Poseidon Adventure, The (2005)
★ / ★★★★
When the bomb that a group of terrorists planted on a luxury cruise ship went off, it caused the SS Poseidon to capsize. The survivors the story focused on were the ones who decided to find away to get out of the ship instead of those who waited to be rescued. Based on a novel by Paul Gallico, “The Poseidon Adventure” wasn’t compelling in any way because it was stripped of real human drama. There were a few very noticeable scenes that were missing. The crumbling marriage was a perfect example. The film didn’t show us the scene in which Richard (Steve Guttenberg) confessed to his wife (Alexa Hamilton) that he was having an affair with a masseuse (Nathalie Boltt) he met on board. Instead, we were left with the wife’s reaction after her husband had informed her. Naturally, she cried and there was yelling involved. Although we followed the Clarke family from beginning to end, we weren’t given the chance to become emotionally invested in them. Moreover, the terrorism angle felt forced and convoluted. A homeland security agent was supposed to be in charge of the safety of everyone on board. But I didn’t get the impression that he took his job seriously. There were shots of him looking serious while sitting in a corner and eventually pulling out his gun when it was so obvious that the terrorist was in front of him. I expected him to be a little more sleuth, like a real detective with thoughts in his brain, as opposed to a misunderstood, moody-looking teen. The scenes with one of the surviving terrorists felt like a poor excuse in trying to understand their psychology and, worse, their purpose. In the end, we learned nothing new. They planted the bomb because their superiors commanded them to do it. There was nothing enlightening about the ordeal so it should have been trimmed from the story. The picture should have been more focused on the individuals attempting to find an escape route. Sure, there were dead ends and they had to come up with alternative plans, but I wanted to see more of their physical struggles rather than watching the superiors in the Navy scrambling what they should do or not do. But I do have say that one of the lieutenants in charge of the rescue mission, Lieutenant Mercer (Matt Rippy), captured my interest. He was smart, calm, and commanded a confidence that was actually likable. I was surprised Rippy wasn’t cast as the husband because it seemed effortless for him to deliver charm and complexity paired with timing that felt right. Written by Bryce Zabel and directed by John Putch, “The Poseidon Adventure” was nonsensical, lacking in suspense, and lazy. The filmmakers’ idea of juggling its many characters was cutting from one scene to another without any sort of flow. Just because we get equal time in seeing the characters on screen, it doesn’t mean that we’re actually learning about them.
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.
Fright Night (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
Charley (Anton Yelchin) used to be a dweeb. His former best friend was Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a complete nerd whose hobbies consisted of dressing up and role playing. Charley’s recent surge to popularity earned him a girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots), and much cooler but insensitive guy friends (Dave Franco, Reid Ewing). Ed had a growing suspicion: that Charley’s new neighbor, Jerry (Colin Farrell), was vampire and he was responsible for their classmates’ sudden disappearances. Charley didn’t take Ed seriously. He thought Ed’s suspicion was a sad cry for them to be friends again. That is, up until Ed failed to show up to class the next day. “Fright Night,” written by Marti Noxon and Tom Holland, was a fast-paced vampire film, set in the suburbs of Las Vegas, equipped with modern twists to keep us interested. The characters were likable even though they weren’t always smart. We knew Charley was a well-meaning young adult because he considered and questioned if he was doing the right thing. The checkpoint that went off in his head was his best quality, but it was also what Jerry tried to exploit. The predator must exploit its prey’s weaknesses. There were predictable elements in the picture. For instance, we expected the characters who chose to run upstairs to hide from the blood-thirsty vampire to never make it out of the house alive. And they didn’t. Maybe they didn’t deserve to. After all, with all the references thrown in the air, the teens must’ve seen a vampire movie or two prior to being vamp food. However, the writing was self-aware of the conventions and it wasn’t afraid to throw allusions to the original film, vampire movies, and literature. Though the expected happened, I felt as though it was more concerned with giving the audiences a good time. I loved its somewhat elliptical storytelling. The rising action was often interrupted by a mini-climax. The drawn-out set-up of investigating, hiding, being hunted, and escaping worked quite effectively. By giving us small but fulfilling rewards, it kept us wondering what would happen next. Still, the story could have used more character development. Charley’s mom (Toni Collette) felt like a cardboard cutout of an unaware parent. She knew her son had unique interests but to not question him seriously when their neighbor seemed to have a genuine complaint in terms of privacy being breached felt too convenient. Charley’s mom seemed like a tough woman but she wasn’t given room to grow. What the film needed less was of the self-described vampire expert/magician named Peter Vincent (David Tennant). Obviously, he was necessary for comic relief. I laughed at his ridiculousness, but what I had a difficult time accepting was the fact that he could survive a vampire attack multiple times. His backstory was sloppily handled. I commend “Fright Night,” directed by Craig Gillespie, for taking the original as an inspiration and telling a different kind of story. Its flaws didn’t matter as much because it had fun. It sure is more interesting than a shot-for-shot remake of the original which most likely would have forced us to ask why they even bothered.
