★★ / ★★★★
Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) have known each other since they were kids. They grew up along the ocean and decided to stay there as adults. They are so close, their sons are also best of friends. However, when Tom (James Frecheville), Roz’ son, catches his mother walking out of the guest room, where Ian (Xavier Samuel), Lil’s son, is staying at the time, with barely any clothes on, the dynamic among mothers and sons are pushed into a sudden shift. Tom and Lil become lovers, too.
“Adore,” based on Doris Lessing’s novella “The Grandmothers,” is actually a nice surprise—though the picture tackles a subject that can be considered taboo, the screenplay by Christopher Hampton treats the situation and the characters very seriously. The question is not so much whether or not the relationships will survive till the end but which person gives more love and is willing to sacrifice more in a friendship. That is something fresh.
I had my reservations. I expected it to be some sort of sexy skin flick where women of a certain age get their way with young men. But it is not like that at all. The only thing that is sexy about it is how gorgeously it is photographed by Christophe Beaucarne. The interiors of the houses are so spacious and modern but lived in at the same time. The exterior shots, especially ones that take place at the beach, look like the best Hawaiian postcards. Just about everything about the cinematography is inviting—even when it goes for the close-ups of the aging Lil and Roz. We wonder what they are thinking. Watts and Wright appear very comfortable in their own skins and I think that is key in playing characters like Lil and Roz.
The weaker links are Samuel and Frecheville. While I did buy their performances during their characters’ late teen years, I found them sort of awkward when they come to a point where they must portray men in their late twenties. They just look so young, so boyish that I was taken out of the gravity of what their characters are supposed to be going through. Perhaps casting actors who look a little older to play teenagers might have been a better decision because the bulk of the meat is in the latter half when repercussions are due.
There is a running joke in the film that Roz and Lil are so close that they are often mistaken for a lesbian couple. While funny on the surface, perhaps there is something to that. The images on screen made me wonder about the book. Are Lil and Roz subconsciously in denial of their sexual attraction to one another? Is being with one another’s son a way to diffuse or channel or resolve their romantic feelings for each other?
Directed by Anne Fontaine, “Adore” leaves us something to think about even though the content is not that relatable. In some instances, it works against itself completely. There were moments when I thought, “Who cares?” All four seem to be living in a suspended fantasy that no one wants to leave—deep down at least. Still, I am giving it a mild recommendation for the leading actress’ performances and beautiful seaside imagery.
★★ / ★★★★
Jesse (Lachlan Buchanan) lives in the shadow of his older brother, Victor (Reshad Strik), a former surfing champion, and in his determination to step outside of it, his passion for surfing has turned into an obsession to win. His latest opportunity takes place in a local contest in which the two participants with the highest scores will get a chance to compete on a bigger venue. Jesse places third. In order to help Jesse forget about the loss, his friends suggest that they go on a trip to a lesser-known beach spot during the weekend, hang out, surf, and have fun with girls.
Written and directed by Dan Castle, although “Newcastle” does a decent job juggling its subplots, there is no denying that its protagonist is as bland as a plank. The editing does not do the lead actor any favor. It made me wonder if Buchanan was miscast. Each time a scene involving Jesse is about to reach an emotional peak, one of three things occurs: the film quickly jumps to another scene, an actor with more personality walks into the frame, or the mood shifts so suddenly as to avoid an emotional payoff. This proves frustrating because I wished to understand Jesse’s anger on a deeper level.
I liked that Jesse is not very likable. He is bullied by Victor. But since Victor has a larger physique, Jesse feels the need to retaliate on an easier target. There is no other target more easily accessible than Fergus (Xavier Samuel), the youngest of the brothers, given his purple hair, manicured fingernails, and a reputation for being a homosexual. Each time Jesse calls his brother a “fag” or “faggot,” I could not help but get angry at him for being so unnecessarily cruel. Yet at the same time we feel sorry for Jesse because one can conclude that he houses the most insecurities out of all his friends and brothers. Other than Victor, no one sees or treats him as a target.
