Tag: laurence fishburne

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2019)
★ / ★★★★

The consistently aggravating comedy-drama “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is adapted to the screen (along with Holly Gent and Vince Palmo—from Maria Semple’s novel of the same name) by humanistic writer-director Richard Linklater, but the final product is a soulless, meandering one-note joke in which the protagonist’s eccentricities are displayed on an unending parade as if these are enough to generate great entertainment. Cate Blanchett plays the titular character and because she is a veteran at playing a spectrum of notes, often in one scene, there are a few seconds here and there in which the movie feels somewhat tolerable. But not even a performer of her caliber could save this sinking ship, a true waste of time for viewers interested in worthy character studies.

Bernadette is supposed to be a genius architect who gave up her budding career twenty years ago after getting married to an animator (Billy Crudup), a genius himself, who now works for a branch of Microsoft. But instead of the screenplay finding ways to show us her gift in small or big ways, we are simply made to sit through an online video which summarizes her career. It is supposed to be funny—I guess—that the figureheads in the documentary are famous faces such as Laurence Fishburne, Megan Mullally, Steve Zahn, among others. But I was not at all amused by this lazy approach in building what is supposed to be a compelling character—a person who has become a menace to society (especially toward her neighbors and fellow mothers [Kristen Wiig, Zoë Chao]) precisely because her need to create has been suppressed for two decades. And whose fault is that, really?

Above is only one example of the many poor choices of establishing character. As a result, we never believe that the personalities on screen are truly drenched or dedicated in the eventual drama of a woman suddenly going missing after so many problems (one of which involves the FBI) come knocking at her door. They must simply make their way across the checkerboard in a predetermined way simply because the plot demands that they do. There is no feeling, just a death march to the finish line. Since there is a disconnect between people’s thoughts and actions, there is nothing believable about generic responses to specific conflicts. Everybody is playing pretend; our boredom evolves into frustration.

Particularly painful to sit through is in how it showcases the marriage between Bernadette and Elgin. Right from the moment we meet them, there is no chemistry between Blanchett and Crudup. And so when the connection between the characters become colder or more desperate, the difference is negligible. The Crudup character is especially maddening. There are times when the performer acts as though something amusing is occurring on screen when it is supposed to be serious. Thus, Elgin is painted as if there’s a meanness to him, that he is a husband who appears concerned about his wife to her face but is actually mocking when she isn’t looking. This should have been recognized and corrected by Linklater—he has shown in his best works that everything on screen must work together in order to sell the drama of a relationship on equal footing, especially when there are numerous plates being juggled.

The disappearing woman act occurs way too late in the picture, when viewers likely have tuned out. A lot more attention (with slow as molasses pacing) is given to warring neighbors, a psychiatrist explaining psychological concepts, and mother-daughter bonding like singing in the car then eyeing one another dramatically. The would-be humanity in the picture is so planned, so forced, so fake. I could not wait to walk away from these intolerable cardboard cutouts and forget about them. The third act is especially clichéd. Of course it involves a teary reunion. Give me a break.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Those who crave to see a ballet of violence are certain to be fulfilled by “John Wick 3,” a rousing, consistently creative, and supremely entertaining action picture directed with a keen eye and infectious joy by Chad Stahelski. From the moment it begins as the titular character attempts to stave off fellow assassins from exacting a painful and gruesome death—inspired by a fourteen million dollar bounty on his head—until the hook ending that hints toward an even more exciting successor, the film offers unadulterated sensory overload. More action films of the mainstream variety should strive for this picture’s level of superiority.

It amazing that in the middle of flying bullets, broken glass, and fractured bones, the screenplay by Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, and Marc Abrams finds ways for further world-building. In this installment, it comes in the form of a mysterious woman only referred to as the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), a member of The High Table. (You know she’s important when she takes out her official-looking coin and men’s eyes are taken over by fear.)

This character is bound by unbending rules and Dillon plays her with with appropriate rigidity in body language and the manner in which she talks down to everyone else. Clearly meant to be unlikable, we wish almost immediately for Wick to slap the smugness out of her. And yet the material is adamant in not going in that direction. Given that repercussions of breaking rules is one of this film’s recurring themes, is it correct to dispose of her so quickly? I enjoyed the writing’s willingness to play the long game and make the right choices.

As expected, the centerpiece is the well-choreographed action sequences. Quite impressive for a movie with a running time beyond two hours, fight scenes do not come across as repetitive. One approach is a consistently changing venue: a library, a stable, out in the streets on motorcycles, in an entirely different country typically considered to be a romantic getaway. But notice that the style of hand-to-hand combat changes, too. Wick must not only go up against Americans who prefer to use guns. Various types of martial arts are employed and each commands its own rhythm. The protagonist must adapt quickly and effectively since the entire city appears to be against him. Nearly every confrontation is memorable. I relished its use of animals.

