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July 27, 2010

Review: Inception

I was delayed in seeing "Inception" because of a week-long trip to the beach, but I assure you, it was worth the wait. As I waited for the film to start, I typically made a comment about each movie trailer that preceded it. I had to explain to my companion that two films, "Tron: Legacy" and "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," were both sequels to movies made in the '80s. Now I have not seen either original installment, therefor I can't say whether or not these sequels should be made. However, I think it's fair to say that most of what we've seen in this busy summer movie season, and what we can see in the near future, are remakes and sequels to movies that either weren't that great in the first place, or were great but shouldn't be remade. The reason behind most of this is money, and that's a fact. Yet I feel confident in saying that there are still actors and filmmakers who care, at least as much as they're able to, about making art. Christopher Nolan's "Inception" is the proof of this.

Solidifying himself as a filmmaker you can bet on, Nolan has showed his ability to make thought-provoking, well acted and enjoyable films over the years. These include "Memento," "The Prestige," "Batman Begins" and, of course, "The Dark Knight." Now you might have heard about "Inception" and how confusing and strange it is, or how you need to see it a second time. I disagree. Not that I wouldn't see it a second time, because it was a fantastic film, but I don't think it was as confusing as it's being made out to be. I actually kept waiting for what was supposed to be the confusing part. I made sure to pay strong attention, as to not miss anything. In fact, that's the best advice I would give someone. Just pay attention. It's not that hard.

So Leonardo DiCaprio (duh, you know how he is) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("10 Things I Hate About You," "(500) Days of Summer") professionally go into people's dreams and steal information they keep hidden. In this alternate present/near future, people can force a state of dreaming they can stay in as long as they want. It is also possible to link your dreams together with another and exist inside them. If you die in a dream, you simply wake up. Extraction, as it's called, is what Cobb (DiCaprio) and Arthur (Gordon-Levitt) do as a service to high-paying individuals, and they're not the only ones. Those who can afford it even become trained to resist such techniques. The idea is pushed further when people, like these "thieves" are able to create a dream inside of a dream, and so on. These have been referred to as different levels of the dream. A powerful man named Saito (Ken Watanabe; "The Last Samurai," "Batman Begins") employs them to do something a bit different. He challenges them to implant an idea in someone's mind through their dreams, which is referred to as "inception." He offers Cobb the chance to return home to the U.S. to see his children, as he is wanted for criminal charges. Cobb and Arthur assemble a team that offers the same skills they do, and a newcomer to the trade named Ariadne (EllenPage; "Hard Candy," "Juno"), who sees into Cobb's troubles with his dreams, his subconscious and the way he deals with his deceased wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard, "La vie en Rose," "Public Enemies"). As the team enters the mind of business empire heir Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy; "28 Days Later," "Batman Begins"), they plan an elaborate scheme that is complicated by Fischer's traning against the process and Cobb's subconscious struggles that are plagued by his past.
So if you're lost, just take a deep breath. The plot really isn't that hard to follow if you pay attention to how they explain the process, the plan and what is going on. Visually, "Inception" is stunning, and that come as no surprise given Nolan's reputation. The fact that he wrote the script himself probably helped the way it looks and feels, as this journey into the mind came directly from his. You couldn't ask for a better cast, and Nolan knew that, as he is the type of director who likes to work with familiar faces, even though the most familiar were not the stars like DiCaprio, Gordon-Levitt or Page. Several Oscar-nominees (and one winner in Cotillard) were on-board, and although I can't say any performances were necessarily Oscar-quality (not that they were bad, just not what the Academy looks for, and I expected for Michael Caine, but oh well), I could see Nolan earning a second nomination for Best Director (previously nominated for "Memento") and I wouldn't be surprised by a Best Original Screenplay nomination or several for technical achievements like editing and visual effects. The musical score by Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer really drives the action of the film and bizarre landscape of the scenes as well.

"Inception" is a refreshing film in what has been a sort of slumping summer. As far as all the connotations it's been gaining about theories, confusion and ambiguity, there really isn't much. Take a moment to wrap your head around the idea of entering dreams and understand the rules to the process that are explained in the film. The ending of the film has been argued a bit, as it is a little ambiguous, but really it's just open to interpretation. Do yourself a favor and enjoy "Inception." Remember, Christopher Nolan isn't trying to confuse you or make you feel stupid, he's just challenging your mind. So take the challenge.

"Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange."


July 14, 2010

So what's up with The Avengers and The Hulk?

