Lost Boys, The (1987)
★★ / ★★★★
A mother (Dianne Wiest) moves from Arizona to California with her two sons, Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim), in tow. Santa Carla, located right next to the beach, is fun and summery on the outside but upon closer inspection, its bulletin boards are full of flyers which advertise missing persons. While watching a band’s performance, Michael’s eyes become transfixed on Star (Jami Gertz), a girl involved with a biker gang led by David (Kiefer Sutherland). Later, Michael is suspiciously invited by the bikers to hang out in a chamber down by the beach. The gang turns out to be a group of vampires and David wishes to turn Michael into one of them.
“The Lost Boys,” based on the screenplay by Janice Fischer, James Jeremias, and Jeffrey Boam, offers somewhat engaging sequences when vampires feel the need to terrorize the living, but a plethora of questions, most being obvious, are ignored for the majority of its running time or left unanswered altogether. The picture has elements of fantasy and so it is all the more important that certain aspects of the story remain rooted in reality.
The vampires tend to pluck their victims from above, like pterodactyls, the camera serving as the creature of the night’s point of view. Each attack is unsettling despite not having a drop of blood being spilled. The audience are not even allowed to see what happens to the bodies after they have been taken. A lot is left to our imagination. Eventually, though, the picture must focus on the new family that has moved to Santa Carla.
What makes them special enough to kill the vampires that have been making the small town miserable for years? Further, while Sam and Michael have one or two convincing and funny brotherly scenes, there is no depth in their relationship. They are supposed to be kids who are products of divorce. How does the separation change or affect them other than being concerned that Grandpa (Barnard Hughes) does not have a TV?
Soon enough, Sam meets the Frog brothers, Edgar (Corey Feldman) and Alan (Jamison Newlander), at a comic book store. They seem to know an awful lot about vampires. Why had they not attempted to get rid of the town’s evil before? Are they simply waiting for a third member because the number three feels right?
Eventually, someone close to Sam is sired. While certain rules are established involving being a so-called half-vampire versus a “full” vampire, what are the adverse effects of half-vampires not feeding? And why is being a “full” vampire so important? From my observations, it is better to remain a half-vampire. For example, while both seem to be equally powerful, being a full vampire means not being able to walk in the sun. Seemingly simple details as such need to be sorted out in order to really get us to buy into its universe. Rules are equally important as exceptions. There are instances when exceptions tend to present far more interesting scenarios.
The final showdown is frustrating, convenient, predictable, and at times nonsensical. A character knowing when exactly to drive a vehicle into the house when he had been outside hours before the confrontation takes discerning viewers out of the picture. Moreover, when a vampire is killed, blood comes out of sinks and toilets for no reason. What does that have to do with anything? It is overkill. Is it not enough for us to see vampires dissolve into primordial goop? When the special effects run rampant, something that is supposed to be scary just comes across as silly (though not necessarily funny).
Directed by Joel Schumacher, “The Lost Boys” has a lot of ideas but it does not mean fitting them all in one film is right. If it had been more selective of ideas that worked, it may have turned out to be more than a product of ‘80s nostalgia.
Batman & Robin (1997)
★ / ★★★★
Dr. Pamela Isley (Uma Thurman), a horticulturalist stationed in South America whose project involved cross-breeding animal and plants, caught Dr. Woodrue (John Glover) creating a super soldier named Bane (Jeep Swenson) for bidding. When she expressed her disapproval of her colleague’s indiscretions, Dr. Woodrue tried to kill her by pushing her into a batch of chemicals. This altered Dr. Isley’s DNA and gave her, now Poison Ivy, the ability to manipulate plants. Pairing up with Bane, the duo headed to Gotham City to demand answers from Bruce Wayne (George Clooney) for cutting funds out of their project. Written by Akiva Goldsman and directed by Joel Schumacher, “Batman & Robin” suffocated from too many plots which was unfortunate because there was a hint of good material lost in a jungle of bad. The strand which involved the decline of Alfred Pennyworth’s (Michael Gough) health was interesting because prior to this point, he had nothing much to do except being a butler to Bruce and offering a wise commentary when Bruce struggled for answers in terms of the dichotomy between his personal and professional life. Even though Alfred was only the help of the Wayne manor, it was tough to see him looking frail and lackadaisical because he was our protagonist’s only father figure. Unfortunately, the film put more weight in having fun in the form racing motorbikes which was aimed to symbolize teenage rebellion, Poison Ivy winking at the camera and mentioning how her action figures always came with Bane, and Bruce appearing in social functions with a woman (Elle Macpherson) we knew absolutely nothing about but marriage was apparently on the horizon. This confusing, cheesy pot of doldrum was heated to a boil so slowly and so painfully, it threatened the integrity of the project and the franchise. Furthermore, while I believed Clooney as Bruce the multibillionaire with that winning smile, I had an incredibly difficult time believing him as Batman. The ultimate challenge that Clooney had to face did not occur during the action scenes when he had to throw a punch and utter laughably trite lines of dialogue. It was in the silent moments when Clooney, dressed as Batman, stood next to Robin (Chris O’Donnell). I knew there was a big problem when I found that my eyes gravitated toward O’Donnell more often even if he wasn’t saying anything. Unlike Clooney, O’Donnell was a good choice to play Robin because he could just scoff and I knew exactly what his character was thinking. This error in casting proved very distracting. Notice that Clooney continued to sport a little smile when discussing Alfred’s affliction. That smile made me very angry because it communicated apathy. The scene should have had an air of seriousness because, after all, Alfred raised Bruce like a son. I wondered if the director even reshot the scene. From the looks of it, more attention was put into the special and visual effects of the chases and explosions which were, admittedly, admirable for their colors and detail. Meanwhile, Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), eventually teaming up with Poison Ivy and Bane, was reduced to delivering puns, referring to himself as a “villain” and Batman and Robin as “heroes.” Well-established antagonists with real goals don’t consider themselves as villains; they don’t feel guilt toward what they do because they believe what they’re doing is right. Knowing a bit about the deeper and touching details of why Mr. Freeze turned to a life of crime, which involved his wife in cryogenic sleep, it made me angry that the picture mostly portrayed him as a cold-blooded automaton. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if, despite his intimidating appearance, he was actually portrayed as having a heart, someone who didn’t enjoy hurting people, but he felt he needed to in order to get one step closer in saving his love? The action sequences in “Batman & Robin,” one occurred in the Gotham City Museum of Modern Art looking like an ice rink on acid, were quite a sight at times but it had no heart. It wasn’t cool to give the audience such a cold shoulder.