We are convinced that Wick is always in mortal danger. Although intelligent, strong, and adaptable, there are times when he is bested by his opponents. He gets wounded. He is slowed down. Occasionally he repeats tactics that clearly do not work for a particular enemy. To increase tension further, notice how the direction slows down the deadly dance in order to provide the audience a chance to gather their bearings. When our hero is left on the ground, bloody and bruised, without any weapon in hand or weapons being way out of reach, we can almost feel ourselves releasing a sigh of acceptance. It just so happens that a few make the mistake of mercy or are blinded by his celebrity. Sometimes Wick tends to wriggle out of tricky situations by pure luck. The material is not without a sense of humor or irony, you see.

“John Wick: Chapter 3” offers stunning and precise visuals right alongside high-end thrills. But do not neglect its expert use of sound: the staccato rhythm of bullets being loaded in rifles, the emphasis placed on growling animals as they take on the role of protectors, the legato score playing smoothly in the background as chaos unfolds on the foreground. Nearly every element is firing on all cylinders. In a landscape of generic shoot ‘em ups, “Parabellum” offers a completely enveloping experience.

The Signal

The Signal (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

On their way to California to drop off Haley (Olivia Cooke), Nic (Brenton Thwaites) and Jonah (Beau Knapp) are contacted by a hacker whose code name is Nomad. The two guys are able to track Nomad’s IP address in Nevada—which is a coincidence because they are just above hundred miles away. Soon, they come across a seemingly abandoned house and there is no sign of the man they wish to meet. While in the basement, Nic and Jonah hear Haley screaming from outside.

“The Signal,” written by Carlyle Eubank, David Frigerio and William Eubank, is a science fiction film that shows promise but ultimately does not deliver. The first half is unusually strong because the screenplay capitalizes on the viewers’ curiosity; details are presented like jigsaw puzzle pieces and it is up to us to try to make sense of whatever may be going on. The final thirty minutes, however, is a bore. Despite the noises, special, and visual effects, the picture fails to provide answers that are worthy of the rising action.

Its carefully calibrated pacing is a perfect fit for its mystery. A morbid curiosity is created as Nic sits in a white room on a wheelchair as he is questioned by the creepy Dr. Wallace Damon (Laurence Fishburne). There is talk about him being “extremely contagious” and yet he is never provided the details of the disease or, if it is a disease that is not fully understood, the symptoms one might expect. Nic finds numerical tattoos on his wrist. He is given exams like matching words with shapes. Nic is given surface information but not the details. This angers him and he wishes to break out of the research facility because there is a chance the whole thing could be a charade.

Director William Eubank knows how to frame faces, especially his lead. Because Nic does not trust anyone in the facility, Thwaites is required to communicate most of the time using his facial muscles. Thus, when the character is alone in a room, the camera tends to showcase the performer from the neck up. As a result, we wonder what might be going through Nic’s mind. How does he gain the upper hand knowing the fact that he is clearly valued? Is he plotting escape? Given that his body is compromised, how does he go on about rescuing Haley and Jonah?

Once the story begins to take place in a desert town, the picture loses curiosity and momentum. Although questions are still being raised—Why is everybody so strange? Why are the phone lines always down?—we get the feeling that it is about time we are provided answers… Not just any answers but ones that come across concrete. Alas, as expected, the answer is revealed in the final shot—which I found lazy and unimaginative.

Visually stylish, “The Signal” is likely to impress some. It is clear that some thought is actually put into it. But for those expecting that its potential will reach maximum capacity will be disappointed. Perhaps a rewrite or two might have turned this into a gem that may not be embraced by the mainstream but is valued by viewers seeking for something refreshing—even ten or twenty years from now.

The Colony

The Colony (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Jeff Renfroe’s “The Colony” excels in establishing a bleak but convincing setting in which the entire planet is covered in ice and the remaining human survivors are forced to live underground till the next thaw. It could have been yet another action-focused sci-fi picture, but what allows it to stand out among the genre, despite its imperfections, is its willingness to take its time so were given a chance to imagine living in the reality of its characters through its eye for detail.

Notice how it gives us a tour of the outpost, also known as Colony 7. While lesser films would likely have relied solely on narration and it would be up to the audience to trust in the words of its central protagonist, this picture employs images alongside the words. Outside the outpost, we take notice of the extent of the ice, the height of the snow relative to the dilapidated buildings, the howling of the treacherous blizzard. Inside the outpost, we visit rooms and each one serves a specific function. For instance, one is dedicated to researching and growing plants. Another is a space full of rabbits. Characters discuss how none of the rabbits would mate—a critical challenge since food shortage looms. And then we visit another place where a woman (Charlotte Sullivan) uses satellite feeds to search for an area without ice.

