Croods, The (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★
The Croods is a family of survivors. As a unit, they have managed to avoid getting trampled on, eaten, poisoned, or falling to their deaths. Having an intact family is a great feat considering what had happened to their previous cavemen neighbors.
However, times are changing. Tectonic plates are on the move yet the patriarch, Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage), insists that they continue hiding in a cave. After all, staying away from danger has worked in the past. But when Grug’s curious daughter, Eep (Emma Stone), meets Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a young man who has advance knowledge, like how to make fire, her new friend just might be the key to prevent their extinction.
“The Croods,” directed and based on the screenplay by Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders, surprised me because although I expected to be entertained, I did not anticipate to be moved. An early scene shows how the family hunts for food through an energetic and beautifully animated chase sequence involving an egg. When such an approach is utilized, something in the back of my brain begins to have a sneaky suspicion that the material starts on a high note because once the dust settles, the screenplay will drag. This is a happy exception.
It has a bona fide sense of humor—appropriate for children, adults, and kid-at-heart. A few of the jokes might sound a bit corny in retrospect but they do not upon delivery. But one of the main reasons why it can be enjoyed on another layer is because we get a sense of what it is like for the Croods to be a family. They do not always get along, especially the father and daughter, because, though some of them may not be aware of it, their life is slowly rotting from the inside out due to a constant fear of getting hurt or something not going exactly as planned.
Grug’s motto is “Never not be afraid.” One of the best scenes involves Grug being put into a situation where he has no choice but to move forward and take a risk. The writer-directors do a good job just showing us an image of his helplessness. There is no need to use words because we see that he is crippled by a fear he—for the most part—has created for himself. With most animated movies, filmmakers tend to think it is necessary to explain the significance of the scene that just came before. I appreciated that this one avoids that cliché.
As previously mentioned, the animation has a pleasing aesthetic. Because it has so much going on at once, it makes the eyes dance. Admittedly, I have a weakness for strange-looking creatures—animated or otherwise. Most of the creatures found here are not based on actual extinct living things but I enjoyed admiring them nonetheless. One cannot help but notice, for example, the texture of a feline’s fur, how a carnivorous flower undulates in a non-threatening manner just before the kill, or the manner by which an animal is at times given human-like emotions or responses through their eyes.
“The Croods” provides an alternative. Instead of being about the importance of friendship or being true to ourselves, it turns its attention on why it is necessary that we take a risk sometimes so that we can get somewhere we want to be—and hopefully one that is worth it. Though it does not delve too deeply within that subject matter, at least it traverses a less traveled avenue.
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (2019)
★★ / ★★★★
Let’s get it out of the way: Even those who know nothing about Pokémon may be able to find some entertainment value out of “Detective Pikachu,” a visually impressive fusion of live-action and computer animation—especially considering the fact that each “pocket monster” is so different from one another, even creatures simply waddling about in the background demand attention. But the problem with the work is straight-forward: the mystery is so elementary, so shallow, so painfully generic, one gets the impression eventually that the screenwriters—Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, and Rob Letterman (who also directed the picture)—were instructed to keep it light and safe. One marvels at the images on screen and it cannot be denied this particular universe is brimming with potential. However, what get is a crippled piece of work—for the sake of being easily digestible.
Seemingly throwaway moments and shots are creative and amusing. Consider the few seconds on a train as Tim (Justice Smith), our protagonist who investigates the apparent death of his father, wakes up next to a Lickitung. It is not enough that it is pink, quite sizable, and plump, or that it has a long tongue. The details of the tongue—its colors, its texture, the moisture exuding from its pores—are so alive that just looking at the Pokémon is funny in and of itself. What it ends up doing is even funnier.
Another example is a scene involving Mr. Mime. In order to get the next clue that may help to solve the central mystery, Tim and Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) are required to play the Pokémon’s game. Yes, Mr. Mime’s look—particularly its numerous brilliant expressions—demands attention. This time, however, the focus is on the Pokémon’s movement—its agility, precision, how it leans its body weight against thin air. For second we forget we are watching computer animation because the movements are so detailed, they come across as life-like. And then there are those in-between shots when various Pokémon crawl on electric posts as night turns to day. The birds freely soaring across the sky. It underlines a lived-in world.
