character was the key to Bad Blake’s redemption into getting his life back on track but some of the courtship rituals, though it tried to be not as typical as Hollywood movies, still felt typical in an independent movie sort of way. Instead, I felt like the movie would have been stronger if it focused more on the relationship between Bridges and Farrell because they shared a common history. It would have been nice if Farrell’s character had talked about how his mentor was like before becoming a faded musician. When those two interacted with each other, I felt real tension between them; I felt a strange mix of anger, jealousy and respect between the two which culminated when they shared the stage in front of 12,000 people. As I mentioned before, “Crazy Heart” is a simple film so it’s understandable why most people won’t initially recognize why it’s essentially a good film. Yes, it was sometimes predictable because we’ve all seen movies about washed-up musicians before. However, at least for me, with a movie like this, it’s all about the acting and I believe it ultimately all came together because I made a connection with the lead protagonist.
Men Who Stare at Goats, The (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
After being recently heartbroken, Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) decided to go with a self-proclaimed psychic-soldier-slash-Jedi-warrior (George Clooney) to Iraq so that he could publish a mind-blowing story and prove to himself that he was not a loser. However, Wilton quickly realized that maybe the man he was with was just a charlatan and there really was no compelling story that could be written. Adapted from Jon Ronson’s book and directed by Grant Heslov, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” was certainly not as bad as people claimed it was upon its release because the satire involving American soldiers and reporters worked on some level. Given the strange material, I thought it was refreshing even though some of the jokes didn’t quite work and the story could have been more focused. For me, I’d rather watch something that takes a lot of risks even though it doesn’t work rather than watch something typical that only occasionally works. I found the scenes with McGregor and Clooney the least interesting part of the film. I wanted to know more about Clooney’s experiences in the paranormal sector of the army in its early days (during the war in Vietnam), the person he greatly looked up to (Jeff Bridges), and his rival (Kevin Spacey) who would do anything to be the best. Even though the things they did were undeniably weird such as trying to defeat the enemy with friendship, flowers and the like, I was interested in the characters because they had great conviction in what they were doing. Personally, I think what the characters tried to do were not that extraordinary because there were times in history when other countries turned to paranormal studies (like mind control and science verging on the extremes like trying to bring people back to life) to remain one step ahead of their enemies. But it’s understandable that not many people liked the film because not everyone understands satire and some of the humor was dry and deadpan. Maybe if the picture tried to connect more with the audience, the audience would have liked it more. The movie also didn’t feel like a hollistic project but a series of scenes that were quirky which didn’t add up to anything substantial. Acting-wise, I thought everyone was consistently strong, especially Clooney. Despite his character’s goofiness, somehow I believed in his wild stories and got the feeling that he was much smarter than he let on. “The Men Who Stare at Goats” was a cerebral experience more than anything and it would appeal most to those willing to read between the lines. Commentaries such as politics, war and duty were abound but they were far from obvious. Ultimately, I’m glad I gave this movie a chance.
Surf’s Up (2007)
★ / ★★★★
Cody Maverick (voiced by Shia LaBeouf) was a penguin who knew how to surf but did not know how to have fun while doing it because his brother and mother did not always show their support for him. So when a recruiter for surfers visited Cody’s hometown, Cody did not think twice about competing in the Penguin World Surfing Championship. On his journey to the finals, he met an oblivious but very entertaining chicken (Jon Heder), a cute penguin lifeguard (Zooey Deschanel), a highly competitive penguin (Diedrich Bader) and a surfing legend (Jeff Bridges) who decided to hide from the world. I feel like I am the only person that did not enjoy this animated mockumentary. In what people found inspiring, I found recycled jokes, or worse, jokes that were just not funny. At first I thought it had potential because I have never seen an animated film take on a mockumentary style of storytelling. But I quickly got bored with it because even though everyone had a lot of energy, there really was no story and a defined main character. The images were cute (especially the baby penguins) but the movie did not have enough substance for me to really get into. As for the star-studded voices, I found them to be very distracting. Instead of seeing the penguins come to life, I was forced to think of the actors instead. I was pretty excited to watch this movie because it was light entertainment and I needed a break from a series of serious films. And when I heard that this movie was nominated for an Oscar, my expectations were that much higher but it did not deliver in a way where I could be entertained by the jokes while at the same time getting me to invest in the story. I will say, however, that this film was quite atmospheric at times. I loved the first few scenes when it went back in time to tell the audiences what made Cody feel so inspired to go after his dreams. There was a certain campiness and cleverness about it. Unfortunately, the rest did not hold up especially the scenes where the legendary surfer taught Cody “the ways” of being a real surfer. It was cheesy and, as a person who is not interested in surfing, I found the whole thing quite boring. I’m not sure if kids can enjoy this movie with bright colors alone. It needed a bit of edge, a bit of sadness and a whole lot of originality. Instead of elevating the picture, the mockumentary style felt like a bad gimmick.
