Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Thor [ Movie Review ] ★★★

The Pitch

Thor the mighty Norse god who was send down to Earth to learn about humanity, might not be as popular / well known as Spider-man, Superman or Batman. However when Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and Hulk comes together, collectively they form the Marvel Comics biggest superhero group, The Avenger (the movie event of 2012) and that is something to be reckon with.

Not exactly a fan of Thor but neither was I a fan of Iron Man before the first movie came about. Robert Downey Jr and Jon Favreau made a movie that convert me (and many others) into a fan of Iron Man. Now the question is can Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman and Kenneth Branagh do the same for Thor?

Kenneth Branagh who is well known for Shakespeare movies will be directing this and Thor will make his first commercial comic book movie. The tussle in the royal family in mythical portion should be right up his alley. It also helps that he is reported as a fan of Thor.

Chris Hemsworth is probably not that well known yet but he did give memorable performance in the short introduction arc of the recent Star Trek  movie. It would be interesting to see how he fare as the leading man for a full length feature. Plus he is getting support from Natalie Portman (the recent Oscar Best Actress) as the love interest.

The Plot

The Frost Giants of Jotunheim were on a warpath to conquer the Nine Realms. Their war started on Earth but Odin (Anthony Hopkins), king of Asgard and the Asgardian warriors managed to put a stop to that. They seize the Casket (the power source for the Frost Giants) and forced a truce between the two races.

Years later, Odin's son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) prepared to ascend the throne as King of Asgard. He was interrupted by the Frost Giants who were attempting to retrieve the Casket. Thor angered by their attempts and saw it as act to break the truce. Against Odin's order, Thor, his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and their group of friends traveled to Jotunheim to teach the Frost Giants a lesson.

They fought and Odin had to intervene before Thor and his friends actually became causality of the battle. For his arrogance, Thor was stripped of his power and banished to Earth. Odin cast a spell on his Mjolnir (the hammer that contain the source of Thor power) so that only those who are worthy could wield it.

On Earth, Thor encountered Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her fellow scientists while they were tracking the strange wormholes that opening up in the dessert skies. Thor seemed deranged to them but they were intrigued as they suspect that he could have something to do with the strange wormholes. Eventually Thor discovered that his Mjolnir is in Earth and attempted to retrieve it. It was when he tried to lift it, he discovered the spell that his father had cast. Realizing his folly, Thor decided to settle down on Earth and develops a romance with Jane.

Meanwhile, Loki discovered the his true heritage and confronts Odin. Unable to take the the various chain of events, Odin collapse and fell into an Odinsleep (or coma in human language). Since Thor ain't around, Loki became the next in line to take the throne and when he is in power, he set out to wipe his biggest competitor, Thor.

The Perspective 

In terms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor was like the last Hulk movie . It's serviceable (and in this case, an introduction to one of the main characters in Avengers) but it didn't impress as much as the first Iron Man movie. The visual effects were nice, the actors look good in their respective roles but there were a couple of points that Thor didn't do that well.

Comparing Thor to Iron Man, this movie didn't do a good job in establishing the change of the protagonist's heart. The time spend in the cave with Dr. Yinsen established a strong reason why Tony Stark would give up playboy lifestyle for a superhero role. For Thor who had been banished to Earth for his arrogance and stupidity, this movie left me wondering what make Thor change his behavior. Was it just because he couldn't lift his Mjolnir (hammer) or the things Loki said to him? Those two events felt insignificant to alter a prince behavior so much. The lack of direness and affecting emotional just weren't convincing for his eventual change.

The romantic relationship between Thor and Jane Foster didn't worth either. Their romance felt rushed as there were plenty of ground to cover in this introduction movie. Comparing their romance to Tony Stark and Pepper Potts (which received equally short amount of time frame) in Iron Man, theirs were far less believable.

