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Inception is movie perfection!
Super blown away by Inception! I can't get over how Christopher Nolan can keep topping himself with each flick. At first I was so scared to see this fail because of the curse of the stellar cast but i should have had faith in Nolan all along. This is just unbelievably good!!!
He takes his time telling such a complicated story without dumbing it down or complicating it too much. All the actors play their parts well that even Leo DiCaprio, in a rare way, fades into the character and you forget his celebrity. Everyone and everything is just amazing; from the ominous soundtrack to the sets to the acting and cinematography...all I could say at the end of the flick was, WOW!
From Paris with Love (2010)
inexplicably hesitant and clunky when there isn't any action to be had on screen
Director Pierre Morel (Taken) teams up once more with writer Luc Besson (Taken, the Transporter series) for another action-packed flick ironically entitled "From Paris with Love".
Yes, the story is set in Paris, where James Reece, played by Golden Globe Best Actor winner Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Elvis), plays administrative assistant by day in the US Ambassador's office and small-time secret agent by night. Itching for some action, Reece's boss relents to his request to do more than just switch license plates and partners him up with loud and brash Charlie Wax, an American spy played by two-time Oscar Best Actor nominee John Travolta (Pulp Fiction, Saturday Night Fever), who is hell-bent on stopping a terrorist from attacking the city.
Rhys-Meyers and Travolta succeed in playing one of the oddest tandems to ever hit the screen. Rhys-Meyers seems to have finally landed the manly action-star role he's never played; this must have been such a big break for him; however, while I liked him in his previous movies where he plays androgynous royal types so well (The Tudors, Matchpoint), his silly mustache and constant poker face in this flick may have played up the discomfort of his transition from deskjob to field a little too well. He just wasn't as charismatic and could not hold up to Travolta, who was a delight to see in such a refreshing, overtly bad-ass role. It could be because the dialogue wasn't written to make Reece sound witty anyway.
There was just something so inexplicably hesitant and clunky (poor editing, perhaps?) when there isn't any action to be had on screen, which is quite unlike Morel and Besson's successful balance of drama and action in "Taken". In any case, trivia junkies will appreciate the not-so-sly nod to McDonald's Royale with Cheese, also Travolta's character's fave in "Pulp Fiction".
a satisfactorily stirring thriller
Director Nimród Antal (Vacancy) helms "Armored", a heist flick about new guard Ty Hackett, played by Columbus Short (Whiteout, Stomp the Yard), who is forced by his more experienced colleagues to steal an armored truck transporting US$42M. Oscar Best Supporting Actor nominee Matt Dillon (Crash) plays the group's leader Mike Cochrone, who promises that no one gets hurt, but things don't always go according to plan. Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes) plays Eckehart, a cop who inadvertently stumbles into the scene of the crime, and their resolve falls to pieces as they make one tragic decision after another.
The rest of the group's characters weren't developed as well as Short's and Dillon's. Oscar Best Actor nominee Laurence Fishburne (What's Love Got to Do with It) plays the trigger-happy Baines, Jean Reno (Couples Retreat, the Pink Panther series) is muscle man Quinn, Amaury Nolasco (Prison Break, Transformers) plays the prayerful Palmer, and Skeet Ulrich (Scream) plays the weak-willed Dobbs. That's about all we need to know about them anyway. The entire cast just makes for a curious ensemble of B-listers when the movie could've stood well alone with a bunch of unknowns.
The creative impediment this time was the armored truck itself, reminiscent of "Panic Room", "Phone Booth", and, oh yes of course, "Vacancy". I had no expectations of this movie but it surprisingly delivered more than its trailer promised: a satisfactorily stirring thriller.
The Wolfman (2010)
An honest-to-goodness, well-made frightfest
Oscar winner for Best Visual Effects (Raiders of the Lost Ark), director Joe Johnston (Hidalgo, Jumanji) collaborates with writers Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self to bring "The Wolfman" to the big screen.
