★★ / ★★★★
It’s been said that our dreams often consisted of people we know or have encountered at some point in our lives. But not Smith (Thomas Dekker). He had a recurring dream of a brunette and a red-headed girl (Nicole LaLiberte) pointing at a door with a red dumpster on the other side. But before Smith could look inside, he woke up. With the help of Smith’s partner in crime, Stella (Haley Bennett), Smith managed to find some answers to his burning questions. Written and directed by Gregg Araki, “Kaboom” was weird and proud. It was, one could argue, mainly a satire of college students who lacked direction. Everyone had sexual intercourse with one another without regard for disease or pregnancy. When someone managed to ask another how many partners he had been with, it was too late. Penetration had already occurred. It reminded me of a dorm I once knew. Smith considered his sexual orientation to be undeclared but he had a massive crush on his blonde-haired surfer/meathead roommate named Thor (Chriz Zylka). Much of the humor of the film was Smith looking for ways to convince himself that Thor was gay. I especially loved the shot of Thor’s flip-flops neatly organized, by color, in his closet. As a person who loves to be organized, I thought it was a beautiful sight. I also chuckled once or twice when Thor’s best friend, Rex (Andy Fischer-Price), came for a visit and the two wrestled in their underwear. The loser was supposed to be “the gay one.” Whenever the satire and irony were at the forefront, I overlooked the lack of dimension in the script. The film also worked as a B-grade supernatural thriller but to an extent. Stella became sexually involved with Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida), the brunette in Smith’s dreams, who happened to be a witch. She wasn’t all talk; she had real powers and wasn’t afraid to use them. But when the lesbian couple broke up, the storyline involving Smith’s dream and its connection to a possible underground cult was thrown in the back seat. The scenes involving voodoo and possession became more engrossing than the masked strangers who kidnapped and killed students on campus. While the dialogue consisted of funny one-liners uttered by sarcastic characters, as it went on, I began to feel like Araki had injected too much in his ambitious project. A nuclear war came into play but it failed to make much sense. The many revelations toward the end felt forced and laughable in a negative way. I felt a sinking sensation that the picture was digging its own grave. I admired that “Kaboom” wasn’t afraid to be different. But being different was not enough. The screenplay wasn’t ready.
★★ / ★★★★
Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) visited Los Angeles to live in his brother’s home right when he just checked out of a mental hospital due to a nervous breakdown. Coincidentally, he started to have feelings for his brother’s personal assistant (Greta Gerwig) as the two of them took care of the family dog that was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. “Greenberg,” like its main character, tried too hard to stay away from the commercial offerings of pop culture. Sometimes it worked but there were times when it became borderline pretentious. During the picture’s mission to avoid attaching to the norm, I felt as though it built a wall around itself and I found it challenging to access its emotional core. Stiller did a good job playing an against type and I wish he had more characters like Roger in his repertoire. I enjoyed discovering the way he hid behind his sarcastic remarks in order to not deal with his insecurities, the way he constantly ran away from his past but at the same time unable to move on from certain broken relationships, and the way he dealt with aging and not having a career that he found meaningful or rewarding. It was easy to feel sorry for him but I was glad that the film made Roger somewhat difficult to like because there were times when he hurt those who genuinely cared for him for no good reason. Gerwig also did a wonderful job trying to find love in all the wrong places. What I enjoyed about her character most was the manner in which she told her quirky stories that led nowhere. This often bothered the lead character because he wanted to see purpose in everything. Some reviews from audiences claimed that they did not understand why this was supposed to be a comedy when there was nothing funny about it. I believe the film had a dry sense of humor which is sometimes inaccessible. I enjoyed its subtlety because it required understanding the characters a little bit in order to see the reason why something was funny when a character was placed in a specific situation. However, even I have to admit that I questioned where the movie was going or what it was trying to achieve. It had some brilliant moments that came few and far between. My favorite scene was when Roger talked about how different twentysomethings are nowadays compared to twentysomethings back in the late seventies or early eighties. The script was compelling because I felt a mix of bitterness, regret, anger and sadness in Stiller’s delivery, which I was not aware that he could pull off because I was used to seeing him in more obvious comedies. It would have also been nice if the film did not leave us hanging even if I understood why it ended the way it did. Directed by Noah Baumbach, “Greenberg” is a movie that is unpredictably bittersweet, sometimes challenging but often a frustrating to sit through. If it did not have so many walls and did not try so hard, I think it would have been much stronger and more memorable.
