Posts Tagged ‘reviews

11
Apr
11

What I’m Watching/Reading: Limitless

Generally speaking, if I get really excited for a movie that was based on a book, I want to read the book first. I realize this puts me at odds with many people, but I’m the sort who always prefers to err on the side of the original author. In this case, the author is Alan Glynn, who wrote the 2002 novel The Dark Fields, upon which Leslie Dixon based her screenplay for Limitless. The Dark Fields was then re-published under the Limitless name, but having both read the book and watched the film, I can tell you, they’re two very different creatures. The good news is that I liked them both.

I didn’t know there was a novel when I went to see the movie, but I liked the movie enough to seek out the book. Even though I saw the movie first, I’ll talk about the book first.

The Dark Fields/Limitless is the story of Eddie Spinola, a copywriter who stumbles into a new drug that opens up the full potential of his mind. With near-perfect recall and much higher cognitive functions than ever before, he begins to chart a new course for his life, including an invasion of the world of high finance and running afoul of a Russian loan shark. But when the drug creates a dependency, he finds himself in danger not only for his fortune, but his life.

This is a terribly dark book, one with an incredible premise and a nice block of characters. Reading along as Eddie’s mental faculties are raised and lowered and raised again makes the experience of reading the novel somewhat like what I imagine it’d be like to read Flowers For Algernon on a roller-coaster. Glynn masterfully paints the picture of a man who is completely losing control of his life. We can feel it as one thing or another slips away from him, things that even his mythical doses of MDT-48 can’t save him from, and by the end of the book there’s really only one place it can go.

Which makes a very interesting contrast to the movie. Because although the set-up is identical, the ending is completely different.

Limitless (the film) is the story of Eddie Morra, a struggling novelist who stumbles into a new drug that opens up the full potential of his mind. With near-perfect recall and much higher cognitive functions than ever before, he begins to chart a new course for his life, including an invasion of the world of high finance and running afoul of a Russian loan shark. But when the drug creates a dependency, he finds himself in danger not only for his fortune, but his life.

Familiar, no? But screenwriter Leslie Dixon throws in some differences in the first half of the film — a girlfriend who doesn’t exist in the novel being the main one. (She also abandons some other characters, such as the daughter of Eddie’s boss who exists in a bizarre subplot that, in the book, really goes nowhere.) After that first half, though, she takes Eddie Morra’s life in a totally different direction than Eddie Spinola. This Eddie still finds himself losing control over his actions, but he also manages to hold on to a few grains of hope that Eddie Spinola loses somewhere along the line.

Frankly, if you look at Limitless the movie as an adaptation of The Dark Fields, it doesn’t really work. It drifts not only from the plot, but also from the spirit of the story in a totally irreconcilable way, where the screenwriter drew not on anything the original author gave her, but created things from whole cloth to tell a different story.

To my amazement, though, I liked them both.

Usually, I get very upset when an adaptation strays this far from the source material. In this case, though, while The Dark Fields made a very strong novel, I don’t think the climax would have been thrilling or exciting enough to make for a satisfying motion picture. Dixon created from whole cloth, to be certain, but she created something that made for a much more entertaining cinematic experience than I think the original story would have been.

This is almost a revelation to me, friends. Both the book and the film have the same basic concept, the same idea, the same elevator pitch… but the execution in the two different media almost had to be different, because I don’t think either would have worked in the other media. I’m going to have to actually step back and look at other books and movies that I didn’t think made the transition well, maybe give them another chance. Because while I still think the original author’s intentions should be paramount… well… if he’s okay with the change, I should be too.

EDIT: Of course, as soon as I finish writing this, I think of two other films with different endings that I think worked. First was The Mist. Yes, I know Stephen King purists (my girlfriend included) may be pissed at me for saying this, but I thought the ending of the film was a brilliant twist that really cut you to the core… and from what I understand, King himself agrees with me. The other is Watchmen. Curiously enough, many people criticized that film for being too faithful to the source material, to the point of dragging, but the one big change in the story, the one that comes to the end, is actually the rare case where I think the movie ending makes more sense than the original graphic novel. (It has to do with assigning blame, which is all I can say without delving into spoiler territory.) Of course, this is a case where the original writer, Alan Moore, famously did not approve of the changes, so this may be inapplicable to this discussion.

