Tag: liev schreiber

The 5th Wave


The 5th Wave (2016)
★ / ★★★★

“Love’s not a trick. It’s real. I know because of you.”

Groan-inducing down to its marrow, “The 5th Wave,” directed by J Blakeson and based upon the novel by Rick Yancey, is the worst kind of dystopian film: The script is not only superficial, bland, and predictable, but at the centerpiece is a forced romance in which the performers suffer a shortage of chemistry. Although the first twenty minutes promises material that might hint at a universe that is worth exploring, it begins to fall apart the moment our heroine, Cassie (Chloë Grace Moretz), meets a handsome stranger (Alex Roe).

The first four Waves are engaging because they are increasingly terrifying. I enjoyed that they, shown within the first third of the picture, vary in terms of execution. A few of them are driven by visual and special effects—like massive earthquakes, floods, and tidal waves—while others rely on something as common as a viral infection. It is most disappointing then that the Fifth Wave is as dull as tap water. The writing fails to spin it in an interesting way.

Equally boring are the would-be exciting action sequences that might as well been ripped off from another monotonous shoot-‘em-up flick in order to have saved some of the budget. There is an outstanding lack of imagination when only guns are used as weapons especially during moments of desperation to survive. For instance, there is an extended scene where a group of children, trained by the military (Liev Schreiber), are assigned to execute aliens that appear to look like humans in a decrepit compound.

The approach is so glossy, so militarized, so standard that no tension is built. Notice how everything looks so dark and yet the camera moves so quickly. We can hardly see a thing. There is no joy put into the craft. In addition, never mind the fact that we know close to nothing about the young people, aside from Cassie’s high school crush named Ben (Nick Robinson), that have been forced to risk their lives. Why should we care about any of them when do not know who they are and what they are fighting for?

Many of the emotions come across as disingenuous. The romance between Cassie and Evan is very reminiscent of the “Twilight” series because whenever the two are in the same frame, are conversing with one another, or are looking into each other’s eyes, it comes across as though they had lost twenty I.Q. points only to become marginally intelligent when they are reminded of the big picture. I could not help but guffaw during some of the exchanges because the lines are so cheesy and elementary. Erotic novels contain more convincing lines compared to the so-called romantic interest here.

Written by Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman, and Jeff Pinkner, “The 5th Wave” commits the egregious error of not establishing a complex but convincing character development so that the viewers feel invested into those undergoing a specific plight and thus getting us excited for the next installments. Just about everything here is mere decoration.

Spotlight


Spotlight (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★

A long-term investigative group consisting of four journalists, known as the Spotlight Team (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James), in The Boston Globe are assigned by the newspaper’s new editor, Marty Barton (Liev Schreiber), to focus their efforts on finding out more about a Catholic priest who has molested children in six different parishes since the 1970s, about eighty kids in total, but no one—not the law, not the media, not the Church—did anything about it. Although the investigation starts off with one priest, discoveries are made suggesting that perhaps more people within the Boston Archdiocese knew about the sexual abuse.

Based on actual events, “Spotlight,” written by Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, is a powerful piece of work that does not rely on sensationalism to enrage its audience. Instead, it focuses on how journalists do their job as they attempt to expose an institution that tolerates and protects pedophiles. The drama is in how their crucial story evolves, the dead ends the investigators encounter, the people they meet and clash against along the way, and what the story means to them not as journalists but as people who, in some way or another, has or has had connection with the Roman Catholic Church.

I am most intrigued with films that show how people do their jobs. Here, the camera has a habit of simply sitting back and observing how its characters work. Parallel scenes are often run together and we are given the chance to take notice of similarities and differences between how one journalist versus another approaches a task. For instance, does the interviewer prefer to write notes? If so, does he place his notepad on the desk? On his lap? How is her posture like when she is asking a victim difficult and probing questions concerning a traumatic event? How are the questions asked: straight to the point or are extra details toyed with first in order to lessen the blow?

There is a consistent sense of urgency in the story being tackled even though we already know how it will turn out. This is accomplished through the performances. For example, when characters are speaking on the phone, even when their backs are turned away from the camera, they look almost as if they want to reach into the phone itself and grab the information right away so they can have more time to work on the other parts of their assignment. We get a sense that every piece and every minute that passes matter.

