31
Aug
15

Not Everything Is In ‘Focus’

focus-2015-movie-poster

Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, Adrian Martinez, BD Wong and Gerald McRaney. Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.

Ah. The Art of the Con.

I would’ve said “The Con Is On” but that’s the tagline for a much better (and understated) movie, “Bowfinger (I need to pop that into my player again). Without delving too much into Hollywood History the older con artist with the younger con artist (regardless of sex) has been going on longer than I’ve been alive. According to my memory the last attempt at the male/female con artist rom-com (such as this is) was “Duplicity” starring Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, Paul Giamatti, and Tom Wilkinson and which was a better movie. The pinnacle in my opinion would be the John McTiernan remake of “The Thomas Crowne Affair” with Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, and Denis Leary (although Russo was not a con artist in training so much as an insurance fraud investigator). Here’s the rundown:

Enter Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith), a smooth-as-silk master con/ sociological geek who’s past is dubious at best but be certain he’s been in the game longer than he knew it was a game. He’s the kind of guy who can look you straight in the eyes while he has someone steal your wallet, get your information, and return your wallet without you knowing. One night up-and-comer Jess (Robbie) tries luring him into the “significant other catching you in the act” scheme (see also: “Derailed”). Nicky calls her out on it and leaves. Jess hunts Nicky down in order to learn the ways of the con and proves that she is not just eye-candy but a worthy addition to his team. Their big con comes during a championship football game where we learn of Nicky’s fatal flaw: gambling. After losing a massive amount and winning it back (from BD Wong) they walk away with a few cool million. Nicky gives Jess $80,000 and sends her on her way, disappearing forever. Or so it seems…

Cut to 3 years later in Buenos Aires. Nicky is hired by the head of a racing team to sell a less-than-effective engine design that will give him half-second lead per lap. Suspicious of the con artist is his assistant (Gerald McRaney) who is keeping a close eye on Nicky. Thrown into the mix yet again is Jess who made her way to the track and is considered a “race skank.” Nicky tries to make amends with Jess while scheming against the team he’s selling the “defective” design to while dancing around McRaney and the guy who hired him. However, is it all just a con within a con?

There are things the movie does well and points where you feel someone interjected or just lost sight of the original idea entirely. What works for the film is Nicky detailing how the con is mastered in such a fluid fashion that it’s like watching a magic trick unfold before your eyes. He’s able to spit out psychological/sociological perspectives on nuance and mannerisms that makes you wonder if there’s a college course on this stuff (probably). Robbie proves that she can be smart and beautiful, transcending the source material in a way that almost begs for a spin-off starring her alone. They do work well together.

The letdown of the film is that it feels that the traits of the characters were ditched to rush into a rom-com to make a quick buck. After the setups and the tryout and the championship it becomes Will Smith emoting for an hour and trying to get Robbie back. There’s almost no scene in which Smith is crying, even when he’s supposedly happy being with Robbie. What?!? Did he feel like he was selling his soul to do this film? Does he have a soul left after “After Earth?” And there’s a Gerald McRaney reveal/plot twist that makes you scratch your head as to “Why?” but you’ll find that out should you choose to check it out.

In the end “Focus” is no better nor worse than most other movies. Robbie doesn’t disappoint but Smith does a little. It’s a rainy-day, “nothin’ better on cable”-type movie. For those interested in the male/female con dynamic I suggest the aforementioned “Duplicity” or “Thomas Crowne Affair” remake (or maybe even the original). For those just wanting a different con movie I also suggest “9 Queens,” a foreign film involving a con over some misprinted stamps.