There's also the Shakespearean dysfunctional family issues that Kenneth Branagh tried to instill into this comic book movie but the result felt half baked. The actors did relatively well with the material provide. The problem here would be that there's special effects, action sequences, linkage to the Avenger, the romance and comedy to juggle with. There weren't enough time and focus to fully bring out the family tension that this movie was going for.

Diverting a little, there a problem that Thor and Superman both shared. They are far too powerful and they don't fall easily. That makes it hard to give them interesting villains or dire situations which viewers could be engage in. There's a reason why the recent Batman movies and Iron Man movies are scaling down their fantasy elements to something more believable. Thor mention how magic and science were the same in the trailer and there were hopes that this movie would scale down Thor's power to suit the rest of the weaker members of Avengers. But there weren't much of it and it just hard to feel engage with a character that so powerful.

It's hard to recommend Thor movie but to complete the Marvel Cinematic Universe experience, I guess one would need to watch this movie. But then again, I must note that among three other friends, I am the only one who is not impressed with Thor. The rest had a blast watching it.


In tradition of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, there a scene inserted after the credits scenes. It features Nick Fury and this segment hinted at the possibility of things to come in the Avenger movie. Personally, this is one of the weakest coda in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Definitely does not generate a buzz like what the Iron Man 2 coda did for Thor.

Beyond the Movie

Watch out for Stan Lee cameo in Thor! One of the funniest moment as he tried to lift the Mjolnir

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Roommate [ Movie Review ] ★★

The Pitch

The premise of unexpected encounters with a psychopath has been done numerous of times before. There's one with young kids (Macaulay Culkin & Elijah Wood) in The Good Son and then there's the demented nanny (Rebecca De Mornay) in The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. In recent years, there's the Obsessed co worker stalker with Ali Larter and Beyoncé Knowles. Even the premise for The Roommate felt so much like a repeat of Single While Female that there are people calling this movie the Single While College Female.

Casting wise, the two female leads, Minka Kelly and Leighton Meester are relatively unknown to me. The last time I saw Minka Kelly was her turnout as Autumn in (500) Days of Summer and even in those brief moment, she was hot enough to be register in my mind. I would have probably saw Leighton Meester in Going the Distance and Date Night but it's hard to recall what were her roles in those movies.

Nevertheless, a good psychological horror can still comes from formulaic plots and unknown actors, as long as there's good handing of the materials. Let's see if these two young ladies are able to present a good psychological trauma / scare for hooking up with the wrong roommate.

The Plot

Sara Matthews (Minka Kelly) is starting her college life at ULA and it's off to a good start. Her hostel mate Tracy Morgan (Alyson Michalka) is bringing her to party and she meets up with a  fraternity house  band drummer Stephen Morterelli (Cam Gigandet). Just the type of distraction she needs to forget about her pestering ex boyfriend.

Eventually she met her new roommate Rebecca Evans (Leighton Meester) who seemed to be a quiet rich girl that enjoys the art gallery more than parties. They started to bond well and even took care of a stray kitten together. But as times goes on, Rebecca obsession with Sara started to unravel and she would goes to the extremes to keep Sara close to her. It just matter of time that Sara would find out that something is not right with her Roommate.

The Perspective

The Roommate is one suspense thriller that is not suspenseful or thrilling. It's so predictable that you could easily guess what's going to happen next. Sara thinking of moving out of the hostel due to the no kitten rule, no prize for guessing what's going to happen to the kitten. Sara's professor making a pass at her, who going to help her take revenge without her knowing. The setups for the psycho roommate to exercise her psycho way of caring were too apparent that viewers are able to guess what's coming next.

It doesn't help that Leighton Meester's rendition of a psycho roommate was pretty bland. There's nothing about her that's truly spooky or scary. She looks like a moody college student trying to look dangerous and there's hardly anything sinister about her even when she was out doing terrible things for Sara. If anyone is interested in how a freaking female psycho should be like, look for  Kathy Bates' Annie Wilkes performance in Misery.

