Monday, October 31, 2011

In Time

Release Date: Oct 28, 2011 
Runtime: 1 hr. 55 min. 
Director: Andrew Niccol 
Cast: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Vincent Kartheiser, Olivia Wilde.

If you had a chance at immortality, would you steal it? That's the quandary posed in Andrew Niccol's dystopian thriller, where the rich can live forever and the poor die young. In a Marxist future, 'time' has become the standard currency, with life hanging in the balance a year after the age of 25. When factory worker, Will Salas, is wrongly accused of murder, it's up to him to clear his name and fight the system that controls existence, before his clock inevitably runs out. In his first action role, Justin Timberlake is mediocre at best, attempting to make the most out of a flawed character and script. While the concept is fascinating on an intuitive level, various plot holes make the world in which Niccol envisions to be haphazard, resulting in an half-baked idea that never really coalesces. How did some people gain all that time? And why does it transfer so easily? Additionally, the reality of having everyone age the same way causes the roles to become oddly skewed. For instance, Olivia Wilde as Timberlake's mother is much harder to believe than Kartheiser's portrayal as Seyfried's father. This leads to the interesting notion of how difficult it is to judge a person's age mainly by appearance alone. Though "In Time" seems underdeveloped for an impending future, the moral is clear from the get-go, and ever relevant to our ongoing situation. Greed remains the same, no matter the form.

Rating: 2½ stars

Puss in Boots

Release Date: Oct 28, 2011 RealD 3D 
Runtime: 1 hr. 30 min. 
Director: Chris Miller 
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris.

Before there was an ogre who saved a princess, there was an outlaw by the name of "Puss in Boots," and this is his tale. Acting as a spin-off and prequel, the story takes place before the adventures of "Shrek," where we find Puss on a quest to find the mythical magic beans that lead to the golden goose. Along the way he meets his match in the equally conniving Kitty Softpaws, opposition from the evil duo Jack and Jill, as well as a blast from the past. Call it feline attraction because Puss and Kitty have real onscreen chemistry (can animated cats have that?) thanks to their lead voice actors, Banderas and Hayek. Given that Banderas has had three films prior to mastering the character, his vocal talent really shines through on this solo venture where he takes the reigns. His suave performance is comically intoned, even without the help of a giant ogre and talking donkey. But they do become sorely missed when it comes to Puss's new companions, especially Humpty Dumpty, played by the often cartoonish Galifianakis. Aside from his outlandish behavior and bi-polar attitude, there's just something eerie about seeing a human face plastered on an over-sized egg. But despite the long overhaul of the past two "Shrek" sequels, the story itself is surprisingly refreshing now that culture innuendos are replaced by dashing sword fights and kitty dance-offs. Perhaps it's the choice of character, but "Puss in Boots" seems more kid-friendly than adult when it comes to its underlying jokes. Either way, this hero is here to stay. At least for another sequel.

Rating: 3½ stars

Monday, October 24, 2011

Paranormal Activity 3

Release Date: Oct 21, 2011 
Runtime: 1 hr. 24 min.
Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Cast: Katie Featherston, Sprague Grayden.

If you've seen them once, you've seem them all, and the third installment of Orlin Peli's break-out hit, "Paranormal Activity," proves just that. Continuing on its course of reverse storytelling, the second prequel returns to its origins where the terror all began. By way of childhood videos, we learn the past of cursed sisters, Katie and Kristi, as they grow up living in fear. But whereas the previous two films instilled an unsettling impression, part three leaves little to the imagination, and suffers from the unavoidable case of déjà vu. Joost and Schulman stick close to the set formula, drawing out heavy silences followed by jumpy scenes and shadowy figures. And for the most part, it works, since children scare far easier than adults. However, the sense of surprise is no longer applicable when it's obvious as to what's going to occur next. As time goes on, the scares get more expected and conspicuous than before, making this outing a rather tiresome one. The ending twist, sequentially, feels out of place when coinciding with its prior narrative. While Peli may have inadvertently conjured up this found-footage franchise, one can hope that this 'activity' is now over.

Rating: 2½ stars

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Three Musketeers

Release Date: Oct 21, 2011 RealD 3D 
Runtime: 1 hr. 42 min. 
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson 
Cast: Logan Lerman, Milla Jovovich, Matthew MacFadyen, Ray Stevenson, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Christoph Waltz, Juno Temple.