My grade: B-

22
Aug
15

Movie Review: “Jupiter Ascending”

Jupiter-Ascending-poster

The Wachowski’s, Descending

“Jupiter Ascending”

Starring: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Tuppence Middleton

Directed by: The Wachowskis

“Hollywood will never let us direct a big-budget movie again…”

Such is and will be (for now) the plight of the Wachowski siblings Andy and Lana. Almost twenty years removed from their first movie “Bound,” the siblings haven’t had a money-making hit since “The Matrix: Revolutions.” While “Speed Racer” was a wild technicolor, hyper frenetic acid trip of a movie and “Cloud Atlas” (with “Run Lola Run” director Tom Tykwer) was wildly ambitious so is “Jupiter Ascending” and as such, like previous two, fails to deliver. Here’s the rundown:

Jupiter Jones (Kunis) is a Russian emigrant of sorts – born on a ship traversing the Atlantic following the death of her father by Russian mobsters. Now grown she lives with other members of her family in a house in Chicago making a living as a maid/janitor. She doesn’t have much of a life and doesn’t want to. Enter Caine (Tatum), a mutant half-human/half-wolf genetic hybrid manufactured to be a soldier who was sent to find her because he’s good at it AND she happens to be the key bargaining chip in a battle over the Earth. Hit ‘Pause’ and let me explain:

Kunis: I don’t know why I’m here.

Abrasax family member: You have the exact genetic sequence of our dead mother!

Kunis: What does this mean?

Abrasax family member: You control the fate of the Earth.

Kunis: I don’t trust you.

Abrasax family member: But you should!

Kunis: Okay, I guess I can trust you now. What do I have to do?

Jupiter meets all three members of the Abrasax family who have divied the galaxy into Monopoly properties (“You have ten planets but Earth is worth more than those combined.”) Earth is the Boardwalk of the universe (“Do not pass Jupiter, do no collect…”) and the Abrasax family have one goal in mind: longevity. Immortality being ludicrous the family “harvest” one-hundred humans to make one core sample of a blue substance that they use in order to be younger, healthier, more beautiful, etc. Never mind the fact they already have giant blue pyramids of these core samples or the fact they live for millenniums – one can ever have too much time, I guess. Jupiter (and us, the audience) gain this information watching her go through a story with more convoluted twists and turns than a Mike Hammer novel. With the help of Caine and Stigler (Bean) Jupiter just may make it out alive and maybe make sense of it all. Maybe.

“Jupiter Ascending” is a wildly beautiful, crazily chaotic, immersively entertaining film that lacked a story. Between the space ships, laser blasts, fight sequences, and techno gadgetry belies a movie of style over substance. Kunis has far removed herself from being Jackie in “That 70’s Show” and a film like this does her no justice – she has more in common with Sigourney Weaver’s ‘Ripley’ or Linda Hamilton’s ‘Sarah Connor’ than she does the stereotypical ‘I’m here to look beautiful, be confused, go along with what everyone is saying and hope everything turns alright in the end’ woman. I was waiting for her to kick ass. Didn’t happen. This film did her less justice than “Extract.”

Of note for those looking for inside jokes or gags there are a few to be had. In one scene Tatum, using his anti-gravity boots), grabs the back of a truck and hitches a ride a la “Back to the Future.” When Jupiter goes to prove she is the genetic descendant of the dead Abrasax mother she goes through multiple lines and always has the incorrect form much like “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or even “Brazil” (note: Terry Gilliam has a cameo appearance in the film). Et cetera.

Should you watch this one? If you have a 50-inch or bigger TV check it out; you can even invite me over. This is a film MADE for a movie theater and such the detail is in the set pieces. If you’re less concerned about the CG then you may want to skip it altogether.

My grade: C-

12
Oct
10

Will You Logoff for ‘Social Network’?

If only logging on to Facebook was this compelling…

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Rashida Jones and Justin Timberlake. Directed by David Fincher. Based on the book “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich

If this review is read in the far future… you know, the one with the flying cars, jetpacks, and teleportation devices just like “Star Trek,” I wonder how we’ll look back at applications such as Twitter and the current ultimate networking platform, Facebook. Will we look upon these days and reminisce about wasting time on Mafia Wars or Farmville just as others wax laconic about Tetris and Mine Sweeper? Will Facebook concede its crown just as MySpace did? How archaic will “tagging” photos or creating groups like We Graduated High School So Why Are You Still Living In It? seem passe? To lean on the cliché only time will tell and who knows? Maybe I’ll get a chuckle out of reading this review.