As I observed images like these, I wished the same level of thought and attention were applied to the screenplay. A potent mystery, one that requires logic, risks, and perhaps even a leap of faith, would have turned the work from a marginally entertaining video game movie into a mystery that just so happens to have Pokémon in it. By castrating the work’s central core—the tug-of-war between mystery and detection—it becomes just another project to be forgotten once the credits roll. I enjoyed, however, that the picture offers a finality within the plot it introduces. Doing so opens up more possibilities for the inevitable sequel. I expect a more daring follow-up.
On a lesser note, some of the performances made me cringe at times. The acting is exaggerated when it is unnecessary. It must be very difficult to have to act next to nothing or something that does not emote. So I refrain from blaming the actors—I recognize that sometimes one must feel the need to be larger-than-life while performing in front of a green screen or a green figure. It is the director’s task, then, to be highly particular when it comes to emotions being conveyed on screen. Hyperbolic expressions and voice acting run rampant here—it is highly problematic that at times I felt like I was watching a movie meant for television. It is the director’s responsibility to demand retakes until every element feels exactly right. The leniency softens the work—a great frustration because the universe introduced is clearly high caliber.
Deadpool 2 (2018)
★★ / ★★★★
Here is the answer for what happens when a story surrounding a foul-mouthed motormouth superhero is stripped away of its element of surprise. In order to compensate, writers Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and Ryan Reynolds double down on the exaggeration to the point where it is uncomfortable and off-putting—that it is trying too hard to replicate what worked before. Whether it is in terms of dialogue, action sequences, or level of violence, nearly everything is handled with an exclamation point. Even its supposedly quiet moments, particularly scenes designed to tug at the heartstrings (which, naturally, comes with a wink, an elbow nudge, and a kick to the groin), are handled with a sledgehammer. I grew bored of this one-trick pony.
You know what would have been surprising? A sequel that actually takes its title character a little more seriously, one handled with subtlety, panache, perhaps even a teaspoon of elegance. A “Deadpool” movie that is out of its element. While there is no need to go in the opposite direction, it could have remained loyal the “Deadpool” brand while still providing depth, supplying another reason for us to tune in for the inevitable next installment. Instead, we are given yet another parade of sarcastic remarks that never let up, random film and music references, and would-be dramatic situations clearly designed to shock us. I was not moved by any of it because these are elements that we come to expect. We are fed the baseline, but we deserve more.
It isn’t that the story is without potential. On the contrary, it holds great promise in that Deadpool (Reynolds) must assemble a team of superheroes called the X-Force when it becomes apparent that he being part of the X-Men is not a good fit. (For instance, being a part of that ostentatiously virtuous group means no killing.) The joke is how could someone like Deadpool lead a team when he is nearly incapable of holding a serious thought in his brain for more than five seconds? Clearly, the picture wishes to be a comedy first and an action picture second. Hence, why not play upon this situational humor as we get to know every potential member of the so-called X-Force? I wanted to know what they stand for as a unit, as individual mutants, and as people who just so happen to have amplified abilities.
Instead, for example, Cable (Josh Brolin), a man from the future, is relegated to a tank who will stop at nothing to kill a troubled fourteen-year-old boy (Julian Dennison) who is born with the power to wield fire. For someone who comes equipped with the knowledge of future events, his one-track goal becomes duller by the second. I looked at Brolin’s face and the moments in between made me feel like he is not being challenged. It is not that he looks bored—but it is apparent he can do so much more given a more ambitious and creative material. Further, as a kid who grew up with Marvel characters, it feels somewhat of a betrayal that Cable is not given the complexity necessary so that all viewers, by the end of the film, are convinced that he is in fact an invaluable member of the group.
“Deadpool 2” is directed by David Leitch, but the work might as well have been on autopilot. While the film doesn’t offer an intolerable experience, it doesn’t give us an exciting one either. During its slower moments, my mind went back to its predecessor and appreciated, for instance, how great the villain was. Here, there is a lack of an effective antagonist—one that becomes truly formidable, perhaps even fearsome, over time. I found its laziness not only troublesome but also exceptionally disappointing.
