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 (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 (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.
Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, The (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.
★★★ / ★★★★
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 (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.
★★ / ★★★★
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.
★★ / ★★★★
Carrie (Chloë Grace Moretz), having been homeschooled until her deeply religious mother (Julianne Moore) was forced to send her to school, gets the shock of her life when she notices blood coming out of her while showering in the girls’ locker room. In total fear that she is dying, she screams for help but instead of her peers trying to help her out, they laugh at her confusion. Chris (Portia Doubleday) even goes as far as to record the incident and posts it online for the rest of the school to see. Carrie becomes a laughingstock. Chris gets suspended and is out for blood.
Is Kimberly Peirce’s remake of Brian De Palma’s “Carrie,” based on the novel by Stephen King, a necessary one? No, it is not. However, it does not mean it is without anything worthwhile or entertaining to offer, from a pair of characters with surprising human elements to them to gruesome deaths that left my mouth agape.
Despite special and visual effects being allowed to run amok, Gabrielle Wilde and Ansel Elgort, playing a popular high school couple who grow to care about Carrie, steal the show. There is a humanity to Sue and Tommy that not even the title character possesses. Because Sue feels guilty for contributing to Carrie’s misery, she convinces Tommy to ask the shy girl to the prom. Though Tommy insists on taking his girlfriend, taking Carrie is not a chore because he knows—and we know he knows—that his alternative date is a person of substance. If this had been a straight-faced high school drama, I would have been equally engaged—perhaps more so. I like it when teenagers who happen to be popular in high school are given some depth; it is too easy to put a target on their backs. The paranormal aspect, in some ways, functions as a distraction.
Floating books, levitating beds, and other psychokinetic displays are a bit overdone. This comes at a cost. For instance, during the first scene, Carrie’s powers are already front and center: objects moving by themselves, lights flickering when the girl gets upset. The story is set during modern times. Are we really supposed to believe that no one is able to put two and two together? That is, that Carrie has special abilities?
This piece is critical because Carrie is supposed to be an outcast. However, if I had seen someone moving objects using his or her mind, I would want to be his or her friend. In other words, the picture, despite being connected to paranormal phenomena, lacks logic. Therefore, it might have been better off having Carrie’s powers start off in subtle way and then a gradual escalation until the famous prom scene.
The final twenty minutes had me engaged. I found it amusing that even though I knew what to expect, I remained excited to see certain people getting their comeuppance. Still, though Moretz does a good job portraying loneliness and fear, she never achieves the necessary level of menace to make a real fearsome character. What makes Sissy Spacek such a great Carrie in the 1976 version is that we completely buy her as someone who is vulnerable but slightly dangerous, perhaps even off-kilter. The gap in performance is so vast that it is like comparing a flustered kitten to a lioness.
“Carrie,” based on the screenplay by Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, is light entertainment if nothing else is playing or if one is doing chores around the house. There is a sweetness to what Carrie and Tommy come to share but nothing else is especially noteworthy.
Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011)
★★ / ★★★★
Cal (Steve Carell) and Emily (Julianne Moore) were deciding what to order in a restaurant. Cal wanted crème brûlée. Emily wanted a divorce. Top to it off, she admitted that she had slept with one of her co-workers (Kevin Bacon). Almost immediately, Cal moved out of the house while his kids, Robbie (Jonah Bobo) and Molly (Joey Kind), stayed with their mother. Having no one to talk to about how he felt about the separation and how quickly it happened, Cal went to a bar to meet women. Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a posh womanizer, saw something in Cal that made him want to help the sad sack, starting with his wardrobe. “Crazy, Stupid, Love.,” written by Dan Fogelman, could have been an enjoyable romantic comedy if it had been severely trimmed. With a running time of almost two hours, the fat was heavy and uninteresting. The weakest portion of the film was its core. That is, the dissolution of Emily and Cal’s marriage. It was difficult for me to care about their separation for two reasons. 1) We didn’t yet know them when the news was thrown on our lap and 2) The sad parts, just when they were about to hit their peaks, were interrupted by comedy. For instance, while on the way home as Emily attempted to explain why she wanted a divorce, Cal decided to exit the car while it was moving. It was supposed to be funny but I didn’t laugh. I just felt sorry for him because he wasn’t equipped in terms of how to properly the digest the information he was given. He would rather jump out of the car than deal with the problem. What kept the project afloat were the energetic supporting characters. They were the ones who consistently made me laugh. Robbie, a thirteen-year-old, had a gigantic crush on Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), his seventeen-year-old babysitter. His public proclamations of his feelings toward her were downright embarrassing but sweet. Jessica wasn’t able to reciprocate due to their age difference and, more interestingly, she lusted over Cal, who was probably three times her age. I also loved watching the scenes between Hannah (Emma Stone), a law student, and Jacob. They shared intense chemistry so their scenes, which ranged from silly to sexy, felt effortless. It made me wish that the center of the movie was young love and how crazy, stupid, silly, naive it all was. While Cal’s wardrobe make-over and various attempts to get women into bed were necessary elements so that Cal would eventually realize his value as a father, as a husband, and as a man, they took up too much time. I wanted to know more about Emily and how her decision affected who she was as a strong woman with a career and as a mother. It wasn’t the actors’ fault. They did the most with what they were given. The problem was the script. It was reluctant to really delve into the pain of separation so it settled with spoon-feeding us so-called funny skit-like scenarios that not only did not flow together, they also consistently crossed the line between simple coincidences and forceful twists. “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” will appeal to those who like their comedies very light and cutesy. And that’s okay. But for those who like to watch characters who make decisions that make sense, they should keep walking.
