The Winslow Boy (1999)
★★★ / ★★★★
Just when the Winslow clan were about to make a toast for Catherine (Rebecca Pidgeon) and John’s (Aden Gillett) marriage, Ronnie (Guy Edwards), the youngest member of the family, arrived from The Royal Naval Academy. It turned out Ronnie had been expelled because the academy deemed him to be a thief. Arthur (Nigel Hawthorne), the patriarch, sacrificed the family fortune, his health, and relationship with his wife (Gemma Jones), Catherine, and elder son (Matthew Pidgeon) in pursuit of clearing the Winslow name. This film delighted me because it delivered the unexpected. The source of tension wasn’t in the courtroom scenes but in the way the family members and their friends (Colin Stinton, Sarah Flind) responded the great changes in their lives as the case gained popularity. Arthur was a proud man but he was aware that his quest for justice might not always be the right thing to do. He had to make very difficult decisions as he saw his daughter’s prospect of marriage vanish, embraced the possibility that his son might be telling a lie, and took his eldest son out of school because money was becoming an issue. The film was also about the partnership between a father and his only daughter. Catherine had clear political leanings and, like Jane Austen’s most fun and interesting female characters, she wasn’t afraid to express her opinions in a direct and honest way. There were a number of times when Arthur asked Catherine if he was being foolish and perhaps he ought to stop his crusade. Despite the fact that it was important for Catherine to get married soon, especially since she was almost thirty, she was worthy of admiration because putting her family ahead of herself was never in question. I thought Catherine was one of the most fascinating figures in the film because she was a feminist yet she willingly took the role of the obedient woman. By taking that role, she showed us that being a woman was not a handicap, that women could be as strong, intelligent, and dedicated as the men in charge of the courtroom. The addition of Sir Robert Morton (Jeremy Northam), the Winslow’s cunning defense lawyer, challenged and, despite the difference in their political alignment, attracted her. Pidgeon’s nuanced acting made the film believable and relevant. Based on a play by Terence Rattigan, “The Winslow Boy,” directed by David Mamet,” was beautifully shot. Each movement of the camera had a sense of urgency. Most importantly, it was full of passionate dialogue and it underlined the complexity between justice and doing what is right.
★ / ★★★★
Three friends (Brian Presley, Rider Strong, Jake Muxworthy) who were about to graduate from college decided to take a trip to Mexico so they could get laid and get stoned. While they were high on hallucinogens, one of them decided to visit a prostitute he met earlier that day. While wandering the dangerous streets of Mexico, Phil was abducted by a group of satanists looking for the perfect human sacrifice. Directed by Zev Berman, “Borderland” failed to determine the difference between disgust and horror. Based on a true story, I felt anger when it paid so much attention to the violence instead actually attempting to convince us why the story was worth telling. I didn’t need to see a man’s eyeballs being plucked in such a slow and gratuitous fashion. However, I was interested in the film’s anti-American undertones. The three Americans were portrayed as complete idiots. I found no reason for them to be friends. After all, what kind of people would allow their friend to walk in dark alleys by himself while intoxicated by ‘shrooms? Phil, son of a priest, was desperate to lose his virginity that he was willing to pay money for sex. He often gave into peer pressure from Henry, a deluded brat who believed that people were poor because they chose to be poor. And just when I thought Ed was the one worth rooting for, his set of ideals, though noble, was highly influenced by those around him. Instead of focusing more on the satanists that terrorized the community, much of the picture’s running time was dedicated to the trio acting like they’ve never been outside of their protected bubbles. They weren’t smart enough to recognize that the rules they’ve grown accustomed to live by no longer applied to their current and increasingly horrifying predicament. A cop named Ulises (Damián Alcázar), which I believe should have had more screen time, after a year since his partner was murdered by the satanists, became obsessed with finding out more about their practices. Ulises’ endgame was to expose them and find some sort of justice for those kidnapped, mutilated, and killed. If we saw the story through his eyes, the story would have been much more involving because he had access to resources that the three unsuspecting Americans lacked. Two of the three couldn’t even speak Spanish. At least one of them had to survive to tell the story but I found it ironic that they were almost irrelevant. “Borderland” borderlined exploitation. It had absolutely no intention in exploring the history, even very loosely, of the religious cult and their fixation for human sacrifice. It was generic torture porn that had the potential to become so much more.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Many years prior, Merlin had three apprentices: Balthazar (Nicolas Cage), Horvath (Alfred Molina), and Veronica (Monica Bellucci). However, Horvath decided to team up with the evil Morgana (Alice Krige) and take over the world. Veronica decided to sacrifice herself, through a series of magical spells, by emprisoning Morgana’s soul in her body. Fastforward to the 21st century, Balthazar recruited a geeky Physics student (Jay Baruchel), Dave, who he believed to be the so-called Prime Merlinian, Merlin’s successor, to prevent the release of Morgana and defeat Horvath once and for all. Naturally, nerdy Dave had other things on his mind like romancing a girl he knew when he was still in grade school. There was a lot of unnecessary backstory in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and it did not have a lot of payoff. Special and visual effects were abound, some were, admittedly, impressive (I highly enjoyed the scenes when statues would come to life and attempt to kill the protagonists), but what it lacked was a strong and defined emotional core. As much as I like the adorable Baruchel as an actor, I believe he might have been miscast because he failed to inject multidimensionality to his character. Yes, Physics and the girl were very important to him but what else was he passionate about? When he found out he was supposed to be the next Merlin, there was no sense of wonder and I did not feel a conflict moving enough to keep me wanting to see how things would unfold. Furthermore, I felt as though Cage was too campy for the role and most of his one-liners fell completely flat. It was almost desperate. The writers should have trimmed the parts when Cage made heavy-handed speeches about embracing destiny and focused more on the twenty-year-old who was supposed to wield a great power but did not know what to do with it. Considering that the picture was essentially a Disney film, perhaps it felt the need to cater toward children and that was the reason why pretty much everything was oversimplified. However, I think a bit of edge could have greatly benefited the movie in terms of tone. Not for a second did I believe that the bad guys had the upper hand over the good guys. Directed by Jon Turteltaub, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” delivered many action-packed adventures all over New York City but, other than occassional thrills, it lacked a range of other emotions. Its references to “Fantasia” were highly enjoyable but since the filmmakers did not take the material to the next level, I’m not quite sure if modern audiences (especially younger kids in which it catered toward) will recognize the allusions.
