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A Heist of Dreams

July 19, 2010 2 comments

Inception

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, and Pete Postlethwaite

Directed by: Christoper Nolan

Written by: Christopher Nolan

Every once in a while a movie comes along that helps redefine what we can expect at the cinema when we sit down and watch a film.  Last year that movie was Avatar, which helped change the way that we think of 3-D films and of course since then perhaps only one or two other movies have gotten what it was that made Avatar such a great 3-D movie.  This year the movie that will make you stop and realize just how great cinema is and how much it is an art-form is the unexpected hit from Christopher Nolan: Inception.   Inception is the classic heist film, but you wouldn’t know it is a heist movie going into it because well it’s not like anything you have ever imagined or seen before.  While watching it I couldn’t help but want to be in this world where entering others dreams was possible, where we could go in and change things and get things from within their reality for those that are seeking them.

Inception doesn’t just make you sit and think about what is going on while you’re watching it, but it also makes you forget that you’re even watching a movie in a theater surrounded by others because every second is captivating.   Even when nothing much is really happening Nolan manages to put interesting moments on the screen.   This is after all the man who made The Dark Knight and Momento.  Nolan knows how to make us think while watching his films but he also knows how to make it an enjoyable ride from beginning to end.   That is what he achieves the most with Inception is it a perfect ride from beginning to end? No, but it is so close that you won’t even notice the small subtle flaws while watching the movie.  The real thing about this movie is it makes you think after the credits start rolling, it makes you wonder….that is what the best movies always do.

Our dreams are powerful, in them we become who we want to be, and do things that are never possible.   There are moments in Inception that truly do feel like  a dream, there are sequences in the film that make you wonder why do we dream and what do our dreams mean.  On top of that there are some excellent action pieces in the movie, some amazing special effects that help pull you into this world that Nolan created.  There is even a sequence in the film with slow motion movement and battles that bests the sequences in The Matrix, not a sequence, EVERY sequence, its something that the Wachowski brothers would never have thought of doing in a million years and it just makes you want to see the movie again and again.

More after the trailer…but be warned spoilers follow heavily if you don’t want to know what Inception is about or what happens in it do not read.

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Inception begins in the dream, some would argue that this is where the movie is the entire time from beginning to end, some argue that this is just a bookend to help draw us into the movie.   Neither is wrong, and on that note neither is right.    Nolan stated many times that he left the movie open to interpretation on purpose, he wants us to think while sitting there watching the movie.   The opening sequences make you wonder what is going on, it’s not that its hard to follow its just that you don’t know the rules of this world that Nolan has created yet.  Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) helps us by sort of explaining things quickly while in the room, but basically at first we are left to wonder what is going on.   There is  a sequence here in the beginning with Cobb and Saito  that makes us realize that we’re not really in reality but in a dream within a dream and then finally we get to witness reality.

Nolan doesn’t shove a lot of things in our faces, he doesn’t make us wonder how is this possible or how does it work.  Instead he just sets the rules quickly of how it works.  Someone somewhere discovered shared dreaming and now it’s started to spread and has become a way for men like Cobb and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to make a living by slipping others into their dream reality and using it to twist them and get them to reveal their secrets.   The dream world is created by the architect and only they have control of it yet the dreamer is the one that they are seeking to draw information out of so the architect has to be careful not to make the world unreal.    All of this is explained to us but it’s never forced down our throats in a way that we cannot digest.  That is the pure genius of the movie, it works on this level because it doesn’t say: this is possible and this is how its possible.  It just assumes that we understand the first rule and leaves the second part up in the air.  You see its not importnat how it is possible….its just important that we believe it is possible.

We quickly learn that Saito (Ken Watanabe) wants to use Cobb and Arthur to help him, not steal a secret but implant a thought instead.  This is what the movie is about: Inception or the creation of a thought that was not in someone’s head before but now needs to be.   They say that Inception is impossible but Cobb of course believes that it is possible, we begin to learn quickly that Cobb is perhaps not the most stable of men.    He agrees to help Saito and that is when things really start to get twisted because they need to hire a team, a team of experts.  They get a group of men that they have used before and then there is the new one, the start-up the young protegé: Ariadne (Ellen Page) who becomes the new Architect.

There is a sequence in the movie when Ariadne is just learning how to use her ability in the dream world that is truly amazing, it’s when she knows that she’s dreaming and she starts to mess with the world in such a way that everyone in Cobb’s subconscious starts to question her being there and think of her as threatening.   That is the most important rule that you learn: every living person in the dream is in fact a part of the subconscious of the dreamer, not the architect but the one that is dreaming the dream that the architect designed for them.  This rule becomes important once the heist starts because it’s the only way that they manage to actually succeed in what they are trying to do.

Cobb has a twisted and deep story, he’s a tortured father who lost his wife we learn quickly that they dreamed together, a dream so deep that they spent an entire life together within the dream.   In the world of dreams things happen much faster than in real life, if you sleep for an hour you can dream weeks and days even depending on how deep you are in the dream.   In one such place Cobb and his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) spent and entire lifetime together, but when they awoke she was not the same even though he tried to bring her back she was different and Cobb forever blamed himself for what happened to her.   Because of this Mal appears in Cobb’s dreams even when he’s not the dreamer.   She’s a powerful influence on him and its slowly driving Cobb towards the edge in his conscious mind.   Ariadne is the only one who is aware of how deeply Mal has effected Cobb and that’s because she sneaks into his dream one night and learns just how deep his obsession with his wife has gone.