The only highlight in this movie would be Minka Kelly. She still look as hot as she was in the few seconds of (500) Days of Summer. It's nice to have her as eye candy when the plot was so formulaic and deary. But then again, this is suppose to be a suspense drama thriller and for that, there's nothing appealing that worth recommending. It would have been better to rent the other old psychopath movies (mentioned above) instead

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Chinese Ghost Story | A Chinese Fairy Tale | 倩女幽魂 [ Movie Review ] ★★

The Pitch

It's hard to keep a good story away but then again, it's also hard to tell a good story. A Chinese Ghost Story had already received a sequel treatment, a second sequel (which is essentially a remake), an animation and probably had a TV series or two. This is one story that most Asians know by heart and it's getting the remake treatment again.

This time round, the remake is helm by Ip Man director Wilson Yip with a new cast featuring the likes of Louis Koo (who been in almost all major recent Hong Kong movies), Liu Yifei (The Forbidden Kingdom), Yu Shaoqun (Kungfu Wing Chun), Kara Hui (At the End of Daybreak) and Louis Fan (Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky).
There's a strange and unexpected twist in this rendition of A Chinese Ghost Story. Louis Koo who is obviously the lead actor in this movie had been cast as Yan Chixia (a supporting role in the original film) while China actor Yu Shaoqun would be playing Ning Caichen (the lead role in the original film). Does that means there a shift in love interest for Xiao Qian (the female lead role) or has Ning Caichen been demoted to a supporting role?

It turned out that this remake will be heading towards a love triangle between these three characters. That's something that have not been done for any of A Chinese Ghost Story franchise. Will this modification to the beloved story work? The odds are definitely stacked against Wilson Yip, Yu Shaoqun, Liu Yifei and Louis Koo right at the start. Can they spin something new out from the old tale and perhaps create a movie that could stand on par with the old one?

The Plot

This movie starts with Yan Chixia (Louis Koo), a demon slayer trainee who had been tasked to kill a fox spirit by his teacher. He was about to succeed in killing fox spirit but couldn't bring himself to do it. Later on,  Xiao Qian (Liu Yifei) the same fox spirit that were let off, ambushed Yan Chixia but instead of killing him, she became entranced with the sweets that Yan Chixia was carrying. That's how their unnatural relationship begun and things were rosy until it came to a stage that Yan Chixia was forced to either kill her or mind swipe/wide her so that she couldn't remember their relationship.

The movie then jumped forward to a sudden confrontation with the Tree Demon (Kara Hui). For some strange and unexplained reasons, Yan Chixia couldn't bring himself to destroy the Tree Demon. His hesitation caused the death of his fellow demon slayers and the left arm of his fellow demon slayer Thunder (Louis Fan). Even after losing their fellow disciples, the two demon slayers managed to captured and seal the Tree Demon up in a magical spell.

Years later, Ning Caichen, a technician sent by the courts, arrived in the village that been having droughts. He been tasked to solve their water problem and offered to scout out the nearby mountains for new water source. The villagers knew that the mountain has been cursed with evil spirits send a bunch of condemned prisoners to accompany this clueless technician.

While digging for water, they were hit by a freak storm and decided to take shelter at a nearby building. The building would turn out to be the infamous Orchid Temple where the Tree Demon resides (or being sealed in). They found a big fountain with water in it. While Ning Caichen was trying to figure out the water source for this fountain, the rest of the condemned prisoners were quickly seduced by scantily clothed nubile ladies.

Those ladies soon revealed themselves as the Tree Demon's henchmen and sucked the life out of these condemned prisoners. Meanwhile, Ning Caichen encountered Xiao Qian but resisted her attempts to arouse him. Finding that rare, she became interested in him. To sweeten the deals, Ning Caichen had sweets with him and that make him even more appealing to her.

