Tag: sigourney weaver

The Assignment


The Assignment (2016)
★ / ★★★★

With a ludicrous premise that is sure to turn heads, it is a disappointment that Walter Hill’s “The Assignment” fails to aspire to become more than what is ultimately delivered. As an action film, it is tiresome and uninspired, composed merely of shooting guns and almost always the target being hit. As an exploitation picture, the more interesting route, it is neither dark nor pulpy enough to pass as an entertaining bad movie. Its look, tone, and overall feel resembles that of many forgettable works with an interesting plot but boring execution.

Michelle Rodriguez plays a hitman named Frank Kitchen who is forced to undergo a gender reassignment surgery in the hands of Dr. Jane (Sigourney Weaver), desperate to avenge her brother that Frank had killed. While it is commendable that Rodriguez chooses to take her role seriously, allowing her to play a man during the first act of the picture is a mistake so dire, it derails any level of believability in a plot that already demands the audience to take a leap of faith.

The filmmakers ought to have realized that simply slapping a beard on Rodriguez does not work at all. Although the performer has a charming masculine presence, her frame is feminine, the way she moves is quite soft, and her posture whether standing up or sitting down is not at all masculine. The filmmakers realize this, I think, and so eventually there is a walking-out-of-the-shower sequence spotlighting Rodriguez with chest hair and a prosthetic penis. The whole charade is so ridiculous that I don’t think anybody who’s paying attention would be able to keep a straight face. I certainly couldn’t.

A storytelling technique that is mildly interesting involves Dr. Jane in a psychiatric hospital after Frank had gotten his revenge on the person who butchered him. Since we already know whether or not the “villain” would get her comeuppance, we cannot help but question why we are spending time with this particular character. Clearly she is up to no good. Or is she? I enjoyed the dialogue between Weaver and Tony Shalhoub, a medical doctor who is assigned to assess whether the disgraced doctor is fit for trial. Unlike Rodriguez’ laughable scenes, we feel something boiling between two sharp minds. Weaver elevates this D-level misfire.

For an action picture, there is minimal suspense or thrill to be had here. The formula is as follows: Frank enters an establishment, narration is heard to provide some background, minions spot our protagonist, he starts shooting with great accuracy, bodies stack up until his main target is found. Of course, said target must die. Onto the next shoddy location.

I find it ironic that there is controversy surrounding “The Assignment” and yet the work is standard in all the wrong ways. If one were to look at good B-pictures and exploitation flicks, one would realize that such films were so often willing to push the envelope that the wrongs, weirdly enough, end up feeling right for the material. They own themselves. On the other hand, this work comes across self-conscious when it could have thrown all inhibitions to the wind and made strong statements about gender versus identity through the guise of solid popcorn entertainment.

A Monster Calls


A Monster Calls (2016)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Deep inside “A Monster Calls,” based on the novel and screenplay by Patrick Ness, lies a heart of a warrior, and that heart is carried by a twelve-year-old named Conor (Lewis MacDougall) whose mother (Felicity Jones) is dying of cancer. Yet despite the premise of the film, the picture is not a standard “cancer movie” in which family members gather from across the world merely to hug and cry together because the plot demands that they do. Rather, the film takes a serious look at the fear of losing a loved one from a disease that ravages thoroughly through the eyes of a young artist increasingly desperate to see the person he values most be well again.

Its fantastic elements offer stunning beauty, the magical realism exactly right for the story being told. It can stand strong against great works such as Guillermo del Toro’s “El laberinto del fauno” and “El espinazo del diablo,” as well as Víctor Erice’s “El espíritu de la colmena.” The computer animation of the giant yew tree that visits our protagonist at exactly 12:07 A.M., voiced by Liam Neeson, is arresting in its detail, from the way it moves its branchy limbs to its inferno eyes and dominant bearing. It is a smart and refreshing choice not to have reduced this character to being cute or friendly; its firm personality is at times intimidating, seldom offering a deeply wicked sense of humor. The monster demands that Conor tell him a fourth story after the tree shares three stories with the boy. All of the tales are compelling.

Equally important is the look of the spaces the characters inhabit. The outdoors is often depicted as rainy, cold, and gray. Hidden places of the schoolyard are areas where Conor gets bullied relentlessly by his peers. The cemetery is the setting of Conor’s recurring nightmare. At times, however, equally unwelcoming are the indoors, from the white-walled, impersonal hospital rooms and increasingly claustrophobic classrooms, to grandma’s (Sigourney Weaver) house where fragile figurines and classy couches are meant to be displayed, not touched.