We don’t learn much about the others, it’s mainly the story of Cobb, Ariadne, Mal, Saito, and Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy).   These are the characters that we learn the most about, and there is nothing really wrong with that for they drive the story the most.   Murphy is really good in this movie as Robert Fischer, in fact I think this is probably his best performance ever even better than what he did in 28 Days Later.   People over look Cillian Murphy a lot I wish that he wasn’t over looked because he is a very good young actor.  Fischer is interesting because he’s not some weak spoiled child that doesn’t like his father, in fact he is the exact opposite a child who loves his father but his father never really loved him.

In Fischer’s first dream level we learn that there is such thing as security, rich people like Fischer are aware of what can happen to them in the world of Inception and thus are trained to make their subconscious mind realize when it’s dreaming and thus defend against those that have invaded the dream.    This becomes very important as we get deeper into the dream, but it is one of the things that doesn’t live up the potential in all of the way.    In this part of the dream though we learn that you can also change how you look if you’re good enough at disguises such as Eames (Tom Hardy).   Here he disguises himself as Browning (Tom Berenger) who is Fischer’s father’s best friend and also most loyal employee.   Things get crazy from here on out, if it wasn’t already insane enough with them in one dream they work it so that they slip into a second dream.

In this dream Cobb convinces Fischer that he is in fact the head of his in the head security and is working with him to stop those that have invaded his head, this works to their advantage as they slip into the third level of the dream.   It’s the fact that things in the real world or higher dream worlds actually do effect the dream world as well, the shifting of the van that Yusuf (Dileep Rao) is driving actually affects the deeper dream world in the hotel.  The numbers that Fischer picks in the higher dream actually effect the lower two levels of his subconscious mind to the point that they are used over and over again.   It is here in the hotel that Arthur has three really cool sequences dealing with gravity and the loss of such a thing when the van first flips over while he is fighting a group of men and then the second time when gravity is lost as the van heads towards the lake below the bridge.

I cannot describe these sequences they have to be seen, but both of them are so well done that it makes you want to see them again.   At the same time in the deeper dream Fischer gets shot and actually “dies” though you don’t really die in the dream, you just slip further into your subconscious (when sedated when not you just wake up) into a place known as limbo.   It is here that we go in the last few minutes of the movie, here in limbo we see the world that Cobb and Mal created and everything comes head long into a conclusion that you won’t believe until you actually see it.    At the end once everyone has been pulled from the dream and Cobb is heading home it all seems to real to be true, the one phone call to make the things that were keeping him from going home, the arrival at his parents house to see his two kids who look just as they did in his dream.

It all seems too much like a dream, but is it a dream?  Does Cobb never wake up from his dream?  Was he dreaming all along throughout the entire movie?   Or did he wake up and he’s now back in the real world and the spinning top is actually going to topple just after the credits roll?   I can’t tell you what to think, I can only tell you that I believe he woke and is back in the real world, I believe that they pulled off Inception and that Cobb finally has his life back, why do I believe this? Because I like to believe that he made it back and in the end that’s what I believe, it might not be what you believe and that is the genius of Inception it’s all about our perceptions on what happens, it never forces its own perception on us, but instead lets us decide for ourselves…..

What they Did right: The dream sequences are amazing, the special effects are real and never invading.  The plot is pure and simple a heist movie within a dream movie that is also science fiction but you’d never really guess it was while watching it.  The characters are believable and the action is tight and deeply thought out as you would expect from the man who brought us Dark Knight.

What they did wrong: The only real fault I had with the film was that the whole three layers of the dream were not long enough or complex enough for all of the work that went into setting it up.   It is true that they went in thinking that they were just cracking his mind and implanting but not expecting security, still I would have loved to have seen more of those dreams than what was there…..maybe I’m just being selfish wanting a 3 hour movie?

Overall: 99/100

A must see, one of the best movies ever made plain and simple.  This one has become one of my top favorites of all time a film that I could watch over and over again and not only never get bored but always see something new as well each time I watch it….

It’s a Hunting Perserve

Predators

Starring: Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, and Laurence Fishburne

Directed by: Nimrod Antal

Back in 1987 the original Predator movie came out with Arnold Schwarzenegger starring as a big man out on a mission seeking to stop a strange alien creature that has hunted him and his whole platoon to death until only he is left alive.  The movie was a really good action film filled to the brim with action and adventure along with some good special effects.  It also launched a series of films and video games along with some decent vs’ movies that were only okay but still interesting in some parts.   Now in 2010 its time for the predators to be reborn and this time its being done correctly not like the aliens vs. predators movies that were released in the 2000’s.   Predators is a direct sequel to the first movie, Predator with Arnold Schwarzenegger and doesn’t mention Predator II the Danny Glover film that was decent but nowhere near as good as the original movie.   Predators even refers to the original movie and uses some ideas from it to make this movie a really stand out film in the series that really does help redeem the series and start it off on the right path once again.  From the really good cinematography to the tight story that always keeps things going and the surprises coming the movie really does a great job of putting you not only into the atmosphere of this world but into the action of it as well.

Predators starts out with a man that we do not know the name of landing in a jungle played by Adrien Brody.   What surprises me the most about this movie is that Adrien Brody pulls off his action military mercenary character really well which was my main fear that he wasn’t going to be able to pull off the tough guy role but he did a really good job with it.   The film really gets going quickly here as well, we don’t just sit there and get to know these people who all land in parachutes pretty close to one another, they are constantly moving from one place to another all of them together.    We are quickly introduced to our band of players, there is the doctor Edwin (played by Topher Grace) Isabelle the woman military sniper, Stans a prisoner who is one of the worlds most deadliest killers, Nikolai a military man as well, Hanzo who is a member of the Yokuza, and Cuchillo a mercenary of some kind and Mombasa from somewhere in africa.

