Straw Dogs (2011)
★ / ★★★★
David (James Marsden), a screenwriter for movies, and Amy (Kate Bosworth), a television actress, husband and wife from Los Angeles, moved to the South so David could get some work done. While Amy was welcomed by the people she grew up with, especially Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård), a former high school flame, David experienced some friction with most of them. As the two settled in their home over a couple of weeks, Charlie and his friends pushed David bit by bit by implying he wasn’t good enough to land a woman like Amy, that he wasn’t enough of a man for her. David aimed to prove them wrong. Based on the novel “The Siege of Trencher’s Farm” by Gordon Williams, watching “Straw Dogs,” written and directed by Rod Lurie, I felt an overwhelming lack of dimension from its characters. David was the unaware city boy who overstepped his boundaries by flaunting his hundred dollar bills, Amy strutted around outside without a bra but became upset when men looked at her lasciviously, and Charlie was the two-faced villain who felt inferior whenever he heard David’s classical music. As the events slowly escalated from snide comments to full-throttle violence, we learned nothing much about the three them. Amy became very frustrated with her husband’s passive approach. If David did confront Charlie and his friends, it was her husband’s battle (or life) to lose. If she supposedly grew up with them, she should have been more aware of what they were capable of. If anything, she should be one pulling back David’s leash, not getting upset with him when clearly he just didn’t want trouble. Meanwhile, David decided to go hunting with the boys to prove he was a man. If he was so smart and worldly, as depicted on the day the couple moved into their new home, I wondered how he didn’t catch that it wasn’t even hunting season. “What time of year is hunting season?” was easy to type on Google considering he was on his laptop during most of the day. Furthermore, the film introduced characters such as Tom (James Woods), a former high school coach turned alcoholic, and slow-witted Jeremy (Dominic Purcell), in his thirties, who happened to have a history with underaged girls. When David asked why the latter wasn’t put away, Charlie responded, “We take care of our own.” Far from it. Tom’s daughter (Willa Holland), fifteen years old, was attracted to Jeremy. Despite people constantly telling her to keep her distance from him, she couldn’t help herself. Naturally, the father had something to say with his fist. Although Woods’ explosive antics were attention-grabbing, most of the time, the things he had to say felt independent from the movie. Must he be angry all the time? Again, the script was devoid of depth and good performances couldn’t keep the material afloat. “Straw Dogs,” despite its handful of symbolism involving animals, left nothing much to the imagination. I almost forgot about it as soon as it was over. Except the bare-chested Skarsgård. His glistening pecs were memorable.
I Sell the Dead (2008)
★ / ★★★★
A grave robber (Dominic Monaghan) on death row started to confess his adventures with his old partner (Larry Fessenden) to a priest (Ron Perlman) who could ultimately decide his fate. I heard a number of good things about this horror-comedy set in the 19th century but it failed to impress me. Twenty minutes into the movie, I started to feel bored because the story wasn’t going anywhere. I thought it had potential when Monaghan and Fessenden stumbled upon their first supernatural (somewhat funny) encounter, but it took the path of silly ordinariness instead of the path of real darkness and irony. There were too many scenes when the two leads would argue or just hang out and the audiences were left outside of their jokes. Think of it as standing next to two close friends laughing like there’s no tomorrow and you have no idea what is so amusing. It’s just awkward and it doesn’t encourage us to stick around. Neither of the main characters were worth rooting for. To me, they were just a pair of graverobbers and there was nothing particularly special about them. There was no redeeming quality despite their actions and they lacked an extra dimension, a crucial element that makes us effortlessly identify with them. A majority of this picture was obvious. Everyone voiced out what they were thinking or what they were about to do. Watching something devoid of curiosity or surprise or a slight hint of intelligence is definitely an unpleasant experience. Furthermore, the film lacked a much needed gravity or tension. For a pair of graverobbers encountering so many weird phenomena, I didn’t feel like they were shocked or excited or curious about the things that were unfolding before their eyes. If I meet a real vampire or dug up an alien corpse, I would start to question everything I was lead to believe was true. I would have some sort of a conflict within myself and it would reflect on my actions. Written and directed by Glenn McQuaid, “I Sell the Dead” was painful to watch to say the least. This was supposed to be the winner of the Slamdance Film Festival for Best Cinematography but it ultimately doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t resonate with the audiences. It was just too all over the place for my liking and it was no fun watching randomness. The movie may have only been eighty minutes long but it felt longer than two hours because I wasn’t having fun with it. Lastly, I was excited to see it because some reviewers pointed out the sharpness of its dark comedy. I don’t know what they consider as darkly comic but if I were to exaggerate, I would say the movie was a very light dark comedy. The movie lacked teeth so the ironies lacked bite.