Death at a Funeral (2010)
★ / ★★★★
A dysfunctional family dispersed all over the country came together for a funeral. Secrets were revealed, drugs were accidentally taken, old flames encountered each other, a nude man decided to hang out on the roof and threaten suicide–but none of it was particularly funny because the movie was confined in going for the obvious laughs. Even worse, the picture was directed by Neil LaBute (“In the Company of Men,” “The Shape of Things”), so I expected a certain level of wit, intelligence and insight in terms of what it meant to mourn and how one’s opinion of somebody else would change when a critical piece of information was revealed. Instead, the movie focused on the surfaces of problems aided by weak acting by otherwise good actors. I did enjoy James Marsden as Zoe Saldana’s high-as-a-kite boyfriend who took some “vicodin” but I wish I could have known him more. I wanted to know how it was for him to constantly be rejected by her father because the father thought the boyfriend was not good enough for his daughter. Of course, there was the race issue which the film constantly brought up but it never tackled the subject with elegance or even an ounce of respect. Being a person of color, even I thought some of the things that were said or the way certain scenes were executed were borderline racist. It made me feel uneasy but I highly doubted it was on purpose as a LaBute project (more commonly) would like its audiences to feel. Chris Rock, as one of the deceased’s sons and arguably where the heart of the film should have been, played a blabbering fool and I did not feel any ounce of sadness because his father died. He let his rivalry with his successful brother (Martin Lawrence) get in the way of spending final moments with his father. In the end, I grew to dislike both of them because they so self-centered. If I had been in that funeral with them, I would have showed them a piece of my mind. I’m not saying that the film needed to be sad because we were at a funeral. My point is that it should have had a sense of balance between sensitivity and willingness to push the envelope. The characters were all the same when they should have been different from one another. Not everybody had to run around screaming or yelling. What about the silent man in the corner? “Death at a Funeral” is a remake but I’m not going to bother comparing this to the original because, as I’ve always said, each work has to stand on its own. This movie failed on multiple levels because it wasn’t willing to look inside itself. It had no idea between having a twisted sense of humor (which I love) and featuring idiocy from one scene to the next until the credits.
