The Unborn (2009)
★ / ★★★★
This horror movie was so bad, I didn’t know whether to laugh or get angry after the final scene. Odette Yustman suddenly starts having nightmares about a boy who obviously wants something from her. It starts off that way but eventually, the evil that was once in her dreams begins to manifest itself in reality, affecting her relationships with her best friend (Meagan Good), her boyfriend (Cam Giganget) and her own sanity. I am not exactly sure how much I should give away because it tried to be about a lot of things but ultimately became about nothing. One minute the lead character was running around (literally–her jogging scenes felt like forever and a day) moping about her mother and the next she was asking people to give her an exorcism. The so-called twists did not make sense to me at all. While it did try to make homage to horror greats such as “The Exorcist” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” it felt contrived and there were definitely some parts where I thought it was merely stealing ideas instead of using such ideas as a template and taking the story to the next level. I did enjoy some creepy images but the suspense was simply not there. When the obligatory “jumpy” scenes arrived, they felt uninspired because it was all sharp film cuts and loud soundtrack to me. When I watch a horror picture, I want my heart to pound like mad and anticipate what’s going to happen next. With “The Unborn,” written and directed by David S. Goyer, I felt like each scene was a punishment I didn’t deserve. I think one of the main problems is the script. The dialogue absolutely killed me. I actually lost count how many times the lead character said, “I know this is going to sound crazy but…” I don’t know if that’s worse or cheesy lines like “I don’t think you’re crazy, I just think you’re hormonal.” I mean, come on. Hasn’t Goyer seen the “Scream” franchise? If you ask me, I think he’s asking to have a bad movie with that kind of writing. Obviously, I’m saying to skip this one because I’ve seen it all before. If you’re interested in a modern exorcism picture, rent the superior “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” instead. That one truly gave me the creeps.
Frozen River (2008)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Courtney Hunt’s screenwriter and directoral debut blew me out of the water. “Frozen River” is about a desperate mother (Melissa Leo) who tries to keep her family afloat after the father of the family leaves and takes all their money with him. Not knowing what else to do because her part-time job is not enough to keep up with the bills, Leo teams up with a Native American (Misty Upham) to smuggle immigrants into the United States for $600 per person. This movie left me so overwhelmed because it’s very efficient with its time. Each minute adds a piece of the puzzle regarding why the characters choose to do what they do. And that’s the key: The characters choose to do what they do even though they very well know that such actions are illegal, yet we still very much sympathize with them. I think that’s where Hunt’s talent comes in–she makes her character so raw to the point where I can imagine the events actually happening in real life. The acting all-around is top notch. Leo and Upham are initially pit up against each other yet they share a common bond that’s strong enough to overcome their differences. Leo definitely deserved her Oscar nomination because, right from the first frame, I sensed a certain complexity from a mother who will do anything it takes to provide for her children (Charlie McDermott, James Reilly). There’s this one scene when they have nothing else to eat other than popcorn and orange juice. It made me think that, if I were in Leo’s situation, I would also smuggle illegal immigrants despite the risks. Also, she has only a few simple dreams for her family (such as getting her children presents for Christmas and buying a new house) but she cannot quite achieve them. While she does tend to blame herself once in a while, she always decides to get up because no one else will solve her problems for her. In a nutshell, the lead character is very flawed but I could not help but admire her resolve. I was also surprised by how suspenseful it got during the smuggling scenes. There’s a lot of political elements that come into play whenever they have to escape such as the differing rules when one is in an Indian reservation. By the end, I was so emotionally drained but I still wanted the film to continue because I was curious about what would happen next to the characters. This is a superb film in every respect; it may be small in scope at first glance but it’s truly quite universal.
