Inception (2010) – a new frontier in filmmaking

Here’s a great infographic for Inception that actually manages to explain the movie’s multiple layers. It does so visually, and with a geometrically impossible object – which is the in-joke, of course. The film spends so much time establishing the rules of its universe, as it begins to observe some characters break those rules, the point of following them seems kinda … moot. And yet, with all the underused elements in it, and the obligatory shoot-out in act 3 – I still strongly recommend you watch it. Why?

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Greatest 9,331 movies of all times

For the past 9 years (yes, it’s nine, not a typo), Brad Bourland, 58, of Austin, Texas has been rating/reviewing movies. He’s got 9,331 so far, and wants his site readers/visitors to help him complete it to a nice, round 10k. Obsession, hobby, or just another slick marketing ploy? Visit his site, read up on the … hobby

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Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Tim Burton has done it again – a visual marvel of a film, a pretty close adaptation of a timeless classic book, great performances (although a little too heavy on screen time for Depp and Bonham Carter), and a lovely, rebellious Alice. What more do you need to know in order to run into theaters? It’s in 3D, which actually works.
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Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

First of all, kudos to the marketing campaign. This film heavily relies on word of mouth, we got a free screening (packed room, hardly any press, just people who got invites from website). The screening was fun, we howled, took home t-shirts, and promised to tell others about it.  The movie is so much more than its title suggests. In fact, one of the many buddy-comedy cliches it breaks (and yes, it is a buddy comedy, elevated to a new level), is its silly title. When one of the characters exclaims (in an attempt to awkwardly explain the title/concept and give 5-second exposition): “this must be some kind of … hot … tub … time … machine”, he does so looking straight at the camera, breaking the fourth wall, and addressing the audience. “Get it? Get it? We’re all in on the joke here”.

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Transformers (2007)

Transformers came out on DVD a few weeks ago, and I was reminded that this past summer, this movie fell through the cracks, and the review was never posted. Here’s the movie review, a little brief, but better late than never. Given all the marketing and ego-power that went into this project (Michael Bay, Steven Spielberg) this could easily have been a really big disappointed. Instead, Transformers turned out to be a better movie than our depressed expectations, and a good blockbuster to fill a summer weekend. Of course, now that we’re nearing the holiday season, and the film is out of theaters, perhaps it will make a good gift.
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The Fountain (2006)

Somehow Darren Aronofsky has become the next big hit in Hollywood. Along with JJ Abrams (his status I just have to question, after MI3) and Christopher Nolan (ok, this guy knows what he’s doing) Darren is hailed as this decade’s Tarantino. Now I understand that a formulaic, stagnant world of Hollywood needs a regular shake, a revolution. So when a new kid on the block directs something unusual, he’s naturally going to be labeled as the next big thing. But I just didn’t get why Darren is such an outstanding director. I could see his unique way of writing (his earlier hits, Pi and Requiem for a Dream were also written by him), but as a filmmaker, a genius behind the camera – I didn’t get it. Until The Fountain, of course. While Pi was a bit unusual throughout, Requiem for a Dream had a weird plot and soundtrack, but not direction. It was good, but not excellent. Compelling but not exceptional. With The Fountain, I think Darren has reached a new level of storytelling – a unique plot, amazing score and focused, concise visual mastery of the story. This is a simple, straightforward movie told in a fantastic and memorable way.
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Superman Returns (2006)

The Man of Steel is back, after 19 years of movie development hell. Multiple rewrites, many failed casting ideas, many walk-outs. So now what? Are we expected to embrace this sequel, simply because it’s been “nurtured” for so long, or because superhero movies are popular these days? Perhaps we should instantly fall in love with the film based on overwhelming marketing campaign? I can no longer tell what “reviews” are plants, and what – come from people who have the balls and honestly to day “the new Superman movie is FAR from a satisfying experience”. I tend to agree with these people. Not as an act of counter-current to hip, jolly plugging of the new and improved Superman brand, but as a natural, honest reaction. Why? A movie that’s gone through so much production hell doesn’t have to feel like a burden. It’s a fantastic story, with great characters, and involving plot, but it’s so damn dark and slow, I felt like I was watching yet another Batman origin story. Where did all the fun go? The man can fly, see through walls, and hear multiple sound waves. Why is he not having any fun?
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King Kong (2005) – revisiting a reimagined remake

