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Posts tagged ‘zac efron’

16
Feb

The Greatest Showman


Greatest Showman, The (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Viewers expecting a thorough and accurate presentation of P.T. Barnum’s (Hugh Jackman) personal life and business career are certain to be dissatisfied by “The Greatest Showman,” based on the screenplay by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon, since it is more concerned about delivering showstopping musical numbers than old-fashioned storytelling. Here is a film for fans of modern musicals: it makes the audience feel good, it moves quickly, and it has just enough willingness to move the audience toward a more emotional territory without necessarily enveloping them in subtlety and nuance. It is a project to be enjoyed on the spot, not to be thought about or pined over afterwards. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

And so the picture must be evaluated through the scope of a modern musical. It surprised me because it has more than three good songs. Better yet: these songs do not always come from the same character singing about the same subject but only using different words. Standouts include “A Million Dreams,” “The Other Side,” “Never Enough,” “This is Me,” and “Rewrite the Stars”—already composing half of the soundtrack. Better still—each song is supported by elegant visuals, whether it be sheets being blown by the wind toward a certain direction which matches that of how a woman’s dress falls just so or how a singer’s body keeps still but her graceful limbs deliver a spectrum of emotions. The film offers no shortage of musical and visual styles.

Had the filmmakers been more brazen with the kind of work they wish to deliver, it would have been wiser to drop the typical trappings involving the subject’s home life as his career soars, for example. On this level, it offers no originality. I quite disliked how Charity, Barnum’s wife, is written because there is barely any dimension to her identity and personality. Michelle Williams portrays the highly supportive spouse and she does what she can with the role. But one looks at her face and immediately recognizes she is not being challenged. Here is a performer who can deliver any emotion, oftentimes several emotions at once, across any genre… but the character is written without any fire or excitement.

The plot involves the showman hiring people who happen to have physical oddities. The theme is supposed to be a celebration of differences, specifically those living along the fringes of society, either living an invisible lifestyle or visibly shamed for being born a certain way. I found it curious then that halfway through, the so-called freaks are nearly forgotten. Certainly they appear during shows and at times we see them backstage saying a line or two, but we rarely get a sense of who they really are outside of their eccentricities.

For instance, Lettie, the Bearded Lady, played by Keala Settle, commands such an intriguing (and amusing) presence but the screenplay fails to delve into some of her past. What makes her interesting as a person other than her facial hair? What makes her such a jovial person despite her struggles? Instead, we are provided a more accessible subject: a romance between Phillip (Zac Efron) and Anne (Zendaya), how interracial relationships are shamed in the past. But one gets the impression that the various social disapprovals Anne and Phillip endure do not hold a candle against the level of hated and violence that interracial couples during that era had undergone.

It goes to show that smart execution and great energy can propel otherwise relatively average premises into solid crowdpleasers. “The Greatest Showman,” directed by Michael Gracey, belongs in this category and pulling off such a feat, despite the handful of aforementioned elements working against it, should be worn as a badge of honor.

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18
Oct

Baywatch


Baywatch (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

Fans of sophomoric comedy are likely to walk away somewhat satiated by Seth Gordon’s “Baywatch,” but those hoping for a range of comedy equal to the talent of the cast are certain to be disappointed. There is a reason why comedies are usually only about ninety minutes and this film, which is about two hours, wears out its welcome by repeating one too many jokes. Here is a picture that suffers from diminishing returns.

The plot is simple and has potential to entertain. Three potential lifeguards (Zac Efron, Jon Bass, Alexandra Daddario) are recruited to be a part of Baywatch, an elite team of lifeguards (Dwayne Johnson, Ilfenesh Hadera, Kelly Rohrbach) who do more than save drowning people in Emerald Bay, Florida. Being a part of Baywatch is a lifestyle, being a family, doing other people’s jobs before the official professionals arrive at the scene. It is most unfortunate that the plot revolves around catching a drug dealer (Priyanka Chopra).

At times it turns into an action film instead of focusing on being a comedy. The chases are self-serious, usually manically edited, and there is little to no tension behind them. Part of the problem is because the screenplay by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift is so empty that it uses action as a crutch, attempting to pass whatever is on screen as entertainment. But there is no entertainment value created when not for a second do we believe that the protagonists are in any real danger. Notice how the material’s structure is quite episodic. Divide it into three parts and a three-episode arc is revealed. Still, many television shows nowadays are better than what this film has to offer.