Conversations with Other Women (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Conversations with Other Women,” directed by Hans Canosa started off with seemingly two strangers (Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter) flirting and finding some sort of connection. Eventually, they realized that they’ve known each other in the past–ten years to be exact. What I love most about this picture was its ability to present opposites and the insights that go with them. For instance, Eckhart was more light-hearted and likes to makes jokes while Carter was more of a Debbie Downer and oozes sarcasm. The split-screen worked well because it played upon the very opposite of things, such as one screen would present the past while the other the present, one screen would present reality while the other fantasy, and then back to the characters as it captured the exact facial responses and body languages when the two would converse. I understand that a plethora of people were put off by this film because of the split-screen and the fact that the whole movie was an extended conversation between two past lovers. However, I didn’t find anything bothersome about it. In fact, the whole thing made me smile because it reminded me of great films like Louis Malle’s “My Dinner with Andre” and Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset.” With a short running span of one hour and twenty minutes, it was very efficient because the first half was more about the comedy and rekindling an old romance, while the second half–after the sex which was the midpoint–focused more on the circumstances on why these two people, despite their obvious chemistry, could potentially never be together. I recommend this film to anyone interested in great conversations because it made me feel like I was right there in the room with them. To be honest, I found myself laughing out loud with some of the jokes and teasing that each character threw at each other, something that happens in real life. Another reason why I was glad to have finally seen this movie was seeing Carter play a “normal” person. Whenever I see her, I usually think of her being an evil witch (“Harry Potter” series) or a woman who serves pies made of human flesh (“Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”). This is a strong, quick-paced little movie and intelligent cinema lovers should not miss it.
Monster House (2006)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Rewatching this animated film three years later since it came out in 2006, I still think it’s pretty scary for children. Directed by Gil Kenan, “Monster House” is about three teenagers–sarcastic DJ (Mitchel Musso), portly but hilarious Chowder (Sam Lerner) and precocious Jenny (Spencer Locke)–who learn that the house in front of DJ’s home is alive as it starts taking inside it whatever and whoever it thinks to be trespassing (intentionally or unintentionally). So the three form a plan to finally put the evil house to rest. And who says that defeating a scary living house is an easy feat? What I love about this animated flick is that whenever I watch it, I’m instantly reminded of my childhood. When we were kids, my cousins and I had several adventures while pretending to enter a haunted abandoned house just like the characters did here. The dialogue between the three leads reminded me of those teen movies in the 1980’s (and the fact that the parents are barely on screen), while the soundtrack reminded me of the “Goosebumps” and “Tales from the Crypt” television series. Everything about it just brought me back and I guess that’s the main reason why I instantly fell in love with it the first time. I mentioned that I think this is somewhat scary for children. If the premise of the film that plays on the archetype regarding scary houses next door and the creepy people that live in them is not enough, it also has scenes of the house’ shadows being able to transform into anything as it visits a child’s bedroom, a dungeon-like basement with a shrine that reminded me of those indie creepy serial killer movies when the killer preserves his victims, and more. I’m torn because, at the same time, I’m very impressed with its creativity and willingness to not baby the childreen too much just in case they might get bored. Also, there were jokes about the teens, especially Chowder, not reaching certain developmental levels proposed by some theorists in psychology and I found them to be really funny. Other voices worth noting that added an extra spice to the film are Maggie Gyllenhaal as the babysitter, Jason Lee as the babysitter’s friend/boyfriend, Kevin James and Nick Cannon as the two police officers, Jon Heder as the videogame freak, and Steve Buscemi as the creepy neighbor. “Monster House” is a strong animated movie that should have been seen by more people when it was released. Steven Spielberg is one of the executive producers and I did notice some of his signature styles of storytelling. Even though it can get a bit scary, I’ll still show this movie to my future kids.
The Proposal (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.