Children of the Corn (1984)
★ / ★★★★
After church, Job (Robby Kiger) and his father went to a diner for breakfast. It seemed like a regular Sunday in Gatlin, Nebraska but something sinister happened. The kids started to give each other strange looks and the next thing we knew, they started killing the adults around them. The only kids who did not seem affected were Job and his sister (Anne Marie McEvoy) who had a gift of foretelling events through drawing. When a couple (Linda Hamilton, Peter Horton) accidentally ran over a boy, they eventually decided to stop by Gatlin to report the incident. The picture started off strongly. The thought of kids murdering people without reason, including their parents, gave me the creeps. I was curious about what triggered the strange events and the endgame of those involved. Unfortunately, the film failed to give any answer. Instead, it spent half of its time showing us the couple driving on a seemingly interminable freeway. While their interactions were somewhat amusing and the establishment of their characters necessary, there wasn’t enough edge to hold my interest. I saw one distraction after another which made me think about the weakness of both the writing and the execution. I wanted to know more about the psychic sister. What made her and Job unsusceptible to the urge to commit murder? Instead, the picture focused on the many speeches of Isaac (John Franklin) and almost caveman-like Malachai (Courtney Gains). It was obvious that the material wanted to comment on taking religion too seriously along with their respective scriptures word-for-word, but focusing on that one aspect diminished the creativity and imagination that should have been applied to the overall story. It would have been more haunting if the monster or devil known as “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” was not shown but merely implied. It wasn’t that I was unconvinced my the special and visual effects (I’m always more concerned about the concept), but the idea that some force could drive children to madness was enough. Sometimes simplicity is key. It just needed to elaborate on its big ideas and consistently raise the bar instead of recycling horror movie clichés. Based on Stephen King’s short story and directed by Fritz Kiersch, “Children of the Corn” was a huge disappointment because it had such a promising first scene. When the couple walked around a seemingly abandoned small town, I felt like I was there. It needed more creepy moments like that instead of its dull fixation on human sacrifice.
An Education (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★
An Oxford-bound teenager (Carey Mulligan) in the 1960s fell for a much older man (Peter Sarsgaard) because he was exciting, had money, and he was into romantic lifestyles such as appreciating art and traveling–the same things she wished she had herself. At first everything seemed to be going right but the deeper they got into their relationship, she discovered that having a priviledged life was nothing like she imagined it would be. Connecting with this picture was very easy for me because I could relate with the lead character. In fact, it somewhat scared me how alike we were and instead of watching it as a coming-of-age film, I saw it as a cautionary tale. We both love school and we do our best in pretty much everything we do but we can’t help craving the glamorous life. Questions like does staying in school and sacrificing the best years of our lives lead to a successful (and fun) future are in our minds so I was absolutely fascinated with her. Better yet, I was interested in the decisions she made when she essentially became addicted to the life of glamour. I think the film had surprising depth because the movie did not start off strong. I thought it was just going to be about an innocent girl’s affair with a man and she learning a hard lesson at end of the day. But it wasn’t. Though it was the backbone of the film, much of it was Mulligan’s relationship with her parents (Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour), a teacher she looked up to but was often at odds with (Olivia Williams), and the headmistress who wanted the lead character to stay on her path (Emma Thompson). Though all of them were tough (and not always fair), they were adults who wanted what was best for the main character. It was also about the push and pull forces between living an exciting life and a boring life with books and friends who were not quite as precocious as her. I must say that Mulligan deserved her Best Actress nomination because I was impressed with how elegantly she portrayed her character as she navigated her way in and out of excitements and disappointments. She just had this effortless subtlety going on and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Though I have seen her in other movies, I’m curious with what she has to offer in the future now that I know what she’s really capable of. “An Education,” directed by Lone Scherfig and based on a memoir by Lynn Barber, was a film that gathered momentum as it went on yet it didn’t get tangled up in its own complexities. It had a certain confidence, a certain swagger that was very ’60s and I felt like I was in that era.