But of course, when the spirits are trying to freed the Tree Demon with the life force of the condemned prisoners, Yan Chixia won't be too far away. Can love blossom between Ning Caichen and Xiao Qian when Yan Chixia hangs around like a jealous ex boyfriend. The clueless Ning Caichen was also planning to blast the fountain basement with explosive so that the villages could get back their water. What he didn't know would be that the Tree Demon is sealed at the bottom of the fountain.

The Perspective

The original A Chinese Ghost Story was a classic because they have a simple effective story and they have really good actors making their characters memorable. That two elements that this remake is sorely missing.

In order to give the audience something new and perhaps cater to the Twilight fans, they created a love triangle between Xiao Qian, Ning Caichen and Yan Chixia. The love triangle might have worked if there's more time to flesh out their characters and relationships. What we got here would be a super quick introduction arc to establish the unlikely romance between Xiao Qian and Yan Chixia. Then the movie went on to create the sparks between Xiao Qian and Ning Caichen while putting Yan Chixia on a back burner.

The handling was choppy and unbalanced that it was hard to feel the dilemma or conflicts that this love triangle set up was trying to achieve. It felt like a convoluted story that needs a better director / scriptwriter to tell.

Louis Koo, one of the most established actor in this lot, struggled Yan Chixia role. He had to balance between the sentimentalism of a forgotten love and the cynical demon slayer who is trying very hard not to care. There isn't much time or material in this movie for him to achieve both aspects. 

The two young China actors, Yu Shaoqun and Liu Yifei felt like a poor replacement. Their version of Ning Caichen and Xiao Qian felt like a couple of teenagers in love. There's a hollow ring to it and it's pretty uninspiring like the Twilight Belle and Edward. There's so many degree of Leslie Cheung's Ning Caichen and Yu Shaoqun could only portray it with the usual China style of naivety. Joey Wong's Xiao Qian was seductive, playful and a mix of innocence while Liu Yifei just felt like a teenager who can't seduce to save her own life.

The blossoming romance between Yu Shaoqun and Liu Yifei's characters was the bulk of the movie and yet it pale in contrast to the introductory and finale arc that depicts the romance between Louis Koo's Yan Chixia and Liu Yifei's Xiao Qian. That not to say that the romance between Yan Chixia and Xiao Qian were that convincing either but it helps to put into perspective how bad the chemistry was between Yu Shaoqun and Liu Yifei.
Strangely, the folks that really shine for this movie would be Kara Hui and Louis Fan. It seemed that they could really cut loose with their supporting character. Kara Hui's rendition Tree Demon was on par or even better than the original Tree Demon. Louis Fan's Thunder felt like the real Yan Chixia in this A Chinese Ghost Story mythology. 

Beside that, this new A Chinese Ghost story contains some really nice effects shots. Yan Chixia being stuck in an ocean of leaves and Thunder's floating tattoos were some of the memorable CGI moments of this movie. But then again, special effects don't really make a movie.

In closing, Leslie Cheung, Joey Wong and Wu Ma had left an indelible mark for their performance as Ning Caichen, Xiao Qian and Yan Chixia respectively. Personally, Yu Shaoqun, Liu Yifei and Louis Koo didn't bring much to this well loved characters. But without being so critical or liking the original movie so much, this remake could be a passable entertainment. It seemed that this movie is targeted to the younger generation who likes the Twilight type of love triangle and I got a feeling that they will like this one too. For me, I am listing this as a bad remake.

Beyond the movie
A Chinese Fairy Tale ???

While surfing around Wikipedia & AsianMediaWiki for more information on this movie, I was surprise to see that the A Chinese Ghost Story remake is actually named A Chinese Fairy Tale.  The Chinese title remained the same. It just that the Ghost was replaced by Fairy in the English title of this movie.

I am not sure which country will be having this movie as A Chinese Fairy Tale. I suspect that the change would be to cater to the China censors who are rather picky about showing supernatural, religious and spiritual stuff.

