Tag: rosario dawson

Sidewalks of New York

Sidewalks of New York (2001)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Sidewalks of New York,” written and directed by Ed Burns, is the kind of picture for audiences who love to listen to interesting people talking about their lives—specifically, what they think of the idea of love versus what it actually is; how they perceive relationships and how it ought to work; how they define sex and how it relates to their own definition of happiness or contentment. The work does not offer the expected three-act structure which is appropriate given its faux-documentary feel. Rather, it employs a freewheeling approach, warm and always welcoming, daring to draw a smile on those willing to look closely and listen. It is not demanded that we judge, but it asks that we relate.

Credit to the casting by Ali Farrell and Laura Rosenthal for choosing effortlessly charismatic performers who are also capable of delivering a spectrum of emotions especially during closeups when the camera aims to capture every bit of tic and twitching of facial muscles. Every person we meet is a curiosity in some way. Although there is interconnection among them, it is refreshing that they do not all meet by the end, forced into a ludicrous situation by a tired setup. Its restraint in handling how the story is presented is quite admirable. Similar works within the sub-genre has shown it is difficult to balance a laidback attitude while maintaining a consistent forward trajectory. Not once does it lose its way.

Particularly intriguing among the strong batch of actors is David Krumholtz, portraying a Jewish doorman named Ben who is convinced he has found love (Brittany Murphy) after having been divorced (Rosario Dawson). In a way, the character represents young idealism; he goes after what he perceives to be love with great enthusiasm and boundless energy, like a puppy given freedom to play and roam at a park on a holiday weekend. But observe closely and recognize his greatest fear: that his life would constantly be defined by the divorce that permanently destroyed a part of him. An important detail of the character is his penchant for music of the past. What is music but love in melody form?

Burns’ screenplay makes numerous smart choices. I enjoyed that even the most unlikable character, played by Stanley Tucci, is given dimension. Yes, the dentist is a womanizer, cheating on his wife (Heather Graham) with a nineteen-year-old waitress (Murphy) at every opportunity, so brazen and obvious about it that everyone at his workplace knows that his “lunch hour” is really a “quickie” trip to a hotel, but the character is shown under a tragic light, too. It is not necessary that we like him; however, it is crucial that we recognize the sadness not only in his situation, especially that he isn’t getting any younger, but also in his desperation. Clearly, he is not built to be in a monogamous relationship and yet he forces himself to fit within such a box. Griffith, so convinced he is always in control, is a product of his environment more than he realizes or care to admit. While some viewers may detest him for his actions, I felt pity for him.

The aforementioned extremes show why the movie works. It does not attempt to write a rulebook on relationships or its trials and tribulations. Rather, the picture is concerned with excavating details from underneath the surface, just like how Burns hopes that the audience comes to appreciate New York not just through its reputation or word-of-mouth but in actually looking at the small details like graffitis on walls, diverse groups of people walking down the street, the noises in the background. It is both a contemporary comedy and a love letter to a place and community that the writer-director clearly loves and respects.


Trance (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

The heist, needless to say, does not go as planned. During the chaos amidst toxic fumes and people rushing to the egress, Simon (James McAvoy) was supposed to peacefully hand a multimillion pound painting to Franck (Vincent Cassel). Instead, Simon attacks Franck which leads to the former being struck on the head with a gun. Meanwhile, the latter thinks he has gotten away with the painting, but when he actually opens the container in his hideout, it is empty. Simon, now considered a hero by the media for attempting to stop the thief, is not better off. Because of the hard blow to the head, he cannot seem to remember where he hid the painting.

“Trance,” written by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, is surprisingly successful given that it has a myriad twists and turns where some of the answers remain vague for the most part. It could have been just another gimmicky heist picture where not one character can be trusted, but underneath it all is a passion for storytelling. Red herrings are aplenty but the material actually welcomes us to want to get to know the deceitful people on screen.

It runs from its cage at breakneck pace without being incomprehensible. It is a challenge to figure out how the pieces of the puzzle fit together but they are all there so we do not feel cheated. In particular, I enjoyed trying to figure out which courses of action the characters may regret later. It is an engaging thriller because it sticks with the template that when something is going right a little too much or if getting something seems too easy, you get an uneasy feeling that it will all fall apart in a matter of seconds. Even though we expect them, the pitfalls hold excitement.

