Drama, Reviews

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Copyright © 2012 by Summit Entertainment

Story
Charlie Kelmeckis (Logan Lerman) has just lost his only friend from committing suicide a year ago and is jittery about commencing his freshman year in high school. He is the aforementioned wallflower and has difficulty connecting with his peers. The only bond he has initially is with his English teacher, Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd). He eventually befriends with two seniors, Sam (Emma Watson) and her stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller) who help him overcome his introverted nature to live and enjoy the remnants of his teenage life with no regrets.

Review
After the end of Harry Potter’s reign in the box office, many have wondered where our trio of wizards and witch would head next for their upcoming project. Daniel Radcliffe as Harry himself went on to headline ‘The Woman in Black’, a huge hit in the horror genre whereas Rupert Grint, who played Ron Weasley opted for more indie fare. And which route did our beautiful Hermione Granger take to further cement her acting career in Hollywood? By taking on another bestseller, of course!

Touted as a potential Oscar nominee with many speculating that Watson would get her first acting nomination, it was ultimately shut out from the race in all competing categories although it did receive a warmer reception from the critics’ film awards. She continues her winning streak here of effectively blending critical and commercial success in her ever expanding repertoire. While the drama did recoup the budget spent, it is quite a shame that Stephen Chbosky’s literary effort (he adapted and directed this feature as well) did not reach audiences from beyond the book.

‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ could have been overly melodramatic and sentimental but in the author’s sure-handed direction, what we get is a realistic depiction of the growing pains that all teenagers face and how the power of friendship triumphs over anything else. The direction may be subtle but Chbosky hits us head on with weighty issues i.e. teen violence, homosexuality, child molestation and the toll it takes on one’s state of mind. They are not watered down or hastily sidelined to adhere to more mainstream sensibilities. The solemn tone is beautifully complemented with Chbosky’s flair for playfulness, thus creating an entertaining coming-of-age tale that never lets up until its final disturbing twist is revealed.

Each harrowing and light-hearted moments are brought to perfection by the flawless cast. As what you would expect from Watson, she delivers a class act that continues to showcase her growth as an artiste. She rightfully shares the credit with her co-star Miller as the flamboyant and charismatic Patrick. Together, this dynamic duo’s stance on the unorthodox is an inspiration to many who have always been too bound by the rules of conformity. With such sturdy performances, how does our third musketeer hold up against his counterparts? After a rather rocky start to his previous big screen appearance, Lerman’s depiction as your regular shy guy is immaculate and he instantly brings a likeable charm to his very suppressed and wounded character.

As it is a character-driven piece, even the supporting cast turn in compelling performances with deserved recognition from Nina Dobrev as Candace Kelmeckis, Charlie’s sister, Mae Whitman who is the over-bearing Mary Elizabeth, Joan Cusack playing a brief but pivotal role of Dr. Burton and Rudd as Charlie’s kindly English teacher. The understated realism of how these events unfold may echo Charlie’s mannerism but just like him, the movie’s observation on typical adolescent problems are seen through a fresh and intelligent perspective, joining fellow alumni that include Juno, Easy A, Mean Girls, Adventureland and 90s classic, My Girl.

Rating
Entirety: A
Acting: A
Plot: A

Rated PG-13 on appeal for mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content including references, and a fight – all involving teens

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Fantasy, Reviews

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson

Copyright © 2010 by 20th Century Fox

Story
Based on a series of books by Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief introduces audiences to Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), the titular character who seems to be dyslexic and has the ability to be underwater for a substantial amount of time. It is later revealed that he is a demigod, son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), Lord of the Sea. When he is accused of stealing Zeus’ (Sean Bean) lightning bolt, he becomes a target of Hades (Steve Coogan), brother to Zeus and Poseidon, wanting the bolt for himself to wage war against his brothers who made him keeper of the Underworld as punishment for prior wrongdoings. Thinking that Percy has the bolt, Hades holds his mother, Sally (Catherine Keener) hostage but he is unfazed by this ordeal and along with his best friend, Grover Underwood (Brandon T. Jackson) and rival turned ally, Annabeth Chase (Alexandra Daddario), they orchestrate a daring rescue mission to free Sally from the Underworld.

Review
During its release, the only thing making waves for ‘The Lightning Thief’ was the constant comparison that it was another ‘Harry Potter’ wannabe but devoid of all the awe, charm and fun that made the bespectacled wizard’s adventures the most successful series as of now. In its defence, Percy Jackson is based on a series of bestselling books combining the modern day era with Greek mythology interwoven seamlessly into new and original stories. It is pretty unfair to be so critical when the main differences outweigh some of the similarities shared by both of these boy wonders.