After an overdose of vampire flicks as of late, bringing back the old world gore of the werewolf is a definite change of pace. Far from the frequent romanticizing of vampire stories, Johnston doesn't skimp on the gore. He doesn't go overboard with the special effects, too, as he delivers the horror and frights that come with exploring the monster.
What Johnston brings to the screen is a Hallmark-worthy tale of Lawrence Talbot, played by Oscar Best Supporting Actor winner Benicio Del Toro (Traffic), who was exiled to America as a child by his father Sir John, played by Oscar Best Actor winner Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs, Amistad). Lawrence returns to his native England upon the request of his brother's distraught fiancée Gwen Conliffe, played by Golden Globe winner Emily Blunt (Gideon's Daughter, The Devil Wears Prada). He embarks on his own quest to help find meaning in the gruesome murder of his brother Ben, but in his investigation, Lawrence is bitten and unwittingly turns into a werewolf.
The trailer pretty much already tells the familiar tale, nothing new is really added to the lore behind the creature, and so what is curious is how such a film attracted three A-list stars. It was a good old Victorian chiller, so it didn't make any misleading promises. An honest-to-goodness, well-made frightfest, nothing more.
Edge of Darkness (2010)
a refreshing break from modern action thrillers
In his first lead role since "Signs" (2002), Oscar winning director Mel Gibson (Braveheart) plays homicide detective Thomas Craven, who looks into the murder of his daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic). He discovers not just her 'classified' life but something bigger: a deadly corporate conspiracy involving the government that engages Jedburgh (played by Ray Winstone of Indiana Jones 4 and Beowulf), a rogue agent tasked to make everything go away.
As Craven embarks on a one-man mission to make sense of his daughter's brutal death, he takes the audience's emotions with him as the story builds up to a tense climax that is sustained through to the end. Novakovic is a haunting beauty, and so is Gabrielle Popa who plays the Young Emma, which helps add to the mystery of Emma's death. It's great that Gibson is given another chance to play a role like this where he can showcase his talent once more. Winstone would've made a great Jedburgh, except that I couldn't understand what he was saying half the time.
Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, The Legend of Zorro) helms the movie based on the popular, critically-acclaimed British TV miniseries "Edge of Darkness" that he also directed in 1985. Without having seen the TV series this move should have helped keep true to the original's tone. The old-school way of telling the story is a refreshing break from modern action thrillers and proves effective for this movie.
Deserves a second glance
Two-time Oscar Best Director winner Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven) adapts for the screen John Carlin's book "Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation" with "Invictus".
In another Oscar nominated role as Nelson Mandela, Oscar Best Supporting Actor winner Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby) portrays the South African President who, in his first term, starts a curious campaign to unify the country torn apart by racism by supporting the mostly white national rugby team to win the 1995 World Cup. Oscar Best Screenplay winner Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting) is also nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar for his role as rugby team captain Francois Pienaar, who becomes Mandela's unlikely partner.
Eastwood tells this story like he's told his other movie gems: deliberately, bordering on overlong. He takes his time to explore each character and he often appeals to great emotion. Mandela is presented as 'a man, not a saint', touching painfully on his separation from his wife and estrangement from his daughter.
It's difficult not to like an underdog plot for a film, especially as a Filipino moviegoer such as myself who immediately latches on to parallelisms with South Africa's poverty and need for a strong leader, how rugby has served as an inspiring metaphor for unity just like our own boxing champ Manny Pacquiao has decreased crime rates whenever a match of his is on.
"Invictus" isn't something the average escapist moviegoer will camp out to see; frankly, it sounds boring. After all, the title is of a poem most highschoolers have had to memorize and so may regard this as a 'required viewing' sort of flick. But whether or not you still remember the lines to the poem that aptly inspired Mandela's 'unconquerable soul', revisit it in context with a glimpse of the actual cell where Mandela stayed for almost 30 years and marvel how despite that experience, he is able to forgive his oppressors, something that is crucial to his goal of unity for his country. (If that still doesn't grab you, at least watch out for Eastwood's son Scott, who delivers the final kicks for the Springboks in their game against New Zealand.)
The Lovely Bones (2009)
Best executed raw. Leave out the CGI, please!