We really don’t get to know the characters, just their archetypes for most of them, which is okay by me we don’t need to know a lot about Cuchillo or Hanzo or even Stans we get right off the bat who they are and what they represent.  All of them are killers of some kind though the movie does a really good job of keeping us wondering exactly how Edwin fits in with the others as he is a doctor and that is usually not a profession that we think of as killers.   We learn about his back story at just the right time and I’ll get into that a little later.   The thing about this movie is it’s always moving so even though most of the characters have little back story it’s not important because it’s about what is happening to them now rather than what happened to them before.

We learn quickly that they are on another planet, and that they are being hunted like game.  We get to see former game that has been hunted in fact even other humans that have been hunted.   The humans all band together as they see little or no other choice but to do so.  It is obvious that once they realize they are on another world their only choice is to somehow survive and get off of the world.   It is about here that we get our first glimpses of the Predators themselves though it is only slightly short and then we move on to some strange dogs that attack and help the predators figure out what the weak links are in the group.   This is where Cuchillo gets killed off and we don’t even get to see how he gets killed, this is the first of some mistakes that the film makes.

As always the movie moves on very quickly and this is a good thing but it is also where things start to get a little thrown out the window.  We are introduced quickly to another player the insane Noland who has been on the planet for so long by himself that he has gone crazy.  Noland basically sets everyone up to die so that he can take their stuff and that is when things back fire for him but we also learn a little history from him as well.  Basically there are two types of predators, the weaker smaller ones who are fighting a war with the larger stronger ones who have set up a game preserve on a planet and are hunting people and other creatures from other planets for fun and sport.   This is what is basically been set up about these Predators in the years before through comics and movies and the new movie doesn’t break from the mold.

After Noland is killed things go crazy, Royce (whom we don’t learn the name of until the end of the film and is played by Adrien Brody) decides that the only thing to do is to get off of the planet, and the only way to do that is to steal the ship that the Predators landed on the planet with.   He concocts a plan to free the captured smaller Predator and have him help them escape.  We loose everyone but three people by the time they get close to the camp.  Only Royce, Isabella, and Edwin are left alive, Edwin gets caught in a trap and Isabella stays with him splitting from Royce who goes on his own and frees the captured predator.

The captured predator is actually of the smaller group who are fighting with the bigger ones and also looks just like the one that was in the original Predator movie.   They did a great job when he puts his outfit on showing us this fact, thus we know that neither the first nor the second groups are that much different than one another.   They are both bent on hunting and it is what they do with their lives hunting other species for sport and fighting with one another.    The coolest fights in the entire movie are all three right here together.  The first one involves the Yakuza man Hanzo using a samurai sword to fight with one of the predators to the death.  They both end up killing one another with sword strikes, right behind it two predators fight one another.   The fight is really interesting they fight one another and for a minute there it looks like our hero predator might win but he doesn’t.

We also think that Royce has abandoned the others as the ship that he was supposed to escape on explodes and we learn the truth about Edwin right then and there as well.   He is a serial killer who has killed dozens of people but has never been caught, how the Predator’s knew about him who can say but it is still interesting that he is there and that he is trying to kill Isabella even though they are in a pit trapped and about to be killed by the Predators.   What happens instead is he is used by Royce as bait to try to kill the last of the three predator’s  the final battle between Royce and the predator leader is really good and comes to a final conclusion with the predator being killed in spectacular beheading action.

The film leaves itself open at the end with Royce and Isabella walking into the jungle as more people are crashing to the forest in parachutes trying to find another way off of the planet.  IT is possible that there could be a sequel to Predators and the movie is a really good film.

What they did Right: The action, the characters all of it felt like a Predator movie down to he last moment.  The final fight sequences are all edge of your seat exciting.   There is a lot of Rodriguez in the film even though he did not direct it, you can tell that he had a hand in helping Nimrod or that Nimrod learned a lot from working with Rodriguez in the past.

What they did Wrong: I have to say that the entire Predator thing was not used enough.   We barely see the Predators in the film and never really get a good feel that they are hunting the humans at all besides a few shots here and there.   The surprise is that we learn about two different races of predators but it’s never used too much except to drive the story.    The movie went too long with us thinking it was just a bunch of people trekking through a forest without anything really happening with the predators themselves…perhaps the sequel?

Overall: B

The movie hits the right spots and is a fun ride from beginning to end….but with a name like Predators I was expecting more predator action instead of more human trekking through woods and being hunted by dog like creatures.

One Ugly Mother

A Little of this and a Little of That…

Splice

Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, David Hewlett

Directed by: Vincenzo Natali

Written By: Vincenzo Natali, Antoninette Terry Bryant, Doug Taylor

Horror movies fall under two categories: serious dark horror or slasher film. Splice falls into the serious or dark category. The movie is about two scientists who end up splicing human dna with animal dna the results are not what you or they expected. In the end its a movie about the consequences of messing with mother nature. It’s also a lot more creepy and disturbing than you might think it would be from the trailers. Believe me they give away very little of the real plot in the trailers.  Which is a good thing because what happens in the movie isn’t for those who are expecting a general horror film that has very few surprises though-out.

Splice starts with the birth of a strange creature that sort of looks like a slug at a genetics lab that is experimenting with splicing animal dna’s together to form new life forms.   The two head scientists Elsa Kast and Clive Nicoli (played by Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody) are not only co-workers and scientists together working towards a better future for all of mankind but also boyfriend and girlfriend who have their own problems dealing with their lives in general outside and inside of work.   Both of them work hard at what they do which is creating a new life form that was designed to help discover new cures for other things.   The company that they work for decides fairly early on in the movie that this is enough, that using human DNA as the next step is not something that they are ready to invest in and we quickly learn as the movie moves forwards that there is a reason for this.

