★★★ / ★★★★
Based on the novel by Jack Ketchum, “Red” was about a man’s (Brian Cox) quest to find justice for the meaningless murder of his dog by three teenagers (Noel Fisher, Kyle Gallner, Shiloh Fernandez), each with varying responsibilities regarding the crime. This little indie gem was a pleasure to watch because it was able to play around with characters who chose to do things that were sometimes morally gray. The question about where to draw the line after seeking justice but not getting it was constantly at the forefront. While I was immediately against the teenager who pulled the trigger and caused the death of the old dog, Cox’ (eventual) thirst for vengeance left me questioning whether he was still capable of logical thinking. I was interested to see what would happen next because the lead character was very multidimensional. He was the kind of character that I could empathize with right away but he was not the kind of character that I necessarily understood right off the bat because of the wall he put around himself. But when he finally opened up about how angry, sad, lonely and tormented he was regarding what happened to his family and the event that changed their lives forever, I felt where he was coming from: why he couldn’t let go of the dog’s death, why he wanted the boys (and their father) to own up to their responsibilities, and why the concept of justice was so important to him. The way he told the story of what really happened to his family left strong images in my head to the point where I felt like I was watching something incredibly horrific. I also liked the fact that there were a lot of unsaid and untackled issues but such things were simply implied. It made me want to read the novel because most adaptations to film do not really get the chance to paint the entire picture. I must commend Brian Cox for his excellent performance. The way he quickly juggled dealing with his character’s physical limitations and inner demons left me nothing short of impressed. “Red” is not your typical revenge film so if you’re expecting a “Kill Bill” sort of movie, this may not be for you. However, if you’re more into character studies, exploring the way the justice system (and humans in general) treats animals, and judging how much particular characters should be punished, this film should be quite enjoyable.
Fast & Furious (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
Vin Diesel and Paul Walker return for the fourth installment of “The Fast and the Furious” franchise. The two find a common enemy but with completely different motivations. Diesel wants revenge for the death of the woman he loves (Michelle Rodrigues), while Walker, now working for the FBI, is assigned to arrest the ringleader of a drug importer in Mexico. I actually was less interested in the story and character development (though there was barely any here) and wanted to see more intense car chases. Whenever a scene doesn’t focus on the chases, the characters manage to talk like robots consisting of lame and laughable one-liners. The one that really made me laugh was when Jordana Brewster and Walker were talking in a cafe. Brewster tried to be insightful by saying something like, “Ever think of the possibility that you’re really a bad guy pretending to be a good guy?” Walker responds by saying that he does, pretty much all the time. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes (and laugh) because I felt like I was watching a really bad soap opera. I would’ve liked this movie a lot more if it took the “Transporter 2” route and embraced its cartoonish nature instead of trying to pretend like something it’s not. I came into this movie expecting exciting car sequences and I got just that. And it was nice to see Walker and Diesel team up once again because they really do have an interesting brotherly chemistry. But I’m not recommending the movie because the writer (Chris Morgan) and director (Justin Lin) tried to inject too many banal scenes where characters are moping around and wasting time. Brainless teenagers will most likely enjoy this flick because it’s undeniably a lowbrow entertainment that features nothing more than insightful than fast cars and big explosions.
Bride Wars (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
The trailers were more fun than the actual movie. Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson star as two best friends who, due to a clerical error, were scheduled to have their weddings on the same day. Since the two had their weddings all planned out since childhood, neither lets go of the day and they try to exact revenge on each other instead of dealing with the problem at hand like sane individuals. Having said that, I eventually saw the potential in this film when the two characters started to feel guilt for their actions. I wish the picture had focused more on that instead of the silly (and really ugly) pranks. Yes, the pranks were funny on the surface but there’s an inherent sadness and shame about the whole thing because the audiences are forced to see two best friends destroy each other’s lives. The pranks did not just impact the wedding but their careers and relationship with other people as well. In my opinion, the ending should have been more grim instead of the whole saying-“Sorry”-makes-everything-all-better approach. I doubt that Hathaway would want to be remembered in this wedding-themed movie because, although I love her in pretty much anything (including this one), the script was really weak and the message was way too obvious to fully engage an intelligent audience. While watching “Bride Wars,” I wished I was watching “Rachel Getting Married” instead because at least that one featured a character that was edgy, unlikeable and complex. In “Bride Wars,” everything felt so light and sugar-y to the point where it ended up getting kind of dull. I don’t consider it completely horrible because I like the cast. (Other than the leads, I also enjoyed watching Candice Bergen, Kristen Johnston, Bryan Greenberg, Steve Howey and Chris Pratt.) But it’s not something that I’ll recommend to people other than those who are specifically looking for something harmless and forgettable.
Prom Night (1980)
★ / ★★★★
I decided to see this classic (but horrendous) slasher flick because I was curious about how different it was compared to the 2008 version. Although both are pretty bad, I can stand this one a bit more because I could sympathize with Jamie Lee Curtis’ character. Even though she’s not in it as much as I wanted her to (considering she’s the supposed star of the film), she made the best of her scenes, especially that dated dancing sequence during the prom. After six years of a little girl’s death, a masked serial killer decides to kill one by one those who are responsible. It’s a simple premise that could’ve been effective. Unfortunately, the stalker scenes lacked suspense, the kills weren’t creative and all of the characters are one-dimensional. That’s a common trap in the slasher film subgenre: the teenagers often are defined by their stereotypes: the nerdy one, the one who loses her virginity during prom, the nice girl, the jealous ex-girlfriend, the list goes on. Paul Lynch, the director, should’ve taken those stereotypes and turned them inside out. That way, it wouldn’t be as predictable. I also had a problem with its pacing. After its introduction, the camera merely follows the characters around prior to the prom. Nothing interesting happens: there’s no insightful dialogue, no genuinely funny or embarrassing moments, fashion disasters–things that do happen in real life. I also must point out the empty schoolgrounds and streets. When a particular character was walking around in the morning or in the middle of the afternoon, one would expect to see people walking their dogs, jogging, or even driving in their cars. In here, those things were noticeably absent so it got distracting. I do not recommend this picture to general audiences because it does get a bit slow. However, this is a must-see for horror film buffs because it does make references to better slasher movies like “Psycho” and “Halloween.”