I Love You, Beth Cooper (2009)
★ / ★★★★
I had a feeling that “I Love You, Beth Cooper,” directed by Chris Columbus, tried to summon those great teen ’80s flicks but instead of being nostalgic, the film fell flat on its face because it ultimately lacked intelligence in its script and its characters. During his speech, the high school valedictorian (Paul Rust), predictably an awkward nerd, decided to declare to the whole school that he loved Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere), predictably one of the cheerleaders, from the moment he laid eyes on her through the years when he sad behind her in class (creepy). Along with that declaration, he put the spotlight under the mean girls and mindless jocks and claimed that they were losers and they would remain losers after high school. Naturally, our protagonist and Beth Cooper ended up talking to each other after graduation, got into a number of misadventures and learned that first impressions weren’t always accurate. Just typing all of that made me bored because I’ve seen it all before. There was nothing original about this movie that I can specifically point to and say that I was impressed with. In fact, I was just annoyed with it especially when the lead character’s best friend who happened to be a film geek would make the most random movie references. That character made people like me look bad; just because we’re film buffs (or getting there), it doesn’t mean that we’re going to reference to every single movie that existed every other second, especially to people we just met. It’s just ridiculous and not funny. I think that was this movie’s problem: it tried too hard to impress when it shouldn’t have because the flaws became that much more glaring. Everything was loud and obnoxious especially the jocks who, I must say, had antisocial personalities and needed serious psychological help. Each character was one-dimensional and it was no fun watching the movie because it lacked depth. Teen movies like “Superbad” or “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” have proven that substance and comedy don’t have to be mutually exclusive. With movies like “I Love You, Beth Cooper,” obviously I expect certain things like plotlines involving losing one’s virginity, sex jokes and even gay jokes. However, can’t help but love the subgenre because it does have the potential to surprise and even inspire. Unfortunately, “I Love You, Beth Cooper” was a disaster and a total waste of time.
Stepfather, The (2009)
★ / ★★★★
Nelson McCormick directed this remake of the “The Stepfather” released in 1987 which starred Terry O’Quinn. In this version, Penn Badgley comes home from military school with some worry about his mother (Sela Ward) deciding to get married to another man (Dyan Walsh). Despite his initial suspicions, at first everything seemed to have been going well up until a elderly neighbor recognized that Walsh’s character resembeled someone from America’s Most Wanted. The longer the infamous killer stayed with his new family, the more people started to ask questions about his past. The killer evaded the questions as often as he could but he could only circumvent the issue for so long so he decided to go on another murder rampage. I believe this remake had a real opportunity to improve on a pretty average original film but it didn’t because it directed its focus on impressing the thirteen-year-old girls. In just about every scene that Badgley was in, he was either shirtless or he was wearing a wife beater. It also didn’t help the fact that Badgley isn’t a very good actor. As a fan of “Gossip Girl,” I feel like he’s more suited to television because he lacks subtlety. Other than that, the movie stapled itself to the conventions of slasher flicks such as the big showdown occuring in a dark, stormy night. I found myself rolling my eyes and yelling at the screen how stupid the characters were pretty much the entire film. It’s like none of them has ever seen a movie about serial killers before. For me, the writers were to blame because they deliberately treated the audiences as if they couldn’t think for themselves. Everything was too obvious and painfully generic. Even with the big showdown in the end, the music provided the tension and the images were just there. If the soundtrack was off, I wouldn’t feel any sort of excitement because the characters didn’t have a solid foundation to make me want to root for them. When I watch a movie about serial killers terrorizing families, I want to feel genuine suspense throughout and sympathy for the family. In here, it was all shiny glitters on the surface and no substance. The writers are in desperate need to go back to Thriller 101 and really try to understand what makes a successful thriller for both the young adults and the older ones. My one advice is that half of the picture should be about the tease and the rest about the pay-off. This remake of cult classic “The Stepfather” had neither. I have no idea why studios decided to give this film a green light when the script was beyond egregious.
