★★★ / ★★★★
Clocking in at barely an hour and twenty minutes, chase picture “Kidnap” offers a white-knuckle experience so tense, it is a challenge not to yell at the screen either for instructions or to root for the heroine, Halle Berry playing Karla the beleaguered mother, to make the child abductors (Chris McGinn, Lew Temple) suffer as much as humanly possible. Parents will relate to this movie most… but they are equally likely to be its harshest critics.
The film is criticized mostly for the way Karla is written. It is mentioned that she is often careless and unable to make the smartest decision at a moment’s notice, especially when the life of her son (Sage Correa) is at stake. While I do not necessarily disagree with these observations, I found them to be negligible because Berry is able to take a flawed character and make her relatable independent of the circumstances.
Observant viewers will recognize that in between moments is a real person amidst the chaos unfolding inside the car and throughout the busy highways. Inferior pictures within the sub-genre tend to rely solely on the situation to create tension. Here, I felt that Berry’s interpretation of the character is that she is a mother first, imperfections and all, not a superhuman who sees so clearly despite the increasingly frustrating hurdles Karla must go through to get her son back. In other words, Berry approaches the character as if she were in a drama first and in a thriller second. And because there is a bit of contrast, the performance is interesting rather than a bore. Imagine a less seasoned actor in the role.
Chase scenes command a manic energy about them. It helps that we see real vehicles colliding against another rather than cheap CGI where we know immediately that we are watching a fabrication. There is minimal dialogue between two or more individuals and so the sounds, in a way, are amplified. The screeching of the tires, vehicles swooshing by, car doors being slammed—these sounds transport the audience into the action. We might as well be sitting in the seat right next to the increasingly agitated Karla.
I wished, however, that there had been fewer instances in which slow motion is employed. This technique is designed to highlight important or shocking events, but I felt that at times it slows down the momentum of an action sequence. Manic action is usually hand-in-hand with breathlessness. While some images are impressive, like a car crash or a pedestrian getting run over, slow motion allows the audience to breathe, to take a break, when the experience demands that it be observed in real time.
Still, “Kidnap” is worth seeing for its level of suspense. It is near impossible to lose interest because every scene is tethered to a dramatic buildup. When the car chases cease and the characters must fight each other on foot, thrills linger and build up again.
The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
The first five minutes of “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” written and directed by J Blakeson, observed from a distance how two men prepared to kidnap an unsuspecting Alice (Gemma Arterton). I immediately thought there was something strange with how the kidnappers paid particular attention in preparing the woman’s bed. Did they want her to feel comfortable so they would feel less guilt? Did they personally know her? Were they doing it for the money or was it simply to hurt someone who was close to her? Vic (Eddie Marsan) was the more methodical of the two criminals. He knew exactly what he wanted and how to achieve them. Danny (Martin Compston), on the other hand, seemed to follow orders without question. What I found most impressive about the film was I didn’t care much about Alice (or whether she would make it out alive) yet I was always fascinated with what was happening. For me, the driving force of the picture was Danny and Vic’s complicated and volatile relationship. When Danny’s loyalty began to stray, there was an unrelenting tension because we knew that Vic was very intelligent and much more dangerous. Vic was huge in stature, had a booming voice, and his calculating nature made him a predator. Danny was a bit lanky, inclined to whisper, and his transparent lies made me wince. He was under Vic’s control and I desperately wanted him to untangle himself. But how could he when he was stuck in the apartment as much as the victim? In a way, he was also a prisoner. There were a handful of twists that I didn’t see coming. However, the twists didn’t feel at all gimmicky. Since Vic and Danny had to be secretive while performing their job, keeping quiet as often as possible, I was able to learn a lot about them with the way they responded to situations that weren’t in their favor. Just when I thought they would react one way, they took a different route and surprised me. I wished that Alice was more likable because I wanted to root for all of them. When I’m torn in several directions, I find myself that much more emotionally involved. Instead, I thought she was devoid of charm, whiny, and spoiled. She needed to be more resourceful in her attempt to wriggle herself out of the two crooks’ plan. The majority of “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” took place in an apartment, but it was as suspenseful as globetrotting adventures of the same breed because of the constantly evolving power play between the three characters. Unlike most movies about kidnapping, the film didn’t rely on the question of whether or not Alice would make it out alive. It challenged itself by observing who could handle the most pressure when the situation arrived at a tipping point.
