Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sucker Punch

Movie name: Sucker Punch
Year of release: 2011
Director: Zack Snyder
Stars: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac, Jon Hamm, Scott Glenn, Richard Cetrone, Gerard Plunkett
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3

Synopsis:Zack Snyder is a director who has had a consistent output of films since his debut in 2004 with the remake of George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead". He followed that film with the successful "300" who allowed him to tackle "Watchmen" and last year's animated tale "Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole". If his films thus far have been met with different levels of success, both critical and of audience, one thing remains undisputed: his visual flair and visual detail are impressive and effective. The major flaw that somehow is also the common thread to all his films seems to always be the same: the screenplays are usually thin as far as character development is concerned.
"Sucker Punch" follows the story of Baby Doll. After the death of her mother, the young woman is left by herself with her younger sister. Both of them are left at the mercy of a monstrous stepfather, who tries to abuse the younger girl, upon which Baby Doll attacks back and is placed against her will in an asylum for mental patients, where she is going to be lobotomized. Before that procedure takes place, Baby Doll has a week to devise a getaway plan. She enlists the help of other young women who are also patients in the asylum. Escaping from the grim reality through her imagination, the young women slowly but steadily try to achieve their goal.
Zack Snyder with "Sucker Punch" tries his hand at writing an original story - one that is about female empowerment and the capability to find your own voice even in the harshest environments. The main problem with this story is how little his main characters are developed. You never understand where they come from, why they are in the asylum, not to mention characters who seem to exist without any purpose besides giving away plot points. To anchor the story in the domain of one's mind is no easy feat - Christopher Nolan did achieve it with "Inception" - but Zach Snyder seems to have forgotten that in order for the viewer to get invested in what's happening, there has to be more than beautiful visuals: there has to be a soul.
The film has a certain depth mostly thanks to Abbie Cornish's performance and character, who seems to be the only one who is trying to give her character some more dimension besides the cliches that seem to populate the story. Visually the film is impressive and beautiful - the cinematography of Larry Fong is stunning and the soundtrack is well chosen. A mixed experience, this is a film that would largely benefit from a far more developed screenplay.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

Movie name: Battle: Los Angeles
Year of release: 2011
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Stars: Aaron Eckart, Michelle Rodriguez, Cory Hardrict, Gino Anthony Pesi, Ne-Yo, Bridget Moynahan, James Hiroyuki Liao, Michael Pena
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3

Synopsis:Jonathan Liebesman's career started in his native country of South Africa and afterwards his career moved rapidly within the ranks of Hollywood. He has directed poorly received films such as "Darkness Falls" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning", but films who managed to make some decent money at the box office. "Battle: LA" follows the story of Sergeant Michael Nantz and his platoon, who tackle the invasion of LA and Earth from an alien invasion. The aliens have invaded the planet for water and though humans fight back, their resources are fewer and the technology of their opponents is far more advanced. Sergeant's Nantz platoon however finds a way to expose their weaknesses and the humans counter-attack.
"Battle: LA" tries to be several films combined at the same time. Jonathan Liebesman joins elements of Roland Emmerich's "Independence Day", with Kathryn Bigelow's "Hurt Locker" and Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down", but this mesh comes across as something that is filled with cliches that have been seen in countless other films. While Neill Blomkamp's "District 9" was original in the depiction of an alien invasion/existence, "Battle: LA" exists solely with the purpose of displaying paper thin characters handling guns. Aaron Eckart tries to create a strong character with his portrayal of Sergeant Nantz, a man with a past, carrying a huge burden, but his efforts are not enough, for a film that is ultimately underwhelming. The special effects, usually the draw for films of this kind, also feel under produced. A sadly missed opportunity.

The Adjustment Bureau

Movie name: The Adjustment Bureau
Year of release: 2010
Director: George Nolfi
Stars: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, Michael Kelly, Terence Stamp, John Slattery, Jennifer Ehle, Brian Haley, David Alan Basche, Anthony Ruivivar
Genre: Romance, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:George Nolfi's directorial debut, adapts a story from Philip K. Dick, the science fiction author, whose work has been adapted to films like Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner", Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" and Paul Verhoeven's "Total Recall" to name but a few. George Nolfi has made a name for himself as a writer, having written films as Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's Twelve" and Paul Greengrass' "The Bourne Ultimatum". "The Adjustment Bureau" follows the story of David Norris, a young congressman who casually meets a woman by the name of Elise. Upon their encounter both of them fall in love, which causes for a strange group of men to appear before David and tell him that their relationship is not to happen. These men, their bureau, controls the fate of men, and the relationship of David and Elise is against their designs. David decides against everything and all odds and goes after Elise.
George Nolfi's debut feature is an elegant film, one where the thriller elements are downsized for the romance that flourishes between the two main characters. David's quest for his true love, goes against everything, against a fate that is established. As in most Philip K. Dick's stories, the lone hero is a voice of antagonism in a world dominated by a larger establishment. George Nolfi's direction is a classic one, elegant and reminiscent of films like Stanley Donen's "Charade". Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are great in their roles, with a visible chemistry that makes the story utterly convincing. The soundtrack from Thomas Newman is beautiful as usual, as is the cinematography of John Toll. A great debut feature.


Movie name: Rango
Year of release: 2011
Director: Gore Verbinski
Stars: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Stephen Root, Harry Dean Stanton, Timothy Olyphant, Ray Winstone, Ian Abercrombie
Genre: Comedy, Animation
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:Gore Verbinski has made a name for himself with two largely successful franchises, "The Ring" and "The Pirates of the Caribbean". Following the disappointing "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End", "Rango" is a return to form, in a film that is fantastically well animated and that is a visual stunning experience.
The film follows the story of a domesticated chameleon, who due to an accident, finds himself lost in the middle of the Mojave desert. Rango, as he calls himself, finds a small town called Dirt, where all the creatures living there, are desperate for water. The mayor of the city, controls the city through water rations, but ultimately has other plans for it. Rango showing up and becoming the city's law, changes everything.
The film follows the traditional western genre, clearly utilizing the pattern of the Sergio Leone films with Clint Eastwood: the stranger without a name that comes to town to establish law. The film is also an ode to friendship and overcoming one's self doubts, something that is traditional in Disney films, but here is presented in the western context. The animation from Industrial Light and Magic is stunning, with the details of all the textures simply breathless. All the voices are fantastic, but Johnny Depp clearly relishes his role as Rango and imbues it with a lot of humor. This film is stunning in it's design, storytelling and animation. A gem!