Sure Harry and Percy don’t fit in well with the in-crowd, discover they are more than meets the eye and are privileged enough to be in magical learning institutions where they are frequently aided by two loyal friends in all their otherworldly quests bestowed upon them. But the latter is also a half-god and son of one of the Big Three in Mount Olympus. The potential for compelling Greek tales given a fresh twist is limitless. And in his film debut, we are introduced to many classic characters revisited in a more contemporary context.

Even though Percy’s age has been revised for an older skewing crowd (and a few other tweaks from the book), retaining the idea that Percy is dyslexic provides a medical angle rarely seen in films of this sort. Viewers are briefly notified to the issues faced if such a condition is not detected early, can prove to be a challenging road ahead in the later stages for development in learning. Nevertheless, such disability can transpire as one’s strength instead and be used to combat evil.

It turns out that Percy’s dyslexia manifested from his Grecian lineage and he can interpret Greek very fluently. The message is reinforced in his best friend, Grover and Latin teacher, Mr. Brunner (Pierce Brosnan) whom appear to be disabled but are in fact his mythical protectors. Grover, played to impeccable comic timing by Jackson is a satyr charged in guarding Percy’s wellbeing while Mr. Brunner / Chiron, a centaur leads all training in Camp Half-Blood, a facility for demigod children to nurture their extraordinary gifts, which Percy joins after an incident with a Fury during a school trip to the local museum. The film does fall into conventional terrain for a bit, but picks up the pace when the three friends leave the camp for the Underworld.

After encountering Medusa (played to perfection by Uma Thurman) at an old garden centre to retrieve the first pearl (there are another two the trio are required to obtain which culminate to a very exciting showdown with Hades), the story’s irregularities are improved considerably with well-timed action pieces and pop references sprinkled throughout the remaining of the film. One does wonder on the children’s arithmetic skills though. If the mission is to rescue Sally from the Underworld and each pearl can only transport a single living person out of Hades’ domain, shouldn’t they be searching for a forth one?

Aside from this goof (or is it?), it is no biggie if you have the King of Mount Olympus on your side. In fact, it is quite a shame that many of his allies and foes alike do not get more than just mere minutes of screen time as there are numerous performances that deserved mention. Other than Thurman’s wickedly delightful screen persona, Coogan and Rosario Dawson are certainly having a ball as the Underworld lord and his long suffering wife, Persephone. Their interactions remind us of a bickering married couple who have lost the spark to love. Equally memorable depictions of Percy’s parents are fully realised by McKidd, Keener and Joe Pantoliano who plays the stepfather.

How does fairly newcomer Lerman hold up against these seasoned but underrated thespians? Let’s just say, he gets to showcase more dramatic depth in another teen angst movie based on a widely read book by a certain Stephen Chbosky. Nonetheless, it is still a good effort. It also sums up Percy’s leap to the big screen. The presentation from Chris Columbus is uneven but the parts that do stand out indicate there is hope for Poseidon’s progeny to create bigger tidal waves in his next Greek voyage.

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: B+
Plot: B+

Rated PG for action violence and peril, some scary images and suggestive material, and mild language

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Reviews, Science Fiction

Elysium

Elysium

Copyright © 2013 by TriStar Pictures

Story
Max Da Costa (Matt Damon), an orphan who lives on over populated and polluted Earth desires to one day be privileged enough to reside on a luxurious space station known as Elysium where the citizens there live in comfort, safety and disease free. Now, a parolee from his former days as a car thief, he works at an assembly line in one of the robotics factories of Armadyne Corp., the company that supplies all of Elysium’s basic needs. After suffering from a high dose of radiation during a work related accident, he is unfairly dismissed by the manufacturer’s CEO, John Carlyle (William Fichtner). With only five days left to live, he concocts a plan with notorious smuggler and hacker Spider (Wagner Moura) in exchange for a trip up to Elysium to cure himself with the medical devices called the Med-Bays.

Review
After the huge critical and commercial success of his sleeper hit, District 9, expectations for Neill Blomkamp’s next venture has gone through the roof. With a bigger budget allocated (still average by today’s standards), the finished product is slicker and grander in scope. Attracting two Oscar winners to round up the cast’s eclectic mix help in conveying this politically charged sci-fi actioner. It is interesting to note that Damon was not Blomkamp’s first or even second choice to play the male lead (rapper Eminem had been offered previously but could not agree to the filming location) as I thought he slipped into his role so effortlessly. To look the part, he even employed an intensive workout regimen of four hours a day.

