Movie Review: “Rango” 2011

With western films seemingly on the comeback in recent years, it was only a matter of time before an animated version of the wild wild west made it to our screens and it has done so in the guise of Rango. Rango (Johnny Depp) is an eccentric chameleon with ambitions of one day becoming the thespian that he believes he is destined to be. Fate casts him a die and as with many animated films these days catapults him from within his comfort zone, accompanied by his ever trusty sidekick Mr. Timms (a plastic goldfish) into the barren and unforgiving wild… the wild west in fact. As usual Depp brings his own unique style to the character of Rango really making it his own.

Rango meets up with many other inhabitants of the desert (20+) who are quirky and unique animals in their own right giving the movie real depth and I have to say that the visuals in this are stunning. They are some of the best out there and it really is starting to get to that point that you forget it is an animation with the scenery and hot dry climate being portrayed looking top notch. Add the gritty aforementioned critters who look like they have been worn down by the desert sands over time and it’s a hats off to the animators who have outdone their Pixar/Dreamworks rivals.

The movies humour is great and combines lots of slapstick, good one liners and excellent facial expressions that really got me going but this I felt is traded off, if only slightly, as the movie advances so that the plot can develop further. As usual with these films there is some subtle and some not so subtle comic references for the older generations that are likely to swoop over a few younger heads. Links to old wild west films are strewn in as well with the spirit of the west and the man with no name making their traditional western appearances. In fact more so than usual I would say that the humour is based more towards an adult audience than that of a children’s one.

Throughout the movie four singing mariachi owls accompany Rango narrating his tale a la the three mice from Babe, well not quite but you get the gist- maybe more akin to the rooster from Robin Hoodand provide another perspective that does well to break the movie up and add to the comedy of it all. The mariachi owls music and the movie score also draws you in and any movie that can play Ride of the Valkyries on a banjo and still make it sound good wins my vote! Hans Zimmer (Batman,Inception, Gladiator, Lion King to name but a few) working his musical ability once again.

All in all Rango has managed to combine great jokes, funny characters and stunning visuals within a solid story. The combination of Depp and Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean 1,2,3) has worked well again and it seems to have broken the mould in so far as it’s a children’s animation and yet I can see the adults coming away with the bigger smiles.

 

Movie Review “Limitless” 2011

The theory is to say as humans we use only 10% of our brain. Limitless is a bit kinder and doubles that number, and even though the idea humans use only a fraction of their brain has been proven to be a myth that doesn’t make the idea of a super pill that allows us to put our brains to better use any less fascinating. In fact, it’s the reason I was drawn to this film.

Limitless works on the theory that one single pill, referred to as NZT, can give someone the ability to access all areas of their brain at once. Your memory is heightened, you’re able to take in and retain information at a faster pace, thoughts come together quicker and as Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) says, even “math becomes useful.”

 

Eddie’s an aspiring author plagued by writer’s block and he’s continuing to fall farther and farther behind, and to pile on the stress, his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) has left him. But his “luck” is about to change.

A chance meeting with a drug dealing, ex brother-in-law (Johnny Whitworth) ends with him in possession of one pill of NZT. With his troubles mounting and seemingly no reason not to take the risk, he pops the pill and a whole new world opens before his eyes. He cleans himself up, quickly hammers out several pages of his book and within 24 hours wants more. Just like any drug this one is quite addictive.

Cooper was a solid choice for the slightly smarmy, slightly charming lead. He has an air of confidence about him that works for the role. I can’t say dressing him like a homeless person does enough to convince me he’s down on his luck, but once Eddie gets himself together Cooper is a perfect fit.

Robert De Niro and Abbie Cornish both have limited roles, the former as a wizened corporate big wig taking advantage of Eddie’s “skills” as he packages a major corporate merger. Then there’s the rather cliched Russian goon that stumbles upon Eddie’s stash and after he gets a taste causes his own share of trouble.