Based on Alice Sebold's bestselling novel, The Lovely Bones is about 14-year old Susie Salmon, played by Oscar Best Supporting Actress nominee Saoirse Ronan (Atonement), who has been killed but isn't ready to go to heaven yet. Instead, she haplessly watches over her father Jack, played by Oscar Best Supporting Actor nominee Mark Wahlberg (The Departed), her mother Abigail, played by Oscar Best Supporting Actress winner Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener), her sister Lindsay (Rose McIver), and her murderer from limbo, where she works out her strong need for revenge and for her family to recover from her death.
Joining the powerhouse cast is Stanley Tucci, who is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the creepy George Harvey, while Oscar Best Actress winner Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking) lends oddly out-of-place comic relief as Grandma Lynn.
It was a surprise that Oscar winning director Peter Jackson (LOTR trilogy, King Kong, District 9) took on this family drama, but it's an unpleasant one (perhaps he's taking a break from his sci-fi films?). No doubt the cast and crew are all talented but I believe he ruined the story with the oppressive, uncalled for CGI. The surreal special effects were unnecessary and did not help the story at all, jarring whatever emotions the characters have tried to evoke from the audience. The story is better told in its raw state. I have not read the critically-acclaimed book but I can imagine how its readers must be cringing from its movie reincarnation. It just didn't feel right.
Valentine's Day (2010)
Hathaway, Dane and Cooper make this movie funny
I have always been leery of stellar cast movies that are usually so thin plot-wise, with the bulk of the budget probably allocated to the salaries of its stars. "Valentine's Day" shamelessly borrows from "Love, Actually", a movie about young and old folks whose love lives intertwine and come together but instead of on Christmas Day, everything happens on Valentine's Day.
Another warning sign that a movie is desperate is when they still tout its director Garry Marshall as the one behind "Pretty Woman"a movie released in 1990when he's directed nine other movies in between.
And yet, I trooped to the theater a day before V Day with a galpal with the secret wish to be proved wrong, because I like some of these stars and I want to see them succeed.
There's careerist Morley Clarkson (Jessica Alba), florist Reed Bennett (Ashton Kutcher)'s girlfriend. Reed divulges his proposal plans to his bestfriend Alphonso (George Lopez), who is lukewarm about it. Reed's bestfriend is grade school teacher Julia Fitzpatrick (Jennifer Garner), who is also not so hot about the grand engagement but is too busy dating the dreamy Dr. Harrison Copeland (Patrick Dempsey) to involve herself.
Meanwhile, sports reporter Kelvin Moore (Jamie Foxx) is forced to do a lifestyle piece on Valentine's Day by his producer Susan (Kathy Bates) and interviews the love struck Reed, as well as high school sweethearts Willy (Taylor Lautner) and Felicia (Taylor Swift). Steamy football star Sean Jackson (Eric Dane) is in a career limbo and tries to set things straight with the help of his public relations agent Kara Monahan (Jessica Biel), who is an emotional wreck after seeing that no one is going to her annual Anti-Valentine's Day party. Office messenger Jason (Topher Grace) just started dating the mysterious new office temp Liz (Anne Hathaway), who is trying to balance working for Paula Thomas (Queen Latifah) and moonlighting as a Naughty Nympho. On a plane ride home are Holden (Bradley Cooper), who tries to get his seatmate Captain Kate Hazeltine (Julia Roberts) to warm up to him by asking her if she has a special guy back home.
There is also kiddie drama in the world of Edison (Bryce Robinson), Ms. Fitzpatrick's student and Reed's customer. Edison's babysitter Grace (Emma Roberts) and her boyfriend Alex (Carter Jenkins) have planned their first time to have sex during their lunch break but not without the likely snag! She confesses her troubles to her grandma Estelle (Shirley MacLaine) and grandpa Edgar (Hector Elizondo), who have their own revelations to deal with despite their 51 years of marriage.
