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SUCKER PUNCH (2011)

>> Sunday, March 27, 2011

Is it pronounced 'sucker' or 'chump'?

Before Sucker Punch started I was fairly interested in the movie. I didn't really care for 300 but the style set a new standard for cinematography. As Sucker Punch started to roll, I was interested. As the film continued on I began to wonder why it existed and sooner than later I just didn't care anymore - and I really, really wanted to care because what I was seeing looked so incredibly cool. Sigh... it was 300 all over again...

I don't know for sure if I can tell you exactly what Sucker Punch was about - that may be damn near impossible (and not in an Adjustment Bureau kind of way). If I were to try though (which I won't), the basics would go something like this synopsis from IMDb:



A young girl named Baby Doll (played by Emily Browning) is institutionalized by her abusive stepfather. Retreating to an alternative reality as a coping strategy, she envisions a plan which will help her escape from the mental facility.



Now, that synopsis tells a lot about just what's wrong with this film. For one, this 'alternate reality' that is spoken of is not the fire-breathing dragon, sword-wielding, cool as hell reality so much of Sucker Punch seems to be centered around in its trailers and advertisements. In fact, the alternate reality is one akin to the film Burlesque, where the girls (including Baby Doll) dance for high rollers in order to please the owner of the brothel, a man named Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac). The visuals everybody is hoping for only populate when Baby Doll does one of her astounding dances for the high rollers. It's a sort of 'interpretive' dance, I guess - and those moments end up playing out more as short films with a loose tie to 'reality' than anything else. So that aspect by itself was disappointing enough let alone the rest of the film.



The other thing that bothered me is that the film may have been a lot stronger had they gotten rid of the bookends of the film, and proposed it as what the film is - a stylized fantasy. Keep in mind, we're already watching a movie here. We've (supposedly) accepted the reality of the images placed in front of us and would easily accept Sucker Punch as a film about a group of girls who escape from a brothel - without the need for the nonsensical mental institution plot line. It wouldn't have hurt to also avoid the attempt to try and make this sisterhood film all about feelings and girl power - especially when it's painfully obvious someone like Vanessa Hudgens is only present in this film to shed her 'good girl' image she's gained with films like High School Musical.

As for the escape plan the girls hatch up, I'm left a little underwhelmed by what purpose the items they needed to gather actually served. Even then, the items themselves never seemed to lead to a full plan that didn't seem last minute and therefore raises the question of how they knew to get the items in the first place. The more I watched the film and noticed these things, the more I thought of the people who wrote the final draft of Sucker Punch. Like if they actually sat together and read it all in one shot to see if any of it was cohesive and relevant. It seemed they wrote every tenth page or so and came up with some good stuff, then hired someone else to come in and write the rest. The best way to describe this film is that its an utter mess of tangled ideas.



I regret to give Sucker Punch a closed door. I ultimately had higher hopes for a film that looked so visually interesting and seemed to have great promise. It leaves you confused, sometimes bored and wondering why you spent the money to see it in the first place. Sucker Punch just doesn't seem to deliver the 'punch' presented in it's title as much as it leaves you hanging with the word 'sucker...'.

*Stills courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

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LIMITLESS (2011)

>> Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I'll have what he's having.

The H
angover's funny man Bradley Cooper (also starring in The Hangover: Part 2 this summer) stars in Limitless as Eddie Morra, a man who proves that taking drugs can help you be a successful politician. So what's the magical pill itslelf? It's an experimental drug that only lasts for a half a day or so, but when it works - it really works. It works well enough as a 'brain enhancer' that people would kill for it. In fact, some do. What the concept of a film like Limitless proves is that the pen is truly mightier than the sword - except in this case the pen doesn't quite replace the sword as much as it teaches you how to wield it in a really kick ass kinda way.

Limitless
starts off being narrated by Morra, pointing out he is a writer, a loser and a lousy boyfriend. Morra no sooner loses his girlfriend than he finds himself in trouble because the book he's optioned has no single word to it's name and is due in the worst way. However, once he gets hold of the miracle drug to end all miracle drugs (100% of your brain is apparently used vs. the usual 20%) he gets a haircut, does a sit-up or two and writes his entire book in just four days. Morra then proceeds to get his girlfriend Lindy back (played by the unremarkable Abbie Cornish) and before he knows it he's on top of the world. Unexpectedly, however, he starts forgetting entire sections of his day, can't sleep right and is soon reliant on the drug that originally saved him. Not only that, but Morra has a few bad seeds after him and comes to realize that getting smart may not have been the smartest thing to do after all.