There’s an exaggerated pace to Limitless. Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) rarely gives you a moment to breathe and twice utilizes a trippy, mildly disorienting forward motion camera movement sending us through the streets of New York in an absolute flash. The first instance comes during the credit sequence and once was definitely enough as I thought I may lose my dinner the second time around.

This is a dream scenario kind of a film. A “What would you do if _______?” kind of picture and it’s easy to appreciate it as one. And while it’s no major achievement in filmmaking, Limitless never really gives in to cliched Hollywood morals. Amidst the plot silliness, in the end it gives us a character we can choose to either love or hate. You’ll Like That.

 

Beastly

Beastly is an edgy teen romance about learning how to see past false surfaces to discover true inner beauty. Kyle Kingson (Alex Pettyfer) has it all – looks, intelligence, wealth and opportunity – and a wicked cruel streak. Prone to mocking and humiliating “aggressively unattractive” classmates, he zeroes in on Goth classmate

Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen), inviting her to the school’s extravagant environmental bash. Kendra accepts, and, true to form, Kyle blows her off in a particularly savage fashion. She retaliates by casting a spell that physically transforms him into everything he despises. Enraged by his horrible and unrecognizable appearance he confronts Kendra and learns that the only solution to the curse is to find someone that will love him as he is – a task he considers impossible. Repulsed by his appearance, Kyle’s callous father (Peter Krause) banishes him to Brooklyn with a sympathetic housekeeper (LisaGay Hamilton) and blind tutor (Neil Patrick Harris). As Kyle ponders how to overcome the curse and get his old life back, he chances upon a drug addict in the act of killing a threatening dealer. Seizing the opportunity, Kyle promises the addict freedom and safety for his daughter Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens) if she will consent to live in Kyle’s Brooklyn home. Thus begins Kyle’s journey to discover true love in this hyper-modern retelling of the classic “Beauty and the Beast” story. Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) and Alex Pettyfer (Wild Child, Stormbreaker) star in Beastly for CBS Films, the film division within CBS Corporation (NYSE: CBS.A and CBS). Daniel Barnz (Phoebe In Wonderland) directed the project which completed principal photography in Montreal in August 2009. The film will be released in theaters in July 2010. Susan Cartsonis (No Reservations, What Women Want) is producing through her company, Storefront Pictures. Roz Weisberg is co-producing. In addition to his role as director, Barnz wrote the screenplay, which is based on the Alex Flinn novel of the same name.

Movie Review: “Red Riding Hood”

This 100-minute, PG-13 Rated Fantasy/ Horror/ Mystery should please all the fans of the director’s earlier “Twilight” movie series. Once again, the leading female character Valerie, played well by Amanda Seyfried, is trying to decide to marry her long-time love or the wealthier young man her parents have chosen for her. She prefers the brooding, tall dark and handsome guy, played by Billy Burke as Cesaire, to the tall, blonde andricher guy Henry played well by Max Irons.
The basic plot is pretty much the same as the “Little Red Riding Hood” nursery story except that the big bad wolf with the big ears, big eyes and big teeth is a giant, talking Werewolf.
Father Auguste, played by Lukas Haas, the spiritual leader of the medieval village at the edge of a great forest sends for Father Solomon, played by Gary Oldman and his band of heavily armed Werewolf Hunters to rid the hamlet of the local demon wolf and any other witches or warlocks their investigation might discover.

 

Solomon points out that most Werewolves hide out in plain sight disguised as one of the human residents of the affected village. He then begins a witch-hunt, inquisition to discover the werewolf hiding in the villagers’ midst. His method of gaining a confession is by using a full-sized bronze model of an elephant designed by the ancient Romans. The subject being questioned is locked inside the elephant’s stomach and a fire built beneath it to help the prisoner being cooked inside the elephant’s belly to remember the answers to the questions he has been asked.

As the plot develops, everyone in the village is soon eyeing each of his neighbors and even some of his or her family members with suspicion that they might be the disguised devil wolf. Since the infrequent full blood red moon is at its zenith, the actual time frame of the main action is that short period.

There is not much else that can be said about the plot without spoiling the movie for those that haven’t yet seen it.

