★ / ★★★★
A planet named Melancholia, about twice or thrice the size of Earth, was discovered to have been hiding behind the sun and was on its way toward us. Meanwhile, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) were newly married, left the church, and encountered limousine problems. Consequently, they were very late to their own party which reduced Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), Justine’s sister, and John (Keifer Sutherland), Claire’s husband, barely containing their frustration. The guests had been waiting for the couple to arrive for over two hours. Although Justine had a smile on her face throughout the party, much of her energy was spent trying to keep her major depression hidden. “Melancholia” astounded me in the worst ways possible. Did the end of the world montage prior to the title card needed to be so pretentious? For what felt like eternity, several characters, one curiously observing electricity coming out of her fingers, consistently occupied gorgeous backdrops but everything was in painful slow motion as the orchestra bombarded our eardrums, urging us that we were watching something epic. On the contrary, I found the sequence completely unnecessary not only because it was trying too hard to impress, but because it extirpated our feelings of anticipation. By confirming that Melancholia would eventually hit our beloved planet, I didn’t feel horror or suspense with or for the characters as they eventually faced the reality that they’d been given. Regardless, I enjoyed select scenes during the wedding party. Justine and Claire’s mother (Charlotte Rampling) was fascinating as an aging woman who despised marriage, its rituals, and the confines it set for its participants. As she moped about in the restroom–darkly amusing because it gave John, only caring about how much he’d spent in order to throw a lavish party for the bride, intense rage–and stood bitterly in the corner while everyone celebrated, I was desperate to know more about her. Meanwhile, as Justine’s depression became more unbearable for her, nearly everyone treated her even worse, somehow convinced that she was just being selfish. Justine’s family knew about her condition. It didn’t make sense why they weren’t more understanding especially since it was one of the most important days of her life. If the writer-director, Lars von Trier, had given us more background information about Justine’s relationship with her family, their cold disregard for her could have made sense. Since the screenplay didn’t allow us to understand in which angle each important family member was coming from, whether the sentiment was good or bad, I wondered why they even bothered to show up for the wedding. Halfway through, the film changed perspective. Instead of Justine’s crippling depression, it focused more on Claire’s increasing trepidation of dying. She obsessively checked the telescope and I cared less each time. I began to think about how other people from different cultures and different classes, maybe those who lived in the flavelas of Rio de Janeiro, saw the apocalypse. “Melancholia” was plagued with symbols of depression and doom but they had very little impact. I found myself needing to take Prozac because I began to feel depressed, not because of its subject matter but because I started to suspect that von Trier was eventually blasé with his work. For a movie that contained two planets–and sisters–colliding, it was insipid and, ironically, prosaic.
Survival of the Dead (2009)
★ / ★★★★
George A. Romero’s tired “Survival of the Dead” started off with two groups of people on an island with a vastly different approach in terms of dealing with the zombies. Group A, led by Kenneth Welsh, wanted to kill the zombies immediately while Group B, led by Richard Fitzpatrick, wanted to train the zombies to eat things other than humans. The first scene depicted Group A being exiled from the island. Cut to the soldiers (Alan Van Sprang, Athena Karkanis, Stefano DiMatteo) meeting a kid (Devon Bostick) as they attempted to decide their next destination. Some wanted to go North while the other said South but it didn’t really matter because we all knew they would end up on the island. I will always thank Romero for making a big impact in the horror genre for the classic “Night of the Living Dead” but what he needs to do now is to stop making these limp and cliché-ridden sequels. The questions that were posed about the way the living dealt with the dead and fellow living people were painfully pretentious and heavy-handed. The two old men with polarizing opinions about what to do with the zombies felt contrived. At one point, one of them stated that they’ve been rivals ever since the school yard. I thought they were immature, selfish and weren’t as strong or macho as they wanted others to believe. With the amount of arguing they had throughout the picture, I was surprised they weren’t killed off in the very beginning. I found nothing inspiring from “Survival of the Dead” because it simply featured a group people making one stupid decision after another. There was nothing scary about the zombies because they were slow-moving and the make-up was so obvious that it borderlined camp. Furthermore, it did not have a firm grasp on delivering tension that lingers. Too often did it rely on the score to tell us what was scary or amusing and I did not appreciate being spoon-fed what to feel and think. I wanted scenes where we were forced to follow a character in a dark, tight spaces, and all we could hear were silence and the character’s footsteps. It should have given us more scenes we could relate to whether there was a danger of a zombie attack or not. There was not one character in this film that I could root for because it spent too much time tackling trite moral questions instead what it meant for these specific characters to survive in world where hope seemed like a thing of the past. Even more disappointing was the fact that it didn’t even have that much blood. If one is looking for some scares, intelligence and creativity, I suggest to stay away from this generic supposed gorefest.
