★★ / ★★★★
A dead girl with twelve stab wounds is found at dawn and a suspect (Ben Crompton) is immediately apprehended. When brothers Joe (Paul Bettany) and Chrissie (Stephen Graham) search Jason’s place, they find the girl’s bangle as well as some photos that suggest that the man has been following her for some time. And yet despite these, there is not enough evidence to keep the man locked up and so he is released. Convinced that Jason is the killer, the brothers kidnap Jason and take him to an island where their father (Brian Cox), former chief of police, used to take suspects and beat them until they confess. By the end of the night, there is a second murder case.
Though I did not know much going into it, I had a sneaky suspicion that “Blood,” written by Bill Gallagher and directed by Nick Murphy, is based on a mini-series. The elements are present in order to tell a story with depth, intensity, and intelligence but one gets the feeling that what is ultimately put on screen is merely the surface. As a result, the picture feels like a good television show that is going through a mediocre episode that won’t end.
The acting keeps the material barely afloat. Bettany and Graham inject appropriate level of gravity to their characters as they increasingly deal with the pressure of keeping a secret under wraps. It is interesting that Bettany plays the sibling that one does not necessarily expect to have a certain darkness in him while Graham, the more brutish one, at least at first glance, turns out to be the more gentle of the duo. Despite solid performances, Joe and Chrissie’s relationship fails to take off. The characters are underwritten and we do not get a complete picture of them as brothers, detectives, and men wrestling with guilty consciences.
Instead, I caught my interest moving toward the man who has a gut feeling that the two might know something about the suspect’s disappearance. Mark Strong plays Robert, a fellow detective in the force, like an enigma. We learn that he has worked with the brothers’ father and their relationship was cold to nonexistent. Robert was afraid of Lenny. So it begs the question: Is Robert honing in on Lenny’s sons for purely professional reason—or is it personal? I believe the answer is both. However, again, the screenplay does not delve into the character deeply enough to make him truly compelling.
The film has a nasty habit of providing clear-cut answers. Crime movies, especially this kind, thrive on a bit of mystery—not necessarily when it comes what is being investigated but that of the characters’ psychology, what they might be thinking or going through when they have to deal with the demons of their fellow men.
Perhaps “Blood” might have been better left as a mini-series. While it does have some good performances, it does not have the required texture and pacing of a suffocating—but compelling—crime drama-procedural. When it hits a corner content-wise, it takes shortcuts by summoning convenient coincidences. Spoon-fed audiences are almost always not engaged and certainly not challenged.
The Tourist (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Elise (Angelina Jolie) worked for a mystery man who ordered her to pick a stranger on a train that resembled his height and build in order to throw the cops (led by the determined but ultimately incompetent detective played by Paul Bettany) off the real identity of the mystery man. Elise had chosen Frank (Johnny Depp), a math teacher from Wisconsin, who inevitably fell in love with the woman who used him. Naturally, the police believed that Frank was the man who pulled all the strings, but a group of gangsters (Steven Berkoff as the mob boss) also wanted Frank for themselves because the mystery man had stolen money from them. Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, expectations were high for the film because it was Depp and Jolie’s first time being together on screen and it was the director’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed “Das Leben der Anderen” or “The Lives of Others.” The most prolific complaint was the fact that the film lacked action sequences but that was exactly what I liked about it. It was a different kind of thriller because it was more about the ambiance between the two leads. Notice the scene when Elise and Frank met for the first time. Initially, there was no chemistry between them. Elise was breathtakingly stunning and Frank was, well, as nondescript as a math teacher who taught in the middle of nowhere. But the more they spoke to each other, the more they wanted to know each other in a deeper level and somehow that was enough. Flirtation was in the air but Elise had to remain focused on her mission. Frank wanted to have Elise but was afraid to take risks. Even his cigarette was not really a cigarette. Maybe he feared getting cancer. Depp’s acting was easy to criticize because the audiences are used to seeing him play characters who were bigger than life. Over-the-top had become the norm for him. I actually enjoyed Depp’s minimalist approach to this picture which was a big risk but it worked. As he attempted to run away from the gangsters on the rooftops, it was actually refreshing to see someone move slowly and stumble. We feared for him because he was just a regular folk thrown into an incredible situation. He was no Jason Bourne. Admittedly, I was slightly thrown off by the film’s many twists, especially toward the end when we finally discovered the true identity of the mystery man. In my opinion, they should have left the identity not known to the audiences so we could have something to talk about. The movie wasn’t really about the man’s identity. It was about an ordinary man swaying an incredible woman to take notice of him. Perhaps they could even fall in love.
