Sex and Death 101


Let me start this review by saying that I am a huge Wynona Ryder fan. She acted in a panoply of great films like Bram Stoker, Mermaids, Beetlejuice and Heathers and always turned in a great performance. Then, she stole some clothes and vanished, and broke my heart. I have been waiting for her comeback for years now, wishing for her to pick a project that would catapult her back to her well-deserved A-list status. If she ever had a comeback, I imagined her in a Tarantino or Rodriguez film. She would have been great in Sin City or Grindhouse… Well, she’s back in movies regularly now, except the movies she’s in are independent and quirky comedies that nobody ever hears about. Some are great and deserve more attention like The Ten; others are understandably unheard of, which leads me to Sex and Death 101.

Sex and Death 101 is about a man played by The Devil Wears Prada’s Simon Baker, who is introduced as having everything. He is successful, handsome and is about to get married, when one day, his assistant opens an e-mail which contains a list of all the girls he has slept with, but more importantly, all the girls he will ever sleep with. Soon enough Baker’s character starts obsessing over the list. He breaks up with his fiancé and embarks on a quest to sleep with all the girls on it as quickly as possible, in order to find out what happens in the end. His sexcapade is outrageous, absurd and often repetitive. I mean, this movie has no limits or any sense of subtlety. We are talking about sex on a swing with two lesbians who are filming a reality show, to accidentally sleeping with a porn star’s dying mother, to a fast food joint called ‘Swallows’… Trust me, the list can go on for pages.

Granted, a lot of you reading this might be thinking this movie sounds great… it isn’t. It’s not a gross out and explicit film like American Pie, and it isn’t a sexy film either… Oddly enough it resembles more a romantic comedy than anything else. The whole movie is narrated from beginning to end by Baker’s character. Usually voice-over narration is a pretty good sign of weak writing, but this one makes it sound like the movie is ripped right out of a bad Dawson’s Creek episode. You know, the over-the-top sarcasm meant to be witty but that ultimately is just annoying… To add insult to injury, the movie feels like a collage of under-produced skits, that in the end make the movie feel disjointed and boring. Noticed how I still haven’t mentioned Wynona Ryder yet?

Wynona Ryder plays a character named Death Nell. She is a vigilante who targets womanizing men by luring them into her web of seduction and killing them. Sounds great in writing. Sounds like the part I have been longing to see her in for years now. Sadly her part is merely an elongated cameo. You hear about her in newspaper headlines and television news reports more than you actually see her, and when you do see her, you never see her in action. She’s just standing around staring at pictures of herself. Ryder is justifiably uninspired in the whole 10 minutes of screen time she is given, and a complete waste, while on the other hand Baker is on screen running around like a headless chicken so much that you end up hating him and wishing him dead… Especially when you reach the ending and realize that it all amounts to absolutely nothing. It’s almost like the movie had too much to handle, and made all the wrong choices.

Sex and Death 101 is one of those movies based on a good idea with great potential, but ultimately, that’s all it’s got going for itself: a great idea. The script is irritating, the acting is over-the-top, the music is so cheesy it’s nauseating and the production is rehashed and cheap. I strongly believed that Sex and Death 101 would have made an incredible sitcom though. It has all it needs to be a great anecdotal situation comedy, but should have definitely been given more thought before being made into a full-length feature. In the meantime, I am still waiting for your close-up Ms Ryder.

Review by Ralph Arida

Cloverfield


Ever since the obscure trailer appeared promoting an ‘untitled’ movie, I have been extremely curious about this film. The trailer was so unusual that I felt as though it could only lead to something new, something big, something exciting! After having seen Cloverfield, I can honestly say that my expectations are met, even though it’s not the movie that I had anticipated.

First off, this is not a monster flick. The monster is not a character in the film but a plot device to get the action going. Its mythology, origin and purpose are not even mentioned. In fact you don’t really see the creature that much, but I will get back to that later. This is a movie about a bunch of young adults living casually, when suddenly all hell breaks loose. It is about how in a moment of crisis, nothing really matters anymore besides surviving and helping the ones you love. Not to worry though, the movie is far from being sentimental, it’s actually pretty badass.

Cloverfield is shot as though it’s found footage from someone’s camcorder. It’s shaky, blurry, choppy and disorienting. It’s got all the amateur video quirks down; from the quick zooms, to abruptly cut sentences, to old footage popping up out of nowhere… I mean, both the director and the director of photography have done an outstanding job making the footage look like a complete amateur shot it.

The found footage format works here as a brilliant idea as opposed to an old recycled gimmick. The footage was done so convincingly that it allowed me, as a viewer, to truly consider a monster attack on New York City a possibility. In other words, the format itself made Cloverfield more believable, therefore allowing me to dismiss all things illogic and farfetched from the plot itself. Moreover, despite the found footage thing, Cloverfield still manages to be filled with iconic imagery. The director clearly knows how to create memorable images. What better than to decapitate the Statue of Liberty when depicting the destruction of New York City? Or watching a military tank get suddenly crushed like an insect by the monster’s humongous foot? Or chill inducing oversized spiders jumping at you in a dark subway tunnel in night-vision? I mean, it’s all there for the liking, looking awesome – and real! You can’t really ask for more.

And not to worry, the fact that you do not see the monster that much is great. Any good filmmaker knows that the power of suggestion is much greater than suspension of disbelief. Not emphasizing on the monster renders the whole situation more suspenseful and chaotic. In fact, when towards the end you get a good look at the monster, it is kind of a letdown as all of a sudden the limitations of CGI rip you out of the world the filmmakers worked so hard to create, and right back in the movie theatre, which is by the way the only place you should watch this film. I could not imagine watching Cloverfield in my living room and being nearly as into it as I was in that theatre.

Before I get ahead of myself though, this movie is not a masterpiece. It’s just very well executed. The photography, the sound design, the editing, the storytelling and even the acting are all impeccable. It’s too bad the writing wasn’t up to par with the rest of the film. It’s farfetched, cheesy, and the dialogue is pretty cliché, and if it weren’t for all its other redeeming factors, this movie could have easily been terrible. Ultimately, Cloverfield makes a monster destroying New York City look convincingly real, and brings you on a hell of a ride doing so. It is definitely an adrenaline rush and definitely worth seeing in a theatre. One thing I still don’t understand though, is why in the hell it’s called Cloverfield

Review by Ralph Arida