01
Feb
11

The movies of 2010… Yep, you read it right

Okay, gang. Just before the new year celebrations kicked off, I was about to do the obligatory “best movies of the year” post, only to realize I hadn’t actually seen all that many movies made in 2010. To correct this, I added a buttload of 2010 movies to my Netflix queue and moved ’em up to the front. Since then, I’ve been cycling through them relatively quickly in the hopes of putting together a more comprehensive list. Well…by the time I was done, I’d racked up 39 2010 releases… still not enough to average one a week for the year, but better than the 22 I had at the end of December. So let’s take a few minutes and talk them out.

My Favorite Movies of 2010:

1. Toy Story 3: This should be no surprise, if you know anything about me. The Toy Story films have always been remarkably powerful, character-driven masterpieces of animation, and this may have been the best of the lot. Wonderful, emotional, and uplifting. There was no other film last year I loved nearly as much.

2. Inception: Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi thriller took an intriguing idea — traveling into the dreams of others — and blended it with all the best elements of a heist movie to create a mind-bending trip through the subconscious. It’s not an easy movie, it’s a movie that demands your attention, and in the end I don’t think there are nearly enough of those.

3. True Grit: I love a good western, and while I was initially nervous about anybody taking on Rooster Cogburn after John Wayne’s legendary performance, this movie more than set my mind at ease. Not a remake of the Wayne movie, but rather another take at filming the novel, the Cohen Brothers and Jeff Bridges made this story their own in a remarkable way. Matt Damon and Josh Brolin also turned in good performances, and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld held her own against some of the greatest actors working today. She more than deserves the Oscar nomination she just got.

4. The Social Network. I, like you, have heard a lot of debate about the accuracy of the Aaron Sorkin/David Lynch take on the life of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, and I certainly am not qualified to speak about how accurate the movie was. But taken just as a pure movie and not a historical document, the film is a brilliant character study of someone who’s a narcissist with potential. There are no heroes in this film, just villains, victims, and a few people (including Zuckerberg himself) that seem to straddle the line between the two.

5. The Town. This one snuck in at the last minute — I just saw it yesterday. Ben Affleck, again proving that he can actually direct, helms this heist film based on the novel by Chuck Hogan about a bank robber who starts a relationship with a hostage who doesn’t know he’s the man who kidnapped her. This isn’t a high-action, thrill-a-minute heist like Ocean’s 11, or even the aforementioned Inception. Yes, there is action, and it’s good, but like most great films, this is much more about the characters, where they come from, and where they may wind up.

Big Surprises of 2010

This is a category for movies that may not have cracked the top 5, but were way better than I expected them to be. Here they are, in no particular order:

Batman: Under the Red Hood. Based on a kinda mediocre Batman comic book and written by the same man who wrote said mediocre comic, this tale of the return of the second, long-believed dead Robin really packed a whallop. It’s strange, the only significant change in the plot was the removal of one element that didn’t really make any difference at all. Is the dreaded “Superboy Prime Punch” the only thing that made us think the comic book was weak, while this animated film was great?

Easy A. When I saw the trailers for this Emma Stone comedy very loosely based on Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, I dismissed it as a stereotypical brainless teen comedy. Instead, I found a really smart film about high school politics, the power of perception and peer pressure, and the importance of self-acceptance. The cast was really funny and talented, and in the end, I felt like I’d spent my two hours very wisely.

Hot Tub Time Machine. Where Easy A just looked a bit typical, the trailers for this looked outright moronic. Still, I pulled it in from Netflix and was delightfully surprised. John Cusack, Craig Robertson and Rob Cordray star as three friends who get tossed back in time to re-live the greatest weekend of their lives. The film gets deeper than that, though, playing with time travel theory, the delicate balance of family and friends, and what it takes to give a few guys past their prime the spark back. The movie turned out to be part Back to the Future and part City Slickers, with a few 80s ski comedies mixed in for flavor. I couldn’t believe I loved it.

Worst Movies of 2010

This, of course, is based entirely on my own personal perceptions, so if you disagree… well, more power to you.

5. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. goes to show you how few films I saw this year, that this cracked the bottom five, because it honestly isn’t a horrible movie. It’s weak, though, very weak. Jake Gyllenhall doesn’t for a minute come off as a Persian prince, the villain’s plot is ludicrous, and the time travel mechanics are screwy. Disney struck out here.