Hitman’s Bodyguard, The (2017)
★ / ★★★★
Considering the sheer talent and great comic timing of the leads, it is most disheartening that “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” written by Tim O’Connor and directed by Patrick Hughes, is not a better movie. Instead of presenting us a breezy, balanced action-comedy, it is a limp death march, nearly absent of any big and lasting laughs, to the finish line—quite literal because the plot involves a bodyguard (Ryan Reynolds) escorting an assassin (Samuel L. Jackson) so that the latter can testify against a dictator (Gary Oldman) at the International Criminal Court. Naturally, the dictator’s goons attempt to prevent the bodyguard-hitman duo from reaching their destination.
One gets the impression the script is barebones. Casting a pair of charismatic motormouths as co-leads is a good decision because the two have different approaches to wring laughter out of the audience. But relying on the duo to ad lib in order to plug holes in the script is a critical misstep. Notice that as improvisation unfolds, we begin to lose sight of the characters. This strategy is executed too many times and so during the latter half, it is a challenge to care about the story and whether Bryce and Kincaid would make it to their destination. The picture does not seem to understand how buddy comedies work since it is all behavior, no substance.
Action sequences unfold in beautiful open spaces, particularly one in Amsterdam, but a film can have the most eye-catching shootouts but ultimately amount to nothing if everything else around it is a bore. Such is the case here. It does not help that the villain is stuck in a courthouse and not one of the hired guns is genuinely threatening or memorable. Imagine if there had been two minions who have equally recognizable faces as Reynolds as Jackson. Cast performers who do not typically appear in comedies but turning out to have comedic chops. Now, isn’t that more exciting, more creative, more inspired that what is shown here? It certainly would have surprised the audience.
There are romantic subplots forced into the plot which do not work on any level. Reynolds and Elodie Yung, an Interpol agent who happens to be Bryce’s ex-girlfriend, share desert-dry chemistry. There is not one instance in which the viewers recognize what they see in one another. On the other hand, Jackson and Salma Hayek, playing Kincaid’s wife, do share some chemistry, but the screenplay’s lack of substance reduces the relationship into an unfunny, tired caricature. The picture struggles to get basic emotions and relationships right.
“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is a disastrous action-comedy because it lacks inspiration and imagination. Numerous awful comedies tend to have jokes on paper first and a semblance of story is built around them. Here, however, one gets a sneaky feeling that there is neither jokes nor story in the first place. It goes to show that just because the right actors are booked it may not necessarily translate, especially if there is nothing to support them. It is a waste of precious two hours that feels like four.
★★★ / ★★★★
As someone who works with microorganisms, the sci-fi horror movie “Life,” directed by Daniel Espinosa, is an expected but most welcome surprise. Think about it: there is something innately creepy or unsettling about dealing with something alive, potentially harmful, that we cannot see with a naked eye. This picture takes advantage of that concept for as long as it is able. Clearly inspired by Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic “Alien,” similarly crew members with a sense of humor who share a certain camaraderie being forced to face unimaginable horrors in space following a discovery of alien life, it manages to hit the right notes consistently enough to overcome some of the clichés within the sub-genre, particularly in how just about each astronaut eventually undergoes a most gruesome demise.
Initially, I was unimpressed. For a sci-fi picture set in a space station with an ambition to create as realistic an environment as possible, I found it to be annoyingly loud and ostentatious. Compare this to greats of the genre, especially alongside Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The harder it tries to engage the audience through visuals and sounds, an the air of detachment is all the more amplified. “Odyssey” works because it simply shows what is while this film tries to appeal to what we imagine science fiction should be like rather than a set, settled reality. Further, the former relishes the quiet but the latter is afraid of it at times. As a result, I felt as though I were peering into a snow globe—curious but in the back of my mind a part of me wasn’t entirely convinced.
Equally bothersome during the first quarter is its inappropriate use and number of closeups. When there is a fascinating organism on screen, most of the attention should be on that creature. We already have an idea how everyone in the room must feel like—because we feel those similar emotions, too. There is no need to cut to the performers’ facial expressions every other two seconds (Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya). Doing so takes away some of the excitement and breeds frustration. We want to see what is on that petri dish and learn what it is capable of.
Eventually, however, the film proves capable of first-rate entertainment. The first attack by the extraterrestrial made me question my own safety, despite wearing personal protective equipment, when handling minuscule organisms. I admired how efficiently the camera traps us into an increasingly impossible situation as the biologist (Bakare) handles the life form in a containment cube. The editing commands a certain rhythm to it that makes us want to look away because it is built up in such a way that some thing is about to occur soon… yet we cannot help but stare wide-eyed since we crave to see what happens next. The early deaths are appropriately horrifying and creative. The camera lingers on their lifeless faces.