At first the choice to helm a movie about culture current technological fad may seem odd. David Fincher. The guy who directed “Seven,” “The Game,” “Fight Club,” “Panic Room,” “Zodiac,” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” If you look at his resume he’s the perfect candidate for the job: the man knows his technology. He’s Robert Zemeckis with a socio-political message wrapped in the veneer of a mystery. The conspiracy inside “The Game” showed that anyone and anything could be reached and turned against someone. “Fight Club” used technology not only for effects but to emphasize its effects on masculinity. Jodie Foster found herself trapped inside a high-security box fighting for her survival in “Panic Room.” In “Zodiac” Fincher used technology to recreate the San Fran area in the Seventies as well as aging Brad Pitt backwards in “Benjamin Button.” And now the spotlight is shown on our electronic fascination with “Social Network.”

Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) is a computer student at Harvard. With a certain nebbish nature he talks a mile-a-minute on a timeline the solely exists inside his head which makes him difficult to deal with or relate to. Any moment he shares with someone appears spent before he even starts it. One night his girlfriend Erica Albright (Mara) breaks up with him because she can’t stand him anymore. Pissed-off and drunk he returns to his dorm room and blogs about his ex-girlfriend, complaining about the size of her breasts and comparing her with farm animals. With the help of his best friend/roommate Eduardo Saverin (Mazzello) he creates a program which takes all the pictures of the women on Harvard and makes a “Hot or Not” website where people can vote as pictures of women are pitted against others. Within four hours the website gets over 22,000 hits and shuts down the Harvard server.

The Harvard review board brings Zuckerberg up on Code of Conduct charges to which he seemingly doesn’t care. The guy is technologically smarter than every person in the room and has no qualms about letting them know. He’s put on academic probation and left to his own devices. Upon hearing of this in the student newspaper Zuckerberg is confronted by Divya Narendra (Minghella) and the Winklevoss Twins Cameron and Tyler (Armie Hammer, technically playing both roles) who found out about his website and want him to help create a student dating website for them. What’s in it for him? Re-establishing his Harvard “image.” From this Zuckerberg begins stirring an idea around in his head…

“Relationship status.” That’s the key ingredient Zuckerberg and Eduardo need to create their website, thefacebook. Within moments Zuckerberg finishes the programming and sits back. And waits.

Like a “viral web hit” people begin logging on and joining up. The duo don’t know what they have on their hands. Mark wants to keep it free and expand the technology while Eduardo wants to monetize it so it can begin paying for itself. Steadily the amount of members increase as they broaden who can join (because you need an “.edu” address to be a member) to other colleges. It even goes overseas. Meanwhile the guys with the prestigious rowing club try pursuing litigation saying that Zuckerberg stole their idea.

Enter Sean Parker (Timberlake). He created Napster and sat in the middle of multiple lawsuits while living the party lifestyle. Sean has ideas and against Eduardo’s better judgment has sway on Mark. He convinces Mark to move out to California so they can take “thefacebook” global because Sean has contacts. He’s setting up meetings. He’s getting Zuckerberg networked. Meanwhile, Eduardo is back in New York running around, seemingly hopelessly, trying to get funding for the website.

And therein lies what the movie is about: more than Facebook, more than money, it’s about the destruction of a friendship. It’s about two men who shared a vision in the beginning only for each to find out who the other was too late. Eduardo is sold on the idea and wants to keep a certain amount of control on it while Mark wants to play “Civilization” with social networking. Piece by piece Eduardo is sold out by Mark and Sean finally ending up suing Mark.

