Tag: malin akerman

The Final Girls

The Final Girls (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

With the theater exits blocked and the fire quickly spreading, Max (Taissa Farmiga) comes up with the idea of slashing the screen and leaving through there. Instead of safety, however, she and her friends (Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch) end up in the movie they were watching—an ‘80s cult slasher flick called “Camp Bloodbath”—and it appears as though the only way to get out of it is to survive until the masked murderer named Billy Murphy (Dan B. Norris) is killed.

“The Final Girls,” based on the screenplay by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller, has creativity coursing through its veins but it is not as fun and fully realized as it thinks it is. What results is a picture that is worth sitting through once, given that one is in the mood for a silly horror-comedy, but it will likely not be remembered ten years from now. This is because it does not push the envelope far enough—whether it be in terms of scares, gore, kill scenes, or more subtle nudges to the slasher pictures of the past.

What stands out is the way it attempts to establish characterization, particularly the relationship between the lead protagonist and, Nancy (Malin Akerman), her dead mother. Genuine human connections and emotions are far too often ignored within this sub-genre and so it is a breath of fresh air that these two characters share scenes we can relate with and hold onto. I was surprised to have felt a certain longing between mother and daughter who have zilch chance of existing again within the story’s “real” reality, only in the fantasy that is the movies.

It works because Farmiga and Akerman are performers who are able to dig from within themselves when necessary and deliver feelings and thoughts beyond the lines that must be uttered. The mother-daughter bond makes the film special, in a way, because even though horror-comedy is almost never taken seriously, the writers dare us to treat it otherwise. Todd Strauss-Schulson directs the more personal scenes with real sensitivity and respect—which I admired because such an avenue is a rarity in horror and horror-comedies.

The weak treatment of the supporting characters is expected but disappointing nonetheless. While all of the actors are game—Adam DeVine is wonderful as his usual manic self—to look however and say anything in order to garner a giggle or a laugh, one cannot feel as though there ought to have been a freshness injected to each their characters. Although the self-awareness runs rampant, it does not strive to go beyond its usual bouquet of jokes. I grew tired of the self-awareness eventually.

At least one really good scare is absent—which is a miscalculation. The best of horror-comedies tend to fluctuate when it comes to its tone—a juggling act among fear, disgust, suspense, amusing one-liners, and laughter that makes the stomach hurt. The majority of this film is composed of amusing one-liners and occasional unexpected turns—which ultimately feels rather flat as a whole.

Still, “The Final Girls” offers a few moments that are strong. It does, however, need to reel in the visual acrobatics—one standout sequence takes place in the beginning and the other toward the end—because these just look silly, crazy, and trying too hard to impress. ’80s special and visual effects may be dated but at least there is a charm about them.


Wanderlust (2012)
★ / ★★★★

George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) thought it was time for them, as a committed couple, to buy their own place in New York City instead of continuing to rent an apartment. After speaking with a consultant, they decided to buy a studio apartment. But when George was fired out of the blue and Linda’s depressing documentary about penguins with cancer was not picked up by HBO, the couple decided to stay with George’s brother, Rick (Ken Marino), in Atlanta, Georgia until they got back on their feet. However, an overnight stay in Elysium Bed and Breakfast, managed by a free-spirited commune, made them consider leading an alternative lifestyle. Written by David Wain and Ken Marino, “Wanderlust” busted out of the cage promisingly due to its underhanded critique of materialism that plagues most of our lives. When George and Linda argued, I bought them as a couple because I immediately got the impression that they loved each other not only for their similarities but also, and perhaps more importantly, their differences. The genuine comedy and drama that propelled our protagonists forward were immediately sucked away when they arrived in the communal settlement. While it wasn’t necessarily a bad idea for the screenplay to introduce the colorful characters and make us laugh to remember each of them, I found that the writing consistently relied on surface qualities to get an emotion–any emotion because pretty much everything that transpired in and around the bed and breakfast was so deathly dull–from us. The nudity and dirty talk, effective when used sparingly paired with great timing, became very predictable and embarrassing. The filmmakers turned so desperate to the point where it actually featured a stampede of naked sagging bodies–in slow motion. It wasn’t funny. In fact, I found it to be quite mean-spirited and cynical. I got the impression that it wanted to disgust us and hopefully mistake that response for amusement. Also, there was a subplot involving a missing deed and businessmen wanting to kick out the community in order to build a casino. A lot of it was noise, annoying chatter that didn’t amount nor lead to anything profound or, in the very least, entertaining. After one flat delivery after another, an actor would overact suddenly and I mentally begged them to stop talking. The worst was performed by Rudd as George attempted to encourage himself in front of a mirror to have sex with another woman (Malin Akerman). And just when I thought the humiliation was over, it flooded onto the next scene until it became as annoying as hearing an empty barrel beating beaten by a child. The most interesting and most overlooked character was Marissa (Michaela Watkins), Rick’s wife, so miserable in being a wife and mother that she’d rather drown herself in booze than to deal with her situation. She was surrounded by so many expensive and gorgeous things but she was far from happy. Unlike most of the one-dimensional characters in the commune, Marissa was amusing without even trying. But there was a sadness in her, too. Notice that no one dared to take her seriously even when she hinted about her misery at home. Why worry about her state of mind when she seemed to have it all, right? “Wanderlust,” directed by David Wain, was a bore almost every step of the way because it didn’t bother to develop the supporting characters who were meant to help George and Linda, in an indirect way, to appreciate what they already had. It was a drag to sit through.