★★ / ★★★★
When their daughter, Avery (Liana Liberato), snuck out to attend a posh teen party, Sarah (Nicole Kidman) and Kyle’s (Nicolas Cage) home was invaded by four thugs (Cam Gigandet, Ben Mendelsohn, Dash Mihok, Jordana Spiro). They knew Kyle’s business involved selling diamonds and they hoped that by forcing the husband to open a money vault, they would be that much richer by the end of the night. But Kyle wouldn’t open the depository even if his wife’s life was threatened. Written by Karl Gajdusek and directed by Joel Schumacher, “Trespass” could have been a lot of fun if it hadn’t taken itself too seriously. Once Sarah and Kyle were on the floor, screaming, begging, and arguing for their lives, they weren’t given very much to do. With such a high caliber actors, one would think that the filmmakers would take advantage of it, take some risks, even unnecessary ones, and really challenge its audiences in terms of what was normally expected in home invasion movies. Instead, the film was too safe. Aside from the shot when Sarah realized that one of the men wearing masks was someone she knew, there was no other scene that moved me, good or bad. The rest were just there as I passively watched the formula: the hostages waiting for an opportunity to run, finding a chance to get away for a couple of minutes because the thugs ended up on each other’s throats, and eventually getting caught because the backyard was so big, it was like running a marathon from Point A to Point B. Back to square one, nothing changed. To its credit, the formula wasn’t boring, per se. It was repetitive but I wanted the family to find an escape so badly to the point where I didn’t mind. I just wasn’t as involved as I felt I should have been. The characterization was obvious especially concerning the head of the family: Kyle was like a diamond. Despite the heat and pressure applied by the criminals, he just wouldn’t break. But there was nothing else to his character. Aside from Cage doing his crazy yelling in an outstanding (and borderline comical) manner, his character wasn’t very interesting. He was smart and sarcastic but he held so many secrets that, by the end, we ended up not really getting to know him. And then there was the criminals’ laughable decision to bring a druggie, Petal, the only woman in their group, as a helping hand. I thought it was unintentionally funny. She pranced around the house wearing other people’s clothes, admiring shoes, jewelry, purses and taking drugs. When she wasn’t doing the aforementioned activities, she went downstairs to whine about what was taking so long and wanting to slap around Sarah out of jealousy. It was like bringing an already ticking bomb to a supposedly controlled situation. For a group who went out of their way to gather so much information about Kyle and his family, stringing a loose cannon along just didn’t feel right. With all the things that happened, “Trespass” probably would have worked as a farce or a satire instead of a straight-faced suspense picture if the writing had been exaggerated and ironic. Since it settled with typicalities, it ended up blending in a haystack of mediocrity.
St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)
★ / ★★★★
A group of friends (Mare Winningham, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez) who recently graduated from Georgetown University believed they would be forces to be reckoned with out in the real world but they quickly found out that life was hard and they were not going to be friends forever. I cannot begin to describe how much I disliked this film but I will surely try my best. The characters in this movie has got to be one of the whiniest, most self-absorbed, and most idiotic people I had the displeasure spending time with. It’s not the fact that they constantly made mistakes after graduation. I love it when characters go through trials and their respective cores are challenged. It’s just the way the script made each character an annoying caricature with no sense of direction. The most irksome was perhaps Estevez’ character as a stalker who we were supposed to believe was in love with somoene four years older than him. Like the others, he had a one-track mind and there was no substance to him other than what we saw on screen. On the other side of the spectrum, the character that was somewhat likable (played by Winningham) craved for independence from her rich family. I wished the picture focused more on her because at least I had an idea about what she wanted to accomplish in life and the many elements that were against her. It was not difficult to root for her because of her inherent goodness and her proactiveness to change things around when she was not happy with a particular situation. Written and directed by Joel Schumacher, it’s a shame because “St. Elmo’s Fire” could have really made a statement about post-college life in the 1980s. Instead of looking inwards and moving outwards, it was stuck in the character’s inner demons and it did not give them room to grow or learn something meaningful. When it tried to move forward, it fell flat because the scenes were very disorganized and just did not make sense why characters chose certain paths. When I look at the movie as a whole, it felt like it was just a giant party where I met a lot of people but I could not remember any of their names by the end of the night because all of them failed to strike a chord. In the end, I wondered why the characters would be friends with each other in the first place. And then it occured to me: they probably enjoyed watching each other crash and burn in order to feel better about themselves. But I had serious doubts whether the film was astute enough to arrive at such realization.