And Mark has no initial worries about the place he’s found himself in: the middle of two lawsuits. One is against the person who used to be his best friend while the other is against the brothers who hired him to do their website. Mark can be labeled “cold and indifferent” without pause or difficulty. That’s as deep as he goes…

Fincher weaves the tale back and forth between Mark’s and Eduardo’s testimonies as well as those of the Winklevoss. It’s an intriguing tale. It’s compelling. Think “Aviator” for computer nerds. While you may not get a full view on who Zuckerberg really is the actions speak for themselves. One of the best lines to illustrate this arrives at the very end when Rishad Jones says, “You’re not an asshole, but you’re trying so hard to be.” Apropos.

The question that comes to mind: is this the TRUE story of the founding of Facebook? I haven’t read the book and therefore cannot say. It’s a movie so I’m sure a good chunk is embellished but I also believe that several events did occur; I just can’t say which ones. But more importantly: what does Zuckerberg think of all this?

I did enjoy the movie overall. If it were any director other than Fincher I may have decided against seeing it but Fincher is one of the better storytellers of my generation. The guy can make the bland provocative. Aside from the technological aspect Fincher called up industrial rock artist Trent Reznor and had him do the soundtrack (Fincher had done several Nine Inch Nails videos) and the result works. While Eisenberg, Timberlake, and Garfield give good performances of their characters since I have not really seen their real-life versions I can’t speak to how accurate they were.

My grade: B+

14
Sep
10

Affleck Takes Moviegoers to ‘Town’

Hardboiled Affleck?

Starring Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, and Chris Cooper. Written and directed by Ben Affleck. Based on the novel “Prince of Thieves” by Chuck Hogan

Gritty. Low-tech. Real. Honest. Violent. Southie crime drama. And it works.

Ben Affleck returns to the director’s chair with his second feature, “The Town.” If you haven’t seen his first, “Gone Baby Gone,” I recommend renting it. “The Town” is another crime drama set in South Boston and while it proudly follows in the footsteps of “The Departed” and “Boondock Saints,” it has its own distinction with a “whiff” of “Carlito’s Way” running through it. It all kicks off with two quotes about Charlestown: first, that it’s the capital of blue-collar crime and secondly that those who grow up there are proud of being from there, no matter how f’d up their lives become.

Doug MacRay (Affleck) is a former high school hockey star who returned to his hometown of Charlestown and decided to kick it by working in construction. And organizing armored car and bank heists. His crew includes his volatile best friend Jim Coughlin (Renner), who is like a brother to him, Desmond Eldon (Owen Burke) and getaway driver Albert Magloan (Slaine). The opening heist has them holding up a bank and taking hostage bank manager Claire Keesey (Hall). Immediately after they drop her off by the water and ditch the van, abandoning and setting it on fire in Charlestown.

Enter FBI investigators Special Agents Adam Frawley (Hamm) and Dino Ciampa (Titus Welliver). Frawley looks over any evidence left, which isn’t much and deduces that the people he’s dealing with are “not f’n around.” His only lead is with Keesey who can only repeat what little she doesn’t know. No prints, knowing when bank events were timed… he’s out for blood but with no direction to go. On a hunch he’s able to track down the crew having a cookout.

But the movie isn’t so much about what’s going on with everyone else as it is MacRay. Doug is haunted by the fact that his mother left him and his dad (Chris Cooper) when he was six. He tried breaking away from the small town but failing at hockey he returned and got sucked back in. His dad worked for Fergie the Florist (Postlethwaite) and is now doing hard time. His friend Jim’s family took him in and he even dated Jim’s sister Krista (Lively) who is a product of the area: in her twenties with a kid, drunk and strung-out on drugs. He wants to get out. He needs to get out. Just one last job…

Doug takes it upon himself to track and watch Claire to see what she knows and what she says. He finds that she’s a “yuppie” who lives in Charlestown and does volunteer work with kids. She has a good, decent. Doug finds himself falling in love with her, wanting to take her with him when he leaves Charlestown. He makes his mind up to get out but again, one last job.

The stakes are raised after a second armored car heist brings more attention to the crew who are already dressed as facially-decrepit nuns sporting assault rifles. Jim comes down on Doug for dating Claire citing that it could destroy everything they’ve built up. “Fergie” tells Doug that he can’t leave working for him because he won’t let him. Special Agent Frawley questions Claire a little more and informs her that her boyfriend Doug is a bank robber. Doug is being pulled down by the very forces he’s working to escape from. Will he make it out alive? Will Claire come with him?