Boogie Nights (1997)
★★★★ / ★★★★
17-year-old Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) was spotted by a pornographic film director named Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) while working as a busboy in a disco. Eddie, after running away from home, decided to work for Jack, changed his name to Dirk Diggler and instantly became an adult film star in the late 1970s. At first, everything seemed to be going well: Dirk’s well-endowed tool skyrocketed him to stardom, he made some good-natured friends (Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Heather Graham, Philip Seymour Hoffman), and the ideas he shared with Jack in order to make the exotic pictures they made together even better earned Dirk awards, money and recognition. But in the 1980s, everything came crashing down as he chose his pride over people that took care of him when he was at his lowest, became addicted to drugs and resulted to prostitution to finance his addiction. I was impressed with writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s elegant control over his material. It could easily have been sleazy because of its subject matter but I was happy he treated his subjects with utmost respect. Anderson may have highlighted his characters’ many negative traits but he made them as human and relatable as possible. His decision to underline the negative aspects of the pornographic industry not only was the driving force of the drama but it also prevented the picture from glamorizing its many lifestyles. It made the argument that the porno stars were sad, desperate and that most of them wouldn’t choose the industry if they knew how to do anything else well or if they had the means to reach for their goals. For instance, Don Cheadle’s character did not have the financial means to start his own business so he used the industry to have some sort of leverage. Details like that made me care deeply for the characters. Their careers didn’t have to be honorable but, like us, they did what they have to do in order to get by. However, I wished the movie could have at least acknowledged the role of sexually transmitted diseases in the industry. I know that the idea was not yet popular at the time but some hint of it could have added another dimension to the script. Furthermore, I found William H. Macy’s character to be one of the most fascinating of the bunch but he wasn’t fully explored. With a wife that so openly cheated on him (she had a penchant for having sex in public), we saw that he was a pushover. But what else was he? I felt like he was merely a joke, a punchline and that stood out to me because, even though others had something peculiar about them, they had layers and complexity. “Boogie Nights” surprised me in many ways because I didn’t expect it to have so much heart and intelligence. It certainly changed the way I saw pornographic material and, more importantly, the people that starred in them.
Kids Are All Right, The (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
The kids (Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson) of a lesbian couple, Nic and Jules (Annette Bening, Julianne Moore), tried to search for Paul, their biological father (Mark Ruffalo), in hopes of finding more about where they came from. The situation did not sit well with Nic because she felt like she would slowly lose her family. On the other hand, Jules felt a little attraction toward Paul. It is too easy to label this as a “lesbian movie” because of the parents but the film is really more about family dynamics and how it changed when a new factor was added in the equation. I thought it was realistic in portraying the ups and downs of being in an imperfect family but the lessons that were learned or not learned did not feel like it something out of an after school special. The material wasn’t afraid to let the characters make mistakes and live with those mistakes until they couldn’t hold onto their secrets any longer. I enjoyed the way it framed parenting, that most of the time there is no “good” parenting or “bad” parenting but just a couple of adults trying to do their best to make their specific situation work. Bening and Moore were a joy to watch. Even though they kept their performances relatively simple, they were able to deliver the big emotions at the perfect small moments. I really felt like they’ve been together for many years so the way they got under each other’s skin and the way they would mend the wounds from the verbal daggers they threw at each other felt painfully realistic. I also loved the scenes when they would just talk about their past because they were able to paint vivid images in my head. I wish the picture had more scenes of them just talking to each other at home or having a nice dinner date in the city instead of the scenes with the son and his friend that did not amount to anything substantial. The side story about the daughter about to head off to college was a bit underdeveloped as well. However, the picture was consistently strong whenever Moore and Bening were on screen which was the majority of the time. I’ve heard some concerns from the lesbian community involving the film portraying lesbians as way too uptight. I think it’s an unnecessary concern because the lesbians are specific only to this movie and it does not make any generalizations about all lesbians in the world. It’s a story about a family’s bond and it should left as such. Written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko, “The Kids Are All Right” told its story involving the difficulties of transitioning with wit, focus, and brevity. It had a nice mix of charming characters and it had a good sense of balance with its comedic and dramatic elements which most audiences will likely enjoy.
