Saturday, April 30, 2011

Now Playing: Fast Five

It’s been a long time since I stood in line for a movie, but there I was on a Friday Night, averaging about 10 years senior to most of my fellow moviegoers, an hour before the show time… standing in line. I recently (re) watched the entire Fast & Furious franchise and so was excited to see the fifth (and penultimate) instalment, starring most of the original cast. Given the source material, I wasn't disappointed. The franchise has definitely evolved from a car chase aficionado’s wet dream to a more complex international professional carjacking operation, run by a Robin Hood band of Merry Men (and Women). For a mere action movie, this series really does its best to keep continuity and consistency of character in mind when planning elaborate plotlines that sometimes stretch the suspension of disbelief.

In short: it’s good.

Orignals Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster are back along with extended Furious family members including Ludacris, Gal Gadot and, my favourite, Sung Kang. This time, they’re operating out of Brazil, still on the run from the American feds, running out of money and geography. One bad call places them in the sights of a very angry Special Agent (Dwayne Johnson) and necessitates the need for a fast plan and faster cars. Good times ensue.

Should you watch this movie? Not unless you’ve watched the other four, otherwise half the dialogue won’t make sense. I can’t rate the series, but this movie was a solid 4 out of 5 stars. Can’t wait for #6.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Now Playing: Source Code

So, Source Code (Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga).  It was an okay film.  I thought repeating the same eight minutes over and over again would be annoying, but it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  Everything was pretty average, from acting to scripting to movie effects.  I'm going to give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

Spoiler Alert!  No seriously, I can't continue talking about Source Code without talking about the spoilers.  So, if you care about that sort of thing, do not read any further.

Really.

I'm not kidding.

Okay....

Ever watch a show called Quantum Leap?  Well, Source Code is like the movie adaptation of it.  Except it never says that (though, thoughtfully, they allow Scott Bakula a nice voice cameo).  There's even a military connection.  Anyway, plot-wise it was okay until the last minute "twist" of parallel timelines that actually intersect with each other.  See, I totally bought that the Captain goes back to relive the last eight minutes of some guy's life in order to prevent a bombing.  That's what Source Code is - an interactive memory print that allows people to solve a crime but not to alter reality because, by definition, the Code is a memory-print.  Instead, they decided to go the alternate universe route, which only make for a confusing mess.  This "hole" is the only reason i didn't give this movie a 4 out 5 - it actually unravelled itself completely! 

At least they've set themselves up for infinite sequels to get it right.

Now Playing: Hanna

Watched Hanna on Sunday; I hadn't even heard of the movie until I caught  a preview for it on the flight back from Cuba.  Or, perhaps I had, but blocked it as one its "stars" is Eric-Fucking-Bana.  Since i didn't recognise him on the tiny air-plane screen, I just liked it without hating him and thus relegating the movie to the "no" pile. 

On to the movie, which I actually liked, despite EFB's presence.  Possibly because he wasn't in it as much as I'd feared or because Cate Blanchett and Saiorse Ronan's combined awesomeness overpowered his stink or because I really really liked the soundtrack.  Anyway, it was good.  It wasn't great, but it was good.

Plot-wise, it wasn't too bad.  Clearly, this is written to be open-ended, perhaps even franchise-starting.  Great casting in Ronan/Blanchett, who could almost be related (spoiler?  twist?  you'll see...).  The choice to keep things as ambiguous as possible until the very last moment is also a great one - I mean, i had no idea where they were, who they were or even when they were.  Very edgy and suspenseful.

The most vibrant and tense character of this film, however, goes uncredited: the soundtrack.  The Chemical Brothers do for Hanna what the Dust Brothers for Fight Club: make it awesome!  I have already listened to the soundtrack on loop and it's still fantastic. 

So, should you watch it?  Yeah, probably, but don't hurt yourself hurrying.  I think you can even watch this one at home, as I didn't get the sense that it was relying too much on big picture (though the soundscape would benefit from 5.1 setup, for sure.  3 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Now Playing: Sucker Punch

Whoops.  Forgot to review Sucker Punch when I watched it a couple of weeks ago.  That should give you some idea of how excited I am about it.  Given Zack Snyder’s track record, I was absolutely expecting something beautiful.  And perhaps that’s where we should start – with the beautiful parts.  Visually, this movie is stunning.  I really loved the 300-esque feel that the entire movie had – gritty, stylised and vaguely sexy.  (We’ll talk more about the vague parts of this). Everybody and everything has a grimy sheen to it that achieves the amazing dual purposes of looking both appealing and revolting.  Except the girls.  They seem to shine and remain generally untouched by the ugliness surrounding them.  Could this be on purpose?  A commentary of the inherent innocence of these girls being locked up and being mistreated? 