No effort is put into exploring Jesse’s self-pitying and so the later scenes where we are supposed to root for him to win hold very little to no impact. The surfing scenes are repetitive but quite beautiful so they are never completely dull. The film holds the most tension when a character gets knocked around a wave and struggles to swim to the surface. I remembered a friend of mine, a surfer, telling me a story about his near-death experience, how the ocean seemed to pull him downward more powerfully the harder he struggled to get to the top and get some air.
The picture makes an efficient use of slow motion to put us into the mindset of someone who is drowning. I know this from personal experience. When I was five or six, my dad had to pull me out of the ocean. The waves somehow managed to sweep me away from the shallow area. The three things I remember include the panic, the burning in my lungs as I struggled for air, and how slow it all felt.
However, the story boils down to Jesse. Since the material does not invite us into his perspective often enough and allow us to understand him beyond what is on the surface, his turning point feels bogus. It probably would have been more involving if the picture had been about Fergus and his relationship with Andy (Kirk Jenkins), one of Jesse’s friends, because what they have is more interesting and the answers to their situation are likely to be far more complex.
★ / ★★★★
Josh (Xavier Samuel) and Tina (Sharni Vinson) were supposed to get married but their plans changed when Rory, Tina’s brother, is killed in a shark attack. Some time has passed since the tragedy and Josh has found a job in a supermarket. Although it seems like the most exciting part of everybody’s day is Doyle (Julian McMahon) being forced by a masked man (Dan Wylie) to steal money from the place, a tsunami hits the coast and interrupts the robbery. The survivors, after gathering their wits, find themselves trapped inside the supermarket with two great white sharks hungry for live bait.
Written by John Kim and Russell Mulcahy, although the premise of “Bait” is quite promising, it is not able to deliver on an entertainment level because it is reluctant to embrace the inherent cheese imbedded in its sub-genre’s marrow.
Strangely, the frequency of shark attacks is scarce. While I liked, to a degree, that the writing is eager to preserve its characters’ lives instead disposing them like fish food, their personalities and backstories are simply not interesting enough to warrant chunks of the screen time. The strained father-daughter (Damien Garvey, Phoebe Tonkin) relationship is entirely predictable and the reunion of Tina and Josh is laughable at best.
In the former, the concept of self-sacrifice is touched upon to prove to the audiences that even though they are not able to get along, they still love each other. A nice twist would have been the father being eaten by a shark early on in order for the daughter, a “tough” chick who likes to test her luck against the law, to learn that sometimes the messed up ways in which we treat others cannot be undone no matter how sorry we end up feeling at the end of the day.
As with the latter, the writing tries so hard to build chemistry from what simply is not there. When the couple look into each other’s eyes or touch each other just so, I felt nothing. There is neither tenderness nor longing. Their interactions are so desert dry in spark and deadly dull execution, I began to question if they even had a history. Its self-seriousness permeates through every square inch of what is supposed to be an exciting and scary situation.
On the plus side, the picture is able to provide some good shots. I liked it when the sharks are allowed to get very close to the actors and we are suspended in anticipation as to whether there will be an attack. For instance, when the arguing couple (Lincoln Lewis, Cariba Heine) are stuck inside their car because the underground parking lot is flooded, a shark about five to six feet away calmly swims across the windshield, as if they were in an aquarium, and they get to appreciate the sheer size of the creature. Who would risk venturing outside the vehicle after seeing such a predator?
Another person stuck in the parking lot is Ryan (Alex Russell), the boyfriend of one of the survivors inside the supermarket. I wondered why he was not made to be the main character because, like Josh, there is a goodness about him. If more people inside became fish food early on, perhaps the material would have had time for us to get to know him. And if the writers really wanted to explore its characters a bit more, perhaps Ryan could have served as Josh’s foil.
Ultimately, “Bait,” directed by Kimble Rendall, fails to relish and play upon the irony of people going to the supermarket to buy food—fish, for instance. In this case, the fish come to shop for their food. There really ought to have been more shark attacks.