Now, aside from the few nausea-inducing transitions and opening title sequences Limitless threw at us that had me looking away a few times, I actually really liked the way the movie played out and the talent Cooper showcased by taking this role. The whole thing made me want to read a book, enhance my intelligence and play the stock markets. In theory, if you're smart enough, you can rule the world. It's all about predictable human psychology and behaviour - if a person knows people and how they act and maybe has a few start-up dollars, then there's no reason you can't become more powerful then you've ever imagined. To quote Morra 'I was blind but now I see". As you may expect, Limitless also shells out a healthy dose of action that keeps you on your toes more often than not. It's all really fascinating to be honest and it's almost impossible to not have a good time during this flick.

Limitless
snags an open door. You may find yourself often thinking of Matthew McConaughey in Two for the Money (2005) as McConaughey also had the same kind of look Cooper sports here, with slicked back hair and a hunger for fortune and success. But, while Two for the Money didn't have Robert De Niro (who plays Carl Van Loon in Limitless), it did have Al Pacino in the role of the old man who knows all - but despite De Niro's star power - Cooper steals the show and you're left thinking "Robert De Whosit? Which is a good thing in Hollywood. Robert Downey Jr. did it, Jim Carrey tried to do it and Robin Williams - well, yeah... Either way, I look forward to seeing Cooper in Hangover 2 and I may just see him in just about anything else as well. You have a new fan, Mr. Cooper.

*Stills courtesy of Alliance Films

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PAUL (2011)

>> Monday, March 21, 2011

Huh ... Who knew being a Canadian meant Seth Rogen would be an alien in the US? (ba dum da)

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost not only star in, but are the writers behind Paul, a comedy about two beer-bellied buddies who are obsessed with everything 'geek'. During a road trip in the US to see all the UFO hot spots, they stumble upon a car crash - and who should emerge from the wreckage but Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen, The Green Hornet), an extraterrestrial who's attempting a daring escape from the famed Area 51.

Soon enough Paul befriends Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) and begins to share stories of his origins (he was nicknamed after the dog he killed when crash landing). Paul also tells how he's spent the last sixty years on Earth living at Area 51 (mainly inspiring pop culture by giving movie ideas to Spielberg for flicks like ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind). A crucial scene in the film even happens at the iconic Devil's Tower in Wyoming (read about my friend Luke's experience at the Devil's Tower HERE). Also on the roster for making an appearance as Ruth Buggs is the always welcome Kristen Wigg (Date Night, MacGruber). She nearly steals the whole movie once again proving the SNL star is capable of almost anything. We also get a nice performance from Bill Hader - another SNL favourite.

Now, Paul had a lot going for it, including the long awaited reunion of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (last seen together in 2007's Hot Fuzz. Yet it fell short and was 'just okay' for me. So what happened here exactly? I loved Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and I also thoroughly enjoyed Superbad, also directed by Greg Mottola who helms this film. Fact of the matter is - I'm not sure. This movie has all the right theoretical ingredients - great actors, great director, great story, great effects, etc (the list goes on.) It could be that a lot (if not most) of the funny moments are in the trailer for Paul (leaving little surprise); it could be that I thought perhaps it would get a bit more racy than it did being rated not-PG ; we could also blame some of it on the idea that I felt Graeme and Clive were a bit underwhelmed by Paul's presence and the whole thing seemed to lack some awe; or perhaps it was the fact that the filmmakers thought we as viewers would be more surprised by Sigourney Weaver's cameo at the end of the film (despite her voice being heard throughout the entire film prior to her reveal). Although I will say there is a laugh out loud funny moment centered around a certain famous line of Weaver's (that a shockingly small amount of people laughed at in the theatre - for shame).



Despite the shortcomings though, Paul ultimately gets an open door. While it has some weaker moments, Paul still comes through in the end and does have some decent laughs as the decent comedy it is. If I were to consider it the third film that exists under the Pegg/Frost label, it's my least favourite - but barely. But there are far worse pieces of cinema out there - and compared to them (I'm looking at you Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus) this film is ahead by leaps and bounds. The effects and animation are wonderful (as expected) and it'll undoubtedly find an audience. While you may at times forget who wrote Paul, or who directed it - you won't forget it could be funnier (or a little more clever, witty, etc.). Even if you don't know how or where it could use improvement, like life on other planets - you know it could very well be possible.



*Stills courtesy of Relativity Media

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RANGO (2011)

>> Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Karma, karma, karma chameleon.