The three leads—McAvoy, Cassel, and Rosario Dawson as a psychologist who has been hired to induce hypnosis on Simon in order to help him remember the location of the painting—look appealing on camera and share good chemistry. They play their respective characters with a level of mystique and sex appeal which makes them dangerous. And because we are made to understand that they each have an endgame, one relying on smarts over violence (or vice-versa) over others, we are curious who will come out on top. Who should is an entirely different question.

Some may be repelled with the director’s techniques. He has the tendency to put too much on screen that it ends up distracting at times. For example, there are scenes running together—one involves the reality of the hypnotherapy and the other takes a look into Simon’s fantasy—which are coupled with music that demands attention as well as a gamut of colors where certain shots look like they ought to be framed and put in an exhibit. While the director is no stranger to playing with kaleidoscopic media, sometimes simplicity is the best approach. There is merit to claims that the picture can be overwhelming at times.

Directed by Danny Boyle, “Trance” requires complete attention to be understood. Even so, that still may not be enough to see how all the pieces fit together. There is great energy emanating from and within the twisty events and so entertainment value remains consistent.


Unforgettable (2017)
★ / ★★★★

The would-be thriller “Unforgettable,” written by Christina Hodson and directed by Denise Di Novi, proves to be a disappointing watch because it could have been a trashy, campy flick with lead performers who are game to do whatever it takes to deliver a good time. Instead, what we are provided is yet another painfully generic Lifetime-like picture that lacks energy, intelligence, and well-earned thrills. In the middle of its barrage of boredom, I wondered: Who is the movie for? Why was it made?

Rosario Dawson and Katherine Heigl deserve better material to work with. They play Julia and Tessa, the former the fiancée of the latter’s ex-husband (Geoff Stults). Both surprised me in different ways. With Dawson, she is such a charismatic person, but this film has a knack for sucking the appeal out of her. Perhaps it is the manner in which the character is written; it fails to show us Julia’s strength for so long that we end up wishing to yell at her to do something smart or resourceful. The dialogue brings up that Julia is this strong person. However, entertainment comes from showing rather than telling.

Heigl is a delight as a psycho Barbie ice queen. I enjoyed the way she is able to tap into different emotions of being a cold-hearted person with using only her eyes at times. Having seen her in so many pedestrian, forgettable romantic comedies, I was delighted that in here she has found a way to communicate how the character feels without using words, whether it be a flick of the hair, how she stands so rigidly, how the corner of her mouth tightens up just a little when Tessa is given news that makes her feel less than. Another performer might have relied on the icy blond look and beautiful but emotionless face. Clearly, Heigl is the stronger (and more interesting) of the two co-leads.

There is barely a detectable dramatic parabola in the plot. While events happen, they do not build on a consistent manner. It almost always goes like this: Tessa recognizes an opportunity to make Julia’s life worse, she acts upon it in front of a computer in the dark, Julia responds to the situation but doesn’t recognize that the all too unfortunate event is no accident. Rinse and repeat. And so when the inevitably violent final act rolls around, there is an air of indifference since we know exactly how it is going to turn out. And just when you think it doesn’t get any worse, the final scene is all wrong. It hints at a possible sequel when there is barely anything to show in this film in the first place.

“Unforgettable” could have taken a page from Onur Tukel’s surprisingly effective “Catfight.” In that film, we understand the two women—their psychology, what motivates them, their end goals—and why they must eventually clash. Here, Julia and Tessa must fight only because the plot demands that they do. And in Tukel’s dark comedy, the violence is on an entirely different level that it has to be seen to be believed.

Top Five

Top Five (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Andre Allen (Chris Rock), star of the cheesy “Hammy the Bear” movies and voted by TIME as the “Funniest Man in America” in 2005, has a new picture coming out. His agent insists that he meets with Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), a writer for The New York Times, because good word-of-mouth from a respected source can boost ticket sales. Although Andre is reluctant to speak with her initially, especially due to scathing reviews by another writer in the Times, soon they grow comfortable around one another and swap stories of the roller coaster ride that is their lives.

