I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
★★ / ★★★★
“I Know What You Did Last Summer” is a parade of beautiful actors looking tormented in a wan, straightforward slasher flick. There is not one surprising element here worthy of strong recommendation. It begins with a moral conundrum: While on their way home from the beach, four friends (Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr.) accidentally hit a pedestrian on the highway. Do they take responsibility and call the police or do they get rid of the body? There is no movie in the former choice and so once all is said and done, the story jumps a year later when Julie (Hewitt), now a failing freshman in university, receives an ominous note suggesting someone had seen them commit murder. Sure enough, Julie’s friends are killed one by one eventually—by order of importance: predictable, tedious. These scenes are not especially creative, memorable, or gruesome. I felt no glee from the filmmakers in wanting to entertain us. At least one or two chases are extended enough to create minimal tension. The work is based upon Lois Duncan’s novel of the same name, but we learn nothing about the four friends other than their superficial traits: Julie feels the most guilt, Helen and her vanity, Barry the tough guy, and Ray the bore (we learn the least about him—an obvious red herring). Why should we care about these people? It is not enough that a man (or woman) in a rain slicker with a hook wishes to kill them. And, just like forgettable horror pictures, it has the nerve to set up a sequel with—you guessed it—a lame jump scare. Directed by Jim Gillespie. Screenplay by Kevin Williamson.
The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) is known for defending scums of Los Angeles and has made many connections and resources that one way or another help him to win cases. When thirty-two-year-old Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) is taken to jail for allegedly assaulting a woman in her own home, Haller jumps at the opportunity to represent him because the family is rich and therefore profitable. However, the case is not as smooth sailing as Haller expected it to be when he learns that his client may have committed a similar crime prior.
“The Lincoln Lawyer,” based on the novel of the same name by Michael Connelly, reminded me of movies in the ’70s where men of certain professions who think they have it good, sometimes at the expense of others, are suddenly thrown into an emotional and psychological blender. And since the pressure is too much, they begin to wonder the value of their services and seriously consider if it is worth it to keep walking on the same path.
The film will appeal to those with interest in character studies. Right from the opening scene we are shown that Haller is slick, a smooth talker, and is highly intelligent—someone who you would want to be represented by if you got into serious trouble. He may not be the most sensitive guy in room but he knows how to get the job done and make it look effortless. McConaughey is so believable as an ace defense lawyer, I forgot that I was watching him until the inevitable bedroom scene in which he is required to take his shirt off.
The courtroom scenes command a silent intensity. There is no score that is meant to highlight game-changing revelations. Meaningful silences are kept at a minimum. The sense of humor is subtle and graceful. We wonder which direction the case is going to go.
A weakness of the picture is the push-and-pull between the former spouses. While Marisa Tomei can carry the clothes and the attitude of a lawyer, Maggie McPherson is not written as a whole person, someone who is formidable or daring enough to have married Haller in the first place. There is this phony conflict about McPherson feeling frustrated that her ex-husband works to keep bad guys from jail and she wanting to put them inside. It is ludicrous because she should have known that that comes with Haller’s job prior to marrying him in the first place. If she did not have a problem with in the past, why make a fuss about it now? The conflict feels superficial and contrived.
Nonetheless, “The Lincoln Lawyer,” based on the screenplay by John Romano and directed by Brad Furman, is well-acted and engaging. The supporting actors, particularly William H. Macy and Josh Lucas, fit their roles so well. Best of all, though it is a drama in its core with surrounding thriller elements, it entertains because it urges one to think about some of the rules behind attorney-client confidentiality and how it can be perverted to one’s advantage.
Wish Upon (2017)
★ / ★★★★
Mainstream horror pictures of today require an immediate and complete overhaul. Too many are unambitious and unfinished, some completely missing a critical third act designed to provide the catharsis necessary that paves the way for a satisfying experience—or at the very least a semblance of it. “Wish Upon” belongs in the dumpster of generic would-be horror films with nothing on its mind except presenting one expository sequence after another. It is utterly without suspense or thrills, not even one likable protagonist who plays a key role in deciphering the mystery and defeating the evil introduced.
It is a shame because the performers seem game with the roles they are provided. Joey King is a believable high school student, ordinary and unpopular, who just so happens to come across a music box with ancient Chinese characters all around it. It appears to have the power to grant its current owner seven wishes which, of course, comes with a cost. King is able to summon the required emotions of a teenager on the verge of breakdown, particularly during the latter half when the evil within the artifact has begun to push Clare to keep wishing… even though she knows she must not make any more.
Although a horror film, it is not at all scary. Instead of amplifying our curiosity about the item of interest, writer Barbara Marshall chooses to showcase one death sequence after another. I found it tedious, boring, lacking inspiration. Some of them are quite laughable. If I wished to watch elaborate death scenes that offer genuine suspense and tension, I’d watch the first two “Final Destination” movies instead. At least these films not only offer creative ways for characters to die, the main players are actually given the opportunity to explore or attempt to find ways to defeat the entity that hopes to end their lives.
There is a lack of drama underneath the horror elements. The most effective pictures in the genre are rooted in accurate or empathetic characterizations. Clare’s situation at home with regards to her relationship with her dumpster-diving father (Ryan Phillippe) in addition to the trauma she still feels twelve years after her mother’s suicide is handled with a lack of genuine understanding. One gets the impression that the writer simply takes familiar elements of what is perceived to be a difficult childhood and utterly fails to put them into proper context. The conflict comes across as fake.
