Tag: topher grace


BlacKkKlansman (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

Director Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” is correct to be frightening, disgusting, eye-opening, and entertaining all at once because the subjects it broaches and explores, all falling under the umbrella of racism in modern America and our relationship with it, are meant to give us indigestion—so to speak—a strong visceral reaction of having experienced something we are not supposed to because it might be considered not kosher, or that it is offensive, or too extreme. But that’s exactly what I loved about the film, both in its vision and final product, because it strives to paint a complicated portrait of where America is right now through the scope of a real-life investigation that took place in 1970s. You will not walk away from this film without an opinion.

It has been a while since I felt the veteran director being so free with his craft, from the utilization of archival footages, dramatic but out of place music, shots clearly inspired by blaxploitation pictures, to fusing two genres with seeming ease. And yet the material commands cohesion. It does not rely solely on the comedy which involves Detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) infiltrating the terrorist organization Ku Klux Klan’s local chapter in Colorado Springs. Instead, for instance, it also touches upon the dichotomy of Stallworth being a cop whose goal is to make real changes in a police station that tolerates racists—one of the cops is so proud of killing an innocent black teenager, he actually brags about it like it is some sort of achievement.

I enjoyed that the material exposes the main character’s blind spots and, perhaps more importantly, the fact that these blind spots need not be changed throughout the film’s duration. It is enough for the screenplay to acknowledge them and then trusting the audience to look inside ourselves and consider our own foibles. For example, at some point, I could not help but think about being an immigrant teenager who yearned to belong in America—white America, to be exact—so much so that for years I felt ashamed of my culture, the color of my skin, the texture of my hair, my accent, down the food I took to the school’s lunch table for everybody to see, smell, and ask questions about. To me, the material is so potent that it actually brought me back to when I felt insecure about my cultural identity.

And therein lies its greatest strength: Although it is a film told from a black perspective—in terms of original material, screenplay, and direction—it remains relevant to everyone who has felt like a minority. The institutional racism in America is so pervasive, it is almost inescapable; if it doesn’t erase us, we strive to erase ourselves in order to blend into the white.

Certainly the picture can be criticized over pacing issues, but its energy is taken on such a high gear that awkward pacing that leads to undercooked relationships, like Stallworth’s blossoming romantic connection to Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), Colorado College’s Black Student Union president, remains interesting nonetheless. Washington and Dumas share such smooth chemistry, I wished there were a movie of their characters simply talking about random things, like black music or black films, and perhaps even discussing serious issues like white fears in an increasingly multicultural, multicolored America.

I admired its use of language. It employs nearly every derogatory word and phrase not because it can but because we are meant to react to them. And, if, somehow, you find yourself inured to these defamatory and really vile language, it is a clue to get an education, an appreciation of the history of these words and why they are not okay to use. No, it is not just because people are being “snowflakes” or “the freedom of speech is being threatened.” The internet is at your fingertips.


Delirium (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

Although psychological horror picture “Delirium” is not entirely intolerable, one gets the impression that it could have been a more potent work had a director with a critical eye for what makes images especially scary or disturbing been at the helm. Director Dennis Iliadis leads the film with emphasis on thrills but he forgets to invest on a convincing, emotional, or perhaps even a humanistic rising action. The execution is pedestrian, clearly made for viewers who must receive a punchline—even if it is weak—every five minutes or so.

In a way, a more classical approach of horror filmmaking—patient, precise, rooted in implications rather than ostentatious displays—is more appropriate given that the story revolves around a former mental patient of twenty years who is required to serve a month of house arrest prior to freedom. But the house is no ordinary house—it is a mansion whose owner had recently committed suicide. Not even a week into his house arrest, Tom (Topher Grace) becomes thoroughly convinced that the house his father left him is haunted.

The mansion’s interior is beautiful, spacious, and each room is well-decorated. Some of them offer a specific theme so moving from scene to scene piques our curiosity. However, once the initial tour is over, the screenplay by Adam Alleca gets mired in presenting one potential delusion after another. The approach is to bombard to audience with visions but these are never scary because the emphasis is on getting big reactions rather than small but lasting ones. If we were to be convinced, too, that the house is haunted, we must feel a sense of foreboding in every room. We must feel there is a history there. Every hallway must emit a sense of danger, uncertainty. It is most unfortunate because the setting is terrific. Like the best haunted house pictures, a strong and specific vision is required to transform a place into a personality.

Questionable characters that Tom interacts with during his house arrest are not written in a smart or memorable way. A potential romantic interest (Genesis Rodriguez) is given a backstory more appropriate for television, the case officer (Patricia Clarkson) tends to make decisions so extreme that we do not believe someone like her exists in real life, and the brother’s (Callan Mulvey) motivation is so conventional that it feels like he is from a completely different picture. Couple these poorly written characters with the question of whether certain interactions are simply a part of Tom’s delusions—these are elements that plague terrible horror films: because just about anything can happen, anything can be real or not real, investing in the material proves difficult. Somewhere in the back of our minds, we cannot help but wonder if we are being duped.

