By Issa Perez de Tagle
The Host (2013)
D: Andrew Niccol
S: Saoirse Ronan, Max Irons, Jake Abel and Diane Kruger
“The earth is at peace. There are no wars. There is no hunger. Honesty, courtesy and kindness are practiced by all. The world has never been more perfect. It is no longer your world.”
The battle for the planet Earth is over and we have lost. Our bodies have been taken over by alien souls and there are only small, almost irrelevant pockets of resistance left. Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan) is one of those few and now she’s been captured. Everything she has lived to protect is in jeopardy and she is not going down without a fight. She refuses to disappear from the mind of Wanderer — her body’s new occupant. Using her humanity to her advantage, she turns Wanderer into an unlikely ally in the war for our planet’s future.
I will be honest and say that I did read the book this was based on and I actually didn’t think it was half bad. Now before everyone attacks me with Stephenie-Meyer-hate, I would like to point out that her corn-syrupy writing does not totally obscure the fact that it has quite the mature premise. This is not a story about how some girl becomes suicidal after her boyfriend leaves her.
It’s a story about the will to survive and the complexity of human bonds. It even calls into question man’s very ability to attain utopia. So many fascinating questions come to light with this one topic. What is perfection? Is it achievable? If not, then why is it still so important? What is human nature? Are we inherently good or evil? Are we simply blank canvases?
That being said, the fact that it’s still written by Stephenie Meyer and “not half bad” does not mean a masterpiece. So if there was ever a time that I wish a director had taken more creative license in a book-to-film adaptation, this would have been it. I had great faith that Niccol was the right man for the job since he brought to life the thought-provoking science fiction movie Gattaca and got the genre out of the distant corners of the universe, into our own near and plausible futures. He also has a knack for zero-ing in on our society’s superficial pitfalls, making us face them in ways both brilliantly disturbing and glaringly honest as in the films S1m0ne and The Truman Show.
The Host, however, doesn’t seem like it was made by that same visionary director. Niccol’s talent for creating a believable futuristic world seems almost absent in this movie. All the chrome, white suits and cartoon-ish sets come off forced and underdeveloped.
Not very much happens in terms of action but it manages to give you the feeling that it was rushed. The pacing and the editing were poorly executed, making it seem episodic, like something The CW is about to cancel.
But I think the saddest part is that its premise, which held so much potential, was almost completely ignored. This could have been so much more than just tween fluff. Hell, even the love…square, romance between four people and three bodies would have been really interesting if done correctly. But the characters were all flat despite them having boatloads of time to talk since 99.9% of this film is them just shacking it up in a cave.
Which wouldn’t necessarily have been a bad thing if the dialogue was at all good. I’d like to blame Meyer for this but Niccol actually wrote the script. I have no idea how it could’ve possibly turned out any worse. The disembodied voice of Melanie was just awkward to me. It somehow worked in the novel but on film there were definitely times wherein I couldn’t decide whether to cringe or burst out laughing.
A shame since I thought it was a waste of Ronan’s talents. Given what she had, she performed credibly, lending a distinct voice to both characters she was portraying. Kruger was also surprisingly captivating. Which makes me wish they had given her something more interesting to do. I believe she had a struggle that was worth a little more exposure.
The Host is a disappointment. It could’ve been Stephenie Meyer’s ticket to gain some actual respect and for Andrew Niccol to prove he wasn’t the next M. Night Shyamalan. But all we have is Twilight: Chrome Version.
A Boy’s Yearning
by Jansen Musico
Noordzee, Texas (North Sea Texas, 2011)
D: Bavo Defurne
S: Jelle Florizoone, Mathias Vergels, Eva van der Gucht
Noordzee, Texas opens with a tune flowing out from an off-screen music box. From the black fades in a bokeh of slowly flickering carnival lights, and then we’re introduced to our protagonist, a small blonde-haired boy named Pim who’s excitedly running into the arms of a man in a leather jacket.
There is something very different about Pim, and we discover this soon enough when he sneaks into his mother’s room to put on her jewelry. He is naked, letting the sun’s rays shine on his innocence. That is, until his mother catches him, and he hides away at his neighbor’s house.