Leap Year (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
A woman (Amy Adams) in a relationship with a cardiologist (Adam Scott) for four years thought that he was finally going to propose to her to get married. But since that wasn’t the case, she decided to fly to Ireland on a whim to surprise her husband-to-be and propose to him on a Leap Day–which she was lead to believe to be an old Irish tradition. But things didn’t go quite as smoothly as she had planned because even though she didn’t get along with a charming man (Matthew Goode) who agreed to take her Dublin, she started falling for him (and vice-versa) because he was everything her boyfriend was not: simple, didn’t let her get away with being a brat and someone who had her back when it mattered most. Directed by Anand Tucker, “Leap Year” was pretty much the same kind of romantic comedy released every month (more like every week) but I ended up somewhat liking it because I love Adams and Goode in just about every movie they star in. They both had this strange chemistry even though all they did was bicker and ended up in the most unfortunate situations. In a way, they were perfect for each other because she was too controlled and she had a list on what she wanted in life, while he was a person who was fine with wherever the wind took him. It also helped that he was a bit brooding but that darkness I felt wasn’t really explored. My main problem with this film was its script. I thought the dialogue lacked another dimension–it was too simple and there were times when I felt like I was watching an episode of a television show than a movie. While it did have some cute touches such as Scott playing a cardiologist but he had no idea what was in his girlfriend’s heart, those weren’t strong enough to make this a superior romantic comedy. It didn’t have gravity so I wasn’t at all emotionally invested. The middle portion was a bit too much and it dragged on in what felt like an eternity. I wish the movie explored the Irish tradition a lot more instead of just showing Adams in the most embarrassing situations. By the tenth time things didn’t go her way because of the black cat that crossed her path, I pretty much got the picture and I wanted it to move on. Without its leading stars, I could easily have hated “Leap Year” because it didn’t strive to be something more. It was safe, sometimes sweet and often clichéd. I couldn’t help but think Adams and Goode were too good for the roles they’ve chosen to play.
★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig, this Australian zombie horror-comedy plays more like a science fiction movie more than anything. Rene (Felicity Mason) goes into a farmhouse to escape the zombies that were chasing her after a meteor shower. In the farmhouse, she meets a few others (Mungo McKay, Rob Jenkins, Lisa Cunningham, Dirk Hunter, Emma Randall) and they must figure out what is happening in the town while trying not to get eaten by the zombies. I didn’t enjoy this movie at all due to a number of things. The characters kept asking, “What were THOSE things? Why are they trying to eat us? Are they dead?” as if they’ve never seen a zombie movie before. Moreover, the characters are very one-dimensional. It would have been so much better if the cops were the cowards and the regular folks would have been the leaders. Taking some of those obvious elements and putting them upside down would have given the illusion that the directors were trying to make a better movie. For a horror picture, this is very light on the scary factor. The zombies are slow enough but did the characters have to be slow as well (mentally and physically)? None of them had actual survival skills and I wouldn’t buy for a second that they would survive if there were real zombies running around. If I see a zombie trying to get to me to eat my brains, I would run so fast, I wouldn’t even think about silly things like leaving something behind. The stupid characters were good at three things: screaming, yelling at each other, and asking redundant questions. Lastly, I’m very frustrated with the fact that there were actual aliens in this movie. It was so random and everything was spelled out for us in the end: why there were zombies and why the aliens decided to visit our planet. What made other zombie flicks so successful (1968’s “Night of the Living Dead” and “28 Days Later”) was the fact that there were questions left unanswered. Even if they were answered, those films left a possibility that the truth lies beyond the given explanation. Overall, “Undead” was a random mess of a movie. It is far from creative and it didn’t have enough enthusiasm to keep my attention. I thought “Zombieland” was far scarier and that was a comedy. That should give you an idea with how lackluster this movie truly is.
