Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Fighter

Release Date: Dec 17, 2010 
Runtime: 1 hr. 54 min. 
Director: David O. Russell 
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee.
Every year, there comes an inspiring film about a lowly, downtrodden athlete who defeats the odds and rises from the ashes. That being said, it only seems fitting that this year’s prominent winner is aptly titled, “The Fighter.” Mark Wahlberg shines as Mickey Ward, a down-on-his-luck boxer who’s looking to make a name for himself with the help of his experienced, yet problem-riddled brother. Distinguishable amid a talented ensemble cast, Christian Bale gives a tour de force performance as brother, Dicky Eklund, who struggles to balance his love for the sport with his addiction to drugs and violence. Bale’s extraordinary skills as a method actor embody an in depth character study that defines the film, while guaranteeing him an Oscar for his supporting role. Other noteworthy performances include Amy Adams and Melissa Leo, who play the important women in Micky’s life, and ultimately influence his decisions in the ring. In spite of being a boxing movie, however, the fights themselves are rather brief in contrast to the character development. Because of this, the film can be slow and tedious at times while leading up to the final showdown for the Welterweight title. But the terrific acting and directing outweigh the bad, helping "The Fighter" be a win-win situation.
Rating: 4 stars

The Tourist

Release Date: Dec 10, 2010 
Runtime: 1 hr. 43 min. 
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck 
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Steven Berkoff.

Espionage and deceit. Jolie and Depp. What should have been the makings of a great action thriller is, instead, a dull train ride with little to no surprise or suspense. Acting as a remake for the French film, “Anthony Zimmer,” “The Tourist” starts off with intrigue but doesn’t quite find the momentum it needs to build a story worth viewing. Though the two stars seemed destined to be together on screen, the chemistry comes off as halfhearted and expedited, even against the scenic backdrops of Paris and Venice. The sluggish action and flat script further weaken the plot, which unfolds at a snail’s pace and misses the ‘a-ha’ factor when it finally reveals the twist. Predictable in nature and deficient in humor, you’re better off watching its distant counterpart, “Knight and Day.”

Rating: 1½ stars

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Release Date: Dec 10, 2010 
Runtime: 1 hr. 52 min. 
Director: Michael Apted 
Cast: Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Will Poulter, Liam Neeson. 

Having already faced the White Witch and an evil King, the third adventure finds two of our youngest heroes on a quest to find the seven lost Lords of Narnia. Aboard the ship called the ‘Dawn Treader,’ Lucy and Edmund reunite with the newly appointed King, Caspian, as they head towards Dark Island to vanquish the evil green mist that has taken over the land. Whereas sounding more complicated than in actuality, “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” is relatively straightforward, benefiting from liberties taken with the source material. Emitting the darkest tone of the franchise, the film takes itself rather seriously, but visibly lacks the magic that made the previous films so engaging. The ‘Narnians’ are a few a dozen, as they are now replaced by human slaves, thieves and a new nuisance in the form of the Pevensies’ cousin, Eustace. But one thing that remains unchanged is the mighty Aslan, voiced by Liam Neeson, who always appears at the most pertinent of times in the line of defense. While the younger audience will take no notice of this, the underlying spiritual message is quite apparent this time around and it makes no effort in trying to hide itself. Nevertheless, the third installment is visually pleasing, if not somewhat entertaining.

Rating: stars


Release Date: Nov 24, 2010 
Runtime: 1 hr. 32 min. 
Director: Byron Howard, Nathan Greno 
Cast: Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman, Brad Garrett, Jeffrey Tambor.

In what is said to be the last ‘princess’ movie from Disney, comes “Tangled.” A re-imagined story of the classic, Rapunzel, about a girl trapped in an ivory tower with enchanted long hair. Similar to past fairy tales, Disney returns to what it knows best, depicting a strong-willed heroine who falls in love, fights an evil witch and lives happily ever after. But despite sounding formulaic and following a lackluster trailer, “Tangled” manages to surpass expectations and become an instant classic with a contemporary twist. The storytelling, while being whimsical and enchanting, avoids cultural innuendos that usually plague animated features. This, in turn, gives precedence to the memorable characters and beautiful illustrations that make the film so lively. With catchy musical numbers by Mandy Moore and, surprisingly, Zachary Levi, the film brings a reminiscent quality of the early years of Disney, which now seem like a distant memory. If it weren’t for “Toy Story 3” or “How to Train Your Dragon,” this would easily be the best-animated film of the year.

Rating: 4½ stars 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tron: Legacy

Release Date: Dec 17, 2010 
Runtime: 2 hr. 7 min. 
Director: Joseph Kosinski 
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, Michael Sheen, Cillian Murphy.

The Grid. A digital frontier immersed with speeding lights, flying discs and battles to the death. In 1982, “Tron” revolutionized science fiction in film by taking viewers inside the virtual domain of computer programs. Breaking new ground and developing a cult following, it made an impression despite being commercially unsuccessful. Over 20 years later, the sequel is born with the help of greater advancement in technology than ever before. Joseph Kosinski's newly rectified world of "The Grid" is a visual spectacle that dazzles and explodes on screen with every turn. The music, composed by none other than Daft Punk, pumps with electricity and is backed by an impressive 85-piece orchestra, no less. Unfortunately, the excitement ends there as the film's void quickly becomes apparent in terms of character development and dimension. Doe-eyed Olivia Wilde is the only noticeable one to actually humanize her role while many of the other 'programs' appear austere and lifeless. This includes Jeff Bridges' clone, Clu, whose artificial rendering of youth is respectable, yet not fully realistic. What the film lacks in tenor, though, is duly made up by the visual landscape and sensational score; dialogue is almost unrequired against the sights and sounds. While "Tron: Legacy" may not be up to its full potential, the virtual ride is enjoyable beyond the realms of our imagination.

Rating: 3½ stars

Monday, December 6, 2010

Black Swan

Release Date: Dec 03, 2010 
Runtime: 1 hr. 43 min. 
Director: Darren Aronofsky 
Cast: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder. 

Fading the lines between art and film, Darren Aronofsky takes us behind the curtain into the intriguing world of ballet in his latest psychological thriller. “Black Swan” tells the story of a ballet dancer named Nina, whose need for perfection consumes her inwardly and outwardly as she prepares for the role of a lifetime. Natalie Portman, as the troubled and soft-spoken dancer, gives a compelling performance that is reasonably her greatest yet, and no doubt Oscar-worthy. As she faces mounting pressure from both her overbearing mother and cunning instructor, played brilliantly by Barbara Hershey and Vincent Cassel respectively, her emotional turmoil and paranoia begin to manifest and mirror itself within. Acting as stark contrast to Nina's 'White Swan' is her rival Lily (Mila Kunis), who embodies all the wrong ideals and attitude that Portman's character lacks. It is this rivalry that ultimately drives Nina to lose all inhibition and transform into the alter-ego of the 'Black Swan.' As a modernist’s re-envisioning of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” the film is darkly entrancing, as it is haunting. It takes time for everything to sink in for you to really appreciate the gravity of the experience. Aronofsky is never one to adhere to genres and it’s clearly shown as the film sways between fantasy and horror. Often times campy, and sometimes self-inflicting, "Black Swan" explores underlying themes of sexual tension and inner demons. The macabre imagery can be difficult to watch at times, but it helps personify the anxiety that the main character is feeling. The choreography is beautifully constructed to impress and terrify, but it's the final act that really captures the true essence of the metamorphosis. With Portman's mesmerizing performance and natural dancing abilities, it would be disappointing to see her not win the top prize.

Rating: 4½ stars