Basically what happens is Elsa convinces Clive that they should move forwards even though the company doesn’t want them to and they start to hide things from the company representative William Barlow (played by David Hewlett who I always loved in Stargate: Atlantis) as Elsa and Clive create a new life form using human dna spliced with animal dna.   This new life form of course is the major focus of the entire movie and it shows us the inherit dangers of experimenting on and with human dna.    The creature formed at first is so strange and alien that you don’t know what to think about it, it’s also a little disturbing and kind of monkey like, but quickly Elsa learns that Dren (as she is eventually called) is intelligent.  Besides a few shocking moments here and there nothing in this first part is really scary, it’s just world building.

The summit that they go to introduce the world to the two strange creatures that they created goes badly to put it mildly, the two creatures kill one another in a bloody bath and this ruins the entire thing that the company was trying to achieve with these creatures and in the world in general.   They show the danger of DNA splicing but by this time Elsa is hardly concerned with it though Clive is more worried.  His brother also convinces him that they need to get rid of Dren but his attempt to murder her by drowning her is in reality the thing that saves her life when she’ burning up with a fever, because it turns out she also has gills to breath underwater and those have to be used sometimes as well.

Dren has an almost unearthly alien beauty to her, but there is never any doubt that she’s not human, she does not speak and she does not look entirely human although she’s so close from the waist up that you could almost believe she is.    Dren seems to realize the surprise that Clive realizes one evening out by the barn far before he does, that she has some of Elsa’s DNA within her.  That was why she was so fascinated with looking at herself.   Dren spends a lot of the movie trying to understand what it means to be alive, to be what she is.  Elsa loves Dren from the moment she imprints on her, but we learn quickly that Elsa was not raised in a healthy household, she was abused as a child and this slowly starts to filter off into her character and explain why she is the way she is.   She doesn’t want children because she’s afraid to have them, afraid of what she might do to them, but Dren she’s just an experiment and this becomes clear.

Clive on the other hand wants to stop the experiment several times but as time passes he begins to feel for Dren as well, to truly believe that she deserves her life.   That is the crux of this movie, they created this thing, this otherworldly creature and after creating it do they really have the right to kill it?  Dren doesn’t live a long life, she’s not designed that way, her growth is accelerated as a result and she quickly ages over the time of the film.   THey manage to keep her secret until a series of events that a lot of people have called disturbing and some I have read said it was too over the top.   It starts with Elsa taking the cat away from Dren and then giving it back but Dren sensing that Elsa is doing this to spite her kills the cat which sends Elsa off in a rage to tie Dren up and cut off part of her tail and some other parts of her as well.

This leads to Clive taking care of Dren and the two of them having sex which Elsa walks in on and things spiral out of control from there.  The last twenty or so minutes of the film are spent with Dren changing from and hunting those that took care of her now a him like the creatures before, and others as well and killing them.  The final climax of the film is left to make us wonder what happens next, I saw it coming a mile away really, about halfway through the film I saw how it was going to end.   So when Elsa stands up at the end and shows off the final conclusion to what happened during the final minutes of the movie I was not shocked.

What they Did right: The creature effects in this movie are brilliant.   The acting is strong for a horror film and the building of the world and characters is really well done to the point that you come to realize its not really horror at all.

What they did wrong: Too much is left to the imagination as to what Elsa’s life was like before she was an adult, but this isn’t really a bad thing.   The climax was a little predictable and I sort of feel like Adrian Brody was underused for the movie.

Overall:  81/100

Not a brilliant movie but one that leaves you wanting to watch it again if you like horror/disturbing pictures.   There is nothing here that you probably haven’t seen before but its all done so well that it makes you want to watch it on the screen and enjoy the film from beginning to end.  Hopefully this is the beginning of the signs that we’re going to back to smart horror instead of gory horror.

The Dagger turns back Time

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, and Alfred Molina

Directed by: Mike Newell

Written by: Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard and Jordan Mechner
“I’ve seen the power with my own eyes. Releasing the Sand turns back time. Only the holder of the dagger is aware of what’s happened.”

Prince of Persia was an original game back in the eighties where you played a simple character in white who had to jump over platforms and perform tricks to make it to the end of the level.  In the early 2000’s Jordan Mechner teamed up with Ubisoft to craft an all new Prince of Persia dealing with a dagger that was capable of turning back time for a few seconds.   The game series (a trilogy of games) was so popular that Hollywood of course came calling to craft their own take on the story.   Sands of Time is if anything ambitious, it has a relatively unknown cast (most of the main stars are up and coming rising stars or already well established), a strange premise about a dagger that can turn back time, and a lot of action.   Where the movie falters it also shows at its heart that it wants to be a big budget great action film even if it doesn’t always have the chops to live up to what Walt Disney, Jerry Bruckheimer, and Mike Newell tired to sell it as.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time starts off with a kid from the streets who stands up for his friend and the king so admires his courage that he take the kid under his wing and makes him one of his princes.    The years quickly pass and we arrive to the moment where the entire movie hinges, the attack of the city of Amamat (I hope I get that spelling right!) which is a holy city but the three princes of the royal family of Persia have come here seeking weapons.   They believe that the city holds a store of weapons that it is selling to the Persian’s enemies and they mean to take them down.  Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) is of course our young boy from the streets who I kept calling Dustin in my head.   He is the only prince of the three who is against attacking a city of such renoun and peace as the city of Amamt.   His uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley) and his two brothers Garsiv and Tus agree with their Uncle and an attack is planned.

Dastan attacks the city in his own way going about his business on the other side and manages to get the gate open before his other brother Garsiv can, as this happens the Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) and her royal servants mysteriously order the lower tunnels destroyed and she secrets something wrapped up to one of her men for him to get it away from the city and keep it safe.   Tamina has already figured out why the Persians have come even if Dastan is unaware of it.    In the end her man meets with Dastan and they fight until he takes the man out along with taking the pretty dagger with the strange handle.

