Archive for July, 2010

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


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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

08
Jul
10

“Kick-Ass” and Take Names

Or was that ass-kicked?

Starring Aaron Johnson, Clark Duke, Evan Peters, Lyndsy Fonseca, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Chloe Moretz, and Nicolas Cage. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Based on the comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.

I will say it over and over again: I’m not a huge fan of the superhero genre. For every good superhero movie (“Superman,” “Batman,” “Spider-Man”) there are the less-than-stellar attempts at bringing others to the silver screen (“Daredevil,” “Hulk”) as well as attempts to resurrect a franchise (“Superman Returns,” “The Incredible Hulk”). And let’s not forget the made-up/not so renown ones (“Blankman,” “Steele”). I’m writing this on the eve of “Iron Man 2,” which I suspect will be the popcorn blockbuster that the first entirely was and that’s fine with me.

“Kick-Ass” is based on a darker graphic novel and follows Dave Lizewski, your Peter Parker-ish high school quintessential 98+ pound weakling. He’s in love with the beautiful but impossible to have Katie Deauxma (Fonseca). His two best friends Marty (Duke) and Todd (Peters) hang out with him each day at Atomic Comics. Dave’s life is the epitome of boring and mundane: he goes to school, his dad goes to work, they eat the same brand knock-off cereal, etc. In short, blah.

Out of this stagnation comes a twisted idea: what if he became a superhero, like in the comic books? His friends dismiss it saying that it would be crazy. Unless a person happened to be like Batman or whoever else why would anyone want to do it? Again, crazy idea. But not for Dave…

Hopping on the Net he orders a green with yellow trim wetsuit and some batons. He adopts the name Kick-Ass and in the beginning he’s more the reverse: his ass gets kicked. He has no fighting skills or training or cache of money to rely on. This doesn’t deter him because he has the one thing that superheroes need: a heart. After an attempt to thwart carjackers leaves him bleeding from a stab wound, as well as getting hit by a car, he emerges from the hospital with enough metal inside him to rival Wolverine. This clinches his idea of becoming a superhero.

Enter the main bad guy, lumber supplier and drug kingpin Frank D’Amico (Strong). After a deal goes bad Kick-Ass is to blame and becomes his personal center of revenge. The kingpin’s son, Chris (Mintz-Plasse), concocts a plan to get close to Kick-Ass by becoming a superhero himself.

Kick-Ass finds allies in Hit Girl (Moretz) and Big Daddy (Cage). Big Daddy had been a cop who refused to bend to D’Amico and became framed. Sent to prison for five years his then wife OD’d on drugs but lived long enough to give birth to their daughter, Mindy. Mindy and father become reunited after he’s released whereby she becomes Hit Girl and he Big Daddy. Their mission: bring down D’Amico.

I’ll leave the story description there because let’s face it: you’ve seen the plot points before. What makes this movie differ from the rest is that it knows the source material that came before it and plays to the audience. Dave narrates the film with that “I’m telling you but you should probably already figure it out” sense of sarcasm. He knows that he doesn’t have the Batman story of revenge, or the Spider-Man story of being bitten by a radioactive spider. He knows and comes to terms with the fact that superheroes grace comic books for a reason: they are in an alternate reality. By finding his own humanity he does manage to become a superhero which is just as good.

My thoughts? I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. When Nicholson in “Batman,” exclaimed, “What this town needs is an enema,” he may as well have been talking about the superhero genre. After knowing the backstories to every-other Marvel or DC character and knowing the story arcs, we’ve become so accustomed to how the story is supposed to play out that all we can do is venture whether or not this set of characters did it well.

And these do. Kick-Ass goes from being the high school dork to superhero sensation. He befriends others trying to help the cause. He fights the bad guy and wins. And, there’s the offspring of a future nemesis.

Aside from this, “Kick-Ass” is a film I would suggest to young filmmaker wannabes/gonnabes because there are so many styles put into this film. Director Matthew Vaughn’s debut movie was “Layer Cake,” but this plays closer to “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels,” and “Snatch,” both movies he produced with Guy Ritchie. For those who miss the sense of humor those movies had in Ritchie’s current work check this one out; you’ll find the person it came from. Whether the movie plays like Ang Lee’s “Hulk,” or like “A Scanner Darkly,” or even like a video game, it keeps you on your toes for what to expect. It may not be the greatest achievement in film but I can liken it to “Kill Bill Vol. 1” in terms of mashing together various styles.

Aaron Johnson does a great job at being the high school dork-come-superhero with heart and I expect that he’ll get a lot more work because of it. I’m not going to guess what his range is but he played the part perfectly. Nic Cage does an interesting turn as Big Daddy, a Batman wannabe down to his lookalike custom and Adam West-pregnant pausing sentences.

The real thing about this movie is Mindy/Hit Girl. She’s twelve, cusses worse than a sailor, and could out-John Woo any situation. A lethal killing machine that hasn’t even gotten to high school yet. I’ve heard friends say that this is controversial in other cities and maybe they’re talking about it here. But hey guys: it’s just a movie. Sit back, relax, and try to have fun watching it.

I wish I could recommend this to everybody but I know that tastes vary and that there will be a lot of people offended by this one. So I’ll recommend this one to those who love superhero movies, those who like them, and those who are all about satire.

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