To write off Noordzee, Texas as homosexual fluff would be unfair to the work of its director. Bavo Defurne neither creates a film to pander the LGBT community he champions nor to offend those who find it queer. Any film with gay characters has that effect; it elicits an instant reaction. But Noordzee, Texas is more than mere controversy or fluff. It’s a story about abandonment and finding “home”—concepts so universal they’re able to cut through gender stereotypes.
Defurne captures a teenage Pim (Jelle Florizoone) at his most fragile state. He is growing up, falling in love with his childhood friend Gino (Mathias Vergels), and being left behind by the people he cares about the most, one after the next. And he battles through the confusion and sadness, trying to make sense of the changes, trying to look for something that will last. All of this plays out beautifully, a coming-of-age montage filled with a progression of color-coded frames, scenic wide shots, rich ambient sounds, and delicate scoring.
The film has an abundance of stillness and space. Defurne and cinematographer Anton Mertens never clutter the screen. They allow shots to loiter, letting the audience take in everything in each frame, as if to transfer Pim’s mood and psyche onto them. Every cut from wide to narrow is precise. Every placement on screen is intentional. All the elements serve to serve the film, as they should. Defurne’s mastery of them shows. They push the story along and amplify each actor’s performance.
To think that Noordzee, Texas is both Florizoone and Vergels’s sophomore attempt at acting is notable. They flounder from time to time, but put together in a scene, the tension they build closes any physical gap separating them. This gives the film’s ending more impact. Though bleak and open-ended, it’s both fiery and comforting, and neither depressing nor exaggerated; a good change in LGBT cinema.
That Chris Colfer Movie
by Jansen Musico
Struck by Lightning (2012)
D: Brian Dannelly
S: Chris Colfer, Allison Janney, Rebel Wilson, Christina Hendricks, Sarah Hyland, Ashley Rickards
Chris Colfer. You either love him or don’t give two shits about him. There is something with the pasty skin, shrill voice, and perfectly styled hair of his that polarizes people. I, for one, find him rather annoying.
Glee had introduced him to the world, and it wrecked him at the same time. He was given a caricature to play, a character that carried a rainbow-colored burden too big for his own good. Colfer became the fresh face of an agenda, a stigma he will have to live with for the years to come. In Struck by Lighting, a film he wrote and starred in, he tries to veer away from Kurt Hummel. He doesn’t quite succeed in that, but it’s a good start.
Colfer plays Carson, a high school senior trying to jump start his writing career. Believing he’s too mature for his age, he often rolls his eyes at his short-sighted peers and pill-popping mother (Allison Janney). The confidence he exudes makes him an outcast in school, which he doesn’t mind as long as he reaches his goals. But once something threatens his chances at a better future, he blackmails everyone to get what he wants.
There’s nothing novel in the tale, no part in Colfer’s story that jumps out as original. There’s too much pastiche. He plays with tropes and stereotypes and weaves them all together into a raggedy comedy-drama. The story’s far from terrible, but the insights it draws out are a bit too trite.
One good thing about the movie is its gimmicky casting. Colfer and Janney are joined by familiar small screen faces. There’s Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), Sarah Hyland (Modern Family), and Ashley Rickards (Awkward). Rebel Wilson also pitches in as Malerie, Carson’s only loyal writers’ club member. Each one has their stereotypes down pat, with Janney and Hendricks carrying most of the drama while Wilson is stuck with the humor.
For his first jab at film, Colfer showed he’s an able writer and actor. With more pruning and experience, he might just be able to surprise everybody with new dimensions of himself.
by Jansen Musico
Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012)
D: Lee Toland Krieger
S: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts, Ari Graynor, Will McCormack, Eric Christian Olsen
Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) are getting divorced, but it isn’t as bad as it sounds. She’s still a successful trend analyst running her own company, while he’s an artist relishing the little things. Both still live together, go out with friends together, and sometimes even sleep together. But what happens when one of them finally decides to speed things up and move on?
Rashida Jones with co-writer and actor Will McCormack tear down a six-year relationship looking for beauty in its rubble. What they find is a bittersweet story, perhaps unearthed from Jones’s personal history. There’s a sincerity that bleeds out from her performance like liquid gold, and her talented cast and crew make no waste of it.