Outside of their jobs, there are two or three scenes which depict the journalists taking the story personally. The conversation between Rezendes (Ruffalo) and Pfeiffer (McAdams) about why they stopped going to church commands power. We realize then that taking their work personally makes a lot of sense because they have invested too much time and effort to expose the injustice. More importantly, they hope that by exposing such a disgusting, immoral system, people would pay more attention and demand or take action.

“Spotlight,” directed by Tom McCarthy, makes a profession that seems non-exciting (at least to me) and makes it relevant, digestible, and even suspenseful at times. It relishes details rather than avoiding them, and I stared at the screen in complete fascination.

The Daytrippers


The Daytrippers (1996)
★★★ / ★★★★

It appears to be yet another typical day in the D’Amico household. After Louis (Stanley Tucci) leaves for work, Eliza (Hope Davis) decides to clean the house. While putting things away, out of the corner of her eye, she spots a folded piece of paper lodged between the wall and cabinet. She picks it up and reads it. Her eyes reflect heartbreak: it turns out to be a love letter from a so-called “Sandy.” Following the initial shock, Eliza convinces herself not to make a big deal out of it. Her husband, after all, works in a publishing company so there is a chance that it is from a fictional work, all of it just a big misunderstanding. Still, she feels compelled to tell her parents about her discovery.

Written and directed by Greg Mottola, “The Daytrippers” is highly enjoyable because it is not clear whether it wants to be a comedy or a drama. It works that it is a little bit of both. Just about every giggle is almost immediately countered with a melancholic undertone. This makes the picture come alive, especially since we think we may have a true idea of what might be going on and where we expect the story is heading.

For instance, when Carl (Liev Schreiber) decides to talk about the novel he has just written about a man born with a dog’s head, it is funny because no one seems to really understand what it is all supposed to be about. Jo (Parker Posey), the dutiful girlfriend, appears to have his back. And yet at times Jo comes off somewhat desperate to try and pretend that her boyfriend’s novel has something profound to say. He looking good makes her look good. Many of us are likely to think Carl is being pretentious.

The script is clever and surprising because we often learn plenty about a character when he or she is not the center of attention. When I noticed that Eliza barely speaks, it made me question the method employed for characterization because the picture is supposed to be about her journey in finding out whether or not her husband is indeed loyal to her. Having realized that the material is also about how people react to those who have the chance to speak, there is a wealth of information embedded in the awkward pauses, subtle frowns, and looking (or not looking) someone in the eyes.

Eventually, Eliza visits the city to confront her husband with her family in tow for moral support. Although the car ride starts off relatively swimmingly, the travelers inevitably get on each other’s last nerves. Most fascinating is the way the emotional fissures in sharp-tongued Rita (Anne Meara) and taciturn Jim’s (Pat McNamara) longtime marriage are revealed. Rita’s little verbal jabs that most of us may consider sassy but entertaining later reveal an ugly sting. I wished that the older couple had more scenes together but at the same time I admired that the writing does not intend to iron everything out for the sake of our entertainment. In other words, it avoids feeling too movie-like.

It does, however, provide enough hints in terms of how each relationship will eventually turn out. We do not feel cheated from its seemingly lack of resolution because by allowing us to spend time with the characters, hearing them speak, and understanding their point of views, it trusts us to imagine what is next for them. “The Daytrippers” is smart about not putting people in defined boxes. Though its characters can be argued as archetypes, they are allowed to break the rules in surprise and welcome ways.

The Last Days on Mars


The Last Days on Mars (2013)
★ / ★★★★

With only nineteen hours left of their mission on Mars, a research crew of eight, led by Brunel (Elias Koteas), are supposed to be wrapping things up by checking that everything is working properly for the crew planned to take their place. But Marko (Goran Kostic) notices something under a microscope: evidence of bacterial cell division. Along with Harrington (Tom Cullen), they go to the site where the samples were acquired. But these are no ordinary bacteria. They have the capability to infect a host, take over completely, and attempt to kill and infect the next living being.

