Tag: maggie q

Death of Me


Death of Me (2020)
★ / ★★★★

Here is a story that takes place on a gorgeous Thai island filled with beautiful people and curious customs, but the screenplay by Arli Margolis, James Morley III, and David Tish is left to sit under the sun to rot, as if setting alone were enough to save an elevator pitch: “The Hangover” but a horror film. It is lazy, uninteresting, not at all entertaining, and borderline offensive—both in terms of how the filmmakers expect that what they deliver is good enough for their viewers and its one-dimensional portrayal of an eastern culture whereby superstition and pseudoscience hold enough weight to challenge reality. A way to deal with the latter in a respectful manner is to provide complexity—the very element that this picture sorely lacks. It makes for a depressing experience.

The enigma is this: Married couple Christine (Maggie Q) and Neil (Luke Hemsworth), covered in mud and grime, awake in their Airbnb with no memory of how they got home. They wish to return to the mainland, but passport is required for travel. Theirs is nowhere to be found. Desperate to find answers, Neil figures that his cellphone might contain pictures of their wild night. He finds a two-hour video and hits play. It shows Neil not only choking Christine to death but also burying her lifeless body. But this cannot be. His wife is sitting next to him, very much alive.

This is a premise with potential because it promises an investigation: westerners navigating their way through a foreign land in which everything is challenge, from the geography of the island, having to think twice when taking action out of respect local traditions, down to the language barrier. But the film is a classic case of a movie that never stops beginning. Halfway through its running time, the couple remains flabbergasted about their memory loss and their progression in finding out the truth is pretty much nonexistent. We feel the work biding its time to reach the ninety-minute mark. It doesn’t respect us because it fails to value our time.

One of its circuitous approach is pummeling us with hallucinatory sequences so generic and dull that at one point I wondered if director Darren Lynn Bousman had actually seen effective, dream-like, horror pictures pre-1990s. Because to say that his approach being laughable is to be kind: “real time” events are presented in regular color and hallucinations are given a blue-green tinge coupled with quick, manic cuts. There is no flow, no rhythm, no flavor. It looks uninspired and downright ugly. One cannot help but to wonder, too, that perhaps Bousman made the picture under duress; it feels like a project helmed by a most jaded and pessimistic filmmaker who ought to find another career path. I was disgusted.

Robin Hardy’s “The Wicker Man” is brought up at one point. Clearly, that is the inspiration for this drivel. But if one were to put that 1973 classic right alongside this film, the difference is night and day. The former is rooted in suspense. It involves a lot of genuine questioning—and at times we don’t know the sort of questions to ask because the events are increasingly bizarre. That movie is constantly evolving. “Death of Me,” on the other hand, is stuck with a premise that goes nowhere until the final act, if that. It wants us to ask questions but there is no sense of wonder or mystery. On offer is simply a parade of events in which the punchline often involves Christine screaming, yelling, passing out, and waking up in a different room.

I wished I was passed out before the movie started so I’d have no memory of it.

Fantasy Island


Fantasy Island (2020)
★ / ★★★★

The premise of “Fantasy Island” promises limitless imagination: the tropical paradise possessing the ability to grant its guests’ deepest desires. It is even capable of bringing the dead back to life. But the movie is dull, repetitive, devoid of original ideas and so it relies on familiar tropes to create a semblance of suspense, and it feels closer to three hours than two. In the middle of it, I questioned whether the screenwriters (Jillian Jacobs, Christopher Roach, and Jeff Wadlow [who directs]) actually intended to make a good film. Clearly, there is more to making a movie work than simply slapping together a hodgepodge of ideas. The end result is convoluted dross.

There are a handful of familiar faces, from Michael Peña as the enigmatic keeper of the island, Maggie Q as a guest who wishes to get back together with an old flame, to Michael Rooker as a ragged onlooker who appears to know precisely what’s going on in the island. These three have appeared in better movies and delivered much stronger performances. Neither hyperbolic nor downplayed acting could save a screenplay that is dead on arrival.

Perhaps the most curious performers are Lucy Hale as a young woman who wishes to enact revenge on a high school bully and Portia Doubleday as the reformed tormentor. Hale’s Melanie is now the pretty girl and Doubleday’s Sloane is married but unhappy. Throughout their time on the island, their dynamics shift. There is potential in their storyline. But the movie is filled with so many characters—less interesting ones—that the duo never gets the arc they deserve. And so when the would-be surprising final act comes around, we meet it with a shrug rather than a heartfelt desire to know the specifics.

One important trait the picture lacks is intrigue. Nearly halfway through, we are taken to a place that explains the island’s source of power. This is simply the setup but the script treats it as the punchline. It is an alarming “So what?” moment. We wait and wait for an answer but it never comes. This lackadaisical and half-hearted approach bleeds into the guests’ fantasy. We learn about their wishes but the writers fail to turn information into genuine humanity. Why tell this story when we couldn’t care less for the VIPs running around the island? It should have been an easy task because, whether we care to admit or not, every one of us has something we wish to change about our pasts.

If the point of the feature is to exercise special and visual effects, it fails on that level too. Black water coming out of people’s eyes, a burned figure popping out of unlikely places, people falling off a cliff and splattering on the rocks below, even simple gunshots to the head look cheap and unconvincing. Aerial shots of the island look great… but it is so sunny, bright, and postcard-looking that we are forced to wonder which images are CGI and which are real (if any). From a visual perspective, the work never becomes an enveloping experience. It does not help that each fantasy appears to be set on a different part of the globe.

“Fantasy Island” made me wish I were sitting through a better movie. One that offers deep imagination, varying levels of mystery and terror, and characters worth following and rooting for. Notice its level of ordinariness, its lack of flavor. Fantasies and nightmares never break from being told in a linear fashion. Really think about it: When you dream, it is rarely this way. Images are never this tame, storylines are never this boring. When our mind works things out, sometimes it is nonsensical. This picture cannot help but to explain, especially when antagonists reveal their motivations. This movie is not about anything. It exists simply to rake in the cash by capitalizing on the Blumhouse brand—which is depressing.

Priest


Priest (2011)
★ / ★★★★

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


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.