Director Lee Toland Krieger and cinematographer David Lanzenberg, build the film as if it were a roller coaster, one steep enough to excite and smooth enough to enjoy. They alternate moments of melancholy with splotches of messy humor, never settling for anything in between. At times, the story feels uneven, not quite sure where it wants to take its viewers. This creates a mood of uncertainty, the same blur of thoughts and emotions that haunts Celeste as she tries to figure out what to do next.
Each shot is either painted blue or gold, shaky or steady, so tight you can see each character’s pores or so distant to let them be. Jones is keen to know when to ride these changes back and forth, pulling her audience deeper into the mind of her character and pushing them away to keep them intrigued. Her chemistry with Samberg is believable, matching his earnest candidness with her own brand of silly.
The rest of the characters round up the movie nicely, with Celeste’s soon-to-be-hitched friends (Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen) creating a counterpoint to her and Jesse’s ending relationship. Celeste’s uptight gay best friend (Elijah Wood) and her Kesha-esque pop star client Riley (Emma Roberts), make for good caricatures who exorcise the drabness that surrounds Celeste during her entire ordeal.
In a way, the film also feels like an exorcism of sorts. Jones washes the stain of a failed marriage with so much fun and optimism that no hint of regret or jadedness remains. There’s just an ending and more room for new beginnings.
For the Nostalgia Kids
by Jansen Musico
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
D: Stephen Chbosky
S: Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, Emma Watson, Paul Rudd, Johnny Simmons, Nina Dobrev
It’s hard for me to separate myself from my review of this film, because I, like the hundreds of fans of Chbosky’s book, have a connection with The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Having cried while reading it the first several times, I was both scared and excited to see the film on screen. Now that several months have passed and the buzz around it has died down, I think I’m sober enough to dissect it.
Stephen Chbosky is no stranger to the screen. He’s been producing and writing for almost two decades. But his most famous work wasn’t even on screen until last year. It was only when producers approached him with the idea of an adaptation that things came to fruition. The end result was a much-loved film by fans but a neglected one by major award-giving bodies; it’s a popular outcast, true to its core.
The film is about Charlie (Logan Lerman), a troubled boy trying to get by without getting eaten up by high school life. He meets a couple of misfits in the form of brother and sister, Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson). With them and a few a few others, Charlie finds a void with his shape, which he can fit in perfectly. He chronicles the days in his journal, living life the only way he knows how. But not everything is easy, he discovers, when he falls in love and his condition kicks in.
In the book, Chbosky writes up Charlie as an innocent kid assimilated into a world where difference is celebrated and things are looked at differently. The casting of Logan Lerman is perfect. He, as Charlie, embodies childlikeness, a curiosity to try things, and a fragile disposition. When he laughs, you believe it. When he’s uncomfortable, you cringe. When he cries, it’s painful. In the same way, Ezra Miller brings Patrick to life—or a bit more of it if you’ve read the book. Critics have panned Emma Watson’s performance as the weakest. Her pronunciation of Olive Garden may have had something to do with it… or maybe not. But as the damaged girl Charlie fawns over, she makes the grade.
The film doesn’t have it all. It disregards pages upon pages of text. It rewrites parts and the cuts the fat off the rest. But this is expected for all adaptations. Fans are lucky enough to have Chbosky do the butchering himself. A welcome change, for one, is of the music used. Dexys Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen,” Air Supply’s “All Out of Love,” and David Bowie’s “Heroes” make the film version richer, tugging mood in a way that words from the book can’t. It’s also nice to see the Rocky Horror midnight screenings have flesh. There’s only so much the imagination can do for those who haven’t experienced it live.
Though I’ve always criticized Hollywood for losing the will to create original stories and just recycling ideas from books and other media, I’m glad they picked Perks to blow up. It was the right time, with the right director and cast to pull it off. The Perks of Being a Wallflower helped raise a generation of youth looking for a place they could fit in. Now that this generation is a bit older, the movie pulls us together. It stirs up nostalgia, reminding us of times we felt the same way as Charlie did and how we coped with every burden. And like Charlie, who decided to participate in life, we must too.