After the battle the princess is presented to Tus for marriage and the people of the city subjugated under Persian law.   All of this leads to of course the meat of the story where Tus gives his brother a ceremonial robe to give to their father.    Dastan is unaware of what is about to happen but to anyone who has seen a movie like this before it should be sort of obvious.   It was really well done though, it leads us all to believe for at least another twenty minutes or so that Tus is the one responsible for his father’s death for surely he seemed jealous and angry that his father keeps hindering him from taking control of his people.

Just by looking at the cast anyone with half a brain would be able to tell who the main villian in this movie is.   Anyway as things move on Dastan and Tamina are taken in by Sheik Amar who is the comedy relief in the movie (when Dastan and Tamina are not giving one liners to one another to prove that they have no feelings for one another of cours!) and is racing ostriches which again leads to another big action sequence of which there are many in this movie.

I will say this, Mike Newell knows how to shoot action, there is not a single action sequence in this movie that is not really well done.  Like in the games that the movie comes from Dastan is always jumping on things, always doing strange acrobatic assaults and most of all he looks as if he is really doing it.    Jake Gyllenhaal’s decision to do all of his own stunts was a good one because it gives extra fluidity to the chracter and the shots of the character.    The only disappointing thing on this front is the dagger itself.

We quickly learn after this that Nizam is the main villain of our piece, which anyone with  half a brain would have been able to tell you just based on who was playing the character.   You don’t hire someone like Ben Kingsley to play second fiddle to a virtual unknown actor playing a character named Tus (Toby Kebbell).   Nazim it turns out wants the sands of time, not the dagger which can only turn back tiem by a minute but he wants all of the sands locked up tight in an hourglass under the holy city of Amat.

The first sequence with the dagger, when Dastan and Tamina are fighting one another is the best sequence with the dagger throughout the entire film.   He is unaware of the dagger and when he pushes the button Dastan is truly shocked by what it does, how it sends him back in time in fact he ends up having to do it twice in order to stay alive and keep the dagger in that sequence.   Also when Dastan uses the dagger to stab himself is well done and it brings proof to his brother of why Nazim would want his own brother dead.

Nazim’s reason for wanting to turn back time may seem weak to some but to me it makes sense.   Nazim was always jealous of his brother and the fact that his brother sat on the throne and wished not to conquer the world but bring peace to it.   He also knew about the sands of time and the hourglass from a Hassassin within his employee which was really well rounded and helped explain hwo he learned about the secret of the dagger.

If there is any fault with the movie it is these two things:   The final battle sequence is nothing, it feels weak and almost added on just to help close out the story.   The other is the under used prop, as in the dagger of time.   It is used only a few times, perhaps four at the most and besides the one near the end when Dastan shows his older brother how it works and the one at the beginning when he learns how it works, none of them are very impressive.   There is not a single fighting sequence (other than the one with the snakes that is over in the blink of an eye) where the dagger is used.   It almost seems as if they didn’t want to bother with using it as it would complicate things too much.

The movie’s plot is closed out in a reset, which I think is done well but which I also thought was unnecessary to an extent, unless of course they were setting up for a sequel which I suppose would be possible but wouldn’t bet on it.  All in all I was expecting Sands of Time to be another hackneyed action movie but instead i got one with a pretty good plot and characters.   It is not though the next coming of Pirates of the Caribbean.   All it is, simply put is another summer action movie, but if you give it a shot you will enjoy the ride from beginning ot end as there is almost no stopping the action once it gets started….

What they did right: They took a video game and translated it to the big screen keeping the main themes and ideas behind the game it was based upon with the film.   The action sequences from the first climb up the wall to the final battle with Nazim and Dastan are done really well.  The pacing of the film is well done as well with just the right amount of comic relief (Alfred Molina is great in this film)

What they did wrong: Under using the dagger should have been addressed before they even began to film the movie.   The plot is a little obvious and simple to figure out with no real twists at all.   The Hassasins are horribly under-utilized and almost worthless in the film as if they were an after thought to keep the action flowing and interesting.

Overall: 70/100

The action is not enough to save the movie from the status of being something I’d only watch once.  I am impressed that Bruckheimer for the most part got it right, this is truly the first really good adaptation of an action video game.   Other studios and directors should take note of what Disney and Newell did here with Sands of Time and perhaps we can start working towards getting better movies based after video games, it will take time though just as it did for comic book films.

See in Theaters: If you want to see a good popcorn action film in the theater this is one to see, if not then I don’t recommend it, the plot is so-so, the characters are interesting, but they can’t carry an obvious plot used only so you can have action sequence after action sequence.

Rent/Own: Rent its an easy film to watch once, but more than that and it’ll just get stale.

Heavy boots of lead fills his victims full of dread

Iron Man 2

Starring: Robert Downey Jr. , Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sam Rockwell, and Mickey Rourke

Written by: Justin Theroux

Directed by: Jon Favreau

You’re safe for right now, the first bit is going to be an over all feeling of the movie itself.   Iron Man was a great movie, one of the best comic book movie adaptations ever, it falls slightly short of The Dark Knight but that’s a hard movie to actually top.  In the end the first Iron Man movie built a franchise and the second one, the one that came out this Friday makes that franchise into a real blockbuster series.   Its possible that the other movies in the Avengers saga will do good because of Iron Man but if I had to guess none of them are going to top even the showing of the first Iron Man movie.

Iron Man 2 is more action packed than the first one, the villain is better, and the good guys grow in unexpected ways during the two hours that we get to experience them on the screen.   Samuel L. Jackson has a small part in the movie that is actually better than in the first one for a lot of reasons which I will go into later.   The movie also cements Iron Man into the universe that Marvel is trying to create rather or not that universe of movies will be succesful is hard o say right now, we’ll have to wait and see how Thor and Captain America due in theaters when the come out.   Following the youtube trailer video I will be talking about the movie in spoilerific glory!

