Tag: summer movies

Super 8


Super 8 (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

It was the summer of 1979 and five friends (Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Zach Mills) were set to make a zombie picture using a Super 8 mm film. The director, portly Charles (Griffiths), recruited radiant Alice (Elle Fanning) to be in the movie and kind-hearted Joe (Courtney), whose mother had passed away four months earlier, was completely elated with the idea because he had a huge crush on her. But when the boys and the girl held a midnight shoot at the train station, they witnessed an incredible crash. Something was released from the cargo train and strange things started to occur in town. Written and directed by J.J. Abrams, “Super 8” is the kind of film I love because it touched upon every single movie genre without losing touch with its heart. It was very aware of its environment. Notice that the water tower was consistently present in the background shots. As the movie went on, I managed to form a mental picture of where everything was relative to the water tower. I felt like I was one of the kids and my world revolved around that landmark. The storyline was divided into two extremes but the director had found a way to make the halves fit with a balance of elegance and intelligence. The first hour embodied a coming-of-age tone. We focused on Joe and his grieving father (Kyle Chandler) who never seemed to be around. It seemed like the two never really sat down and talked about death and what it meant to move on. When Joe caught his father crying in the bathroom, Joe was greeted with a closing door. Joe held a private fear that maybe he was slowly losing his father. I was surprised when I found out this was Courtney’s first role because his acting was quite impressive. I quickly identified with his character because of the way he used his eyes to convey specific emotions. I loved the scenes when Joe just looked at Alice in complete captivation. The warm looks he gave reminded me, at least from what I can remember, of my first love and what I was willing to do for and say to that person at the time. It was cute how he tried not to make a fool of himself but he did anyway. The second hour focused on the mystery involving a possible alien on the loose. Dogs evacuated town, local folks had gone missing, and the U.S. Air Force set up camp in order to regain control of the situation. Meanwhile, every time Charles yelled, “Production value!” (images that make it seem like a movie has a certain budget) the young filmmakers took advantage of their surroundings and shot their zombie movie with wonderful enthusiasm. Their plucky personalities was center stage and I couldn’t help but laugh at their interactions. “Super 8” was produced by Steven Spielberg and, understandably, it was compared to his work like the masterful “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” I say it was more similar to “Jurassic Park.” The scene with the overturned bus and the roar of the creature outside was very reminiscent of the famous T. rex attack: the rumbling from a distance, the jump-out-of-your-seat scares, the sense of entrapment, and the eventual gore. “Super 8” was a love letter to Spielberg and, more importantly, people who admire his work. While specific references were wonderful in and of themselves, I felt the magic most when the director added his own twist into what was expected. I wasn’t just moved by its emotions; I was transported in its time and place.

Thor


Thor (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

Powerful ruler Odin (Anthony Hopkins) had two sons, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), with two very different personalities. Thor couldn’t wait to be king of Asgard. Wielding absolute power, in a symbol of a throne, was at the top of his priorities. Loki, on the other hand, was the quiet one. His actions were preceded by thorough thinking. However, there was brewing jealousy from his end. When Thor and his friends (Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas, Jaimie Alexander) had unwisely broken a truce and caused a new war against the Frost Giants, Odin banished Thor to Earth to learn about humility and what it meant to be a great leader. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, “Thor” was unexpectedly comedic. I actually enjoyed the comedy, especially when sarcastic Darcy (Kat Dennings) was on screen, more than the action scenes themselves. Watching the action sequences, although supported by grand special and visual effects, failed to get me to become emotionally invested. I believe it had something to do with the fact that Thor’s evolution from a bellicose warrior to a more controlled leader wasn’t fully convincing. What did being romantically involved have to do with becoming an effective king? From what I gathered, he simply grew weak in the knees whenever he was next to Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a fellow researcher of Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), one of the three people Thor met when he landed on Earth. And given that love was the answer to everything, I failed to understand why she would be attracted to him other than the fact that he had a nice set of abs and biceps. She was supposedly smart but her intelligence was thrown out the window the moment he took off his shirt. It was insulting. The director didn’t take enough time, other than one or two short scenes, to explore the relationship between the two lovers. Jane was supposed to be our conduit so that we would ultimately care about about the title character. As for Thor’s friends in Asgard, I wondered how they could stand him. Surely being a prince wasn’t enough to earn their loyalties. After leading them to a suicide mission and narrowly escaping, none of them questioned Thor’s ability to make smart decisions. Didn’t they have minds of their own? Instead of weighing the complexities of the somewhat cheesy story, I found myself focusing more on spotting other Avengers characters like Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and references to the Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man.” What “Thor” lacked was the crucial journey designed to win us over. When he was on Earth, he didn’t learn what it meant to be human. He just developed a crush. It’s a bad sign when we find ourselves feeling nothing when Thor faced incredible danger.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse