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
I decided to see this horror-comedy about demonic possession and female sexuality not because of Megan Fox but because it stars Amanda Seyfried (“Mean Girls,” “Mamma Mia!”) and it was written by Diablo Cody (“Juno” and columnist on “Entertainment Weekly”). Seyfried must defend her town from a man-hungry Fox after an emo band (led by Adam Brody) who dabbles with the occult kidnaps her. At the same time, she must deal with her sometimes jealous boyfriend (Johnny Simmons) because he thinks there’s something unhealthy about his girlfriend’s relationship with Jennifer. The set-up is very simple and very clean but the journey to the finish was quite rough and sometimes unconventional (but in a good way). Apart from the whippersnapper and often downright clever and funny dialogue, “Jennifer’s Body” reminded me of the horror movies from the 1980s because it had a certain B-movie quality to it. Not to mention that the climax happened during a school dance. At times, it did surprise me because it offered certain insight regarding the dynamics between best friends; how one needs the other in order to feel better about herself, which begs the question on whether they were truly friends or if they were more like “frenemies.” The movie straddles that line really well so then there was this constant conflict between the two best friends even before Fox was turned into a demon. But the star here is not Fox (or her body), but Seyfried. She was able to be this character who was kind of a loser but a great person at heart, be sensitive and tough all at once. One main concern about this movie is that audiences will simply choose not to see it because they either hate Megan Fox for whatever reason (I think she’s one of the worst actresses in Hollywood right now but that’s not news) or label it as another “Juno” because of the modern pop culture dialogue. It’s really more than that because it’s a horror-comedy with a brain, which is very unlike straight (supposed) horror movies like Rob Zombie’s “Halloween II” or Patrick Lussier’s horrid “My Bloody Valentine.” If I were to throw out one major problem I had with this movie, I say it wasn’t scary enough to truly make classic horror fans to be impressed with it. Nevertheless, I still think “Jennifer’s Body,” directed by Karyn Kusama, is a good popcorn flick that lives up to its first line: Hell is a teenage girl.
★★★ / ★★★★
Tilda Swinton stars as the title character who is an irresponsible alcoholic and liar who one day agrees to kidnap a kid (Aidan Gould) after the mother (Kate del Castillo) claims that she wants to rescue him from the multimillionaire grandfather. I understand that this can be a difficult film to swallow because of its two hours and twenty minutes running time. Although even I have to admit that it did drag during some parts, I thought that showing Julia’s journey from deep trouble to really, really deep trouble was fascinating in its own strange way. Another reason is that this is primarily a character-driven picture where we see Swinton’s character evolve in subtle ways from beginning to end. I definitely did not expect this film to be so visceral. I thought I was going to see a movie about a woman who was way out of her league as she tries to fight off henchmen and ultimately achieve redemption. I was so wrong because the main character did not want to change, unapologetically lewd and racist. There were times when I thought she really should stop lying to herself (and to others) and admit that she had a problem and that she needed help. But then there were also times when I was glad she was a great liar because her lies sometimes got her out of very complicated (and scary) situations. Without Swinton’s charisma and great timing, I think this film would have essentially fallen apart. Even though the lead character had the negative qualites mentioned prior, I still wanted her to succeed in her plight. In the end, even though she was not the character who appreciated other people’s pity, that’s exactly how I felt toward her. I got the feeling that she was not happy with her life and she ultimately wanted escape because it was too late to turn her life around. I’m giving “Julia” a strong recommendation because it very realistically portrayed people who were drowning in their own desperation. Other people may not agree but I think this film is a diamond in the rough.
★★★★ / ★★★★
The best thing about this movie was its intensity. From start to finish my heart was racing like crazy because I knew that something bad was always bound to happen. Liam Neeson stars as an ex-CIA agent father who embarks on a mission in Paris to rescue his daughter (Maggie Grace) from the hands of slave traders. I can see why this became a sleeper hit: it had a lot of genuine thrills, exciting action sequences, and a plot that was easy to understand. Aside from the obvious rescue mission, this was a story of revenge in its purest form, supported by the fact that Neeson’s character did not take any prisoner. This was essentially a very “guy” movie because the lead character had a one-track mind and would do anything–even hurt innocents–to get to his daughter. I’ve heard a lot of complaints from audiences that it did not make any sense that a “regular guy” suddenly turned into a Jason Bourne (from the “Bourne” series). I am happy to say that those people simply did not pay attention because in the exposition of the picture, it was discussed that Neeson’s character was once a part of the CIA. I feel that this criticism needs to be addressed because, as a person who waited to see this film on DVD, such comments implanted a seed in my head that the movie was going to be unbelievably atrocious. It was far from ridiculous because active agents who go on assassination missions do exist and, as we very well know (unless one is so deluded or lives in a bubble), slave trade exists as well. Lastly, I have to commend Neeson for essentially carrying this entire movie. Not only was I convinced that he was a dangerous man, but I was convinced that he was a father who really loved his daughter more than anybody in the world, including himself, even if his gestures were not quite appreciated given the amount of thought and effort that was put into them. (He’s very detailed-oriented.) Directed by Pierre Morel, “Taken” is a must-see movie for fans of secret agent films and those who love great suspense mixed with good action sequences.