From the opening action sequence of a perfectly planned bank heist to its somber end, “The Town” is a class-act thriller/noir/heist movie that makes no apologies for a “feeling” of being independent so much as it showcases good filmmaking. Following critical acclaim for directing “Gone Baby Gone” Affleck may be one of the better actor-turned-directors that exist in Hollywood. Watching the movie it feels real: car crashes don’t lead to explosions, weapons-fire doesn’t come with witty lines, and the characters and locale aren’t misunderstood –they are exactly what they are with little regret.

And maybe it’s that angle that works for this film. “Carlito’s Way,” which I mentioned earlier, seemed to inspire the vibe flowing through this film: the guy who just wants out and away from it all, who is trying to do good, to do the right thing around others who don’t want him to change for their purposes. It’s a cruel life-lesson that Doug MacRay learns but not entirely in the same way as Carlito Brigante.

Do I suggest this movie? Hell yes. Action scenes are done well and while they rush they do not feel like a “Bourne” scene. There’s enough tension to keep you on the edge of your seat every-other scene. The music works with the film. As for acting the actors seem to be at home with the characters.
Someone asked me last night what I thought of it. I would pay full price to see this movie again. It’s that good.

My grade: A

06
Sep
10

Fake-Trailer Makes Good Movie with “Machete”

Machete improvises.

Starring Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Jeff Fahey, Steven Segal, Michelle Rodriguez, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Lindsay Lohan, and Robert DeNiro. Directed by Robert Rodriguez and and Ethan Maniquis

The cult fans asked and Rodriguez delivered. “Machete” is excessively violent, bloody, sexy… in other words: it’s exactly what you think it is from the get-go to the final frame. Since the return of the exploitation flick with “Black Snake Moan” and following with “Grindhouse” (or “Planet Terror” and “Death Proof”) “Machete” delivers exactly what’s required by hardcore “grindhouse” aficionados: all the “digitally added” crackles, scratched frames, and enough blood, gore, sex, and violence to make make audiences miss the good ole days of the drive-in slasher.

For those of you reading who don’t know, “Machete” was originally conceived as a “fake trailer” for the combined “Grindhouse” movie (“Planet Terror” and “Death Proof”). If you haven’t watched it search YouTube or rent “Planet Terror” on DVD. The movie’s story pretty much follows everything you see in the trailer.

“Machete” (Trejo) is a Federale which, in terms of the film, is loosely defined as “CIA, FBI, DEA, and military all wrapped-up in one big, badass burrito.” They’re the Mexican police. Going against orders Machete and his partner crash into a building with their car and Machete lays to waste a few baddies (decapitation, shooting them) before being subverted by a naked woman. Knifed through the chest by his own blade Machete’s forced to watch as ex-Federale-turned-criminal kingpin Torrez (Segal) murders his wife and daughter before his eyes.

Fast-forward three years. Machete is lone day laborer walking the streets of a border town. He gets money doing what he can when he can but staying off the radar. He confides in Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), a taco vendor who, as underground revolutionary “She,” runs The Network which sneaks illegals into the States and helps them find jobs. Luz is constantly under the watchful eye of Special Agent Sartana (Alba), a Federal agent who finds herself conflicted with the fact that she returns her own people over the border.

And therein is the underlying problem: what to do about the illegal immigrants coming into the United States. If pro-conservative Texas Senator McLaughlin (DeNiro) has his druthers, they’re sent packing back to the homeland. McLaughlin works closely with border sheriff/vigilante Lt. Stillman (Don Johnson with white porkchop sideburns) and shoots down any illegals that make it into the U.S. His staunch opposition of illegal immigration has him sliding downward in the political race.