I enjoyed all six members of the Baywatch team because the performers are wiling to make fun of themselves. It is apparent that the actors were encouraged to ad-lib. It works occasionally, especially when Johnson and Efron exchange barbs, but it would have been preferred if the material is able to support its performers. There is only so much an actor can do or say; they certainly do not have control over the freshness of the plot, how characters are developed individually as well as a part of a team, and the range of jokes provided given a particular situation. Filmmakers cannot depend on actors to carry the work.

The film, in a way, is about new beginnings and so it is curious—and a missed opportunity—that the material does not capitalize on this. It is about new beginnings in two ways: introducing “Baywatch” to a new generation (while satisfying the fans of the original television series) and introducing trainees to a particular lifestyle. Pertaining the latter, we do not learn much about what the job entails outside of the obvious, the personal characteristics necessary to excel at it, and some of the surprises one might encounter on the job. And with the former, the writing fails to capture a certain level of excitement. The filmmakers probably assumed that just because they cast actors who are physically appealing, audiences would inevitably follow.

In a nutshell, “Baywatch” is hampered by laziness. If a sequel were to follow, it would be wise to hire writers who do not depend on the usual tropes, writers who are aware of how interesting comedies work, writers who have something to say about how it is really like to hold a job even though this particular universe is tongue-in-cheek. Contrasts and variations are interesting; regurgitation and recycling of ideas is death to comedy.

20
Nov

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates


Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016)
★ / ★★★★

Although starring performers that have been funny and entertaining in other projects, “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates,” directed by Jake Szymanski, is the kind of movie that only the brain dead would find even remotely amusing. It has a semblance of a plot but offers no intriguing story—even for a comedy that is supposed to be laid back considering the beautiful Hawaiian setting. Instead, the filmmakers make a habit of relying on the actors to ad-lib which leads to a lack of flow from one scene to another. The picture, for the most part, is nonsensical; there is no reason for it to exist other than to annoy and waste the audience’s time.

The title is so because Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) are given an ultimatum by their father (Stephen Root). Dad believes that if his sons bring dates to their sister’s wedding (Sugar Lyn Beard), they would not hit on every other woman around thereby avoiding desperation and disaster. Mike and Dave are instructed to bring nice girls specifically. Meanwhile, dirty-mouthed and hard-partying girls Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) are in need of a vacation. Having come across the men’s request for dates, the best friends pretend to be the nice girls required for the task in exchange for a free trip to Hawaii.

Notice how in every other scene somebody is either yelling, screaming, or tripping over themselves. For a while we wonder if it is meant to be a slapstick comedy given the number of people falling down and ending up in all sorts of contortions. But it is not a slapstick comedy. It is supposed to be a raunchy comedy—only it doesn’t work on any level because the dirty jokes have no intelligence, wit, or shock value behind them. The rise in decibels and the acrobatics occur because something—anything—needs to happen. It gives the impression that everybody knows that the material is not at all funny and so somebody must fall over.

For a movie involving a wedding, the picture offers no genuine, touching, or even a practical human connection. Dave and Mike are supposed to be brothers who are very close but they are not written in such a way that we understand or come to realize why they need each other other than the fact that they are brothers. The same goes for Alice and Tatiana; they are supposed to be best friends, but we are not provided situations that reflect the strength of their bond. Even the two people about to get married are one-dimensional wooden planks. They are about to get married, but there is no believable romance or sweetness in their interactions.

Kendrick must be singled out for being miscast. Although I’ve always liked her presence because there is often a grounded, geeky girl-next-door feel to her performances, Kendrick is simply not a convincing hard-partying girl. Whenever she and Plaza are standing next to each other and their characters are up to no good or are lying to the people they are talking to, Plaza steals the show completely. The key is in the eyes. Plaza has this playful roughness in every single thing that she does and so we believe her character. Kendrick, on the other hand, is too much of a warm presence. Someone more convincing should have been cast in her place.

Written by Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” is a deeply unfunny, interminable experience. People should feel insulted for being presented this level of trash since the filmmakers actually had the audacity to disguise it as entertainment with the intention of getting away with it. We deserve much better than a would-be comedy made without any convincing effort to be funny.

