Tag: julianne moore

6 Souls


6 Souls (2010)
★ / ★★★★

In the middle of the would-be supernatural horror picture “6 Souls,” I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Julianne Moore, playing psychiatrist Cara Harding who is presented a bizarre case of what appears to be dissociative identity disorder (DID), because despite her efforts of elevating the material, the screenplay by Michael Cooney falls flat every step of the way. Whether it be discussing ideas within the realm of science, particularly abnormal psychology and behavior, or craft when it comes to scaring the audience witless, the approach is painfully pedestrian, lacking in energy, creativity, or even a modicum of personality.

It suffers from an identity crisis. On the one hand, because our protagonist is a woman of science even though she believes in God, the first third of the film attempts to be somewhat realistic. We spend a lot of time in an interview room where Dr. Harding asks David (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) a range of questions meant to trigger a response. During these scenes we are supposed to gauge how the patient with DID processes information, but the writer forgets that these sequences, too, are an opportunity for us to observe how good Dr. Harding is at her job. Although Moore excels at emoting even the most minute emotions since she is a dramatic performer first and foremost, nothing interesting is revealed about her character until an hour into the picture. Instead, she is reduced to just another career woman who becomes obsessed with cases. Boring.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Meyers. I did not believe any of the “personalities” that take over. At first I thought it was due to Meyers’ limited range of facial expressions. Notice that when a personality of a different gender or vastly different age is in control, he relies on changing his voice without an effective body language to go with it. Eventually, however, it becomes obvious that there is a deeper problem: Because each personality is introduced only on a surface level, the changes that unfold before our eyes are neither interesting nor horrifying. I am convinced the filmmakers are aware of this shortcoming because nearly each time something “scary” occurs, we are pummeled by loud music as if the intent were to beat us into submission. It is an annoyance.

The special and visual effects are third rate at best. The supposed spirit that floats in the air and goes on attacking people looks like it is made using a computer program in the ‘90s. It looks so grainy, almost unfinished. In order to hide the more laughable textures and other subpar qualities, a lot of shadow is employed. As a result, not only do these scenes look ugly and uninspired, it becomes a struggle to appreciate the images on screen. At least B-movies are proud of what they have to offer. In this film, one that is meant to be taken seriously, the filmmakers appear to be ashamed of what they paid for. If so, then why showcase the effects in the first place? The reason is because it takes more work on a script level to leave something in the viewers’ imagination.

“6 Souls,” directed by Björn Stein and Måns Mårlind, offers a hollow and depressing experience. There is not one effective scare, let alone one that is memorable or inspired at the very least. The picture can be summed up by its ending: nonsensical, frustrating, lazy, entirely predictable. Perhaps the filmmakers were not convinced themselves that their work is anything more than a straight-to-DVD endeavor. Maybe they just needed to make something—anything—to pay the bills.

Maps to the Stars


Maps to the Stars (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) makes a trip from Jupiter, Florida to Los Angeles, California because it has been seven years since she had seen her family—the very people she tried to set on fire. Her goal is to make amends but she is unsure whether enough time has passed for them to be able to forgive. In the meantime, she gets a job as a personal assistant to Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), an actress with many connections and even more personal demons, including a history of drug abuse.

“Maps to the Stars,” based on the screenplay by Bruce Wagner, is not the sharpest biting satirical film about Hollywood culture but it does command highly watchable performances across the board. There are plenty of familiar faces, from Robert Pattison as a limousine driver to Carrie Fisher playing a version of herself, and just about each one, no matter how brief they appear on screen, intrigues. Looking at the material from a big picture point of view, however, it leaves a lot to be desired. The bad, erratic, and self-destructive behaviors are present but there is no soul. At one point one cannot help but wonder, “What’s the point?”

Not surprisingly, Moore is the standout performer. Although Havana is not the lead character, Moore plays Havana as larger-than-life but tragic. In one scene she is despicable, but the succeeding scene makes us wonder that maybe there is more to her than pills, guilt, and a past she is unable to run away from. The best scenes involve Havana wanting to get a part so badly—a role that her late mother played many years ago—that she comes across as on the brink of breaking down. So people around her tiptoe. She, too, is in self-denial; she thinks she’s a bright star but in actuality, maybe she needs to focus on getting into the right frame of mind to be able to handle holding down a job.