But then again, this movie is about fox spirit, tree demon and demon slayers. Although the talismans, Taoist priest and Monks are all missing in this remake, the subject matters are already of the supernatural stuff. It just didn't make sense.

The name change could be just some region way of distancing themselves from the classic or an attempt to attract customers to this movie without letting them know that this is a remake.

I got no idea. Is China still so stringent about supernatural elements in their movies? Their film industry are opening up rapidly and raking in all the big bucks. Are they still going to be so picky? Would be great if someone could let me know why is there a name change.

Nearer to Singapore

Apparently this movie is too much for Malaysia. Just came across a news that mention the Malaysia censor cut a sex scene between Liu Yi Fei and Louis Koo for their 18 Rated Theatrical release. It also mention that Singapore release was release with the scene intact. Frankly I don't remember that sex scene at all. Might have been too preoccupied with the thoughts of what went wrong with this movie to take notice.

anyway, the link for the article here
Sexy ghost too sexy for most?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Source Code [ Movie Review ]

The Pitch

Think Groundhog Day meets Quantum Leap and you get the rough idea for Source Code.

One military captain leaping into the memory of a teacher who died earlier in the morning when a bomb went off on his train. The catch here would be that he got only 8 minutes of the dead teacher final moments to figure out where's the bomb and who's the bomber. If he can't achieve that, he would get to do it again and relive that 8 minutes again.

Quite an intriguing premise for Source Code. How is he going to solve this case within those 8 minutes and will he be able to save the folks in the train even though they are already dead (as the trailer suggested)? It would be interesting to how much they are willing to bend their own sci-fi rules for that.

Director Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie) was one of the key factor for interest in this movie. He had a superb debut with Moon, a movie with budget constrain but yet innovative and engaging at the same time. His debut made him a director to be reckon with and the trailer for Source Code looks like he is going to deliver another intriguing solid follow up.

The Plot

Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is bewildered to find himself waking up on a train bound for Chicago when the last thing he remembered was that he was on a mission in Afghanistan. A lady named Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan) sitting across to him seemed to know him and was talking to him. Colter tried to get a grip on what's happening and he found out that his reflection had changed to another person. His identification card in his wallet belongs to a man named Sean Fentress.

Before he could try to figure out more, a bomb went off and destroys everything.

He reawaken in a chamber where a lady officer talks to him through a small monitor. Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) informed him that he is inside the Source Code. A program that allows him to take over the last eight minutes of someone's life. There's been a terrorist attack on a train heading to Chicago that morning and he been tasked to find out where's the bomb and who's the bomber before the terrorist attacks Chicago again with a larger more destructive bomb.

Before he could question more about the mission and why couldn't he remember anything between his last mission from Afghanistan to his current mission, he was send back to the train. He managed to find the bomb but before he could do anything to locate the bomber, the bomb went off and send him back to the chamber.

As he went back and forth the chamber and the train "simulation", he learned more about the Source Code from the creator Dr Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright). He been told that no matter how he try to change the past, it would not have effect in this future. The only way he could help the future would be to learn from the past and provide the information to stop the impending second terrorist attack. Unsure and frustrated about not remembering how he got assigned to this project, Captain Colter started to feel that Captain Goodwin and Dr Rutledge are hiding something from him.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Scream 4 [ Movie Review ] ★★★1/2

The Pitch

In recent years, old successful franchise had been making making a comeback after a lengthy absence. Series like Indiana Jones, Rambo and Die Hard series had seen a new installment to their trilogy after many years. The common thing about these 4th installments would be that they weren't that good or generally hated by the fans.

Scream 4 has certain indicators that it might just be like those movies mention above. Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette didn't have much of a movie career after the Scream trilogy. It would be hard to name one movie that Kevin Williamson wrote in recent years.

Plus it's a good idea to bring Ghostface and all the stabbing back? The first one was a refreshing touch on the whole slasher genre, setting down some ground rules that identify the overused cliches of a slasher flick. The second movie marked the start of decline for the franchise and the third one was even more forgettable than the second one.

