Tag: thandie newton

Good Deeds


Good Deeds (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Wesley Deeds (Tyler Perry) has always done what was expected of him, so unlike his brother, Walter (Brian White), the rebel, who has gotten so bitter over the years, it seems like he is out to sabotage everyone who was and is good to him. And with a mother (Phylicia Rashad) who has very high expectations, she gives the impression that making a mistake is a permanent character flaw.

She insists that Wesley, the son she prefers, marries Natalie (Gabrielle Union), a woman from a respectable background who craves spontaneity and excitement in her life—qualities that do not come easily to Wesley, the CEO of Deeds, Incorporated, let alone offer to someone else. When Wesley meets Lindsey (Thandie Newton), however, the fighter in her makes him question whether the life he is living is the life he wanted.

Written and directed by Tyler Perry, “Good Deeds” possesses some elements of engaging drama, like the blossoming relationship between Wesley and Lindsey, the businessman and his janitor during graveyard shift, but the material is greatly offset by painfully one-dimensional characters like the angry brother, disapproving mother, and the fiancée with unmet needs.

I was moved by Lindsey’s situation of being a mother with a daughter (Jordenn Thompson) with whom she has to raise all on her own. The poverty that they experience together provides an obvious but nonetheless effective contrast against the posh problems in Wesley’s beautiful home and office.

I enjoyed Newton’s performance because she has a way of balancing anger and desperation without looking like the actor is out of her depth for the sake of delivering intense angst and tears. In her early scenes, especially one that takes place in a parking garage, we can almost see the wall between the two negative emotions—and their accompanying defense mechanisms—disintegrate and build up again. Despite Newton playing a character who knows how it is like to be poor, hungry, and homeless, we are given a chance experience a softer side of Lindsey eventually.

However, I wished that Wesley was not portrayed as being too good because there were times when I thought he was boring. Subtlety is clearly not the screenplay’s greatest strength because the title must be enforced consistently. It is simply too long of a wait before we finally see a change in Wesley. It would have been more interesting if the picture had consistently shown the protagonist becoming infatuated to deviate from the norm he built for himself without actually going through it. Then, once he finally does, it would make sense because the change that happened within him would not come off as forced or simply as a tool to move the plot forward.

Most unfortunate depiction is Wesley’s family being relegated to stereotypes. Due to the film’s almost two-hour running time, it does not make sense that there is not much effort in turning them into well-rounded characters. As a result, the scenes surrounding the family feel like a part of soap opera—a lot of yelling, screaming, and pointed looks in close-ups but collectively they carry little gravity.

“Good Deeds” is like a bowl of soup that consists of vegetables that I either loved or found très dégoûtant. When you have good soup with some ingredients that are unbearable to your own palate, you do not dispose the entire thing. You pick out the bad stuff and not eat them. My experience with the film is a reflection of this.

Flirting


Flirting (1991)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Danny (Noah Taylor) does not exactly fit in in an all-boys boarding school. Unlike everyone else, he fails to feel the excitement toward, for example, watching a football game. He would rather spend time reading books by renowned writers, philosophers, and scientists while yearning for interactions with women in an all-girls boarding school located just across the lake. His peers notice his distance and sees it as a sign of weakness. They bully Danny, both in significant and small ways, in order not to stick out themselves. Something changes when Danny meets Thandiwe (Thandie Newton), a girl from Uganda, after a rousing school debate about human passion and intellectual pursuits. He is in love.

Written and directed by John Duigan, the beauty of “Flirting” is that it does not feel like a sequel to its predecessor, “The Year My Voice Broke.” It stands on its own because the growth the characters experience, not restricted to the central boy and girl in question, feel believable. Each person is insecure about something whether it be about their body, the way they come off to others in social settings, or weighing their worth as young people still in the process of trying to find their own voices.

The romance between Danny and Thandiwe is worth rooting for because there is a certain innocence in the way they interact even though crave to do more with each other physically. Sometimes they are able to hide their emotions and intentions convincingly. Part of its brilliance is that we see the couple being uncomfortable through their body language but they are unable to see it in each other because they are too busy measuring and trying to hide their own fears. Yet there are other instances when they become very comfortable with each other. Their friends come up to them, ask what is going on, and the couple admit, “We were just flirting” so matter-of-factly. There is something about that directness that feels new and unpretentious compared to other teenage romantic movies that try too hard to be complicated through will-he-or-won’t-she tango of torpid triteness.