The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

I can always rely on the “Twilight” series to be consistently mediocre despite the fact that each movie released was better than its predecessor. In “Eclipse,” based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer and directed by David Slade, the love triangle between Bella (Kristen Stewart), Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner) reached its peak but the vampire and werewolf camps decided to join forces in order to protect Bella from newly-born vampires led by Riley (Xavier Samuel) and Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard taking over for Rachelle Lefevre). Like the first two movies, “Eclipse” suffered from far too many ways Edward and Bella expressed how much they loved each other. I understood that the whole thing might have worked on paper or else the novels wouldn’t have been as successful but it just did not work on film because it quickly became redundant. Even when the movie tried to explore the romantic relationship between Bella and Jacob, the picture lacked energy and, to be quite honest, I started noticing the make-up, editing and the lighting. In other words, it lost my interest despite my best intentions of sticking with the story. The movie would have benefited if it had more action sequences. Maybe it’s because I’m a guy but I did enjoy the climax when the werewolves and vampires came head-to-head with the vampire army while Edward and Bella faced Riley and Victoria. Victoria was probably my favorite character since the first movie because I thought she was menacing but enchanting at the same time. Unfortunately, even though I could tell she was trying her best, Howard’s interpretation of her character did not work for me because she lacked Lefevre’s subtleties (which the series desperately lacked). In this installment, Victoria felt like a pawn instead of a rogue vampire who was full of malice and thirst for vengeance. I also enjoyed the tent scene when Edward and Jacob finally connected not because it was touching on any level but because it was very amusing to the point where people were actually laughing out loud in the theater. There was something purposely homoerotic about the very intense glares the two sent each other. Even though that scene wasn’t very effective, I admired that the material was aware enough to make fun of itself. Furthermore, I can criticize the film for not being a good example for teenagers in promoting marriage considering the characters’ ages but I won’t because it simply tried to remain loyal to its source. I can only hope that the final installment (divided in two) will have more suspense and action than romance. It needed less cheese and more bloodshed.

Inglourious Basterds


Inglourious Basterds (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Those who believe that Quentin Tarantino (“Resevoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Kill Bill,” “Death Proof”) is slowly losing his touch when it comes to filmmaking and storytelling should watch this film. “Inglourious Basterds” essentially covers three groups of characters: Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and his men’s (Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, B.J. Novak, Omar Doom) quest to hunt, scalp, and kill Nazis; the intimidating Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa, a Nazi hunter who prefers to be categorized as a detective more than anything else and who happens to speak English, French, Italian, and German which proves to be quite useful; and Mélanie Laurent as Shosanna Dreyfus, who survived Waltz’ massacre three years ago and had plans of her own, along with her trusted friend Marcel (Jacky Ido), to avenge her family. Divided into five sublime chapters, at first the characters had nothing to do with each other. But as the picture went on they all collided, had very entertaining conversations and bloody violence, just as one could expect from a Tarantino motion picture.