Johnny Depp is a weird guy - I mean that in the best of ways. We all know what he looks like when he's not in make-up as Jack Sparrow, Edward Scissorhands or The Mad Hatter. He seems very laid back and relaxed - yet he has this other side to him that allows him to pull off very unique and interesting performances. It's obvious why Tim Burton likes him and why Depp is today's go-to guy for the odd-ball characters that sometimes even land him an Oscar nomination. In something like Rango, it seems like Depp has once again successfully separated himself from the person he is off the screen and while you can recognize Rango's voice as Depp, it becomes very difficult to picture him saying the lines or if you've seen some of the behind-the-scenes footage - to see Depp acting the way he does while shooting.

Rango is about a pet lizard (a chameleon to be more exact) who has a passion for the theatre. Everything is just as he likes it until the car he's riding in the back of hits an armadillo in the middle of the desert and his glass tank flies out of his owner's car and he's left to fend for himself. That is until he finds the small town of Dirt - where apparently water shortage is an issue. Dirt is inhabited by all sorts of desert creatures - the most feared being a rattlesnake named Jake voiced by Bill Nighy (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Hot Fuzz).

After saving the inhabitants of Dirt from a a vulture (or something like that), the mayor (Ned Beatty, Toy Story 3) makes Rango the town Sheriff. All is good for a while for Rango until he discovers a secret plot to control the town's water - in turn controlling the town's people.

In an age where animated movies tend to turn to pop culture references in order to relate to the audience (and get another laugh or two), Rango is extremely refreshing in its originality. Besides more or less playing on the western genre and using a perfectly-fitting Clint Eastwood reference, this film is a wholly unique piece of work with some of the most original tones and pacing I've seen in a long time - animated or otherwise. All the performances are top notch and you get some really funny moments. I'm inclined to say this is an animated films adults will enjoy more than perhaps the kids will - due to the quirky nature of the humour, the subtle jokes and the slower and more odd moments.

Rango gets an open door. I believe this is a film that will appreciate over time and find its way onto the shelves and into the hearts with other animated classics. If you don't like westerns on the other hand, this may not be entirely for you - even then, it's a stretch to say you wouldn't enjoy yourself. The animation with Rango is some of the best you're likely to see in a while. Pay close attention to the lighting, and the flavor this film has within it's vibrant style. Definitely one to enjoy while it's still on the big screen if you can.

*Stills courtesy of Paramount Pictures

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BATTLE: LOS ANGELES (2011)

>> Friday, March 11, 2011

I'm goin' to LA! Maybe not...

It's been said that in 2013 we'll be getting a sequel to 1996's awesome-tastic Independence Day. Until then, we're going to have to sit through movies like last year's dreadful Skyline, the anxiously awaited Paul (in theatres next weekend), and of course - Battle: LA. That stated, is Battle: LA really on par with the great alien-invasion movies of all time? Unfortunately (but not unexpectedly), no. While Battle: LA tries it's hardest to meet all the criteria of a good invasion flick, it falls short on a couple notes, and relies on a few too many clich├ęs.

SSgt. Michael Nantz (played by the always decent Aaron Eckhart) is about to retire from the US Marine Corps as he feels like he's getting too old - which can be deduced from the fact that he runs like a little girl, apparently. But wouldn't you know it - he's called away from his retirement plans as LA gets hit with the a bad case of the ET-Invadies. What do these aliens want? One scientist assumes it must be our liquid water as the earth is covered with so much of it - a welcome change from the aquaphobic entities that attacked in Signs (2002).

In an effort to clear out the large area of Santa Monica in which the aliens are invading (not the first time in United States history, I've heard), the US decides to go and Hiroshima the place to eliminate the enemy threat. Before that can happen, though, they send in Nantz and his men to search for any remaining survivors in the area and get them back to FOB (Forward Operating Base). The clincher: they only have three hours to do it before they and any remaining survivors are vaporized. The big questions fill out the remainder of the plot: Do they make it? What do the aliens really want? Can mankind stop a technologically advanced species? What are the ramifications of such an interaction? Why the hell aren't people more in awe of the fact they aren't alone in the universe? Unfortunately, a lot of those questions aren't answered. As for the ones that are - you kinda don't really care by the end.

When it comes to alien movies (especially those that try and be realistic), I've always preferred the kind that try and involve some form of politics and a deeper lesson aside from the one that states "Let's kick some alien ass!". Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) did it, as did Contact (1997), Mission to Mars (2000) and District 9 (2009). With Battle: LA, you get less 'wonder' and more 'Who cares? What about the American peoples' right to fight?!'. I mean, it's good to be patriotic and all, but you know you've gone too far when it starts to feel like you're watching a recruitment video for the US Marine Corps.

Battle: Los Angeles gets a closed door. While the action is promising and the effects are extremely well done, the plot is grossly underdeveloped and director Johnathan Liebesman relies far too much on cheesy emotional cues to get us through the dragging story. It doesn't take more than the first half hour to know whats going on, and I feel the film is trying to be more about the journey of the human spirit than the destination. In the case of Battle: LA, the only destination I began to care about was one involving the end credits.