Happythankyoumoreplease (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Sam Wexler (Josh Radnor), on his way to an opportunity that could get his novel published, met a boy (Michael Algieri) who was accidentally left by his foster parents on the subway. Feeling responsible because he was the only witness, Sam planned to take Rasheen to the police station, but the boy said he didn’t want to go back. Sam sensed that there was something wrong, perhaps an abusive household, so he unwisely took Rasheen to his apartment and allowed him to stay there indefinitely. Despite his friends’ concerns, Sam failed to contact the proper authorities. Written and directed by Josh Radnor, “Happythankyoumoreplease” was an interesting look at late twenty-something New Yorkers as they tried to figure out what they wanted in life. The conflict was between romantic love and career, but the factors that lie in between were far more fascinating. Although I’ve seen its specific type of comedy-drama, there was something endearing about it because there were small details in all characters that felt honest. For example, Charlie (Pablo Schreiber) wanted to move to Los Angeles to expand his career while Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan) hoped to stay in New York because it was her home. I liked the way Radnor allowed the characters to discuss why they felt like moving or staying was the better option. Although they were young, Mary Catherine and Charlie were adults. Real problems almost always don’t have easy solutions because solutions sometimes depend on perspective. There was also Annie (Malin Akerman), inflicted with an autoimmune disorder, and her bad taste in men. She just couldn’t seem to find someone who was ready to settle down. Like most of us, she clings to her expectations about her ideal partner: funny, kind, and good-looking. In reality, with a little bit of luck, one can find someone who embodies two out of the three qualities. Annie met Sam #2 (Tony Hale), the plain-looking guy in the office who kept trying to make conversation with her. Initially, she just brushed him off because he didn’t have the three aforementioned qualities. Through their interactions, she learned a thing or two about herself. More importantly, it did so without the material hammering us over the head. The one thing I loved about the movie was in the way it portrayed friendship. Notice that despite the ups and downs in the characters’ lives, friendship was the one constant element. I thought the underlying message was if you have friends–real friends, like the ones you can hang out with any day of the week and talk about absolutely anything–everything should be okay. I liked that message because even though it may not be true all the time, it had truth in it . “Happythankyoumoreplease” made me feel happy, grateful, and yearning for more. It didn’t offer anything new but it served as a nice reminder of the sunnier things life can offer if we welcome it with a smile and open arms.

The Romantics

The Romantics (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Seven friends gathered at a beach house for a celebration. Lila (Anna Paquin) and Tom (Josh Duhamel) were about to get married. But Laura (Katie Holmes), Lila’s bridesmaid and good friend, was still in love with Tom. Tom also had lingering feelings for Laura but he was reluctant to sacrifice a life of stability. The remaining four friends (Malin Akerman, Jeremy Strong, Adam Brody, Rebecca Lawrence) knew that there was an awkward tension among Lila, Tom, and Laura but no one dared to bring up the most obvious questions. They would rather drown themselves in alcohol and numb themselves with drugs. “The Romantics,” directed and based on a novel by Galt Niederhoffer, somewhat managed to capture the confusion of almost thirtysomethings: how each of them defined happiness, the sacrifices necessary so they wouldn’t be alone down the road, and the so-called friendships they desperately clung onto. They were a very unlikable bunch because they were all about their self-interests. Rich, poor, or somewhere in the middle, we all know people like them. We might even be one of them. My main concern and disappointment with the film was its execution in terms of its attempt to explore the characters. The group of friends was far from being romantics. The night before Lila and Tom’s wedding, we learned that they earned the label in college because the seven of them slept with each other to the point were it was “almost incestuous.” While the speeches over dinner the night before the big wedding was fun to listen to because it revealed the truth about how the five friends viewed the upcoming marriage, the events that came after, such as Tom going missing and Laura feeling the need to look for him, felt convenient and predictable. Genuinely getting to know the other friends, which was key because they were important people in Lila and Tom’s lives, was thrown out the window. Instead, we saw them getting naked, cheating on each other, and doing drugs. It wasn’t even done in a darkly comic, sexy, or fun way. We were just there to watch as detached audiences and I was left wondering why the writer-director felt the need to show us such scenes. Was she attempting to highlight the emptiness in these characters’ lives? If so, I didn’t feel a defined point of view, a driving force, or a specific lens designed to convince me that the filmmaker had control over her material. The best scene was the collision between Lila, the immovable object, and Laura, the unstoppable force, near the end. I considered Lila an immovable object because even though she perfectly knew her husband didn’t love her as much as he should, she still foolishly wanted to get married. Laura was an unstoppable force because she was too driven by her emotions and she was willing to fight for what she felt even if it meant throwing friendship in the fire. I wish more scenes as powerful as Lila and Lauren’s confrontation. The rest were just padding for an accident that never occurred.