Road Train (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
A camping trip in the outback proved far from enjoyable when Craig (Bob Morley), Nina (Sophie Lowe), Marcus (Xavier Samuel), and Liz (Georgina Haig) were driven off the highway by a road train, very similar to a gargantuan semi truck. One with a broken arm while the others remained relatively unscathed, they noticed that the truck that seemingly harmed them on purpose did not simply drive away. There was a possibility that the whole thing might have been an accident so Marcus and Liz decided to approach the truck for help. When the couple got there, however, there was no driver even though they key was in the ignition. Written by Clive Hopkins, “Road Train” must be given credit for trying something new. Instead of giving us yet another blade-wielding masked serial killer hoping to kidnap and torture city kids vacationing in the outback, it touched upon the idea that perhaps the road train was a conscious being. Its problem, unfortunately, was it failed to delve into its premise deeply enough and it took far too long to reveal to us the contents of the truck’s containers. Its first fifteen minutes were inspired by the somewhat understated mood and texture of Richard Franklin’s “Roadgames” mixed with the situational horror of Victor Salva’s “Jeepers Creepers.” The highway chase did not look especially fast but it managed to grab onto several levels of tension. By slowing down the action and avoiding manic, dizzying quick cuts for as much as possible, we had a chance to observe the manner in which the massive truck slithered along the narrow two-lane road as it pursued the mouse-like jeep. The director, Dean Francis, had good timing as to when to place us inside the jeep versus outside of it. Conversely, when the action was stripped away, it remained interesting. I enjoyed the dynamic among the four. For a while, they were allowed to do whatever they felt like they needed to in order to find help and survive. Each of them had a dominating surface personality: Craig was the coolheaded alpha male; Nina was the awkward fourth wheel considering the others were very close friends; Marcus was prone to giving sarcastic remarks given the anger he tried so hard to suppress; and Liz was the tough chick, always on the defensive. The screenplay seemed aware that its characters had something good brewing among them so it was smart to abstain from killing them off for as long as possible. Still, everything connected to that mysterious truck and its containers. We were able to look inside eventually but not enough times that felt sufficient. I wished the writing had been more willing to go to the extremes by being unafraid to introduce really bizarre, ridiculous events, serving as contrast against the beautiful, barren milieu. There were only two or three wide shots that forced us to appreciate the Australia’s unique environment which was a shame. I imagine if “Road Kill” had been much darker, weirder by taking David Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch” as inspiration, and more efficient with its revelations, it could have been a modern midnight movie favorite.
Loved Ones, The (2009)
★ / ★★★★
Brent (Xavier Samuel) lost control of the wheel when a bloodied teen suddenly appeared in the middle of the road. His father on the front seat, the car crashed onto a tree after Brent attempted to avoid hitting the person. Six months later, we learned that Brent’s father passed because of the accident. Still in a state of grief, Brent took solace in dating Holly (Victoria Thaine), a classmate who recently received her driver’s license. It was the night of prom and prior to Brent meeting Holly in the parking lot, he was approached by the innocuous- and plain-looking Lola (Robin McLeavy) and asked him if he wanted to go to the dance with her. Since he already had plans with his girlfriend, he had no choice but to refuse the offer, a decision that could cost him his life. Written and directed by Sean Byrne, for all the horrifying images in “The Loved Ones,” it was thin in suspense and even thinner in horror because every so-called scare appealed to the idea of being hurt by an object wielded by another person, whether it be a nail, a hammer, a knife, a fork, or a power drill. For the majority of its duration, we were forced to watch Brent experience all sorts of physical torture as if the camera had chosen to stay one of those underground rooms in Eli Roth’s “Hostel” but without the cheeky sense of humor and eventual purging of anger and vengeance toward the end that felt sufficient or satisfying. Despite Brent’s chiseled good looks, he was mostly bland. The screenplay’s attempt to communicate Brent’s sadness was at times laughable as he was constantly shown listening to death metal music with his 70s hair placed just so as to remind us that even though he was supposed to be suffering, it was still a beautiful image. That dichotomy did not work for me because this film wasn’t a silly commercial nor was it a complex drama. It would have been simpler