★★★★ / ★★★★
Upon reading other people’s reviews, I got the feeling that Poppy (Sally Hawkins) was this person who was happy all the time and wasn’t at all affected by other people’s negative emotions. After actually watching the film, I believe she’s not like that at all. In fact, she cares so much about other people–her family, her friends, even complete strangers–to the point where she tries to make them happy when she senses that they’re having a bad day or they have something heavy in their minds. Her default emotion is happiness, which is unlike many people whose default is neutral, and that makes her really interesting and entertaining to watch. Writer and director Mike Leigh (“Vera Drake”) did a great job introducing an extremely charming and likable character right from the opening credits. What’s even more impressive is that he was able to tell an ordinary story surrounding a 30-year-old single elementary school teacher with great focus in the emotional aspects of different circumstances. By the end of the film, I truly got to know Poppy when she’s with her friends (Alexis Zegerman was hilarious as Hawkins’ sarcastic roommate), when she’s at work with her children, when she’s with her co-workers, when she’s with complete strangers, and when she’s by herself with her thoughts. Although the whole learning-to-drive aspect with Eddie Marsan as the angry driving instructor didn’t work for me because there were a lot of intense emotional outbursts, I did laugh a lot because I could relate to those scenes regarding my experiences behind the wheel for the first time. Instead of that, I wish the story had more time to focus more on the romance between Hawkins and Samuel Roukin. Since Poppy and her group of friends have been talking about where they are in their lives, including Poppy’s thoughts about whether she’s really happy with how her life has turned out, I thought that a genuine connection with someone of the opposite sex was an issue that needed more exploration. Still, this picture is very, very good and I was surprised that Hawkins didn’t get an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. While watching the film, she made me feel really happy and it’s not easy to carry a comedy movie with such consistency all the way through. If you’re in the mood for a bit of sunshine, “Happy-Go-Lucky” gets a very enthusiastic recommendation from me.
Race You to the Bottom
★★ / ★★★★
This indie drama reminded me of a weaker version of “2 Days in Paris” because right from the get-go, I had this feeling that something was going to go wrong. It’s about the breakdown of a bisexual man (Cole Williams) and a heterosexual woman’s (Amber Benson) romantic relationship as they travel through California’s wine country. Both of them have boyfriends who they willingly cheat on and that alone did not make me want to embrace these characters. Still, I wanted to give the film a chance and I’m glad I did because there were moments when I actually thought that the interactions between Williams and Benson were genuine. The fluidy of sexuality is definitely at the forefront and it was tackled in a legitimate manner. But I thought some of the gay stereotypes are jarring: Williams is a self-loathing pseudointellectual who likes to sleep around and seduce other men. I did not like his character at all because all ever thinks about is himself; he doesn’t have a filter especially when certain conversations move toward a more sensitive territory. However, I did like Benson (as usual) because even though she’s sarcastic and (at times) drowning in her own delusion, she’s sensitive and not afraid to be vulnerable. This is one of those pictures that could’ve benefited from a longer running time. In this case, seventy-five minutes is not enough to paint complex characters that the audiences can ultimately invest in. I would also like to note that it was nice to see Justin Hartley and Philipp Karner here as Williams’ target of seduction. For the longest time, I kept being distracted from the story because I knew I’ve seen them in other films before but I didn’t know exactly where from. There were some nice ideas here that could’ve used some more development in both writing and execution. Otherwise, it’s not too shabby.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
★★★ / ★★★★
I can understand why this film bombed in the box office when it was released but later gained a strong cult following. Even in today’s standards, this still has a very strong shock value because it features transsexual aliens, dirty images and songs, bad special and visual effects (it had a low budget), and a story that doesn’t make any sense. But I found this picture to be very difficult not to enjoy because it is aware of its campiness and shortcomings. I loved the fact that this movie made a plethora of references to the story of Frankenstein but it’s not limited to that. There are a lot of jokes in the background for comedic effect (whether it’s a painting, a banner, or an actor not realizing that he is on camera) even though those jokes are never attended to. It’s really up to the audiences to put some of the pieces together to truly enjoy this cult classic. Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick are believable as a WASP couple who gets engulfed in Tim Curry’s world of decadence. Peter Hinwood as Rocky Horror was really funny in his own mute way. Richard O’Brien (who also wrote the film) and Patricia Quinn provided an extra level of camp and originality. As for the songs, I found more than half of them to be very catchy especially “Dammit Janet” (which was sung in a church–it was hilarious), “Time Warp,” “Sweet Transvestite” and “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me.” If you’re look for a film that’s kitschy, sarcastic and bold, this is the one too see. I think it has a solid place in cinematic history because I haven’t seen anything remotely like it.
