★ / ★★★★
“Transylmania,” directed by David and Scott Hillenbrand, is one of the dumbest movies I have ever seen. That’s saying a lot because I’ve seen my share of egregious films. A group of college friends decided to go to Romania for an international studies program. Little did they know that the school was a nest of vampires wanting to feed on their blood. The premise made it seem like it would somewhat be a fun spoof because of the vampire craze these days. Unfortunately, the movie started off bad and only got worse from there. Throughout the whole thing, I felt like I was watching a really bad play where all the actors were overexaggerating everything. Worse, I felt like the actors didn’t know their lines at all and made them up as it went along. There was no sense of consistency or even a minute effort to make a decent movie. Everything was random, everything was flying all over the place, and everything was beyond boring. I would rather watch a group of real life kids pretending to be superheroes as they try to save the world using blankets and toys because at least those kids would put imagination into their pretend play. (Not to mention children are generally cute.) “Transylmania” had no material to build upon at all so I was shocked that it was even made in the first place. The characters were devoid of intelligence but they did have high levels of libido. They should have made softcore pornography instead of running around acting like idiots and wasting our time. But the point where I thought I had enough was when a girl was decapitated yet she was still able to speak. I mean, come on, are you serious? But my complaining won’t do anyone any good so I’m going to propose how this picture could have been improved in the most basic levels. I think this film should have taken the “Scary Movie” or “Not Another Teen Movie” route. There are so many vampire flicks out there worth making fun of (not just the “Twilight” series) from smart (“Fright Night,” “Interview with a Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles,” or the cult classic “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” television show) to stupid ones (“BloodRayne” which also happens to be one of the worst movies I’ve seen); it’s just a matter of finding the right jokes and comedic timing. The main characters (or one of the main characters) should have been likable. Without anybody to root for, why would the audience care? I wish I could say that “Transylmania” was so bad that it was good. Unfortunately, it was just really bad and it was stuck on that level because no effort was put into it. Needless to say, one should avoid this movie at all cost.
Another Day in Paradise (1998)
★★ / ★★★★
I like Larry Clark’s movies (“Kids,” “Bully,” “Wassup Rockers”) because each one has some sort of lesson in them. But the characters learn (or don’t learn) such lessons in many gritty and very realistic, if not all too painful, ways. I had a difficult time watching “Another Day in Paradise” because it did not start off well. The story was about how two criminals (James Woods and Melanie Griffith)–kind of like Bonnie and Clyde–took two juvenile delinquents (Vincent Kartheiser and Natasha Gregson Wagner) under their wing. One could tell that despite how they seemed to mesh well on the outside, something was about to go wrong because each character was driven by his or her own end game or naïveté. I kept waiting for the point of the story where everything suddenly changed but it didn’t quite deliver until the last twenty to twenty-five minutes. The last section of this movie was so powerful, I considered giving this film three stars. There was something about it was so sad and so haunting to the point where it really made me think about the characters and the choices they’ve made that got them into such an irrevocable mess. Such scenes reminded me why I loved Clark’s pictures in the first place because the message had a voice but it was still able to be quite poetic, which reminded me of some of Gus Van Sant’s strongest movies. Even though the movie did look small and was quite rough around the edges, the acting is top-notch especially from the young Vincent Kartheiser. I’ve seen him on the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” spin-off called “Angel” and thought he was just fine there, but I didn’t think he would be able to deliver such gravity and emotional power as he did here. If the first hour of the film only focused on the more human and sensitive aspect of the story instead of showing the characters stealing, doing drugs, and risking the lives they obviously don’t value, maybe “Another Day in Paradise” would have been much stronger. In my opinion, there were way too many scenes that featured self-descructive behavior to the point where I got sick of it and just wanted to pay attention to something else. With a little bit more work in the editing room and reshooting some scenes, this would have been a hit for me.