Remember Me (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Robert Pattinson stars as Tyler who had issues with dad (Pierce Brosnan) because Tyler still blamed him for his older brother’s suicide. Tyler also believed that dad did not spend enough time with his daughter (Ruby Jerins), a very gifted budding artist who was often bullied by other girls in her class. However, life started to get a little brighter when Tyler met Ally (Emilie de Ravin), the daughter of a cop (Chris Cooper) who unfairly arrested Tyler the night before. I would have liked this film more if it had stuck to being a typical romantic drama about finding, losing and regaining romance. Instead, it pulled a ridiculous “twist” in the end that was totally unnecessary which, I have to admit, made me feel angry and emotionally cheated. I’ve read other reviews and others seem to have been moved by the final act because they claimed it was “shocking” or “revelatory.” I thought it was pretentious and it was done for mere shock value. It was unfortunate because I actually enjoyed this picture in parts. I loved how Tyler was an active role model in his sister’s life. He always gave her support and I felt his pain for losing his older brother who he obviously looked up to. He was often histrionic whenever his father was around but I understood where the anger came from because the father was a workaholic and it seemed like he did not want to spend time with his children. Tyler was blind to the fact that the job was his father’s defense mechanism. The personal struggles of the characters interested me even though at times the story was somewhat unfocused. It had too many subplots which was comparable to a pretty good two-hour pilot of a television show. I know that the shocker of an ending aimed to comment on the consequences of reconnection happening too late in the game and that we should be willing to forgive others but it was too heavy-handed for my liking. The performances were fine: Pattinson, unsurprisingly, was good at brooding and was able to deliver intensity (accompanied by glares) when required, I felt Brosnan’s coldness and charm at the same time, and de Ravin was precocious. The only one I found to be truly annoying was Tate Ellington as Pattinson’s roommate. His voice was not the kind of voice I would like to wake up to in the morning. In the end, “Remember Me,” written by Will Fetters and directed by Allen Coulter, was crushed by its own ambition. It was not aware of the line between true emotional impact and exploitation. The former is earned while the latter is not.
A Scanner Darkly (2006)
★★ / ★★★★
Based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, “A Scanner Darkly” was about a cop (Keanu Reeves) who was assigned to spy on his group of friends in order to capture a guy named Bob Arctor. But it turned out that the main character and the man that the cops were interested in was the same person; Bob, like many people, was addicted to a drug called Substance D which supposedly induced multiple personality disorder. Directed by Richard Linklater, “A Scanner Darkly” is one of those movies that is full of promise but it gets in the way of itself because too many questions were asked but very few (if any) were answered in a clear way so I couldn’t help but feel cheated. For instance, I was curious about the real underlying effects of the drug in question. Some addicts experienced hallucinations such as bugs taking over their bodies, others experienced drunken stupor, while some were always on the verge of euphoria. It then begs the question whether the drugs’ effects were somehow connected to our personalities. I wanted to know more about the science and the effects of the drug in the brain. There were scenes that tackled the drug’s effects on the brain (I liked how it related the whole phenomenon to split-brain patients) but they were superficial at best. Maybe it wasn’t that shocking to me because I’ve seen split-brain experiments in real life. I didn’t care much about the friends (one of which was played by Robert Downey Jr.) acting stupid and asking “insightful” questions that led nowhere. The scenes with the friends made me feel like the movie was way into itself; instead of trying to pull me in, it made me question whether the story was really going anywhere. I do have to say that the animation was enjoyable because it added an extra dimension to the project. Everyone pretty much led their lives half-awake so that lucid tone made me feel like I was one of them. I liked that the animation was there to highlight certain facial expressions and quirks to convey certain truths behind the dialogue so it didn’t feel much like a gimmick. I thought the animation worked especially well in scenes where characters experienced hallucinations. Nevertheless, I wish the movie spent more of its time in engaging us instead of teasing us with its vast ideas. It was borderline pretentious. I felt like there was a disconnect (when it should have been clearly connected) in exploring the relationship between the drug world/addicts and the very same people who wanted to eliminate the drug off the streets. The main character embodied both worlds but the way the story unfolded left me hanging, somewhat confused, and frustrated. It’s definitely a different movie experience but I think it makes a good double-feature with Linklater’s other film “Waking Life.”
