Source Code (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), a soldier assigned in Afghanistan, woke up in a stranger’s body in a Chicago commuter train in front of Christina (Michelle Monaghan), a woman he never met but who seemed to know him. Later, he found out that he was a part of a military experimental technology, led by Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), and his assignment was to find the identity of the man or woman who triggered the bomb on the doomed train earlier that day. Everyone on the train was already dead and it included the body Colter inhabited. Each time he failed, his day started all over again as if he was imprisoned in a “Twilight Zone” episode. Written by Ben Ripley and directed by Duncan Jones, “Source Code” was relatively small in scope but its ambitions were grand. It had a plethora of exciting ideas about what it meant to be in a specific reality: Is the reality what was outside our bodies or was it within? Metaphysics aside, Gyllenhaal was very convincing as a conflicted soldier who didn’t sign up for the mission he was given. Initially, I found it bothersome that he was reluctant in performing his mission. He let his emotions get in way too often instead of focusing to come up with ways to narrow down his suspects. Inevitably, he failed multiple times and we found ourselves back in square one. Eventually, I realized that his defiance of authority was the point. His neglect in following orders allowed us to see his humanity and what was really important to him Ultimately, he went through with the mission not because he was simply told to do it but because he cared about the many more lives that might be in danger due to the high possibility that the bomber will strike again. There was a difference between a mindless drone and a good soldier. Moreover, I was surprised that the film relied heavily on romance. Even though the scenes of Colter and Christina were pretty much the same, as the picture went on, there was a clear change in the protagonist and it was more than enough for us to be convinced that the feelings they had for each other was real. It was also interesting to see Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), Colter’s guide between the real and computerized world, weigh the pros and cons of the program she was given the chance to control. There was no doubt that the program was genius, even revolutionary, but that brilliance required serious ethical and moral sacrifices. Fast-paced and full of twists and turns, “Source Code” had creative ideas but it never felt insular. Combined with Jones’ confident direction and given that we’re willing to take a leap of faith with regards to the advanced technology, it almost felt grounded in reality.
★★ / ★★★★
Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Clint Eastwood, “Hereafter” followed three strangers from different areas of the world and how they’ve been touched by the afterlife in some way. Marie (Cécile De France), a successful French television reporter, survived a tsunami while on vacation with a co-worker who happened to be married man (Thierry Neuvic). Since she got back, Marie became obsessed over meeting with scientists who studied life after death for some explanation about what she saw when she lost consciousness. San Franciscan George (Matt Damon) had the ability to communicate with the dead. He used to do it for money. He wanted to stop altogether and lead a normal life but his brother (Jay Mohr) kept sending him clients. When George met a girl (Bryce Dallas Howard) in his cooking class, it seemed as though the life he wanted was within reach. Lastly, in London, Marcus and Jason (Frankie McLaren and George McLaren), were inseparable twins. But when Jason passed away and his mother checked into a rehabilitation center to attempt to recover from heroin addiction, Marcus was placed in foster care. The film was promising because of the way it set up the characters’ unique circumstances. The tsunami scene was heart-pounding, the reluctant psychic’s situation had a whiff of comedy to it, and the twins’ relationship was genuinely moving. However, as it went on, I couldn’t help but feel like it was afraid to tackle the difficult questions. It was plagued with scenes that led nowhere, especially the middle portion, and it became repetitive. I wanted several of my questions answered but the picture never got around to it. In regards to Marie, was she able to step outside of herself and notice a change from being a fact-driven woman to a woman so willing to embrace what’s outside the realm of possibility? She seemed to be a very smart person and for her completely believe everything she saw right away didn’t seem like the material showed loyalty to her character. As for George, he claimed he wanted to stop using his gift but was there a part of him that enjoyed giving other people closure? In some circumstances, if he didn’t hear anything from the spirit or if the connection wasn’t strong enough, was he forced to lie in order to give someone a chance to move on? His craving for a so-called normal life felt superficial. What I found most moving was Marcus’ harrowing quest in dealing with his older brother’s untimely death and the abandonment he felt when his mother had to leave. The character was the “quiet twin” and it worked especially the heartbreaking scenes when Marcus met with people who knowingly and falsely claimed to have a connection with spirits. He didn’t need to speak or scream or yell in order for us to understand what he might be going through. His actions (or inaction) were enough to reflect his sadness and possible state of depression. “Hereafter” need not offer me any definite answers because I have my own view of the afterlife. But what it needed was to fearlessly confront the characters’ own beliefs about the unknown, challenge them, and show us how they’ve changed, or if there even was a change.
