The Eclipse (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
A widower (Ciarán Hinds) with two kids started seeing ghosts of his father who was still alive. Coincidentally, two authors (Iben Hjejle and Aidan Quinn) arrived in the widower’s town to promote their novels, in which one of the authors had characters that had to deal with their own ghosts. This was a strange film because although it had elements of classic jump-out-of-your-seat horror, it also tried to be a story of a man who was still grieving over his wife but at the same time wanting to move on even though he had no idea how to start. I didn’t think it managed to do either effectively because the tone was too melodramatic and the characters became stuck with their own demons instead of eventually rising above them. I rooted for the characters because I believed they deserved to be happy, but the material desperately wanted to do something very different to the point where I wasn’t sure if it knew exactly where to go. As the picture went on, I became frustrated with it. Written and directed by Connor McPherson, there were some interesting motifs in the movie such as the director’s use of framing his characters in mirrors. I constantly wondered what he was trying to tell his audiences. Did he mean that the characters were fragile? Were the audiences only seeing the surface of the characters despite the characters addressing their histories? Were the characters harboring some sort of dark secret in which all of them were connected to? I was very curious with the director’s technique but in the end I found no answer that satisfied my curiosity. Instead of slowly opening up, I found the movie becoming more reserved and I felt less connected with what was going on. Instead of spending too much time with the attraction between Hinds and Hjejle, I thought the film would have been more effective if it focused on the relationships between the widower and his children, the widower and his wife, and the widower and his father, while using the authors and the characters in their respective novels as some sort of foil for the lead character. A more confident and clear balance between horror and drama was much needed. The horror elements could have been used as a metaphor with what the widower was going through. The ingredients of making a great film were there (it certainly looked poetic) but I think the execution was not as effective as it should have been. It needed more tension and a sense of urgency if it was going to retain the viewers’ attention.
Cape Fear (1991)
★★ / ★★★★
Martin Scorsese’s “Cape Fear” was about a man (Robert De Niro) who was recently released from a fourteen-year prison sentence. The moment he got out, he made it his goal to make his former lawyer’s (Nick Nolte) life a living hell by torturing his family (Jessica Lange as his wife and Juliette Lewis as his daughter) and his budding flame (Illeana Douglas). I think I was particularly tough with this film because I expect a lot coming into a Scorsese picture. In trying to analyze things such as motif, consistency of tone, foreshadowing and other elements, I found myself not impressed with the big picture. I thought the storytelling was scattered because there were too many times when De Niro and Nolte would confront and threaten each other and it got old pretty quickly. However, I did like the fact that everything about this film was exaggerated–the soundtrack, the characters’ emotional reactions to certain events, the decisions they chose to tackle–to the point where the film almost felt comical instead of chilling. The style somewhat reminded me of Quentin Tarantino’s. The two scenes that stood out to me were when Lewis and De Niro had a “talk” in the theater and when De Niro broke into the family’s home as they tried to trap him. I felt like those scenes had Scorsese’s signature of wit, irony and just enough tension to keep us engaged because we were completely aware of the fact that the antagonist had the upperhand. Those scenes were so powerful, I felt like I held my breath during those times. Unfortunately, I felt like the rest of the picture did not quite hold up to those highs and I was somewhat underwhelmed when it was over. When I look back on it, while it was nice that De Niro’s character brought out a lot of almost repressed issues of the family, I still felt as though the characters were one dimensional. It was so unlike Scorsese’s movies because most of the time he features characters who are complex because they want to redeem themselves. In here, I saw Nolte’s character as a person who was a cheater and only felt bad for his actions because he got caught and problems were quickly proliferating in her life. If I did not know that Scorsese directed this picture, I most likely would not have guessed that it was indeed his work. Granted, one could argue that I shouldn’t compare “Cape Fear” to the director’s other projects as a basis of a film review. And I agree. I just wanted to emphasize the particular mindset I had while watching the movie. Perhaps with a second viewing I’ll be able to enjoy it more. The elements of creating a great thriller were certainly there but I felt like they did not come together as well as they should have had.
Yes Man (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
Jim Carrey stars as Carl, a guy who learns to stop having fun by sticking to his regular routines even years after he and his wife gets a divorce. After bumping into an old friend (John Michael Higgins) and discussing whether Carl is really happy with where he is in life, the friend recommends a program where the members say “yes” to every opportunity that comes their way no matter how seemingly insignificant such opportunities are. The first third of this film was really funny because of the many ways Carl tries to avoid hanging out with his friends (Danny Masterson and the charming Bradley Cooper), particularly that scene in the videostore. In some ways, I could relate to Carrey’s character because I have those times when I’d rather stay in at night by myself and watch a movie or two instead of going out with friends. But things quickly deteriorated after Carl finally joins the Yes Man program. Admittedly, the first few scenes were still comical but after the tenth time he gets invited to do something and he had to say yes, I couldn’t help but wonder if the movie has something else to offer. Luckily, Zooey Deschanel played Carrey’s romantic interest because there’s just something about her–a certain je ne sais quoi–that mesmerizes me every time she’s on screen. Although I’ve heard from some people that the age difference bothered them, it didn’t bother me because I thought there was a strange chemistry between the two of them. While I still enjoyed Carrey’s manic style of acting, the script did not strive to take the story to the next level. Therefore, the picture became a somewhat entertaining and predictable safe comedy. I wish that the film focused more on the negative repercussions of saying “yes” to everything (which it only briefly touched upon) instead of glamorizing a program’s motif. Perhaps with a little alteration from the script and a better direction (Peyton Reed), “Yes Man” would’ve been funny and smart instead of just being moderately amusing.