★ / ★★★★
The would-be thriller “Unforgettable,” written by Christina Hodson and directed by Denise Di Novi, proves to be a disappointing watch because it could have been a trashy, campy flick with lead performers who are game to do whatever it takes to deliver a good time. Instead, what we are provided is yet another painfully generic Lifetime-like picture that lacks energy, intelligence, and well-earned thrills. In the middle of its barrage of boredom, I wondered: Who is the movie for? Why was it made?
Rosario Dawson and Katherine Heigl deserve better material to work with. They play Julia and Tessa, the former the fiancée of the latter’s ex-husband (Geoff Stults). Both surprised me in different ways. With Dawson, she is such a charismatic person, but this film has a knack for sucking the appeal out of her. Perhaps it is the manner in which the character is written; it fails to show us Julia’s strength for so long that we end up wishing to yell at her to do something smart or resourceful. The dialogue brings up that Julia is this strong person. However, entertainment comes from showing rather than telling.
Heigl is a delight as a psycho Barbie ice queen. I enjoyed the way she is able to tap into different emotions of being a cold-hearted person with using only her eyes at times. Having seen her in so many pedestrian, forgettable romantic comedies, I was delighted that in here she has found a way to communicate how the character feels without using words, whether it be a flick of the hair, how she stands so rigidly, how the corner of her mouth tightens up just a little when Tessa is given news that makes her feel less than. Another performer might have relied on the icy blond look and beautiful but emotionless face. Clearly, Heigl is the stronger (and more interesting) of the two co-leads.
There is barely a detectable dramatic parabola in the plot. While events happen, they do not build on a consistent manner. It almost always goes like this: Tessa recognizes an opportunity to make Julia’s life worse, she acts upon it in front of a computer in the dark, Julia responds to the situation but doesn’t recognize that the all too unfortunate event is no accident. Rinse and repeat. And so when the inevitably violent final act rolls around, there is an air of indifference since we know exactly how it is going to turn out. And just when you think it doesn’t get any worse, the final scene is all wrong. It hints at a possible sequel when there is barely anything to show in this film in the first place.
“Unforgettable” could have taken a page from Onur Tukel’s surprisingly effective “Catfight.” In that film, we understand the two women—their psychology, what motivates them, their end goals—and why they must eventually clash. Here, Julia and Tessa must fight only because the plot demands that they do. And in Tukel’s dark comedy, the violence is on an entirely different level that it has to be seen to be believed.
New Year’s Eve (2011)
★ / ★★★★
In Garry Marshall’s “New Year’s Eve,” written by Katherine Fugate, not everyone was ready to greet the new year in New York City. Juggling about eight different but some intertwining stories, the film was not only insipid, it also lacked the necessary dramatic pull for us to be touched, in a genuine way, in terms of what it meant to end a year and start anew. I don’t often bring up the issue of race but this film really could have used some flavor. After all, isn’t the act of welcoming a new year celebrated by all people regardless of race, sexuality, shape, and size? The problem wasn’t that the majority of the characters were white: they were white and boring. The minority, represented by the African-Americans, were pushed to the side with nothing much to say until it was too late in the screenplay. And when they did, like their white counterparts, the sentimentality didn’t feel earned. The most bearable of the bunch included Claire (Hilary Swank) who was in charge of making sure that the famous televised ball drop at midnight went smoothly, but technical difficulties with its lights threatened to disappoint millions of people all over the world. There was a scene in which Swank delivered a supposedly insightful speech but it didn’t quite work. If anything, it was a reminder of Swank’s talent, that she could shine despite an egregious material that threatened to dilute what she had to offer. The storyline that tested my patience most involved a couple, Tess (Jessica Biel) and Griff (Seth Meyers), racing to have their baby boy to be the first newborn of 2012. If successful, they would win twenty thousand dollars. Their desperation to win this contest was supposed to be funny. I