Clash of the Titans (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Perseus (Sam Worthington), a demi-god who was unaware that Zeus (Liam Neeson) was his father, decided to take revenge on Hades (Ralph Fiennes) for killing the family that raised him. On a bigger scope, the gods were upset with man because they stopped praying (it’s the source of their power); man was upset with the gods because their quality of life was not as great as it used to be. Both sides could not seem to understand where the other was coming from so the two sides waged war. I think this remake generated a great load of negative reviews because a lot of fans of the 1981 version couldn’t (or wouldn’t) accept the changes that this updated version had to offer. It’s completely understandable because we all have our fond memories of certain older movies but those who choose to compare the 2010 to the 1981 version, half the time, are not completely objective. Furthermore, half of the objective reviews had a problem with this movie’s interpretation of the gods–who they were, their motivations, their powers. A lot of questions such as, “Why change this?” or, “Why change that?” quickly get tiresome so I ask, “Why not?” From my share of films involving Greek mythology, none of them 100% follow how the gods were like from the original source. Therefore, I think it was unfair that this specific movie received negative reviews for being inaccurate. For me, it was simple: I saw “Clash of the Titans” from an fantasy-action-adventure perspective and pretended I had no knowledge of who the gods were or how they were supposed to act. From that angle, I thought it worked because the action sequences were exciting (I loved the scene with the giant scorpions), the CGI was well-done even though there were times when it was obvious that the filmmakers used a green screen, and I had fun with how seriously it took itself because there were a handful of unintentionally funny moments. I also liked the fact that this did not follow the overrated film “300” in terms casting men with buldging muscles and constantly (and painfully) showcasing hypermasculinity. It was nice that I don’t have to look at fake abs and men constantly having to prove their manhood by yelling at each other. In other words, it was more focused on trying to tell a story despite the oversimplification of the politics between god and man. Directed by Louis Leterrier, “Clash of the Titans” was no doubt in need of more heart and complexity, especially Worthington’s character, but I do not believe it is as egregious as everyone claims it to be. If one leaves nostalgia out the door, one can see some potential here. Although I would have loved to have seen the Kraken for more than three minutes.
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.
Nightmare on Elm Street, A (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Five teenagers (Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara, Thomas Dekker, Katie Cassidy and Kellan Lutz) with a mysterious past tried the best they could to not fall asleep because a killer named Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) wanted to murder them in their dreams causing the teenagers to die in actuality. Being a big fan of the original, I’m happy with this reimagining (falsely labeled as a remake) of 1984’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” What I liked about it was the fact that it was more story-driven but the jump-out-of-your-seats scares were still there. While the acting from the teenagers was nothing special (and I am a fan of Gallner and Dekker), I did enjoy Haley’s interpretation of the infamous dream killer. The playful personality was still there but I felt like this version of Freddy had more darkness in him. I thought it was creepy how he would let a teenager escape for kicks only to kill the person without remorse once he had this fun. Out of the series, I think this installment had the best visual effects and such were used in an interesting way. (Although I also very much enjoyed Wes Craven’s “New Nightmare.”) For instance, when a character was in a dream and he or she was on the verge of waking up, the images of the dream world and reality would mix. So in a way, the visual effects weren’t just used for kicks. They were used to enhance the experience. However, I did wish that the writers would have had more fun with the characters in terms of finding ways to stay awake. Other than taking stimulating drugs or slapping themselves silly, I wish that a character decided to watch happy movies to get rid of his bad thoughts, hoping that if negative feelings are out of his system, he wouldn’t have nightmares. I’m sure we all know people who take that approach and it would have been nice if that movie acknowledged those people and scared them a bit (or even more). Another issue I had with the film was its use of laughably bad one-liners especially from Freddy. Without the silly lines, I think I would have taken him more seriously. I’m aware that this version wants to pay some sort of homage to its predecessors but the movie could have done it by simply taking all the positive things from them and taking it to the next level. They should have left the bad qualities out the door. Maybe the silly one-liners worked back then because there were a plethora of horror movies coming out at the time but they just don’t work nowadays because we are currently experiencing a drought of exemplary horror pictures. Nevertheless, “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” directed by Samuel Bayer, managed to hit some high points especially with its creative ways of killing. I was very happy with the body bag scene (my favorite scene in the original–every time I think about it, I get goosebumps) but it could have been scarier without the corny lines.