The look of the alien is inspired. I enjoyed how it reminded me of deep-sea jellyfish. It does not appear particularly solid but has convincing strength when it pounces on its prey. It looks translucent, but it is highly agile and versatile. Credit goes to the writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick for putting to life a creature that is intelligent, a real threat to the increasingly desperate characters. And credit goes to the special and visual effects team for creating a convincing monster, not just another uninspired CGI monster-of-the-week with tentacles.
Paper Man (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
Temporarily moving to Montauk was supposed to help Richard (Jeff Daniels), a writer working on his second novel, overcome writer’s block. Instead, he ends up not doing much and is interminably stuck on the first sentence that will shape the rest of his book. His wife, Claire (Lisa Kudrow), visits on the weekends and when she is away, a high school student named Abby (Emma Stone) comes over to babysit Richard and Claire’s non-existent child.
There is an effective drama about loss and loneliness in “Paper Man,” written and directed by Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney, but they are buried underneath lame and awkward attempts at humor. Though it wishes to embody a bittersweet comedy-drama about two people with a significant age gap, it fails to reach a balance and a proper rhythm necessary to convince us that whatever is unfolding is consistently genuine.
The comedic elements prevent the picture from reaching great heights. I felt embarrassed for Daniels, a very good actor, because his character is often the joke. He rides a bike that is too small for him. The camera lingers on how he struggles to make the bicycle move. He throws a party for teenagers and decorates the entire place as if he were hosting a child’s birthday celebration. The camera scans the house for flashy ornaments. The screenplay is desperate for a laugh.
One quirk that works is Richard, almost fifty years of age, still having an imaginary friend. Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds) is a superhero, cape and all, and he is there whenever Richard requires a boost of morale. Though Reynolds’ exaggeration tends to hit some bad notes, I was interested in the idea that our protagonist is so lonely and struggles so much with relating to people his age that he is willing to hold onto Captain Excellent even if the latter has hinted that maybe it is time to let go.
The central relationship is between Richard and Abby. Though separated by age and gender, they are alike in many ways. The picture dares to walk the line between a friendship and a sort of romance. For the most part, it is effective: Stone and Daniels have a way of playing upon their charm and using it almost as a defense mechanism when their respective characters are hurt by circumstances. However, I was disappointed that the screenplay takes a predictable avenue in that what Richard and Abby have is discovered by Claire—seeing them in an awkward position, no less.
“Paper Man” has great trouble remaining fresh. Though a person experiencing writer’s block and finding inspiration from a source he least expected is not new, there are moments here that ring true. It just does not seem to be aware of when to let go of a template. I liked the way Abby’s story involving a tragic loss is handled. Before she and the published author met, Abby confided with Christopher (Kieran Culkin) who eventually tells her that she is his life. Though the line may sound silly, just about anyone can tell he means it with every fiber of his being, that maybe she should be Christopher instead of Bryce (Hunter Parrish), the latter having a nasty habit of treating his girlfriend like a plaything.
★ / ★★★★
Nick (Ryan Reynolds), a former cop, is dead, finds himself sitting in front of Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker), director of the Rest in Peace Department stationed just above Boston, and faces a decision: to join the department and hunt Deados, spirits that somehow managed to escape Final Judgment, back on Earth or to embrace the possibility of being sent to hell. Nick chooses the former and he is paired with Roy Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges), an older gentleman who died during the Old West. Though the new duo are off to a rocky start, their bickering is set aside when they discover strange goings-on involving Deados and chunks of gold.
“R.I.P.D.,” written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, offers nothing but special and visual effects. It lacks the imagination, wit, and comic timing that made the likes of Ivan Reitman’s “Ghostbusters” and Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Men in Black” so rousing and entertaining. Thirty minutes in, one realizes that the film is unable to move on from the first act. One waits for something—anything—to happen. It remains stagnant even way past the one hour mark and it turns into a great struggle to sit through.
Part of the problem is Roy and Nick’s partnership. Though the actors perform their parts with appropriate verve, the writers fail to turn the characters into people with substance. There are only two sides to their interactions: they get into shallow disagreements—which is supposed to be funny, maybe in an alternate universe—or they are on the same page, temporarily, while being in the same room as a Deado. Because their relationship is only two-sided, it gets predictable real quick and one gets no enjoyment watching them.