As expected in survival stories, there are disagreements among members on how to continue living their lives as a small society. Briggs and Mason, played by Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton, respectively, are two forces that collide. Through them, we learn a bit about their colony’s rules. For example, when a person catches the common cold or flu and he or she does not get any better, the sick individual gets a choice: to be shot point-blank or to take a long walk in the snow—the person is supposed to die either way. Mason disagrees greatly with the current rules, he considers mutiny.

The plot is driven by an investigation of Colony 5, an outpost many miles away, after Colony 7 receives a distress signal. Again, the film employs details of the landscape and landmarks, what characters wear and how they look after walking for miles on a frozen planet. It makes the walk interesting and efficient—there is never a dull moment when something new is presented constantly, whether it be about the state of the world, a character’s history or state of mind. We are enveloped in this universe and so it is easy for us to invest in the story.

Perhaps the picture’s Achille’s heel is the final act. It comes across rushed, cliché-ridden, showcasing numerous gaps of logic. Take note of what happens to the children who are lead underground during the attack, for instance. For a movie that employs deliberate pacing to establish a specific sense of place and time, the approach is thrown out the window for the sake of standard shootouts. Although the film is ultimately worth our time, I wished the final fifteen minutes remained loyal to its original strategy.

Boyz n the Hood

Boyz n the Hood (1991)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Smart but quick-tempered Tre (Desi Arnez Hines II) had gotten into another fight at school. Reva (Angela Bassett), Tre’s mother, thought it would be a good idea for him to live with his father, Furious (Laurence Fishburne), in South Central Los Angeles while she finished her Master’s degree. Although Reva and Furious lived separately for unstated reasons, she was convinced that Furious would be able to teach his son, despite living in crime- and poverty-stricken neighborhood, what it meant to be a man. Written and directed by John Singleton, “Boyz n the Hood” is an excellent film for the family, especially young people from self-destructive families or neighborhoods who want to seek an alternative and go after what they want out of life, whether it be a fancy career or as simple as preserving one’s life because it’s too valuable a thing to waste. You might think I’m crazy for considering this as a family film because the picture was more than welcoming in showing drugs, sex, and violence. But that’s what I loved about it. Its defiance to sugarcoat reality, by highlighting the effects of drugs, sex, and violence, made it an efficient and honest portrayal of a life that was and, sadly, still. The script brimmed with optimism. It underlined the importance of parents and their role in shaping their child. The series of interactions between Furious and Tre (played by Cuba Gooding Jr. as a high school senior) were at times sensitive, occasionally amusing, and consistently realistic. Life lessons were imparted but they were never hammy. The effects of the parenting flew under the radar until the key moments when we were forced to wonder if what Furious taught his son were enough for the teenager to feel secure about himself and make decisions for himself. I appreciated that parenting was portrayed like a map and it was up to the child to notice certain landmarks and choose which lines to traverse. Movies with less vision, ambition, and specific voice had proven that it’s too easy to get it wrong. By focusing on choices, the message was clear: there’s more to life than shooting people, making others feel bad about themselves, becoming unplanned parents, and drowning oneself in booze and drugs. The picture respected its African-American characters. Although a lot of them were jive-talking, the characters weren’t written sloppily. They had motivations. Ricky (Morris Chestnut), Tre’s best friend, wanted to get a football scholarship so he could go to college and provide for his family. A lot of us could easily relate to the reasons behind his drive. More importantly, some of their motivations may seem empty to us. One of many reasons was the fact that most of us never had or will never have the experience to live in a similar environment as them. Singleton’s direction proved critical because he had a way of placing and moving the camera so that we could at least get a sense of where the characters were coming from each time they were given a chance to speak. For instance, Doughboy (Ice Cube) had been in and out of jail. He hung out with his crew with not much of a desire to break out of their habits. By providing several sequences as they chatted while playing video games on the couch, gambling in the backyard, and relaxing on the patio, we could surmise that individually they felt they had nothing but as a group they felt they had a form of brotherhood. “Boyz n the Hood” was also about responsibility and what it entails. Just because you’re from a less than desirable background, it doesn’t mean that you’re helpless or that you’re powerless to change the course of your own life as well as those around you. The scary thing is that anyone can, for better or worse.