But take note of Conor’s room. Warm, yellow lighting is utilized. There are a number of books sitting in shelves. Photographs of smiling faces line the walls. Conor’s various works are displayed and so we get a chance to look at what goes on in his mind. Conor’s room is a safe space from the chaos bred by circumstances with no easy solutions or resolutions.

MacDougall, increasingly impressive as the picture goes on, taps into every subtle rhythm of his character and so whatever happens to Conor—in dreams, in fantasy, in reality—is convincing every step of the way. Less daring, less ambitious casting directors might have chosen a performer who was only good in portraying one emotion. MacDougall delivers a spectrum of emotions, particularly in conveying anger and frustration from wrestling with the effects of terminal illness to the bearer’s loved ones. It would be interesting to see the kind of roles he chooses in the future.

Directed by J.A. Bayona, “A Monster Calls” makes a point about life rarely having standard heroes and villains, that oftentimes the truth is buried in the complex gray. A scene that will stick with me for a long time is when the grandmother walks into her living room and discovers that every precious belonging there is utterly destroyed by her grandson. As we do with a seemingly standard plot, we expect the scene to unfold a certain way. But it doesn’t. Instead, it overwhelms us with profound truths and humanity.

Rampart


Rampart (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson) has been a cop for twenty-four years. The Rampart Division of the Los Angeles Police Department is currently under investigation due to people’s complaints of police brutality, planting evidence, and other unethical behaviors when Dave is caught on film severely beating a Mexican after the two had been in a car accident. Suddenly, the cop finds that all eyes are on him and the dirty laundry of his past, including a possible murder of an alleged serial rapist, is under a magnifying glass.

“Rampart,” written by James Ellroy and Oren Moverman, is not complete character study but it benefits greatly from Harrelson’s performance. As a corrupt cop set on going down a self-destructive path, it is a challenge to identify with Dave but the contradictions that Harrelson brings to light made me wonder if there is some kind of hope for the man. Even though I suspected that he probably will not change over the course of the picture, I wished that he would for the sake of those he cares about and those who cares for him.

As Dave meets with various figures in the police department (Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi, Robert Wisdom), we learn a little bit more about him—that beneath the sarcasm and seeming lack of remorse, he is a stubborn but very eloquent man. When he is offered to issue a public apology about the recorded incident and retire early, he refuses because it is important for him to remain a cop or, more importantly, to be in a position of power.

Though the film has spots where the tone and pacing are off, it remains interesting on some level because even though Dave is a bigot, a racist, and a sexist, he is not without humanity. His relationship with his daughters (Brie Larson, Sammy Boyarsky) are nicely executed. The pain in the disconnection of the kinship is always at the forefront. Although Dave is always on the attack whenever he interacts with fellow adults, it is refreshing to see him on the defense when his children are watching. He is convinced that if he is caught doing the wrong thing, he will lose them forever. But they already know that he is not a perfect man. He is not even a good father to them; the girls are always in fear whenever he is near.

As the picture goes on, however, it does two things: it begins to recycle its basic ideas and it is unable to find alternative routes when it encounters dead ends. Since we eventually have a complete impression of Dave’s personality and what great lengths he will go to endure the controversy and be a cop on the prowl again, it is only natural that we come to expect what is next. Unfortunately, the screenplay offers nothing. A third act is not there.

Despite its initial promise, “Rampart.” directed by Oren Moverman, ends up being a big disappointment. Although an interesting character study, the important dramatic arc—the answer to “So what?”—is absent. As the screen fades to black, I was left with furrowed brows.

Red Lights


Red Lights (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) visit a family that believes their new home is haunted. Seconds after Margaret and Tom step inside, loud banging can be heard from upstairs. The father insists that the noise has been so relentless, his family is unable to get a proper night’s sleep. Once everyone is acquainted, a seance is performed by a medium. The table shakes more violently as the medium’s connection to the spirits intensifies. Meanwhile, as a renowned psychologist and physicist, respectively, Dr. Matheson and Tom know that the seance is a complete sham. They make a living debunking so-called paranormal phenomena and this particular “haunted” house proves to be an easy case.

Written and directed by Rodrigo Cortés, “Red Lights” is unwaveringly confident as it moves from the idea that logic offers the best solution for mystifying problems to opening up the possibility that perhaps science, despite being a singularly powerful tool, does not have all the answers.