★★ / ★★★★
This second part of the trilogy confused me. It started off with promise because it focuses on the ugly divorce between Julie Delpy and Zbigniew Zamachowski. Even though I thought the story would revolve around Delpy, Zamachowski is interesting because he’s vulnerable but he’s not above not taking revenge for the hateful things that Delpy did to him. After the divorce, Zamachowski ended up back in Poland and began acquiring wealth. He then hatched a plan to answer the questions that have been bothering him and decided to return to Delpy’s life. The first and last part of this picture were effective because it embraced its atypical way of telling the story. One moment it’s a marriage drama but the next it’s a well-told dark comedy. However, the middle portion was too aimless for my liking. I constantly found myself trying to figure out where the story was going or if it was even planning on going anywhere. Zamachowski’s character who has been kicked around like a homeless puppy by a handful of individuals spent too much time feeling sorry for himself. It works in some segments of the film because it makes the audiences root for him, but spending too much time in a depressed state can lead to audiences’ ambivalence. Even as he started to gain wealth and power, he still felt sorry for himself. Whatever happened to a depressed but strong protagonist like from its predecessor (played with such craft by Juliette Binoche)? I also missed the astute use of music and color in order to reveal certain layers of a character. This one barely had any and that frustrated me. If one is looking for an unconventional film that straddles the line between drama and dark comedy, this is the one to see. But if one is looking for something that’s rich in implications and technical ways of revealing certain aspects of characters without using words, avoid this one because it will disappoint.
The Sting (1973)
★★★★ / ★★★★
I’ve heard a lot of great things about this film back when I was not yet in love with the cinema but never actually tried to search for it. I recently got around to watching this picture because I was in the mood for a classic story about American con men. What I loved about “The Sting” is the partnership between Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Each of them brought something to the table that the other one lacked, so having them together on screen was a joy to watch. I’ve seen a few of Redford’s more modern movies but none of them comes close to his performance here. In the beginning of the film, I thought he looks like a man who’s just in it for the money (and maybe a little bit of revenge) but as the film unfolded, among the chicanery and greed, he surprised me. He played the character with such honesty and introspection to the point where I realized the real reason why he does the things he does. Even though he cons other people, he feels remorse and is aware that he’s just like anybody else: capable of loneliness and hoping for a break from it all. As for Newman, I haven’t seen him in a lot of movies but this convinced me that I should. Behind those bright blue eyes, I found a certain connection–a sort of power–that is hard to come by in modern cinema. I must also commend the director, George Roy Hill, for the excellent pacing and the way he told the story. Yes, the 1930’s look of the film is magnificient–from the shiny vintage cars, exquisite clothes, colorful buildings up to the certain dialects the characters used–but without that feeling of wide-eyed excitement, all of those elements would’ve gone to waste. I thought this picture had a nice balance between thrill and comedy. Even though it’s comedic 80% of the time, that 20% of darkness peeks at the audience from time to time and that’s when I really I got involved. I wish the movie explored that darkness a bit more because it reminded me of modern gangster films’ certain styles and attitude. On top of all that, “The Sting” has a handful of twists and double-crossing that I didn’t see coming. This is a must-see.
The Last House on the Left (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
I’m not going to say that this was predictable because I saw the 1972 version directed by the legendary Wes Craven. Garret Dillahunt, Riki Lindhome and Aaron Paul star as the three criminals running from the law who eventually come upon Sara Paxton and Martha MaxIsaac. After a series of numbing humiliations and assaults, with the help of Dillahunt’s son (Spencer Treat Clark), Paxton’s parents (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter) find out what happened to their daughter and they crave bloody vengeance. I must say that this was more thrilling the 1972 version. It was smart enough to tweak some of the details from the original to keep those who’ve seen the classic guessing. I also liked the fact that Dennis Iliadis, the director, provided some sort of backstory of Paxton’s character so the audiences will be able to sympathize with her more during the more gruesome scenes she has to go through. It has a different feel than most slasher movies coming out in 2009 because the camera tends to linger on the characters’ faces in silence to fully get the picture on how a particular character is feeling after or while going through a trial. However, what I didn’t like about it was that it’s a bit lighter than the original. Some of the implications are gone because this modern version feels like it wants to garner a wider audience. In other words, it’s more commercial in its storytelling, use of music and violence. When the credits started rolling, I asked myself whether I liked the film. The answer would be a “Yes.” But I also asked myself whether this modern interpretation of the original was necessary in the overall scope of horror cinema. The answer would be a resounding “No.” Yes, the classic may be dated but an upgrade is far from necessary. For a horror picture, this “House” has the thrills, blood and suspense but watching that gruesome rape scene again made me sick to my stomach. (But then again maybe that’s the point: To place shame on the audiences due to their willingness to pay ten bucks to see something brutal.)