Written and directed by Chris Rock, “Top Five” is an engaging, funny, and insightful film about a man who is struggling to redefine and reestablish himself. At the height of his celebrity, many people thought he was savagely funny, but behind a great comedian was an out-of-control alcoholic. Now sober, his audiences think that perhaps he has nothing else special to offer—now just chasing a spotlight that longer wants him.

The chemistry between Rock and Dawson singlehandedly elevates the material. When their characters are conversing, there is always an energetic interplay between them, as if underneath the layer were a playful dance. Included in this observations are the more dramatic scenes when there is friction between Andre and Chelsea. There is a theme involving a person having many identities. Sometimes these identities get confused and a part of learning to love another person is trying to embrace these identities even if it seems impossible to accept them initially.

Rock’s commentary about celebrity culture offers nothing new but there are enough refreshing details to avoid being reduced to cliché. Yes, it does skewer those who are obsessed with being followed by a camera, but the material also knows that they are human, too. Gabrielle Union plays Andre’s fiancée and she has one wonderful scene where she expresses her self-worth with painful clarity. I did not expect to come across that level of honesty in a movie that is supposed to be a light-hearted, modern love story.

What could have used some improvement are the flashbacks. While the comedy is well-timed and executed with verve, some do not have the necessary dramatic gravitas to serve as effective contrasts against the present, how Andre has changed for the better, more or less. If the ironies have been ironed out a little more, it might have made the protagonist, already likable, to become more sympathetic.

I enjoyed “Top Five” for its tiny nuggets of honesty about self-reflection, wanting to move on from a defining but unhealthy past, the yearning to reconnect with a passion and yet disconnect from the need to prove that one’s success is no fluke. The movie is funny but it also has a good story worth telling. A lot of comedies rest on the former and it is nice that once in a while a movie with a little more ambition comes around.


Zookeeper (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

Griffin (Kevin James), a zookeeper, takes his girlfriend, Stephanie (Leslie Bibb), to the beach on a horseback to propose marriage. She declines because she feels that he being zookeeper, though cute because of the uniform, is not a respectable profession for someone she hopes to spend the rest of her life with.

Five years later, Griffin is single and still a zookeeper. On his brother’s wedding, he spots Stephanie in the crowd and his feelings for her begin to resurface. It turns out the animals in the zoo (voiced by Nick Nolte, Adam Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Judd Apatow, Jon Favreau, Faizon Love, Maya Rudolph, Bas Rutten) can speak to one another and understand human language so they hold a meeting on how to help Griffin get the girl.

Directed by Frank Coraci, “Zookeeper” has several snappy dialogue, mostly between the animals, but it does not quite reach its full comedic potential because it is often weighed down by a romance that is dead on arrival.

Griffin is a kind person, one who will go out of his way to make sure that a friend or an animal is doing well, but he is a pushover and somewhat unaware of what people think of him as well as what they really want from him. The picture spends most of its time showing Griffin desperately trying to win Stephanie back. She is so unlikable, the complete opposite of Kate (Rosario Dawson), the zoo’s veterinarian and Griffin’s good friend, to the point where their scenes leave me either cringing or annoyed.

Would it have taken much effort from the writers to have written both women as having good and bad qualities? That way, allowing a certain level of uncertainty might compel us to feel more involved. Since the characterization is so thin and one-dimensional, from the moment Kate appears on screen, we know that Stephanie will get what she deserves.

I wanted to see Griffin interact more with the talking animals. The film does a good job in allowing Griffin to get to know Bernie (Nolte), a sad gorilla who has isolated himself from the other animals. Their trip to T.G.I.F. is completely ludicrous but it worked for me because it shows Griffin’s ability to sympathize and accept unconditionally, qualities that Stephanie does not (or cannot) show toward our protagonist.

It is not and should not be about whether the situation is believable. If the material has talking animals, the filmmakers better be confident in going all the way. They are and, in its own peculiar way, it works. I wished the screenplay had also given Griffin a chance to interact with the other animals in a meaningful way. For example, there are several lines which suggest that the elephant is teased by the other animals for being overweight. Since the movie is supposed to be for kids, there could have been a lesson or two about making fun of someone for being too fat or too tall or too weird.