4. A Nightmare on Elm Street. While I still think Jackie Earl Haley was a good choice to take over the Freddy Kruger role from Robert Englund, this remake of the horror classic was dull, lifeless, and often just plain stupid.

3. Clash of the Titans. Amazing, how remakes keep cropping up here at the bottom. While the original Clash was not, I admit, Citizen Kane, it was a fun romp through a specious understanding of mythology with awesome Ray Harryhausen special effects. This was a painful look at mythology based on the understanding of a writer who is probably resting his entire knowledge base on three episodes of the old Disney Hercules cartoon. Sam Worthington turned in yet another wooden, glass-eyed turn as an “action hero,” Gemma Arterton (just as she did in Prince of Persia) looks good on camera but adds nothing to the film, and Liam Neeson evidently lost a bet. And yet enough of you people saw this monstrocity for it to get a sequel. For shame. FOR. SHAME.

2. Splice. Adrien Brody stars in a sci-fi thriller about a couple of scientists trying to… hell, I don’t even know what their actual goal was, but they whipped up a hell beast that was part human and parts a lot of different animals and really deadly. It was actually really close, if I would put this at #2 or #3 on the list. What finally put this below Clash was that, although it did have Sam Worthington tromping around ancient Greece for months without ever outgrowing his buzzcut, it did NOT feature (SPOILER WARNING: DO NOT CONTINUE READING THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU ACTUALLY WANT TO BE SURPRISED WHEN YOU SEE THIS MOVIE AND/OR HAVE A MODICUM OF GOOD TASTE) Adrien Brody having sex with a half-human/half-animal clone of his wife in the middle of a barn. That was hands-down the creepiest scene in any movie in this year. In most years. Maybe ever. I want to boil my brain.

1. Jonah Hex. Now I’m going to be fair here. Objectively, this Josh Brolin/Megan Fox/John Malkovich western based on the DC Comic probably wasn’t the worst-made movie this year. But it was without a doubt the one that made me angriest. I love the Jonah Hex comic book. It’s a brilliant piece of comic literature that could have made one of the greatest, grittiest westerns of all time. Instead, we got a bastardized hybrid of the character mixed in with The Crow, The Sixth Sense, and some leftover set pieces from Wild Wild West. There may have been worse-acted, worse-written, or worse-directed films this year, but nothing had me walk out of the theater this angry. On the other hand, let’s hear it for Josh Brolin? How many people can say they were the hero of the year’s worst cowboy movie and the villain of the year’s best cowboy movie in the same year?

Conclusion

Okay, guys. All that’s left is the comprehensive list. Before I give it to you, though, let me just say I rather enjoyed this experiment, and I’ve still got more 2010 films left on my Netflix queue than I’ve actually seen. Maybe in a couple of months I’ll want to reevaluate this list. Maybe it’ll be totally different. Maybe I should start quantifying all years in cinema this way. Compulsive list-maker that I am, that could be a lot of fun. When I see a film, I’ll open up that year’s list and pop it in where I think it belongs. Of course, I’m not about to start going back and ranking every movie I’ve ever seen that way, that would be preposterous. I’d have to do that just with movies I see from now on. By that rationale, of course, it means Logan’s Run was the best movie of 1976, since that’s the only movie from that year I’ve seen recently. Of course, that may actually be the best movie of 1976, so why belabor the point?

I’m rambling now. Thanks for taking the time to read, guys, and who knows? Maybe I’ll do some updates in the future. I leave you with the complete list of 2010 releases I have seen, in order of preference:

  1. Toy Story 3
  2. Inception
  3. True Grit
  4. The Social Network
  5. The Town
  6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
  7. Tron: Legacy
  8. Hot Tub Time Machine
  9. Iron Man 2
  10. Easy A
  11. Buried
  12. Tangled
  13. Despicable Me
  14. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole
  15. Shutter Island
  16. Batman: Under the Red Hood
  17. How to Tame Your Dragon
  18. Due Date
  19. Waking Sleeping Beauty
  20. Predators
  21. Kick-Ass
  22. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
  23. Superman/Batman: Apocalypse
  24. Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics
  25. The Losers
  26. Dinner For Schmucks
  27. Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
  28. The Wolfman
  29. Planet Hulk
  30. Survival of the Dead
  31. Alice in Wonderland
  32. Repo Men
  33. Robin Hood
  34. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World
  35. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
  36. A Nightmare on Elm Street
  37. Clash of the Titans
  38. Splice
  39. Jonah Hex
31
Jan
11

Cough, wheeze, croak

Gotta love flu season, right? I took today off work due to a nice cocktail of an elevated temperature, horrible stuffy nose, incessant cough, and a voice that sounds like I’d lined my throat with broken glass. And how was your day?