Already a veteran for appearing in some of the best action-oriented movies of our time i.e. ‘The Bourne’ trilogy, ‘The Departed and ‘Saving Private Ryan’, Damon’s cool and charming disposition is in fine form here, bringing an immediate likeability to his wise-cracking screen persona reminiscent of his character in ‘The Adjustment Bureau’. He transitions from being your regular Joe to full fledge messiah with believability via his subtle nuances. The sacrifice he makes at the end is heartbreaking but necessary. While Damon downplays his character’s significance, his co-stars, on the other hand, Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley relish every minute of their time playing menacing and deranged with such aplomb.

Foster, still luminous as ever shines in her slightly under developed role as Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt. Her decisions are questionable and extreme methods do not go well with the members of the Cabinet. It could be a deliberate attempt to simply mold her as a heartless and conniving baddie but if more exposition had been included, she would have even made Meryl Streep’s steely Margaret Thatcher pale in comparison to her ruthlessness. In Copley’s case, he continues to surprise with his choice selection. He has progressed from being the accidental hero to unpredictable teammate and now, an all-out psychopath. Being the show’s scene stealer, he is not constrained to restrain but is still able to retain a certain degree of normalcy.

The underlying theme in Blomkamp’s sophomore effort is still very much similar to his first. His fascination with human rights and equality are the driving forces to the film’s central plot. Because of the differences in stature, the wealthy get to live forever and the poor unfortunately do not get to reap the same benefits. With such realism permeating in the movie’s every pore, it is no wonder that Blomkamp still opted to go for hand-held shots in the action sequences. While it is an artistic choice, I do hope he will experiment with other styles in future. Aside from some minor nitpicking, ‘Elysium’ is yet another intelligent piece of filmmaking. It may not scale the heights of his other masterpiece but its topicality will provide with lots of food for thought long after the credits have rolled.

Rating
Entirety: A-
Acting: A
Plot: A

Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout

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Reviews, Science Fiction

District 9

District 9

Copyright © 2009 by TriStar Pictures 

Story
An alien vessel arrives in 1982 and hovers directly above Johannesburg in South Africa with many alien life forms found in the ship malnourished and sickly. The creatures which are lowly regarded as ‘prawns’, are kept under surveillance in a government camp in the outskirts of Johannesburg known as District 9. Due to the aliens’ unknown origins, the residents of District 9 become increasingly uncomfortable with their presence and the government subsequently employs a private military company called the Multinational United (MNU) to move the aliens to a another confinement camp away from the locals. Leading the operation is Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), an Afrikaner bureaucrat who is infected with alien technology while raiding of one of the alien’s quarters. As the infection worsens, he is forced to ally with the very same alien, Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope) who found the technology to help him reverse the mutation.

Review
I did not know what to expect from this directorial debut of Neill Blomkamp other than a wave of excellent reviews from professional critics and movie audiences alike and frequent advertisement highlighting ‘Peter Jackson’ as one of the producers for this piece of gem. Nominated for four Oscars including one for ‘Best Picture’, a rarity in the science fiction genre, it successfully blends the mockumentary format when tackling the plight of the oppressed aliens and blockbuster territory during the film’s final act. The recurring theme featured here takes a long and hard look on parallel events that happened in South Africa during the apartheid era, with similarities faced by residents of District 6, an inner-city residential area in Cape Town.

In a not too subtle context, the capitalist reigns supremacy over the weak. The on-going inhumanity and racism that plague in every corner of the world is a reminder that the past is not behind us. We supposedly have evolved to be better people but history keeps telling us otherwise. It is a cautionary tale for one to reflect on the brutalities of what the strong is capable of inflicting. The MNU is a prime example of how a major conglomerate that is financially motivated will stop at nothing to achieve their objectives.

Political standpoint aside, Blomkamp has created a very realistic and bleak atmosphere surrounding the overall feel of the film. Although the hand-held shots utilised do enhance the realism and is becoming extremely popular of late, I personally do not fancy such technique. Many of the shots are used to supposedly heightened the tension in the action scenes but they are headache inducing and diminish said effect. This style does work whenever it is presented as a mockumentary when audiences are introduced to the fictional interviews, news footage and videos from surveillance cameras about the aliens’ descend to Earth which lead to their mistreatment whilst being kept here under close observation.

The cast here are mostly unknowns and Copley turns in a very sympathetic portrayal of the appointed human leader who slowly finds himself transformed into one of the extraterrestrials that he is supposed to relocate. The entire story rests on his shoulders and the bureaucrat ably carries the movie through. The arm revelation in the hospital is unexpected and judging from his look in disbelieve, I would dare say he hoped for something more optimistic as well. Though Wikus’ fate remains ambiguous, Blomkamp has crafted a sure-fire hit that dares to be bold and not afraid to pose hard-hitting questions straight up.

Rating
Entirety: A
Acting: A-
Plot: A

Rated R for bloody violence and pervasive language

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