Sucker Punch (2011)
★ / ★★★★
After their mother’s death, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) and her sister were left in the hands of their evil stepfather (Gerard Plunkett). When he found out that the sisters were the heir to the fortune he hoped to receive, he was possessed by rage and tried to hurt the girls. Commotion ensued and Baby Doll was accused of accidentally killing her sister. She was sent to a mental hospital where she eventually planned her escape with other patients (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung). Directed by Zack Snyder, there was no denying that “Sucker Punch” delivered visual acrobatics galore. The action sequences looked dream-like, appropriate because much of the fantastic elements occurred in Baby Doll’s mind, and the girls looked great in their respective outfits. However, it was unfortunate that there was really nothing else to elevate the picture. The acting was atrocious. Blue (Oscar Isaac), one of the main orderlies, for some reason, always felt the need to scream in order to get his point across. I understood that Isaac wanted his character to exhibit a detestable menace, but he should have given more variety to his performance. Sometimes whispering a line in a slithery tone could actually pack a more powerful punch than yelling like a spoiled child. I was astounded that we didn’t learn much about Baby Doll’s friends. They were important because they helped our protagonist to get the four items required if she was to earn her freedom. I wondered what the sisters, Sweat Pea and Rocket, had done to deserve being sent to such a prison. They seemed very close. Maybe for a reason. The girls were supposed to have gone crazy in some way but there was no evidence that they weren’t quite right in the head. If they were sent to the mental hospital for the wrong reasons, the script should have acknowledged that instead of leaving us in the dark. They, too, could have been framed like Baby Doll. Overlooking such a basic detail proved to me how little Snyder thought about the story. “Sucker Punch” tackled three worlds: the mental institution, the brothel, and the war against Nazi zombies. Too much time was spent in the whorehouse, the least interesting of them all, and not enough time in the asylum. Though beautiful to look at due to its post-apocalyptic imagery, I could care less about the battle scenes with the dragons, giant samurais, and Nazi zombies. The reason why Snyder should have given us more scenes of Baby Doll in the asylum was because that was Baby Doll’s grim reality: in five days, she was to be lobotomized. Those who’ve played a role-playing video game in the past five years are aware that the games have mini-movies during key events in the story arc. Those images were as good as the ones found here and some of the stories in those games are quite compelling. If images were all this film had to offer, then why should we bother to watch it?
I, Robot (2004)
★ / ★★★★
Detective Spooner (Will Smith) was assigned to investigate the suicide of Dr. Lanning, the main scientist in charge of commercialization of robots on 2035. Spooner suspected that the murder was staged to look as a suicide by a robot named Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk) and it was only the first step of the robots’ plan to take over the world. “I, Robot” completely missed the mark to make an intelligent film about humans’ increasing dependence on technology. Much of the movie was a predictable set-up to make the main character run after or shoot at something. The uninspired false alarms were transparent. For instance, early in the movie, Spooner saw a robot running with a purse. He thought it was trying to steal the purse. Naturally, smart audiences would most likely surmise it was simply delivering the purse to its rightful owner because no tension was established regarding rogue robots yet. Spooner looked like a fool because his fear was only in his mind. The scene would have been more effective if placed after the murder of the prominent scientist to serve as a small rising action, regardless of the pettiness of the crime, to make us believe that perhaps the robot was up to something more devious than it seemed. Another scientist that jumped into the mix of the mystery was Dr. Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) who, despite all the reasonable doubt placed in front of her, could not seem to make up her mind where to place her loyalty. For a character who was supposed to be the voice of reason regarding the advantages of having robots in the home or at work, her logic was flawed. Her character was tantamount to those horror movie characters who decided to look for something in a dark room during the most inopportune times. Her eventual acknowledgement that the detective was right to be suspicious of the robots felt too forced. Granted, I did admire the special and visual effects. There were two action sequences that I thought were exciting to watch. The first was when Spooner had to face about a hundred robots in an underground freeway while going about 125 miles per hour. The second was when the robots climbed on their manufacturer’s building in an attempt to stop Spooner and Dr. Calvin from ruining their revolution. I do have to say, however, that there was another glaring inconsistency concerning those two scenes. In the first, the detective had a very difficult time destroying the robots. He had to use his car, gun, and high speed to survive. But in the latter, he was able to use his hands to rip the robots apart. Finding out that Alex Proyas, who directed the slightly brilliant “Dark City,” directed this film was all the more disappointing. If the film’s special and visual effects had been stripped away, not a thing would have kept it afloat because it lacked heart and intelligence. I found it ironic that Haley Joel Osment in Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” and Arnold Schwarzenegger in James Cameron’s “The Terminator” were far more convincing robots despite the fact that they were played by actual humans.