Big Lebowski, The (1998)
★★★ / ★★★★
I usually don’t like screwball comedies because the characters are stupid without any sort of redeeming qualities, the jokes are rude and sometimes mean-spirited, the story has no idea where to go, and I quickly get bored watching them because they fail to get me to think. Strangely enough, I enjoyed “The Big Lebowski,” written and directed by the Coen brothers, because of such qualities except for the fact that it is far from mean-spirited. Jeff Bridges stars as The Dude, whose real name was Jeffrey Lebowski, a guy who was mistaken by two miscreants as the millionaire Lebowski. Since the two didn’t get what they wanted from The Dude, one of them decided to pee on his carpet. What started off as a story about a slacker who wanted compensation for his carpet ended up being about a lot of things: a kidnapped woman (Tara Reid), an artist who had intentions of her own (Julianne Moore), nihilists who craved money, and the dynamics among bowling buddies (Steve Buscemi and John Goodman). All of such disparate elements came to together in a way that didn’t necessarily make sense–in fact, sometimes I had no idea what was going on–but it was very funny because each character was driven by well-defined motivations (no matter how strange they might have been). I did not expect this kind of movie from the Coen brothers because I’m more familiar with their thrillers (“No Country for Old Men,” “Blood Simple”) and dark comedies (“Intolerable Cruelty,” “Fargo”), but after watching the film I was glad that I got a taste of their lighter side. The only real complaint I had with this picture was it had no reason to run for almost two hours long. Somewhere after the half-way point, I began to wonder when it was going to be over because at that point it still did not try to put the pieces of the puzzle together. The characters were still too busy running around like children and it made me restless. Nevertheless, despite its flaws, I still enjoyed watching this movie because of the characters’ funny fixations and interesting mistaken identities. And considering I detest stoner comedies, I think it’s a solid accomplishment.
How to Lose Friends & Alienate People (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
I love Simon Pegg because he never fails to make me laugh in any movie he stars in. Naturally, I had to see this picture despite bad to mediocre reviews. He plays Sidney Young, a writer who takes up a job offer from Jeff Bridges, the leader of a magazine that specializes in publishing stories about celebrities. Amazingly unaware that he’s way different than anybody else who works for the magazine, he constantly butts heads with the serious Kirsten Dunst, and, predictably enough, the two fall for each other eventually. I would have liked this film a lot more if it had focused on the comedy instead of experimenting here and there with media satire. With that indecision, the picture becomes an unfocused mess. I cannot pinpoint which is stronger: the slapstick comedy with Pegg or the poking fun of celebrity life such as the dragon-lady publicist played by Gillian Anderson (really, she was great in every scene she was in). While the two distinct camps do indeed have their moments, they never really come together so I felt like I was watching two different movies at the same time. I think Robert B. Weide, the director, is the one responsible for such a disconnect. If he had spent less time trying to fit Pegg and Dunst’s obvious lack of chemistry, he would have had more time actually shaping the slapstick and the satire into one comedy with a pretty powerful punch. Overall, this is not a particularly bad film; like most critics, I’d say this was a mediocre effort. If people were to see this, I think they would find Pegg very funny (or very annoying) because he has a certain vibrant energy that one cannot find anywhere else. Since his character is a movie-lover, it was fun for me to watch him make (sometimes too obvious) references to other motion pictures. “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People” is a mixed bag so one should decide carefully on whether to actually see it.