Danny having white skin and Thandiwe having dark skin is an issue. They are smart enough to expect a certain level of backlash. The racism is not dealt with directly given the story’s time and place but it is certainly there. Since the filmmakers at times place the issue between and under formalities, the racism’s ugliness become that much more maddening when the central couple encounters them.

The more obvious scenes of discrimination involve the girls telling Thandiwe that she belongs in the zoo and that her appearance is comparable to a monkey’s. “Does anyone have a banana?” asks one of the girls with a smile of bigotry painted across her plain face. Less obvious affront involves the headmistress giving Thandiwe a rather serious–and misplaced–lecture about representing her country of origin, accompanied by a punishment, after she is caught walking around school grounds during a dance at the boys’ school. I argue that if Thandiwe had been white, while there would still have been some sort of punishment for ignoring the rules, the headmistress would not have talked about where the girl came from and who or what she represented.

“Flirting” is a wonderful film because the characters and the screenplay have something meaningful to bring up and talk about. It is not just about someone being swooped off her feet. It is about fighting the tide because someone out there is worth it.

Retreat


Retreat (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Martin (Cillian Murphy) and Kate (Thandie Newton) opted to spend ten days in the remote Blackholme Island in hopes of curing whatever was vitiating their marriage from the inside. With the help of Doug (Jimmy Yuill), the owner of the island and Martin’s longtime friend, the couple was able to settle in. A couple of days later, bloodied Jack (Jamie Bell) was spotted collapsing in the field across their cottage. Martin and Kate took him inside with reservations. When Jack woke up, he informed Martin that there was an airborne virus that originated from South America which had infected the rest of the planet. Not only was it extremely contagious, it was also lethal for it aggressively attacked people’s respiratory systems. They had to do whatever it took to seal themselves from inside the cottage. “Retreat,” written by Janice Hallett and Carl Tibbetts, drew many wrinkles on my forehead. While I had no qualm in accepting its premise, Martin and Kate’s decisions forced me to mutter many frustrations under my breath. If you were told by someone that everyone was dead or dying in a specific part of the world, would you readily accept such a statement? Martin did. For an architect, requiring to have a certain level of logic for a living, there was something odd about the way he allowed Jack to take over, physically and psychologically, the household. In the least, I expected him to perform a bit of investigation. Given that cellphones, the internet, and the CB radio didn’t work, why didn’t Martin or his wife take it upon themselves to be more creative in asking the same questions in a different way to in order to coax out the wrinkles in Jack’s claims? Instead, much of the picture was dedicated to characters yelling at each other, pointing the gun at one another, and, yes, fighting for weapons that slid across the floor. It just wasn’t interesting. The scenes that were supposed to be thrilling were greatly lacking in tension. For instance, when Kate and Martin finally decided to work together, they made their way to the kitchen to prepare a hearty breakfast. Martin boiled water in a pan while Kate prepared the bread. Jack sat on a chair in a vulnerable angle. We knew exactly was going to happen, but with the right direction, it could have been effective. But it wasn’t. The scene–and many that adopted a similar approach–wasn’t given enough time to simmer. When the husband and wife entered the kitchen, they went directly for the necessary tools-turned-weapons. Two seconds later, Martin took the pan, the water magically hot after being put on the stove just a second before, and splashed it all over the stranger. As a result, it became more about the violence than the suspense when it shouldn’t have been because they didn’t have proof that Jack was lying to them. With a more focused screenplay in terms of delivering thrills and a true understanding of human psychology and behavior, “Retreat,” directed by Carl Tibbets, could have been far more engaging. Although Martin and Kate were supposedly so desperate to get out of the house, the plot was cemented in its increasingly thick contrivances. We sit in our chairs passively, wishing it offered so much more.