I did not expect to feel sympathy toward a child actor who is a complete jerk to everyone he encounters—even to young fans who just want a simple autograph. Thirteen-year-old Benjie (Evan Bird) already has a history of drug abuse and he is trying to keep clean—not because he wants to necessarily but in order to keep a role that his mother (Olivia Williams) thinks he should hold onto. I wondered at times about the kind of future Benjie might have given he continues traveling in the same self-destructive track.

Looking at their rather palatial home, one must wonder why the mother insists that he remain in show business. Is it for his future or is it a way for her to compensate on what she feels she is lacking, a missed opportunity when she was young? Of course, in a movie like this, which follows expected beats in terms of story arc, the answer is somewhat obvious.

Directed by David Cronenberg, “Maps to the Stars” shows the ugly side of being in the Hollywood machine: the vanity, the histrionics, the exploitation, the loneliness of living in spacious home but there is no joy or laughter in it. There is a sadness here that the picture seems almost afraid to touch, afraid of delivering more dimension to cynicism. I get the point that it aims to make but cynicism must be paired with something else—preferably contrasting elements—or else the film ends up being a one-note critique.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle


Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

Although not short on energy and defiance of physics, director Matthew Vaughn’s sequel to the surprisingly enjoyable “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is mildly entertaining in parts but a deflating experience as a whole. Pay close attention during the first would-be breathless action sequence that unfolds in the busy streets of London. It is so exaggerated to the point where the cartoonish action looks and feels fake. The predecessor works exactly because it recognizes the line between hyperbole and camp. And, more importantly, when to cross that line to shock us into paying attention.

For an action film with a running time of well above two hours, it is jaw dropping that it offers only three major action scenes. Worse, not each of them engages in such a way that we are invested in what is about to happen. These scenes are beautifully shot, particularly one that takes place in the snowy mountains of Italy, and capably edited, but there is not one moment when we feel our protagonists are in any real danger, that any one of them can drop dead at any second. And if one did, would we really care?

Part of the problem is the screenplay by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn. While it is too preoccupied setting up satirical moments, which occasionally land, that we do not learn anything new about the characters we are already familiar with, especially Eggsy (Taron Egerton), our conduit into this world of spies and gadgetries, or those we have just met. There is a lack of intrigue this time around—disappointing because the picture introduces the American version of the Kingsman. While the cameos inspire smiles, getting to know the characters behind such recognizable names (Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges) would have been rewarding. What are the important similarities and differences between Kingsman and Statesman?

Julianne Moore plays the villainous 1950’s-obsessed Poppy, a pavonine performer of flawless camp, a set piece on her own, milking every moment for what it is worth. I admired that she calibrated her performance in such a way that it complements Samuel L. Jackson’s from the predecessor but not quite as boisterous. But, like her heroic counterparts, Poppy, too, is not given much dimension. We do not learn about how she got to where she is and why, on a deeper level, does she wish to enact her endgame. Yes, ego is a factor, but what separates her from other maniacal villains?

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is not required to deliver deep thoughts and emotions, but it must entertain on such a high level that we end up choosing to overlook—or forget completely—its shortcomings. But since the film does not manage to overcome such a bar, we thirst for something to chew on or hang onto. Those looking to see a spy-action picture that goes from one breathless piece to another would be advised to explore alternatives.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2


The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★

If I could pick only one word to describe this film (and the series as a whole), it would have to be “brave.” It requires courage to tell this story in such a way that it entertains and makes one think a little deeper about its themes, characters, and ironies. It could easily have been just another movie designed to steal money from casual viewers and diehard fans. Thus, despite the emotional and grim events that unfold in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2,” directed by Francis Lawrence, it is ultimately an example of optimistic filmmaking. It would not be an exaggeration if one were to claim that “The Hunger Games” series is a benchmark when it comes to dystopian future young adult fiction that has been translated on screen. Others would be wise to follow.

Right at the heels of brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) attempting to kill Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) with his bare hands, the human suffering caused by the war between the rebels, led by President Coin (Julianne Moore), and the Capitol, led by President Snow (Donald Sutherland), is becoming all the more intense and apparent. Frustrated with constantly being used as a pawn behind the political machinations, Katniss decides to go on a one-woman mission to assassinate Snow herself. However, the Capitol is already littered with brutal yet ingenious traps designed by Gamemakers, people who designed and controlled the country’s annual tournament to the death.