The interplay between Dr. Matheson and Tom is interesting in that although they believe in science, we are given a chance to understand the subtle differences of their beliefs as well as their approaches to solving problems. Although one’s status and level of experience is higher than the other, observing them interact feels fresh because the relationship feels mutualistic. There is a reason for us to keep watching because the surprises do not depend on scenes where they reveal channelers, healers, and the like as charlatans.

A darker turn is taken, however, when Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), one of the world’s most popular psychic who happens to be blind, suddenly comes out of retirement. Tom becomes desperate to prove to the world that Silver is simply a very talented performer. He does not understand why his mentor is reluctant to go after Silver given that if they are successful, not only will their department get more funding, their lives’ work will be recognized universally.

The screenplay has a few surprises. Instead of a typical showdown of mind games between Dr. Matheson and Silver, it is fascinating how neither share one scene together. Instead, through Dr. Matheson’s recollection, we are given background information about their history in the 70s which eventually explains why she does not want anything to do with the man. The second half is more deeply-footed in its ominous atmosphere, the use of music more sparing, and the images more bizarre. Its pacing, too, becomes more unpredictable. Quick in some, slow in others, and completely stagnant in what can potentially be Tom’s salvation, specifically his relationship with Sally (Elizabeth Olsen), a pupil of Dr. Matheson.

Coincidences pile up like dead autumn leaves as Tom, the lost sheep, obsessively sorts through them with hopes of finding a golden answer. Which “coincidences” does Silver induce and which ones do Tom creates for himself? Sometimes it is challenging to discern and, arguably, it may not even matter–at least for Tom. Do logical answers matter much to irrational minds?

Sharply photographed, smartly written, and well-directed, “Red Lights” brings to mind the beautiful contradictions in Chris Carter’s “The X-Files” and the paranoia of Adrian Lyne’s “Jacob’s Ladder.” It may not be as accessible as either but it certainly is as mesmerizing.

Abduction


Abduction (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

Nathan (Taylor Lautner) was led to believe that he was any other teenager raised in suburbia: He went to parties with his friends (Denzel Whitaker, William Peltz), got into trouble for not coming home until the next morning, and had a crush on his neighbor, Karen (Lily Collins), who happened to have a boyfriend. When Nathan and Karen’s sociology teacher assigned them to work together on a project, Karen stumbled upon a website that listed people who were missing. One of the photos of the kids resembled Nathan. This instantly grabbed his attention because it explained why he didn’t feel quite right when he was around his parents (Maria Bello, Jason Isaacs). Upon further examination of the picture, Nathan noticed that he and the kid had the same shirt with a stain on the exact spot. “Abduction,” written by Shawn Christensen and directed John Singleton, exhibited solid control as it moved from soapy teen flick territory to heart-pounding possible government conspiracy. I enjoyed that even though the protagonist was capable of defending himself using boxing and various martial arts, not once was he required to pull a trigger to kill his attackers. It was interesting because although there were action sequences, I wasn’t watching an action star at its center, but an actor who had the potential of someday becoming an action star. There was a commitment and enthusiasm I enjoyed from watching Lautner. His bruise-inducing punches, bone-crunching kicks, and wild somersaults were executed with energy so I was invested in what was happening and why certain things unfolded the way they did. More than a handful of them were convenient but I didn’t mind; I was having a good time. However, the picture featured supporting characters that I wished we knew more about, particularly CIA Agent Burton (Alfred Molina), Nathan’s psychiatrist, Dr. Bennett (Sigourney Weaver), and the villainous Kozlow (Michael Nyqvist). I felt as though they were forced to take the backseat in order to make room for supposedly romantic scenes between Nathan and Karen. The material was crippled when the two traded extremely cheesy lines. For instance, as the couple shared a passionate kiss on the train, Karen claimed Nathan was a much better kisser than in the eighth grade. The response was somewhere along the lines of, “That’s because I didn’t know what I was doing back in the eighth grade.” I had to cringe; I think I even did a face palm. They were awkward enough with each other and the script didn’t help to alleviate the bad chemistry. I understood that the filmmakers needed to have less adrenaline-fueled scenes in order to allow the film to breathe, but they didn’t need to slap us upside the head with egregious dialogue and, yes, of the duo delicately holding hands and trading knowing smiles. “Abduction” was occasionally inconsistent but entirely watchable given the parameters it set out for itself.

