Julia’s Eyes (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★
During a neighborhood blackout, Sara (Belén Rueda) stood in the living room talking to someone but we couldn’t see who was there in the shadows. When lightning came, the corner that she seemed to be transfixed on revealed no person despite flashes of a polaroid camera directed toward her earlier on. As the camera focused on her face, we saw that she was blind. Attempting to escape her invisible tormentor, she ended up the basement. She climbed a stool, put a rope around her neck, and a second person knocked the stool from under her. Julia (also played by Rueda), Sara’s twin sister, felt a choking sensation while at her job in the observatory. She just knew something was wrong. Written by Guillem Morales and Oriol Paulo, “Los ojos de Julia” took inspiration from Terence Young’s “Wait Until Dark” and made it much more sinister. It was suspenseful because from the moment Julia suspected foul play, she felt compelled to gather clues that would prove her sister was murdered. It didn’t help that she shared her sister’s medical condition: extreme stressed diminished her eye sight. Ironically, the more knowledge she attained, the less she saw clearly, thus the less reliable her testimony. The best scenes were of Julia’s interactions with people who knew her deceased sister. For instance, when she visited a home for the blind, they smelled her presence… and of a man’s. But she came alone. She aggressively looked behind her and there was, in fact, a man watching her every move. Similar scenes worked in two ways. First, it served as a foreshadowing of what was eventually going to happen to the lead character. It should come to no surprise that she was going to lose her sight completely. If she was to survive, she needed to learn how to depend on her other senses and instinct. Secondly, it worked for the chase sequence that came right after the realization that she was being followed. We saw most of the action through Julia’s eyes. The majority of her peripheral vision was already gone so being forced into her perspective was awkward and claustrophobic. There was an effortless horror in it. What if the killer decided to attack from the side? She had no chance. Much to the dismay of her husband, Isaac (Lluís Homar), it seemed as though there was nothing he could do to stop Julia’s obsession. In here, the romance wasn’t utilized as currency to simply buy minutes until the next scary moment. What they had was tender and believable. I felt as respected as an audience because we really got to experience their history and what they meant to one another without necessarily using words. Their relationship held weight and it was, in a way, the picture’s emotional core though we weren’t always aware of it. The villain was truly monstrous. A hotel janitor (Joan Dalmau) described his motivation so perfectly, I almost began to feel bad for the silent stalker. Although we saw glimpses of him early on in the film, it wasn’t until much later that we observed his face dominating every inch of the camera. When he screamed at Julia without restraint, watching him through her eyes, it felt like such an invasion of my personal space, I wanted to push his face away for being so close. “Julia’s Eyes,” directed by Guillem Morales, skillfully placed us into Julia’s nightmarish experience without it being contrived. Other movies of its kind pale in comparison even under bright lights.
Take Me Home Tonight (2011)
★★ / ★★★★
Matt (Topher Grace) graduated from MIT but he recently moved back home because he didn’t know what to do with his life. While working in a video store at the mall, Matt’s high school crush, Tori (Teresa Palmer), walked in. Embarrassed to be seen as a clerk, Matt pretended to be another shopper and she almost immediately recognized him. Hoping to catch up, Tori invited Matt to attend a party. “Take Me Home Tonight,” written by Jackie Filgo and Jeff Filgo, was a trip back to the 80s where shoulder pads and big hair reigned supreme. I was instantly drawn to it because of the wild fashion, catchy soundtrack, and the story about a young man whose life was at a standstill was relatable. However, the writers’ decision to focus on the party and the crazy happenings took away some precious time for us to really understand the pain and frustration that Matt was going through. There was no doubt that the party had its share of laughs. I chuckled watching Barry (Dan Fogler), Matt’s best friend, deliberately put himself into embarrassing situations. The dance-off didn’t propel the story forward but it added to the nostalgia. When I can tell that the actors are having fun, I can’t help but have fun, too. There was also a very funny bit involving an older woman, Barry, and a German guy who had a fetish for watching people have sex. What the picture needed was more introspective moments. There were two scenes that moved me: when Matt tried to convince Wendy (Anna Faris), his twin, not to marry her slug of a boyfriend (Chris Patt) and when Matt’s father (Michael Biehn) had to perform some tough love to motivate his son to get out of the rut he had grown accustomed to. The two scenes stood out because I learned about Matt through other people. Learning about him from another perspective was important because Matt didn’t really know himself. There was only one thing he wanted for sure: Tori. I wished there were less scenes between she and Matt. I understood that our protagonist was so fixated at the fantasy of being together with his high school crush and he needed to get her out of his system. She was a nice character, sure, but that was the problem: she was so nice, she was almost dull. I was more interested in Wendy and the unopened letter she had received from a prestigious graduate school in England. She was interesting because, unlike Matt, she took action to pursue her passion as a writer. She knew her career path but was weighed down by the responsibility of a romantic relationship. She had to choose. The film would have been stronger if the screenplay and direction had taken the twins and allowed them to serve as character foils for one another. Grace and Faris had wonderful chemistry. They didn’t need to do physical comedy to be funny. A friendly banter and rolling of the eyes were enough to make me want to keep listening to whatever they had to say because I felt like they shared a history. The rest were filler.
★★ / ★★★★
Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Clint Eastwood, “Hereafter” followed three strangers from different areas of the world and how they’ve been touched by the afterlife in some way. Marie (Cécile De France), a successful French television reporter, survived a tsunami while on vacation with a co-worker who happened to be married man (Thierry Neuvic). Since she got back, Marie became obsessed over meeting with scientists who studied life after death for some explanation about what she saw when she lost consciousness. San Franciscan George (Matt Damon) had the ability to communicate with the dead. He used to do it for money. He wanted to stop altogether and lead a normal life but his brother (Jay Mohr) kept sending him clients. When George met a girl (Bryce Dallas Howard) in his cooking class, it seemed as though the life he wanted was within reach. Lastly, in London, Marcus and Jason (Frankie McLaren and George McLaren), were inseparable twins. But when Jason passed away and his mother checked into a rehabilitation center to attempt to recover from heroin addiction, Marcus was placed in foster care. The film was promising because of the way it set up the characters’ unique circumstances. The tsunami scene was heart-pounding, the reluctant psychic’s situation had a whiff of comedy to it, and the twins’ relationship was genuinely moving. However, as it went on, I couldn’t help but feel like it was afraid to tackle the difficult questions. It was plagued with scenes that led nowhere, especially the middle portion, and it became repetitive. I wanted several of my questions answered but the picture never got around to it. In regards to Marie, was she able to step outside of herself and notice a change from being a fact-driven woman to a woman so willing to embrace what’s outside the realm of possibility? She seemed to be a very smart person and for her completely believe everything she saw right away didn’t seem like the material showed loyalty to her character. As for George, he claimed he wanted to stop using his gift but was there a part of him that enjoyed giving other people closure? In some circumstances, if he didn’t hear anything from the spirit or if the connection wasn’t strong enough, was he forced to lie in order to give someone a chance to move on? His craving for a so-called normal life felt superficial. What I found most moving was Marcus’ harrowing quest in dealing with his older brother’s untimely death and the abandonment he felt when his mother had to leave. The character was the “quiet twin” and it worked especially the heartbreaking scenes when Marcus met with people who knowingly and falsely claimed to have a connection with spirits. He didn’t need to speak or scream or yell in order for us to understand what he might be going through. His actions (or inaction) were enough to reflect his sadness and possible state of depression. “Hereafter” need not offer me any definite answers because I have my own view of the afterlife. But what it needed was to fearlessly confront the characters’ own beliefs about the unknown, challenge them, and show us how they’ve changed, or if there even was a change.