4
Jun

Dirty Grandpa


Dirty Grandpa (2016)
★ / ★★★★

“Dirty Grandpa,” written by John Phillips and directed by Dan Mazer, has a most infantile sense of humor and an emotional intelligence of a plastic bag. Just about everything about it does not work because it has no understanding of what makes real people tick. The so-called jokes rely solely on behavior and so there is no involving story, believable characterization, and genuine humor is created. It exists to annoy and make the audience feel uncomfortable.

It flops right from the very first scene. The setting is a funeral and the source of humor involves our twenty-something protagonist named Jason (Zac Efron) being so into his career as a corporate lawyer that we are supposed to think of him as so uncool, so boring, a square. The problem is, however, the screenplay has not gotten a chance to set up the necessary tone and atmosphere to pull off an attempt at comedy—let alone dark comedy—at this point. Instead, the would-be jokes often come across mean-spirited.

The plot involves Jason being tricked by his grandfather (Robert De Niro) to drive to Florida right after the funeral. The latter’s goal is to get his grandson to loosen up and realize that the girl he is about to marry (Julianne Hough) is very wrong for him. Although the plot is far from groundbreaking, no effort is made so that the grandfather and grandson are able to connect on a genuine level. Instead, we are bombarded with scenes where they curse at each other, get into very awkward and uncomfortable situations (it’s supposed to be funny that Efron’s character appears to be sexually molesting a child at the beach), down to a scene where they share a bed and one of them gets naked. Cue the penis shot.

The Spring Break scenes are rightly over-the-top but completely unnecessary. One might argue that the brainless middle section is very insulting to women, the LGBTQ community, and African-Americans—often simultaneously—and one would be right. I argue that it is even insulting to Spring Breakers because there is no sense of real enjoyment among new and old friends. It is so fake that notice shots where just about everyone at the beach look as though they have perfect bodies. If they did not, Grandpa would make fun of the target for having extra weight. This film is a commercial—which is not necessarily a negative quality, but it is a bad commercial because it fails to appeal to young people of all sizes, color, and creed.

I suppose if the viewer was in it to see Efron’s abs, arms, buttocks, one could recognize a whiff of entertainment. But such rock-hard things can be seen at a local male strip club, so why bother to sit through a picture that offers no value, entertainment, or entertainment value? The filmmakers—and the studios—ought to have asked themselves this question before releasing this embarrassment to the public. I felt awful that Aubrey Plaza, the best comedian in the film, is a part of this humiliation.

11
Nov

The Paperboy


Paperboy, The (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

The summer of ’69 is a turning point in the life of Jack Jansen (Zac Efron) because it is the season he meets Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), a forty-year-old woman who has fallen in love with a man on death row. Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) was charged for killing a cop but there might be something more to the story. Ward (Matthew McConaughey), Jack’s brother, and Yardley (David Oyelowo), Ward’s co-worker in the Miami Times, pay a visit to Moat County, Florida to investigate and possibly expose a potential crack in the justice system.

Based on the novel and screenplay by Peter Dexter, “The Paperboy” is to admired on one level because it does tell a straight story. Yes, it is about two investigative reporters—one driven by idealism and the other by ambition—but it is not just about the truth. Perhaps more importantly, it is about characters so blinded by what they wish to attain that they fail to acknowledge the dangers or evils that are staring directly at them.

It is compelling to sit through at times. Two characters stand out. First is Ward, a man who loves his brother but is hiding a private shame. As the story unfolds, it becomes more difficult to keep it covered. In one of the most memorable scenes, in execution and content, we are tested how much we care about him. One might flinch at the scene or one may feel compelled to look away, but it is near impossible to not ask any questions.

The sudden burst of violence is not put on the screen for mere shock value. It builds and stirs until something must give out. McConaughey exhibits great control. The camera has a penchant for close-ups—for better or worse—and so just about every time it focuses on his face, we are left wondering where his character is looking, how he is looking at something or someone, and what he is thinking exactly. However, many of the other performers cannot communicate with just the eyes and so the close-ups end up distracting at times.