Nevertheless, “Zookeeper” manages to keep itself afloat. Some of the dialogue, like the line involving parrots, is smart and it is easy to root for Griffin to find happiness. It just requires a little bit more rhythm in balancing the offbeat and the charm.


Unstoppable (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Frank (Denzel Washington), a train engineer, and Will (Chris Pine), a rookie train conductor, attempted to stop a runaway train of increasing speed and containing toxic chemicals before it reached a curve in the tracks and killed thousands of lives. A corporate employee (Rosario Dawson) guided them from behind-the-scenes, completely neglecting her boss’ orders of choosing to protect stocks instead of lives. Directed by Tony Scott and written by Mark Bomback, what I liked most about “Unstoppable” was it didn’t pretend to be philosophical or allegorical. It wasn’t even a satire of the media considering FOX News, an easy and deserving target, was covering the whole ordeal. It was simply about a train that was out of control and if the characters didn’t stop it, people would die. Naturally, there were clichés such as Will’s struggle at home involving his wife and not being able to be with his son and Frank missing his daughter’s oh-so-important birthday party. It was obvious the script wanted to infuse some heart in the two main characters so we would care about them when their lives would eventually be in danger. With their acts of heroism, despite their imperfections, we all knew both of them would be forgiven in the end. There was nothing new because its only aim was to entertain. On that level, I thought it was successful. I enjoyed the scenes when the train would collide onto cars and other trains, the cops’ ridiculous attempt of shooting at a target that would supposedly slow the train down but the target was right next to tank full of very combustable gas, and when the train would go slightly off-track as it leaned on one side over another. I caught myself trying to steer the train in the correct direction with my mind so I knew I was involved with all of the insanity. I did wish, however, that Scott wouldn’t have been so transparent with his camera work. He took the obvious path of making an action picture too many times to the point where I wondered if he would (or could) change up his technique. Shaking the camera, blurrying the scene, and increasing the volume of the score is a familiar action picture formula. It would have been nice if the director tried to surprise us my suspending our expectations in the air. For instance, an occasional use of silence or perhaps slow motion during the most critical times could have helped to build some level of suspense. Sometimes taking a risk, whether the outcome be success or failure, might go a long way. It’s better than being one-note and driving some audiences dizzy from all the movements. Still, “Unstoppable” was thrilling, sometimes amusing, and had energy to spare. Sometimes that’s all we need.

Men in Black II

Men in Black II (2002)
★ / ★★★★

Several years after Agent Kay’s (Tommy Lee Jones) memory had been erased, Agent Jay (Will Smith) kept having trouble with finding the right partner for him on the field. This was particularly problematic because there was an alien that landed on Earth which took the form of a supermodel (Lara Flynn Boyle) with plans of obtaining ultimate power by finding the so-called Light. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, “Men in Black II” fell into a trap of delivering bigger and better special and visual effects but dumbing the material down considerably. While its predecessor was smart in terms of delivering references of other science fiction pictures and television shows, the sequel was unfunny and downright disappointing. Instead of further exploring the partnership between Agents Kay and Jay, the movie focused on the aliens such as the annoying talking dog and two-headed alien played by Johnny Knoxville. I didn’t care about how the aliens looked like; I cared about the material’s level of imagination. There were also too many distracting and unnecessary cameos from Michael Jackson and Nick Cannon. What’s the point of making a cameo if their appearances weren’t even funny? Establishing the heart of the picture should have been easy. Since the two agents have been apart for so long, I wanted to know how they’ve changed over the years. For instance, their positions, in comparison to the first film, had essentially been switched around. Since they now had the chance to walk in each other’s shoes, how have their opinions of each other changed? Or was there even any change? What made the first one so enjoyable was not solely because of the visuals. It was because of Jones and Smith’s brotherly chemistry with a bit of friction on the side. In this installment, they were barely given a chance to interact in a meaningful way. They were constantly running around like kids in the playground. They didn’t seem to slow down but we grow tired of watching them because everything was recycled. I did like watching Rosario Dawson as a witness to a murder in a pizzeria but the script did not do her justice. Furthermore, the romance between her and Smith’s character was desperate and unconvincing. Their interactions were almost as awkward as the extended silences in between scenes when audiences were signaled that something funny just happened and it was their cue to laugh. I didn’t laugh. I wasn’t amused. I was angry because the freshness that I knew it should have had was not translated onto the screen. Perhaps the filmmakers thought we had been “deneuralized” and wouldn’t notice the fact that we’ve seen everything they had on here before.