Crazies, The (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
A remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 original of the same name, “The Crazies” was about a man (Timothy Olyphant) and his wife’s (Radha Mitchell) struggle for survival when a strange chemical started affecting their friends and neighbors. At first, the infected would have a fever but after two days, they would exhibit strange behaviors which ranged from catatonia to full-on violence like killing their families or random strangers. I was surprised with how good this movie was because most of the reviews I read expressed disappointment. I really liked that this film, directed by Breck Eisner, knew how to build suspense and had a pay-off every ten to fifteen minutes so I was engaged with what would happen next. I loved the way it used tight spaces to its advantage, such as the horrifyingly terrific scenes in the morgue and the car wash. When at its best, it reminded me of the relentless scenes in “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later.” Unfortunately, the film had its drawbacks thirty minutes into it when the military started taking over the small town. Prior to that, I thought the movie was fantastic because it felt personal. The main characters had no idea what was going on and slowly but surely, the safe life they were so used to living was broken by very strange and creepy happenings which started during a baseball game. With the military in the picture, it became cold and impersonal. Having said that, since this was a remake, I knew that it still had to remain loyal to its original source. However, I felt as though the movie could have minimized the military scenes, which they did during the last twenty or so minutes. But maybe this version minimized the politics as much as they could. I’m not sure because I haven’t seen the original. The movie was at its best when the lead characters who were easy to root for were placed in paranoid situations in which they either had to hide from an infected or think that a friend had the virus and it was only a matter of time until they wouldn’t be on the same side anymore. “The Crazies” was fun to watch because when it’s serious, it gets pretty scary, but it had unintentionally funny lines. It reminded me of a hybrid among the zombie pictures mentioned earlier, “The Happening” and the highly underrated “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” back in 2003. It could have used a little more brain and character development but those elements were the furthest things in my mind when the characters were being attacked from left and right in the most gruesome ways possible.
Wolfman, The (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Set in a Victorian-era Great Britain, “The Wolfman” told Lawrence Talbot’s (Benicio Del Toro) horrific transformation and the bloody mayhem he caused after surviving a werewolf attack. Emily Blunt and Anthony Hopkins also star as Lawrence’s delicate sister-in-law and mysterious father. I think this movie would have benefited greatly if it had a shorter running time. Even though the middle portion had a number of exciting scenes with bucketloads of blood and body parts flying around, it lagged because the character development felt forced. It was almost as if the movie was following a pattern of one werewolf attack after fifteen to twenty minutes of dull conversations. The acting also could have used a bit more consistency: I felt like Blunt was stuck in a sappy romantic period piece, Hopkins doing another rendition of his character in “The Silence of the Lambs,” and Del Toro was left in the middle of it all and sometimes looking confused. As for the werewolf hunter played buy Hugo Weaving, I found it difficult to root for him (or were we even supposed to?) because he lacked charm and power. He was just desperate and angry throughout the entire film and I needed to see another dimension. Moreover, I found the flashback scenes to be completely unnecessary (and irksome). Instead of cutting those out and leaving the audiences to interpret what they think happened in the past (the character did a lot of talking so the pieces were certainly there), everything was spelled out so the picture lacked a much-needed subtlety. However, there were a few stand-out scenes that I thought had real sense of dread: when Del Toro rushed into the fog to rescue a gypsy kid from the werewolf and all we could see were rocks and fog, the scene in the asylum where doctors from all over gathered to witness a “cured” man who “thought’ he was a werewolf, and the scene where Del Toro first transformed into a monster. Like most horror movies, even though this picture delivered the gore and the violence, it lacked focus because the writing was not strong enough. There was a lack of a natural flow from one scene to the next so the film at times felt disjointed and I was left to evaluate where we were in the story instead of focusing on what was happening on screen at the time. “The Wolfman,” directed by Joe Johnston, was a nice attempt at a solid horror film about cursed humans who were slaves to the full moon but it ultimately came up short. It’s not a bad DVD rental but I wouldn’t rush to see it in theaters.