The supporting cast is terrific. It included Virginia Madsen as Suzette, Julie Christie as Grandmother, Kacey Rohl as Prudence, Cole Heppell as Claude and Adrian Homes as the captain to name only a few of the supporting cast members.

This latest fare by director Catherine Hardwicke is actually much more believable than the films of the “Twilight” film series. There is no band of Vampires living in uneasy peace with a large pack of Werewolves while they devour many of the local human residents of the town. In this flick, there is only one Werewolf and no teenage Vampires competing for the love of a local high school aged hottie.

This reviewer still enjoyed watching the movie in spite of some serious distractions by some drunken gang members who sneaked into the film midway through it. Unfortunately they stayed and loudly critiqued the remainder of the movie when they weren’t making calls on their cell phones or throwing empty beer cans into the rest of the darkened theater. It’s harder to watch the film with your full attention when you have to slouch down in your seat to avoid being a beer can target from the drunken idiots ruining the movie for all theater’s paying customers. A few audience members left probably to complain to the theater management, but most of them returned without the local Calvary. Ah, life in the big city. Hopefully, most audiences won’t have such distractions.

 

Paul: Sci-Fi Comedy Movie

Paul is an enjoyable and funny sci-fi road movie sure to please all Pegg and Frost fans.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost made their mark as a duo back in 2004 with the hit zombie comedyShaun of the Dead. They once again collaborated with Shaun director Edgar Wright on Hot Fuzzin 2007. From then on, I just loved these two guys on screen. Reminiscent of such comedy duos as Farley & Spade or Martin & Aykroyd, Frost & Pegg deliver such on-screen chemistry and humor that it’s almost instant magic when they’re on the screen together. Paul proves to be no different. While probably the least funny of the duo’s three outings, Paul still provides many laughs and will not leave fans of the duo disappointed.

Paul follows the tale of two British comic-book nerds (Graeme and Clive) who are on the trip of a lifetime when they finally visit the U.S. and Comic-Con. After the convention, they seek to further appease the sci-fi geek in themselves as they take a road trip across the country intending to hit all of the UFO landmarks….including Area 51. It isn’t far from Area 51 that these two everyday geeks have their lives changed forever.

Out in the middle of the desert, driving along in their RV, the two witness a car crash. Pulling over to see if they can be of any help, the two come across a sight that would surely provide a nerd-gasm to any hardcore sci-fi geek. Or in the case of Clive (Frost) cause him to faint and piss himself. There standing next to the wreckage is quirky alien Paul. A weird name for an alien indeed, but one that stuck after Paul’s spaceship landed on and killed a dog by the same name upon Paul’s first landing on Earth.

After the shock wears off and introductions are made, Paul convinces Graeme (Pegg) to help him out and aid him in fleeing from his captors so that he may return home once again. Paul, upon serving his purpose to the government, had been set to be terminated at Area 51 before he escaped his prison and fled for his life. It was then he ran into the comic book nerds as if by fate. With Paul and Graeme loading up the still unconscious Clive, so begins this quirky road trip, as the trio must evade agents and overcome obstacles to get their newfound friend Paul back where he belongs.

While it’s been proven the Pegg and Frost work well together, I initially wondered how well Seth Rogen (the voice of Paul) would fit in. Let me assure you, the chemistry is unharmed and Rogen fits it plenty well enough. With his rude manners and quips, Paul is something of a lovable little pot-smoking, crude, excessively-cussing alien. Think of him like E.T. but for your younger adult crowd. He provides plenty of laughter throughout the movie along with Pegg and Frost. The back and forth between the three provide plenty of funny moments that make this an entertaining adventure.

If I have one problem with the Paul character, it’s a picky one. Paul is voiced straight up by Rogen. Meaning there’s no voice done or post-production altering of the voice, just flat-out it’s Seth Rogen you hear. This, to a degree I think, took away from becoming totally attached to that character because it was always just Seth Rogen “hiding” behind an alien mask for me. It’s not one of those characters that becomes a character of its own like E.T. or Gollum. However, this doesn’t ruin the movie by any means, and you still find yourself wishing you had a Paul of your own to kick back, smoke a joint with and have a fun crude time.