More painful are the scenes in which Roy and Nick are forced to connect with one another, supposedly in a meaningful way. I did not buy it for a second. It is easy to see through the script and the lack of effort put into it. Why bother to insert such a phony scene when it further cheapens an already weak material? Did it not once occur to the filmmakers that it wasn’t working, that it was better off to leave the sentimentality out the door? Maybe they felt the picture needed to hit the ninety-minute mark.
The monsters are not interesting. All of them are made out to be ugly, bad, and they do nothing other than to function to as figures to be shot at. There are a few chase sequences in the streets of Boston and one does not need spectacles to see through the obvious CGI. There is simply too much thrown on screen for us to be able to appreciate any level of artistry put into the work. I looked up the budget of the film and, to my surprise, it is over one hundred million dollars. This is the best they can come up with?
Directed by Robert Schwentke, “R.I.P.D.” is bottom-of-the-barrel fluff. I found no magic, inspiration, or delight out of it. Sci-fi action-fantasies should be more thrilling. In the least, it should feel alive—vibrant—even if the story involves the dead.
★★★ / ★★★★
“Deadpool,” written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, offers wickedly funny and savagely creative entertainment that turns by-the-numbers superhero pictures over their heads and bleeds them out a bit. Although the action sequences showcase bone-crunching and brain-splattering realism, what makes the film effective—and quite special—is the trash-talking, motormouth of an antihero named Wade Wilson, played with charisma and glee by Ryan Reynolds, who accepts a proposal from a stranger (Jed Rees) in order to be cured of cancer. Expectedly, things go horribly awry.
Right from its faux opening credits, its in-your-face bravado is refreshing. The background images and various camera angles employed force the viewers to orient their eyes to what is possibly going on while the texts on the foreground function as ticklish foreplay. It sets up the tone and mood of the picture—that just because nothing is meant to be taken too seriously does not mean substance must be sacrificed in order to make us laugh. Mainstream comedies within and outside of the superhero genre can learn a thing or two from this film’s approach.
Its sense of humor has range. Although pop culture references and allusions within the Marvel universe are abound, the script does not rely on these elements as its sole source of comedy. Through well-placed and well-timed flashbacks that pervade the first half, we get the impression that Wade, who embraces the name Deadpool after his most unfortunate and grotesque transformation, is an intelligent character with real thoughts, emotions, and motivations. He is silly but rough around the edges, witty but his big personality is rarely off-putting. Because we relate eventually to the protagonist beyond a fundamental level, what he finds humorous is funny to us, too. We like Wade before and after he becomes the masked antihero.
Action sequences are appropriately cartoonish, violent, and bloody. I admired that the picture is unafraid to show limbs being cut smoothly like warmed up butter, bullet holes going through heads and various body parts, and kicks and punches land hard without the camera moving too much and softening the blows. As a result, there is a consistent level of tension during the action scenes. Equally impressive is the film’s ability to remain true to its sarcastic and sardonic identity during the more kinetic moments. There is a persistent balancing act and so the material is never a bore.
The picture’s weakness is in its treatment of the lead antagonist. Although Ed Skrein plays Ajax, née Francis Freeman, with solid enthusiasm and a real presence, the character is never written as if he were the protagonist’s equal. This is a mistake because even though the film satirizes its own sub-genre, it belongs in that category nonetheless. Thus, a well-written, complete, and memorable villain must be established and fully fleshed out. There are numerous moments when Ajax feels too much like a villain-of-the-week rather than an antagonist so formidable that he is there to wreak havoc all season.
Directed by Tim Miller, “Deadpool” is outrageous, very funny at times, and has seemingly effortless creativity coursing through its darkly comic veins and arteries. The material surprises by finding different ways to be fresh and taking risks, qualities that must be cabled to its inevitable sequel.