★★★ / ★★★★
An isolated town in the middle of the desert with a population of 14 had to deal with giant worms attracted to anything that caused a vibration above ground. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward star as two friends with a couple of odd jobs. They liked to joke around, talk about women, and make silly decisions based upon rock, paper, scissors. But after finding a dead body and stumbling upon man-eating worms, they had to toughen up and warn the town that they soon would be up for the picking. What I liked most about this movie was its self-awareness. It knew that the concept was silly so did not take itself too seriously. Instead, it took advantage of our lack of knowledge about the organism. Initially, we had no idea how the worms looked like and their capabilities. As the picture went on, as the characters began to struggle for survival, surprisingly, the worms started to smarten up and plan in order to capture their prey. The characters were then forced to get creative in two fronts: How to get away from the worms and how to destroy them. My favorite scenes were the ones where the characters were given the chance to have a closer look at the creatures. I constantly had a sneaky feeling that those worms weren’t really dead, that perhaps they were smart enough to pretend. It gave me the creeps because I just have a disgust for anything that resemble worms or snakes. I also highly enjoyed the scenes with Reba McEntire and Michael Gross as a couple who had a penchant for collecting firearms. Unlike horror movies, especially zombie and slasher flicks, I noticed that the writers did not allow their characters to argue with each other like there was no tomorrow. Time was of the essence and the importance of teamwork was consistently highlighted for survival. I also noticed a low number of false alarms which is atypical for horror pictures, even horror-comedies. Since it wasn’t the norm, it made me feel uneasy in a good way. I felt like I was always on my toes, which was a great sign because it meant that I was engaged. I enjoyed the material because it surprised me in many ways and I felt like the filmmakers and actors had fun while making the picture. Kudos to the special effects and make-up team for creating the disgusting worm guts. “Tremors,” directed by Ron Underwood, achieved cult status and understandably so. With its B-movie premise and tone of silliness, it was easy dismiss. However, it was undeniably fast-paced, energetic, adventurous and farcical. It’s one of those movies that can brighten up one’s night during an uneventful weekend.
Tron: Legacy (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) designed a digital world in where he eventually became imprisoned. He left his young son named Sam in the real world where he was raised by his grandparents. About two decades later, complete with rich boy angst, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) stumbled upon his father’s arcade where he discovered the digital world his old man always talked about. He had one mission: To find his father and get out alive. But that wouldn’t be easy because Clu (also played by Bridges), a part of Kevin designed to correct all imperfections, was on a war path to capture his maker and make his way into the real world. “Tron: Legacy” worked as a video game but not as a successful science fiction film. And like video games in the 80s, the movie was too simplistic so it wasn’t at all engaging. Blue light meant good guys while red-orange light meant bad guys. The story was even driven by a potential end of the world if the good guys failed their mission. Where the heart should have been was simply a hollow case full of bright lights and booming soundtrack. For instance, when Sam finally saw his father after being absent from his life for about twenty years, the characters barely emoted a thing. They stood in their respective spaces for so long and when they did make a physical connection, it felt awkward and forced. If I saw my dad after believing that he was dead for more than half of my life, I would rush up to him before I could even think and hug him with all my might. Tears would be running down my face and not a word uttered from my mouth would be intelligible. And why didn’t the father and son share one meaningful conversation? Instead, what I felt was the filmmakers were afraid to show some ugliness and reactions that reflected reality. The material felt detached and calculated to a tee. Since the picture was set in a literal fantasy world, what it actually needed was gallons of humanity so that its audiences would remain connected despite the impossibilities unfolding before our eyes. Furthermore, the film had trouble telling too much instead of showing. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes during the scene when Quorra (Olivia Wilde), Kevin’s assistant, said that trying to escape was useless because Clu was nearby. Instead of wasting time, what I needed to see was their actual attempt to escape. If they happened to get caught, just surprise me. Don’t warn me about it because my attention notices the egregiousness of the script. Directed by Joseph Kosinski, watching “Tron: Legacy” was like the moment we stop to observe someone playing video games in the arcade for five minutes. It may have engaging music and excellent visuals designed to capture our attention but staying longer was a waste of our precious time.