Iron Man 2 is probably the most staggered sequel ever filmed for a great movie.  I don’t say this to be bad about the movie or to shock you while you read my review.  I say it because its true, the movie does a lot right, but it does some wrongs to which is true for most movies out there.    The opening sequence is great, it sets up the characters and the story for the first movie, but it’s also a little strange.     We get no real words or even an understanding of who Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) is, but we do see the arc reactor and the fact that Vanko knows how to make one as well pretty quickly.

Iron Man himself, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has taken the whole fame thing to his head, at least that is what he wants us all to think as the movie starts.   We learn quickly that  Tony Stark is in fact dying from having the arc reactor in his chest and his temporary cure is not working nor lasting as long as it did, in fact using the Iron Man suit is accelerating the process, but Tony Stark, always a risk taker has to keep using it.   We learn during the same sequence that this why he signs the company over to Pepper as the new CEO.

We learn more about Tony’s father as well during the movie and it sheds a lot of light on why Tony Stark is the way that he is.   Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau both stated during the filming of Iron Man 2 that they weren’t going to go into Tony Stark’s substance abuse issues, but in a way this movie does just that.  Only its not substance abuse but more like full on abuse.   Why is he doing this?  Because he’s dying and Stark has always had a flirting with danger kind of a risk to him.

Case in point, the wonderful car racing scene.   In the trailers it looked impressive, in the movie it is even more impressive.   It doesn’t happen like we expect and that’s the cool thing about it and the entire movie, nothing happens like you expect.  The sequence here is actually pretty funny with the whole car smashing into Vanko and the cut door that won’t stay open and more than that the entire sequence also shows how powerful the suit makes Iron man but also how powerful Whiplash’s own suit makes him.  In the end Whiplash is taken to prison and Tony Stark starts down a path of self destruction.

Whiplash (Vanko) is the true villain in this movie, but lets not forget Hammer, he is also a villain played here by Sam Rockewell and he is actually more interesting than Vanko in a lot of ways.   Vanko is just a man out for revenge against a dead man and his son who he believes is responsible for his father’s life and his own life and how they turned out.   In truth Vanko is a psychopath who is also very smart but damaged and deranged.  Hammer is a man with motivations of his own seeking to dethrone Tony Stark from his top of the arms race cloud and unaware that Stark isn’t trying to start wars but stop all of them.

Hammer in order to get ahead of Stark signs on with Vanko and has him build machines of his own ,an army that h can sell to the united states so that they can protect their boarders or fight wars or whatever.    Tony Stark around this time decides that since he’s about to die he might as well as go all out and enjoy his final birthday party.   This sequence is actually one of the funniest in teh movie and not to be missed.  Also the sequence afterwords with Tony and Rhodey  fighting in the two Iron Man suits is actually the best action sequence in the entire movie and it helps that its also funny and well choreographed.

Right after that the prototype suit lands with the United States Army and Hammer actually comes into outfit it with weapons for the government while Tony has an encounter with Nick Fury and actually gets a cure injected by the wonderful Natalie Rushman (played by teh beautiful Scarlett Johansson).   I was afraid that the Black Widow would come off as too bloated into an already very bloated story but she has just enough going on here in the story that she never really feels added on for the sake of future movies.   Its a smart thing they did here slowly integrating characters from the larger Avengers universe.    The only question is rather or not Iron Man will appear in either Thor or Captain America.

The plot quickly movies, never does it slow down or make you wonder when something is going to happen.  The plot move so quickly that you don’t even realize you’re in the last act until you get there.    The final large battle sequence with Iron man and War machine fighting it out with the robots made by Vanko is wonderful and then final fighting sequence between Whiplash, Iron Man, and War Machine is wonderfully done, his whips slashing against each of the two iron suits and the three of them fighting one another is great.

IN the end the only thing that really hampers the movie is the fact that at times it appears as if the direction the film is going in is predictable, and easy to see how its going to end.   They are after all trying to build a movie legacy known as the Marvel Universe and they have to tread carefully and make sure that each movie fits into that legacy.  Iron Man 2 is a great action movie, but its only a good character piece about Tony Stark and those around him.  In the end its one of the better super hero movies out there…but its not a Dark Knight.

What they do Right: The Action is bigger, louder and more complex.   Robert Downey plays Tony Stark as if he was born for the role, you never not believe him.   Don Cheadle is actually a better Rhodey than I thought he would be, but he’s not as good as Terrence Howard was in the role.  Also Gwyneth Paltrow and Scarlett Johansson are great in this movie as Pepper Potts and Natasha Romanoff.

What they do wrong: There are a few places where the movie feels a little forced, namely the SHEILD stuff and the Avengers initiative.   More than likely this was stuff that Marvel wanted in the movie to help set up the Avengers film coming in 2012.  Iron Man 2 is supposed to be the start of the Avengers Cycle, but I am fearful after seeing the ending of this one, especially the teaser after the credits that no one is going to be interested in the Avengers movie by the time it comes around…I could and do hope that I am wrong.

Overall: 92/100.

A great action packed super hero movie, one of the best in the past few years.   The worst parts of the movie are comparable to the best parts of Spiderman 3 which is saying that the entire movie is better than all of Spiderman 3.  Its almost as good as the first Iron Man but not quite as good, still its better than almost EVERY other super-hero film out there….So if you have any interest in seeing it I recommend seeing it!