Safe House (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★
A stultifying life in a C.I.A. safe house in Cape Town, South Africa was not a job that Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) found especially gratifying. Having been stationed in the same spot for twelve months, he was more than vocal with his superior, Barlow (Brendan Gleeson), about a highly sought out case officer position. However, the job required an extensive field experience, something that Weston didn’t have much. When Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) was taken to Weston’s safe house which was quickly ambushed upon his arrival, Weston took it upon himself to present Frost to the proper authorities. It just might be the field experience he needed to advance his career. “Safe House,” written by David Guggenheim, was an exciting espionage action-thriller only when Frost and Weston were together. It also did a good job establishing excitement prior to the first moment they were able to occupy the same room. Perhaps it had something to do with the way the actors approached their characters. Reynolds was able to highlight Weston’s ambition and greenness by portraying a level of fear and uncertainty when the character faced life-changing decisions. Do I shoot this cop who thinks that I’m the bad guy? Do I snap this fellow agent’s neck who’s trying to kill me when he has no idea that he might be working for a traitor of this country? Despite shaky cams and quick cuts, Daniel Espinosa, the director, was smart enough to slow down the material and allow it to breathe. Even though the angle of humanity within a cutthroat job was not delved into in especially thoughtful ways, the decision separated it from nondescript action flicks where raining bullets was the one and only source of entertainment. On the other hand, Washington was magnetic as a man so involved in whatever he felt needed to be done, at times I wondered if he actually enjoyed or craved the aggressiveness natural in his profession. As an agent that had gone rogue nine years ago, selling information to terrorists in the meantime and wanted by agencies in four continents, I enjoyed that it was difficult to gauge what exactly it was he intended to accomplish. It was established that it may appear that he was doing one thing but he was actually doing another. He certainly shouldn’t be trusted. It was fun that he wasn’t meant to be trusted. Reynolds and Washington fed off each other’s energy which made an otherwise unremarkable template more than what it was.Other reasons why the picture worked were the extended car chases and its accompanying sounds. When our protagonist’s vehicle crashed into other cars, I noticed by jaw clenching as bullets showered the car and glass crunched from the impact. It was wise to minimize the number of times when the camera pulled away from the action because it gave the illusion that we were in the passenger seat, receiving one whiplash after another. A special mention to Joel Kinnaman as Keller, a safe house keeper toward the end of the film. I was so fascinated with the way he moved and carried his character. When he blinked, I thought, “What is he thinking?” Kinnaman may be someone to watch out for. “Safe House” was padded by a bland bureaucratic talk, a romance heavy on the eyelids, and a gauzy main villain. If anything, the film was lucky to have charming presences which elevated its more pedestrian corners.
Green Lantern (2011)
★ / ★★★★
When Hal was young, he witnessed the death of his father due to an aviation accident. Almost twenty years later, we came to discover that Hal (Ryan Reynolds) followed his father’s footsteps and became a successful test pilot. Meanwhile, two entities had been in war for a millennia: a group of warriors known as Green Lantern Corps, powered by will, and Parallax, powered by fear. The latter was quickly gaining the upper hand by literally eating the souls of its enemies. When one of the leaders of the corps, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), made an emergency landing on Earth after being attacked by the evil Parallax, he managed to pass his powers onto unsuspecting Hal. “Green Lantern,” directed by Martin Campbell, was sloppily put together. A myriad strands were introduced but not one achieved an above average level of thought nor a minutiae of common sense, so the film ultimately felt flat. Let’s take the romance between Hal and Carol (Blake Lively) as an example. Supposedly, the two of them had known each other for more than half their lives. I found that very hard to believe. While the two obviously cared for each other, perhaps even on a romantic level, I found it frustrating that they didn’t know how to communicate as adults and as close friends. If you’ve been friends with someone for a very long time, that certain connection, which often defies explanation, should be palpable to a third party. But I never felt that special connection when Hal and Carol were on screen. In fact, the whole thing felt forced. There were a lot of puppy dog eyes and polite smiles, like I was watching some teenage soap opera where characters pretend to be dumb yet they have the nerve to complain about the fact that no one is getting what they want. The screenplay, by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg, came off as rather desperate in injecting a human element into the story. I actually would have enjoyed the movie more if Hal and Carol were given the time to sit and talk about their feelings for up to three key scenes and defined their relationship once and for all. Then focus on the action, without the hammy and frivolous will-he-or-won’t-she interruptions, because 1) I wanted to see the war between good and evil and 2) watch things blow up in the city. The decision to put petty romances between action sequences made the project disjointed. As a result, the momentum failed to build and I ended up not caring. Another one of Hal and Carol’s childhood friend was Hector (Peter Sarsgaard), a formerly corpulent boy who preferred to stay indoors and read books rather than to play outside. Eventually, Hector became an agent of evil after being infected by an alien life form. But why was his transformation necessary? Since the writers offered no answer to that question, it was pretty much implied that brainiacs were less than so they deserved to be punished. That wouldn’t have been the case if we had a chance to observe Hector being black-hearted as a child in the first place. “Green Lantern” need not have been too serious nor abound with grand special effects to qualify as a decent superhero movie. It just needed to tell its story with clarity.