Mission: Impossible II


Mission: Impossible II (2000)
★ / ★★★★

Dr. Nekhorvich (Rade Serbedzija) was on the plane to the United States after he discovered a virus named Chimera, fatal to its host within twenty hours of contact. However, the only way to transport the virus safely was to inject it inside a living person. The plane never made it to its destination. Meanwhile, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) was assigned by his superior (Anthony Hopkins) to recruit Nyah (Thandie Newton), a professional thief, so that she could reconnect with Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), former beau and rising international terrorist. Incidentally, Ambrose used to double for Hunt during missions back when he was still an IMF agent. He’d gone rogue and he planned to profit from the virus by forcing a pharmaceutical company CEO (Brendan Gleeson) to surrender his company. Based on the screenplay by Robert Towne and directed by John Woo, “Mission: Impossible II” was everything Brian De Palma’s “Mission: Impossible” was not: gone were the atmospheric paranoia that kept the characters from fully trusting each other, the heart-pounding scenes in which silence was successfully executed to attain the highest levels of suspense, and the thrilling possibility that anyone could drop dead at any time. Instead, we were subjected to more hand-to-hand combat, slow motions that featured Cruise’ well-shampooed and well-conditioned hair, and forceful, supposedly meaningful, glances between Hunt and Nyah, both of whom shared no chemistry. I wouldn’t have a problem with the direction the filmmakers wanted to take if more thought was put into it. The elements of great drama, a bridge to a solid action movie with a heart, were certainly there. Nyah was trapped between two men, obviously attracted to her, who used to work for the same team. But how were Ethan, not as Hunt the IMF agent, and Sean, not as Ambrose the criminal, different and similar to each other? The closest we got to getting to know them was toward the end when they tried to kill each other from their motorcycles. Ambrose knew how Ethan worked and processed information given that they went through the same training. There should have been more scenes when Ambrose took advantage of the fact that he knew who he was up against. Ethan, on the other hand, didn’t know much about Ambrose. He saw the man as just his double. It would make sense if he took a while to get accustomed to his adversary. Furthermore, there was a duality involving Greek mythology: Chimera, a monster with a head of a lion and a tail of a serpent’s head, and Bellerophon, a hero most famous for slaying Chimera. Incidentally, Chimera was the name of the virus and Bellerophon was the name of the cure. But how was Chimera and Bellerophon related to Ambrose and Hunt, respectively? The film missed another opportunity to further explore its characters independent of blazing guns and egregious slow motion montages. What bothered me most was the script seemed desperate to turn Ethan Hunt into James Bond. Doing something different for a sequel does not mean it’s acceptable to be disloyal to the original character. It means giving us something unexpected but still hanging onto his core, the reason why we rooted for him in the first place.

Vanishing on 7th Street


Vanishing on 7th Street (2010)
★ / ★★★★

Paul (John Leguizamo), a movie theater employee with a big brain, found himself alone in the cinema after the lights mysteriously went out. The busy buzzing of movie-goers instantly turned to silence. As he explored the building, clothes were everywhere but there seemed to be no sign of people who were there just a split-second ago. It seemed too elaborate to be a prank. Rosemary (Thandie Newton), a mother with a missing baby, James (Jacob Latimore), desperate to find his mother, and Luke (Hayden Christensen), a news reporter, experienced a similar event. Written by Anthonu Jaswinski and directed by Brad Anderson, “Vanishing on 7th Street” started off with a chilling premise but the execution lacked energy because there wasn’t enough information about the weird events to get us to look beyond the images presented on screen. We, as well as the characters, learned that the shadow-like figures were afraid of the light. If touched by the creatures, they would vanish out of thin air. When the four characters got together in a bar owned by James’ mother, instead of finding creative ways to survive, they became laughably philosophical. They thought maybe they were in hell and being caught by the shadows was a way to get into heaven. Maybe there was some kind of an insidious biological warfare. Someone even brought up that maybe there was an alien invasion. Regardless of the reason, what made them so special (or not special) that they were left behind? Far too much time was dedicated on asking questions than seeking answers. With a running time of only ninety minutes, they couldn’t afford to stand around and wait for a light bulb to go off in their heads. Another issue I had with the picture was it took itself too seriously. The tone never changed. The formula involving someone’s light suddenly going off so conveniently just when he or she entered a pitch black room became predictable. It would have been more interesting if the film had found a way to laugh at itself to release some of the stagnant tension. For instance, when I saw clothes of random people just lying in the middle of the road and continued as far as the eyes could see, I laughed to myself. It was creepy but it was also somewhat amusing. As it went on, I was convinced “Vanishing on 7th Street” would have worked better as a short film. It just didn’t offer enough information. Where did the shadow figures come from? Where did everyone disappeared to? Why was the time of day growing shorter at such a rapid rate? We just didn’t know. There’s a mystery in not knowing certain things if and only if the material is already rich. That wasn’t the case here. Not giving away any answer to some of the biggest questions is, in my opinion, cheating the audiences.