The saving grace, pardon the pun, is Grace who appears to give it his all in order to create a character we should care about. An underrated performer, Grace excels when the camera simply rests on his face and his eyes are left to tell a story. But notice a pattern: As Tom explores creepy closets with one-way mirrors and comes across hidden rooms, the film is quick to introduce deafening noises rather than taking it slow, presenting us, teasing us with Tom’s range of bewilderment. Clearly, creating a high level of suspense is not the film’s strength. At times I felt it is rather uninterested in suspense, strange and off-putting for a horror film.


Predators (2010)
★ / ★★★★

Eight people (Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Topher Grace, Walton Goggins, Oleg Taktarov, Danny Trejo, Louis Ozawa Changchien, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) with great ability to kill awoke in free fall toward a strange jungle. Eventually, they learned they were bait for alien creatures who liked to hunt and learn about their prey’s skills in order to adapt to dangerous situations. Nimród Antal’s “Predators” was devoid of fun and creativity. I would like to start off with Adrien Brody’s performance. As an action star, Brody failed to embody a convincing attitude, the confidence required for me to keep interested and want to root for him. In every scene, whenever a discovery was made such as their role in the jungle and survivors revealing themselves from past carnage, Brody remained wooden and completely unconvincing. Perhaps his idea of masculinity was not conveying emotion to any situation, which was completely wrong. I wanted to feel his anger that he was sent to a situation in which he did not agree with and his frustration toward the other survivors as they made one stupid decision after another. For example, when one said not to split up, the next scene showed the characters doing exactly the opposite. If Brody had reflected what the audiences would have felt if they were in his character’s situation, he would have been that much more relatable. Playing a sensitive and charming hero would have been a great antithesis against hard bodies in the 70s and 80s action flicks. The only twist I liked was Laurence Fishburne’s appearance as the unpredictable Noland who had an imaginary friend. As he talked about his experiences about trying to survive in the jungle, I had forgotten that I was watching an actor. The film suffered from many unnecessary twists, especially toward the end when we came to realize that one of the eight had other intentions apart from escaping the jungle. I was left in the dust wondering why the writers felt the need to put in a twist. It felt desperate as if it was aware that the action sequences offered nothing new to the genre. In the end, it was all confusion and chaos lacking in genuine suspense and purpose. As for its visual and special effects, they were not used to the film’s advantage. Instead of hiding the alien creatures in the shadows, astutely done in John McTiernan’s “Predator,” to pique our interest and to heighten the horror, the movie revealed too much too quickly. Either the filmmakers had no control of their project’s tone or it was purposely done that way because they designed the picture for Facebook and Twitter generation. It gave nothing for people who relished subtlety and irony.

Valentine’s Day

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.


Traffic (2000)
★★★ / ★★★★

What I loved about this film the most was its structured storytelling, yet it still felt organic because each of the character involved was like a mouse trying to find the way out of a maze. Steven Soderbergh, the director, presented three main fronts: Michael Douglas as a judge who became a recent leader against drugs in America, unaware of the fact that his daughter (Erika Christensen) is becoming an addict (with Topher Grace as the friend/boyfriend); Benicio Del Toro as a cop trying to catch cocaine shipments in the Mexican border, only to realize later the thin line between an ally and an enemy; and Catharine Zeta-Jones as a housewife who must make a decision on whether or not to aid her recently arrested husband for distributing drugs under the eyes of two cops (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman) who keep following her everywhere. Each of those vignettes were equally interesting so I was excited whenever the picture would jump from one to another. I also noticed Soderbergh’s excellent use of warm and cool colors. At first I thought whenever the cool colors appeared, it meant that we were seeing the story from a good guys’ perspective and the warm colors meant from the bad guys’. But I was proven wrong just as quickly that it wasn’t that simple because, whenever it came to drugs, the good guys must confront their inner demons and choose the difficult choices over the right choices. The moral implications of each characters’ decisions kept piling up to the point where I was somewhat overwhelmed (in a good way) and it was hard for me to root for anyone for that matter. There’s a sense of realism about these characters and I was impressed because most pictures I’ve seen about drugs themselves or the war on drugs mostly involve crooked cops and gun-wielding, savvy-talking gangsters. In here, Soderbergh let his characters be actual people and there was a certain unpredictability to it. I think with another viewing in the future, I’ll come to love this film that much more. Although there may have been some things that I didn’t understand, such as some of the legal concepts and the intricacies among the hierarchy of drug bosses and henchmen, I can admit that this was a rich, extremely layered picture worth viewing at least once.