Archive for July, 2010

Review: “Salt”

Tom Cruise was apparently set to star in Salt, only to turn it down (presumably) for Knight and Day.  Too bad, because that flick, while decent, was an ultimately forgettable action flick destined for Saturday afternoon cable TV repeats.  Salt, however is a solid, slightly comic book-esque chase/espionage thriller, and though Cruise was initially offered the part, this role seemed destined for Angelina Jolie.

So just who is Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie)?  She’s a former CIA field agent whose cover was blown and was sent to a North Korean prison.  Bad stuff happened to her, and though she maintained her cover, a swap was organized between the U.S. and North Korea, effectively confirming her position as spy to the entire worldwide intelligence community.  Fast forward sometime later, and Salt still works for the CIA, she’s a desk jockey now, under the direct supervision of Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber).  When a supposed Russian turncoat divulges a plot by Russian agents to kill Russian President Matveyev (Olek Krupa) while in New York City, this obviously alarms the CIA.  Especially when the name of the Russian agent is Evelyn Salt.

Salt then leads the CIA on a chase from Washington, D.C. to New York City and back, attempting to clear her name, rescue her husband Mike (August Diehl), and stop a potential nuclear war between America and the Russian Federation.

The movie flows very briskly from one exciting escape scene to another, with a freeway chase as frenetic as the one in The Bourne Ultimatum.  Jolie proves she can handle action scenes well, and this definitely be the best action role she’s had so far.  The rest of the cast is fine, lead by Schreiber as the loyal boss who wants to believe Salt is innocent, despite damning evidence.  Chiwetel Ejiofor, playing CIA agent Peabody who’s leading the chase for Salt, isn’t really given a whole lot to do aside from run around and yell, but it’s not like he’s a bad actor.  Director Philip Noyce brings a lot of energy to the movie, never letting a dull moment go by.  This whole flick is structured around movement, with the camera almost never stopping and the actors constantly doing something.

The story may have a few people scratching their heads, though.  While this certainly isn’t the mind-bender that Inception was, there are quite a few twists and turns in the plot.  Written by Kurt Wimmer (director of the excellent cult action flick Equilibrium) and Brian Helgeland (A Knight’s Tale), it definitely tries to keep you guessing, leaving the answer to “Is Salt a Russian spy?” ambiguous until the end.

Salt was entertaining to the end, and maybe would’ve fared better at the box office if it came out in the fall or spring instead of the ridiculously crowded summer season.  Still, if you’ve already seen Inception and still need an action fix, Salt is the way to go.

8/10

July 28, 2010 at 3:52 pm Leave a comment

Wiimote + Android + Rubberbands = Awesome

Got a bunch of (legal?) SNES or NES roms on your Android device?  Want to play them using a legitimate controller, and not the onscreen keys?  Youtube user baza210 rigged up a doohickey that will allow you to use your Wii Remote (Wiimote for all the hip kids out there) as a Bluetooth controller for some of your games.  A bicycle handlebar and rubberbands hold his Nexus One atop a functioning Wiimote, allowing him to relive the glory days of the 16-bit gaming era with a touch of modern-day tech.

You can check out more things he’s doing with the Nexus One at his blog. For those interested, he’s working on getting a PlayStation controller to work with an Android PSX emulator. (via Android Central)

Check out more articles at my Examiner page.

July 28, 2010 at 10:35 am Leave a comment

Even More Android Home Replacement Apps

Continuing with my overviews of home replacement applicationsfor Android, today I’ll be going over the popular ‘Panda Home’ app. While it doesn’t feature the ‘swipe-up-swipe-down’ of dxTop, the main feature that sets this apart from other home replacement apps are the customizable side drawers.

You can add up to six drawers that stay in place as you move between screens (up to three), and each drawer can contain as many apps as you want. Similar to the standard applications drawer in Android, you can scroll through all the apps loaded into each drawer. Navigate within Panda Home’s menu settings and you’ll find size settings for each drawer, allowing you to change the height and width individually.

Check out the rest of the article at my Examiner page. . .

July 23, 2010 at 9:42 am Leave a comment

2.1 Leaked for Motorola Cliq

Yesterday, Engadget received a ROM of what appeared to be an official ‘test’ ROM for the Motorola Cliq.  The over-the-air release is scheduled for August, but this release appears to work just the same.  Savvy users who want to try this ROM will still have to root their phone to get this to work.

The update features some new additions to Motorola’s ‘MOTOBLUR’ skin, a new music player, and a smooth web browsing experience.   A major feature missing from this 2.1 update is multitouch, and more specifically pinch-to-zoom, like in the Google Maps app and the browser.  Froyo’s live wallpapers are also misisng, though the folks at Engadget agree that it was probably done to save battery life.