I was surprised with how quickly the movie paced itself, considering that I needed to use the bathroom during the first thirty minutes. (I gulped down a lot of soda during the previews.) I couldn’t help but get so engaged with the dialogue because in some lines, the characters attach some sort of threat into their words or tone to the point where it made me feel like I was in the same room with them. Although this was a World War II picture to begin with, it became so much more than that. In the second half, it became about a project about the love for the cinema and using that as a template to put these very intense characters under one roof. What I noticed about this movie was that with each major character, Tarantino moved the camera to match the person’s idiosyncracies and intentions. Therefore, it became more than just a World War II picture with necessary violence. It became a personal character study where the characters became tangled in the intricacies of politics, bureaucracies, and their own morals (sometimes lack thereof). The way Tarantino played with the movie’s tone greatly impressed me (as I was in his other films). One minute I just feel like hiding behind my hands because either something very violent was about to happen or a character knew something the other character did not know and was about to get caught; the next minute I found myself laughing so hard (due to the comedy or relief, it was often difficult to tell) because a character did or said something hilarious.

I can definitely understand why the American mainstream could be disappointed with this movie. For one, pretty much half of the movie had subtitles. (I love subtitled films. Sometimes, I even watch movies spoken in English with subtitles.) They could find it challenging to read and pay attention to the images at the same time. Second, with its 153-minute running time, the audiences were asked to sit through extended dialogues with (from some blogger reviews I’ve read) “very little payoffs that only happened toward the end of each chapter”). As a person who loves long movies, I cannot disagree more because the payoffs happen as the lines were being said. It was the subtleties in each intonation and movement that really made this film that much better than typical summer movie flicks. It was intelligent, had great sense of build-up, very tense, and brutal. So, for me, those kinds of arguments that people brought up were simply a matter of acquired taste. Hey, I didn’t start off loving foreign films and long movies either. It took some time and when it finally clicked, my moviegoing experience became that much more rewarding.

I strongly believe that “Inglourious Basterds” is one of the best movies of summer 2009 (if not the best). The performances are top-notch, especially from Christoph Waltz who is already getting Oscar buzz (and deservedly so), the pacing was done skillfully, and best of all, it knew how and when to have fun. If it had taken itself too seriously, it probably would not have been as enjoyable, it would have simply been violent and heartless. I’m already looking forward to Tarantino’s next project.

District 9


District 9 (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Sometimes it’s a gift for a film to have a relatively low budget. If this had been another Hollywood-supported movie, it undoubtedly would have been another one of those forgettable special and visual effects-driven films where the aliens had one thing in mind: to destroy humankind. Instead “District 9,” directed by Neill Blomkamp, tried very hard to make up for its lack of budget by creating big ideas that reflect the important events happening in the world which, unfortunately, are being overlooked because Jon and Kate’s divorce are all over the glossy magazines. It also had to compensate by injecting ideas that have been done in other science fiction movies before and actually taking them to the next level. (Some movies that easily come to mind are the “Alien” franchise, “Robocop,” “Starship Troopers,” and even “Cloverfield,” only not as shaky.) Instead of a big introduction that involves an alien spacecraft landing on Earth as everyone panics or prays, the story started off with people offering commentary on how life changed after the spacecraft arrived on Earth years later: the aliens were malnourished, taken to concentration camp-like areas where living conditions were absolutely horrid, and bureaucrats, led by Sharlto Copley as Wikus Van De Merwe, were pretty much forcing the extraterrestrials to sign some paperwork to agree to be moved to another location in order to mollify the anger of nearby human citizens. What started off as “fun” bullying ended up in a tragedy where Copley’s character was accidentally exposed to an extraterrestrial substance which began to change his outlook on humans and aliens through very dramatic means. I enjoyed the fact that the aliens were not the villains here. Instead, it was the humans who thirst for power by acquiring weapons and knowledge by any means necessary (including harming the innocent and throwing ethics out the window), readily able to engage in battle without even once putting in their best efforts to understand the other side, and readily able to turn against their own kind with the slightest sign of supposed disloyalty. I also admired the film’s use of perspective. Right from the first frame, the picture placed us in a certain perspective but as it went on, layers began to peel off (no pun intended) and we got to know more about the motivations of each character or group of people. With its brilliant premise (and viral campaigns), this is an unpredictable film with enough power, imagination, and heart to fill other summer blockbusters that lack such qualities. I can only hope that some of the unanswered questions and lingering plot holes will be answered in the sequel (if there is going to be one). “District 9” more than lives up to the hype.

