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.

Aliens


Aliens (1986)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“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.

Alien


Alien (1979)
★★★★ / ★★★★

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.

The Village


The Village (2004)
★★ / ★★★★

The first time I saw M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village” back in 2005, I didn’t like it because I thought it was too strange for its own good and the pacing was too slow. I’m happy to have given it more than one chance because I thought it got better upon multiple viewings. The story involved a small village terrorized by creatures in the woods. For some odd reason, skinned animals started appearing in greater numbers but the leaders of the village (William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson) had no idea what they have done to anger the creatures. As the younger residents (Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, Judy Greer, Michael Pitt) lived a life of relative bliss thanks to the secrets they have not yet discovered, chaos started destroy the village from within until a blind girl, played by Howard, went on an important quest through the feared woods. I thought the second half of the movie was stronger than the first half. While the first half had the bulk of the story, I constantly waited for small rewards that would keep me glued to the screen until its climax. Unfortunately, those small rewards did not deliver so I felt like the story could have gone in any direction. I questioned whether it wanted to say something about the specific group of people in relation to the environment they built for themselves or if it wanted to be a psychological-supernatural thriller. The lack of focus lost me. Fortunately, the second half was when everything started to come together. I’ll try not to give anything away but I enjoyed the way Shyamalan incorporated the reality and the supernatural. Specifically, when Howard went into the woods and encountered something she did not at all expect. There were twists on top of another and it made me think without feeling any sort of frustration which I think is difficult to accomplish. The scenes in the woods were beautifully shot but at the same time the beauty was sometimes masked in an ominous feeling of dread and anticipation. I can understand why a lot of people would consider “The Village” one of Shyamalan’s worst projects especially if they’ve only seen the movie once. The pacing was indeed quite slow and there were a plethora of questions with open-ended answers concerning the characters’ histories and the multilayer mystery surrounding the village. However, the second half piqued my interest (even though I’ve seen it before) and I thought it was very well done without overdoing the twists. At its best, “The Village” is imaginative and unafraid to take risks; at its worst, “The Village” is a bit insular and may drown in its own vanity.

Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey


Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey (1988)
★★★ / ★★★★

Directed by Michael Apted, “Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey” was about an inexperienced woman (Sigourney Weaver), in terms of interacting with primates, who decided to help out in Africa in order to study and protect the gorillas from extinction. I thought this movie was strong up until the last thirty minutes. I was amazed whenever Weaver interacted with the real-life gorillas but at the same time worried because I knew they were dangerous animals. The movie was definitely at its best during the scenes when the humans would interact with the gorillas and sometimes the gorillas would charge at them. I caught myself holding my breath for the characters because it was so intense. On one hand, I think this is a nice tribute to a person who successfully prevented poachers from driving a certain species of primates into extinction. On the other hand, the way Dian Fossey was presented in the last thirty minutes felt a bit disrespectful to me. I mean, I wasn’t there so I can’t really account to what degree Fossey became obsessed with protecting the animals but did they really have to make her look so over-the-top the point where it was laughable? I had this huge respect for the woman more than two-thirds of the movie but I was a bit taken aback with what happened during the last final scenes. In my opinion, they still could have been honest with what transpired in the mountains but it didn’t have to result to the extremes. I also enjoyed the scenes of the romance between Dian Fossey and the National Geographic photographer Bob Campbell (Bryan Brown). While I admit that sometimes they were a bit cheesy with each other, it was a nice change from the scenes that consisted of mostly observations and no words. I enjoyed watching them because they initially didn’t seem to like each other and they were so different from one another. But at the same time those nice scenes highlighted how limited the script was. I found myself checking the time once in a while so I felt that the movie did not need to be over two hours long. Nevertheless, I enjoyed watching the film because it had heart and captured the passion of Dian Fossey’s work. I was glad that the story turned dark whenever it needed to such as the scenes involving the killings and beheadings of the poor animals. Perhaps the picture could have been stronger and more involving if it tackled the politics in Africa head-on instead of just dealing with it from time to time.