★★★ / ★★★★
Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds), a truck driver, woke up in a wooden coffin underground. All he could remember was the fact that he and his fellow U.S. contractors were ambushed by a group of Iraqis. Believing that he was a soldier, Paul was contacted via a cell phone by one of the kidnappers named Jabir (voiced by José Luis García Pérez) who wanted five million dollars in exchange for Paul’s freedom. Written by Chris Sparling and directed by Rodrigo Cortés, “Buried” is one of the more effective films about a character being stuck in one place and facing a battle against time. In this instance, with each passing second, Paul’s source of oxygen was steadily being depleted. The picture’s main challenge was to keep its audiences engaged for the entire running time. I thought it didn’t have a problem with keeping us at the edge of our seats. After Paul learned about his situation, he responded like a normal person: fear, anger, and confusion appeared all at once. We were left in absolute horror and wondered how he could possibly get out of the coffin with only a lighter, a small knife, a candle, a flashlight, and a cell phone. I didn’t always agree with Paul’s decisions but there was no doubt that I wanted him to get out of there. For example, he called people who didn’t have the power or authority to do anything about his increasingly desperate situation. Then he would yell or scream at them if they couldn’t do anything to help. Perhaps he knew that. But he called anyway because he needed someone to talk to since his family in the United States wouldn’t answer his calls. Being in a state of terror can lead us to do things that don’t make much sense. Or perhaps it was out of convenience because the writer wanted to poke fun of the ridiculous bureaucracies that are supposedly aimed to protect its people. But what completely failed to work for me were the crane shots of Paul lying in a coffin. It happened more than once and I was taken out of the moment each time. For the majority of the time, there was wood a few inches from Paul’s face and it was weird to see it suddenly disappear when such a shot was taken. Some level of tension was lost. There were other inconsistencies such as the main character knowing that the burning of a candle required oxygen (he must have paid attention in Chemistry), yet he kept screaming to the top of his lungs from frustration. Nevertheless, the highly effective thrills made up for the film’s missteps. It may not look like much but I thought it was ambitious because we spent the entire time in the coffin yet we were consistently entertained. Most mainstream projects have proven that minimalism is difficult to pull off. But when it’s done right, as “Buried” has shown, it can do wonders.
★★★ / ★★★★
This 80’s-inspired coming-of-age comedy-drama about James Brennan, played by Jesse Eisenberg, who was forced to work on a theme park after his parents (Jack Gilpin and Wendie Malick) revealed to him that they were having pecuniary issues. He also had to sacrifice his trip to Europe, a graduation present that he was obviously looking forward to. What I loved about “Adventureland” was it managed to focus the spotlight on James’ journey to maturity no matter how painful some realizations ended up being. The colorful characters from the theme park, including his romantic interest (Kristen Stewart), and the comedy felt secondary to journey. It was a nice change from typical teen comedies of today. I also really liked the music that were featured. It feels like once in a blue moon that I actually am familiar with 85-90% of the soundtrack. (Mainly because my parents are big on music of the 1980’s and I grew up listening to such.) Written and directed by Greg Mottola (“Superbad”), this film managed to paint all of its characters with a certain sadness which happened to unconsciously come out whenever they interacted with each other. Motolla actually gave his characters a chance to talk about their dreams, insecurities, and the things that were going on at home instead of just giving the audiences easy (and uninsightful) slapstick comedy. The only thing that did not quite work for me was Ryan Reynolds’ character and his relationship with James’ romantic interest. Not only did Reynolds and Stewart have too many scenes together, but the relationship somewhat felt forced. If I look back on the picture and not think about the scenes that mainly involved those two characters, pretty much everything else would have been the same. Having said that, this is still a strong movie about a college graduate who, through trials of hardwork and heartbreak in the theme park, actually learned more about himself and about life than if he had gone to Europe. And that’s a nice message for those who cannot quite leave their hometowns because of their many responsibilities or for whatever reason.