“The Last Days on Mars,” based on the screenplay by Clive Dawson and directed by Ruairi Robinson, is a big disappointment because by the end it is reduced to a standard slasher picture with no brain and little ambition. Despite a premise that I have weakness towards—people discovering something bizarre and horrific in a foreign environment—I found myself incredibly bored. It should have ended around the forty-five minute mark.

The latter half is junk because there is no mystery or real emotion. It is simply all about who will get infected next. Why is that interesting? When someone eventually does get exposed to the bacteria, it is neither executed nor accomplished in a manner that is willing to surprise us, move us, or scare us. What is the point?

At times the images are too dark so it is difficult to appreciate what is supposed to be curious or terrifying. The story takes place on another planet. It is science fiction on the surface but we rarely experience the feeling of wonder, its core is a horror film but the visuals are so unexciting and shot in a painfully ordinary way that we feel nothing for the events that are unraveling. The trek to the final scene is most interminable.

I guess the heart of the picture is supposed to be the friendship between Campbell (Liev Schreiber) and Lane (Romola Garai). What they share has a romantic undercurrent but since we are not given sufficient information about their connection prior to the discovery of the bacteria, I could care less about what would become of them. Are they worthy rooting for because they are “nice” and always willing to save the crew even those who have become infected? I found them boring. I liked Kim (Olivia Williams) precisely because she is the opposite. She is direct, smart, and often comes off as uncaring. Many of the characters require more friction, a bit of sauciness to create a semblance of intrigue.

Based on the final product, I guess the film’s goal is to appeal to people who just want to be entertained by watching characters on screen get killed. But I say we deserve a little more than a pessimism. The research crew has come across one of the greatest discoveries of mankind. Why play the story small and safe?

Every Day


Every Day (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Ned (Liev Schreiber) no longer found his job as a writer for a television show rewarding. His boss (Eddie Izzard) wanted creative, mostly sexually-driven, ideas from him but he couldn’t seem to deliver because his mind was, to say the last, preoccupied. His wife (Helen Hunt) who invited her short-tempered father (Brian Dennehy) to live with them became increasingly unhappy, he worried about his older son (Ezra Miller), who recently admitted that he was gay, and felt guilty for not being there for his youngest son’s (Skyler Fortgang) violin recital. A fellow script writer named Robin (Carla Gugino), mysterious and seductive, being attracted to Ned certainly didn’t help his situation. Written and directed by Richard Levine, “Every Day” had a few scenes that worked on an emotional level. However, it ultimately lacked the bravado to look deeply at the family’s growing unhappiness. Too much of its running time was dedicated on the flirtation between Ned and Robin as they supposedly worked together on a script at her fancy New York loft. I understood that Ned wanted an escape from his worries and grab the fantasy he felt like he deserved. It would have worked if the execution wasn’t so cheap where it felt like watching a bad soap opera. It was painfully obvious that Robin was the bad influence because she wore typical dark clothing and intense gazes. The way she was presented was one dimensional, insulting and uninteresting. The real drama was between Hunt and Dennehy’s characters. A daughter who didn’t feel loved by her father cared for him regardless. She felt like she owed him something but the reason, it seemed to her, failed to go deeper than the fact that they were biologically connected. When Hunt was on screen, my attention magnetized toward her because there was a sadness in her inability to define her motivations. There was complexity between the daughter and her father unlike what was between Ned and Robin. In a way, their relationship explained why she gave certain freedoms to her gay son who wanted to attend a gay prom with people much older than him. If I was a parent and my underage gay son (or daughter) wanted to go somewhere he or she could be taken advantaged of, I wouldn’t think twice about not giving him permission. But I understood why she felt the need to do it. She wanted approval from her children because she never got it from her father. Lastly, there was something curious about the younger son’s struggle to understand the idea of dying. It scared him but he tried not to let it show. Perhaps he didn’t have the words to express his fears. “Every Day” successfully established that the characters were distant from one another. Unfortunately, it lost focus and power in its saccharine attempt to bring them together.

