Overdosing on excess

Movie poster for 21 and Over

21 and Over revolves around a group of guys on a partying journey, but this isn’t The Hangover. One of the characters has an important event to attend the next morning and is the subject of many troubles, but this isn’t The Hangover. There are a lot of naked people, alcohol and drugs involved, but THIS IS NOT The Hangover.

Now, we are not going to waste time pretending this movie aspired to Oscar contention, which it would have obviously failed miserably at. For the purpose it serves, the movie could be considered decent, bringing a few smiles, but still feels too recycled. 21 and Over’s storyline is simplistic: Jeff Chang, a promising med student who is played by Justin Chon, gets a surprise visit from his two longtime friends Casey (Skylar Astin) and Miller (Miles Teller), on his 21st birthday. With one of the most important interviews of his life scheduled for the next morning, Chang agrees to a quiet celebration with the pair. Festivities quickly get out of hand, turning into a night of debauchery and depravity.

Whereas recent movies like The Hangover and Project X have relied on either memorable lines and performances or insanely over the top attitude, 21 and Over wanders in the middle, not knowing where to stand. Instead of being a non-stop ride of laughs, it’s few funny scenes, which are essentially summed up in the trailer, come up almost carelessly, here and there. And when it tries to bring up more serious subjects, it never gets to the bottom of it. As for the cast, the main actors have previously endorsed similar roles: Teller as a party animal in Project X and Astin as the nice guy next door in Pitch Perfect. Chon, while unconscious for the better part of the movie, brings a funny twist and harmony to the group with his first major role.

21 and Over matches whatever low expectations the trailer had allowed us to prepare for. It brings nothing new to the table, and while you maintain the hope of being surprised by exciting writers, you quickly sober up and become aware of the silence in the screening room. The movie scrapes whatever was left of The Hangover‘s vomit-covered cutting room floor, but still doesn’t manage to get any substance. Instead, we are thrown in the middle of clichéd frat parties, getting forever wilder and yet still serving as a reference for prospective college students.

We are chasing Jeff Chang throughout the whole movie, without ever getting anywhere. “Did we just kill Jeff Chang, again?” might be the quote which sums up 21 and Over the best, more specifically, its repetitiveness and lack of interest. Dear viewers, save yourselves that Cheapy Tuesday ticket, and go rent a comedy more worthy of your money. 21 Jump Street, I Love You, Man, Mystery Team, to name only a few, ensure that you can still turn your brain off and keep laughing.


Lincoln will make you laugh and cry

Press photo for Steven Spielberg’s biographical film, Lincoln

From the looks of it, there’s an Abraham Lincoln craze going on. Six months ago, Timur Bekmambetov and Tim Burton brought us Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter; a horror and action film based on the novel of the same name. In this take on the Abraham Lincoln story, the narrator supposedly possesses a secret diary detailing Honest Abe’s life as if he were a male, top-hat wearing version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

While the probability of Lincoln fighting the undead can be put up for debate, Steven Spielberg’s biographical film, Lincoln, is based on historical accounts of the president’s fight for equality and the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation that would officially abolish slavery.

This historical drama follows Lincoln (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) in his final sprint to pull together the votes he needs to abolish slavery and end the war, while dealing with a less-than-perfect home life.

His wife, Mary (played by Sally Field), is still grief stricken over the premature death of their son, William and is plagued by incurable headaches. Lincoln’s beloved eldest son, Robert (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) defies both his parents’ wishes when he decides to join the war, causing further grief to both his parents. At one point, Mary lashes out at Lincoln, blaming him for her unconsoled grievance and accusing him of only remaining with her because of Robert.

Meanwhile, Lincoln is endlessly encouraging his men to scrounge up the last 20 votes needed to pass the 13th amendment to the constitution, while both the Democrats and his own Republican party try to convince him that it’s pointless. There is a very visible strain on Lincoln as he juggles war, politics and home-life while trying to keep himself, his party and his people optimistic.

Cinematography-wise, the use of natural lighting, having the actors lit by light coming in from windows and lamps, while harsh in some situations and dark in others, plays well to the mood of the era and film. The high contrast created also adds a certain artistic flair, sharpening expressions and adding grit.

There are also several beautiful scenes in which not a single word is said. One such scene is of Lincoln and his youngest son Tad, where the camera work says more than words ever could about Lincoln being and having the time to be a caring father-figure as well as a powerful political leader. Near the beginning of the film, Lincoln finds Tad asleep in front of the fireplace and lays down next to him to wake him and carry him to bed. A heartwarming scene that shows the man as not only a dedicated leader but also a caring parent.

The story follows not only Lincoln in his day-to-day work of meeting with fellow politicians, meeting with soldiers, giving speeches, working in war-rooms, but it also follows his men at work in the field, debating and watching debates in the House and sometimes just discussing the possibilities of the future amongst themselves. In reality, there were a lot of people involved in the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation, meaning there are a lot of characters to follow in the film, which may play into why the movie was so very long.

There is quite a bit of monologues and political dialogue, but it is well balanced with, believe it or not, humour, such as the old-school political mud-slinging and slander in the House between the Republicans and Democrats, which makes for good comedy.

Day-Lewis expertly goes from laid-back Lincoln to motivational-presidential-speech Lincoln to Stuart-McLean-this-reminds-me-of-a-story-Lincoln in nothing flat. The latter often giving Lincoln’s men, and the audience, a good laugh.

That being said, viewers may find the film a bit of an emotional roller-coaster, going from serious to humorous to sad several times throughout the film.