★★ / ★★★★
I never read the series written by Stephenie Meyer so I won’t compare the film to the novel. However, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised that I liked this film, in parts, because of all the negative reviews from both fans and non-fans of the book. Kristen Stewart stars as Bella Swan, a girl that recently moves in Fork, Washington and eventually befriends a vampire played by Robert Pattinson. It’s only a matter of time until they fall for each other and problems regarding the collision of their different worlds start to arise. I mentioned that I liked this movie in parts. I really enjoyed “Twilight” up until Stewart finally realized that Pattinson was a vampire. The way that Catherine Hardwicke, the director, framed the awkwardness and stupidity of high school students was really good. (I really do mean that as a compliment.) I wasn’t that surprised because she directed admirable pictures like “Thirteen” and “Lords of Dogtown.” What didn’t work for me was when the romantic aspect was being explored. I felt like Bella’s IQ dropped twenty points when she finally figured out Pattinson’s nature. She knows he’s dangerous but she doesn’t put in any effort to stay away; she also becomes a typical damsel-in-distress which was a completely different main character during the movie’s first few minutes. I thought Bella was going to be consistently tough, edgy, not to mention having a mind of her own. I felt like she needed a man in order to feel safe and that’s not a good message to girls and women. While I didn’t mind the whole teenager-dating-a-hundred-year-old-guy aspect of it because I was a fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (the Buffy-Angel relationship, not the Buffy-Spike ridiculousness), I felt like the movie would’ve been more interesting if it consistently explored why these vampires are dangerous, their histories, and more importantly, their varying abilities. It was nice that the vampires in this movie could walk around in daylight, have reflections and have certain abilities that others do not have. I thought “Twilight” recovered its focus during the baseball scene: James (Cam Gigandet) was a convincing threat to Bella so I was engaged. But then the movie dropped the ball again during the last few scenes. I expected that not all my questions will be answered because this was only the first of the series. I particularly wanted to know more about Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) and how he’s different than Edward Cullen. I felt like this movie had an equal amount of positives and negatives so I’m going to give this a mediocre rating. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be (granted, my expectations were really quite low) and hopefully, it gets better as the series progresses.
Saw V (2008)
★ / ★★★★
I don’t know why I keep watching this series. Even though I have a feeling that it’s going to be disappointing, I still feel some sort of excitement whenever they release a sequel. I guess it has something to do with human nature and violence. Everything about this film is recycled. People claim that each sequel adds to the storyline because it provides information that the audiences did not have prior to a specific installment. I cannot disagree more. I think the writers have dug themselves so deep into the “mythology” of the series to the point where there’s five plotholes to each so-called twist. Each sequel then tries to solve those plotholes by trying to tell a story and providing more twists to keep the viewers engaged. It’s an interminable cycle that I think will not end any time soon as long as people are actually willing to pay for a ticket in the cinema. Even though I did enjoy this sequel more than “Saw IV” because it’s more comprehensible, we get too many flashbacks (it’s literally more than half of the film) that practically say, “Look over here! You missed this! Aren’t we brilliant and you’re not because you didn’t figure it out before?” It’s an insult but a laughable one so it becomes somewhat harmless. What worked for me was the rivalry between Costas Mandylor and Scott Patterson. I’ve been wanting these two to collide ever since the first few sequels. (I actually do not remember when each of the character appeared because all of them have the same “story.” Only the torture scenes are different.) Here, they get to battle it out a bit. Another actor that worked for me was Julie Benz even though I strongly believe that they could’ve used her more. She’s a strong actress (I’m still a big fan for her role in of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” and “Dexter”) and it shows in pretty much each scene she was in. What didn’t work for me was the return of Tobin Bell as Jigsaw. No, that is not a spoiler and you will see why. He talks in the same pitch and tone in pretty much every line and I can fall asleep listening to him. If they are going to make a “Saw VI” (which I bet they will), I want to see less of him. As for the infamous traps, I only have one favorite which has got to be the opening scene involving a pendulum. I also liked the part where Benz finally figured out what they were supposed to do right from the beginning. I cannot recommend this picture because everything is like a rerun of the first four movies.