Couples Retreat

Couples Retreat (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Peter Billingsley directs this comedy about four couples who decided to go on a tropical resort that, according to one of the characters, “looks like a screensaver.” Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell were having trouble with their marriage so they asked their friends (Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman, Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis, Faizon Love and Kali Hawk) to come along with them to an island for a relationship therapy because it was cheaper to come as a group. I enjoyed the first few minutes of this picture because it was fun and it clearly established the many dynamics of romantic relationships. Although boys will always be boys, there were enough subtleties to keep me interested and observe how it would all unwind. Unfortunately, with a running time of almost two hours, the movie ran a little too long so there were parts that lagged and definitely could have been cut to make the movie more focused. I like all of the actors in this project because I think they were all very funny in other movies but the script wasn’t strong enough to push through the typicality of marriage comedies. It really bothered me when the very same people who were having trouble with their own marriages gave (supposedly) insightful advice. If they were so wise, they wouldn’t have been so deep into a troubled relationship in the first place. However, there was one particular scene that stood out to me. When Vaughn and Akerman were talking to a marriage counselor, the counselor picked them apart; even though they seemed to be happy and content (and having the healthiest relationship in the film), there was still a certain level of resentment underneath it all. They got so used to their habits that they forgot to live life in such a way where hardwork should be met by rewards. During that scene, there was this great silence in the movie theater. It really made me think about where I am in life–that maybe I’m slowly turning into that kind of person. If “Couples Retreat” had more moments like that, I would’ve liked it a lot more. Either that or the comedy should have been consistent from beginning to end instead of most of the laughter being clumped in the first twenty minutes. In “Couples Retreat,” a hit was followed by two misses so I can’t quite give it a recommendation.


Watchmen (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★

We all know the fact that people complain whenever a film doesn’t stick closely to its source material. Well, “Watchmen” remains very loyal to its graphic novel–with a few tweaks here and there so the audiences will be able to relate more with the politics it tries to tackle. I never thought I would ever read a review (like the one from Entertainment Weekly) that complains about a picture sticking too closely to its source. It seems like some critics just find a way to complain about something (no matter how ridiculous it sounds) to sound insightful so it’s hard for me to take that specific review seriously.

“Watchmen” may be about two hours and forty minutes long but Zack Snyder (who directed the 2004 version of the cult classic “Dawn of the Dead” and the highly overrated “300”) directs the movie so astutely, it doesn’t feel like it’s that long. I was particularly impressed with the way the film started: it goes over the Minutemen of the 1940’s in about ten minutes during the opening credits and then it takes us to its current setting which tells the audiences how different their successors have become. The death of The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in the hands of an unknown murderer sets up a series of events that results upon the reunion of five other superheroes: Rorschach (played brilliantly and hilariously by Jackie Earle Haley), Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), and Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman). Unlike most superhero movies, the six of them are atypical in such a way that they are nihilistic, not afraid to hurt or kill, and each of them can be placed in various areas of the moral spectrum. They do not necessarily have a common goal initially but their beliefs and methods of acquiring information are often at odds with each other. A typical villain is not necessary because their own selves are ultimately their worst enemies. Though some can argue that there is a “big bad” in the film, to me, nuclear weapons and politicians’ hunger for power are the driving forces that force the characters to choose the morally gray path.

Each superhero is featured in one way or another so the audiences get an idea on what makes the characters tick (pun intended). In a way, we eventually learn to see them as regular human beings with real problems instead of gods that can jump in at any time and save the world. In fact, I can only remember one or two scenes when the characters decided to do a good dead just because they are superheroes. Although at times, the dialogue may sound a bit cheesy, especially the romantic scenes between Wilson and Akerman, the film provides a great balance between seriousness and humor. I also liked the fact that the sex scenes look realistic (as opposed to other superhero flicks) and the filmmakers weren’t afraid to show certain body parts from both genders. Usually, films like this tend to objectify women’s bodies but I didn’t get that feeling here. In my opinion, this is lightyears better than “300” because of its rich moral ambiguity and ability to genuinely entertain. Those who expect a typical superhero film may be disappointed but those who want to see something different should be impressed. “Watchmen” is a breath of fresh air from the likes of “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk” and “Spider-man.” Along with “Coraline” and “The International,” this is one of those few movies of early 2009 that is worth watching in the cinema; it also should be remembered as the year progresses.