Dante’s Peak (1997)
★★★ / ★★★★
One of my first memories was the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. I saw the destruction of our home, felt rocks falling from the sky, panic beginning to grow, and sky being so dark because the ash was so thick. Pierce Brosnan stars as volcanologist Harry Dalton who visited a small town led by Linda Hamilton as the mayor. Harry believed that the volcano was going to erupt soon because classic signs began to emerge, but his fellow volcanologists thought there was no scientific evidence to warrant immediate evacuation. Predictably enough, just when everyone finally agreed on a course of action, Dante’s Peak began to unleash major destruction. Evacuation became complicated for romantically entangled Harry and the mayor because the mayor’s kids (Jeremy Foley, Jamie Renée Smith) stupidly drove up the mountain to rescue dear old grandmother (Elizabeth Hoffman) who wouldn’t leave her home. I understand the negative reviews incited by this film. The acting was thin, the script was mediocre and the story was cliché. However, I admit that I enjoyed watching it because when I see a disaster flick, some of the elements I look for are destruction, visual and special effects, and a struggle for survival. This picture had those three elements. I thought the movie was at its best during the more silent moments where we were led to believe that certain characters were about to meet their demise. I don’t bite my nails (I think it’s a filthy habit) but I felt the urge to do so during the boat scene. The characters had no choice but to take a boat because lava was everywhere. But little did they know that the lake water had been turned into acid and it was eating away the boat’s metallic structure. In a nutshell, the boat was slowly sinking and touching the water meant a painful death. I’m most engaged when characters are trapped and I can’t find a solution for their predicament. Admittedly, some scenes did bother me such as Hamilton’s lack of leadership. As a mayor, I expected to see her making difficult decisions in times need–not just her own or her children’s but also the town’s. Instead, we saw her passing out coffee and going head over heels when she was around Harry. I felt like she wasn’t a very good leader or a role model which was a shame because I knew she was capable of delivering strength because she starred in James Cameron’s first two “Terminator” pictures. “Dante’s Peak,” written by Leslie Bohem and directed by Roger Donaldson, had its weaknesses because of its adamancy to stick with the formula but as a popcorn blockbuster, it had its moments of genuine suspense.
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.
★★ / ★★★★
“Knowing,” directed by Alex Proyas, was about a man who stumbled upon a message from a time capsule written by a strange girl fifty years ago. The message consisted of seemingly random numbers but if one decided to look closer, one would find out that it recorded the events of major disasters that were to transpire in the future. Because of all the negative reviews, I had low expectations coming into it. However, the first third was so effective so I naturally thought that the rest of the picture would be as smart and suspenseful. I couldn’t be any more wrong. Nicolas Cage tends to overact in most of his movies and this one is no exception. To me, he was most effective when he first figured out what all the numbers meant. He was able to balance fear, anxiety and excitement while still being that intellectual that he was presented as in the beginning of the film. But the moment Rose Byrne entered the movie, everything started to feel so unbelievable to point where I lost interest. I can’t believe I’m saying this but she actually upstaged Cage when it came to overacting. I actually said, “Just shut up” during one of the scenes because she interpreted her character in such an irksome manner. As for its special and visual effects, sometimes they looked like scenes from video games but sometimes they impressed me. I particularly liked those plane and subway scenes. They looked really haunting and it was very difficult to dispel the images from my head. If such disasters happened, I was convinced that it would look like that. The last third of the movie felt like a completely different movie altogether. I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to that patient and sometimes creepy style of storytelling that pervaded the first third. The third act felt like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (the most recent version), which is not a good thing. Everything felt forced and I had to wonder why the writers felt like they had to do something grand for the sake of being grand. Ultimately, “Knowing” drowned in its own mediocrity. However, I did appreciate its efforts to want to be something more than typical despite its unfortunate yet inevitable outcome.
