Tag: vanessa hudgens

Freaks of Nature

Freaks of Nature (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

Sci-fi horror-comedy “Freaks of Nature,” based on the screenplay by Oren Uziel and directed by Robbie Pickering, offers a general approach of satirizing movies with zombies, vampires, or aliens where such creatures wreck havoc in a small town and the day must be saved by hormonal high school students, preferably outcasts within their own cliques. Although the premise is amusing for the most part—and it offers a few fresh ideas—the satire is never sharp enough to be specific or powerful enough to serve as a strong statement piece about the marginalized. These creatures are metaphors after all.

What it gets exactly right, however, is the special effects and makeup. The opening scene grabs the audiences by employing slow motion and freeze frames to showcase how a mob of blood-thirsty vampires, brain-hungry zombies, and desperate humans look. A lot of effort is put into giving us a range of looks, from the menacing to the ridiculous. The chaos and violence are immediately convincing and so we look forward to learning how the relatively peaceful Dillford, home of the riblets, have been reduced to pandemonium.

The script takes its time to establish the three protagonists: Dag (Nicholas Braun), a baseball player who is head over heels in love with a classmate (Vanessa Hudgens) who is not interested in him romantically, Petra (Mackenzie Davis), who looks forward to losing her virginity with a boyfriend (Ed Westwick) who happens to be a vampire, and Ned (Josh Fadem), an intellectual who clashes with his knucklehead family. The dialogue hits sitcom-like levels once in a while, but it helps that just about each scene is an attempt to move the plot forward. Many horror-comedies where teenagers are faced with supernatural or extraterrestrial situations tend to just sit there and let the visual effects do the work.

One gets the impression that at times the filmmakers try to cram too much during its ninety-minute running time. As a result, some scenes come across as rushed or underdeveloped, especially those that aim to highlight a teen’s relationship with his parents or how the protagonists learn to relate with one another. And because the relationships are often superficial, the jokes, especially ones that knock someone personally, are not as funny as they should be. Also, some of the jokes become quite repetitive. We get it: Dag has a history of not always being able to control his bodily functions.

“Freaks of Nature” is enjoyable and engaging for more than half of its running time because it actually offers a few neat ideas, but it is obviously limited by its form of media. Imagine this story told in a six-episode mini-series. Retain the exact tone and feel of this particular bonkers universe, but iron out the teenage angst of being an outsider and living in a small town where humans, vampires, and zombies have learned—more or less—to co-exist. If it had more time to grow and develop, it is likely that its charm would have been exponentially greater.

Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine), and Brit (Ashley Benson) made plans to go to Florida for Spring Break. Although they have managed to save some money during the school year, they still do not have enough to get there, let alone pay for the motel and other necessities. Desperate to have their vacation, they rob a restaurant and get away it with. At first, it is exactly as they imagined: the parties are fun, there is a lot of drugs and alcohol, and they meet all sorts of people. However, the fun and games come to a halt when they are arrested.

“Spring Breakers,” written and directed by Harmony Korine, is one of those movies that rubbed me the wrong way at first, but the more I spent time with it, I felt as though there might be some meaning behind the incessant shots of voluptuous breasts, open and well-waxed crotches, and young people on the verge of alcohol poisoning.

Despite its sunny and neon-colored template, there is a glaring lack of vibrancy in the girls’ lives. They are bored with being in college and experiencing the same thing every day. They have convinced each other that by going on this trip, it will allow them to see something different and “find” themselves. It is interesting that the characters talk as if they were sleepwalking. And in a way, they are. They are so into their fantasy of having the perfect vacation that they fail to appreciate what they have in front of them.

At its core, I believe the writer-director wishes to make a statement about young people in America and their sense of entitlement. It is what has driven the girls to hold people at gunpoint and demand them of their money; to take someone else’s car and burn it; and to lie to their worried parents about their whereabouts. They believe that they deserve a week of reckless behavior even if it means putting themselves and others in danger.

How Korine communicates his message is a different matter. There is a lot of repetition. Images of women being objectified–topless, on the floor being showered in alcohol, sensually kissing other women–appears to be a common theme. Is it meant to be sexy? Offensive? When repetition is utilized, it is often meant to make something clear. But in this case, it does exactly the opposite because the images are on autopilot–a lack of a defined perspective. There is repetition in the dialogue, too. It gets unbearable after a while.

The most interesting and bizarre performance goes to James Franco, playing a slime of a man named Alien who reckons himself “a gangster with a heart of gold.” The scene between Franco and Gomez as Alien talks Faith into not going home just yet because he “likes” her so much is so creepy, it made me want to crawl out of my skin. This is after the gangster, likely to be in his thirties, tells Faith that she looks like a fifteen-year-old.