Motorola still has some time before the update is officially released, so more features may still be added (or removed).  Check out the video on the Engadget website for some hands-on impressions of the leaked update. (via Engadget Mobile)

Check out more articles at my Examiner page.

July 23, 2010 at 9:38 am Leave a comment

Review: “[REC] 2”

Back in 2007, a small, low-budget Spanish horror film made waves by combining the “found film” genre and the sensibilities of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later.  Titled [REC], named after the abbreviation of the word ‘record’ on most cameras, the film was popular enough to warrant an American remake a year later, called Quarantine (which wasn’t a bad flick by itself, and could be considered a faithful shot-for-shot remake).  The directors of the original, Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza, come back with the sequel, featuring more action, crazed zombie/infected people, and way more creepiness.

[REC] 2 starts almost concurrently with the final few minutes of the original, with a team of S.W.A.T.-type police officers preparing to escort a doctor into the sealed-off apartment building that is the setting of what appears to be a biological disaster.  The residents of the building became sick with an unknown disease, and a TV camera crew got trapped inside along with a handful of police officers and firemen.  Things didn’t end well for them and now the local government is sending the big guns: heavily armed police and a doctor who just might be able to solve the crisis.

As usual, firearms aren’t enough to calm the police, lead by Oscar Zafra, as they soon realize they’re up against something beyond what they’ve trained for.  The doctor (Jonthan Mellor) is also not who he seems to be, and it is quickly revealed that he’s not Dr. Owen, but Father Owen, a Roman Catholic priest.  The virus spreading throughout the building could very well be demonic in nature and the Catholic Church wants a sample of blood to analyze and to create a vaccine from.  The blood needs to come from a ‘patient zero’, a girl whom the Church believed to be possessed, and who’s blood carried the infection that allows those bitten to become possessed themselves.

Just like the original, [REC] 2 is tightly paced, with very little downtime, except when we are introduced to a second set of characters: a bunch of curious kids who sneak into the building along with a fireman and the husband of one of the characters from the first movie.  The movie plays a lot like most modern ‘survive horror’ videogames like “Left 4 Dead” and “F.E.A.R.”, with moments of intense action breaking up stretches of suspense and downright creepiness.  If our heroes get an upgrade in more firepower, then the ‘zombies’ in this flick get new abilities as well: some can climb walls, others seem almost impervious to bullets (a shot to the head is still enough to take one down, though).

Everything in this movie is a logical advancement of what was featured in the original.  For those that have only seen Quarantine, you shouldn’t be too lost, as the only real difference is the backstory (the American version was about a virus created by some doomsday cult, here it’s a little more supernatural).  The best way to describe this movie is that it’s a mix of 28 Days Later and The Exorcist, and fans of both films will have a good time with [REC] 2.

8/10

July 23, 2010 at 9:30 am Leave a comment

Review: “Inception”

Take any screenwriting class and the teacher will tell you that you can’t have  a movie without conflict.  Well, you can make a movie without conflict, but it probably won’t be any good; the audience wants to see the hero struggle.  That same teacher will probably tell you that there’s only three types of conflict: man vs man, man vs nature, and man vs himself.  The history of cinema is filled with films that explore these types of conflict individually, but rarely does a single film tackle all three in one go.

The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb, who is an expert in stealing ideas from within the mind of his targets.  Backing him up are point man Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), con man Eames (Tom Hardy), architectural student Ariadne (Ellen Page), and chemist Yusuf (Dileep Rao).  Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, the always-awesome Ken Watanabe, and Cillian Murphy have supporting roles.

Inception, the latest big summer film from Christopher Nolan, is a crazy hybrid of heist, science fiction, and action genres, and it succeeds in all those area.  I won’t go into the details plot, as it really is something to be experienced for yourself.  What I found interesting is what Nolan used as obstacles for our heroes.  In the ‘man vs man’ conflict, the protagonist usually faces off against another person or being.  The most typical of these is, say, our hero cop battling against terrorist (Die Hard).  In Inception, there is no clear-cut bad guy, as the people they physically fight against are more like representations of the mind, but nonetheless, these representations are manifest as physical beings in the dream world that they all interact in.  These representations are soldiers or security guards, whose bullets have dire consequences for anyone who gets shot.

From the trailers of the film, it’s obvious that dreams play a major role.  The world of the dream has its own set of rules, like how gravity and physics are represented.  Chief among these is time, the nature of which governs virtually every aspect of the dream world.  Time speeds up considerably within the mind; a few minutes in the ‘real world’ equate to hours in the dream, and hours dreaming could mean a lifetime within the mind.  As our heroes race to unlock secrets and plant memories (hence the term “inception”) within their targets, they race against time itself, and the nature of time is something they must understand in order to get their job done.  Not to give anything away, but there is a significant plot development where Cobb and Co. realize they must go deeper into business empire heir Robert Fischer’s (Murphy) mind in order to allow more time for the inception to occur.