The second standout is Anita (Macy Gray), the Jansen family’s housekeeper. She gives the picture a layer of humor and heart. Anita’s interactions with Jack are meaningful—much warmer than Jack’s interactions with his father and the woman he is dating. Given that Jack’s mother had abandoned him, Anita recognizes the pain and suffering in the boy—not always outwardly present but there nonetheless—and so she treats him like a friend. Sometimes Jack takes this for granted. But Anita understands.

The picture is driven by an important subplot that is often swept under the rug—a critical miscalculation. Although there are many scenes where Ward and Yardley talk about the case and a few where the convict is interviewed, there are not enough details as to how the investigators manage to connect the dots. In a way, the screenplay must function as a procedural so that the case makes perfect sense. Thus, when the disorder that unfolds during the final quarter is presented, our expectations are swept away.

Instead, we get scenes involving Jack being sexually attracted Charlotte. Although Efron and Kidman are game for the ridiculous things their characters say and do, it all feels like a performance. In other words, when they are on screen together, most of the time I felt taken out of the sweltering heat of that small town. I was too aware that I was watching actors rather than complex characters who happen to be caught up in something they do not completely understand. Less scenes of Jack and Charlotte and more scenes of Ward and his partner might have produced a better movie.

Directed by Lee Daniels, “The Paperboy” is not as trashy as many people build it up to be. These are likely to be the very same people who have not had much experience with foreign or independent movies. It is trashy to an extent but there is a story here worth telling. The level of focus in terms of which story is best explored is where it falls short.

3
Jul

Neighbors


Neighbors (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) have just moved into their new home and are ecstatic to raise their newborn baby girl in it. Just about everything is going right, aside from occasional concerns that they might have lost their youth and sense of fun, until a fraternity moves in right next door. Mac and Kelly are horrified, but they decide to “play it cool.” After all, they were young and in college once. So, they approach the president of the frat, Teddy (Zac Efron), and make sure all of them start off on the right foot. They do… temporarily. Then the loud partying begins.

You know you’re getting old when you start rooting for the parents more than the college students who just want to have some fun. “Neighbors,” written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, offers more than handful funny individual lines and exchanges, but it is far from a comedy that will stand the test of time, the kind that dares to set a standard. It is passable as light entertainment—nothing more—and there is nothing wrong with that if that is what one was looking for.

I enjoyed the performances as a whole especially Rogen and Byrne who play characters that consider themselves as “hip” mentally but their bodies say otherwise. They are convincing as parents who raise a child together, making a lot of mistakes along the way, and craving for some peace and quiet at the end of the day. Because it is relatively easy to buy into their characters, more due to the actors’ charm than a well-written characterization, Mac and Kelly’s efforts to shut down the fraternity becomes a good source of entertainment. There are few lines they are willing to cross to beat the beer-drinking, pot-smoking college students.

Efron and Dave Franco, the latter playing Pete as the frat’s vice president, also share good chemistry. And like Rogen and Byrne’s characters, these two are also thinly written although the effort is clearly there. I liked that the writers make Teddy and Pete nice guys in general. Sure, in reality, there are frat guys who are plain jerks, but from my personal experience, the guys that I met in college who happen to be in a frat are more like Teddy and Pete. You can approach, talk to, and joke around with them without them having to make you feel bad for not being in their circle of bros.

The greatest limitation of the film, directed by Nicholas Stoller, is its relatively stagnant screenplay. It fails to move beyond two neighbors attempting to get the upper hand. Is the point to show that Mac and Kelly, despite having a house and kid, do have some key similarities with their fun-loving neighbors? It would appear so. But such a message is obvious. Discerning viewers will easily recognize this less than halfway through and the rest becomes repetitive.

A dramatic shift in the latter half might have elevated the material. The two leaders of the fraternity should have been key to create a dramatic pull. First, Pete looking forward to starting his career outside of college. Second, Teddy’s fears that he might have peaked. During the Career Fair scene, a man who works for AT&T tells Teddy that they are not interested in considering to hire someone who is dumb. Efron may not be the most versatile actor—yet—but why not explore those fears a bit more?

The answer is, like in most mainstream comedies, to keep the laughs going. It is less of a risk to try to be funny consistently even if it does not feel right for the material than to switch it up suddenly and really surprise the audience, to give them something they did not expect coming into the picture. Such is the definition of average: no more, no less.

