Archive for June, 2011

Review: Kidnapped

Kidnapped is an entertaining, if formulaic, thriller from Spanish director Miguel Angel Vivas.  Think The Strangers meets Funny Games with a little bit of The Collector thrown in for good (or bad) measure.   In fact, you could take practically any hostage movie made in the past decade and you’d have this movie.  Not that it is a bad thing, but I expected more from the movie after seeing its exciting trailer.

The movie opens promisingly enough with a hooded man waking up in the woods.  Hands bound behind him and unable to see through the bloody hood, the man makes his way to a nearby highway where he is helped by a passing motorist.  Using the motorist’s cell, the man calls home to warn his family, “Don’t let anyone in the house until the police get there.”  “Dad,” the voice on the other end says, “they’re already here.”  Fade to credits.  So far, so good.

After the opening scene, we meet a different family.  Jaime (the daddylicious Fernando Cayo), his wife Marta, and daughter Isa are moving into a new beautiful, spacious home.  Sleek and modern with a breathtaking landscape and pool, the house makes me envious enough that I suddenly don’t care if the family gets slaughtered.  It’s the first night in their home and Marta wants the family to celebrate together.  Isa has other plans; specifically, she plans to ditch the family and go to party with her boyfriend.  Isa is what the Spanish might call a “puta.”

Of course, it doesn’t matter what anyone’s plans are, because at nightfall masked strangers break into the home and take the family hostage.  What do they want?  Money, naturally.  So the men empty the safe and hold Marta and Isa hostage while the ringleader takes Jaime to a nearby ATM. What follows is pretty much what you’d expect.  The strangers terrorize the women, the women make failed attempts to escape, Jaime tries to outsmart the ringleader, the women eventually fight back in a bloody rage,  etc.  But you already know that from the formula for these films.  You also know the characters because they are in every hostage movie.   There are the calculating mastermind, mentally disturbed wild card, and morally conflicted tag-along who make up the villains.  And then there is Isa.  Why is it that every hostage movie requires one character to whimper and wine nonstop.  We get it, you’re scared.  But after 10 minutes of high pitched shrieking, I was rooting for the wild card to pistol whip the brat.

Kidnapped is not bad. In fact, director Vivas strives for something more artistic than exploitative.  He knows how to pace a thriller, effectively using split-screen to enhance a sense of urgency during the finale and incorporates creative camera work to suggest the gorier moments (mostly).  It’s just that we’ve seen this movie countless times before, down to the violent, nihilistic end.   I wouldn’t discourage anyone from watching the movie, but I don’t feel compelled to recommend it,  either.


June 26, 2011 at 8:53 pm Leave a comment

Review: The Art of Getting By

A few months ago I saw the unspeakably bad Battle: Los Angeles.  At the time, I didn’t think it was possible to find a more irritating group of characters on film.  I was wrong.  The Art of Getting By features a cast of characters so unlikable that I was tempted to walk out of the theatre, something I have done only once in my life (damn you, Armageddon!).  Written and directed by Gavin Wiesen, TAoGB brings navel gazing to an abysmal low.

George Zinavoy (Freddie Highmore) is a privileged Upper East Side teen who floats through life not committing to or caring about anything.  When we first see him, he sits alone in the school cafeteria reading Camus (because, you know, he’s, like, deep).  In voice over, George misquotes Orson Welles by saying, “We’re born alone.  We die alone.  Everything in between is illusion.”  Because of this, George has detached from life and, as a result, become a slacker extraordinaire.  (Is this part of the 90s revival?)  Really, George, a quick search on ThinkExist would have given you better insight:

“We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”

So this Holden Caulfield wannabe decides that everything most regular teens do without question simply are exercises in futility. That means no homework, no social activities, no engagement of any kind.  And I could actually appreciate a protagonist with this philosophy, except I found Highmore unbearably smug throughout the film.  (Maybe it’s because the Brit actor, so charming in other films, is saddled by his American accent.)  To make matters worse, everyone who surrounds George–parents, teachers, classmates–indulges him because, I assume, they think he is an untapped genius.  But let’s face it: Most teens who get into trouble or act out do so because they are a-holes, not prodigies.

The supporting cast mostly is made up of performers famous for having more famous family members: Emma Roberts (daughter of Eric, niece of Julia), Rita Wilson (Tom Hanks’ wife), and Sasha Spielberg, who delivers the most obnoxious performance of the year.  I would love to see everyone turn their inexplicable hatred of Rumer Willis toward Sasha Speilberg.  There is no way that girl would have a career if her dad weren’t the world’s biggest director.

It’s rare that I say I hate a film.  But as I write this review, I am reminded just how strongly I reacted to its self-absorption.  If you want to see a more enjoyable film about an over-privileged Manhattan teen whose struggles with existential crises are made more bearable by Emma Roberts, please rent the far superior It’s Kind of a Funny Story.  I promise, you will thank me.

June 19, 2011 at 12:30 am 2 comments

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