Far from Heaven (2002)
★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Todd Haynes, “Far from Heaven” was set in the 1950s somewhere in the suburbs of Connecticut. Julianne Moore played a housewife who had to deal with two big problems: her husband’s (Dennis Quaid) affair with another man and the community’s distaste in relation to her friendship with an African-American (Dennis Haysbert). Moore played her character with some composure yet remain very complex which was reflected on how she acted when society was peering over her shoulder and when she was with someone who she truly trusted. For me, Moore carried this film all the way through and if I did not feel as connected with her, I probably would have been more unforgiving with this picture because it did at times borderline the Lifetime route. I loved the way the film highlighted the vibrant colors of the houses, the decorations and the clothing yet the script was about the hatred of one’s self and most of society’s passive agreement to inequality. I also loved the fact that even though Quaid was a homosexual struggling to come out of the closet, I didn’t sympathize with him because of the way he used his wife as a crutch time and again and dismissed his children when they enthusiastically greeted him from a long day’s work. There was something about him that I thought was just ugly and selfish. Despite his hardship, the way he treated others was uncalled for. Violas Davis played the housekeeper and I wished they used her more because she really made the best of the scenes she was in. There was something very warm about her and I wanted to get to know her character more. The same goes for Patricia Clarkson as Moore’s best friend and confidante. The element that prevented me from loving this picture was its inconsistent pacing. The first and last twenty minutes were fascinating but the story somewhat dragged on in the middle. Deep in the film, the moments I enjoyed most were when Moore and Quaid really showed their range in acting by arguing not in an in-your-face manner like in Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in “Revolutionary Road,” but in a quiet, almost maddeningly suffocating way to the point where you just wanted to scream for the characters. After all, it was the 1950s and everybody had this idea of perfection regarding how to be a “proper” family in the judging eyes of others, how to act like a “proper” wife, and how to act like a “proper” friend. Half-way through the film, I started realizing that I would never have survived in the 1950s because everything was just so repressed. That’s why I think this film ultimately succeeded: it managed to capture that era not just in terms of clothing and set design but, most importantly, the varying mindsets of its characters.
Single Man, A (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Tom Ford’s first feature film “A Single Man” embodied beauty from the inside out. Colin Firth plays an English professor who recently lost his partner (Matthew Goode) for sixteen years and is contemplating suicide. We get to observe what he does by himself from the moment he wakes up and how he interacts with others, such as his long time friend (Julianne Moore) next door, a Spanish stranger (Jon Kortajarena) and a student (Nicholas Hoult) who shows interest in him. We also got a chance to hear his self-deprecating thoughts and see tender fragments of the past when his lover was still alive. I love how this film felt more European than American. When it comes to its aesthetics, I was mesmerized by how everything seemed to glow due to the perfect lighting, how the wardrobes (with perfect creases at just the right spots) perfectly reflected the era, how the close-ups of the actors’ faces gave us information beyond what was said, and how the presence (and absence) music highlighted the emotional rollercoaster that the lead chaarcter was going through. Firth was simply electric. I totally forgot that I was watching him because I’ve never really seen this side of him before. I’ve seen him excel in romantic comedies but never have I seen him so controlled, so sad and so conflicted. There were times when tears started welling up in my eyes because I completely sympathized with what he was going through. Not only did he lose the person he loved as much as he loved himself (or maybe more), he lost a sense of security. At one point in the film, he lectured to his class about fear and it said so much about his own psychology. Goode was so charming, it was easy to see why Firth was so in love him. Moore was also sublime as an aging woman who still had feelings for Firth but had to control herself because she knew about his lifestyle. The way she hid the pain from her husband leaving her and her son not caring about her by immersing herself in alcohol and make-up was quite moving. I also loved Hoult as the student who saw profound sadness in his professor. (Admittedly, I thought his American accent was a bit off but maybe it was because I was so used to hearing his real accent in “Skins.”) His swagger was just so appealing to me; I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Lastly, the appearance of Kortajarena shocked me in so many ways because I was used to seeing him in high fashion photographs. Even though he wasn’t in the movie much, an acting career is a possible road for him. Ford highly impressed me because this was his first time directing a full feature film. The complexity in which he balanced the picture’s emotions and looks really drew me in–a quality that is sometimes absent even with the most experienced directors. I’ll definitely be on the look out for Ford’s next project. “A Single Man” is an ambitious film with tremendous and sometimes lowkey performances. It may not be the best film of the year but it certainly is one of the finest.