3
Feb

That Awkward Moment


That Awkward Moment (2014)
★ / ★★★★

Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) comes home one day and finds his wife (Jessica Lucas) with a lawyer. Not just any lawyer—he is also the man that she happens to be seeing. In order to help their best friend to go through a rough patch, Jason (Zac Efron) and Daniel (Miles Teller) come up with an idea: for moral support, they will remain single indefinitely. This proves to be a challenge when Jason meets an author (Imogen Poots) who ticks all the boxes that he is looking for in a woman and Daniel begins to realize that he is in love with a friend (Mackenzie Davis) who acts as his wing-woman in bars.

I thought this movie was never going to end. Pretty much everything about writer-director Tom Gormican’s “That Awkward Moment” is synthetic, bland, seemingly inspired by egregious romantic comedies with one dead-on-arrival twist: young men—instead of women—facing a possibility of love, wrestling with it, and deciding what feels right. It offers nothing new to the table and so it becomes a chore to sit through.

It is not without charm and some chuckles. There is chemistry among the three leads so they are not unbearable to watch create a scene from nothing. As the outtakes has shown, Jordan, Efron, and Teller can ad lib and some of their efforts work. When they do not, the energy behind their deliveries are felt but that isn’t to suggest it is enough reason to overlook the overall lack of creativity, real feelings, and intelligence in the screenplay.

The perspective is misplaced. Instead of focusing on the most interesting friend, Mikey, who went to medical school right after college and led a life that he believed would grant him security and happiness, there are far too many scenes of Jason and Ellie supposedly being into one another. A smirk here, a sex scene in the middle, batting of the eyelashes there—what makes what they have more interesting than Mikey and Vera being on the verge of divorce? By comparison, the problems between the two couples are far too great. As a result, my mind is desperate to want to know more about the root of Mikey and Vera’s marital troubles. I could not care less about whether or not Jason the book cover artist would finally get together with Vera.

Daniel’s subplot is middling. I really like Teller as an actor because he often has a child-like quality to his performances. You just want to pinch his cheeks or tease him just to see how he might react. While he injects such a quality to his character here, the script fails to capitalize on the strengths of the performance. Instead, the material relies on Teller being able to talk really fast but the would-be jokes are mostly misses than hits. It is extremely frustrating seeing someone who is capable of doing so much more doing a lot less.

It is easy to predict a movie like “That Awkward Moment” but smart scripts make it work by amping up the human factor and masking the hurt with layers of comedy—irony, farce, screwball, for instance. Here, when secrets are inevitably revealed and feelings are hurt, I was unable to relate with any of them. Every character seems to have a one-track mind: love is a be-all and end-all of their existence. These are not people; these are products of an unimaginative, commercial-driven mind. I dare the writer-director to prove me wrong—if there is a next time.

9
Sep

The Lorax


Lorax, The (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Mr. O’Hare (voiced by Rob Riggle), the richest businessman in town who sold fresh oxygen in bottles, believed that Thneedville was perfect just the was it was: no trees, no animals, no mess to clean up. In their giant dome, to everyone’s convenience, everything was made out of plastic. When Audrey (Taylor Swift) confessed to Ted (Zac Efron), who happened to have a crush on her, that what she wanted for her birthday was a real tree, Ted courageously explored outside of Thneedville to look for one. Among the barren and ominous land was a house inhabited by a reclusive man called The Once-ler (Ed Helms), the person responsible as to why trees became extremely rare. Based on the book by Dr. Seuss and directed by Chris Renaud, “The Lorax,” despite its sometimes dazzling use of visuals, was at best a mixed bag of humor, adventure, and lessons about why we should care for the environment. The story was somewhat divided into two. The first involved Ted’s quest to acquire a tree and the second involved The Once-ler’s past as an ambitious and inventive young man. In the latter, we got to meet The Lorax, the guardian of the forest who spoke for the trees, which was the more interesting section of the film. While the screenplay spent more time with the youthful Once-ler, many of the scenes were plagued with distracting song and dance–only one or two of which were catchy and creative. The rest were not only jarring to the eardrums but they disrupted the story’s chance of gathering real momentum and drama, a sense of immediacy required to deliver a truly meaningful message about our active as well as inactive roles, such as feelings of apathy, in destroying our natural resources. I thought the bears were adorable, particularly the one that carried more weight than the others and so he was forced to lag behind whenever a physical activity was demanded, and The Lorax was a cuddly creature despite his occasional grumpiness. However, mostly relying on cuteness to propel the story forward with fluidity wasn’t enough to sustain the film especially considering its level of ambition. Furthermore, I did not appreciate that The Once-ler’s family was portrayed in such a one-dimensional way. I was able to accept that they were not very supportive of The Once-ler’s dreams of becoming a successful businessman. But there was something about them being portrayed as, pardon my language, rednecks that didn’t feel right. They were shown as greedy, users, and uncaring people. Not one exception who happened to fit all the stereotypes was presented. Since the work was aimed toward young children, I felt that the filmmakers, especially Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul who were in charge of the screenplay, had a responsibility to avoid cultural stereotypes. If the family had been Chinese, Indian or Filipino and their characterizations simply relied on ugly stereotypes, one could argue that the material was being racist. I may come off as a Grinch but despite the best intentions and morals that “The Lorax” wanted to impart about our vital connection to nature, its hits were inconsistent, its pacing too uneven, and its clichés potentially damaging to warrant a recommendation. Its theme in terms of empathy needed to be ironed out.