“Spring Breakers” made me want to root for the girls by hoping that they will get hurt before their situation turns so bad that they will never recover from it. And yet–clearly, they are neck-deep in their delusion that something extreme has to happen for them to wake up.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Sean (Josh Hutcherson) had broken into a satellite facility which got him in trouble with the authorities. Naturally, Mom (Kristin Davis) was upset but Sean resented his stepfather, Hank (Dwayne Johnson), for caring because the teen believed it wasn’t Hank’s place to act as a parent. However, Sean’s animosity toward his stepdad seemed to dissipate considerably when the former Navy broke the code which mentioned that “The Mysterious Island” in Jules Verne’s novel existed somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Sean felt compelled to visit the island because he was convinced that his grandfather, Alexander (Michael Caine), was the one who sent the code. Based on the screenplay by Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn, listening to the dialogue of “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” was like enduring nails scraping on a chalkboard for an hour and a half. While it was understandable that some of the jokes were cheesy because the bulk of the material was intended for young children, there weren’t enough witticisms for adults to remain interested divorced from the impressive chase sequences, full of vibrant colors and striptease of danger, between the gargantuan animals on the island and our protagonists. The sequence which involved the characters jumping from one giant but fragile lizard egg to another managed to balance comedy and suspense. Although the balancing act wasn’t quite consistent, it was fun because we knew that it was only a matter of time until the maternal lizard woke up and attacked. The same applied to the scene where the characters rode bees and hungry birds hunted for their lunch. Sometimes it was quite easy to tell which stunts were performed in front of a green screen, but I imagine children wouldn’t be as discerning. For me, what mattered was the energy of the scene and the risks the filmmakers were willing to take for the sake of entertainment. There were some risks that were taken here. Some paid off but others did not. Speaking of the latter, Sean and Hank hired Gabato (Luis Guzmán), a pilot, and his daughter, Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens), to take them to the island of interest. While Guzmán provided some laughs on the level of physical humor, Hudgens was not given anything special. Hudgens, in my opinion, is not a very expressive actor in the first place and not giving her something to work with only highlighted her lack of versatility. While it made sense that Sean became immediately attracted to Kailani because she looked pretty in her figure-hugging shirt and short shorts, it didn’t make sense that he continued to yearn for her affections because she acted like a brat, a nicer word that starts with a letter B, toward him, a feeling almost similar to how a stereotypical popular girl treated a stereotypical brainiac. Their so-called romance was one of the most insufferable aspects of the film. Every time Kailani battered her eyelashes, Sean stopped thinking with his brain and proceeded to think with his other head. Meanwhile, my level of exasperation intensified. As a movie designed for kids, I didn’t think it sent a very good message about self-reliance and self-esteem. Would it have been too much of a creative leap for the writers to make Kailani and Sean equally smart so that they were able to bounce ideas off each other and then, when or if it felt right, perhaps explore their underlying romantic feelings? Directed by Brad Peyton, considering that half of “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” involved walking and the characters talking, it was a bore. It might have been better as a short film with nothing but epinephrine-fueled stunts.

Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch (2011)
★ / ★★★★

After their mother’s death, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) and her sister were left in the hands of their evil stepfather (Gerard Plunkett). When he found out that the sisters were the heir to the fortune he hoped to receive, he was possessed by rage and tried to hurt the girls. Commotion ensued and Baby Doll was accused of accidentally killing her sister. She was sent to a mental hospital where she eventually planned her escape with other patients (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung). Directed by Zack Snyder, there was no denying that “Sucker Punch” delivered visual acrobatics galore. The action sequences looked dream-like, appropriate because much of the fantastic elements occurred in Baby Doll’s mind, and the girls looked great in their respective outfits. However, it was unfortunate that there was really nothing else to elevate the picture. The acting was atrocious. Blue (Oscar Isaac), one of the main orderlies, for some reason, always felt the need to scream in order to get his point across. I understood that Isaac wanted his character to exhibit a detestable menace, but he should have given more variety to his performance. Sometimes whispering a line in a slithery tone could actually pack a more powerful punch than yelling like a spoiled child. I was astounded that we didn’t learn much about Baby Doll’s friends. They were important because they helped our protagonist to get the four items required if she was to earn her freedom. I wondered what the sisters, Sweat Pea and Rocket, had done to deserve being sent to such a prison. They seemed very close. Maybe for a reason. The girls were supposed to have gone crazy in some way but there was no evidence that they weren’t quite right in the head. If they were sent to the mental hospital for the wrong reasons, the script should have acknowledged that instead of leaving us in the dark. They, too, could have been framed like Baby Doll. Overlooking such a basic detail proved to me how little Snyder thought about the story. “Sucker Punch” tackled three worlds: the mental institution, the brothel, and the war against Nazi zombies. Too much time was spent in the whorehouse, the least interesting of them all, and not enough time in the asylum. Though beautiful to look at due to its post-apocalyptic imagery, I could care less about the battle scenes with the dragons, giant samurais, and Nazi zombies. The reason why Snyder should have given us more scenes of Baby Doll in the asylum was because that was Baby Doll’s grim reality: in five days, she was to be lobotomized. Those who’ve played a role-playing video game in the past five years are aware that the games have mini-movies during key events in the story arc. Those images were as good as the ones found here and some of the stories in those games are quite compelling. If images were all this film had to offer, then why should we bother to watch it?