★★★ / ★★★★
This horror-comedy cult classic is about a medical student (Bruce Abbott) and his newfound eccentric roommate (the scene-stealing Jeffrey Combs) who brings people back from the dead. I think this being a low-budget film actually worked in its favor. There are only two locations in the film: Abbott’s apartment and the hospital’s morgue where the two lead characters work. By the end of the film, those places look completely familiar to the point where I felt like I’ve known those places for years. Another thing is that it consistently tried to push its limits–whether it’s the question of what would happen if we brought people back to life or just showing us impressive special effects such as blood, guts and severed body parts. Stuart Gordon, the director, should be commended because he was able to balance images of horror with situational comedy. I thought he did a neat job showing the audiences how far a doctor will go to complete his experiment, completely neglecting the ethics and moral conundrums that should be faced by a man of science. Gordon also had enough time to comment on the dynamics in the scientific community–that it isn’t any different than other jobs. In fact, jealousy is abound because pretty much everyone wants to discover the new best thing and some are willing to kill for the discovery. But one thing did bother me, though. I know it’s not meant to be realistic because it’s a zombie film but I couldn’t get over the fact that the decapitated head could control his own body. If the brain is not connected to the spinal cord, the body will not be able to move because the source of electrical signals that may trigger certain chemical signals that control everything else will not be present (such as muscle contraction). I cannot help but get a bit distracted whenever something is glaringly incorrect even for films that do not exactly scream realism. Still, if one is a fan of horror-comedies with interesting premises, campy and has a plethora of gore, “Re-Animator” is a must-see.
★★★ / ★★★★
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.
Die Another Day (2002)
★★ / ★★★★
Most people consider this installment as one of the worst in the James Bond franchise (along with “Moonraker”) because they claim that it got too ridiculous with its gadgets (such as the invisible car). For me, I quite liked the invisible car but I didn’t appreciate the fact that it had too many mindless action scenes involving technology. What’s so great about the action scenes in the past 007 installments is that they have some sort of believability. This film involves a satellite that can harness the energy from the sun and focus it in a laser beam and destroy anything in its path. In my opinion, it would’ve worked if that aspect had been in the “Austin Powers” franchise because it’s a spoof; it failed here because it’s supposed to be serious but it’s hard to consider it as such. This is Pierce Brosnan’s final appearance as Bond and it’s understandable because I felt like he was becoming too bored with the role. He didn’t have that spicy swagger he originally had in “GoldenEye” that made me want to invest more in his character. Two actors that stood out to me in this picture are Halle Berry as Jinx and Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves. I love watching Halle Berry not only because she’s beautiful on the outside but because of the way she delivered certain comebacks whenever she’d converse with Brosnan. I also loved that her character is someone that can kick butt but feminine enough to have chemistry with the lead character. Stephens is great as the villain because he has this certain arrogance about him that I found interesting (to say the least) but at the same time, I wanted Bond to pound him to a pulp so he’ll be put on his place. Another positive is that Stephen’s character is young and can actually have hand-to-hand (or sword-to-sword) combat with Bond. The best scenes in the movie involve Stephen and Brosnan exchanging verbal daggers and actually piercing each other with sharp objects. As for the rest of the film, I didn’t care about it that much because the story lacks an extra punch that the best Bond films have. If one is a die-hard Bond fan, one has got to see this for the mere that it’s a part of the entire series. It’s a shame because I remember loving this picture when I was about thirteen years old, back when I haven’t seen many movies. Coming back to watch it, it’s lame in its efforts to entertain because it relied too much on special and visual effects without establishing the film’s emotional core first.