12
Jul

New Year’s Eve


New Year’s Eve (2011)
★ / ★★★★

In Garry Marshall’s “New Year’s Eve,” written by Katherine Fugate, not everyone was ready to greet the new year in New York City. Juggling about eight different but some intertwining stories, the film was not only insipid, it also lacked the necessary dramatic pull for us to be touched, in a genuine way, in terms of what it meant to end a year and start anew. I don’t often bring up the issue of race but this film really could have used some flavor. After all, isn’t the act of welcoming a new year celebrated by all people regardless of race, sexuality, shape, and size? The problem wasn’t that the majority of the characters were white: they were white and boring. The minority, represented by the African-Americans, were pushed to the side with nothing much to say until it was too late in the screenplay. And when they did, like their white counterparts, the sentimentality didn’t feel earned. The most bearable of the bunch included Claire (Hilary Swank) who was in charge of making sure that the famous televised ball drop at midnight went smoothly, but technical difficulties with its lights threatened to disappoint millions of people all over the world. There was a scene in which Swank delivered a supposedly insightful speech but it didn’t quite work. If anything, it was a reminder of Swank’s talent, that she could shine despite an egregious material that threatened to dilute what she had to offer. The storyline that tested my patience most involved a couple, Tess (Jessica Biel) and Griff (Seth Meyers), racing to have their baby boy to be the first newborn of 2012. If successful, they would win twenty thousand dollars. Their desperation to win this contest was supposed to be funny. I thought it was pathetic and unfunny because the characters were reduced to glaring matches with another pregnant couple (Sarah Paulson, Til Schweiger). The lessons the couples learned were just so mawkish and obvious, even a third grader could probably tell that what they were doing was wrong in the first five minutes. On some level, I enjoyed the friendship between Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer), a very stressed out record label employee, and Paul (Zac Efron), a friendly and charming courier. If Paul helped Ingrid to complete her list of resolutions, she’d give him V.I.P passes to a chic event. Although their scenes were unrealistic and at times Efron sounded like he was reading off cue cards, I liked that the material went all the way with this particular subplot. It was certainly better than watching Randy (Ashton Kutcher) and Elise (Lea Michele) get stuck in a lift and look miserable. While the two eventually found redeeming qualities with one another, I didn’t: I found the entire contrivance as false. “New Year’s Eve” suffered from a very basic dialogue, devoid of wit or any semblance of rhythm felt in actual conversations, coupled with one-dimensional characters. I wouldn’t even get started with the so-called romance between Laura (Katherine Heigl) and Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi). It was like pulling teeth without novocaine. The only time I lit up and showed my pearly whites was when Sofía Vergara, as Laura’s sous chef, appeared on screen with her hilariously infectious jovial personality. But what I found most distasteful was the film’s unabashed emotional manipulation. The characters engaged in trifles for the majority of the time and then Bam! a twist designed to pull at our heartstrings occurred toward the end. If it had been more ambitious and more diverse, perhaps most of us could relate and been more entertained by it.