and more powerful to show the teenager at his rawest, so angry and so demolished by what had happened to his dad, it seemed that he no longer cared about living. One good scene, however, was when he went outside with his dog, he decided to climb a rock, hang onto it and close his eyes. It made me consider what he was thinking. Perhaps he imagined a parallel life that was better, an alternate reality where his father was still alive and he did not feel so responsible. Or perhaps he just wanted to feel a sense of danger as a reminder that he was still alive, that it was all right to want to move on even if the memory and repercussions of the accident would be lodged in his brain for as long as he lived. It was arguably the best scene in the film because drama and horror, not the torture kind, worked together and it asked us to consider what could be happening in our protagonist’s head. Regrettably, the film had to deliver the blood and the screaming which eventually made me apathetic because of its redundancy. The torment in the chair coupled with Jamie (Richard Wilson), Brent’s sex- and pot-obsessed friend, going to the prom with Mia (Jessica McNamee) was a toxic combination. Every time the camera switched to Jamie and Mia, the built-up tension was sucked out of the screen. While there was one piece that connected Mia and Jamie’s night out to what was happening to Brent, it was only one and, if anything, it only felt like a footnote. “The Loved Ones” made me question its purpose. A lot of horror films are made to entertain–with a few exceptions like Srdjan Spasojevic’s “Srpski film” that is simply an affront not only to our senses but also to the art of making movies. Although horror pictures may involve physical pain, they can be enjoyed for reasons such as characters who are smart and plucky that we want to see survive or even characters that are so stupid, we want them to experience a gruesome death so they would stop being so annoying. They can even be enjoyed for technical details like interesting camerawork or great use of lighting to amplify a certain mood. I wasn’t entertained by this because the torture was coupled with humiliation. I felt sad and sorry for Brent. I didn’t feel like the writer-director loved his main character enough, just another young body to be mutilated.
Twilight Saga: Eclipse, The (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
I can always rely on the “Twilight” series to be consistently mediocre despite the fact that each movie released was better than its predecessor. In “Eclipse,” based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer and directed by David Slade, the love triangle between Bella (Kristen Stewart), Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner) reached its peak but the vampire and werewolf camps decided to join forces in order to protect Bella from newly-born vampires led by Riley (Xavier Samuel) and Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard taking over for Rachelle Lefevre). Like the first two movies, “Eclipse” suffered from far too many ways Edward and Bella expressed how much they loved each other. I understood that the whole thing might have worked on paper or else the novels wouldn’t have been as successful but it just did not work on film because it quickly became redundant. Even when the movie tried to explore the romantic relationship between Bella and Jacob, the picture lacked energy and, to be quite honest, I started noticing the make-up, editing and the lighting. In other words, it lost my interest despite my best intentions of sticking with the story. The movie would have benefited if it had more action sequences. Maybe it’s because I’m a guy but I did enjoy the climax when the werewolves and vampires came head-to-head with the vampire army while Edward and Bella faced Riley and Victoria. Victoria was probably my favorite character since the first movie because I thought she was menacing but enchanting at the same time. Unfortunately, even though I could tell she was trying her best, Howard’s interpretation of her character did not work for me because she lacked Lefevre’s subtleties (which the series desperately lacked). In this installment, Victoria felt like a pawn instead of a rogue vampire who was full of malice and thirst for vengeance. I also enjoyed the tent scene when Edward and Jacob finally connected not because it was touching on any level but because it was very amusing to the point where people were actually laughing out loud in the theater. There was something purposely homoerotic about the very intense glares the two sent each other. Even though that scene wasn’t very effective, I admired that the material was aware enough to make fun of itself. Furthermore, I can criticize the film for not being a good example for teenagers in promoting marriage considering the characters’ ages but I won’t because it simply tried to remain loyal to its source. I can only hope that the final installment (divided in two) will have more suspense and action than romance. It needed less cheese and more bloodshed.