Well, allow me to vent about that for a second."The Avengers" hits theaters summer 2012, and will bring together all the stars of Marvel Studios films from the recent past and near future including Iron Man, Thor, Captain America (the latter two coming next summer) and allegedly Black Widow and War Machine (from "Iron Man 2"), Loki (from "Thor") and Nick Fury (who may get his own movie, at some point). Also, allegedly, would be Hawkeye and possibly Ant Man (who also has a solo movie scheduled for after "The Avengers" hits theaters). Most importantly, the Hulk, who has had two different movies made about him in the past couple years (2003's "Hulk" and 2008's "The Incredible Hulk"). I really thought the marginal success of "Iron Man 2" was going to hurt "The Avengers," or possibly every film leading up to it being directed by different people or the combination of so many expensive and well known actors being squished into an ensemble cast. Nope, turns out it's going to be the executives at Marvel being complete idiots and no one appreciating Edward Norton's performance in "The Incredible Hulk." To be honest, it didn't get the most attention, but how could it? It was a more serious take on an introspective superhero who is often mistaken by his peers as a menace, which came out in the summer sandwiched between "Iron Man" and "The Dark Knight." It was already alleged back in that summer after the credits of "The Incredible Hulk" that it would be tied in with the other Marvel movies, and I guess that's still the plan. However, Marvel has decided to not include Edward Norton in this plan. If you read the many articles online about the situation, it was sudden to Norton's people, who assumed it had to do with salary issues, when according to Marvel, it had to do with finding an actor they felt would fit better in the ensemble cast, basically saying Norton can't work well with others. Norton has an Oscar nomination under his belt, has always been very professional in his work and the eye of the public and is supposedly personal friends with several stars in the upcoming Avengers film. Marvel's people should know better than anyone how hard it is to please comic book fans when it comes to making movies, and recasting a major character because of their own reasons rather than the actor's is just asking for massive backlash. In my opinion, Norton did a fantastic job as the scientist-turned green monster and I'm really not looking forward to seeing a character show up four years after his introduction as someone else. It's going to throw off the chemistry of the entire film, much like both Joel Schumacher Batman films.
IMDB has been blowing up with news articles from various entertainment sites all day with speculation that Mark Ruffalo will be the new Hulk in "The Avengers." This more than a disappointment to me, basically because I'm really not a fan of his work. He's mostly been seen in indie films, often in smaller roles, but he's very recognizable in feature films as well. Not necessarily a bad actor, but something about him bothers me. Plus, he looks nothing like Norton and acts nothing like him as well. Not a smooth transition, even though it will be a great role for his career. I think if you're going to get rid of Norton and you want to keep the Hulk, keep the Hulk, but only in Hulk form. Don't confuse things so much. Maybe find a new way to work him into the plot. Trouble is, I'm pretty sure the script is already written. It's just a big mess.

If that wasn't bad enough, I'm hearing now that both Marvel productions for next summer, "Thor" and "The First Avenger: Captain America," will be in 3D. I'm pretty sure that Marvel's plan here is to see how much time and money it takes to make one major disappointment of a film. Four years of films are building up to what? I guess we'll have to wait and see.


Review: Despicable Me

It's nice when an animated film can make both children and adults laugh out loud, while offering a coherent and enjoyable plot that either can age group can enjoy. Correction, it's nice when one finds this in an animated film not made by Disney/Pixar. Now don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of the majority of Pixar's offerings over the past few years. In my eyes, they've changed how animated films are made and received. However, it's important to remember they don't own a monopoly over the genre (though they do dominated the Best Animated Feature Oscar category, and probably will for a long time). I don't rush out to see every animated film that hits theaters, though most of them appear enjoyable. When I do take a chance on such a film, it's nice to find something really worth it.

When going to see "Despicable Me" I didn't know what to expect, as is often the case with animated features as of late. Their trailers contain an extremely basic plot summary, colorful characters and a few funny one-liners. This is enough to attract the attention of young children and their parents, but someone in between those two groups needs better incentive to shell out the $10 for a movie these days. I even remember seeing a teaser trailer for it last summer sometime, but had no idea what the movie was about and was not very interested. I must say that I have no regrets with my decision. Gru, voiced by Steve Carell ("The Office," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin") is a villain. A basic description, yes, but it's enough. He has an old scientist who helps him develop high-tech weapons and vehicles, an army of minions and he routinely makes large-scale thefts in order to make a big splash in the news. The funny thing about this is that Gru lives in a very suspicious house in the middle of the suburbs. It's suggested that Gru's neighbors know exactly what he does, and that he can't be very hard to find, if the authorities wanted. Also, his minions are a strange yet comical creature, more like little alien workers who are upbeat and dedicated to his work. When a young up-and-coming villain named Vector steals an Egyptian pyramid, Gru feels threatened and begins to plan his dream caper: stealing the moon. In order to get the right device from Vector, Gru decides to adopt three young orphan girls so they may infiltrate Vector's fortress. Gru, who never apologizes for his mean and surly demeanor, begins to see a soft spot he never knew he had as he gets closer with the girls who see a him as a fatherly figure, despite it being extremely uncharacteristic of him. His plans to uphold his reputation and his work conflict with the new family he has created.