Although action-packed once the gears start rolling, the film remains true to its human relationships. Painted beautifully is the complicated dynamics among Katniss, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), and Peeta. But unlike other dystopian films targeted toward young adults, the story does not revolve around choosing a boy. It is impressive that it has never been about that. Instead, topics such as friendship and betrayal are explored. It touches upon forgiveness, too, and what that word entails whether it be through actions or words. There is a small but excellent exchange between Gale and Peeta when Katniss is supposedly asleep. There is humor in that conversation. And mutual respect.

Look at how the camera is so close to the performer’s faces when they reveal their characters’ thoughts, hopes, and motivations. Lawrence, Hemsworth, and Hutcherson are not only there to look cute or pretty. There are real emotions behind their eyes and so it becomes easier for us to understand and perhaps identify with their characters’ respective inner turmoil. Yes, even when there is war happening and although they are on the same side, we feel that their priorities when it comes to specific things they value vary. The screenplay Peter Craig and Danny Strong treats these characters as if they were in a dramatic picture, not just an action movie where buildings blow up and lives are taken for the sake of delivering a body count. Many of the deaths are felt and given meaning.

There are two standout action pieces. The first involves what appears to be black tar—an ocean of it—making its way through flights of stairs as our protagonists run for their lives. The second is a terrifying trip underground where white-skinned, eyeless monsters wait for them. During these two scenes, I caught my face contorting in horror and my hands felt cold.

When I watch a movie, especially horror and thrillers, it is a habit that I try to figure out possibilities of how characters could extricate themselves from a challenge. Here, I was floored; I had no idea how they could possibly make it out alive. I took comfort in knowing that it is only natural that at least some of them would live to face President Snow.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” commands a feeling of coldness about it precisely because of these reasons: it understands that war is rarely black and white, that the costs of war are significant and do not just end when victory is announced, and that war hardens people. The sadness of Katniss and her story touched me in such a way that many movies of this type—even those outside the sci-fi action genre—does not. This is due to the story and its execution being tethered with something real.

Safe


Safe (1995)
★★★ / ★★★★

Carol (Julianne Moore) is an upper-middle class housewife living in the San Fernando Valley who begins to develop a set of non-specific symptoms that has her doctor baffled. Despite her constant headaches and general feeling that something is not quite right with her body, she is perfectly healthy—at least according to the medical exams. What caused this illness—assuming there is one to begin with? Could it be due to the smoke she inhaled while driving on the freeway? Could it be because of the so-called “fruit diet” that she and her best friend took part in? Or is it due to something else entirely?

Written and directed by Todd Haynes, “Safe” is a polarizing film because it is not easy to sit through. The dialogue is sparse and seemingly superficial. The pacing is slow and deliberate. The use of the camera can come across static at times. Not one of the supporting characters are the least bit interesting. It does not provide easy answers with respect to the protagonist’s condition. And yet it is worth seeing.

Moore delivers a magnetic performance. Because dialogue is limited, the performer must be able to pull our attention by exhibiting an intelligence, a desperation, a certain strength that cannot be denied. Although Moore plays a character whose health is flailing, she provides substance by welcoming us to consider what Carol is thinking.

This is particularly apparent when the subject is looking herself on the mirror. Sure, there is the basic question of “What is happening to me?” inside her head but there is also sadness, regret, frustration. Another is when the camera transfixes on her face. Those eyes are haunting—she just as well could be a friend or a loved one in silent suffering.

Notice the writer-director’s ability to frame a scene. Initially, I was thrown off by the camera’s insistence of observing from afar despite a conversation occurring between two characters. The picture made me realize that I am so used to recognizing context or body cues when characters are interacting that once that comfort is removed, I am frustrated. But after the same technique is employed about three or four times, I began to wonder what Haynes is trying to accomplish.

Since Carol’s source of illness is believed be environmental, are we supposed to take notice of the bed flowers from just a feet or two away? The couches that have been delivered recently? The room that provides no proper air flow? Since the clues are there, the film begs for a second viewing. Such is a sign of a great movie.

The latter half piques our interest because there is doubt regarding the validity of the treatment center that Carol comes to join. Because the former half makes us paranoid of what is in the air, the food, the water, on the bedsheets, maybe it is possible that the group is some kind of cult. I looked for classic signs—some are present but many pieces are missing—but was unable to form a precise conclusion. This group lives in isolation. There are many more trees than there are shopping malls. Still, Carol does not appear to be getting better. What is going on?

“Safe” engages the viewer to ask questions and to look a little closer. Not many things are exactly as they appear. There are no twists to make someone go, “Oh! So that’s what’s going on all along!” There are only inferences and sometimes the terror is in the not fully knowing.