thought it was pathetic and unfunny because the characters were reduced to glaring matches with another pregnant couple (Sarah Paulson, Til Schweiger). The lessons the couples learned were just so mawkish and obvious, even a third grader could probably tell that what they were doing was wrong in the first five minutes. On some level, I enjoyed the friendship between Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer), a very stressed out record label employee, and Paul (Zac Efron), a friendly and charming courier. If Paul helped Ingrid to complete her list of resolutions, she’d give him V.I.P passes to a chic event. Although their scenes were unrealistic and at times Efron sounded like he was reading off cue cards, I liked that the material went all the way with this particular subplot. It was certainly better than watching Randy (Ashton Kutcher) and Elise (Lea Michele) get stuck in a lift and look miserable. While the two eventually found redeeming qualities with one another, I didn’t: I found the entire contrivance as false. “New Year’s Eve” suffered from a very basic dialogue, devoid of wit or any semblance of rhythm felt in actual conversations, coupled with one-dimensional characters. I wouldn’t even get started with the so-called romance between Laura (Katherine Heigl) and Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi). It was like pulling teeth without novocaine. The only time I lit up and showed my pearly whites was when Sofía Vergara, as Laura’s sous chef, appeared on screen with her hilariously infectious jovial personality. But what I found most distasteful was the film’s unabashed emotional manipulation. The characters engaged in trifles for the majority of the time and then Bam! a twist designed to pull at our heartstrings occurred toward the end. If it had been more ambitious and more diverse, perhaps most of us could relate and been more entertained by it.
100 Girls (2000)
★★ / ★★★★
Matthew (Jonathan Tucker), along with a mystery girl, was using the elevator in an all-girls dormitory when the power went out. Stuck in the box all night, the two college students took advantage of the romantic (or potentially creepy) situation and made love. When Matthew woke up, the girl was long gone. He didn’t even catch her name. But he did manage to keep her underwear. Throughout the rest of the semester, his mission was to find the identity of the mystery girl so they could have a shot at a real relationship. Written and directed by Michael Davis, “100 Girls” was boldly sexual because the protagonist was a teen male who worshipped women’s bodies. The key to its charm was the fact that it didn’t become sleazy. The only part worth cringing over was Rod’s strange fixation, Matthew’s roommate (James DeBello), in making his penis longer by putting increasing amount of weights on it. The mystery girl could be any one of the five main women Matthew met in the estrogen-fueled all-girls dorm. There was Arlene (Katherine Heigl), the girl with big breasts who had a penchant for beating men in foosball. Her minions liked to watch Jane Austen movies every Friday. There was also Cynthia (Jaime Pressly), a girl who could easily pass as a supermodel but hated the fact that things only came easily to her because men would do anything to impress her. Another was Patty (Emmanuelle Chriqui), the artistic girl with a crazy, hyper-masculine, poseur of a boyfriend (Johnny Green). There was Wendy (Larisa Oleynik) who everyone saw as little Ms. Perfect, someone who could give Martha Stewart a run for her money. Lastly, there was Dora (Marissa Ribisi), the ugly-duckling who became a pariah, the one who nobody cared about even if she was about to jump off several stories to meet her death. I loved that the director spent ample time for Matthew to establish a genuine connection with the various women. By the end, it felt like any one of them could be a good match for our smart and sensitive main character, sexually secure enough to dress up as a girl, aptly named Franchesca, to catch up on the latest gossip, information that he wouldn’t have access to as Matthew. The film had a good-natured sense of humor but sometimes I wished it was brave enough to offend some audiences and to rebel against sex comedy conventions. Without doing so, despite its sensitivity and witticisms, it ultimately failed to stand out among more popular titles in the sub-genre. Nevertheless, “100 Girls” had its moments of brilliance and hilarity. I loved it when a character would say something funny but none of the other characters would laugh. Then after several beats, I would realize that the euphemisms cited were actually pretty twisted.