Enter personal aide Booth (Fahey). On a whim he picks out “anonymous day laborer” Machete and pays him $150k for a job: shoot the Senator. Or he’ll be killed. Machete takes the job but is shot during the process and led into the underground Network. Machete’s face and profile are soon broadcast by the media and he’s forced into hiding.

Politics make strange bedfellows and Booth is no stranger to that. He setup Machete to shoot the Senator so the Senator’s approval rating for re-election will skyrocket, and it does. He’s also under the command of Torrez who recognizes who Machete is. The Hitman Osiris Amanpour (Tom Savini) is called in to dispatch of Machete but instead kills Padr (Marin). The stakes are raised, the Mexican laborers are outraged, and there’s a call for blood and vengeance. Will Machete answer?

The movie itself is cartoonish, excessive, trashy, with cornball humor and dialog but mostly it’s fun. It’s what “The A-Team” and “The Expendables” should’ve been, especially “Expendables.” No person in the movie let’s on that they know they’re in the movie -it plays one straight note for the entire length of the picture. You, the viewer, have to decide if that’s a note you want to see carried.

I was surprised to see a lot of the cast of the film. Don Johnson as the head of a group of vigilantes ate his part up and seemed to be having a good time making the film. I think Steven Segal got the joke of it all and played on that. Most surprising, in my opinion, was the inclusion of Lindsay Lohan. The movie has her playing as a “druggie” living under the roof of her affluent dad (Fahey). She only cares about her “exposure” and being streamed over the Internet. Her character probably doesn’t stray too far from her own personal one.

Is this one you should watch? If you’re a guy there’s enough language, violence, and nudity to go around. Lindsay Lohan and Jessica Alba wind up naked (how’d Rodriguez do that?) One-liners, shit blowing up, over-the-top action… if it’s not the greatest B-movie ever made, it’s damn near close.

From the seedy beginning to the “Good, Bad, and Ugly”-inspired opening to the coup de grace final showdown, “Machete” doesn’t stop nor does it disappoint. Favorite line: “Machete don’t text.”

My grade: B

26
Jul
10

Does ‘Inception’ Make Nolan the New Morpheus

A heist movie of the subconscious.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joesph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine. Directed by Christopher Nolan

A heist movie. A psychological thriller. One-hundred percent Christopher Nolan.

I’m going to be as unbiased as I can possibly be in reviewing this one. I’ve been a fan of Nolan’s work since “Memento,” (having watched it in theaters at least three times) and count him as one of the best current filmmakers, if not one of the best of all time. He is the psychological storytelling of Alfred Hitchcock mixed with the technical side of Ridley Scott.

What is “Inception?” That’s been the big question on everyone’s minds as the trailers haven’t shown or given away much. The truth is: they can’t. Explaining this film in under five minutes is like saying “Memento” is about a guy with memory problems or “The Prestige” is about two magicians trying to outdo the other. Yes, both quips are technically correct but lack the gravitas of what the films are truly about.

Leo DiCaprio is Dom Cobb, a man living on the edge of heightened paranoia and concern. What he does isn’t exactly legal -breaking into the thoughts and dreams of other individuals to steal their secrets- all the meanwhile trying to evade the Cobalt Group (for a job that apparently went wrong) and U.S. authorities for skipping country because of a misunderstanding in the regards to the death of his wife Mal (Cotillard). He’s caught between running from reality and the sadomasochism of his dream world where he returns repeatedly to the memories of being with his wife, their times together, her death, etc.

The “forward chronology” of the movie starts in what appears to be a dream -Saito (Watanabe) is holding something secret and Cobb and the gang have to extract his secret. Easier said than done. Cobb is able to retrieve the secret but not before Mal, the thorn inside his dream world, causes problems for him. Cobb then returns to an apartment where his team and Saito are at and Saito is not impressed until he finds that they’re in yet another dream. Cobb and Arthur (Gordon-Levitt) try getting out of Tokyo but not before Saito proposes a job: he wants the heir of an electrical conglomerate Robert Fischer, Jr. (Murphy) to disband the company en whole.