Scream 2


Scream 2 (1997)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Two years had passed since the Woodsboro murders. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) was now in college majoring in drama, Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) became a best-selling author, and a movie known as “Stab,” inspired by the aforementioned killing spree, had just been released. But when a couple (Jada Pinkett Smith, Omar Epps) was murdered during one of its screenings, Dewey (David Arquette) quickly, despite the limp, ran to Sidney’s protection and movie geek Randy (Jamie Kennedy) was present to explain the rules of horror sequels. Written by Kevin Williamson and directed by Wes Craven, “Scream 2” was able to defy the odds by pointing its fingers on bad scary movie follow-ups without being one itself. The film worked on multiple levels because it had more than one joke that worked. For instance, it acknowledged the idea that horror pictures seemed to be lacking in African-American characters and other minorities. Aside from the doomed couple in the memorable first scene, we knew the joke made a lasting impression when a minority was randomly placed next to one of the main characters and we couldn’t help but chuckle. However, it didn’t feel forced because the story took place in college. While the murder scenes were less creative–but more gory and elaborate as Randy stated–than its predecessor, they retained a level of cheekiness, especially when Sarah Michelle Gellar was given the chance to shine as the “sober sorority sister,” so it was fun to watch. We knew that her decision to go upstairs, as we learned in the first film, was a very bad idea but she did anyway. Downstairs, it seemed like she knew how to defend herself so maybe, despite being blonde and pretty, she would be lucky enough to escape. But it wasn’t just about murders on campus. Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), the man Sidney wrongly accused of killing her mother, had just been released from prison. The fact that he had motive to take bloody revenge and his thirst for fame warranted serious suspicion. It was a reminder that we couldn’t always trust Sidney’s judgment which was a small twist from typical slasher flicks where we take comfort in the virgin making all the right decisions to make it to the very end. The film spent more time on the characters and worked on the undeveloped strands from the first installment. What remained the same was everyone was a suspect. From Sidney’s pre-med boyfriend (Jerry O’Connell) and sassy friend (Elise Neal), Randy’s movie-loving classmates (Timothy Olyphant), to the reporter (Laurie Metcalf) desperate for the latest scoop. “Scream 2” was a vat of self-awareness; I relished every witty line and irony within an irony. Most impressive was sometimes the joke and horror came hand-in-hand.

Salt


Salt (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

A Russian defective (Daniel Olbrychski) arrived at a CIA facility accusing of Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) of being a Russian sleeper agent whose role was to assassinate key political figures in order to spark a war between the United States and Russia. CIA officers (Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor) wanted to take precautions by detaining Salt but she attempted to break out of the facility to try to get to her husband (August Diehl) and prove her innocence. I liked that this movie actually went beyond the trailer’s question about whether or not Salt really was a mole. At times even I was unsure whether we were observing a good guy or a bad guy but I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen because Jolie played her character with such gravity and conviction. Although the film did not have anything particularly new to offer the action-thriller genre involving spies and mistaken identities, its willingness to entertain by delivering high adrenaline, often nail-biting, fast-paced action sequences was enough to take the material to an above average action flick. However, its technique of constantly throwing plot points and twists was ultimately its downfall. In the middle of the picture, I wanted it to take a couple of minutes and just breathe. In the end, I was not quite sure who Salt really was other than she was really good at jumping on and off trucks and essentially an effective killer. A little bit of character development and exploring her relationship with her superiors and husband would have gone a long way. Another problem I had was its weak ending. I’m not sure if its aim was to leave the door open in hopes of starting a franchise–a femme version of the “Bourne” saga considering both are about finding out about the main character’s true identity. It did not quite work because it left me wanting more in a negative way. When the screen cut to black, I felt like I was still in the middle of an action sequence and I felt a bit cheated for its lack of falling action and resolution. Even if the filmmakers were trying to make a franchise, like “The Bourne Identity,” it should have been able to stand on its own by having a completely satisfying story arc. Written by Kurt Wimmer and directed by Phillip Noyce, “Salt” was at its best when building tension and releasing it by having Jolie’s character construct her own way out of very tricky situations. Watching it was not brain surgery but I wished it had more complexity in terms of the relationships between the characters and what it felt like to have your country turn on you when you’ve dedicated your life trying to protect it.