King Kong has been playing in theaters for about a month now, and prior to that it’s been promoted on say, every possible medium – newspapers, television, radio, internet, and bus stops. Too much spin for my liking. Now that it’s out of the top ten box office films, I decided to go check it out. No screaming fan-boys, no crunching popcorn under my seat, no high expectations, just a movie on the screen, a story that may or may not engage. That may not even be memorable. A film that will make me think twice about yet another story of dinosaurs chasing doomed humans on a mysterious island. Oh, whom was I kidding. King Kong takes its time building up the characters and their world, and then throws them all into a whirlwind of an adventure. On the ship, on the island, in NYC – the adventure stops only when the credits roll, and not a moment sooner. You can catch your breath in the lobby on the way out. As long as you’re in the seat, you’re part of that adventure. Hope you enjoy the ride.

So if you’re expecting a criticism, you won’t find it here. The movie is well-done, and if you haven’t seen it on the big screen, drop everything now and go see it. Seriously, turn off your computer, walk out that office/house/library and go to the nearest theater. If you remember the sheer joy and energy of Indiana Jones (in the 80s), or Jurassic Park (in the 90s), this is such an epic, massive adventure for this decade. No, not a blockbuster, a dumb summer action flick that accidentally got released during Christmas. King Kong is not a blockbuster. It’s an epic. Dare I compare it to Titanic? Romance, action, thrills, a doomed group of people, discovery, hope and more thrills? Yep, sounds about right, except that King Kong is more believable, and makes each of its act seem to effortless. That’s the best part of the movie – with all the work and love that was put in it, every plot twist, every action scene, every vista (real or computer-generated) looks like it was always there, waiting to be shot, waiting to be captured on film. It’s not forced. Nor story, nor the effects.
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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

“Difficult times lie ahead, Harry.” Difficult indeed. The kids are growing up — faster than their characters in the book(s). The directors for this franchise keep changing — not always a bad thing, but if you got someone with a specific visual style (Alfonso Cuaron), the successor (Mike Newell) should at least try to match it, or to make the differences less glaring. And finally, the adventures themselves — although they are getting darker and more menacing, thanks to heavy use of CGI and second-rate acting, they are less believable. And repetitive. The three main actors — Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Emma Watson (Hermoine) and Rupert Grint (Ron) were cute and cuddly in the first movies, but in this one they’re just awkward. I don’t have a problem with their characters’ adolescence; everyone goes through an awkward stage. I mean their acting, their “too old for the characters, too young to be grown-ups” behaviour on screen. Having never read the books, I can only imagine that this awkwardness was either intentional, or the age issue is going to get worse unless the future Harry Potter screenplays are adjusted properly.

See, the challenge of a franchise this big is that you gotta keep it interesting for everyone — newbies as well as those who are familiar with the books. Goblet of Fire spends very little time on introductions to bring a new viewer into the story. But it spends a lot of time dealing with “kids growing up” issues: the silly misunderstandings, the lusty looks, the hissy-fits, and the mindless fights between closest friends. All good material, for drama as well as comic relief. Except that the kids cannot convey that. They’ve passed this age, and unless properly trained, cannot really throw a fit the way a teenager would. Blame it on the writers, on the misguided direction (why not let younger kids leer and drool, while Harry and Co. are saving the world, the viewer will understand the difficulties of growing up). Or, perhaps they just aren’t that good at acting. Of course when the supporting cast includes Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Maggie Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Gary Oldman and Miranda Richardson, anyone younger than 40 will be upstaged in any given scene. But that was the case with the other three movies, and they balanced the “kiddy” scenes with serious ones quite well.
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