Director Wes Craven stated that he won't be directing Scream 4 if the script wasn't as good as the first one. The movie makers also made promises that this installment will be an updated with the slate of what's happening with the slasher genre (cum torture porn and remakes + reboots) these days. Would be interesting to see if the gang could actually bring something new to this franchise?

The Plot

It's the 15th anniversary of the first Woodsboro Ghostface serial killing and Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) are all back in town. Sidney Prescott had overcome her traumatic past and wrote a self help book about her slasher magnet experience. The book became a success and oddly enough, she chose to return to Woodsboro on the eve of the anniversary for her book tour.

Gale Weathers and Sheriff Dewey Riley are married for 10 years and are currently residing at Woodsboro. Sheriff Dewey Riley had settle in nicely with his role as Sheriff of Woodsboro. Gale Weathers on the other hand, is having a major writer blocks of her writing career and resents being stuck in a small town where nothing much happens. She craves for something to happen so that she could be inspired to write again.

It's not going to be a happy reunion as Ghostface is back too. As every installments of the Scream franchise, Ghostface won't just be terrorizing the Scream franchise survivors. There will be new victims and this time round, the new targets comes in form of  Sidney's cousin Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts) and several of Jill's high school friends.

Like Sidney, Jill having trouble with ex boyfriend Trevor Sheldon (Nico Tortorella) (the bad boy type that invokes memories of Billy in the first Scream). Her good friends Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere) and Olivia Morris (Marielle Jaffe) helps her to deter Trevor attempts to contact her.  Rounding up the list of potential student victims, Charlie Walker (Rory Culkin) and Robbie Mercer (Erik Knudsen) are the new movie geeks that helps provide the rules of surviving a horror movie (as what Randy did for the first three Scream movies).

Beside the students, there are other potential victims/killers around. Sheriff Dewey has an admirer in his office and it's pretty obvious that Deputy Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton) does not really like Gale Weathers. Deputy Judy also happens to be Sidney high school classmate except Sidney could not recall who she is. She is even a high school classmate with Sidney but Sidney could not remember. A strange coincidence or a designated red herring?

Rebecca Walters (Alison Brie), Sidney's publicist who got a lot to gain when Ghostface returns to haunt Sidney. Even Jill's mom Kate Roberts (Mary McDonnell) didn't seemed to be the normal mom/aunt figure. Could she bear some grudge against Sidney or Sidney's mom?

Like in all Scream movies, the potential victims (and even dead or wounded) could turn out to be Ghostface. Just as one of the quotes in the Scream movies, Everyone's a suspect... even the veteran survivors.

The Perspective

The opening act for Scream 4 was the weakest  one in the franchise. The numerous false starts felt tedious and a cheap parody of slasher flicks. It felt gimmicky and overly done till the victims became what they were making fun of ... the torture porn cardboard characters that you didn't care for.

But nevertheless, things got a better after the opening act. Characters and relationship were quickly established. It felt a little too familiar but kudos to the cast, writer and director, it was adequate to keep things interesting and the suspense tight for the audience.

The thing that made Scream 4 stood out from the last two sequels would have to be the revelation of the motive behind all the gory killings. Scream 4, in my opinion nailed the finale pretty well. Well enough to convert the average slasher flick into an instant favorite.  It was unexpected and it has a natural flow of logic to it. Unlike Scream 2 and 3, the revelation in Scream 4 does not felt forced and done in a manner for no other purpose but to outwit the audience. Scream 4 revelation also contain the best social commentary from a slasher flick and that was pretty awesome in my books.