★★ / ★★★★
Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) was a struggling writer in New York. He claimed he had ideas for his book but he was at a loss on how to put them together. He spent most of his days staring at the computer and accomplishing nothing. But his luck turned for the better when he ran into his ex-brother-in-law (Johnny Whitworth). Vernon, a former drug dealer, handed Eddie a pill called an NZT48 which allowed the person to use his brain in full capacity. Eddie finished his book in no time but that wasn’t enough. He realized he needed more of the magic pills so he could earn enough money and be set for life. “Limitless,” based on Alan Glynn’s novel “The Dark Fields,” was an entertaining fantasy for about half of its running time. It posed interesting questions about what one man would do if he was given the chance to become the smartest man on the planet. Naturally, finding a cure for diseases like AIDS or finding a solution for world hunger was not one of his priorities. Instead, he decided to borrow money from a thug (Andrew Howard) and forgot to pay him back, got involved with a cunning businessman (Robert De Niro) who was willing to go great lengths to remain at the top of the food chain, and win back the girl who dumped him when he was at his worst. Maybe he wasn’t as smart as the drug led him to believe. While the picture remained energetic throughout, I noticed that half-way through, I began to think about the technicalities involving the drug in question. For instance, what chemical compounds was it made of? Eddie recruited a scientist to make more of the pills and I got the impression that it was relatively simple to make. And given that the drug was able to bind to more receptors in the brain, how was the body able to compensate for the overdrive given that Eddie was consuming the pills like Nerds candy? In the least, I expected him to eat more because the brain needs glucose to function. I understood that it was supposed to be science fiction. However, I wouldn’t have focused on the technicalities if the filmmakers had chosen to stray from the formula they’ve grown accustomed to. Every time Eddie took the drug, the scenery looked happier and brighter. The soundtrack was more upbeat. The temporary happiness was countered by a mysterious man (Tomas Arana) who stalked Eddie. The same set-up was used about five or six times. It was tiresome, lazy, and, most importantly, it didn’t always move the story forward. Characters like the mysterious man and the murdered woman in the hotel were left on the sideline. A handful of questions were left unanswered. The film lightly tackled some of the repercussions of addiction but it ultimately glorified it. On one hand, I thought it was refreshing. Admittedly, when our protagonist was on a high, I laughed at the ridiculous things that happened to him. On the other hand, it felt like a slap in the face of real people struggling with drug addiction. It was supposed to be a cautionary tale but it lacked the gray areas of ethics and morality.
★★★★ / ★★★★
“Aliens” picked up as we made the grim discovery that our heroine named Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) had been in hypersleep and wandering in space for 57 years. The second surprise was the fact that humans started to colonize the planet where the aliens had been incubating. To no surprise, the human colony, which included a brave little girl named Newt (Carrie Henn), had lost contact with the scientists and a request was made that Ripley join a crew to investigate the strange happenings. The feel of this installment felt considerably different. While the first one was more about the concept and horror of being abandoned in space, this one was more action-oriented and more concerned about the gadgetry such as the weapons and the vehicles used by the characters. That wasn’t necessarily a negative as long as the tension remained relatively equal or greater than its predecessor. And, in some ways, it was able to surpass the original. A definite stand-out was the alien’s ability to learn via trial-and-error. We learned about the aliens such as they tend to hunt in packs and there was a sort hierarchy among them. By learning more about the enemy, we understood their capability but at the same they became that much more terrifying because we now had the knowledge of their great ability to adapt in order to survive. They showed signs of intelligence, not just creatures that wanted to kill for the sake of killing. Two other elements I noticed about the film were the fact that the aliens were easier to kill and they were much more visible. In Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” the organism was practically invincible and we only really saw the creature’s full body toward the end. In “Aliens,” the approach was much more obvious and body parts (along with the highly acidic blood) were flung all over the place. However, that’s what I admired about the sequel: It was different than the original but it was able to make it work for itself and deliver adrenaline-fueled space action-adventure that kept my heart tugging at a frantic pace until the last scene. That is, when Ripley had a duel against the queen of the aliens using a highly familiar-looking robot from Cameron’s “Avatar.” What it did preserve was the feminist undertone that “Alien” played with which was a smart move because the movie was first and foremost supposed to be Ripley’s quest for survival. If I were to nitpick for a flaw, I would say the crews’ interactions toward the beginning had quickly worn its welcome. I especially found Bill Paxton’s character highly irksome and I wished he was the first one to be killed. A redeeming quality was Michael Biehn as Ripley’s potential romantic interest. “Aliens” was not only highly entertaining but it managed to justify that it was a necessary sequel by playing upon existing ideas and expanding new ones.
