Tag: jena malone


Saved! (2004)
★★★ / ★★★★

As a pious Christian, Mary (Jena Malone) has worked hard to make Jesus the center of her life. Up until the summer before senior year of high school, everything has gone according to plan. But when her boyfriend, Dean (Chad Faust), confesses to her that he might be gay, she feels an urgent need to rid of his “toxic affliction.” She reasons that if she gives his virginity to Dean, he will be cured of his homosexuality. Soon, Mary learns that she is pregnant and feels she must hide it from her mom (Mary-Louise Parker) and classmates because gays, drug addicts, and pregnant girls are sent to a “treatment center.”

Written by Brian Dannelly and Michael Urban, “Saved!” exposes some of the hypocrisies of a specific organized religion within the confines of a high school but it is not exactly an indictment. By withholding from being a full-on satire, it turns into a more accessible picture. In my opinion, the movie can be enjoyed divorced from one’s beliefs so long as one is not blind to or can appreciate good irony.

Instead of having only Christians and atheists, the picture consists of a spectrum of characters, from those who take every word of the bible to heart, like the imperious Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), those who use religion as a guide but not a rule, like the new student named Patrick (Patrick Fugit) who also happens to be the son of the school’s pastor (Martin Donovan), and those who are closet atheists, like Roland (Macaulay Culkin), Hilary Faye’s brother who requires a wheelchair. There is even a Jewish girl, Cassandra (Eva Amurri Martino), who mocks anyone, especially Hilary Faye, trying to convince her that being a Christian is the only correct path to salvation.

The interactions among the disparate characters are written, executed, and performed with vibrant energy. Though some personalities are obvious extremes, there is a rhythm to the encounters in the hallways and cafeteria that is so distinct to high school. As a result, even though the story takes place in a mostly white Christian school, the feelings of being ostracized, victimized, or marginalized are delivered with clarity.

Less effective are the romantic detours. For instance, although Malone and Fugit look cute together, there seems to be little depth to what their characters wish to have. Mary and Patrick get one or two romantic scenes but there is little else to support them. A very similar observation can be applied to Roland and Cassandra. However, most pointless is the would-be romantic pairing between the pastor and Mary’s mother. Unlike the younger cast, Donovan and Parker share no chemistry whatsoever so their scenes or any scene where one talks about the other are boring.

The last twenty minutes is standard fluff. Don’t you hate it when anything and everything is revealed during “defining nights” like the prom? Though one can argue that it may be a part of the satire, I say that the screenplay has not done anything particularly special to overcome or overpower the clichés it is targeting.

Directed by Brian Dannelly, “Saved!” has enough vicious wit, cleverness, and energy to make up for its shortcomings in the final third. It does not hammer us over the head with its message of tolerance. Instead, it presents a variety of situations and it is up to us to ask ourselves if what is portrayed on screen is how we would like to be treated.

Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch (2011)
★ / ★★★★

After their mother’s death, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) and her sister were left in the hands of their evil stepfather (Gerard Plunkett). When he found out that the sisters were the heir to the fortune he hoped to receive, he was possessed by rage and tried to hurt the girls. Commotion ensued and Baby Doll was accused of accidentally killing her sister. She was sent to a mental hospital where she eventually planned her escape with other patients (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung). Directed by Zack Snyder, there was no denying that “Sucker Punch” delivered visual acrobatics galore. The action sequences looked dream-like, appropriate because much of the fantastic elements occurred in Baby Doll’s mind, and the girls looked great in their respective outfits. However, it was unfortunate that there was really nothing else to elevate the picture. The acting was atrocious. Blue (Oscar Isaac), one of the main orderlies, for some reason, always felt the need to scream in order to get his point across. I understood that Isaac wanted his character to exhibit a detestable menace, but he should have given more variety to his performance. Sometimes whispering a line in a slithery tone could actually pack a more powerful punch than yelling like a spoiled child. I was astounded that we didn’t learn much about Baby Doll’s friends. They were important because they helped our protagonist to get the four items required if she was to earn her freedom. I wondered what the sisters, Sweat Pea and Rocket, had done to deserve being sent to such a prison. They seemed very close. Maybe for a reason. The girls were supposed to have gone crazy in some way but there was no evidence that they weren’t quite right in the head. If they were sent to the mental hospital for the wrong reasons, the script should have acknowledged that instead of leaving us in the dark. They, too, could have been framed like Baby Doll. Overlooking such a basic detail proved to me how little Snyder thought about the story. “Sucker Punch” tackled three worlds: the mental institution, the brothel, and the war against Nazi zombies. Too much time was spent in the whorehouse, the least interesting of them all, and not enough time in the asylum. Though beautiful to look at due to its post-apocalyptic imagery, I could care less about the battle scenes with the dragons, giant samurais, and Nazi zombies. The reason why Snyder should have given us more scenes of Baby Doll in the asylum was because that was Baby Doll’s grim reality: in five days, she was to be lobotomized. Those who’ve played a role-playing video game in the past five years are aware that the games have mini-movies during key events in the story arc. Those images were as good as the ones found here and some of the stories in those games are quite compelling. If images were all this film had to offer, then why should we bother to watch it?

Cold Mountain

Cold Mountain (2003)
★★★ / ★★★★

This film, directed by Anthony Minghella, would’ve been a masterpiece if it hadn’t been so uneven. One of the things that bothered me most was the lack of a real relationship between Nicole Kidman and Jude Law’s characters prior to Law leaving to participate in the Civil War. I felt like they just met, instantly fell in love, and the audiences are supposed to buy it so easily. I get that faith is one of the driving forces of the film but, with its running time of about two-and-a-half hours, it could’ve left room to establish a concrete relationship between the two leads. Renée Zellweger deserved her Oscar as Ruby Thewes because she had a great comedic timing, energy, and she came at the right time when the film started to become too depressing. Even though her acting is (arguably) over-the-top, I thought it was necessary because her character is supposed to contrast of that of Kidman’s. Kidman and Zellweger’s little adventures in the farm made me smile. As for Law’s adventures that are bigger in scope, it was nice to see some familiar actors playing very colorful characters: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Cillian Murphy, Jena Malone… I didn’t like this film as much the first time I saw it. But upon giving it a second chance, I realized that Mingella provides a plethora of beautiful images that reflect how a character is feeling and thinking. Not to mention the soundtrack manages to elavate those images and feelings on an entirely new level. He also has a talent of telling a story that spans for a long period of time. In fact, one of my favorite scenes was when Kidman and Law were finally reunited; that scene was smart enough to linger a bit because it gives the audiences a chance to look back on how different the two characters were from when the film started. With a little more improvement on its pacing, this romance epic would’ve been more memorable. Charles Frazier, the book’s author from which the film is based upon, should be proud of this picture because it got pretty much everything right.