After I called in sick I tried to go back to sleep, but only succeeded for about a half hour before the aforementioned coughing and wheezing made it known that I was up for the day. So I tried to be at least quasi-productive. I didn’t have any major cerebral capabilities, so rather than working on a big writing project I knocked out a lot of mini-reviews over at CXPulp.com (we’ve changed up the format in a way that I think is cool and, more importantly, will help you guys find what you’re looking for). I also watched the last two Netflix movies I had at home to cap off my previously mentioned “watch as many 2010 movies in January as I can” experiment. I plan to report on the results of that tomorrow, for those of you who are interested.

And if you’re waiting to hear more about Wizard World New Orleans, that’s going to be a big ol’ column at CX this Wednesday. If you’d like to see photos of the con or a couple of videos of the musical stylings of Ethan Van Sciver, you can find them on my Flickr Album.

15
Oct
10

Halloween Happenings…

October is at the halfway mark, friends, and somehow I feel like I haven’t even begun to immerse myself in the spirit of Halloween. I suppose that’s largely because I spent the first two weeks of the month in the midst of a goody, slapstick comedy. But I’m down with the macabre right now, and I’m trying to give you guys as much of it as I can — although not all of it will appear right here at Evertime Realms. So here are a few links to items of note…

First off, head to CX Pulp and check out my review of Night of the Living Trekkies. This unique zombie novel follows a zombie attack on — of all things — a Star Trek convention. It’s goofy, cross-genre fun!

Meanwhile, at The Back Issue Bin, I continue to roll out horror and Halloween-type reviews. Such as…

04
Oct
10

Halloween Party: Jennifer’s Body

While nobody is going to be putting out book-length analysis of the Great Works of Megan Fox, that doesn’t mean everything she makes is total crap. Much of it, sure, but not everything. And thus, I had no trouble passing on her magnum opus Jennifer’s Body when it hit theaters. This being the Evertime Realms Halloween Party, though, I knew that I had to subject myself to horror in all its forms, and Megan Fox’s acting certainly qualifies, so I decided to brave it.

To my shock, it actually wasn’t that bad.

Fox plays the titular Jennifer, a girl who goes mysteriously missing after a party one night, only to return to school changed. Her best friend Needy (seriously, “Needy“) is the only one who thinks there’s anything wrong with her, even when the boys at school start turning up brutally murdered.

The biggest thing this movie has going for it is that, despite the DVD cover and every piece of marketing, Fox wasn’t really the main character. Amanda Seyfried, who plays Needy, is the real protagonist of the film — a dowdy girl (well… “Hollywood” dowdy, which means “hot, but with glasses and her hair pulled back”) who somehow has maintained a friendship with the far more popular Jennifer into their teen years. Needy is not just the smart one, but as the film goes on, she increasingly becomes the tough one, the determined one, and the powerful one. In fact, by the end of the film I felt like I could have been viewing an alternate origin story for Tim Seeley’s excellent horror comic Hack/Slash. Seyfried has made some clunkers, but she’s by far a superior actress to Fox in almost every way, so placing her in the true lead role makes for a stronger film.

Fox is the villain, although the way she becomes the villain makes her a bit of a victim as well. At various parts of the film she can come across as an airheaded bimbo or a coldblooded monster, and she actually does both of those roles better than many others I’ve seen her in. In another case of inaccurate marketing, the film isn’t nearly as sexually charged as most of the marketing made it out to be. There’s plenty of teasing and torment, but the sex stuff doesn’t go past anything that could be shown on network television. The gore, on the other hand, is way beyond what you’d see on TV. Which, in a horror film, is what you want.

If you passed on this film because Megan Fox doesn’t inspire you with confidence in a film’s quality, I don’t blame you. And this is by no means a masterpiece of modern cinema. But it’s actually not bad, and if your goal is to throw together a Halloween marathon of recent monster movies or even (to a degree) girl power flicks, this one wouldn’t be bad to include.

