Posts Tagged ‘movie review blog’

LIMITLESS

2011/04/27

http://www.iamrogue.com/limitless/fullsite/

USA 2011  Directed by: Neil Burger  Written by: Leslie Dixon  Based on: The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn  Produced by: Leslie Dixon, Ryan Kavanaugh, Scott Kroopf  Cinematography by: Jo Willems  Editing by: Tracy Adams, Naomi Geraghty  Music by: Paul Leonard-Morgan  Cast: Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro, Anna Friel, Johnny Witworth, Robert John Burke, Tomas Arana, T.V. Carpio, Patricia Kalember, Andrew Howard

So much to do, so little time; some of us feel like this while others are just the opposite – with little purpose in life and thus feel like too much time on their hands. “Limitless” opened the window and let us peek out to the great wide open of possibilities and also see what could happen if one tries to fly too close to the sun. It’s a classic moral tale told through the lens of a very unique and innovative director, Neil Burger. Some of the imagery done here are downright trippy. But it styled the story so fittingly. After all, it is a science fiction piece about a loser writer, Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), with a mental block that got handed a miraculous tip in the form of a little transparent pill, which can optimize a person’s brain function to 100%. But with great power comes greater threats, turbo-charging all the stakes to overload.

This film rides heavily on Bradley Cooper, his first-time lead role. As an alumnus of The Actors Studio in New York (the Mecca for actors to be), he had all the training, intensity, and charm to silence any speculations over his ability to keep the audience in the seats and his supporting actor at bay – Robert De Niro, who plays Eddie’s boss, mentor and rival, Carl Van Loon.

The pill clocks in at 30 seconds to take effect and lasts 24 hours. At which time, Eddie crawls out of his grimy world and into one that is saturated with clarity, edge, detail and speed. A drug addict with a larger-than-life dream, Cooper’s repeating transformation from the slummed-out slacker to the golden boy with the Billionaire Boys Club swagger is easily entertaining as is sympathetic. It’s this constant contrast between the light and shadows that draws you in. Along the way, other characters are seen leveraging from this pill, each giving a notable attempt at this transformation; to which, surprisingly, was Eddie’s loan shark, a Russian immigrant – played palatably satisfying, maybe even trumping Cooper, by Andrew Howard.

With a plot that keeps twisting but never sliding far from its own truth – although a couple of scenes could have propelled it to ace status – “Limitless” carries enough weight to fend off any lip-gnawing thriller and yet has the humor, light or dark, to find everyone able to enjoy it with a few snorts and slaps to the knee. At the end, it even leaves the story open for new chapters and us wanting more…as long as the writers don’t run out of their limit of magic little pills.


SUCKER PUNCH

2011/03/30

http://suckerpunchmovie.warnerbros.com/

USA 2011  Directed by: Zack Snyder  Written by: Zack Snyder, Steve Shibuya  Produced by: Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder  Cinematography by: Larry Fong  Editing by: William Hoy  Music by: Tyler Bates, Marius De Vries  Cast: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Oscar Isaac, Carla Gugino, Jon Hamm, Scott Glenn

They say if you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself. And in this day and age, with advanced technological support, it has become truer than ever. I’m sure Zack Snyder would be the first to agree, and eagerly trying to prove he can keep up with his peers such as Christopher Nolan, by making “Sucker Punch.” I personally don’t necessarily see Snyder as a filmmaker, but rather a hyper-action visual artist. His detail in composition, lighting, and movement is borderline impeccable, and usually always aims at one thing – a mind/eye devouring feast. And each of his films is a work of art.

Adding to his usual roles, Snyder directed, produced, and co-wrote “Sucker Punch.” But whereas pieces like “300” or “Watchmen” had been visually and verbally outlined, and simply needed a loyal adaptation, SP manifested from the pit of Snyder’s creative blender. And this is where it hit a speed bump.

The trouble with making ultra-stunning effects is they can easily become your crutch rather than a style. And the audience expects you to raise the bar each time, but that simply can’t persist, because all of Snyder’s bells and whistles jingled and jangled in his earlier pictures, which gave him notice in the first place.

With a blank canvas, Snyder painted a world of Baby Doll, a young woman (although she looked 14 in her Japanimation-fashioned outfit and makeup) desperately trying to survive and escape the insane asylum that she was committed in by her malicious stepfather. It seems, in this dark and dingy institution, only pretty young females are the patients. And even the head psychiatrist is a busty eastern European seductress played by the always sumptuous Carla Gugino. Through her guidance, Baby Doll finds herself able to bend the cruel reality into a spirited fantasy, fighting her way, along with her inmate patients, through Japanese feudal times and WWI Germany, and eventually to freedom. Sometimes there were dragons, other times futuristic robots. But at all times, girls were kicking bad guys’ asses, while in killer heels, dangerously short skirts and deadly décolletages. And?

The entrance to the fantasy world was always accompanied by a song played out in the room and Baby Doll’s irresistible dance that would set all the men in a trance, allowing the other girlie inmates to do their business – collecting items that would piece together the steps for all of them to escape. Till the end, we never saw what her dance actually was; it was always through the expressions of the men that we knew her moves were mesmerizing. And even though the color schemes and costumes contrasted between the two worlds, one element seemed to remain constant amongst the characters – really long eyelashes. Why?