★★★★ / ★★★★
Even though this animated film is targeted toward children, what I love about it is that it’s not afraid to show menace in order to engage its older audiences. Written and directed by Henry Selick, “Coraline” reminded me of a blend among “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “James and the Giant Peach,” “The Orphanage” and “Alice in Wonderland.” Not only does it have many implications about growing up and dealing with the realities of life, it also has something to say about alternate realities and the power of imagination. I thought Dakota Fanning as Coraline is an excellent choice because Fanning has that certain edge that’s both friendly yet sarcastic at just the right moments. Teri Hatcher as Coraline’s mother and Other Mother is a good choice as well. Having seen Hatcher in “Desperate Housewives,” I thought she was more comedic more than anything so wasn’t sure that she was going to deliver. However, she proved me wrong. The stop-animation is absolutely stunning. Right from the first scene, you can easily tell that the filmmakers did the best they could to produce a work of art that deserves to be remembered for a very long time. I’m willing to bet that this film will be regarded as a classic, like “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” in about a decade or two. Sure, it’s scarier than the films previously mentioned but that’s what makes it different from other children’s movies. This animated flick is not afraid to use certain adult language, show certain exaggerated body parts, and a story that can potentially drive children to their parents’ bedroom on the night after watching it. Even I got scared during the last thirty minutes because there are a lot at stake for Coraline. I believed that she truly was in danger and could get hurt by the malicious Other Mother. Some stand-out scenes include Coraline’s discovery of Wybie Lovat’s mouth being sewn open to produce a smile, the atmospheric second mission involving a theatre and dog-bat hybrids, and the last five minutes which involves a metallic hand and a reference to “The Ring.” All of the eye-popping (sometimes literally) adventures aside, this is a story about a person not being taken seriously and how that frustration gets the best of us. That frustration then drives us to turn toward the seemingly better alternative only to realize later on that we’ve had it so good all along.
Encounters at the End of the World (2007)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Prior to watching the documentary, I expected to see strange creatures and jaw-dropping landscapes of Antarctica. What I didn’t expect was fascinating human stories of those who live, work, and research that unknown continent. This film really opened my eyes; this may sound stupid but when I think of Antarctica, I think of penguins and endless desert of ice. I don’t think about people actually living there for years–not just living there for the sake of work but actually living there because they feel like they belong there. Werner Herzog (“Grizzly Man,” “Rescue Dawn”), the director, features different kinds of people who have some kind of amazing stories tell. Their stories are so out there, so unbelievable to the point where I thought, “Wow. I hope when I’m old and wrinkled I’ll have my own interesting a story to tell younger generations.” The researchers also reminded me why I chose to pursue a Biology degree. They are so passionate with what they do, I feel like they’re having fun instead of working. They treat their big accomplishments (such as discovering new species of organisms) like little victories and they’re off to do more research the next day. One day, I want to be like them–doing what I love so it doesn’t feel like work. I liked how Herzog would sound sarcastic when he would ask the researchers stupid-sounding questions, but in truth, he really wants to know the answer. Comedic moments like that made this documentary less somber, which I thought was a good decision. As for the images that the film had to offer, I’ve never seen ice look so magical and poetic. There was this one scene involving a penguin that chose to walk toward a mountain thousands of kilometers away. It would mean certain death to that penguin because it’s walking away from its flock and food source. Suddenly, the way Herzog asks why the penguin walked in that direction made me tear up. It made me think about life and how mysterious and beautiful it is. The underwater scenes blew me away. There are so many weird-looking creatures–I’m really creeped out by them but at the same time I wanted to touch them. I highly recommend this film because it’s kind of like a tour of Antarctica. Not only do the audiences get to hear seals communicate with each other, go through survival training during intense ice storms, and see hypnotic landscapes, they also get a chance to think philosophically: how it’s a priviledge for humans to live on this Earth and how one day we will become extinct and nature will regain its place.
Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
I almost gave this a two stars out of four because there were moments where I thought it diverged too much from the adventure and focused a little bit too much on lame/unnecessary character development. With a family-friendly summer blockbuster film, one expects breath-taking action sequences right after another instead of a forced attempt of sentimentality. Still, I decided to give this film three stars because there were some truly memorable scenes such as the mine ride, the cave of crystals, the T-Rex, and the geyser. Brendan Fraser, like in “The Mummy” films, is really likeable as a scientist whose lab is about to be shut down; Josh Hutcherson continues his role as a kid who’s a little bit sarcastic but often keeps something up his sleeves; Anita Briem is also a neat addition because she provided energy when the story tends to slow down a bit. I did not see this in 3-D even though the entire picture is designed to be seen in such a format so I can’t comment on how much or if it’s better than on a flat screen. Still, there’s plenty of visual eye candy and adrenaline for those who just want to sit back and not think too much. But I must admit that I really like the science in the film: how Fraser’s character used kinematics to determine how high they are from the ground as they free fall, the application of Geology when it comes to recognizing certain rocks and their properties, the concept of bioluminescence (the production and emission of light when chemical energy is converted to light energy), and more. It made the movie that much more fun for me because I’ve taken classes that deal with those concepts. (I am a certified nerd/geek/dork.) This is the kind of movie that a babysitter can let kids watch because it’s pretty harmless, there’s a plethora of bright colors, and pretty funny one-liners. It could’ve been a lot better but it could’ve been a lot worse.