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
★★★ / ★★★★
Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini paints a deeply disturbing film about Nazis who kidnapped eighteen teenagers from their homes and subjected them in all kinds of physical, sexual and mental embarrassment (“torture” is the more accurate word to be perfectly honest). Out of those eight Nazis four were men (Paolo Bonacelli as The Duke, Giorgio Cataldi as The Bishop, Umbero Paolo Quintavalle as The Magistrate and Aldo Valletti as The President) and four were women (Caterina Boratto, Elsa De Giorgi, Sonia Saviange and Hélène Surgère). I have a penchant for films that defy the norm; though this film definitely fits in that category, I must admit that even this one was too much for me. It’s one thing when the audiences are forced to hear stories about the prostitutes’ personal experiences with men who have strange perversions but it’s another when we’re forced to see teenagers consume feces and get their tongues cut off. There were many scenes in the movie when I had to cover my eyes or look away because it all looked so realistic. At the same time, despite my disgust and horror, the film has messages such as the danger of capitalism, the objectification of male and female bodies and taking reality in a whole new level. There’s also bits about homophobia, mashochism, and insidious tools of oppression such as religion, titles and groupthink. When I really think about it, even though this picture was released in 1975, it’s still very relevant today. I also liked the common theme of something beautiful and inviting on the outside but only meanness, ugliness and evil can be found inside, such as the structurally beautiful palace where all kinds of evil are committed within its confines. I thought its messages culminated in the end when all kinds of atrocities were happening: While we get to see horrific images of violence sans the screaming and begging for remorse, I felt a sort of sadness and even a pinch of anger. When reviewers say that this film has nothing to offer, I argue that they haven’t really thought about the picture. While it may be challenging to look past the violence, it’s undeniable that “Salò” has insight that less daring movies will otherwise not achieve. I give this a recommendation but I must warn that this is not for a typical movie-going audience or for the faint of heart.
Transporter 2 (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★
This is the case in which the sequel is better than the original. Even though its predecessor had more story, this one is more focused because all it wanted to do was entertain by showing its audiences one action sequence after another. Jason Statham is back as the mercenary Frank Martin but this time around, instead of transporting drugs or women, his job is to take a kid named Jack (played with spunkiness by Hunter Clary) back from school every day. Since he is a son of an important politician (Matthew Modine), he is targeted by Alessandro Gassman whose intentions are revealed later in the film. One of the things I liked about the picture is that it started off with a kidnapping but it eventually became something more sinister. I didn’t see it coming so I thought that was well done. I also liked the references to the first film (this time with paint instead of oil) and how it provided a scene similar to the ridiculousness of the first (the stunts using a fire hose). But the best scenes include model-turned-actress Kate Nauta and her duels with Statham. I wish they had more hand-to-hand combat; I didn’t like that Louis Leterrier, the director, avoided something that could be great. Yes, violence against women is a horrible thing in normal circumstances but if one assassin faces another assassin gender should not be an issue. Ultimately, I thought this film was extremely fast-paced. It didn’t feel like I watched a ninety-minute movie. Even though it might have been a little too cartoonish, I think it worked because its intention was not to tell an insightful story but an entertaining one. It more than succeeds on that level.
★★★ / ★★★★
Angelina Jolie should at least be nominated for an Oscar because she held this film together. I couldn’t take my eyes off her to the point where I noticed every spasm on her face every time there’s a revelation or when she feels cornered by pretty much every authority figure she encounters. Clint Eastwood did another great job with taking his audience to a specific moment in time and make us believe that that universe is both beautiful and tragic. However, I don’t think this is his best film due to the problems in its pacing. Toward the last twenty minutes, there were scenes that could’ve been endings but ultimately weren’t. Even though the additional scenes added some sort of closure with the characters and its audiences, a masterful work would’ve felt natural instead of forced. Aside from Jolie, other great performances include John Malkovich as the reverend who fights against the corrupt ways of the LAPD and Jeffrey Donovan who refuses to listen to Jolie’s claims that the child who the LAPD returned to her was not her son. Amy Ryan also did a great job as Jolie’s friend in the psychiatric unit. Even though she did not have many scenes, she’s memorable because she did the best she could with everything she was given. As for the story, it’s very engaging especially when Jolie gathers evidence that the child who was returned to her was not her real son. I have to admit that I did get teary-eyed during various moments in the picture because I really did feel Jolie’s plight; it felt like the odds are against her but somehow she still summons the strength to fight back. I also admired the film’s theme of attempting to find the evasive truth–how the truth cannot be fully achieved because “truth” sometimes relies on the perspective of other people. The question of when the right time fight and the right time to let go is also explored in an insightful manner which could’ve been a disaster in less experienced hands. With a little bit more focus on the story and a better pacing, this could’ve turned out to be a masterpiece. That said, I’m giving this an enthusiastic recommendation because of the strong performances and touching story based on what really happened to Christine Collins and her son back in 1928.