Avatar


Avatar (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★

James Cameron has always given us movies that are beyond anything we would expect whether it’s about an upcoming apocalypse (“The Terminator,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”), a rescue team plunging into an alien-colonized planet (“Aliens”), a secret agent finding out about his cheating wife (“True Lies”), a romantic interpretation of a tragedy (“Titanic”), or a real-life deep sea adventure (“Aliens of the Deep”). So when he releases a new movie with an extremely high budget and spent years and years shaping it, it saddens (and angers) me that people expect it to be downright disappointing. That lack of appreciation for a director who obviously loves his work and cares about his audiences just doesn’t fly with me. That group-think of hoping someone would fail is such an ugly quality and I don’t ever want to be a part of it. As I expected, “Avatar” exceeded expectations and I cannot help but rub its success on the faces of those people who judge a movie by its trailer (including the fools who claim “it sucks” without proper justification such as actually watching the film). Whatever happened to giving something the benefit of the doubt?

“Avatar” tells the story of humans–divided into researchers and the army–who go into another planet called Pandora in hopes of extracting the mineral Unobtainium to save Earth from an energy crisis. The catch is that the area where most of the element of interest is found underneath a giant tree that is inhabited by the Na’vi, the blue-colored, highly spiritual natives who do not get along with the humans despite efforts from the lead researchers (Sigourney Weaver, Joel David Moore) to get to know their culture and customs. After waking up from a coma and finding out about his twin brother’s demise, a paraplegic marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington–words cannot describe how much I love this guy) is hired by a colonel (Stephen Lang) to gain the natives’ trust (through transfering his mind into an avatar–a DNA hybrid of man and Na’vi) and double-crossing them in the end. In exchange, the colonel promises to give Jake the functionality of his legs by means of an expensive spine surgery. However, things quickly got more complicated when Jake falls in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and the fact that Jake finds it more liberating (or meaningful?) to be in a Na’vi than a human.

One of the many qualities I loved about this film was its ability to be about a lot of things (love, self-awareness, faith, discovery…) but never losing the wonder of meeting and interacting with an alien culture. Note that I use the word “culture” instead of “species” because we really got to know what they were about and why we ultimately root for them. Right when we plunged into the dangerous world of the Na’vi, I felt like I was experiencing something completely new. Like the lead character, everything was fascinating. I wanted to touch the strange-looking flowers and I wasn’t sure whether a certain creature was friendly or ready to attack. The theme of rebirth was consistently tackled throughout the picture in meaningful ways. Although some may see it as having a religious perspective, being not a religious person myself, I was moved by the possibilities and the interpretations made me feel more alive. I just wish that there were more metaphors and discussions regarding the science. I was interested in how they created an avatar. They did mention DNA hybridization but I’m sure that’s not the complete story. “DNA hybridization” may sound complicated to most people but once one has studied the basics (I have), it’s really a quite simple concept. Having set in the future, it could have really increased that “wow” factor by offering us unconventional explanations and poking fun of the limited technology we have now. (Since we think we’re so technologically advanced nowadays.)

I was very engaged when Weaver’s character was explaining the parallels between the neural connections in our brain and the Navi’s complex relationship with mother nature. That particular scene really supported my ethics and beliefs that a true scientist is sensitive to its subjects and not just all about the cold science. That message is really important to me because, from my experiences, every day I’m surrounded by a lot of people who are all about the brain but who are seriously lacking emotional intelligence. The director makes it apparent that this is about brains vs. brawns (scientists and Na’vis vs. the army) but I think it’s much more layered than that because there were scientists in the film that didn’t care about the natives and there were members of the army that did care (Michelle Rodriguez). Despite all the extended action sequences, I thought it had something more in its core and that’s why I couldn’t help but admire the picture. Admittedly, the story could have been much stronger but when I look back on it, the only way it could strengthen that aspect is to have another hour or so. I certainly wouldn’t cut a scene from the final version because I thought each one had something special to offer. It definitely had Pocahontas elements to it yet it’s different because it was able to offer a modern (or futuristic?) interpretation.