Men in Black II (2002)
★ / ★★★★
Several years after Agent Kay’s (Tommy Lee Jones) memory had been erased, Agent Jay (Will Smith) kept having trouble with finding the right partner for him on the field. This was particularly problematic because there was an alien that landed on Earth which took the form of a supermodel (Lara Flynn Boyle) with plans of obtaining ultimate power by finding the so-called Light. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, “Men in Black II” fell into a trap of delivering bigger and better special and visual effects but dumbing the material down considerably. While its predecessor was smart in terms of delivering references of other science fiction pictures and television shows, the sequel was unfunny and downright disappointing. Instead of further exploring the partnership between Agents Kay and Jay, the movie focused on the aliens such as the annoying talking dog and two-headed alien played by Johnny Knoxville. I didn’t care about how the aliens looked like; I cared about the material’s level of imagination. There were also too many distracting and unnecessary cameos from Michael Jackson and Nick Cannon. What’s the point of making a cameo if their appearances weren’t even funny? Establishing the heart of the picture should have been easy. Since the two agents have been apart for so long, I wanted to know how they’ve changed over the years. For instance, their positions, in comparison to the first film, had essentially been switched around. Since they now had the chance to walk in each other’s shoes, how have their opinions of each other changed? Or was there even any change? What made the first one so enjoyable was not solely because of the visuals. It was because of Jones and Smith’s brotherly chemistry with a bit of friction on the side. In this installment, they were barely given a chance to interact in a meaningful way. They were constantly running around like kids in the playground. They didn’t seem to slow down but we grow tired of watching them because everything was recycled. I did like watching Rosario Dawson as a witness to a murder in a pizzeria but the script did not do her justice. Furthermore, the romance between her and Smith’s character was desperate and unconvincing. Their interactions were almost as awkward as the extended silences in between scenes when audiences were signaled that something funny just happened and it was their cue to laugh. I didn’t laugh. I wasn’t amused. I was angry because the freshness that I knew it should have had was not translated onto the screen. Perhaps the filmmakers thought we had been “deneuralized” and wouldn’t notice the fact that we’ve seen everything they had on here before.
★★★★ / ★★★★
A spacecraft containing a crew of seven (Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto) was supposed to be on its way to Earth. After waking up from hypersleep, the crew discovered that they were nowhere near Earth because their ship, known as Nostromo, received a transmission. One of the rules of their mission was if the ship received some sort of signal, it was requisite that they investigate the source which most likely could be extraterrestrial. This film held my attention like a vice grip right from the opening credits. There was something eerie and cold in the way the camera scanned the darkness of outer space. It made me feel small and almost insignificant. Even though I knew that Ripley, Weaver’s character, was the hero of the story, I liked that I didn’t immediately notice her. Her character only began to grab my attention when one of the three crew members was infected with an alien larvae and she refused to let them inside due to a risk of infection. Naturally, their leader ignored her sound reasoning and it was only a matter of time until the crew met their gruesome demise. Ridley Scott’s direction took the film to the next level. Stumbling upon an alien planet could have been done in a cliché manner such as showing too much disgusting slime and, worse, showing too many alien creatures in the beginning of the film, taking away some of the effective scares found later in the picture because we would know exactly what the alien looked like. Instead, Scott used the alien planet’s environment to mask certain corners but at the same time highlight the areas closer to a light source. Since it didn’t show too much, it took advantage of my imagination, making what I didn’t see much scarier than what I did see. (But what I was still horrified when I saw the alien in larvae form.) Granted, most of the crew members made some bad decisions. But I think the unwise decisions they made were not equal to brainless teenagers in a slasher film. It was different because the crew faced the unknown and the usual rules did not apply. For instance, there was no way they could have known that the alien’s blood was so acidic to the point where it was able to eat through metal. A major theme I focused on was human instinct being pitted against animal instinct. Both were different because human instinct, represented by Ripley, is capable of being controlled, to an extent, given that the person actively takes a moment to evaluate a situation. On the other hand, animal instinct, represented by the alien, cannot. However, both are similar in that instinct has one goal: self-preservation. “Alien” is an intelligent science-fiction film that expertly mixes wonder and horror. Undertones which comment on feminism and technology can be found but it doesn’t get in the way of first-class entertainment.
