The Lorax (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Mr. O’Hare (voiced by Rob Riggle), the richest businessman in town who sold fresh oxygen in bottles, believed that Thneedville was perfect just the was it was: no trees, no animals, no mess to clean up. In their giant dome, to everyone’s convenience, everything was made out of plastic. When Audrey (Taylor Swift) confessed to Ted (Zac Efron), who happened to have a crush on her, that what she wanted for her birthday was a real tree, Ted courageously explored outside of Thneedville to look for one. Among the barren and ominous land was a house inhabited by a reclusive man called The Once-ler (Ed Helms), the person responsible as to why trees became extremely rare. Based on the book by Dr. Seuss and directed by Chris Renaud, “The Lorax,” despite its sometimes dazzling use of visuals, was at best a mixed bag of humor, adventure, and lessons about why we should care for the environment. The story was somewhat divided into two. The first involved Ted’s quest to acquire a tree and the second involved The Once-ler’s past as an ambitious and inventive young man. In the latter, we got to meet The Lorax, the guardian of the forest who spoke for the trees, which was the more interesting section of the film. While the screenplay spent more time with the youthful Once-ler, many of the scenes were plagued with distracting song and dance–only one or two of which were catchy and creative. The rest were not only jarring to the eardrums but they disrupted the story’s chance of gathering real momentum and drama, a sense of immediacy required to deliver a truly meaningful message about our active as well as inactive roles, such as feelings of apathy, in destroying our natural resources. I thought the bears were adorable, particularly the one that carried more weight than the others and so he was forced to lag behind whenever a physical activity was demanded, and The Lorax was a cuddly creature despite his occasional grumpiness. However, mostly relying on cuteness to propel the story forward with fluidity wasn’t enough to sustain the film especially considering its level of ambition. Furthermore, I did not appreciate that The Once-ler’s family was portrayed in such a one-dimensional way. I was able to accept that they were not very supportive of The Once-ler’s dreams of becoming a successful businessman. But there was something about them being portrayed as, pardon my language, rednecks that didn’t feel right. They were shown as greedy, users, and uncaring people. Not one exception who happened to fit all the stereotypes was presented. Since the work was aimed toward young children, I felt that the filmmakers, especially Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul who were in charge of the screenplay, had a responsibility to avoid cultural stereotypes. If the family had been Chinese, Indian or Filipino and their characterizations simply relied on ugly stereotypes, one could argue that the material was being racist. I may come off as a Grinch but despite the best intentions and morals that “The Lorax” wanted to impart about our vital connection to nature, its hits were inconsistent, its pacing too uneven, and its clichés potentially damaging to warrant a recommendation. Its theme in terms of empathy needed to be ironed out.
Two Lovers (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
“Two Lovers” was about a man with bipolar disorder (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with two women (Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw)–one was emotionally unstable with an edge of coolness about her, while the other was more ordinary but was ready to settle down. I’m not sure if I was supposed to believe that Phoenix’ character really did fall in love with either woman because, throughout the film, I felt like he just a little boy with a crush: either he really liked one of the women or both of them one minute but he was as easily able to detach from them. His indecision made him look like a jerk because of the way he juggled his time between the two. I thought the first part of the movie was consistently strong (even though Phoenix’ character was a bit creepy) because I was interested in the dynamics among the characters, especially Phoenix and Paltrow. Unfortunately, somewhere in the middle it got lost within itself due to its languid tone, dark material, heavy-handedness and self-indulgence. I ran out of patience with it instead of actually wanting to watch the story unravel. There were not enough pay-offs dispersed every fifteen minutes or so. In fact, it just started repeating itself when it came to the lead characters’ constant disappointment by Paltrow’s self-hating character. The whole idea of a woman not feeling like she deserved to be loved was played out and I’ve seen the idea explored in better films. I thought she was essentially a user and ultimately did not know what she wanted so I ended up disliking her greatly. She was so selfish and I felt like her apologies were more for her–so she could feel better for the pain she caused other people. I just couldn’t sympathize with her. Directed by James Gray, “Two Lovers” is a small picture but its main problem was just that: it settled with being small. Instead, it should have acknowledged itself for being small but still delivered the big and insightful ideas. I chose to watch this movie because I thought I would get witty and smart conversations between two mature adults. I was very disappointed because I felt like I was watching a romance between fifteen-year-olds stuck in thirtysomething bodies. Don’t even get me started with the eye-rolling typicality of two lovers chatting over the phone as they looked at each other from across the building. It may work on a Taylor Swift music video but not on a full feature film. The film needed more depth, consistency and a stable sense of identity.
Valentine’s Day (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Valentine’s Day,” written by Katherine Fugate and directed by Gary Marshall,” was an ensemble romantic comedy with many high-proile names that followed the footsteps of films like “Love Actually.” There are only three things one has to know coming into this movie: all of the characters are connected in some way, it is at times unapologetically cheesy with its typical (but funny) one-liners, and it is a good Valentine’s Day movie to watch with friends or special someone. Even before the film was released, I heard a lot of negative comments about it because people are not keen on the idea of a movie capitalizing on a holiday that “isn’t even real.” I say get over it because such moaning will not stop movie studios from releasing movies such as this; it’s a business and no matter how much you complain, money is money at the end of the day. Personally, the main reason why I wanted to see this film was because some of my favorite celebrities were in it like Jennifer Garner, Julia Roberts, Anne Hathaway, Topher Grace, Ashton Kutcher (even though I change my mind about him quite often), and Bradley Cooper. From the trailers, I knew exactly what to expect and, surprisingly, it was much better than I thought it would be. Even though only two to four characters out of the twenty-one were fully developed (Garner and Kutcher as best friends failing to see that they were meant for each other; Hathaway and Grace as one lacking awareness of the other being a phone sex operator), it was fun to watch because it had a certain self-awareness–that none of it should be taken seriously because the characters’ lives revolved around falling in love. We are smart enough to know (or at least we should be) that the movie was simply trying to provide us an escape from our busy lives, whether our lives may revolve around our studies, our jobs, and countless other circumstances. As for the negatives, I wished that the main characters were cut down to fifteen. Even though I thought the scenes with Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift were amusing, their scenes didn’t do much when it came to the big picture other than comment on the fact that teenage love based on supercifial similarities was a good foundation for a potential heartbreak. (Well, at least that’s what I got from it.) I also wished that Jessica Biel’s scenes with her eating junk food and being neurotic were cut, while preserving her “I hate Valentine’s Day” intact and ultimately seeing Jamie Foxx as a perfect match for her. My favorite storyline has go to be the one with Cooper and Roberts meeting on a plane. I still think Roberts is one of the finest actresses because she has a perfect way of portraying sadness in her eyes. It was pretty subtle but when Cooper voiced out his assumptions that Roberts was on her way to see her special man, that specific look that Roberts gave him immediately made me realize that it wasn’t the case. “Valentine’s Day” is indeed a typical romantic comedy but if you know what to expect and you have an open mind, you will have a good chance of enjoying this flick. But if you come into the film in a bad mood or expecting the worst, prepare yourself to analyze every single flaw and not enjoy the movie. In other words, save your money or buy yourself a box of chocolates instead. Maybe that will make you happy.