Crash


Crash (2004)
★★★ / ★★★★

Several people’s lives in a multicultural, post-911 Los Angeles collide in Paul Higgins’ racial issue drama. I distinctly remember watching this movie for the first time back in high school and I was riveted because there was a certain honestly in its portayal of a very diverse community but the people in the community didn’t quite accept each other. Having been raised in a place where diversity was abound, I thought “Crash” was multidimensional and it managed to avoid some traps concerning movies about characters turning out to be connected to each other in several respects. I still don’t believe “Crash” should have won over “Brokeback Mountain” for Best Picture, but the film was solid because it clearly set up an argument. That is, racism is a part of us and just because we project that ugliness to the world from time to time, it doesn’t mean that we are not capable of good or that we or not capable of changing. My main problem with the movie was it had too many characters and not all of them were fully explored. I thought the ones that worked were Sandra Bullock as a politician’s (Brendan Fraser) wife who was traumatized after a night out in the city, Ryan Phillippe as a cop looking for redemption, Matt Dillon as a cop dealing with his father’s health, and Thandie Newton as a Hollywood director’s (Terrence Howard) wife who was disgusted with the way her husband dealt with the situation after she was sexually harrassed. Side stories like Don Cheadle’s strained relationship with his mother and Ludacris running around stealing cars, as good as they were in their roles, weren’t at the same caliber and intensity as the others. Those unnecessary scenes held the movie back in terms of pacing and focus; they just didn’t hold my attention and I found myself standing up and taking a bathroom break during those scenes. Furthermore, I thought the ending didn’t quite stay true to the tone of the picture. I enjoyed that some characters went through drastic changes while others didn’t change at all, but the ending was borderline silly. Instead of pushing me to ponder over the images and the dialogues that I just saw and heard, it took me out of the experience and I felt a bit emotionally cheated. However, “Crash” is one of the better movies about racism because it wasn’t afraid to address certain issues head-on (such as being a light-skinned African-American versus being dark-skinned) and to show that there is more to a person than what comes out from his or her mouth. I suppose with a movie like this that tries to tackle very controversial issues, we always feel like it missed something or that there wasn’t enough deep exploration in terms of character development. But for what it’s worth, I think it managed to be right on target for most of its running time.

2012


2012 (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by a disaster movie aficionado Roland Emmerich (“The Day After Tomorrow,” “Godzilla,” “Independence Day”), “2012” was about a writer (John Cusack) who stumbled upon information about government operatives preparing for the end of the world and decided to take his wife (Amanda Peet) and children (Liam James, Morgan Lily) to safety. Meanwhile, scientists, humanitarians and politicians all over the world (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Danny Glover) scramble to plan on what to do when the major disasters finally strike while at the same time try to contain the information from the public. I thought “2012” was not as bad as critics claimed to be. I was entertained from beginning to end because when I decide to watch a disaster flick, I’m not concerned so much about the story and character development. I’m more focused with the special and visual effects of destruction and mayhem. On that level, I think “2012” delivered. Unfortunately, I felt like this picture had too many characters and it essentially had trouble juggling each of them. In addition, I felt like the storyline regarding Cusack and Peet’s characters have been done before: how the man and the woman of the family rediscover their passion for each other after years of disagreements and workaholism. In fact, there were times when I thought it tried to inject too much story when it really did not need to. After all, when disasters happen, finding refuge should be a good enough incentive to work together. Reigniting any sort of passion should be left in the back burner. It quickly became repetitive and I constantly wondered how many more minutes until the next natural disaster. I did like some of the supporting actors in this film because they provided a nice breather from the typicality of it all: Thandie Newton as the daughter of the president of the United States and Johann Urb as the Russian pilot. Granted, they did not get to do much but I was actually interested in their back stories. I definitely wondered how the movie would have been different if the focus was on them instead of the family. Personally, as far as disaster features go, I prefer “The Day After Tomorrow” because I thought it was a little more intimate and it was not as all over the place. But I can see why a lot of people, such as my mom who doesn’t really care about the story as long as there are explosions, think this one is very enjoyable because of the many intense action sequences. My advice is too see it for the fluff, not for its emotional core.