The Young Victoria (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
Future Queen Victoria’s (Emily Blunt) mother (Miranda Richardson) and stepfather (Mark Strong) desperately tried to convince their daughter to sign away her power until she was 25 years old before she turned 18. However, Victoria wanted to run her empire despite her age and inexperience. Meanwhile, she also had to deal with Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) who craved more power and Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) who was sent to court Victoria in order to gain political advantage. I am somewhat torn about this film because while I did admire its consistently strong acting (particularly from Blunt) and it had an unconventional feel in terms of telling a period picture, I felt like it did not have enough gravity to really get me to be interested in its history. Perhaps period movies are just not my cup of tea. However, I really did try to get into the conflicted characters and the difficult circumstances that plagued them. For instance, I empathized with Victoria’s mother but at the same time I wanted to shake her because she chose her current husband over her daughter time and time again. I understood her fears of not being wanted in a society where aging women were dispensable so she clung onto people that could protect her. I related to her because wanting to be valued is a universal feeling. Furthermore, I had a feeling that the film had a hard time balancing Queen Victoria’s political decisions and the repercussions of her actions (and inaction) alongside her romance with Prince Albert. Just when one of the two became interesting, it switched gears and I was left frustrated because I wanted to feel more involved. Since I did not know much about England’s history, a lot of the plot was a surprise to me. The scenes were elegantly shot particularly the scenes during and after Victoria was finally crowned, the dinner scene in King William’s court (Jim Broadbent) when everybody had to try to be polite even though not everybody liked each other, and the extreme close-ups when Victoria and Albert were face-to-face after not seeing each other for extended periods of time. “The Young Victoria,” directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, needed more focus in terms of Queen Victoria’s role in politics. In the end, I did not feel much growth from her in terms of managing her empire; the feeling I got was she needed a man to help her run her empire. If it were not for the title cards in the last two minutes, I would have came to a conclusion that Queen Victoria was not an effective leader of her people.
★ / ★★★★
I was excited to see “Legion” because the trailer took ahold of my interest, but unfortunately, it was one of those movies that mistakenly put all the good parts in the trailer. Paul Bettany stars as an angel who decided to descend from heaven to protect a pregnant woman (Adrianne Palicki) whose child was supposed to be the Messiah. A group of characters (Lucas Black, Tyrese Gibson, Percy Walker, Dennis Quaid, Jon Tenney, Willa Holland, Kate Walsh and Palicki) were stuck in a diner in the middle of nowhere as humans with weak wills were possessed by angels and tried to kill them. Basically, God lost faith in humanity so he wanted to eradicate everyone. I don’t even know where to start with this movie. While the acting was subpar at best, the writing was even worse because not only did the premise not make sense but it also failed to come together in the end. Aside from the scene with the old lady visiting the diner, there was a strange lack of tension or excitement especially for a movie about the end of the world. The experience would probably have been more bearable if there were more likable characters. All of them complained so much to the point where I just didn’t want to hear it. I couldn’t believe that their very first scenes were full of whining. They expressed so much self-pity; instead of wanting to root for them to survive against all odds, I just wanted them to die because I didn’t see another dimension to them. To me, they were just weak individuals and I had a difficult time accepting the fact that they managed to survive for so long. As for the action, I don’t know whether to laugh or feel sad with the idea that bullets could stop angels (using humans as vessel) from the job they were assigned to do. I constantly wondered why the angels just didn’t descend from the heavens like Bettany’s character and finish the job themselves? I was so confused for the longest time and it was really painful to sit through. Action sequences were happening on screen but I just didn’t care because I wasn’t invested in the premise despite the fantastic elements. Talents of essentially good actors like Bettany, Quaid and Gibson were wasted in this piece of silliness. Thankfully, I saw this movie on DVD. If I had paid $10 to see this in the cinema, I think I would have demanded my money back. “Legion,” directed by Scott Stewart, didn’t have a defined identity (perhaps it can pass as a really bad zombie picture?) and a genuine driving force to keep the momentum going so it didn’t know what to do with itself. But I know what I wanted to do: I wanted to turn the movie off. The only reason why I didn’t is because one of my rules is to give each movie equal opportunity from start to finish.
★ / ★★★★
I had high expectations from this movie because the premise of it was interesting: a man named Mo Folchart (Brendan Fraser) who was a “Silvertongue” had the ability to bring book characters to live simply just by reading about them out loud. He did not always have such an ability (or was he aware of it) so over the years, the disparate characters from the books were taken to the human world–some of them good (Paul Bettany as the fire-wielding Dustfinger and Rafi Gavron as Farid, a sort of Aladdin-like character) and some bad (led by Andy Serkis as Capricorn). One of my biggest problems with this movie was its dialogue. It was so uninspired and it lacked a sense of wonder that movies like the “Harry Potter” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” innately have. Since this was based on a children’s novel by Cornelia Funke, I expected it to be at least entertaining by way of enchancing the audiences’ imagination. Instead, we got this overly long exposition, chaotic action scenes that did not amount to anything, and characters that were not exactly likable or memorable. I usually love watching Helen Mirren’s elegance but I think she was completely miscast as the grandmother who loves books and the indoors more than other people and the outdoors. Her character’s attempt at humor made me feel sort of ashamed because none of them were even slightly amusing. There were many points in the film where I just felt bored and wondered about the technical things. For instance, I thought about the repercussions that would happen in the book if the characters were suddenly taken off the pages. I thought of the “exchange” that had to happen–if one was to be transported into the book, wouldn’t it make more sense if someone comparable would be taken out of the book? There were a plethora of plotholes and by the end of it, I was just tired of being disappointed. Perhaps with a better direction other than Iain Softley, the translation from novel to film would have been better. I suggest not to waste time with this one. Even the kids would be bored out of their minds.