★★ / ★★★★
Robert (Ezra Miller) was a sophomore in a private high school where kids were isolated from their parents so they were free to experiment with whatever they wanted. The high school made it a requirement for their students to take up sports or after school activities so Robert, having no interest in anything physical other than being intimate with another, chose to join the Video and Audio Club. While shooting at a hallway for an assignment, Robert accidentally captured two girls overdosing on cocaine. The event triggered a series of new rules as the students struggled to adapt to the death and their new environment. This film was good in some parts but it was mostly frustrating. I hated the scenes that reminded me of Michael Haneke’s “Caché,” where absolutely nothing would happen as the camera would linger at something random person or object. I think that is one of the main problems of movies adapting a style of faux-documentary or faux-realism: the filmmakers just don’t know when to cut certain scenes when the important element had been delivered. At times, nothing important would appear on screen at all. It then becomes an utter waste of time. The two main emotions I felt while watching this picture were anger and apathy. Anger because of the increasing frustration regarding dragged out scenes for no good reason. Apathy because of the subject matter. I felt like I was back in high school. One of my biggest disappointments with the film was it didn’t feature one healthy, clear-minded student with goals that go far beyond their current institution. When the two students died, honestly, I didn’t care. For me, they were just twins who happened to be addicted to drugs. Yes, they were young but that was no excuse. I was their age once but I chose not to make highly stupid decisions. It was ultimately their choice to be involved in drugs. No amount of excuse such as the classic, “My parents don’t give me enough attention” would make me feel more sympathetic toward them–dead or alive. Then my feeling turned to anger again because the very same students who called them “cokeheads” behind their backs suddenly changed their minds, claiming that they would miss the twins and “nothing would ever be the same.” Give me a break. But then I wondered whether that was the director’s purpose: to expose the drug culture of schools today and to reveal the hypocrisy of both the students and the faculties. “Afterschool,” written and directed by Antonio Campos, is a challenging film but sometimes it was just plain wooden. I wouldn’t be surprised if one decided to stop watching the movie just thirty minutes into it. However, I liked the fact that it made me curious with what would happen and to see whether my hypothesis involving the main character’s psychological state was correct. And I was.
★★★ / ★★★★
After watching the film, admittedly not knowing much about it prior, I looked it up and was at total awe that Stanley Kubrick, the director, made this film in the 1950’s. I was completely aware that he made beautiful films but I had no idea that he could blow other historical epics out of the water which came before and after “Spartacus.” Kirk Douglas stars as the title character, a half-slave-turned-gladiator after being purchased by the hilarious Peter Ustinov. In the gladiator school, Douglas met Jean Simmons, another slave, and the two fall in love. When Simmons was purchased by a rich Roman senator (Laurence Olivier) after an unexpected visit, the slaves/gladiators broke out of the school and they made it their mission to free every slave in the Roman Empire. Everything about this picture felt big: the romance between Douglas and Simmons, the battle scenes between the slaves and the Roman soldiers, and the political strife between Olivier and Charles Laughton. I also enjoyed the side characters such as the poetic Antoninus (Tony Curtis) and Julius Caesar (John Gavin) who made the story that much more compelling. While each scene was or close to excellent, there were some definite standouts such as the bath scene between Olivier and Curtis (not included in the original release). It was so funny (and revealing) due to the homosexual undertones regarding their conversation about preferring to eat oysters or snails. It was taken out in its original release but I’m glad that added it back in the later editions because it made the characters that much richer. Nevertheless, I felt like there was something missing–a special shine that made most of Kubrick’s films so memorable. Perhaps it’s some of the overly simplistic (sometimes downright pointless) dialogue between characters, especially in the earlier scenes, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Still, this picture is definitely worth watching for the ravishing aesthetics, some strong acting and scope even though the script/story could have been stronger. I couldn’t help but be impressed with the number of people that were hired as extras, especially during the battle sequences, knowing the fact that computers did not much have capability to enhance the movie back then as much as it can nowadays. Ultimately, I say see it because its willingness to take risks is something to be commended.
Bedtime Stories (2008)
★ / ★★★★
I understand that I’m not the target audience of this movie. That said, I do enjoy children’s movies from time to time because I’m a kid at heart, but I didn’t enjoy this even for one second. Although it had talented actors such as Adam Sandler (arguably), Keri Russell, Guy Pearce, Russell Brand, Richard Griffiths and Courtney Cox, the material was just too bland and uninteresting for smarter kids and adults. The premise of the picture is that Sandler tells a story to Cox’s children (Jonathan Morgan Heit and Laura Ann Kesling) and eventually they come true in some shape or form in real life. I found it to be an unfunny, one-note joke; I grew tired of it after thirty minutes, only to find out that I still have about an hour remaining. The bit about the school being demolished for a new hotel felt too forced. I wish the writers, Matt Lopez and Tim Herlihy, had more jokes that pertain to adults and something more concrete for the children. There were too many slapstick jokes but not enough gravity to establish why the audiences should care for the characters and the story. The point of telling stories is to escape reality. However, the stories that Sandler’s character told were ultimately one-dimensional. In my opinion, it would have been so much better if each story had a different genre yet there’s still a valuable lesson that can be learned. Instead, some of them are heavy on the special and visual effects but they do not seem to amount to anything. If one is contemplating to show this to his or her children, make sure to show it before bedtime because the children will most likely fall asleep somewhere in the middle.
★★★★ / ★★★★
This is one of those films that I will never forget because of how daring it was (still is) especially back at the time of its release. Lindsay Anderson was able to helm a counterculture film that fuses reality with surrealism and dark fantasy, all the while embracing its satirical nature. This was Malcolm McDowell’s first feature film and it was easy to tell that he was a star. He played his character with such domineering sneer and swagger, it was almost as if he was preparing to star in “A Clockwork Orange” directed by the great Stanley Kubrick. The way McDowell’s character and his friends (David Wood and Richard Warwick) were constantly pushed toward the edge by the faculty was fascinating to watch. Each scene has an implication and a certain bite to the point where I found myself referring back to the earlier scenes and realized that foreshadowing is one of its strongest elements. The final scene involving a bloody student uprising against the school system was done in such a provocative way; I didn’t know whether to laugh or take it seriously. Another element that I found to be interesting was the romance between McDowell and a waitress (Christine Noonan). That one “animalistic” scene was so out of the blue but it was exemplary because it’s as if it symbolizes every student’s frustration in that public school. Lastly, the romance between Warwick and one of the younger boys (Rupert Webster) provided a much-needed sensitivity to the picture. Even though they may not have many scenes where they conversed, when they finally did, I couldn’t help but have a smile on my face. This may have been really controversial back in the late 1960s but I think it’s more relevant today. School shootings have now become far too common because of the way students feel about their teachers, peers and the school’s atmosphere. (On the other hand, one can argue that school shootings happen for no reason at all rather than to inflict pain and violence.) This film does a tremendous job avoiding expected rationalizations for the students’ future actions whenever it could. If one is craving for something different in style and perspective, this is the one to see.