At The Movies: Sci-fi thriller Project Power, Korean drama Bori, Italian character portrait Martin Eden

A still from the film Project Power featuring Jamie Foxx (left) and Joseph Gordon Levitt.
A still from the film Project Power featuring Jamie Foxx (left) and Joseph Gordon Levitt.PHOTO: NETFLIX

SINGAPORE - Project Power (M18, 113 minutes, Netflix, 2.5 stars) is an ambitious take on what is by now a standard science-fiction premise of the drug that grants superpowers to ordinary folk.

Like thrillers that have used the same idea (Limitless, 2011; Lucy, 2015), it is the old monkey's paw horror tale dressed in new clothes, but with the same moral: Those who defy nature will face consequences.

Defying nature here is New Orleans teenager Robin (Dominique Fishback), a dealer in the super-stimulant given the name Power. A cop Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tracks down the source of the drug. Jamie Foxx appears as The Major, a mysterious super-soldier who is also looking for the makers of the glowing orange pill.

There are a couple of fresh twists here, such as the notion that swallowing the drug leads to unpredictable results. Users might develop a god-like strength or die spectacularly.

There is also an incongruously tender thread, in how the social misfit Robin (Fishback) is a whiz at rapping, a talent encouraged by one of the male leads who develops a fatherly bond with her.

It is setup that recalls the Spider-Man trilogy (2002 to 2007), directed by Sam Raimi, a series that was a near-perfect blend of teen comedy, family drama and comic-book action.

However, co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have opted to make the action gritty and violent. That tonal confusion is worsened by a story that unfolds through the eyes of all three main characters, when settling for just Robin's would have been the best bet.

The charismatic Fishback would have made a deep and nuanced Peter Parker. It's a shame her stage had to be shared with two paper-thin male characters.

Slipping quietly in the HBO Go playlist recently is South Korean drama Bori (PG, 105 minutes, HBO Go, 3.5 stars), a gently moving story about the title character, an 11-year-old girl.


In Bori, a girl tries to break into her family's soundless world in a disquieting but also oddly charming manner. 
PHOTO: RED BY HBO

Bori (Kim Ah-song) is a coda - child of deaf adults - and her family's lifeline in a hundred small ways, such as calling up restaurants for home delivery noodles and fried chicken.

Her hearing makes her useful, but also excludes her from the intimate bond shared by her parents and younger brother, who is also deaf.

Bori tries to break into their soundless world in a disquieting but also oddly charming manner.

Her antics are mostly a means by which writer-director Kim Jin-yu, who grew up with a deaf mother, depicts what life is like for a family with members with disabilities in a small, tightly-knit community.

His poignant portrayal of that life, which snagged him the Best Director award at the Busan International Film Festival, makes a case for how people with disabilities are everywhere, but only if the able-bodied choose to see.

The coming-of-age drama Martin Eden (NC16, 129 minutes, $8 for a 48-hour rental period at theprojector.sg, 2.5 stars) is the latest adaption of the 1909 novel by American author Jack London, andavailablefor streaming here as part of the Italian Film Festival.



A still from the film Martin Eden starring Luca Marinelli. 
PHOTO: THE PROJECTOR

Director Pietro Marcello and his team take certain liberties with the source material, such as by not specifying the period but also moving the action to Naples, Italy.

What is taken from the book in a more verbatim manner is the personal philosophy of the title character, played with a great deal of magnetism by Luca Marinelli, whose physicality will remind viewers of a young Gerard Depardieu, the French actor.

Eden is an odd-job labourer who falls in love with Elena (Jessica Cressy), the daughter of an industrialist. They can never be a couple, she insists, until he betters himself through education.

What follows is a hero's journey of the creative mind, shown by Eden's evolution from naive, happy young man to a bitter but wiser middle-agedadult. As in the book, Marinelli's Eden is gripped by the ideas of the now-forgotten Herbert Spencer, the English philosopher whose principles might today be broadly called right-leaning libertarian.

Marcello does what he can to make Eden's inner growth cinematic, but the results are uneven. Eden speechifies and makes bizarre choices in some places and elsewhere, flashbacks do the job. Learning about the price one pays for enlightenment should not be this hard.