You Again


You Again (2010)
★ / ★★★★

In high school, Marni (Kristen Bell) was bullied by the head cheerleader (Odette Yustman) because she was a geek. She was labeled as a loser with glasses, ugly bangs, and pimples so she didn’t have any friends. Marni was traumatized and grew to hate the idea of high school over the years. About ten years later, we saw that Marni had a great career in public relations. In fact, she recently had gotten a promotion before she headed home to her brother’s (James Wolk) wedding. To Marni’s horror, Joanna, the woman her brother was intending to marry, turned out to be the very same person who made high school a place of fear and humiliation. “You Again,” written by Moe Jelline and directed by Andy Fickman, casted wonderful actors but none of them were given much to do. Marni’s mother (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Joanna’s aunt (Sigourney Weaver) had an entirely predictable subplot that was directly and eerily related to Marni and Joanna’s rivalry. Betty White, as adorable as she was, was stuck playing the grandmother who had the funny one-liners. Even Victor Garber’s character was painfully one-dimensional as the unaware father whose only notable feature was that he liked to eat with a blindfold because he was convinced that not seeing the amount he ate made him lose weight. I wouldn’t have minded the poorly established supporting characters but the four women should have been at the forefront. The filmmakers’ job was to paint a portrait of them with varying degrees of depth and complexity. They failed. Marni and Joanna’s games were understandable. They might have been adults but they were young. Ten years isn’t a long time to forget high school memories especially if one had been scrutinized and bullied. I understood why Marni was still angry. I even understood why she wanted some form of revenge. At the same time, I felt like Joanna was genuine about starting over, to change from being a person she didn’t like to a person that she and others can love. Most of us deserve a second chance. However, the mother and the aunt’s relationship should have been explored deeper because it was a key element in the four women finding resolution and closure. The relationship between the two former best friends should have been the mirror in which the younger women realized the error of their ways. Instead, we were given a series of slapstick humor but not enough exploration of the real pain behind bullying and broken friendships. I felt that the material was deathly afraid to look at its own heart. Great comedies have proven that a comedy picture fails to work without some level of emotional investment between the characters and the audiences. “You Again” was like watching a freshman sitcom that was cancelled after only three episodes.

Cedar Rapids


Cedar Rapids (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) was an honest insurance salesman. He was comfortable living in a small town and changing people’s lives for the better. He was described as the guy who could have gone places but actually didn’t go anywhere. When one of his colleagues passed away due to autoerotic asphyxiation, he was asked by his boss (Stephen Root) to attend an insurance convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and win an award for their region. Tim was warned not to interact with Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) but, as luck would have it, they ended up sharing a hotel room. Written by Phil Johnston and directed by Miguel Arteta, “Cedar Rapids” was surprisingly human. I expected the film to rely solely on awkward situations and slapstick comedy to generate most of its laughs. Helms had a knack for the former, while Reilly built his career on the latter. The two actors fed off one another. When the camera was transfixed on them, my body automatically prepared itself to laugh because my brain knew that Helms and Reilly understood both the value of a punchline and, more importantly, precision of delivery. But the movie wasn’t just about the laughs. It was also about Tim venturing out into the world and realizing how fun, dangerous, and rewarding it could be to make friends who were entirely different from himself. There was one very amusing scene when Tim was shocked to find an African-American man, Ronald (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), in his room. Furthermore, I was particularly interested in Tim’s relationship with Joan (Anne Heche), a married woman with kids. She saw the convention as a means of escape from the routine and, although much of it was unsaid, I believed she saw something in Tim that she craved, perhaps a quality that her husband lacked, but could never have because she already had a life. The way Heche delivered certain looks inspired me to dig beyond what her character was willing to outwardly share. There was a certain sadness between the two scavenger hunt partners and the film’s final moments worked because I believed their relationship, not necessarily romantic, would continue. Back home, Tim was involved with his former grade school teacher (Sigourney Weaver). The writing could easily have been lazy, relying on jokes that involved the word “cougar,” but I loved that the material didn’t look down on Tim and Macy’s relationship. Sure, she was over fifteen years older than him but a handful of scenes suggested that they shared something meaningful. “Cedar Rapids” took ordinary people and allowed them to work, play, and form friendships in an honest, emotionally resonant manner. More mainstream comedies can only aspire to be as such.