★★★★ / ★★★★
I had my reservations prior to watching this film but after I saw it, I could finally understand why “Poltergeist” is considered as a horror classic. What I love about this picture is that it’s an unconventional horror movie. It focuses on the family and makes the “scary stuff” secondary or even tertiary. Credit definitely goes to Steven Spielberg (even though it’s directed by Tobe Hooper who also directed the original “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”). Being a big Spielberg fan, I immediately noticed his signature style of storytelling: the timeless feel of feeling like a kid again, problems with at least one parental figure (obvious or otherwise), excellent pacing, and a generous offering of eye-opening visual and special effects–all of which never outshine the film’s emotional core. I must commend JoBeth Williams for playing the mother of the house. I found her to be really touching during those scenes when she would engage with the parapsychologists (Zelda Rubinstein and Beatrice Straight). Even though all types of paranormal phenomena are happening around them, Williams’ yearning for her missing child (Heather O’Rourke) resembles a mother’s yearning for her child who recently died. Not only are those scenes moving, they are integral to the story’s overall feel. The film is smart enough to establish the family first before truly getting into the paranormal, but at the same time it didn’t take a long time to get there. Once the horror started, it never lets go: the scenes are in the least creepy and truly memorable in its most daunting. I also noticed how “The Others” and “The Sixth Sense” took some of the big ideas from here and made them their own. Even though some people would say that the special and visual effects are outdated, I think most still hold up to this day. As for those that are undeniably dated, their powers lie in the concepts (for instance, an invisible demon dragging a person to and across the ceiling) and they leave so much for the imagination. “Poltergeist” will scare people who believe in ghosts, especially haunted homes. My culture believes in the existence of ghosts (even though I personally don’t–but I do believe in the possible existence of an afterlife) so this film gave me some serious goosebumps.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
I haven’t seen the 1951 version by the time I wrote this review so I’m not going to compare the 2008 version to that one. That said, it’s interesting to me how Keanu Reeves can be so good at playing robotic characters (like Neo in “The Matrix” franchise) but so bad at playing real people that are supposed to be emotionally crippled or conflicted (as Alex Wyler in “The Lake House” and Detective Tom Ludlow in “Street Kings”). I thought he was effective here as Klaatu, a humanoid whose role is to determine whether the human species need to be obliterated in order to save the Earth. He was creepy, convincingly powerful, and had a definite sense of purpose. He claims that if the Earth dies, everything else will perish along with it but if all humans die, the Earth and everything that it nurtures will go on living. I thought that was a decent reasoning so I went along with it. What’s unforgivable, however, is its lack of human emotional core. That’s when Jennifer Connely and her step-son (Jaden Smith) come in. Their backstory isn’t enough to convince me why Reeves should spare the human race. In the end, I wanted to see an apocalypse because humans are portrayed as violent people (the United States army) and incapable of standing up to authority, such as when Kathy Bates (as the president’s Secretary of Defense) followed what the president wanted her to do despite her best instincts. There are only four things I liked about the movie which saved it from utter failure: the somewhat brilliant visual effects, Gort as Klaatu’s automaton companion, the idea of humans’ nature regarding a precipice and change, and John Cleese as the Nobel prize-winning professor who we meet in the middle of the picture. The rest is junk, which is a shame because the movie is started off very well. The director, Scott Derrickson, could’ve made a superior film that is more character-driven and less visually impressive. After all, the story is about humanity and why we should be saved from extinction. Since the director lost that core (or maybe he didn’t find it in the first place), the final product is a mess. This picture can be an enjoyable Netflix rental on an uneventful Friday night but do not go rushing into the cinema to see it.