One…Two…Freddy’s Coming For You

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

A poster for Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Starring: Jackie Earl Haley, Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara, and Connie Britton

Directed by: Samuel Bayer

Written by: Wesely Strick, Eric Heisserer

Before getting into the meat of the new movie and what it did right but also what it did wrong and how I feel about the overall product let me give you a little bit of history.  I have been a Freddy Kruger fan since the eighties when I was a kid myself who was fascinated with horror movies, Freddy was the first real horror villain with a voice, he taunted you, scared the hell out of you and did it all because he wanted to kill you but also mess with your mind while doing it.   I loved the entire series, yes even the very campy Dream Child and Freddy’s Dead.   I loved them all because Robert Englund did Freddy and he did him really good…so good you forgot that he was a child-molesting psychopath.   This was also the greatest fault with the original movies…it was glossed over quickly and gone after the first movie.  Still I love the original movies and always will.

Now onto the new one, I went into A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) expecting something similar to the Friday the 13th relaunch, a story that sort of doesn’t really tell the story of Freddy because you already know it.  That’s not what they did at all.   Like the original the parents in this one are mostly missing except for a few key scenes, and like the original one there is a girl named Nancy.   That’s pretty much where the similarities end besides a few scenes that are homages to the original movie.  Warning if you haven’t seen the movie spoilers follow.

The opening is a little confusing and hard to understand, we meet Dean first and it’s already in the middle of a dream, the dream sequences are the best things in this movie, they are actually better than the original ones, more fluid and organic like.  That’s the point of Nightmare the dreams and how Freddy messes with your mind.  Dean you see has already been dreaming about Freddy or as he says the main with the claws.    Dean gets killed very quickly and in a gruesome way leading to a funeral where his girlfriend Kris sees a picture with in it and even has a dream of herself as a young girl.

Kris is having the same dreams it turns out, of the man with the four blades, as is her former boyfriend who might still be a boyfriend now and so is Nancy who in the first part is under used but not in a bad way.    Things move quickly in the movie which is also good, I have to say that two scenes with Kris in them are wonderful, the first being the one in the class room, this one is truly wonderfully done, and Freddy has some good lines in this movie that come off more as the ones in the original first movie did, he’s using what he says to get into your head and to mess with you.

The thing that the first Nightmare on Elm Street in the 1980’s did really well and this one does as well is the dream sequences.   Kris’s scene in the attic here I wasn’t even aware that it was a dream until the light went out but then I realized she was probably dreaming.   I haven’t gone into Freddy yet in this re-imagining and how he looks.   The original Freddy Kruger was gruesome looking but this new one is disturbing on a whole new level.   He truly looks like a burn victim and that adds to the story in new ways.During a dream the world can be as dark as Freddy wants it to be.

Kris is killed in gruesome manner shortly later and then her boyfriend Jessie is killed as well shortly after that while in Jail which brings us to the stories two main character: Nancy Holbrook and Quentin Smith, both of who are having the same dreams of Freddy and even learn his name through dream sequences of their own.   This is where the original and this new remake take on totally different tones.   Whereas in the original the parents of the town burned Freddy because he was a child rapist/murder but didn’t actually do any harm to the main characters but are killing them because of what their parents did to him.  In this one Freddy was a caretaker at a preschool who abused the students at that school who eventually told their parents about it and thus Freddy was killed.  Freddy blames the kids for getting him killed and for a second you also believe that maybe he didn’t do any of the abusing.

Nightmare doesn’t shy away from the fact that Freddy was a child rapist or killer, though he doesn’t kill any it was only a matter of time before he would.   The kids that have all died were all kids that told their parents on Freddy or were at the school at the same time that he died, and Freddy’s favorite, Nancy of course.   This is where things really start to make this movie better than the original.   There is no arguing with parents that Freddy is real and in their dreams, in fact there is very few parental interaction because the kids are all well off and have cars of their own though their parents don’t approve with what they are doing.

In the end Nancy and Quentin learn the truth about what Freddy did and they confront him in one final show down which is really well done, he’s pulled out into the real world just as in the original and he dies in a gruesome way that leaves little doubt that he is dead especially after they burn him.   Then in good old classic Freddy manner he shows up at the end quickly and shockingly.

The reason why I like this movie is simple, it is Freddy as he was in the first movie scary, rarely speaking but when he did it was to mess with your head.   There were no jokes, no funny silly games just Freddy in his dark manner.    The acting besides Jackie Earl Haley  is passable, but then again in the original it was passable as well not great.

I have read a lot of reviews for this movie over the weekend, some say its disturbing, some say that Freddy is just a rapist with no real scary things about him.  Others say it’s a horrible movie and that it brings shame to the orginal that it is based loosely on.    These people bother me…they are remembering the original one through foggy glasses of nostalgia not through any real viewing of the movie.   The original is not filled with great acting and the originals story is good but this one is every bit as good.

In the end what I wanted I got.  I wanted three things from this movie, Freddy back to how he was in the first movie, Great dream sequences, and a good origin story.   I got all of these and a little bit more, this movie goes on my DVD shelf when it comes out and the real shame is this movie could have resurrected the Slasher Film genre but no one really seems to want to see Slasher films anymore, they just want movies like Saw or Paranormal Activity both really good movies and series in their own rights but not slasher films.   I wanted this to be the start of a new Freddy and Jackie Earl does every bit as good as Robert Englund at playing the iconic burned dream killer.

What they did right: Freddy was done every bit as right as I imagined he could be done.   The dreams are wonderful and disturbing at times.  The background of Freddy is not glossed over but really given meat this time.

What they did wrong: The acting of the main characters other than Nancy is a little disjointed at times, this Nancy actually does as good of a job as the orignal Nancy.  The others especially Kris and Jessie just appear to be there to get killed although I didn’t mind Kris’s legs.