“Avatar” is an outstanding achievement in filmmaking, especially when it comes to its visual effects. I would not be surprised at all if it won every single technical awards in the Oscars or perhaps a Best Picture nomination. With a budget of over $300 million (from what I read from multiple sources), I thought the budget really translated onto film. Not only did the CGI images looked sharp by themselves but it was also amazing to see the CGI mesh so well with live action and the live actors. My experience was also magnified because I saw the movie in 3D. (I suggest you watch it in 3D as well.) With a behemoth of a running time that is 160 minutes (personally, I wish it ran longer), it may seem intimidating at first. But once all the action and imagination starts, you will not want to take a bathroom break. I can only hope others will have a chance to be absorbed in this world that Cameron has created for us. Most of all, I wish that people would stop hating on huge projects such as this one and show more appreciation and humility toward people who work so hard to offer us something new. It’s alright to express distaste after actually giving the final product a chance. But it’s important to still have some respect because what we project to the world is ultimately a reflection of us.

Ghostbusters


Ghostbusters (1984)
★★★ / ★★★★

This movie provided me bucketloads of nostalgia because I used to watch the cartoons when I was younger. Starring and written by Dan Aykroyd (Dr. Raymond Stantz) and Harold Ramis (Dr. Egon Spengler), “Ghostbusters” is really fun to watch because of its originality and bona fide sense of humor. The film also stars Bill Murray as Dr. Peter Venkman, Ernie Hudson as Winston Zeddmore (an eventual Ghostbuster), Sigourney Weaver as their first client and Rick Moranis as Weaver’s mousy neighbor. I was impressed that each of them had something to contribute to the comedy as well as moving the story forward. I usually don’t like special and visual effects in comedies because the filmmakers get too carried away and neglect the humor, but I enjoyed those elements here because all of it was within the picture’s universe. Although the movie does embrace its campiness, it’s not completely ludicrious. In fact, since the Ghostbusters are part of the Psychology department, I was happy that the script managed to use the psychological terms and ideas in a meaningful way such as the idea of Carl Jung’s collective unconscious. I also liked the fact that it had time to respectfully reference (or parody?) to “The Exorcist” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” Although the humor is much more consistent in the first half, the second half is where it manages to show its intelligence such as the fusing of ideas from gods of various cultures and Christianity’s armageddon. Without the actors providing a little something extra (such as Murray’s hilarious sarcasm), this would’ve been a typical comedic spookfest. The special and visual effects may have been dated but it still managed to entertain me from start to finish because the film is so alive with ideas and anecdotes with universal appeal.

Working Girl


Working Girl (1988)
★★★ / ★★★★

Directed by Mike Nichols, this romantic comedy has something to say or two about women in the work force. Set in the 1980’s, I was very amused by looking at people’s hair, clothes and the lingos they used. Even though those things are not that relevant today because they went out of fashion, there is one thing that persisted: Women are still considered less equal to men. Melanie Griffith plays Sigourney Weaver’s hardworking secretary who one day pitches an idea to Weaver. Even though Weaver promised Griffith that she will get some credit if Weaver’s boss liked her ideas, Weaver pitched Griffith’s ideas as her own. After an injury that left Weaver in bed for a couple of weeks, Griffith stumbled upon Weaver’s betrayal and decided to climb the corporate ladder. Even though this is a romantic comedy, it’s not an ordinary one because of the wit in its writing. Just when you think the story will unfold one way, it completely veers off another way and it surprised me (in a good way). Griffith is completely believable as an astute secretary who wants to be something more. Weaver did a great job as the boss from hell. It was hard for me to read her intentions because she’s so good at lying and manipulating everyone despite her sweet facade. Harrison Ford, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin and Joan Cusack are also found here and they all have scenes where they truly shine. What didn’t work as well for me was the romantic angle. Sometimes, I felt as though it dragged the story down and shifted away from the business angle of the story. I can imagine this film being talked about in Women’s Studies courses because it has something to say about marriage, the workplace, and the home. The most interesting aspect in the film was even though Griffith wants to fight against a man-centered world of business, her enemy is a woman, just like herself. When I saw Weaver for the first time, my first instinct was Griffith and Weaver teaming up to climb the corporate ladder. I only realized later that it’s even better if they’re up against each other. As for its ending, it was so well-done. I was so touched because, in a way, it summarized Griffith’s journey in a different angle. This is a strong film by Nichols because it ultimately inspires.