Men in Black (1997)
★★★ / ★★★★
The opening scene of the highly successful “Men in Black,” both in box office results and audience approval, featured a group of border patrolmen stopping a vehicle suspected of carrying aliens/illegal immigrants. Little did they know that one of the passengers was an actual alien from outer space. The first scene rightfully set the tone of the rest of the picture. There were a handful of clever and funny double entendres, one of the most notable being an alien cockroach inhabiting a human body (Vincent D’Onofrio) posing as a bug exterminator. It also had a level of irony. Enter Will Smith as an NYPD cop–eventually renamed Agent Jay–recruited by Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) to be a member of the government designed to protect humanity from all things extraterrestrial. Agent Kay was serious and he spoke in a monotonous manner (perhaps his performance was influenced by a television show called “The X-Files”). Agent Jay was lively and had a penchant for cracking jokes and wielding big weapons. They were amusing in their own ways so we cared about them. Right off the bat, we felt that they had great chemistry which the film sometimes used as a crutch when it diverged its focus from the main storyline which involved the possible destruction of the human race if a certain jewel wasn’t delivered to its rightful owner. For instance, one distraction was Agent Jay’s romantic interest toward a woman (Linda Fiorentino) who worked in a morgue. However, I didn’t mind its occasional lack of focus because it was very fast-paced and it never forgot to have fun. It kept me curious. When the woman examined a dead body and she found something curious inside it, the camera did not rush to show us what she saw. The material was smart enough to let us think about the oddity. More importantly, it impressed me because “Men in Black” proved that a film about the end of the world can be both successful as a sci-fi comedy and a commercial project. Unlike Roland Emmerich’s disappointing “Independence Day,” this movie captured a sense of fun within the dangers that were unfolding before our eyes. Based on the comics by Lowell Cunningham and skillfully directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, “Men in Black” may have felt small in scope but the rewards were undeniably big. It wanted to engage its audiences instead of spoon-feeding us information. For a movie about a world inhabited with aliens, I admired that it didn’t offer interminable scenes which served to explain. It simply showed. And that may have been its main recipe for success.
★★★ / ★★★★
Throughout my time in the university, about seven to ten people have asked me about Steven Soderbergh’s “Solaris” in hopes of confirming their opinion that the movie “sucked.” All I could tell them was I had not yet seen it but would be getting around to watching it sooner or later. In short, I thought it was quite compelling. Psychologist Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) was called by a friend (Ulrich Tukur) to go to a space station located along the orbit of planet Solaris. Strange things had been happening and he thought that Chris was the perfect person to solve whatever was going on. Naturally, I asked myself why the government didn’t intervene because taxpayers usually fund space explorations but I chose to overlook that lack of logic. When Chris arrived at the space station, dried blood was all over the place. Some crew members were dead and the two who were still alive (Viola Davis, Jeremy Davies) were locked in their respective spaces. Little did Chris know that the planet had to power to create a person the crew members loved most out of thin air (known as “Visitors”) via taking advantage of their subsconsciousness while they slept. In Chris’ case, Rheya (Natascha McElhone), Chris’ dead lover, woke next to him. This was a different kind of a science fiction film because the visuals were not at the forefront (although it still looked beautiful). It was very heavy on the dialogue which, understandably, irked a lot of its viewers. But that’s exactly what I liked about it. Even though the story was set in the future, it tried to answer timeless questions that the most influential philosophers discussed (or obsessed about) during their careers. For instance, do other people only exist through our minds and our memories of them? In that case, do we exist only through other people’s minds? With each passing minute, the stakes were that much higher as Rheya started to gain memories in the way Chris remembered the original Rheya. In other words, she slowly became more human-like. If they kill her, is it murder? We get to observe the protagonist struggle morally and psychologically because he blamed himself for the death of his wife. However, I wish the constantly-on-edge Davis was in more scenes. She was voice of practicality in the picture and I just loved the conviction she infused in her character. If I was stuck in a space station next to a creepy planet capable of producing clone-like creatures, I would definitely want her to be on my side. I highly enjoyed the film because it was able to frame paranoia in an effective manner without trying to be flashy with shaky cameras and other more mainstream techniques. It relied on its story and took its time to explore its themes. I appreciated that it treated its viewers with intelligence. Based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem, “Solaris” is a success because it reminds us that our lack of knowledge about outer space and its many potentials may be equivalent to the untapped abilities of our minds.