Despite the two and a half hour length and the inevitable, tragic ending, Lincoln is a blockbuster. The acting is captivating, the camera work is fantastic and the mix of Lincoln’s light-hearted quirky stories and the seriousness of the subject matter is just enough to keep the historical biography from being dry.

Watch the trailer for Lincoln:


Action outside of the box

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (right) plays Bruce Willis’ younger self in Looper.

There is a moment of blessed relief when the older, Bruce Willis version of Joe tells his younger self, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt to shut up and stop talking about time travel.

It is a welcome difference in this film when compared to other time travel movies. Looper is not concerned with the mechanics of its science fiction element but simply uses it as a narrative tool. The result: Looper comes across as much smarter than the average action film.

The film centers around the character of Joe, an assassin with a very special job. He only kills people from the future. These assassins, called loopers, kill victims who have been sent from the future, disposing of their bodies in the past.

If this sounds complicated, then don’t think about it, as the movie tells you adamantly not to. The point to understand is that loopers kill people from the future, which can become problematic since the last person a looper always kills is himself. Not in the average suicide sense, but rather the past looper will shoot his future self and then go live out his retirement, knowing full well how it will one day end. The younger Joe faces this problem when his older self appears and then escapes.

As stated before, best not to think about it. What really makes Looper work is its performances. There is great supporting work done by Jeff Daniels, who plays a tired-looking mafia leader from the future. Emily Blunt is above satisfactory in providing more than just the usual sort of love interest. The young Pierce Gagnon should also be given enormous credit for a thoroughly powerful child performance, especially since his face is able to convey a wider variety of emotion than any other character. But really, there is only one person most people will talk about coming out of this movie and that is Gordon-Levitt.

The uncanny nature in his performance does not come from the makeup. Despite the best efforts of Hollywood makeup, there is no point where Levitt could be believed to be a younger version of Willis. The appearance just doesn’t cut it. What sells it is the acting. Gordon-Levitt could not act more like Willis if the two had lived together for years. In a performance that harkens back to Zachary Quinto’s style of mimicry in Star Trek (2009), Gordon-Levitt perfectly copies the mannerisms of Willis as well as his method of speaking and facial tics. The result is the audience believing that they are seeing a version of Willis that is thirty years younger, despite knowing full well what the actor looked like at the time.

These powerful performances, combined with an intriguing plot that does not unfold exactly as expected as well as coherently-shot action sequences will leave you feeling very satisfied with Looper. This may not be the next Blade Runner but it is well more than a cut above many recent action films. The movie may not want you to think about time travel and that’s fine, it doesn’t stop it from using it very effectively. The first blockbuster by Rian Johnson (Breaking Bad) is not to be missed. This is the film that action and science-fiction audiences have been waiting for: a reason to return to the cinema.

Looper opened in theatres Sept. 28. Check your local listings for showtimes and locations.


Blockbuster or Bust: The Avengers

Joss Whedon's The Avengers (2012)

Marvel Comics’ The Avengers opened this past weekend to the tune of 200 million dollars in revenue. But were moviegoers shelling out for a box office hit or a Hollywood bust?

The Avengers combines characters from four previous Marvel Comics films and begins where the last movie, Thor, left off. For those who have never seen Thor (and I don’t recommend that you do), Thor’s brother Loki rules their home world of Askgard in Thor’s absence (he’s banished to Earth). When Thor is redeemed and returns to Askgard, Loki is made to give up the throne.

The premise of The Avengers is thus, that Loki wants revenge for losing the throne and so he teams up with a colony of bloodthirsty aliens, the Chitauri, with the purpose of enslaving humanity. His plan is to bring the Chitauri army to Earth, but the portal he uses to travel between worlds won’t transport an entire army. What he needs is the object known as the Tesseract, currently in the possession of the U.S. government agency, S.H.I.E.L.D. In the opening scenes, Loki successfully steals the Tesseract from the S.H.I.E.L.D facility, prompting leader Nick Fury to recruit the Marvel superheroes, Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America. Uninvited, Thor arrives to dissuade Loki and joins up with the other superheroes to save Earth.

Action packed and peppered with biting one-liners and physical comedy, The Avengers brings together the best of the previous five Marvel superhero films. Not all the previous movies in this series were successful, but director Joss Whedon manages to take what worked best for each of the individual films and have them coalesce as a whole.

Avengers heroes Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) headlined their own comic-to-movie adaptations in 2011

The action sequences are set up so that there are several fight scenes happening at once and the camera cuts from one to the other and back again. In this way the different plots and storylines are able to happen simultaneously without any unnecessary breaks in the action. There is very little wasted time in this film, something the other movies suffered from; spending more time on character than on plot. Whedon, however, gives enough character information so that first time Marvel superhero movie-goers will understand the action, but not so much that veterans are bored or plot time is wasted.

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man gets the best one liners, as is the nature of his character, but it’s the ease in which he plays his character, demonstrating the growth Stark has gone through since first becoming Iron Man that is most impressive and he stands out as one of the more well-rounded characters. Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk also gets his share of laughs, playing off of Downey’s witticisms in his own smart-aleck way, while also indicating a deeply troubled inner life that draws focus to his character more than any other.

Chris Hemsworth as Thor is exactly as he was in the first movie, with his signature accent, reliance on stern facial expressions and Yoda-like lines of wisdom to convey character. Chris Evans is Captain America/Steve Rogers who is still adjusting to 21st century life, which is perhaps why he only ever seems to be half present. Secondary characters, like Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johanson) are indications of movies to come. The story continually hints of a deep dark past for both of them, which we never fully learn about but helps to qualify them, somewhat, for inclusion in The Avenger team picture.

Overall, if you’re looking to treat yourself to a night at the movies, this is the picture to shell out the money for, at least for this week.



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