In closing, Scream 4 felts like the true sequel to the original Scream movie. It's witty, intense and was a gory fun time. The best part would be how they didn't try to overcomplicated matters by making unexpected (far fetch) revelation. If the upcoming Scream 5 and 6 could be as good as Scream 4, count me in for the next two installments.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Limitless [ Movie Review ] ★★★1/2

The Pitch

Just imagine a drug that could maximize the usage of your brainpower. Pushing the limits of the brain's capabilities. Doing things that one is usually incapable of or too unfocused for. Limitless is about one man's journey when he was able to unexpectedly to fully max his brain out.

For the role of the protagonist role, there's Bradley Cooper who had recently gained popularity with The Hangover. Hollywood veteran Robert De Niro will be supporting as a successful businessman who recognize the unusual abilities that the protagonist exhibits. Should be fun to see how these two square off in Limitless.

The Plot

Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a writer struggling with writer blocks. It got so bad that he couldn't even write a single word for his first book. His girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) is breaking up with him and his life seems to be going nowhere.

He bumped into Vernon Grant, his ex wife's brother and he offered Eddie a solution to his current problem. NZT-48, A drug that could solved his problem. Initially skeptic about it, Edward decided to give the pill a try and pretty soon, he was discovering the wonders that the pill could provide.

Impressed with the drug, Eddie went back to Vernon for more of it. But before he could get to the drugs, he finds Vernon dead. Frantically, Eddie searched all over the house for the special drug and came across a stash of NZT, a phone book and cash.

With the drugs at his disposal, he finished his book quickly and radically changed his image. He soon realized that with his new found capabilities, he could be doing so much more. He decided to dabble in the stocks market and became very successful in that field. His unusual decisions with the stocks soon gained the attention of a powerful businessman Carl Van Loon (Robert DeNiro). His life seemed to be on the fast track to wealth and happiness when he started having blackouts.

He soon realized that there are consequences of relying too much on the drugs. He could have killed someone during his blackout. The business partnership with Carl Van Loon hangs in a delicate balance. He also found out that there are other people who are aware of this special drugs and would do anything to get their hands on to it. All these and Eddie trying to win back the affection of his ex girlfriend.

The Perspective

The problem with making a movie about someone becoming super smart would be that the filmmaker need to keep up in pace with what people's perspective of what being smart is. In a way, you can't please them all with the decisions made to depict the unusual situation in Limitless.

There will be complains that if Eddie became smart, he wouldn't forget a simple and crucial matter that haunts him for the rest of the movie. Personally, I felt that if there's a drug that could help enhance the brain capacity, the drug user (Eddie) should have work on issues that occurred to him later sooner. But during a discussion with friends, a point was made about how not everyone would have make the same choices as me. In a way, Eddie might not be as financially motivated as I was. Thinking in this manner and allowing the character to take you on a trip based on his journey, one would be able to enjoy this movie more.

The journey itself was quite a breezy and intriguing one. As we "slowly" explore the life of a man who can use more of his brain capabilities, we are treated to various interesting snippets of how life could be if we become more focus and utilize our brains better. It also showed how over dependance on drugs could be just as bad as real life.

The various threats that Eddie faced once he had the super drugs kept the viewer on the edge. It often make me wonder what would I do if I am in Eddie shoes. The ideology might be different but it was fun and interesting to see what the movie churned out.

Bradley Cooper's performance was another reason why Limitless was able to sell it's improbable premise. His endearing screen charisma made it easy to root for him, even when he was basically taking drugs to get ahead. His performance was good enough to convince the "miracle" power of NZT-48.

Robert DeNiro on the other hand had limited screen time. There's nothing impressive about his character and he is basically there to lend his presence to his character so that Carl Van Loon would have the screen cred  that viewers could quickly accept that Carl Van Loon is a powerful businessman that yuppies are dying to work with him.

Last but not least, how do you close a movie that basically about substance abuse. There were a major argument discussion on what the ending meant and how it ended. My friend thought it was a copped out and I thought it was a great closure to the movie. My friend felt that the theme with the dependency on drugs might give censorship ratings problems to this movie and Limitless basically sidetrack it with a fast forward "blackout". To a certain degree, I agreed that the drugs usage might become a problem if the protagonist was shown to be winning with drugs. But I thought it was a smart way to avoid the potential censorship issues while not shying away from the substance abuse of this movie. Not only that, it managed to advance the premise to another level which I felt was what the theme of this movie all about.