Mission: Impossible III

Mission: Impossible III (2006)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), while throwing a party with Julia (Michelle Monaghan), a girl he intended on marrying, received a cryptic phone call, a signal that he was to meet with a superior to discuss a possible mission. Musgrave (Billy Crudup) informed Hunt that one of his former students (Keri Russell) in the agency had been kidnapped. Normally, a captured agent would be disavowed but the agency believed that she knew crucial information about Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an arms dealer they had been tracking for some time, so her extraction was necessary. Hunt accepted the mission and was assigned a team (Ving Rhames, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Maggie Q) to rescue the kidnapped agent. Directed by J.J. Abrams, “Mission: Impossible III” had a wonderful mix of drama and action. Despite the cool gadgetry and intense physical stunts, it felt believable because what was at stake felt real. The theme of Hunt’s struggle to keep his personal and professional lives separate was at the forefront. It seemed like no matter what he did, there was no stopping the two spheres from colliding. That’s why the heart-pounding first scene worked. We got to observe Ethan helpless at the sight of Davian, a figure of his professional life, putting a gun to his future wife’s head, a symbol of his personal life. Even though we had no idea what the Rabbit’s Foot, an item that Davian was desperate to have, was exactly, it didn’t matter. What mattered was the spectrum of emotions Hunt experienced, which moved from confusion to anger then regret, as Davian counted from one to ten, the point when he was to put a bullet into the innocent woman’s head just because he could and he enjoyed watching people suffer. The action sequences, jumping from one continent to another, were as breathtaking and astute as ever. The warehouse scene in Germany provided the template. It was messy, bullets, glass and fire thrown everywhere, but never incomprehensible unlike most poorly edited action movies. Each team member was given something important to do. While Hunt explored the building, someone was underground, another was in the air, while the other was in charge of scanning the perimeter via body temperature. Each time the camera moved from one team member to another, it was consistently interesting. Their teamwork established a healthy synergy of tension that, when threatened, delivered nail-biting suspense. But that isn’t to say that the film was devoid of humor. The scenes with Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), a bumbling tech expert, prevented the project from being suffocatingly serious. Brassel (Laurence Fishburne), Hunt and Musgrave’s superior, had an intimidating aura but his lines had a certain snappy irony that went beyond the archetype of a tough-as-nails boss. “Mission: Impossible III,” written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and J.J. Abrams, looked and felt like it was made by people who love to make movies. It’s amazing how much clichés tinged with a microcosm of originality can feel something new.


Contagion (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow), while on a business trip to Macau, became sick. She returned home thinking that what she had was a common case of cold. Within two days, she died. So did her son. This left Mitch (Matt Damon), Beth’s husband, shaken with disbelief–that a few coughs and sniffles could destroy his family. But what Beth had wasn’t typical. Within a couple of days, health organizations from all over the world realized that what caused Beth’s death was a virulent virus that had the capability to invade its host’s respiratory and central nervous systems. And it was spreading at an exponential rate. “Contagion,” written by Scott Z. Burns and directed by Steven Soderbergh, was at its best when it was coldly calculating. Such a tone was prevalent in the first half and it was appropriate because viruses don’t discern between good and bad people. It was simple: we observed a human being develop the symptoms of the fatal disease and he or she died within a couple of minutes after we met them. Then it was onto the next victim. It was scary, mysterious, and real. The director juggled different characters, scientists and civilians, with relative ease. There was Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) who worked for the CDC whose confidence relied on a plan of attack that worked in the past. But this was a different breed of disease and it was mutating at such a rapid pace. We observed this man’s confidence crumble which happened to be parallel to society’s laws and regulations slowly being thrown out the window. With people not getting enough answers and becoming more terrified each day, they had to lie, steal, and kill to survive. And such actions were not limited to civilians. On the opposite side of the spectrum, there was Mr. Krumwiede (Jude Law), a sort-of journalist/blogger who led a popular website, who claimed that the government didn’t want people to know the truth. In some ways, he was right despite his fear mongering. For me, while watching the film, the main source of drama wasn’t in the fact that I became more paranoid of germs as it went on. I know that there are “good” germs that protect us from “bad” germs; that our bodies rely on select foreign organisms to function well. What piqued my curiosity was the struggle between figures who wanted to keep things hush-hush, like Dr. Cheever, and those who wanted to reveal information, even without proper scientific research, like Mr. Krumwiede. I was left in the middle and, as it turned out, I found myself caring most about people who ended up confused but tried their best to make it through just one more day, like Mitch and his daughter. Despite the film using a lot of foreign-sounding words like “pleomorphic,” “encephalitis,” and “immunoglobulin domains,” which not everyone had to understand to realize that something bad was happening, the picture had a heart. Notice that the director always reverted to Mitch and his struggle to keep his daughter safe from the virus. Although still interesting, “Contagion” lost a bit of momentum in its second half. But all is forgiven because no one turned into a zombie.