30
Jul
10

Getting back to work…

Erin is back home again, and to get my mind off it, I’m going to get some work done. This means, in large part, catching up on reviews of recent comics, mainly for Comixtreme.com, but also for my own site, The Back Issue Bin. I’ve taken to posting more and more comic book reviews here at Evertime Realms in the last few months, and it’s occurred to me that’s kind of silly. I established a whole new blog specifically for the purpose of posting comic book reviews, so why am I duplicating my efforts here? So in addition to the old reviews brought back from internet purge obscurity, in addition to the “Somebody’s First Comic Book” pieces I’ve been posting at the BIB since the beginning of June, I’m going to now start a queue of recent comic reviews in my files, where I’ll post one each day – reviews of comics that other reviewers at CX already covered, or books that I didn’t get to read until they were no longer timely, concerns that of course won’t matter at my own site. This will include future Brightest Day reviews – except for those that are posted at Comixtreme, of course. I maintain my vow that every Brightest Day tie-in I read will be reviewed either at CX or at the BIB. And you’ll be able to follow all of them as I constantly update the Archive.

The other thing I’m going to be working on are the edits to Opening Night of the Dead. I printed out the manuscript, put it in a binder, and spent my downtime during Annie rehearsals to work on editing the document. (I’ve discovered that I do much better work editing my own stuff in hard copy. For some reason, I just gloss over a lot of the errors on the screen.) As soon as I finish the editing, I’m going to ask a few trusted readers to look it over for their comments, and then it’s going to be time to look for a publisher for this bad boy. Wish me luck.

17
Jul
10

What I’m Reading: HATER

Some time ago one of the many podcast authors I follow (I honestly don’t remember which one) dropped a preview of David Moody’s novel Hater into their feed. I found that first taste very interesting, but never got around to finding the actual novel until last week. I just put it down a few minutes ago, and the first thing I did was check Amazon.com to see if the sequel was available yet.

I suppose you can qualify Hater as a horror novel, but that doesn’t really give an accurate description of the story, just as the word “Hater” doesn’t accurately describe what’s happening to the characters in the book. The story focuses on an office drone named Danny, a man weighed down by an unhappy life, kids who frustrate him, and a job he hates. As bad as his life seems, though, it gets worse when people across the country begin to suddenly snap and go into unexplained, homicidal rages against random targets. As the attacks get more and more frequent, chaos begins to spread. What is causing ordinary people to become cold-blooded killers? How long will it continue? And perhaps the most frightening question of all – who’s next?

Moody’s novel really is a great study of human nature. The real fear in this book comes not from the danger of being attacked, but from the uncertainty about who may attack next. Imagine living in a society where any random person on the street could suddenly snap and start killing anybody, from complete strangers to their closest loved ones. The collapse of society that ensues feels very real, very possible given the circumstances. For the first two-thirds of the book, we also get a very good depiction of an ordinary person’s response to this sort of chaos. The final third of the book takes a very surprising turn, and before we know what’s happening, we’ve gone from an ordinary setting in chaos to a totally changed world. The shift is quick, but Moody sells it surprisingly well.

Although the book doesn’t really share much with the zombie genre, structurally at least, it has a lot of the same feeling and tone as a great zombie book. That underlying fear is the same, that terror that something familiar would be changed forever and corrupted into something that will kill you. The best zombie stories drive that fear home, and Moody does the same thing in this book.

I was a bit surprised, as I approached the end of the novel, to begin getting that sensation that a sequel was in the offing. You know how it goes – sometimes as you get nearer to the end of the book you realize there are simply too many dangling plot threads and too many unanswered questions to resolve things in a satisfying way, which means you’re either going to be let down by the ending or you’ll realize you’re actually reading the first book in a series. This turned out to be the latter. It’s to Moody’s credit, then, that as soon as I put the novel down I logged on to his website to see if the sequel, Dog Blood, was available yet. Not only was it available (and now sitting on my Kindle) but there was a free short story on the website too, “Everything and Nothing,” that bridges the two novels. And, not surprisingly, Dog Blood is being billed as the “second book in the Hater trilogy.” So I’m not expecting a conclusion when I read that book either. But if it’s as strong as Hater is, that’s okay. Moody has sold me, and I’m definitely along for the ride.




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