Terminator Salvation


Terminator Salvation (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

This fourth installment of “The Terminator” franchise may not have been as good as the first two films but it was a step above from the somewhat mediocre third outing. Initially, I was underwhelmed during the first few minutes of “Terminator Salvation” due to my high expectations. However, once the ball started rolling about fifteen minutes into the picture, I really got into it and I was curious what was going to happen next. (Not to mention I was at the edge of the seat during the more intense chase scenes.)

This sequel is set in year 2018 and it features a grown-up John Connor (Christian Bale) and his struggle to lead humanity against Skynet and its fatal machines. It also tells the story of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a man that was sentenced to death back in year 2003, woke up fifteen years later and eventually found out that he was a hybrid between a human and a robot. Their paths later collided because Wright was saved by Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) during his first encounter with a terminator; Connor, on the other hand, was on a mission to find his father, Kyle Reese, because if he dies on the hand of Skynet, Connor would not exist and therefore alter the future altogether. To prevent further confusion, it must be noted that it was not explicitly mentioned in this installment that Kyle Reese time traveled back to the past and conceived John Connor. (I dislike describing storylines that involve time travel. It’s always been my weakness so I apologize if it is in any way confusing or inaccurate.)

Being a summer blockbuster film or not, the visual and special effects are outstanding. In my head I kept thinking, “How did they even manage to shoot that?” and “Hey, that’s a neat stunt.” Throughout the entire picture, I really felt like I was watching the planet in ruins after Skynet took over. The post-apocalyptic feel reminded me of the best scenes from “Blade Runner” and “Children of Men.” As for the acting, I thought everyone did a really good job because they were convincing in their respective roles. However, Worthington was the one that stood out the most. I found it strange that I cared more about his character than Bale’s–the supposed main character. Even though Worthington was tough on the outside, there was a certain sensitivity in his eyes that reminded me of Joseph-Gordon Levitt’s style of acting in his most dramatic roles. Worthington embodied Marcus Wright so fully to the point where I was convinced that there was more to his story and that he’s not just a hybrid between a human and a robot. He almost made me wish that he was the focus of the story instead of John Connor. (And that’s probably not a good thing.) If he chooses to appear in films that are astute while at the same time able to feature his acting abilities, Worthington is definitely someone to look out for in the future.

For me, the main weakness of “Terminator Salvation” lies in its story. With such a big mythology set up by the first two films, this one felt considerably smaller in scope. The secondary problems that chip off from that primary issue include having too much action sequences, not having enough character development, not having enough comedic moments to let the film breathe, and sidelining John Connor’s importance. It’s nice to have exciting action scenes (and they undoubtedly do have that here) but it’s hard to care if there’s not enough moral conundrums facing characters who matter. It’s also suffocating if the tone of the picture is one-note–this one felt too serious for its own good, as if it was trying to be “The Dark Knight” when it was not even close to that level. What made the first two installment so great are the vibrant pockets of humor that were ultimately ingrained in the media consciousness. (Remember “I’ll be back” and “Hasta la vista, baby”?) Lastly, John Connor did not feel as important as he should have been. Yes, I got that he was supposed to be leader and therefore supposed to be tough and commanding. And that’s the problem: I only saw him in that light and I wish McG, the director, established more scenes where we could ascertain another dimension of his personality.

There’s no doubt about it: I would recommend “Terminator Salvation.” However, I must urge people who have not yet seen the first three films (especially the first two) to catch up because there were references here and there that enhanced my viewing experience. If one had not seen the prior installments, one will most likely miss those or “not get it.” While I admit that this is far from a perfect post-apocalyptic adventure with subtle moral ambiguities, the positives outweigh the negatives as mentioned above. Perhaps if this series is to survive (and it most likely will), a more capable director and stronger writers could take over to truly blow die-hard fans and nondie-hard fans out of the water. In the meantime, “Terminator Salvation” will have to suffice.