Don Jon


Don Jon (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) claims to value only few things in life: his body, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his boys, his girls, and his porn. Though Jon is able to bed just about any woman he sets his eyes on, he remains convinced that porn is better than real sex. When he begins to date Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), he is challenged to keep a distance between himself and pornography since she thinks the whole thing is sick and disgusting. This proves difficult not only because getting off at pornhub.com has become a part of his daily routine but it is also likely that he might have an addiction.

Comedic on the surface with a few layers of questions worth asking that envelop its dramatic core, “Don Jon,” written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a joy to watch even if the subject it tackles—addiction to pornography—is not always pretty. This is partly due to the charming performances by the leads, Levitt and Johansson, and how the screenplay allows the characters to become more than stereotypes. Don could have easily been some sort of meathead and Barbara being some blonde curvy bimbo.

The three relationships unfold: between Jon and Barbara, between Jon and an older woman (Julianne Moore) who catches our protagonist watching porn on his phone, and between Jon and his precious videos. Each his handled with intelligence and no one (or thing) is treated like a joke. Instead, the characters are allowed to be imperfect and messy. We even watch them being hypocrites once in a while. We judge them through what we value in terms of what we believe a healthy relationship should be like.

The weakest part of the picture involves Jon’s family mainly because they are one-dimensional, not at all matching the more subtle aspects of Jon’s life. The father (Tony Danza) is a typical tough guy who cannot seem to pry his eyes off the television, the mother (Glenne Headly) keeps asking when her son is finally going to get a girlfriend so she can have grandchildren, and the sister (Brie Larson) is always on her phone and does not say anything until the movie is almost over.

The whole sham of somebody not speaking until she has “words of wisdom” to impart annoyed me immensely. And when she does speak, she does not say anything profound. This surprised me because many reviews claim that it is one of the best scenes in the picture. I was far from impressed. I thought her “words of wisdom” is glaringly obvious within the first forty minutes. There is no punchline or real insight.

“Don Jon” is most entertaining when it shows believable characters, having us like them, and then discovering something about them that feels a little off. That is why the Swiffer pad scene, hair gel appraisal, and others like it—a normal activity followed by an unveiling of an ugly (or beautiful) trait—make an impact and create rippling effects that challenge (or strengthen) the foundation of a relationship.

Non-Stop


Non-Stop (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Bill Marks (Liam Neeson), a federal air marshal who was a cop for twenty-five years but recently discharged, gets a text from one of the passengers despite a supposedly secure network. The text suggests that Bill ought to start his timer because someone will die every twenty minutes unless a hundred fifty million dollars is transferred into an account. The plane has plenty of suspects, from the woman who makes a last-minute change of seats (Julianne Moore), a hot-tempered cop (Corey Stoll), to the air marshall himself.

It is somewhat of a feat that “Non-Stop,” directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, is able to juggle the constantly changing plot. There is a lot going on but it never comes across messy or nonsensical. Because it moves quickly and smoothly, its limitations consistently fade into the background as we wonder about the true identity of the killer.

The picture excels during the silent moments. Scenes that consists only of our protagonist looking very worried yet determined while text messages are shown on screen create a foreboding atmosphere. There is something about the contrast between the silent, sleeping passengers and the increasing level of threat coming from a smart phone. Neeson does a commendable job in communicating an escalating level of danger. We feel his character always thinking but at the same time he is very human. We are allowed to catch him in small moments where even he is not certain whether a course of action will prove fruitful.

Though it has amusing moments, the dialogue in the final third is somewhat of a drag. I suppose it is necessary that the villain must reveal his or her endgame but delivering a speech in the middle of chaos comes across a bit cartoonish, as if we were watching a bad superhero flick. The revelation ought to have been executed in a more subtle way by avoiding forced speeches altogether.

The identity of the perpetrator is not easy to figure out. I guessed incorrectly. I noticed I was always on my toes, always changing who I thought had a good enough motive to try to pull off an act of terrorism. The movie benefits greatly from the casting. There are a number of familiar faces here—but not too familiar to be distracting—who can pull off being antagonists or at least worthy of being suspected.

Based on the screenplay by John W. Richardson, Chris Roach, and Ryan Engle, “Non-Stop” is somewhat of a misnomer—which is a good thing. Director Collet-Serra knows when it is worth slowing the pace a bit and when it is time to go on overdrive. That way, the picture is never a bore to sit through; there is always a question hanging on the back of our minds. If only the final third were written in a more understated way, it might have reached a level above conventionality.