Overall: 91/100

It does a lot right, it’s just about as good as the original and I could watch it more than once without growing bored, in fact I am pretty sure I’ll be seeing it again eventually.   If you haven’t seen it already and you think that it won’t be any good you’re wrong, its a good movie just don’t go in expecting it to be the next coming like so many other reviewers are.   Hell the original one wasn’t the first coming….it was just a slasher flick with a really iconic villain and this one is the same just retold more modern style.

Realistic and Comic Book Movie Didn’t Really Go Together Till Now

April 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Kick-Ass

Starring: Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, mark Strong, Chloe Moretz, and Nicholas Cage

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn

Written by: Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn

I had never heard of Kick-Ass until I saw the first trailer for the movie, I am sure that a lot of people out there were exactly like me.  After seeing that first R-band trailer for Kick-Ass I went back and did some research learning that Matthew Vaughn had actually funded the movie himself and gotten it made on the pretty much cheap even getting some high quality with Nicholas Cage in the movie.   The thing is, Kick-Ass is probably the best comic book movie that no one is going out to see, and its going to be one of those true cult classics.   I leave this weekend with one final review the review for Kick-Ass…warning spoilers do follow….

Kick-Ass is the story of Dave Lizewski a young teenage boy who dreams of not only the hot girl Katie in his class but also of being a superhero.   Who hasn’t dreamed of being  a superhero at some point in their lives?   The ability to save others, to be a protector I think it’s a strong thing that a lot of boys and even men desire to do.   The thing is most of us aren’t stupid enough or perhaps brave enough to actually do it.   There is a reason why most people out there don’t try to become a superhero and this movie pretty much shows the rest of us who still do think about doing it why it’s probably not the best idea out there.

Dave decides to become Kick-Ass not because he’s tormented by older boys who steal cars and money from high school kids.  Nor because he inherits super powers from some strange way like spider-man or because he’s born with them like the x-men.   He doesn’t even do it because he wants to be popular or because he’s rich.   Dave becomes Kick-Ass because it’s never been done before by anyone and a part of Dave feels that he needs an answer as to why no one’s tried to be a super-hero before.    He gets the answer right away…after dawning the wetsuit of Kick-Ass he is beaten to a pulp by the two guys that are stealing a car who tormented him and his friend a few days before.  THen to top it off he is hit by a car that drives off leaving him to die on the pavement.

Dave doesn’t die, but he insists that the paramedics tell everyone that he was found naked not in his Kick-Ass outfit.  After this I would have given up, you would have too.  Dave though doesn’t instead he gets back up to being Kick-Ass all over again.   Katie now believes that Dave is gay and thus the two of them begin to form a friendship with one another.   He learns that Katie is tormented by someone and he decides to bring the guy down.  This is where the real story begins to take shape.

Shortly before this we meet Mindy and Damon Macready but it is here that we really get to know them.  Mindy (Hit-Girl) crashes the party where Kick-Ass is about to get killed by these thugs and she takes them all out with her blades and martial arts.   Her dad helps as well at the end.   You see this story is Kick-Ass’s story but really it’s not it’s really the story of Hit-Girl and Big Daddy.  Kick-Ass sort of gets mixed up in all of this after this little meeting here and pretty soon he’s in over his head in things he can’t handle.

Hit-Girl and Big Daddy are out for revenge on a mobster named D’Amico who has a lot of corrupt cops in his pocket including Damon’s former boss.    Damon was set up and sent to jail and his wife killed herself so his daughter was raised by his best friend till he got out.   Mindy has  a mouth on her but where it could have come off as sounding faked and forced 99 percent of the time it doesn’t.   Matthew Vaughn did a great job casting this movie, from Kick-Ass and his friends to Mindy and her father all of them come off as being real and in a real world.

Eventually D’Amico’s son comes up with an idea to take down Kick-Ass for his father who believes that Kick-Ass is responsible for the problems he is having.   Thus Red-Mist is born and he meets Kick-Ass and the two of them have a buddy-buddy time till they go D’Amico’s legit business front and see it burning down.   Thus finally Big-Daddy is introduced to D’Amico and yes Big Daddy does wear a very batman like outfit.    Basically they use Kick-Ass to track down Big Daddy and Hit-Girl and take Big Daddy and Kick-Ass captive.

Hit-Girl saves the day in a very stylish and wonderfully done sequence but it’s not enough to save Big Daddy.  This is a realistic superhero movie where reality intrudes, you do something like what Big Daddy and Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl did and you’re going ot get killed.  Big Daddy dies in a very heartwarming sequence and Hit-Girl wants revenge for her father’s death.  Kick-Ass instead of walking away from the young girl stands up with her and fights back which leads to one of the best and most completely bad-ass end fight sequences that I have seen in a very long time.  I could never have imagined it being possible with a girl who is only eleven but it shows how you can handle this kind of stuff if you’re serious about as Matthew Vaughn and all of the actors in the movie were.

In the end they do save the day….so to speak but it goes without saying that I can tell you what happens, it’s not the same as seeing it for yourself.     Kick Ass does what its supposed to do, it puts superheros in a real world with real consequences and how if you do something as risky as what Kick-Ass did you’re going to get hurt a lot.

What they did right: The Action sequences, The characters, The environments, and the Dialogue

What they did Wrong: The costumes of both Kick-Ass and Big-Daddy I didn’t care for either one really.

Overall: 98/100

Kick-Ass takes what you know about superhero movies and turns it all on its head but not so far out that it doesn’t make sense.  It’s still a superhero movie with a real superhero who does save the day in the end and even shows the birth of a super villain though I doubt we’ll ever get a real sequel to this movie.   It also entertains from the first moment to the last with a lot of laughs and moments of serious drama.

See In Theaters: YES without a doubt…see it twice if you can!