Seven Pounds

Seven Pounds (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

I love Will Smith and Rosario Dawson but this film, directed by Gabriele Muccino, did not live up to its potential. The number seven was supposed to be special and I didn’t get to fully understand why it was important. The seven strangers that Smith was supposed to help weren’t fully explored. In some instances, we only get to meet a stranger once but never see him or her again. Instead, the picture chooses to focus on the romance between Smith and Dawson. Since it had a two-hour running time, I found no reason for the picture to not be able to do both. I think the director needed more time helming this project because some scenes either felt incomplete or too convoluted. The melodrama needed to be toned down as well. I’m usually a sucker for films that have a lot of melodrama but in here, I found the symbolism to be too heavy-handed. Instead of being organic and leaving the audiences to decide whether or not they should feel for a particular character, the movie makes that choice for the audiences by showing one sad scene after another. In the end, I was just frustrated with it all and I wanted it to end. If it weren’t for Smith and Dawson, I think I would’ve been harsher with “Seven Pounds.” I did enjoy them interact because they do have chemistry. I’ve always admired Dawson’s ability to balance beauty with an edgy attitude and this one is no exception. My favorite scene was when the two leads were in a field and Dawson claims she wants to run but she cannot because of her weak heart. She expressed that longing so effectively to the point where I teared up a bit. As for Smith, I’m glad that he doesn’t just appear in one action movie after another. This is a nice reminder that he can do dramatic roles and convince us that his character is suffering yet selfless even though the picture itself is barely above mediocre. If one is a fan of these two actors, I still say go see it. However, if one is looking for a film that is insightful and character-driven, go see something else because this one feels recycled.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006)
★★★ / ★★★★

This movie contains a powerful story supported by powerful performances. Shia LaBeouf and Robert Downey Jr. are great as younger and older Dito, respectively. LaBeouf proved to me that he can carry dramatic pictures as well as action pictures. I really felt for him as a teenager who wants to spread his wings and fly–to actually become someone he can be proud of–but cannot do so because his family and friends tie him down whether they are aware of it or not. Downey Jr. is electric when he conveys his character’s frustration and anger toward his parents (Chazz Palminteri and Dianne West). As a teenager, Dito’s father never really paid attention to him. In many scenes, Palminteri seems to want to get to know about his son’s friend (Channing Tatum) more than his own. And it’s really heartbreaking because LaBeouf couldn’t tell if his father truly loves him. Melonie Diaz as young Laurie and Rosario Dawson as the older Laurie are wonderful as well. It’s interesting because Diaz always reminded me of Dawson, so I found it funny that they actually played the same person. Diaz and Dawson have this uncanny ability of making me smile whenever they’re on screen. They’re so good at embracing their characters and the audiences get to really feel for their plight. Although there are many elements that this movie tried to tackle (some argue that it’s unfocused), I thought it was effective because all the confusion and unanswered questions reflect the craziness of the characters’ lives. But the scenes that really got to me were the parts during LaBeouf and his Scottish friend, Martin Compston, would talk to each other. LaBeouf’s character never really got to be himself around his other friends because it is implied that sensitivity is a weakness. With Compston, they are able to talk about each other’s needs, wants, and dreams. One can definitely translate their relationship in a romantic angle but ultimately I thought it was friendship at its finest. It was so touching whenever they’d talk about running away to California with their band. Although it’s hopeful, it’s also really sad because I could sense the desperation of the characters–to get out of where they currently live. Directed by Dito Montiel (yes, it’s based on real life), this film surpassed my expectations. I thought it the picture would be just about tough neighborhoods but it’s really about wanting to become someone… more.