Pegg and Frost, already self-confirmed sci-fi nerds, essentially just play nerdier versions of themselves and do so well. As I mentioned, the chemistry between these two is undeniable and they provide some good laughs yet again. Combine this trio with some funny supporting cast members and cameos (Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Jane Lynch, Bill Hader and David Koechner), you’ll have plenty of moments that will keep you laughing.

At the core of it all, too, is a heart-felt movie about compassion and one’s journey home or to finding themself. Couple this with the humor and this movie is sure to put a smile on your face. With plenty of inside jokes and references that will appeal to sci-fi geeks, this has a little bit of everything for just about anyone. Of course, don’t bring the kids as this is the adult version of E.T., thus it is much more crude and has adult situations in it.

All is not grand with the movie though. I can’t heap endless praise on it and imply there is no fault. The first thing being: Edgar Wright is indeed missed in this third outing from Pegg/Frost. While still funny and enjoyable, the movie definitely lacks something that their previous two outings did. My guess is the writing and direction of Edgar Wright. Some of that charm is definitely missing. While still entertaining indeed, Paul loses a touch of that magic and humor thatShaun and Hot Fuzz had. This makes the movie feel a bit flat in places. A somewhat bland version of Men In Black meets E.T.. As I mentioned, there are plenty of funny moments, but plenty also fall in the category of just amusing and worth a chuckle rather than laugh-out-loud type moments. The story itself is rather cliche and unimaginative as well. This “blandness” causes things to droll on to a slight degree at moments. Though the characters are likable and the cast soon patch things over with their comedic content to keep things rolling along.

Despite its slight shortcomings, Paul does indeed provide several laughs and some good entertainment. While possibly slightly generic/bland, the movie is a fun ride and one that will surely please any Pegg or Frost fans while also making sci-fi nerds a bit giddy over the inside jokes/references. For any fan of this pair’s previous two movies, Paul may not end up being your favorite of the three, but it’s definitely worth the watch and you won’t leave disappointed.

 

“Black Swan” A Dark Perfection

Black Swan

Black Swan A Dark Perfection

Cast: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder; Director: Darren Aronofsky;

Though weakness, fragility and ugliness are frowned upon, these are the elixir of life. For there could be no conception of strength or beauty without it. And it is the conception of these opposites — black and white, beauty and ugliness, good and evil, woman and her doppelganger that auteur Darren Aronofsky explores in ‘Black Swan’, beginning with the two words of the film’s name that stand for opposites.

Nina (Nataile Portman), a ballerina, is desperate for the part of the swan queen in the ballet Swan Lake. The director, though impressed with her discipline, does not think she has it in her to play the swan queen’s evil twin, black swan. And she indeed gets too easily intimidated by everyone. However, gradually she observes changes in herself.

After a rash incident makes her director choose her, her dark side takes over gradually and through schizophrenic hallucinations, she not only plays the black swan, but becomes it in her mind and achieves perfection.

While casting Nina, the director tells Nina: ‘What is the use of all that discipline. Let go. Transcend. Surprise yourself’. That is what Aronofsky, an extremely disciplined filmmaker, seems to be telling himself.

After he hangs Mickey Rourke mid-air in the last shot of his last film ‘The Wrestler’, here he lets his ballerina take her leap of faith and follows his camera to her fall to ecstasy. Taking a leap with Rourke in the last film and Portman in this, Aronofsky does reach his own perfection.

Aronofsky’s skills are evident in the way he tells the story; a good part of it through mere reflection. Nina sees her dark reflection on the glass of a suburban train. Later, when she sees Beth, who she has replaced, for the first time after her accident, she sees her as a reflection on a glass pane of a door. Both these reflection foreshadow her future.