Life as We Know It (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Holly (Katherine Heigl) and Eric (Josh Duhamel), complete strangers to one another, were supposed to go out for dinner because their married best friends thought they would get along swimmingly. But they called it quits before they even reached the restaurant. Holly thought Eric was a child trapped in a handsome man’s body, while Eric thought Holly was a pretty but uptight blonde who had no idea how to let her hair down for a change. But when their best friends died in a car accident, they were named as one-year-old Sophie’s guardians. Holly and Eric had to try to put their differences aside to take care of the baby. “Life as We Know It,” written by Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson, were labeled by some critics as emotionally bankrupt because it used death as a source of commercial comedy. I’d have to disagree; plenty of films out there, especially dark comedies, have used the same topic and they received critical acclaim. I say why not as long as the film retained a certain level of respect. The movie didn’t feel malicious toward its subjects. The characters may have felt more like caricatures at times but, in general, it had a bona fide sense of humor. I just wish it had stayed away from too many gross-out humor involving vomit and changing diapers. Two or three of those scenes were more than enough but we were given about seven. The heart of the picture was Holly and Eric’s strained relationship. They tolerated each other but they obviously didn’t like each other. They were so used to having their way because they were single. The only thing they had to focus on was their career. Holly ran a business as a caterer (typically feminine) and Eric worked behind the scenes in a sports network (typically masculine). The story was most interesting when it focused on how they tried to change themselves and each other as they hoped to raise a healthy child. They had to break their typical feminine and masculine roles in order to be well-rounded parents. Their various approaches to parenting were rarely perfect–certain decisions were downright stupid like Eric leaving a baby to a cab driver just so he could go to work–but that was what made them charming. Through trial-and-error, they learned from their mistakes. Another source of conflict was the romance between Sam (Josh Lucas) and Holly. They should have had more scenes together instead of the unfunny scenes with the colorful neighbors (Melissa McCarthy) and the nosy Child Protection Services agent (Sarah Burns). We saw that they cared for each other but their situation was far from optimum. Holly was in a critical state of transition while Sam was ready to settle down. I was glad there wasn’t a typical rivalry between the two men in Holly’s life. “Life as We Know It,” directed by Greg Berlanti, had good elements but it was ultimately weighed down by too many slapstick humor and heavy-handed metaphor such as Holly’s business expansion reflecting Holly, Eric, and Sophie’s life at home. It could have been stronger if the writers eliminated comfortable but unnecessary clichés and taken more risks.
Knight and Day (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
June (Cameron Diaz) bumped into Roy (Tom Cruise) at the airport on the way home for her sister’s wedding unknowing of the fact that he was a spy and fellow government agents (Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis) were after him. Before she knew it, June got caught in the middle of two camps but eventually it seemed like she was more than happy her life made a drastic turn because she finally found excitement, love and adventure. “Knight and Day,” written by Patrick O’Neill and directed by James Mangold, offered nothing new to the action-comedy genre but it felt refreshing because the actors were having fun, the filmmakers were having fun and so the audiences couldn’t help but have fun as well. Comparisons to “Killers,” starring Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl, could not be helped because the two were released at just about the same time and both pretty much had a similar concept, but “Knight and Day” was lightyears better because it had energy from start to finish. More importantly, it was actually funny. I was glad to see Cruise starring in a film that somewhat spoofed his more serious roles because it showed me that he had a sense of humor. It was also nice to see Diaz being her usual charming sunny self. Her character’s reactions to unbelievable and often dangerous situations amused me in so many ways. In a way, I felt like she was just playing herself and I appreciated that. The movie worked for me even though it did not attempt to have any sort of character development because I was thoroughly engaged. Each passing scene had a higher level of danger and adrenaline from the one before and I was curious about what creative action sequence I would see next. There was a lot to choose from but the three scenes that put a smile on my face were when Cruise informed Diaz that everybody on the plane was dead and it was about to crash but she thought it was all a big joke, the train scene with a lethal assassin who could easily have been taken right from the “Bourne” series and the motorcycle chase in Spain with the bulls. It is definitely easy to judge the movie before seeing it because we are all aware of Cruise’s controversial life. I say give it a chance because “Knight and Day” is a bona fide, fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat, globetrotting adventure that never runs out of fuel. It’s a good movie to see with the family especially those familiar with Cruise’s golden days.