Alas, it all unravels in abominable cheesy fashion, as expected, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. With a cast this big, don't expect time for character development, but it did have its priceless moments (all thanks to Hathaway, Dane and Cooper). I believe it was also because I saw it in a theater full of people who wanted to have a good time. During the gay parts, especially, you could hear shrieks of delight from the gay group sitting up front and that made it funnier.
Tried to be Harry Potter but failed
Based on Rick Riordan's novel, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is about a teen (played by Logan Lerman of 3:10 to Yuma) who discovers he's the son of a Greek god and has been accused of stealing Zeus (Sean Bean)' lightning. Along with his friends Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and Annabeth (The Hottest State's Alexandra Daddario), he sets out on a quest to Hell and back to clear his name and save the world from the wrath of the gods.
Chris Columbus (I Love You Beth Cooper) directs, and while Percy Jackson can be engaging at times (mostly because of the visual effects), the script is inferior to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter 1 & 2, both of which Columbus has helmed movie versions of as well. Similarly, the stepparent is horrible, the lead character realizes his superpowers all of a sudden and has to go away to a place for 'gifted kids', he has a guy and a girl for his sidekicks, they, too, consult a magical map, and they never listen to their elders yet they get away with it since all's well that ends well. There is just not much depth to go around and everyone else feels like a backdrop for what happens next.
So what does the adult moviegoer of a juvenile movie have left to do? Enjoy the bit parts of its strangely stellar supporting cast. There's Oscar nominee Catherine Keener (Capote, Being John Malkovich) who plays Percy's mum Sally; Pierce Brosnan who plays both his professor and Chiron; Oscar nominee Uma Thurman as Medusa; Steve Coogan (Night at the Museum) as Hades; Rosario Dawson (Seven Pounds, Alexander) as Persephone; CSI: NY's Melina Kanakaredes as Athena and many more.
Up in the Air (2009)
a toss-up between keeping lofty dreams and discovering the empty reality
Jason Reitman directs Up in the Air, a story he began writing in 2002 with Sheldon Turner when the US economy was thriving. It was supposed to be his first feature, but he ended up making Thank You for Smoking (2005) and Juno (2007) first. With the onset of the economic recession, the delay in Up in the Air's release became timelier.
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney)'s job has him flying around the country as a professional firer. He enjoys his lack of attachment and even moonlights as a motivational speaker to spread his philosophy of having no baggage, concretized by a convenient pseudo-relationship Ryan has with his lady equivalent, Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga). Despite this, he successfully empathizes with the difficult, emotional turbulence firing people takes; he takes no joy out of this but he does have a secret wish: to rack up 10M frequent flyer miles and attain the ultimate elite card. So when his company takes on young upstart Natalie Keener (Twilight's Anna Kendrick), who proposes a cost-cutting measure by firing people online instead, Ryan has a lot more convincing to do, which could challenge the very core of the philosophy he preaches.
I laud the way the characters are written because they are all complex. Clooney's role is so eerily reflective of how he portrays himself in real-life (being the eternal bachelor) that it isn't a stretch to see him play Ryan. However, his performance also allowed audiences a glimpse of his vulnerable side, which his usually cocky demeanor never shows. While Oscar Best Actress nominee Farmiga did her usual disrobing, the surprise this time is that she used a body double, having just given birth. Performance wise, her muted expressions were the perfect blend for the grand reveal her character delivers near the end. 1998 Tony Best Actress nominee Anna Kendrick was able to hold her own beside the two stars as Natalie; she successfully gets you to admire her, hate her and feel sorry for her all at once.
If the clips of the people reacting to being fired makes you flinch at its rawness, it may be because they were real people who were recently laid off. They were reportedly asked to look at the camera as if it were the person who fired them and reenact what they did, or say what they hoped they had. Juxtaposing that with images of vacant office spaces made the scenes feel real for the audience, an effort that effectively translates genuine emotion on screen.
I would have preferred a different ending, perhaps one that ties everything up neatly, but if the objective is to stay truthful, then life never really turns out to be that simple. We already know that we won't always get what we want, but in the off chance that we do achieve it, it sucks to sometimes realize that it wasn't what we expected; it's a toss-up between keeping lofty dreams and discovering the empty reality.