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Limitless

Limitless is a movie that takes us to a place where there are no limits for a new mind drug. Not only do we see the classic pitfalls and ills of using drugs but we see a strange new side, dare I say a positive side. A new drug that allows one to utilize 80% more of her/his brain is discovered by a burnt out writer who puts it to good use. As he keeps using the drug he realizes that there are drawbacks to that much brain usage. Somehow he learns to use it to his advantage.

The film was directed by Neil Burger who’s other work includes the Illusionist with Edward Norton. Limitless includes quite a few big names but the biggest are Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. The film has amazing visuals reminiscent of Inception. It has a decent script that takes the viewer on a wild ride from beginning to end. While the visuals move fast however, there are some scenes throughout that tend to lag on. It’s as if they wanted to monopolize on special effects at the expense of keeping the story rolling at a palatable pace. This is one of the only drawbacks in the pace of the film. It is worth waiting out though because the ending delivers a smart and noteworthy conclusion.

Limitless is an excellent film that doesn’t have to be in reality so it isn’t. There are metaphors to real drug use. It opens up a lot for discussion and I recommend it.

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Inception

inception-movie-poster-5682722This is not my usual review format, I simply want to list a few things that bother me about this movie. Inception is a film I really didn’t want to write about because my opinion seems to be in the vast minority. However, after all the 5 star reviews are scrolled past, I found on IMDB and on Yahoo! Movies that there are many folks out there agreeing with me. Inception is a smokescreen of deceptive marketing and not much more.

To borrow David Spade’s SNL satire: I saw Inception last weekend. I liked it better the first time as The Matrix. (audience laughs). That’s basically my beef. This movie is harder to untangle than a wet mass of kite string. The worst part is that it follows no rational premise. It is a long film at 148 min. Unfortunately none of that time is spent developing characters or a plot of any logical substance. By placing the movie in a dream, anything can be done and anything can be said. Nothing can be challenged because it’s got neat cgi once in a long while. Believe me, they make you wait for it. The best part? They leave it open for a sequel. What will be new in it, a beach and some dreams of atv racing? Not a good movie experience for me, I recommend you go see Despicable Me instead.

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Iron Man 2

I went to see the much anticipated Iron Man 2 this evening with my wife and son and found it duller than the first. Robert Downey Jr. does a great job of being a goofball which is indeed funny to watch. Unfortunately the writing and situations are not very clever or interesting and it had me yawning through most the running time.

There isn’t much action in the movie. Sort of like looking for wedding gifts at a horse tack store. For the most part, people exchange boring dialog with one another developing the plot of a company on a downward spiral. A symbol of the downfall is Ironman’s chest. He is slowly dying and needs a special chemical to keep him alive. Of course, in the end, he gets what he needs and become super-human again. Scarlett Johansen is an absolute fox in this movie. My wife noted she had lost quite a bit of weight for the part, which I felt was not necessary. At any rate, she makes Gwynneth Paltrow, Ironman’s love interest, look plain on the screen. If there was anything I could really praise about the movie, it was Johansen’s part.

I didn’t have time to write a drawn out review. You can read the cast, synopsis, and factoids at imdb. Suffice it to say, this movie was a lot of dull dialog with some really cool CGI scenes. I wish I would have seen Shrek 4 instead (not in 3D though). Hopefully the next movie I see will be worthy of a longer review.

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Vantage Point

This post I wrote was first published at Blogcritics.

I just saw Vantage Point at the matinee with my wife and really liked it. This is director Pete Travis’s first film. His recent television work includes Omagh (2004), a true story about a car bomb that killed many innocent people, and the 2003 television series Henry VIII. One was about a bomb, the other was criticized as being untruthful.

The bomb theme together with an unbelievable story is sort of what Travis brings us in Vantage Point. Nonetheless, the plot is original and clever, along with the editing. Plus certain humanitarian elements played out by an all-star cast make the movie enjoyable. The cast includes: Dennis Quaid as Thomas Barnes, Matthew Fox (of Lost fame) as Kent Taylor, Forest Whitaker as Howard Lewis, Sigourney Weaver as Rex Brooks, and some other fine actors who are sure to be up-and-comers.

When I say the plot is original and clever, I am being quite literal. I have never seen a movie that plays the same scene over and over again this way. It is reminiscent of 1999’s Nick of Time, starring Johnny Depp. In that film the scenes are done in “real time,” so it is a little different. Most of Vantage Point takes place in a Spanish town square where the President of the United States is shot. The 20-minute scene of the shooting is played over and over again, each time revealing new facts as seen from a different vantage point.

This would be a stellar idea for a movie, but the facts as they unravel are way too planned to have been random, and the parts of the “plan” that unravel are just too perfect to be believable. For example, the terrorists know exactly what room the President will escape to after the shooting, and what about an ambulance? We don’t see one. Another example is when thousands of Spaniards are running through the street and Howard Lewis happens to see and save a little girl whose ice cream he spilled earlier in the square. You must suspend your disbelief to enjoy this film, but it is still riveting to see the different vantage points played out. My wife said it made her a little queasy at the beginning seeing the same things over and over, but she agreed it was an original concept and in the end we both enjoyed it.

Obviously a terrorism/political movie is going to be very suspenseful. The camera running through the crowd keeps you on the edge of your seat. There are some relationship themes developed in the film, such as the one between Howard, who has left his wife and kids and ends up saving the young girl, and his family. After he saves her, he is moved by the experience to go back home to his estranged family in the US. Another one is Thomas Barnes’ dedication to protecting the President, so dedicated that he throws his own body in front of a bullet to save him.