Unlike ‘The Fountain’, where he traverses the universe, here he confines himself to the immediate space of his ballerina. As her split personality and schizophrenic hallucinations become more pronounced, the camera composes her tightly as the spaces keep getting more and more constricted, till the end where she flies away.

It is the nature of things that opposite enhances. White looks whiter near black, beauty shines more in the presence of ugliness, strength soars in front of weakness. And that is the intention of ‘Black Swan’, to enhance white, beauty and strength, by highlighting the opposite, but showing the protagonist reach these using the opposite.

Natalie Portman, who won an Oscar for this role, drowns herself in this dark tale of an obsessed ballerina. She’s fragile and evil in equal and delicate measure, a quality without which the film would not have worked. And with over a century-old composer in Tchaikovsky, whose compositions embody opposites, the film does manage to achieve its own cinematic perfection.

 

Season of the Witch Review

Nicolas Cage reunites with his Gone in 60 Seconds directorDominic Sena for the supernatural action-thriller Season of the Witch, which finally hits theaters this weekend after sitting on the shelf for almost two years. (Beware of some spoilers.)

Cage stars as a medieval knight named Behmen who, along with his comrade-in-arms Felson (Ron Perlman), have fought in the Crusades for well over a decade. War-weary and disenchanted with bloodletting for the Church, Behmen and Felson cut ties with their fellow knights and head off into the wilds of Europe.

During their journey home, Behmen and Felson enter the Palace at Marburg, whose inhabitants have been utterly devastated by the Plague. The Church elders (including Christopher Lee) blame their misfortune on an erratic girl (Claire Foy, whose character’s name is never revealed) they believe to be a witch.

Coerced into delivering this accused witch to a remote monastery for trial, Behmen and Felson are joined on their perilous quest by the priest Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore), the aspiring knight Kay (Robert Sheehan), the aging knight Eckhart (Ulrich Thomsen), and the group’s slippery guide, the traveling con man Hagamar (Boardwalk Empire‘s Stephen Graham).

Season of the Witch isn’t quite Jonah Hex or Little Fockers bad, but it’s one helluva shoddy way to start off the year in movies and yet another crummy entry in Nicolas Cage’s woeful post-Oscar filmography. The movie isn’t even as fun as it could have been had it been truly terrible; it’s just another mediocre supernatural thriller brought low by bad creative decisions. There’s a nifty idea in here about war-weary knights back in the service of a Church they no longer believe in, but it gets lost along the way.

The highest praise one can give the cast is that none of them embarrass themselves. Overall, Cage restrains himself save for one borderline campy moment, while Perlman delivers his lines with his usual gruff, “I really don’t give a crap anymore” sardonic attitude. Foy, apparently the missing link between Kristen Stewart and Katy Perry, has the toughest job as she must play a character who is supposed to keep us guessing about her guilt or innocence (that is until the movie soon makes it perfectly clear which side she’s on). Englishman Graham inexplicably speaks like hisBoardwalk character Al Capone throughout the movie.

Lack of logic is the most bedeviling thing here. Priests can only cast out demons by reading from rare ancient books. Why not commit the book’s text to memory? They’re priests who have memorized the entire Bible in Latin. Know your lines so that you can keep the show going should the demons burn your books! At another point, a character busts his ass digging multiple graves even though we just saw that one of the deceased had been reduced to ashes. And how’s about shackling your prisoner so she can’t escape on foot?

The story’s main emotional conflict — that Behmen wants to save this accused witch in order to atone for the innocent life he took during the Crusades — doesn’t hold up when you’re asked to believe that Behmen and Felson, perhaps the most fortunate Crusaders ever to survive over a decade of constant warfare, only spilled innocent blood once during all those years of carnage. Nobody in the Crusades was that lucky!

Season of the Witch isn’t an awful movie; it’s watchable in that late night cable sort of way, but it’s painfully dopey. Even the effects are merely adequate. Ditto the now cliche Gladiator/300-style battle scenes. At least the gloomy European countryside looks nice. I can’t believe this movie (finally) got released, but the superiorSolomon Kane is still without a U.S. distributor.