★ / ★★★★
“Lymelife” is about teenagers and adults in suburbia and their differing levels of unhappiness. I failed to enjoy this movie because I couldn’t find a connection with any of the characters. All of them were very damaged in some way and the tone was too depressing for its own good. There was not one well-adjusted character that could provide some sort of relief from all the drama and depression that the other characters were going through. Like typical melancholy stories about suburbia, everyone here was interconnected in some way. Alec Baldwin was cheating on his wife (Jill Hennessey) with Cynthia Nixon. Nixon’s husband (Timothy Hutton) was diagnosed with Lyme disease but was not unaware of the cheating that was going on. As for the young adults, Rory Culkin, Hennessy’s son, was in love with Emma Roberts, Nixon’s daughter, but the feeling was one-sided. Things got even more complicated when Kieran Culkin returned home from the army. I thought this movie was lazy when it came trying to figure out who the characters really were in their core. They were often one-dimensional which frustrated me so much because I felt like the actors could have done better with a stronger storytelling and script. I felt like the whole theme about hiding intentions was simply a set-up for the big argument near the end of the film with a lot of cussing and screaming. It really left a bitter taste in my mouth and in the end, I thought maybe all of the characters deserved to suffer because they were so afraid to break free from their own chains. There was one character I almost rooted for, which was Kieran Culkin’s, because even though he was abrasive and had a tortured soul, there was a certain self-restraint in his actions (especially in his key interactions with Baldwin) which suggested that he was not afraid to take control and avoid actions that might not have been worth it. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in the picture much. Writer and director Derick Martini should have added some sort of light on the journey toward leaving a dark period in these characters lives. Without that small glimmer of light, I often wonder why I’m watching something, which is almost always not a good thing because it means I’m not buying the situations being presented on screen. Some people might enjoy “Lymelife” if they find some sort of connection with the characters. Unfortunately for me, despite how long I waited, it never happened.
Year One (2009)
★ / ★★★★
“Year One,” written and directed by Harold Ramis, was another one of those movies that looked really funny on the trailers but was actually devoid of laughs in the actual film. Jack Black and Michael Cera star as Zed and Oh, respectively, as they traveled from their village to many different places mentioned on the Bible. It also had other references from the Bible such as the forbidden fruit and popular characters such as Cain, Abel, Isaac and others. As a Bible farce, this was extremely disappointing because there were so many things that the filmmakers could have done to make the story funny and smart. Instead, it degraded itself into slapstick comedy and we literally see the characters urinating on themselves, tasting feces, and other things I won’t mention. Don’t get me wrong–I think Black and Cera are usually very funny comedians but I don’t know what they were thinking when they decided to sign up for this movie. Just the script itself was so bad; it was random, it lacked energy, and it didn’t have a powerful enough story to drive it forward and for us to ultimately root for the characters to succeed on their mission. At times I wondered whether the actors were literally making stuff up as they went along. The constant winking at the camera annoyed me greatly, which was tantamount to that pesky mosquito that kept buzzing at your ear when you’re trying to sleep. The only thing I liked about this movie was Paul Rudd as Abel, but he was in it for barely two minutes. Other actors such as Vinnie Jones, Hank Azaria, David Cross and Olivia Wilde didn’t add much to the picture because their characters were also one-dimensional. I really wanted to like this movie because every time the trailer was shown in theaters, it never failed to bring a smile to my face. Unfortunately, it was just so mindless to the point where I thought the director didn’t care about his movie. If the passion is absent, why then should the audience care? When I say that this movie is bad, consider it an understatement. Save your precious time and watch or do something else. I wish I did.
Step Up 2 the Streets (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
Jon Chu directs the sequel for “Step Up” and I must say that although the dancing was much more incredible than the first, the story did not quite hold up. Briana Evigan decides to audition to attend Maryland School of the Arts with the help of Channing Tatum (a more than welcome return). In the school, she meets a geeky kid (Adam G. Sevani) who has a passion for dancing but decides not to pursue it because he doesn’t think he’s good enough and an all-star charming guy (Robert Hoffman) who’s sick of the school’s way of structuring/limiting certain styles of dancing. Evigan and Hoffman team up and gather outcasts who have a talent for dancing in order to compete in The Streets, an underground hip-hop battle of dance. Aside from the first scene when Tatum reprises his role to pass the torch (and for the audiences to find out what happened to him after the first film) and the final dance scene in the rain, the rest of it was pretty weak. The dialogue was laughable because even though it makes fun of pop culture such as “The Hills” and the “High School Musical” franchise, they resort to the same type of drama that defined such references. So, in a way, the sequel’s jokes worked against itself. Other than the two leads, we didn’t really get to know who the outcasts were outside of their stereotypes. Although they might have said one funny line or two, they were still one-dimensional. I almost wished that the picture could have focused more on the relationship between Evigan and the strict dance professor who wanted to mold her talents (Will Kemp). I felt like there could have been a two-way street connection between the two to highlight the fact that there are teachers out there who truly care for their students. That would have been a much better film because such an issue is concrete and universally relevant. The bit about the rivalry between groups felt too forced at times. Still, if one is in the mood to see impressive dancing, then by all means, see it. If one cares more about the story, I suggest to watch its predecessor instead.