Therein lies the challenge: not extraction, but the inception of an idea. To make the guy whose head you’re inside BELIEVE that he came up with the idea himself. Arthur contends that it’s just not possible but Cobb believes, on the border of knowing, that it CAN be done. And the prize? Saito is powerful enough to get Cobb waived through immigration so he can see his children James and Phillipa again who are staying with his in-laws.

Speaking of which, he travels to Paris to meet with his father-in-law Miles (Caine) who taught him everything he knows about controlling dreams except for the heist business. Dom pleads for help for the quintessential “one last job”: he needs an architect, someone who can help design a dream world. He’s introduced to Ariadne (Page), who gets interested/addicted to the idea of building dream worlds on a larger scale and joins the team.

Rounding out the rest of the crew is the “chemist” Yusuf (Dileep Rao), the information/research/impersonator Eames (Tom Hardy), and “tourist” Saito. The chemist has a drug that will prolong the dream state, Eames does covert intel on the guy, and Saito is just there to watch it happen (or help make it happen). They conceive the idea of a three-layer dream to get into Fischer’s head and give him the idea that his father (Pete Postelthwaite) doesn’t want him following in his shoes and should disband the entire company. When Fischer’s father passes they have the perfect window of opprotunity – ten hours – to pull it off. Mission: Psychological is on…

But not without a few snags. Remember Mal? When everyone is dreaming there’s a shared state of consciousness and she often appears at inopportune moments causing a debilitating state for Dom. If that’s not enough Fischer has military “projections” (filler people in the dream world). Seems that bit of intel escaped Eames. Trouble comes in threes and after Saito is shot time is shortened and the stakes run high. Will Dom and company be able to plant the idea in the guy’s head? Will they even get to that point? Will Mal screw everything up? Will Cobb see his children again? Will any of them survive? And so forth.

I loved the movie. It begins like a dream – you don’t know where it really begins or why – and it ends on a note that makes you question all that you just watched. It’s smart, the cinematography (especially for the hallway fight scene) is great, and it’s one-hundred percent story. The camera becomes an invisible person of sorts and you’re strapped into your chair for the ride.

Some critics have hailed “Inception” as Nolan’s magnum opus. Roger Ebert cited that Nolan had been working on the script/story for ten years. I’m in agreement. Film students watching Nolan’s work could cite many of the themes in this movie are carried over from previous ones: the guy so in love with his wife that he cannot forget her (“Memento”), a father dying and his son having to come to terms not only with the death but of becoming heir to a giant corporation (“Batman Begins”), a man who will grow old and probably die alone (“Insomnia”) and being reunited with children (“The Prestige”). “Inception” takes all of these, and maybe a few more, and rolls them into one cinematic pill to swallow.

Nolan once talked about “Memento” saying that as the life of Leonard Shelby unraveled, so did his conscience while he was making the film. It makes you ask how you remember what you remember. “Inception” asks not only about memories but of the stuff we make up, whether it’s to set us free or imprison, and how do we deal with what’s going on. Dreams are more than our escape.

Not only did Nolan take some of his best tricks and throw them in, but his cast and crew are some he’s worked with before. Ken Watanabe was in “Batman Begins,” Cillian Murphy was in both, and Michael Caine has been in every Nolan film since “Batman Begins.”

Will the movie payoff in the long run? I would like to say yes but it’s a hard sell: a heist movie/ psychological thriller. It’s more intellectual than, say, “Inside Man.” The beginning is a bit slow and detached but once you’re into the movie you’re with every frame until the very end. As for the end itself there is no clear answer as to what really happens, but I have my theories.

My grade: A

If you’re interested in hardboiled thriller, check out the blog story “The Big Adios” at:

http://aidencobb.blogspot.com


08
Jul
10

Is “Prince of Persia” Better than its Game-sake?

Who knew Disney could be so violent?