Another year, another remake. For what is surely the most heavily-adapted [and tiresome] tale ever to be written comes the current edition by Paul W.S. Anderson. With a brand new cast and 3-D innovation, "The Three Musketeers" looks to undergo a modern makeover fit for the 21st century. But face lifts and stylish upgrades are inadequate to make this any different from its past predecessors, let alone the floundering franchise known as "Pirates of the Caribbean." Out of the reputable Musketeers, Logan Lerman is probably the most recognizable ("Percy Jackson"), as he steps into the prominent role of young D'Artagnan. His cocky mannerism is justifiably delivered through teenage charm and wit; but his physical presence isn't enough to outshine a picture meant for visual thrills and kicks. Interestingly enough, Milla Jovovich takes center stage as the villainous spy, Milady, contrary to the title of the film. Anderson seems to still be living in his "Resident Evil" days as his priorities fall undividedly onto seeing his muse in action, whether it be versus the undead or swashbuckling foes. Moreover, Orlando Bloom as the corrupt Duke of Buckingham appears tawdry, for lack of better words, and bares resemblance to a certain captain named Jack. Nonetheless, "Musketeers" is less about the characters than about the spectacles. The full volume of sword fights and flying contraptions are enough to make your head spin, but maybe that's what's needed to erase this from memory. All for one and none for all.

Rating: 1 star


Release Date: Sep 23, 2011 
Runtime: 2 hr. 6 min. 
Director: Bennett Miller 
Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt.

There are many types of hitters in baseball. Contact hitters who rarely strike out. Slap hitters who simply get by. And complete hitters who go for that extra mile. Then there are power hitters who go for it all, as in the story of a man who took a chance and defied the rules of the game. "Moneyball" is based on the true story of Oakland A's general manager, Billy Beane, who found the value of statistics in a team unfit to win. With the help of Yale graduate, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), he did what no one believed he could, and conceived a lineup that would go on to make American League history. Like a true craftsman, Pitt gets better with age, demonstrating his passion for a role that took years to bring to fruition. His worn-out character study is the sole basis for the film, as well as Oscar potential for Best Actor, and oftentimes overshadows everything else around him. That includes the sport itself, where only snippets of actual play are shown through archived footage and sound. This makes for an intriguing premise where the actors showcase their abilities off the field, instead of acting the part of professional athlete. As a result, when the time comes to show the final game, it makes it that much more invigorating to watch, and the energy is palpable. For those who are a fan of the sport, "Moneyball" is a reminder that all great things come at a cost, and that anything is possible with the right mindset. But for those of us who are novices, it's a look at a past-time that is more than just over-priced tickets and slow innings. It's about the players who are undervalued, and the work it takes to get noticed in a game of greed and money. Granted, if you weren't a fan of the sport before, chances are you may be curious after seeing it.

Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Real Steel

Release Date: Oct 07, 2011 
Runtime: 2 hr. 7 min. 
Director: Shawn Levy 
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Anthony Mackie, Evangeline Lilly, Kevin Durand.

Childhood fantasies get as 'real' as they come in the latest film to tackle life-sized robots with combative attitude. Hugh Jackman stars as Charlie Kenton, an obsolete boxer who resorts to illegal bot fights in order to pay off loans. Unlucky in winnings and afflicted by debt, he's left with nothing to lose when his son suddenly returns in to his life due to unforeseen circumstances. As they attempt to rebuild their frayed relationship, they discover a talent in a sparring bot named Atom, and the makings of a true underdog is born. In a role reversal of sorts, Dakota Goyo excels as the wise-crack son, Max, who acts older than he appears. His handling of words and acting abilities lay the groundwork for the father-son storyline that verges on being conventional, but in return adds emotional depth and value. While it isn't the most inspired of screenplays, "Real Steel" certainly packs a punch when it comes to the entertainment factor, and the action is where the film thrives at its best. With crushing metal and grinding gears, the robots move swiftly and deftly like any real fighter, which can be credible to the scenes' adviser: none other than boxing legend, Sugar Ray Leonard. But Levy works with what he has—great CGI and a strong lead—to provide us with an action flick worthy of any match, even if by split decision.

Rating: 3 stars

Dream House

Release Date: Sep 30, 2011 
Runtime: 1 hr. 31 min. 
Director: Jim Sheridan 
Cast: Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz, Elias Koteas, Marton Csokas.
You can't always judge a book by its cover; and lesson learned here, you can't with a trailer, as well. From Academy Award nominated director Jim Sheridan, "Dream House" tells the story of a family who moves into a house, only to find that not all is what it seems. And if the plot doesn't already sound formulaic enough, the marketing ploy fairs no better. Regardless of its creepy poster and horror angle, the film is anything but that, and disappoints even before it begins. Having revealed the twist in the trailer, the rest of the story is far from compelling, and is devoid of any scares that would make this remotely a thriller. This isn't for lack of trying by its cast of stars. Daniel Craig plays the troubled victim well, with his blue-steel gaze and hardened exterior. But such a film seems unwarranted to be needing such big-named actors when they don't contribute much to the story. Naomi Watts and Rachel Weisz are easily forgettable if it weren't for their names displayed prominently across the placard. And Sheridan himself seems less than convinced if he's currently bidding to have his name removed entirely. With a film begrudgingly titled "Dream House," it's rightly in need of some refurbishing.

Rating: 1 star