Limitless might not be for everyone but for someone who is seeking something new and different, this movie would come highly recommended. Although personally, I didn't like how the pace of the story moved so "slowly" for someone who is high on intelligent drugs but those minor issues could easily be overlooked. I got a feeling that this movie would work even better on repeated viewing and /or commentaries / extras. Till then, Limitless is getting ★★★1/2 from me.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rio [ Movie Review ] ★★ 1/2

The Pitch

The Director of the Ice Age trilogy, Carlos Saldanha is back with another talking animal animation. This time round, it's the topical bird species and the popular Brazil city Rio de Janeiro that's getting the spotlight. Can Carlos Saldanha with a cast consisting of Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg,, Jamie Foxx and many others start another successful animation franchise for Blue Sky Studios?

The Plot

Captured at a young age, Blu ( Spix's Macaw, a rare and critically endangered species of the parrot family) had found home at Minnesota. He lives with a loving bookstore owner and pretty much adapted to the domestic lifestyle.

Out of the blue, a scientist drop by and revealed that Blu happened to be the last male of his species and there's a female counterpart waiting for him in Rio de Janeiro. The scientist hoped to bring Blu back to Rio so that the birds could mate and save their species from extinct.

Reluctantly, both Blu and his pet owner agreed to give it a try. But as they reached the conservatory, Blu had an unpleasant discovery that Jewel, the female Macaw is one feisty wild bird who is trying to break out of the lab. Their characters are radically different and Blu was tasked with unfortunate mission to win her heart. Too add on to his woes, the lab was broken in by poachers, kidnapping Blu and Jewel for the lucrative black market sale of exotic rare birds.

Jewel and Blu tired to escape from captivity but it's hard when they were chained together. They were also watched and terrorized by the poacher's cockatoo. To make matter worse, the domestic Blu never learned how to fly. But with some luck and interesting variety of new found friends, Jewel and Blu might just escape the crutches of their captivators and return to their respective home.

The Perspective

Personally my favorite Ice Age movies happened to be the first one and the third one. Incidentally, the only Ice Age movie that Carlos Saldanha didn't share any co-director credits with was the second movie. Ice Age: The Meltdown wasn't bad but it wasn't really memorable (and the only thing that stood out for the movie was the inclusion of Ellie). Rio marks the second solo directorial credit for Carlos Saldanha and personally, Rio is going to be another Ice Age: the Meltdown in times to come.

Rio isn't that bad but it isn't that good either. Like many animation movies out there, Rio is out for the kids and ladies' jugular. Ladies would probably be swoon by how cute the birds are designed. There's plenty of samba type of music and songs from and Jamie Foxx that probably going to rock the Glee generation. Rio is also cashing in on the Angry Birds popularity by featuring some variety of those beloved cutesy birds in this movie.

Those in the targeted demographic might not be that concern with the plots or setup. But for a cranky old man like this reviewer, the predictable and regurgitated story was tedious to sit through. How many times can the shy / useless hero and the beautiful / strong heroine fall in love after initially hating each other? How many times will the villain depends on his useless sidekicks to screw things up to accomplish certain task?

The manner that this films try to endear with it's target audience wasn't gone unnoticed by the seasoned movie goer. As again, the targeted demographics would be eating them up but the "excessive" musical numbers and cutesy characters felt like a poor attempt to cover up a lackluster story. It's just like a showy samba music parade with no heart and direction.

Perhaps it was the frame of mind that I was in when I watched Rio that made me not like this movie so much. I could see how hard it tired to be likeable but somehow it had the opposite effect on me. I guess it will entertain many others but for me, Rio remains as a passable entertainment.