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Ben Kingsley, Gemma Arterton, and Alfred Molina. Directed by Mike Newell

“Prince of Persia: Sands of Time” is the latest of the video game based movies-genre. It’s not bad but this is a movie which means that within six months after it’s released on video it’ll pretty much be forgotten. It’s not going to hit the iconic status of such previous fare as “Cloak and Dagger,” or even the first “Mortal Kombat” movie but in its own “sands of time” it may be reflected on better than say, “Silent Hill,” “Doom,” or even “Super Mario Brothers” (which has a cult status as being incredibly horrible in its own right).

Turning back to ye olden days of lore we go back to the ancient Persian empire. The story kicks-off with a young Dastan (William Foster), a homeless kid who defends a friend from the royal guard. When King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) takes notice of him, he adopts him into his family.

Cut to the now where Dastan (Gyllenhaal) is grown and living with royal blood brothers Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) and Tus (Richard Coyle). A council meeting is held between the three in regards to invading the holy city of Alamut. Word has it that the city has a weapons forgery and while Alamut has not been taken for at least a thousand years, there’s a first time for everything. Without the King’s consent the three brothers mount an attack on the holy city.

Still the quick-thinking street-thief, Dastan takes his small group, scales the eastern wall, and gets in. A short matter of time later Alamut is taken for the kingdom of Nasraf. Alamut’s protector, Princess Tamina, prays at an altar. Tus sends men to find the weapons forgery which Tamina claims does not exist.

A ceremony is given to King Sharaman, turning the city over to him. At first he’s dismayed that his sons have taken over the holy city but accepts it from them, wanting to unite the kingdoms. During the ceremony Dastan presents to him a religious cloak. Sharaman’s brother Nizam (Kingsley) puts it on him. Sharaman gives Princess Tamina to Dastan as his first wife. Within moments Dastan’s good fortune is shattered: the cloak is poisoned and Dastan is blamed for the King’s death. Dastan and Tamina are now on the run for their lives.

What Dastan doesn’t know, and Tamina is reluctant to tell him, is that the dagger he is carrying is special. How special? It contains the sand of time and when the button on the hilt is pressed the holder goes back in time for one minute (great for parlor tricks). This comes in handy several times however this is a limited supply of “correct” sand to use in it. Tamina steals it back, then Dastan gets a hold of it again, etc. back and forth.

Along the way they encounter Sheik Amar (Molina), an entrepreneur of sorts who runs a city of cutthroat thieves. Their main source of entertainment is ostrich racing. Realizing Dastan and Tamina have a heavy bounty on their heads Amar and his company continues tracking them after they make it out of the city.
And let’s not forget about the real “man behind the curtain”: Nazim. The story of how Nazim saved Sharaman is a pivotal point to the entire movie (and I won’t give it away) but that, and the sands of time, put the entire future of the kingdom into jeopardy. Just sayin’

So, how is the movie? Well, there’s action, adventure, and enough PG-13 violence to go around for a while. I was actually surprised that Disney would show people sword-fighting, getting stuck by arrows, etc. But, maybe it’s a new Disney. I’m not complaining mind you and if “The Black Hole” is any indication of where Disney can go as far as the elements of story, then “PoP” is pretty tame by comparison.

Gyllenhaal has his workout cut-out for him as he jumps, slides, runs, scrambles, fights, punches, kicks, runs up walls, across roofs, ducks, dives, dodges, and whatever other action-verbiage I can’t think up right now. Honestly, it really does seem at times as if he’s in the video game. A few times I wanted to bust out my invisible controller and keep punching the buttons.

Again, it’s not bad. Watchable. Enjoyable even. Someone called it “cheesy” and I disagree; it’s limited by being what it is –a video game movie. I can’t expect Shakespeare out of it anymore than I can expect the same from a superhero movie. There are going to be parts exactly like a video game and yes, it’s largely plotless.
Gemma Arterton (last seen in “Quantum of Solace”) is beautiful and plays her part well. Alfred Molina seems to be having some fun with his role. And should you ever find yourself in a movie in which Ben Kingsley is in it with you, chances are he’s the bad guy.

My grade: B-

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com




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