★ / ★★★★
An uptight woman (Katherine Heigl) who recently got out of a relationship decided to go on vacation with her parents (Catherine O’Hara, Tom Selleck) in Nice, France and luckily met her future husband (Ashton Kutcher). He seemed to have it all: he’s charming, has a sense of humor, a great body and he genuinely wanted her despite her geekiness and flaws. He just happened to be a contract killer who worked for the government. I really wanted to like “Killers,” directed by Robert Luketic, because I have a penchant for stories involving spies and sleeper agents. Unfortunately, the picture needed to trim a lot of fat, especially the very unfunny first thirty minutes. It had a chance to establish the characters before diving into the action scenes but the dialogue was so flat, so empty, and so one-dimensional. I found that our conversations in real life were more interesting to listen to than the two characters having a dinner date by the sea. Their conversations didn’t pull me into their relationship because there were far too many giggly, awkward moments instead of two people sharing a real connection. I think this would have been far more effective if the first half was a romantic comedy and second half was a predominantly serious but occassionally funny thriller. The elements were certainly there: the close-knit suburban community which reminded me of “Desperate Housewives” with perfect picket fences and all, the quirky and sometimes annoying neighbors, the parents who were too involved with their daughter’s marriage, and the husband harboring a secret that he couldn’t hide forever. I thought it had a very difficult time juggling comedy and action so it managed to excel at neither of them. As for the sleeper agents, like the lead characters, they would have had more impact in the story if we got to know them a little bit. The battle scenes would have been more interesting if each of them had a specialty and a different style of assassination. Because let’s face it: gunning someone down with fragments of glass flying everywhere can get old pretty quickly. “Killers” desperately needed a lot of substance and a lot of edge in order to be a killer film. Heigl and Kutcher were easy on the eyes but that was about it. Be warned: there is a vast difference between the trailer and the movie–like having a crush on someone from afar because of their looks but when you really try to get to know them, it’s very disappointing because they turn out to be quite empty. Rewatch “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” instead because “Killers” was just no fun.
The Ugly Truth (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
It’s weird because as I was watching this movie, I found myself laughing because the characters, especially Katherine Heigl’s, were eccentric in their own ways. But after a few hours after I saw it, I felt as though the characters were more like caricatures and now I’m unsure whether to give it a recommendation. Heigl stars as a television producer of a news show who had to endure of the presence of Gerard Butler because they were on the verge of being cancelled due to their falling ratings. People liked to hear Butler’s blunt opinions so Heigl’s superiors decided he could help the news show from being cancelled and save their careers. The two leads could not be any more different. Heigl doesn’t like to let her hair down, has a checklist on what she looks for a guy, and lives with her cat. Butler thinks women are deluded because they don’t see men for what they really are: pigs who only care about looks, sex, and what feels good. Predictably enough, they fall for each other because Americans have this (ridiculous) view of opposites always ending up together. Tension between them rise when Eric Winter enters the picture as Heigl’s hunky doctor of a neighbor. I think the film was at its best when Heigl and Butler were constantly butting heads and eventually teaming up so that Heigl will have a chance on going out with her neighbor. It touched upon certain real relationship issues such as who’s really in charge of their own orgasms, whether fake orgasms is better than no orgasms (though I think the film gave bad advice on this one), the sacrifices one is willing to make in order to reach a common ground, and how power and manipulation affects relationships. But who wants to think about those things when two girls are wrestling in jello on screen? Ultimately, I think this picture is its own worst enemy. At times, I found a number of contradictions from its initial arguments and it eventually became another forgettable chick flick. And toward the end, I felt as though it lost a lot of its steam and was no longer interested on how it would turn out. Nevertheless, if one is interested in watching something funny, this one is a pretty good choice. It will not enlighten but it will most likely entertain.