4
Jul

Charlie St. Cloud


Charlie St. Cloud (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron) had a passion for sailing and was a great role model for his younger brother named Sam (Charlie Tahan). On the night of Charlie’s graduation, their mom (Kim Basinger) took an extra shift at work so Charlie was assigned to babysit. Wanting to say goodbye to his friends before they head off to the army (one of which was played by Dave Franco), Charlie and Sam got into a car accident on the way to the party. Charlie was revived by a paramedic (Ray Liotta) but Sam passed away right after impact. I highly enjoyed the first half of the picture. Watching the two brothers was moving for me because I’ve always wanted a brother who was around eight years younger than I am so I could guide him to be the best person he can be and not make the same mistakes as I did. Efron did a good job playing a character who was so deep in grief to the point where he gave up his scholarship to Stanford and instead worked in a cemetery for five years since the tragic incident. Since the brothers made a pact to meet every day to practice baseball, Charlie couldn’t find it in himself to break that promise. I thought it was Efron’s best adult performance up to this point. Unfortunately, the film pulled a twist somewhere in the middle that threw logic out the window. I am aware that it wasn’t completely the filmmakers’ fault because it was based on Ben Sherwood’s novel called “The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud,” but I think changes from the original story should have come into play. After the twist was revealed, I thought the whole situation was just creepy and could have been a mediocre episode of “The X-Files” at best. Another issue I had with the movie was the fact that it showed Charlie and the ghost of Sam separately in some scenes. I thought that was a big mistake made by the filmmakers because the ghost was supposed to be a metaphor for Charlie’s grief and the fact that he blamed himself for the car crash. Every meeting was supposed to be an exercise of mirroring Charlie’s grief onto himself. To show the two apart suggested that the ghost actually existed. “Charlie St. Cloud,” directed by Burr Steers, sometimes verged on melodrama but I liked the performances in general. However, I wish Basinger had more scenes as the mother and Liotta as a dying ex-paramedic. Their experience in acting and strong cinematic presence could have benefited the picture in terms of tying together some loose ends. For instance, why did the mother move away and left her obviously troubled son to work at a place where his younger brother was buried? The best dramas are all about details. I couldn’t help but feel as though this movie took a more convenient path.

23
Jun

Me and Orson Welles


Me and Orson Welles (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) was magnetized toward the arts so when the opportunity of working with Orson Welles’ (Christian McKay) production of “Julius Caesar” had presented itself, Richard just had to be in the play despite lacking theater experience. Through a week of rigorous rehearsals, Richard fell for a secretary named Sonja Jones (Claire Danes) who everyone admired but earned the nickname of being an Ice Queen. Little did Richard know that he had to compete with Welles for Sonja’s affections. I understand that this movie must have been a big deal for Efron because it gave him the chance to finally be considered as a serious actor. In a way, the actor had parallels with his character because Richard wanted to be taken seriously despite his age and lack of connection in the entertainment business. Unfortunately, the movie barely kept my attention. I could not connect at all with Richard because there did not come a point where he had a clear vision between wanting to have the girl or wanting to achieve his dreams. Obviously, he could not have both. To an extent, his lack of understanding about what was more important was understandable because he was young, but I think the writing should have presented a key moment when the audiences would realize that Richard was worth rooting for even though he did not know exactly what he wanted. There were two characters who overshadowed the protagonist. One was Danes as an elegant woman who knew what she wanted and would do anything to go where she wanted to go. Unlike the main character, she had experience and was wise despite the fact that I did not always agree with her actions. The other character that fascinated me was Gretta Adler (Zoe Kazan), an aspiring young writer who liked to visit museums for inspiration and when she felt down. Kazan was absolutely charming and, more importantly, the zeal she embedded in her character did not feel forced. Generally, Efron was satisfactory as Richard, albeit too safe, but his lack of intensity was magnified when he had to interact with Danes and Kazan. Furthermore, I do have to say that his optimistic one-liners made me cringe. “Me and Orson Welles” was surprisingly weak especially since Richard Linklater was the director. In most of his films, he has such a great ear for dialogue and sharp vision in terms of capturing actors in their most natural state to the point where it almost looks effortless without sacrificing the characters’ multi-dimensional personalities. “Me and Orson Welles” was very uneven, especially in its first half, and ultimately disappointing.