Right, so the plot is fresh and funny in itself. The young girls are very lovable to the audience, and and who doesn't like seeing a mean character turn good? It's a child movie staple. Adult jokes are thrown in enough, but not too much, which I think really makes a good animated film. Being able to appeal to all demographics is important when ticket prices and bad movies keep infecting the industry. "Despicable Me" opened last Friday and earned the number one spot in the box office this past weekend, beating out the likes of "Toy Story 3" (which has been out for a few weeks already) and "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse." Numbers like that aren't the easiest to achieve, especially when it's summer and families have better things to do than go to the movies. And, although you can't tell, there are voices provided by Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Will Arnet, Kristen Wiig and, believe it or not, Julie Andrews.

You can also see "Despicable Me" in 3D. Although I continue to speak out against the over-use of 3D technology in films these days, animated films are really where it fits the best. There are a few extra scenes during the credits featuring Gru's minions having some fun with the 3D audience. I can tell this would be an enjoyable 3D experience, as it is used at the right times. A sequel is already being planned, which sits just fine with me. Gru's new family is really established in this film and all you would have to do is throw in a new competing villain to make a sequel work. Honestly, I don't think I got enough from the minions and I'd like to see more.

"It's so fluffy I'm gonna DIE!"


July 10, 2010

Pick of the Week: An Education

An Education - 2009

One of the ten films nominated for Best Picture at the 2010 Academy Awards, "An Education" is probably the one you knew least about, or had never even heard of. Relatively young and lesser-known star Carey Mulligan, also nominated for Best Actress, leads this story as Jenny, a sixteen year old school girl living in the U.K. during the 1960s. At this time, the planning and hard work required to get into college was something you spent all of your teen years focusing on. For women, once you finished college, there weren't a lot of options for careers, even with a degree. A male-dominated society built around status is depicted in a comical way through the ideals of her father, Jack (Alfred Molina, "Spider-Man 2," "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"). When Jenny meets a much older man named David (Peter Sarsgaard, "Garden State," "Jarhead"), who begins to show her a world she's never seen; night clubs, fine art, weekend getaways and a lack of concern for consequences. David's influence begins to affect Jenny's school work, as she begins to question if there is even a point to her education. Her decisions regarding her future backfire when she learns who David really is.

David has the ability to convince Jenny's parents that not only is he a great man, but that this new life she has begun to lead is the best for her. At times, it's hard to believe how gullible they are when David turns on the charm. Jenny, however, is a very intelligent girl, and he must work harder to fool her. You would think when she learns of his dishonest business practices that he may not be who she thinks he is, and that her new life may be too good to be true.

Jenny brings up great questions about society and education which, though outdated, still hold up today. She argues with her headmistress (played by Emma Thompson in a great small role) what the point is of all the hard work when the minute you graduate you have to conform to the job and lifestyle expected of you. She yearns to be part of the glamorous French scene and insults the entire United Kingdom calling all of its inhabitants boring. It's a situation many young adults can relate to when leaving school. You feel like life has been planned out for you and that you must follow that plan, but all you want to do is rebel and completely change your surroundings, your lifestyle and your goals. We always see the opposite of our lives and feel it is better than what we've got, when really it's just different. The expectations of parents comes into play as well, when her father continuously pushes her education and the importance of being connected, arguing that it's better to know a famous author than to actually be one. When Jenny is presented with the option of spending her life with David he suddenly feels that there's no need for her to go to school if she can be a wife instead. Parents still want their children to do better than they did, and sometimes they have a very warped notion of how that is achieved.

Though some plot points are fairly cliched, the story presents a familiar yet unique look at common issues. The acting is fantastic and some of the imagery of the time period really brings you into the story. I can't say it ends in a highly dramatic moment, though there is a dramatic build to it. The ending of the story is realistic and simple, which may not be as entertaining, but it adds to the way the audience can relate.

"If you never do anything, you never become anyone."