Friday, October 15, 2010

At The Movies (VI)

movie reviews

Hollywood walks down familiar paths with stories of self-destruction, friendship, war, and zombies

How To Train Your Dragon
Voice cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, America Ferrera, and Craig Ferguson
Directors: Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois
The sweet tale of an unlikely friendship, How To Train Your Dragon follows the story of a young Viking named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) who hopes to please his father (Gerard Butler) by becoming a dragon slayer, only to realize, after finally bringing down one of the most dangerous and elusive dragons in existence, that things aren’t how they should be. A cross between E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Lilo & Stitch, How To Train Your Dragon follows the same road that many have gone down before, but it does so in a delightful way. Based loosely on English children’s author Cressida Cowell’s novel How To Train Your Dragon, the action packed fantasy possesses characters that are endearing and encapsulates a bright message; sure there are parts of it that are clichéd, but on the whole it’s charm lies in its simplicity. Plus the animation is stunning and it isn’t hard to imagine that the film – especially the overhead shots of the realm of the Vikings and dragons – would’ve looked stunning on the big screen and in 3D. So while it follows a predictable story arc, the film works because of it’s simple charm and makes for an enjoyable watch.

Crazy Heart
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Beth Grant, and Jack Nation
Director: Scott Cooper
Following a drearily hackneyed storyline, Crazy Heart chronicles the tale of a washed up, self-destructive country singer (Jeff Bridges) who meets a smart and charming woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who inspires him to rebuild his life. After trotting down an obvious narrative path, the film comes off as a superficial version of many films that have come before it – including its most recent counterpart, the vastly superior The Wrestler – recycling the same plot sans all the authenticity and charm, and eventually leading to an ending that is less than convincing. That said, some of the songs in the film (especially Fallin' & Flyin') are quite good, but as far as the film itself stands, there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before. It isn’t abysmal; it’s all just too corny. Over-hyped and extremely overrated.

Green Zone
Starring: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs, and Khalid Abdalla
Director: Paul Greengrass
A fictional story inspired by Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s non-fiction book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Green Zone tells the story of an army warrant officer (Matt Damon) who is on a quest to find the elusive Weapons of Mass Destruction that were used as a pretext for the 2003 Iraq invasion, and becomes increasingly sceptical of the intelligence reports after repeated attempts fail to uncover any WMDs. Off he goes into conspiracy theory land, and you can easily guess the truth he will eventually stumble upon; not only do you know where the film is going, but unfortunately none of it seems even close to authentic. The movie relies on a highly predictable plot suffering from oversimplification of a complicated issue told through characters we never really get to know, and is, overall, a thriller that is disappointingly short on thrill.

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs
Voice cast: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Neil Patrick Harris, James Caan, Bruce Campbell, Andy Samberg, Mr. T, Bobb’e J. Thompson, Benjamin Bratt, Al Roker, Lauren Graham, and Will Forte
Directors: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
When endearingly clumsy inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) discovers a way to turn water into food and invents the Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator (or the FLDSMDFR for short), it is safe to assume that trouble can’t be far behind. Sure enough, things do go wrong, leaving him to make amends, along with the help of geeky weathergirl (and the object of his affection) Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), Sam’s cameraman Manny (Benjamin Bratt), the local hero ‘Baby’ Brent (Andy Samberg), and Flint’s pet monkey Steve (Neil Patrick Harris). Inspired by the children’s book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett, the film is an imaginative blend of humour and morality, and even if you figure out where the story is heading, it still remains delightful as the events unfold. And it is powered by an awesome voice cast who make the characters come to life and brilliantly complement this unique comedy. On the whole, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs is an amusing 81-minute long fun-filled adventure, likely to be enjoyed by viewers of all ages.

Kick Ass
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Nicolas Cage, and Mark Strong
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Based on the comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr., Kick Ass is the story of a comic book obsessed teenager who decides to become a super hero (which doesn’t go too well), while an 11 year old girl Mindy Macready (Chloe Grace Moretz) adopts the persona of Hit Girl, and along with her father, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), sets out to take revenge from a crime boss (Mark Strong). In equal parts a parody of the genre and possibly one of its finest specimen, Kick Ass both embraces and satirises the comic book/superhero idea. It is hilarious and action-packed, although the violence and profanity therein is more than likely to be a huge turnoff for many and will ensure polarizing opinions from its viewers. My only gripe with the film, though, is that it starts off as the story of Kick Ass and turns into the story of Hit Girl, and while Hit Girl does steal the show (which is awesome because it makes the film fun), at the same time this makes one wish that the film had focused more of Kick Ass and his superhero-without-superpowers antics in this instalment and saved more of Hit Girl’s story for the sequel; yes, it probably wouldn’t have generated the same interest that this film did – which is why I’m sure many people would’ve preferred even more of Hit Girl in the movie – but I think the current film changes direction midway and it might’ve been fun to see it continue along the initial storyline; but that’s just my two cents. On the whole Kick Ass is an enjoyable dark comedy, but it certainly isn’t for everyone.

Youth In Revolt
Starring: Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart, Mary Kay Place, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Long, Ray Liotta, and Steve Buscemi
Director: Miguel Arteta
Youth In Revolt, an absurdist coming of age tale adapted from C.D. Payne’s book series, narrates the misadventures of Nick Twisp (the increasingly typecast Michael Cera), who lives with his divorced mother (Jean Smart) and her succession of boyfriends, meets the charming Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), and then, with the help of his alter ego Francois Dillinger, proceeds to wreck havoc as he lives his vow of doing whatever it takes to be with her. The result is more pretentious than it is profound, as the film lacks the depth it wished it had, and tries too hard to be more artistic than it really is. The story is familiar, the humour doesn’t do more than deliver a few feeble laughs, and the cast has not been used to their full potential. My friend who recommended this film to me, however, maintains that he really enjoyed it, so maybe it’s just that I didn’t resonate with the protagonist…and thank heavens for that!

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin
Director: Ruben Fleischer
After the world is taken over by zombies, a group fights for survival in Zombieland, probably the best (or at least the most prominent) horror/zombie comedy since Shaun of the Dead (2004). With an impressive performance by the cast, especially Woody Harrelson, Zombieland is filled with humour, action, and quite a bit of gore, and is a captivating ride from start to finish. Sure there’s nothing profound about the movie and it isn’t aiming to change the world, and yes it doesn’t cover some groundbreaking new territory, but it is quite funny, and very likely to entertain its viewers.

- By Sameen Amer

Ink Magazine - Oct-Dec, 2010

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