Event Horizon (1997)
★ / ★★★★
A spaceship designed by a scientist named Dr. William Wier (Sam Neill) reappeared near Neptune after disappearing for seven years. The scientist boarded a rescue ship with its crew of specialists (Joely Richardson, Kathleen Quinlan, Richard T. Jones, Jack Noseworthy, Jason Isaacs, Sean Perwee) which was led by the domineering Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne). When the eight finally boarded the mysterious Event Horizon, the original crew was nowhere to be found. However, their advanced instruments detected a life form supposedly located all over the ship. What I first noticed about the movie was its great visuals. Unfortunately, it had nothing else to offer. The movie succumbed to typicalities such as the rescuers being targeted one by one as if they were stuck in a bad slasher film. I think the picture was more interested in generating scares than taking advantage of its creepy setting and the science that is currently out of our reach. It was a crucial problem because I noticed that the majority of the time, the characters were haunted by hallunications. For smart and supposedly well-trained people, I found it hard to believe that they could not detach themselves from the idea that the loved ones they left on Earth were actually on the ship or that someone from their past had come back for revenge. What I expected for the movie to focus on was the possible gateway to another dimension. Space is limitless and thefore open to many kinds of interpretation. I thought it was a wasted opportunity that the writer, Philip Eisner, took the obvious path–a formula that consisted of nothing but blood and violence. Everything was spoon-fed for us and that was one of its biggest crimes. I knew exactly when something would pop out or when someone would die. It was not a fun experience because I felt like it didn’t even try to do something creative. Toward the end, it was plagued with cheesy one-liners and the filmmakers failed to wrap up the story in a respectable way. It seemed like they knew that they made a disappointing movie and just tossed it aside. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, “Event Horizon” is a science fiction film that might have been exposed to a black hole because all of the potentially wondorous elements had been sucked out of it. It didn’t have the bravado to challenge us, to ask questions about its characters and their mission and, most importantly, it didn’t make us think about how we would cope if we were given the same situation because it failed to pause from all the senseless action.
Blade Runner (1982)
★★ / ★★★★
Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) was given an assignment by the leader of the Tyrell Corporation (Joe Turkell): to hunt four replicants (Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah, Brion James, Joanna Cassidy), human-like creatures who lacked natural emotional responses as humans, and “retire” or assassinate them when they reached planet Earth. Rick’s mission became a bit complicated when he started to fall for another replicant named Rachael (Sean Young) who wasn’t aware of her true nature. The first time I saw “Blade Runner” back when I was in high school, I was far from impressed with it. But after having more experience with films, I decided to give it another chance. Unfortunately, I still think it’s an overrated postmodern science fiction picture. Obvious questions were left answered. For instance, how can we discern a replicant from people with abnormal psychology such as those diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder? Having only one factor that supposedly determined whether someone was a replicant or not was, for a lack of a better word, foolish. It didn’t sound like science and the screenwriting was to blame. Admittedly, it had influenced the look of gritty sci-fi movies that came after it and I was impressed with its visual and special effects. I felt like I was actually there. But the look of a movie isn’t enough to elevate a material that lacks an emotional core. The way Ridley Scott directed the project left me cold. I tried to buy the budding romance between Rick and Rachael but I didn’t feel friction and tension between them. Rick was supposed to be tortured for falling in love with a replicant and Rachael was supposed to find herself through Rick but their self-discoveries felt like a tertiary element because it lacked focus. As for Rick hunting down the four murderous replicants, I felt like the situation could have been solved in thirty minutes. I didn’t think they were menacing because I didn’t find them interesting. Their mission was to find a way to prolong their four-year lifespan. However, Scott didn’t invest the time for his villains to ponder over their existence. Instead, there was a formula. We observed the villain doing something out of the ordinary and then Rick appeared to perform his assignment. It was one dimensional and I was exasperated with its lack of ambition regarding character development. As a film about dystopian future, instead of looking forward and trying innovative things, it used a formula as a crutch and that’s what I found to be unforgivable. While it might have been visually inspiring, everything else felt insular and inaccessible. Audiences and critics expressed their distate for the film back in 1982 and for a good reason. No amount hyperboles regarding its visual mastery can persuade me that it’s an outstanding, well-rounded picture if I don’t feel something.
