★ / ★★★★
When a family (Stephen Moyer, Mädchen Amick, Lily Collins) was attacked by hungry, eyeless vampires, Priest (Paul Bettany) disobeyed the church’s orders not to take action. The institution claimed that vampires were contained in the Wasteland and those who terrorized the family were not creatures of the night but simply lawless men. Hence, Priest should not concern himself. However, to Priest, the attack was personal because the girl in the family, Lucy, turned out to be his daughter. Based on the graphic novel by Min-Woo Hyung, “Priest,” written by Cory Goodman and directed by Scott Charles Stewart, was a humorless, uninspired video game. Like most role-playing video games, the main character started off on his own and teamed up with other warriors throughout his journey. One was Hicks (Cam Gigandet), a sheriff with a talent for throwing knives, who loved Lucy. The other was Priestess (Maggie Q), who was assigned to bring our protagonist, dead or alive, back to the church. But unlike an RPG game, the picture paid no focus to each character. We knew nothing about them except for the fact that they wanted to rescue the girl. Good intentions aside, the dialogue became redundant because their specific motivations lacked depth. But one of my main problems with the film was its universe being devoid of complexity. We knew someone was bad because they chopped off chickens’ heads; we knew someone was good if they had the slightest screen presence. The rest, like the buildings and people’s homes, looked grimy and one-dimensional. Humans cowered at the word “vampire.” Meanwhile, the vampires were somewhat interesting because they were portrayed as beasts. Other than Black Hat (Karl Urban), the leader who was half-human and half-vampire, the rest didn’t have the capability to speak. They were hungry and blood was what they were after. The CGI kept my lowest level of interest because of the way the ravenous vampires moved. They were bulky yet they moved quickly, eyeless but always seemed to know exactly where their target was located. But the CGI’s magic was transient. I wanted to know more about the war that was often referred to between the clergy and the vampires prior to the latter’s exile in the dreaded Wasteland. Due to a lack of background information, I didn’t understand why the Priests became rejects of society. After all, weren’t they the ones who protected mankind from becoming dinner? Sure, they were no longer useful after the vampires had been contained but, if you ask me, they should have given at least a glimmer of power and authority after the war. As a film, “Priest” lacked flow. If injected with key transitions and history, it would have been stronger. The action sequences were exciting but if we don’t feel the gravity of what they were fighting for, we just don’t care about the outcome.
New York, I Love You (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
I’ve been waiting for this movie to be released in theaters for more than a year so I was really excited to see it when it finally was. Unfortunately, out of the ten segments (presented in order of appearances on screen–directed by Jiang Wen, Mira Nair, Shunji Iwai, Yvan Attal, Brett Ratner, Allen Hughes, Shekhar Kapur, Natalie Portman, Fatih Akin and Joshua Marston) only about five worked for me–the second (starring Natalie Portman and Irrfan Khan), the third (Orlando Bloom and Christina Ricci), the fourth (Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q), the fifth (Anton Yelchin, Olivia Thirlby, James Caan and Blake Lively), and the tenth (Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman).
I really wanted to love this movie as much as “Paris, je t’aime.” What made the first one so great is the fact that even though we encounter so many different genres and tones throughout the picture, it felt cohesive because we truly get a sense of who the characters were in under five to seven minutes. In “New York, I Love You,” it all feels a little bit too commercial. I felt as though it wanted to impress all kinds of people so much to the point where it held back emotionally and avoided taking risks. I’m also astounded by the fact that there were no homosexual storylines, barely any segments consisting of African-American or Latino characters, and most of clips consisted of a person falling in love or lust with another person. There are many dimensions of love (love for the city, love for a pet, love for oneself…) but it didn’t quite think outside the box. Those missing qualities are crucial to me because New York is supposed to be a melting pot of ethnicities, sexualities and mindsets yet we got to see the same kinds of people time and again. With “Paris, je t’aime,” we get diversity and in more than half of them, there was not a happy ending, which I thought was closer to real life than the stories presented in this film.
The five segments that I thought were standouts had a certain passion in every single one of them, whether it’s about a woman who doesn’t quite feel comfortable about getting married; an artist struggling to read one of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s books and whose curiosity of a woman he’s only met through the phone bothered him to the core; a man who thinks one way about a woman turning out to be someone completely different than we all expected; a teenager who goes to prom with a blind date unknowing of the fact that his date is unlike anyone he expected; and a couple celebrating their marriage that lasted for more than sixty years. Those are the kinds of stories I want to tune into and dissect because hidden layers are embedded in them. What I don’t want to see is someone supposedly falling in love unless he or she has something truly significant or different to contribute. The other five segments that I didn’t quite like should have been taken out and replaced by stories from other genres such as horror or science fiction, or they could have had a different mood or perception such as in a black-and-white reality or featuring a person so wasted in drugs–a way in which we could see the world through their eyes. That would have made more sense to me because we are essentially a drug culture. Or it could have featured at least one fashion model or a fashionista because New York is one of the biggest fashion capitals in the world. Instead of really embracing to tackle issues mentioned previously, the movie was way too safe with those other segments.
Having said all of that, I have to admit that I’m particularly hard on this picture. Since I don’t do half-star ratings, it must be said that I consider this a solid two-and-a-half star movie. When I came out of the theater, I was certain that I was going to give it three stars out of four but after thinking about it a little bit, it made me realize how much potential it didn’t use to create a truly magnificent project. For such a fascinating place like New York City, you just can’t play everything safe and get away with it. At least not with me because I’m big on seeing diversity and reality in certain kinds of films, especially in slice-of-life cinema. I’m not saying at all to not see this in theaters. By all means, please do to support a film released only on limited release. But what I want you to take away from this review is the awareness that what’s being presented on this film is not the gritty and dirty New York but the clean, nice New York we see on a prime time television shows.
Hopefully, the next project from this film series would not be as afraid to branch out.