If a film/story can be depicted by a genre of music, “Sucker Punch” would be a techno-trance maxed out on decibel levels. The action almost never seizes, and never quite allowed any downtime to peel back any layers of the characters. And yet, the actions almost always stayed at the same level, too – never really advanced the game from previous scenes. Sometimes, the fight sequences were caught too closely by the camera that was obviously placed on a lawn mower, giving way to vertigo and light reminder of last night’s dinner. This repeated several times throughout the show. What for?

In the end, through the psychiatrist’s final analysis, “Sucker Punch” concludes that the key to setting us free in this cruel world is…us. Really? Is that it? Can this be the punch-line to this episode? Did Snyder really go through all that pain to reveal a message that could be found inside a fortune cookie? I guess the audience got suckered in this one. Snyder needs to get back to what he does best: visualization – dust off his ego and hang up his writer’s hat, for awhile. And let’s hope his new installment of “Superman” will fly a bit higher, under the producing wings of his multiple-hat-wearing peer, Christopher Nolan.

 

 

 

 

 

ELEPHANT WHITE

2011/03/30

http://www.nuimage.net/

USA 2011  Directed by: Prachya Pinkaew  Written by: Kevin Bernhardt  Produced by: Frank DeMartini, Peter Safran, Daniel Bernhardt, Tom Waller, Avi Lerner  Cinematography by: Wade Muller  Editing by: David Richardson  Music by: Robert Folk  Cast: Kevin Bacon, Djimon Hounsou, Jirantanin Pitakporntrakul, Ron Smoorenburg, Abhijati Jusakul, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Byron Gibson, Creighton Mark Johnson, Weeraprawat Wongpuapan, Suteerush Channukool

I am not sure if the phrase “highly anticipated” applies to Prachya Pinkaew’s US debut. First of all, it’s not a phrase I’d use as I have never been fond of his sketchy direction in the first place – frankly speaking, most of his movies are only watchable because of some fine action scenes and outstanding martial arts display; as movies, however, they are generally sub-standard. Secondly, when has the US debut of an Asian director ever been a revelation? Right. Last but not least, when has a US B-movie that is shot more or less entirely in Asia ever been any good? Well.

So everything points towards a disaster, not even taking into consideration that Mr. Pinkaew now has to work with real actors, not stuntmen, something like a real script (featuring real English dialogue) and cater to an international audience that expects more than a niche Muay Thai show. But as positive thinking is a virtue I have tried to look forward to ELEPHANT WHITE, primarily thanks to the unspoken promise of another memorable performance by Kevin Bacon, and possibly Djimon Hounsou. Now how did that all turn out?

Let’s begin with the screenplay: ELEPHANT WHITE is a solid action drama (or so it seems at first) about an assassin who is hired by a Thai businessman to avenge the murder of his daughter by slave traders, injecting some initially welcome touch of exoticism and mysticism along with authentic locations and local flair to boost the film’s sweaty atmosphere. As long as all that contributes to the story, place or character development that’s fine with me. Thing is, the script quickly ups the ante and deviates from the actual story, indulging in kitsch and melodrama instead, focusing more on triggering all sorts of emotions than on a believable storyline (even though the final twist is meant to render much of what happens in the movie a “mystery” (which by then however is completely revealed and explained).

Add to that a relationship between the main characters that remains largely incomprehensible and is defined through some seriously clumsy dialogue and action scenes that never make sense. The script relies on an intangible past, and it eventually all comes down to Curtie Church in need of weapons and Jimmy The Brit supplying them, for reasons only Mr. Bernhardt knows.

While revealing no huge immediately detectable formal issues (other than Mr. Pinkaews previous films, which suggests that the American team has significantly contributed to the film’s hygienic factors and taken Mr. Pinkaews work to a hitherto unknown, albeit not exactly high level) ELEPHANT WHITE however has astonished me with a so far rarely seen repetition of largely identical chapters: again and again Church gets himself new weapons from Jimmy, assassinates the bad guys, works on his “relationship” with Mae, needs more and different weapons, and it all starts all over again.

ELEPHANT WHITE is not unentertaining, has some good moments and features some serious shootouts and other action sequences, but what exactly is its point? I’ve been digging a lot, but there is simply no story here, unless you count Church’s relationship with Mae and its implications as a somewhat relevant “love story”. Apart from that we see an unfortunately disappointing performance from Mr. Bacon, who is speaking with a very fake and very exerted English accent while otherwise giving me the impression of being mentally absent throughout his scenes; a key idea and surprise ending that is by far less clever than it thinks it is; and a revenge plot that is thin as paper, or better, is nothing but an initial reason to send Church on his spiritual journey.

All things considered, ELEPHANT WHITE is basically a half-assed blend of ANGEL HEART, BANGKOK DANGEROUS, Hong Kong Action flicks and Thai martial arts. I am not sure what the mission was really, but it is safe to say it wasn’t accomplished. Also, Mr. Pinkaew doesn’t do his country a favor by replicating the same old clichés any foreign director would have gone for as far as Thailand is concerned, while on the other hand never developing a signature style or having any noticeable impact on the story or its visualization.

ELEPHANT WHITE is a mediocre action drama that could have been better but most certainly never ever really good no matter what – not with this sort of script, director and acting. When the dust has settled all that remains is a B-movie that will have a very hard time to find an audience.

J.