The twist at the end is very predictable (my wife had it solved in the first scene) but as I have said, despite the unbelievability of it all, the ride is still worth the admission. There is a feeble attempt at making a statement about how terrorism will “always be with us.” That was an interesting thread running throughout and it would have been nice to see more done with that. As it is, it is only developed as a shadow of a theme.

It was also interesting to see how terrorism is enabled by blackmail and kidnapping. The primary assassin in the movie does his killing because his brother has been kidnapped and the terrorists use him as a puppet to do the sharp-shooting, promising his brother’s release once he does the killings. There is also a suicide bomber who we see checking his text message before exploding and it reads: “Make us proud.” But these are short scenes that don’t make up much of the movie. The majority of the movie is made up of playing the same scene over and over and that is obviously what the director hoped would make the movie a unique success.

My final word on Vantage Point is that it is a great suspense/action ride that lacks believability but makes up for it in creative editing and plot as well as some very humanitarian themes woven throughout. Go see this one.

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first of three bestselling books by Stieg Larsson that has been made into a movie. It was just released this week which made me surprised to see such a small turnout. Maybe people decided Christmas shopping was more important and/or entertaining than this movie. Maybe some found it offensive? I’m not sure but I am sure that I had a pretty good time watching it with my wife Sarah, a huge fan of the trilogy.

The story centers around Lisbeth and Mikael Blomkvist, played by Daniel Craig. They work together to uncover the identity of a serial killer who has been at it for decades. there are side stories as well that I thought were more interesting than the backbone of the story.

The one word I would use most about Lisbeth Salander, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is deliberate. She breaks through firewalls on her laptop to spy on bad guys with speed and focus. It is fun to watch her do her work. When she is done in one place, she hops on her unassuming black motorcycle and heads down the straightest path to get to her destination. She takes vengeance like a little grim reaper and we find this twenty something woman to be smart and mature about the world beyond her years. We watch her have sex at least twice where it’s by her choice and, most importantly, under her control. The scenes where she is raped she is not as composed, and understandably so. I kept wondering about her life as a child and teen. She is calculated and without emotion most of the movies. How did she get to be this way? All we hear is that she is a ward of the state and she burned her father over 80% of his body. I imagine the book tells us more about why, the movie does not.

In the final analysis, this film could be called all flash, no substance. We aren’t invested in the characters but some James Bond action and leather and straps sex scenes hold some interest. Watch it expecting just those things and you’ll have a good time. Whether or not that familiar formula can support two more movies remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, this actress better sign the papers quick because this is not a role for a thirty something. The Marlboro Reds should start having their effect on facial lines and physical fitness in a couple years. As long as it was tech, it would suit this girl. I give it a 3/5 for the awesome suspense and action scenes. Unfortunately though, for me, it didn’t explain Lisbeth Salander, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo enough and that’s why it lost points. Character development could have been embellished a bit more. Oh and in case you are wondering about the tattoo? Yes we do see it.

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Voyage of the Dawn Treader

This movie opinion piece is based on my article first published as Voyage of the Dawn Treader Actors Grown into Their Skin on Blogcritics.

Much can be said in praise of Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Among those praises is the acting. We saw most of these characters in the prior Narnia films, but never so grown up in their acting skills. In a way I think the franchise would have been better with all of them at this age (2010). I don’t know if the messages of Narnia can be properly played by kids who haven’t lived much. Maybe I have to go back and see the old one again? Whatever I may find in reviewing prior films, the actors in Voyage of the Dawn Treader are grown up to perfectly play the kids of Narnia.

The director Michael Apted is one to be respected. His back catalog includes Nell with Jodie Foster, a Bond film The World is Not Enough, and a slough of other films through the years that most any fan of film culture has heard of. All his efforts come together and make this movie appear a professional, emotive film for our times. It is regal, like the impression you get looking at a fine chandeliers.

There are three screenplay authors: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Michael Petroni. The first two worked together on the previous Narnia films while Petroni was brought in just for this one. This may be what adds a new dimension to this film for me. Of course, with three writers adapting a novel to a screenplay, it’s impossible for a humble viewer to say who brought what.

Stellar acting is delivered by the once small Lucy Pevensie, Georgie Henley. I can’t say enough good things about her. She is growing into an accomplished actress and yet she maintains an unassuming air rarely seen in big time actors. There is a scene before she goes into Narnia when she is in her school uniform talking with her siblings and I could tell by her experiences voice and movement that she had grown into a more soulful, mature actor.

Another actor grown into his own skin is Skandar Keynes, Edmund Pevensie. His interactions with the white witch in this film are much more believable than the ones previously. This is crucial to the impact of this film in as much as “dealings with the devil” are important to all the works of C.S. Lewis.

Ben Barnes, who plays Caspian, also plays a very maturely acted role and adds a lot to the film. When I look at photos of him off camera I am struck by how much older and mature he looks in the movie than how he appears in real life. I think all the characters really grew up to act in this film and it provides a positive impact.

Last but not least, Will Poulter plays Eustace Clarence Scrubb. This character by far gives the film more depth than previous Narnia ones. While we may not find him a loveable figure, we see ourselves in Eustace. Whoever has been self conscious or fearful can find relatable material in his character. He does an excellent job conveying an “unlikeable” character to the audience. The payoff? In the end we learn it’s ok to be imperfect. Aren’t we all? Furthermore, the imperfect can inherit the promised land.

It is clear to me the Voyage of the Dawn Treader will be remembered more than the prior ones in this franchise. This is due in large part to the actors having grown into their own skin and their craft.