Worse is its treatment of teenagers. All are one-dimensional bores: the popular clique that bullies (Josephine Langford, Alexander Nunez, Mitchell Slaggert, Daniela Barbosa), the snarky, sassy friend (Sydney Park) contrasting with the quieter one with spectacles (Shannon Purser), and the boy who pines from afar (Ki Hong Lee). They are to serve as potential victims or mere provider of reaction shots. Considering that this movie’s target audience is teenagers, one would expect for the filmmakers to treat these characters with more empathy or given them more substance.
Directed by John R. Leonetti, “Wish Upon” has a promising cast but is nearly a waste of time overall because the filmmakers neglect to tell a genuinely curious or thrilling story about a girl who finally catches a break with the help of a magical box. Had those in charge opted for a more intelligent route—detailing the object’s history or the evil inside it, for instance—rather than mindlessly delivering death scenes with the most expected rhythms, perhaps it might have delivered above average entertainment. I wish I had not wasted my time in watching this bottom-of-the-barrel, pedestrian blather.
Gosford Park (2001)
★★★★ / ★★★★
A British wealthy couple, William (Michael Gambon) and Sylvia McCordle (Kristin Scott Thomas), invited their friends to their estate for a bit of hunting. Set in the early 1930s, their guests took their maids and valets along; the guests lived upstairs while the helpers lived downstairs. None of them saw what was coming: one of them was about to be murdered… twice. Written by Julian Fellows and directed by Robert Altman, “Gosford Park” was a sharp observation of the British class system and a wonderful murder mystery. The majority of the comedy was embedded in the dialogue, from the juicy gossip among the staff to the vitriolic remarks among the socialites, the material made fun of everybody. The enmity and jealously seemed to penetrate the walls. I particularly enjoyed listening to Constance Trentham (Maggie Smith) speak her mind and watching her maid, Mary Maceachran (Kelly Macdonald), solve the murder mystery. Constance was was one of the most vile of the socialites. She was an interesting specimen because, despite being an aging woman, she essentially acted like a child. She craved attention, positive and negative, and she saw self-reliance as a sign of weakness. Her philosophy was why rely on yourself if you have the money–or a maid–to do everything for you? As much as I disliked her, I could easily imagine people like her especially given the setting of the story. Mary, on the other hand, was an unlikely heroine: she was soft-spoken, she tried her best to mind her own business, and she was actually willing to listen. I think the reason why she was the one to solve the mystery was because she was able to take the back seat, select which conversations held meaning, and ask the right questions. She was a good detective. I also enjoyed watching Henry Denton (Ryan Phillippe), a Scottish man with a questionable accent, and his homosexual boss, Morris Weissman (Bob Balaban), a movie producer in Hollywood. Their relationship was one of the many subtleties worth noting upon multiple viewings. I admired the film’s cinematography. Despite being shot inside for the majority of the time, it looked bright. The grand paintings on the walls caught my attention as well as the utensils on the dinner table. Most impressive was in the way the camera slithered from one conversation to another. There was a natural flow to it. It always felt as though the camera did the walking for us, sometimes over the shoulder, other times from afar, without bouncing about. When the picture did make rapid cuts, it only served to highlight the parallels of the conversations between the rich and the poor. Both viewed each other’s roles as easy when, in reality, nobody was really happy with what they had. Despite the comedy and the mystery, there was sadness in it, too. “Gosford Park” remained focused despite having over a dozen interesting characters. More importantly, Altman found a way to comment on the symbiotic relationship between master and servant without getting in the way of the mystery.
★★★ / ★★★★
Several people’s lives in a multicultural, post-911 Los Angeles collide in Paul Higgins’ racial issue drama. I distinctly remember watching this movie for the first time back in high school and I was riveted because there was a certain honestly in its portayal of a very diverse community but the people in the community didn’t quite accept each other. Having been raised in a place where diversity was abound, I thought “Crash” was multidimensional and it managed to avoid some traps concerning movies about characters turning out to be connected to each other in several respects. I still don’t believe “Crash” should have won over “Brokeback Mountain” for Best Picture, but the film was solid because it clearly set up an argument. That is, racism is a part of us and just because we project that ugliness to the world from time to time, it doesn’t mean that we are not capable of good or that we or not capable of changing. My main problem with the movie was it had too many characters and not all of them were fully explored. I thought the ones that worked were Sandra Bullock as a politician’s (Brendan Fraser) wife who was traumatized after a night out in the city, Ryan Phillippe as a cop looking for redemption, Matt Dillon as a cop dealing with his father’s health, and Thandie Newton as a Hollywood director’s (Terrence Howard) wife who was disgusted with the way her husband dealt with the situation after she was sexually harrassed. Side stories like Don Cheadle’s strained relationship with his mother and Ludacris running around stealing cars, as good as they were in their roles, weren’t at the same caliber and intensity as the others. Those unnecessary scenes held the movie back in terms of pacing and focus; they just didn’t hold my attention and I found myself standing up and taking a bathroom break during those scenes. Furthermore, I thought the ending didn’t quite stay true to the tone of the picture. I enjoyed that some characters went through drastic changes while others didn’t change at all, but the ending was borderline silly. Instead of pushing me to ponder over the images and the dialogues that I just saw and heard, it took me out of the experience and I felt a bit emotionally cheated. However, “Crash” is one of the better movies about racism because it wasn’t afraid to address certain issues head-on (such as being a light-skinned African-American versus being dark-skinned) and to show that there is more to a person than what comes out from his or her mouth. I suppose with a movie like this that tries to tackle very controversial issues, we always feel like it missed something or that there wasn’t enough deep exploration in terms of character development. But for what it’s worth, I think it managed to be right on target for most of its running time.