★★★ / ★★★★
“Australia” focuses on the adventures among an English aristocrat (Nicole Kidman), a drover (Hugh Jackman) and a half-white/half-Aborigine (Brandon Walters) before and during World War II. Directed by Baz Luhrmann (“Romeo + Juliet,” “Moulin Rouge!”), this epic tale is visually astonishing despite some flaws that keep it from becoming a great motion picture. I prefer the first half a bit more than the second half because it’s not afraid to be silly yet it can be so suspenseful to the point where I found myself squirming in my seat, desperately hoping that things will turn out well for the characters in danger. The second half is more about the romance between the elegant Kidman and the rugged Jackman. Although I did enjoy watching their chemistry build the more they interact with each other, there were some parts that I wish would’ve been omitted because it got redundant. I also liked scenes when the Japanese dropped the bombs because, from that moment on, I didn’t know which direction it was going to take. Despite the pandemonium being portrayed on screen, it didn’t become a war movie but instead highlighted the human aspect of the story. I divide the film into two halves because they felt so different compared to each other. I did enjoy both but the second half is a bit weaker than the first. When I look at this film as a whole, I can honestly say that it’s been quite a journey because of how much the characters have changed, especially Kidman’s. In the first few scenes she reminded me of a cold porcelain doll but by the end, I felt like she was a genuinely nurturing mother. I also liked the fact that the issue of racial relations were explored in multiple dimensions. Not for a second did I feel that it was heavy-handed or too syrupy. I read a review that the magical aspects of the film dragged it down considerably. I completely disagree because the belief in magic is embedded in the Aboriginal culture. I think it works here–if not literally then symbolically. I also enjoyed the constant allusion to “The Wizard of Oz.” Both share similar themes such as going on an actual journey that parallels an emotional journey. I was pleasantly surprised with this film because of all the mediocre reviews it received. There really are a plethora of things to see here such as the wildly entertaining stampede scene. Definitely check this one out if you’re remotely curious or enjoy epic movies.
★★★ / ★★★★
I think a lot of people are unfairly harsh on this movie because of the fact that it stars Tom Cruise as Colonel Claus von Satuffenberg, one of the men that tries to assassinate Adolf Hitler. For some reason, people find it difficult to find a divide between an actor’s personal life and repertoire (like with Lindsay Lohan). We all know how it’s going to end so being predictable is not a valid reason on why one should not see this movie. (Assuming that the person knows the basics about World War II.) I’m here to say that this is a solid thriller because Bryan Singer, the director of other good films like “The Usual Suspects,” “Apt Pupil” and “X2: X-Men United,” was able to successfully build suspense up until the last twenty minutes. I enjoyed watching what Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and Tom Cruise have to put on the table. Although the film is fast-paced, it gets really exciting whether these top-tier actors speak to each other as we find out where their loyalties lie. They made me believe that what they were trying to do was important and I eventually found myself hoping that things would turn out differently than it did in reality. I was impressed with the soundtrack because it supported the suspense instead of becoming the driving force. In most less successful thrillers, the latter is the case so it was a nice surprise to not find that here. I was also blown away by the visuals. Everything looks so grand: the architectures, the weaponries, the automobiles, down to the characters’ wardrobes. It was easy to tell that a lot of effort was put into this film. I wish the last twenty minutes could’ve been stronger. I felt like the suspense was sucked out of the film so I found myself not caring. I think those last few scenes were crucial because the filmmakers were supposed to convince the audience that those who tried to kill Hitler were honorable men and women. Instead, the message was lost and we saw one scene of pandemonium on top of one another. It’s a pretty strong movie as a whole; it just needed to deliver all the way through and, unfortunately, the film failed to do that.