Proposal, The (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
I was very pleased with this romantic comedy because it more than satisfied my somewhat high expectations. I didn’t think Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds would have any sort of chemistry if they were to star in a movie together but that was quickly proven wrong after I saw the trailer for “The Proposal” for the first time. Bullock plays the dragon-lady editor in a publishing company who pretty much everyone hates and/or fears. Reynolds plays her charming, dryly comedic and sarcastic assistant. When Bullock was called in by her superiors and told her that she was going to be deported back to Canada due to her expired visa (and therefore lose her job), Reynolds came in at a perfect time with just the right words for his boss to think of the idea that they should get married. In return for her citizenship, he would get a promotion and everyone was going to end up happily ever after. But that was before they actually started to genuinely feel something for each other. What I loved about this film was its ability to completely embrace the conventions of the romantic comedy genre that involves two completely different types of people who dislike each other, yet at the same have that certain charm to make the movie feel fresh. Without Bullock’s cold persona (which I found to be completely different from her usual “cheery-hyper” girl roles like in “Two Weeks Notice” and “Miss Congeniality”) with just a drop of humanity and Reynolds’ perfect timing of certain facial expressions and intonations in his voice, this probably would have been just another forgettable sweet movie without any sort of edge to keep me engaged. I also enjoyed the supporting characters such as Betty White, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, and Oscar Nuñez as Reynolds’ grandmother, mother, father and the town guy who seems to be everywhere, respectively. Directed by Anne Fletcher (“27 Dresses,” “Step Up”), “The Proposal” is surprisingly sensitive during its more serious scenes but there’s enough comedy, from light chuckles to hysterical laughters, for it to be completely believable. It also features several stand-out scenes that I couldn’t help but think of on the car ride home. I can only hope that Bullock and Reynolds would star in the same movie sooner. Their funny bickering/jesting scenes are well worth the admission ticket.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is the first in line to get his own spin-off from the highly popular “X-Men” franchise. Though I must admit that it could have been a lot stronger, I was entertained for more than half of the time so I’m ultimately giving it a recommendation. I thought the way that the film started off was solid: a sickly little boy named Logan (who will eventually be named Wolverine) stumbles upon a shocking revelation regarding his bloodline. From then on, the opening credits feature Logan and his brother Victor Creed (who will eventually be named Sabretooth played with intimidating ferociousness by Liev Schreiber) fighting side-by-side in several wars. The two soon team up with William Stryker (Danny Huston) in a government task force consisting of people with strange abilities (Will i Am as John Wraith, Kevin Durand as The Blob, Dominic Monaghan as Bolt, Daniel Henney as Agent Zero and Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool). A few years later after Wolverine leaves the special team, members of that team start getting murdered. With a little bit of (albeit morbid) motivation inflicted by Sabretooth, Wolverine goes on a journey of great measures to find the people responsible for taking away things that are important to him. While the action scenes are entertaining, I think the dialogue could have used several alterations. Some of it are so cliché, a friend who I was sitting next to started to voice out what a particular would say in a situation. With movies that are based on comic books, there’s a way to wink at the audience without resulting to painful clichés. Another negative that I have about the film is its significantly slowed down middle portion. Yes, characters such as Cyclops (Tim Pocock) and Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) are fun to watch, but some could argue (such as another friend of mine who I saw the movie with) that they were truly unnecessary to the story. I did not read the comics so I don’t know how closely the movie followed it but I feel like if the film were to intergrate major characters such as Cyclops and Gambit, they should feel more important. One of my favorite characters in the “X-Men” universe is Gambit but, when I really think about it, I feel like he could’ve been used more in this picture. Still, I take consolation in the fact that Gambit is finally featured–a step above from his unfortunate absence from the other “X-Men” movies. Those are only somewhat minor complaints and I really enjoyed the picture when I look at it as a whole. For me, die-hard fans can either love it or hate it but casual fans should be pleased because it does have some eye-popping fighting scenes and visual effects, something one would typically expect from blockbuster films. I can only hope that the next spin-off will have stronger writing and pose deeper philosophical questions regarding special abilities and society, while at the same time still having that intense energy that “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” possesses.