Broken Flowers (2005)
★★ / ★★★★
It all started with a pink letter from an old flame with a message written in red that Don Johnston (Bill Murray) is a father of a nineteen-year-old boy. Don, having been dumped by his most recent girlfriend (Julie Delpy), is serious about finding the mother of his son so he makes a list of his former lovers and visits them across America. I liked the premise of the film but the execution was a bit weak for me. I thought the set-up of the story went for too long: the scenes with Jeffrey Wright as Don’s friend who’s enthusiastic about everything may be amusing once in a while but most of their scenes together did not really contribute to the big picture. When Murray finally met the various women in his life (Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton), the picture only spent about five minutes for the characters to interact. Five minutes would have worked with a more efficient director or writing but this film needed an extra ten or fifteen minutes with each women. It simply wasn’t enough and was somewhat unforgivable because I thought that the movie was supposed to be about a man who realized how much he missed out on these women and why he was now a lonely aging guy with no wife and child. Those intermissions after he met each women which consisted of driving around and sleeping could have instead been used to explore his former relationships and why some of them were very unhappy when they saw him. It was such a shame because the actresses featured are very talented and they really could’ve elevated this film to a new level. Instead, I felt that it was ashamed to explore the underlying emotions and would rather take the route of dry comedy with too many coincidences and potential explanations. Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, if it weren’t for Murray’s performance, I would’ve been more critical of this film because it was borderline pretentious about the journey of a lonely man. Those little character quirks such as the lead character’s desperation to find anything pink that might give him a clue to who was the one who sent him the letter took me out of the experience. A similar storyline reminded me of Adam Brooks’ “Definitely, Maybe” only that picture was a lot more fun to watch because it had small payoffs throughout even though it was a more typical Hollywood fare. I say see it for Murray because he really does nail characters who says a thousand words with silence and glances. If only the material was able to match his talent.
Beautiful Ohio (2006)
★ / ★★★★
Chad Lowe’s directoral debut is rather difficult to get through because it doesn’t rise above the stereotypes regarding depressing suburban drama. William Hurt and Rita Wilson have two sons: David Call, a certified genius in mathematics, and Brett Davern, who is rather ordinary. Michelle Trachtenberg complicates the storyline by filling in the role as the not-so-girl-next-door who the two brothers happen to be attracted to. The first part of the film is rather interesting because it explores the jealously between the two brothers–mainly Davern struggling to live in his big brother’s shadow versus stepping out of it. I could relate to the two brothers because they pretty much have nothing in common except for their unconventional parents. Things quickly went downhill from there because the dialogue mostly consisted of the characters discussing theories, influential musicians and citing quotes from renowned individuals. Their pretentiousness created this wall between me and the characters. Therefore, when something dramatic happens to a particular character or a revelation occurs, I found myself not caring. I didn’t find anything particularly profound that drove the story forward either. Lowe really needed something above the whole parents-not-really-caring-about-their-children idea because it’s all been done before by better films. Davern reminded me of Emile Hirsch in “Imaginary Heroes,” which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but without the nuances of pain and complexity. If Lowe had explored the common theme of characters not understanding each other (literally through language or emotionally) in a more meaningful and not a heavy-handed manner, this picture would’ve worked. The revelation about a certain character in the end felt out of place. Don’t waste your time with this one.