*Stills courtesy of Columbia Pictures

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THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (2011)

>> Saturday, March 5, 2011

Time to adjust some bureaus...

What is the Adjustment Bureau? Well, if I told you I would have to kill you. Then again, if I don't tell you something, this wouldn't be much of a review, would it? But... I don't want to give away too much or else it's going to warrant a spoiler warning and that's not really my style. Alright, well here's what I'm going to say. I appreciate you coming here (as I'm sure you and all your friends do daily), but this is one movie I'm going to tell you to see first before reading my (or anybody else's) review. If you've seen the movie or don't really care to see the movie then read ahead. Like I said, there won't be any spoilers, per say, but when it comes to a movie like The Adjustment Bureau, it's hard to determine what people really consider a spoiler these days. Moving on...

Matt Damon stars as savvy politician David Norris in his second kinda-weird movie recently - if you include last year's Hereafter, that is. Norris is up for the Senator of New York and he's most likely going to lose. While he's preparing his closing speech, he runs into Elise Sellas played by Emily Blunt. She inspires him to give the speech of his life and then takes off never to be seen again - at least that's the way the Adjustment Bureau would like it. It isn't longer than a month later when Norris gets on a bus and as fate would have it, (keyword: fate) he runs into Elise once more - only to be confronted by the Adjustment Bureau - not moments after he secures Elise's name and number. So, who are the strange men in fedoras? They are those that control your destiny. What purpose they serve and who they work for is the secret you'll wait the full 105 minutes to uncover. Either way, Norris wants to be with Elise (badly) and they wont let him - so the game is on.

I think the most prominent thing about The Adjustment Bureau is that it's a good, solid movie. Is it a movie that will change your life - as another review I read would tend to suggest? No. While I think some may find their lives changed slightly once the credits roll, it'll be dependant on where you are in your life at the time - as is the case with the majority of films. For most though, it may fall a bit short. I, personally, left the theatre no more inspired than when I had walked in. Bureau doesn't really introduce any idea we haven't seen before, though - nor does it bring about a new way to look at said idea. It's a retread at most of something that was perhaps more revolutionary back in 1954, when the original short story was written by Philip K. Dick. Dick, by the way, was also responsible for the short stories for which movies like Blade Runner and Minority Report were based off of.

The Adjustment Bureau gets an open door. The pace of the film is good, the action well done and the acting top notch - we get a nice balance of romance as well. While I enjoyed it, I doubt the film will pick up any pace nor do I think it will be remembered years from now as a classic - that happens sometimes to good movies. But in this day and age, with new franchises and movies being thrown at us every month and in 3D, perhaps just being remembered as a good movie (period) isn't the worst fate, after all.

*Stills courtesy of Universal Pictures

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THIS MONTH I REFUSE TO SEE...

>> Tuesday, March 1, 2011

BEASTLY!

This weekend Vanessa Hudgens will star in Beastly, a re-imagining of the old tale and Disney classic, Beauty and the Beast. It doesn't take more than one glance at the trailer for this mess of all messes to realize that the studios are trying to cash in on all the Twi-hards out there. Although this film may not star anybody from the actual Twilight films, its hard to miss the similarities between the two flicks - or worse yet, the damage these kinds of films have on today's youth.

Instead of someone like Edward -a vampire unaccepted by society and feared by the local community, you get someone like Kyle - a used-to-be-pretty boy now turned hideous and rejected by those around him. Its all teen drama and its misunderstood teen rebellion fueled by our heroines ego, which is feeding off of the fact that shes doing something 'good' by liking an outcast. You don't ever have to watch the movie to realize that at some point, she will have it out with somebody who criticizes her. Getting high off overcoming adversity is what these films are all about, anyways.

Now, I don't hate the uglies or those who are handicapped or anybody that triumphs despite their shortcomings. There's inspiration in it and to be hopeful and follow your dreams and to have pure, unadulterated ambition is a great high. But when its dwindled down to something as shallow as loving someone who's disfigured - only to have your happy ending be one where he becomes beautiful again, then what kind of lesson are we really learning? More importantly, what impact does that have on those who believe in this type of romance, or better yet - those of us unlucky enough to be disfigured in some way who cant turn into a prince before the credits roll.

Beastly, in the end, (as much as it tries to be), will not be about self image, it will not be about confidence and it will not be about acceptance. It will be about the one thing its been about since its conception - pure and utter bullshit. If that's what your into, Beastly opens March 4th.

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