The final conflict, man vs himself, plays an important role in the story of Cobb.  Again, not trying to give anything away, but the personal struggles that lay within Cobb’s mind have dire effects on the entire crew.  He must physically do battle with his inner demons in order to save his partners and finish the job.   The ending ties in directly to this, and understanding of the ‘man vs himself’ conflict can lead to various interpretations of what the final scene ‘really meant’.

If there was any real issue I had with this film was that it didn’t leave me as floored as The Dark Knight did.  I guess I’m just more attracted to morality plays and really grounded villains, which the previous Batman film had.  There wasn’t a ‘message’ that I picked up on in Inception, but it doesn’t really need one.  This film may not have worked if Nolan tried to inject a villain like the Joker, who is a representation of pure uncontrollable chaos.  Oh, and indie darling Ellen Page is kind of blah here; not bad, but she seemed like she was phoning it in at times.

Writer/director Christopher Nolan has already established himself as one of Hollywood’s top directors, having burst on the scene with Memento (which this film has been compared to).  What sets him apart from many Hollywood directors is his ability to use the camera to tell the story.  Inception is a gorgeous film, with incredible choreography, camerawork, and set and costume design.  Nolan had mentioned in an interview that he wanted to shoot more IMAX-formatted scenes, but the crazy camera movements in this film wouldn’t have been possible with a large IMAX camera.  Apparently, he and Michael Bay are the only ones who embrace the large format of IMAX, and I could only wonder at what Inception may have looked like with nearly twice the frame space.

Without a doubt, Inception is the summer’s best movie (though Toy Story 3 comes really close).  This James-Bond-meets-The-Matrix mashup probably would’ve been entertaining if given to another director, but this is a Christopher Nolan film through and through.  The reviews of this film can’t do it justice, this is a story that must be seen to be understood, and it a testament to the skill of who is quickly becoming one of the best of the contemporary filmmakers.

9.5/10

(images from Yahoo!)

July 19, 2010 at 3:11 pm Leave a comment

Review: “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”

Based on the poem that inspired the animated short in Disney’s Fantasia, Jon Turteltaub’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is the latest big-budget Hollywood tentpole film from producer Jerry Bruckheimer.  And, true to form, it’s a slick, loud, and generally entertaining two hours at the cinema.

Nicholas Cage plays the ‘sorcerer’ named Balthazar, a 1,000-year-old sorcerer who studied under the legendary Merlin.  After being betrayed by Balthazar’s friend, and fellow Merlin pupil, Horvath (Alfred Molina), Balthazar wandered the Earth, looking for the true heir of Merlin so that he may stop Horvath for good and free Balthazar’s long lost love, Veronica (Monica Bellucci).  His centuries-long quest has led him to Dave (Jay Baruchel), a shy kid in New York who just happens to be the heir of Merlin.

Fast forward about ten years and young Dave is a college student who’s life is turned upside down when Horvath sets out to look for a magical doll that has trapped Merlin’s nemesis, Morgana (Alice Krige).  Balthazar enlists Dave’s help in tracking down said doll and put an end to Horvath’s schemes once and for all.

If the above sounded like the plot to a kids’ adventure book, that’s actually the feeling I got when watching The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  That’s not to say this movie is like a bad children’s book; it’s actually pretty good, if predictable.  As with Turteltaub and Cage’s last few outings (the National Treasure flicks), this movie is paced rather quickly, with just enough explosions to qualify this as a summer movie. The only time the story slows down is when Dave tries to get with fellow college student Becky (Teresa Palmer), who also happens to be Dave’s childhood crush.

Jay Baruchel is fun to watch in this movie, and holds his own very well against Cage.  Though Baruchel is pretty much being type-casted in this role, there’s no denying he’s pretty good at playing the geeky, awkward twenty-something who likes the pretty girl next door.  Nicholas Cage, on the other hand, is a bit of an anomaly here.  From what I understand, Cage got on board the project rather early, and has been one of the driving forces to get the movie made.  His performance was pretty average, even at times seeming like he’s just phoning it in.  I kind of expected him to be a just little crazy, especially having spent the past millenium looking for a boy who just might be the next great sorcerer.

Alfred Molina is fine here, but nothing that special.  His ‘Horvath’ is your typical suave, snobbish villain that could easily be found in a James Bond movie.  He does have a sidekick in the form of Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell), who’s actually pretty funny in some scenes.  I would’ve also liked to see more of Monica Bellucci, as she’s relegated to basically a cameo.

I could easily see this as being a pretty fun book series, a la the Harry Potter or Percy Jackson franchise.  There’s colorful characters, a magic-meets-science approach to the supernatural, and a fairly epic, century-spanning struggle between good and evil.  Although a little long (at almost two hours), The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a fun, family-friendly, adventure that should please the kids.

7.5/10

July 17, 2010 at 12:48 am 1 comment

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