Well, I doubt it.  Apart from the neat progression in time (samurai to medieval to WWI to some undisclosed planet with two moons) which somehow denotes Baby Doll’s evolution as a fighter (I think), and the pretty awesome soundtrack, most of the movie really confused me.  I mean, okay, I understand the brothel (and the subsequent escape from it) as some sort of metaphor for Baby Doll’s escape attempts from the asylum; but what was with the dancing-as-fighting thing?

Which brings me to the stuff I didn’t like – which, sadly, was the rest of it.  It all feels so contrived.  We need a victim escapist fantasy?  Let’s get an evil stepfather to lock our heroine into an asylum.  Need sexy outfits?  Well straitjackets won’t do, so let’s make the escapist fantasy take place in a brothel.  But how, oh, how can we get hookers (sorry, excuse me, dancers) into awesome fight scenes?  Well, we have to make the fighting a metaphor for the dancing (which is a metaphor for the asylum).  And heck, throw in a musical number at the end.

I almost wish I could have just watched this movie in mute and made up my own story. 

Well, so what to rate it?  It was pretty and the fight scenes were great; despite the exploitive feel, even the outfits were awesome.  But, in the end, I’m left unimpressed. I would say rent it, but that may compromise the visual effects; paying full price may compromise your wallet.  Your call.  2.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Cuba

This was my average day in Cuba.

0830: wake up
0900: breakfast (with mimosas)
1000-1130: ocean swim
1130-1300: dry off on a lounger; read a book
1300-1500: lunch (with sangrias)
1500-1600: read/nap (with mojitos)
1600-1700: ocean/pool swim
1700: random activities**
1800-1900: get ready for dinner (fancy dress!)
1900: pre-dinner cocktails in the lobby bar (more mojitos)
1930-2100: dinner
2100-2300: post-dinner cocktails in the lobby bar, listen to the band, plays a few hands of hearts.
2300-2359: read
0000: sleep
**= archery, skeet shooting, catamaran riding, pool-volleyball, salsa/rumba/mambo lessons, etc.

Some nights we went to a show instead of post-dinner cocktails; some nights we went to a disco.  Most nights, I was happy with Blue Hawaiians, Mudslides and Pina Coladas.  The resort was pretty amazing - we felt safe enough to leave our cameras/books/towels on the poolside loungers while we wandered off to the ocean or to lunch.  Clothes were hung to dry on the patio (to take advantage of that morning sun).

We did get into Havana for a day, which was amazing.  It was like stepping into a time warp - old cars, old houses and old architecture.  Except that none of this stuff was museum quality.  People were living in abandoned mansions, squatting in what used to be the Bacardi rum factory and tending goats on the Capitol lawns. 

And the people?  Here's a country that knows what it means to be a service industry.  They are warm, friendly and, somehow, genuine.  They go out of their way to accommodate you and most times will do so for no compensation to them.  Tips, as we were told, are appreciated but it would be impolite for anyone to ask for them.  Our Breakfast/Lunch waitress (whose name I could not pronounce for the life of me) was so sweet.  She found us on our last day (as we were heading back from the lobby bar) and said she wasn't going to be with us for breakfast the next day so she wanted to say goodbye: hugs and kisses all around.

Considering how I usually spend my vacation time, I was really worried that a do-nothing vacation would be boring. It really wasn't.  Between the salty ocean, the random activities, Havana and the food... I was amused.  And, for the first time, rested upon return.  Would I do it again?  Sure!  In deference to my need to see everything, though, I will probably go to Belize next.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

I have been neglecting Book Club reads for the last two months, ashamedly.  Instead, I've been indulging in yet another re-read of the Harry Potter series (which never fails to hook, line and sink me into reading oblivion).  Since I went to Cuba, however, I took with me this month's pick: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

In a neat blend of Victorian and Gothic literary styles (a hated and beloved genre, respectively), The Tale is quite the surprise.  I had expected a Zaf√≥n-esque adventure; I had expected a Brooks-ian love letter to readers.  What I got was a little of both and much more: a romantic mystery, full of plot twists and shocks, that were satisfying and terrifying.  When I read "beneath my fingers, the handle to the third room began to turn of its own accord" (p.133), my breathing went distinctly shallow.  Not since James' "The Turn of the Screw" have I been equally enamoured and petrified by the words I was reading.

I have very little to critique.  The plot is engaging, the characters grotesquely real, the diction compelling.  And yet, if I must find something to criticise, I would say that it is Setterfield's determination to leave no thread unknotted, applying reality and fantasy in equal measure to answer burning question.  Would I have left something out?  Would I have liked some stone to remain unturned and therefore tantalisingly mysterious?  I don't know - we shall have to discuss at Book Club.  Clearly, it is a novel that stays with you, as even I can see echoes of it in my own prose.

Read it!  Especially if you are visiting the Moors!