The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, “The Adjustment Bureau” was about a U.S. Congressman named David Norris (Matt Damon) and his accidental discovery of men in hats (John Slattery, Anthony Mackie, Terence Stamp) whose jobs were to make sure that fate went according to plan. The event that triggered it all was David’s chance encounter with Elise (Emily Blunt), incidentally, the night David was destined to lose the election. The moment David and Elyse met, they immediately felt a spark, a signal that perhaps they just might spend the rest of their lives together. But the mysterious men in hats and their boss upstairs knew that David and Elyse were not meant to meet each other, let alone be together, so they were willing to do whatever means necessary to keep them apart. The film was a successful hybrid of romance and science fiction. Its casting should be recognized. From the moment David and Elyse met in the men’s restroom, Damon and Blunt convinced us that their characters were perfect for one another. They played each other off with ease. From the awkward “What are you doing in the men’s restroom?” look to the way the their bodies moved closer to each other as their first conversation went on, the picture convinced us that they had chemistry. Casting was fundamental but critical because if their interactions lacked charm, we wouldn’t have been emotionally invested. If we didn’t want them to end up together, the conspiracy that wanted to keep them apart would have been ineffective. I admired the fact that there was not a defined good versus evil. The agents of the Adjustment Bureau were assigned a job and their job just happened to involve separating forces that greatly attracted each other. There were some plot holes, especially since the film took the liberty to fast forward in time for several years without explaining some events that happened in between, and misplaced expositions designed to explain what was happening and why certain things had to happen a certain way, but such elements were almost expected in high concept movies. For me, what mattered more was the material always looked forward so its pacing was steady. Like people in love, as long as I remained curious about the mystery and how the romance would eventually turn out, I learned to live with its imperfections. Unlike most films with romance in their veins, David and Elise’s fate as a couple wasn’t perfectly clear. There was a discussion of death which could serve as a foreshadowing. There was a question whether we should leave someone we love if we knew that our presence in their lives hindered them from reaching their potential. But there was also an implication that if enough unpredictable ripple effect were created, perhaps fate could be changed even in the slightest ways. Directed by George Nolfi, “The Adjustment Bureau” was able to reach a balance between intelligence and heart. But what it required from us was a little bit of imagination.
Dark City (1998)
★★★★ / ★★★★
John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) woke up in a bathtub with barely any memory of where or who he was. The phone rang and a psychiatrist named Dr. Schreber (Keifer Sutherland) told him that a group of men called The Strangers were on their way to John’s hotel room to kill him. Another group that was after John was the police led by Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt) because they believed John was a serial killer. Bumstead’s first lead was John’s wife (Jennifer Connelly). The picture’s greatest asset was its ideas that continued to challenge the audiences. The fantastic visual and special effects became secondary but they enhanced the experience of watching the city’s many mysteries unfold. We couldn’t help but question why every time it was midnight, time seemed to stop except for The Strangers and some select individuals. What were The Strangers up to? Specifically, what did they want from humans? Why were they living underground? How come we and the characters never see the light of day? I had my hypotheses because of one scene involving Dr. Schreber and a mouse attempting to find its way out of a maze. Crossing out my guesses one by one was half the fun. Like Bumstead, we were forced to pay attention to the small details and the implications in the dialogue. I loved that the film chose not to spoon-feed its viewers critical information. Its magic then comes from us as active participants. We become detectives and try to make sense of whatever was happening. “Dark City” had major negatives that I believe prevented the film from becoming a masterpiece as most people consider it to be. I had problems with the first half’s pacing. I think the picture spent too much time putting John in situations where he was confused and disoriented. I didn’t think it needed to hammer the fact that he had amnesia because the first scene did an excellent job setting up John’s psychological state. Furthermore, when the movie tried to be philosophical, it did not always work for me. For example, John told one of The Strangers that what they wanted could be found in the heart and not in the brain. Technically, everything we are and everything we can be is embedded in our brain. While the two undoubtedly need each other, the brain governs the heart. This can be observed when we tell ourselves to calm down when we’re angry and we find that our heart rates tend to decrease. In a way, when the film tried to be philosophical, I found it borderline cheesiness. Nevertheless, “Dark City,” directed by Alex Proyas, is a strong science fiction film. It was appropriately titled because it was literally dark, it had many mysteries worth exploring, and it had just about the right amount of menace to keep those with short attention spans engaged. I admired its ambition and film noir undertones.