The Haunting of Molly Hartley (2008)
★ / ★★★★
For the record, I only saw this movie because of Chace Crawford. I’m a fan of “Gossip Girl” and I was curious to see what Crawford has to offer. Unfortunately, he pretty much plays the same character as he does on the show so watching this flick wasn’t worth it at all. I’ve read all kinds of negative reviews about “The Haunting of Molly Hartley” so to say that my expectations were really low is putting it mildly. Regardless, I was still very disappointed with this faux-thriller/horror. I don’t even think eight-year-olds at a slumber party would find this scary; there’s no blood, no story and not enough “jumpy” scenes (perhaps there’s a total of five throughout the entire picture). I think the director (Mickey Liddell) and the writers (John Travis and Rebecca Sonnenshine) are to blame. They have no sense of suspense whatsoever. They try to scare the audience with whispers and figment of one’s imagination–even writing it sounds lame. In my opinion, Travis and Sonnenshine should’ve first established a believable story and a lead character (Haley Bennett) that we can root for until the very end. They could’ve saved the thrills for the second half of the picture and it still would’ve worked (if they were effective). Instead, we get this trashy hybrid of “90210” and “The O.C.” mixed with hallucinations and satanic rituals. The ending was completely confusing and unbelievable. I honestly have no idea how this movie got a green light for production. I rarely say this but please do not ever watch this movie. Even if you’re slightly curious, turn the other way and pick another film. I saw this when I was in a good mood and got out of it feeling angry and frustrated. It’s definitely one of the best (if not the worst) movies of 2008.
The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
Bradley Cooper has come a long way since I first discovered him in “Alias.” Even though he seems like a pretty boy on the outside, he can effectively play characters that have many sides to them. I also have to give him kudos for not playing the same type of character in his movies. In “The Midnight Meat Train,” directed by Ryûhei Kitamura and based on a short story by Clive Barker, Cooper plays a photographer who one day finds out about a butcher (Vinnie Jones) who kills people on the subway after taking pictures of a woman who was being harrassed by a couple of thugs. Wanting to gather more evidence before he approaches the police, he becomes obsessed with the butcher and his girlfriend (Leslie Bibb) becomes worried about his new personality. This film is especially gory and violent which horror fans will undoubtedly love. What’s even better is that it is quite suspenseful especially that one scene when two people decide to break into the killer’s apartment. I just had a feeling that it would go terribly wrong so I had to watch the film through my fingers. What didn’t work for me, though, was the last fifteen minutes. Instead of being a straight-up horror film, it hybridized with the science fiction realm. I understand that this is based on a short story and I shouldn’t hold the movie responsible for following it. I just needed to mention the fact that it did get ridiculous and I even caught myself rolling my eyes because of the ending. It definitely took away some of that realism regarding being attacked by a butcher on a subway in the most gruesome ways. Still, I’m giving this a slight recommendation despite the mediocre rating because it genuinely thrilled and scared me.
Let the Right One In (2008)
★★★★ / ★★★★
I know this was supposed to be a horror film but I thought it was really romantic. I was so invested in Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson’s relationship to the point where I wanted the movie to last longer. I actually wanted to know what would happen next after the last frame and I actually said, “No! It can’t be over!” out loud (thankfully, I watched it alone). “Let the Right One In” is about a kid (Hedebrant) who keeps getting bullied at school and a girl who recently moves into town and happens to be a vampire (Leandersson). Their loneliness was their initial commonality and they were able to soothe some of that loneliness after getting to know each other. I loved the setting of the film–most of it was shot in the winter so the sky was often bleak and there was often snow on each shot. When a scene was indoors, the lights looked somewhat dim so danger was always right around the corner. Tomas Alfredson, the director, knows how to build suspense. I found it interesting that he was able to use suspense with things pertaining to real life (such as the bullying scenes; stand-outs include the whipping and the “game” in the pool) and romance with things that are supernatural (and downright horrifying). I also liked the fact that special and visual effects were kept at a minimum. When they were used, they were utilized in perfect timing and with just the right amount unlike modern American horror movies nowadays. This film is based on a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist who also lent a hand on the screenplay. After watching the movie, I must say that I’m very interested in reading the book because of some unanswered questions. With a little research, I was able to find out that there were several things that didn’t make it into the film, which included the girl’s backstory and minor characters with important subplots. I also found out about the meaning of certain images which enhanced my understanding of the picture. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a great vampire picture so I highly recommend this to everyone. This is the kind of movie that would end up in my film library so definitely check it out when you can.