Thursday, July 29, 2010

Inception Infographic

Monday, July 26, 2010

My DVD Review: Lovely Bones buries the story Can't wait for Peter Jackson to get back to Middle Earth

DVD Review: Lovely Bones buries the story

SPOILER ALERT: I don’t plan on divulging important points of the plot for this particular film. However, should I slip, consider this your disclaimer. There may or may not be spoilers ahead.

The first thing you need to know is, I am a Peter Jackson acolyte. He hooked me with Fellowship of the Ring, with his living, breathing vision of Middle Earth. With each additional chapter in the trilogy, my fandom became ever more rabid. King Kong only fanned the flames. Even District 9, which Jackson produced, marked another notch in the master’s belt. He could do no wrong.

Well, then came The Lovely Bones. And this is the second thing you need to know: Jackson can do wrong. He is human, after all. Bones proves this.

Adapted from the much acclaimed Alice Sebold novel about a 13-year old girl named Suzie who is raped and murdered and then watches from the afterlife as her family struggles and then grows through subsequent trials, a Lovely Bones film was a bold choice for the director. It had a complex narrative structure. It had an undeniably sexual undercurrent throughout. It was devoid of the fantasy element with which Jackson was so comfortable. All of these offered a challenge to Jackson. In the end, they may have been what undid him.

Jackson struggles to translate Suzie’s narrative to film. In the novel, Suzie can see everything and everyone, what they’ve gone through, what they’re thinking about. This makes for the perfect omniscient narrator. Jackson tries to recreate this by having Suzie stand in a gazebo in various afterlife-ish locations and watch as things happen in the present. In the book, she slides backward and forward through time with ease, and, within the book's pages, over a decade elapses. In the movie, Jackson cuts clumsily from earth life to afterlife. A decade is compressed into months. This shortchanges characters like Suzie’s mother and brother, her high school crush, and her sister, all of whom we get to see fall and then transform in the book.

Jackson strips out all sexual themes. Now I’m not the type that enjoys watching movies with a ton of sex. It’s powerful stuff and needs to be used responsibly. But when you take on a book like this, you have to accept the fact that the book is about sex (and a bunch of other stuff, of course). In Jackson’s Bones, sex is removed; we are left with plain old grief, suspicion, and joy. Suzie’s mother never falls. Her sister is never rescued by her loyal boyfriend. Suzie never learns the bliss of real love. In fact, when her moment with her high school crush does finally come along, it feels a abrupt and little creepy because of the absence of sex throughout the rest of the film.

You take these things away, and Bones feels like a Lifetime original movie with some snazzy special effects. Stanley Tucci as the bad guy makes your skin crawl, but even his bite is dulled by the void in this film. The novel itself was a fairly good read; stripped of its core strengths here it becomes syrupy, fuzzy nonsense. Jackson buries his story and leaves those who haven’t read the book struggling to find it.

Consider me another Peter Jackson who can’t wait to see his return to Middle Earth.
If you're going to rob a bank, pick a scary disguise... like Darth Vader

Friday, July 23, 2010

JJ Abrams & Joss Whedon panel at Comic Con

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Further evidence that Disney (not Pixar) is creatively bankrupt At least, they've got the good sense to go to Pixar.
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

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StarTrek 2 to Start Filming in January 2011
Inception's Joseph Gordon-Levitt to play Riddler in Batman 3?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Man Found Dead After Watching Twilight: Eclipse He must've been Team Jacob... died of a broken heart
15 Action Movies to Get You Ready For The Expendables

Monday, July 19, 2010

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What are Inception's Oscar odds?
My Review of Inception - Originality is still possible

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Inception: Originality is Still Possible

Originality lives- at least a spark of it.

Concepts had long stopped challenging us. Rather than attempting to break ground with new ideas, science fiction resigned itself to rehashing old ideas about wormholes, androids, doomsday scenarios, alien invasions, and genetic monsters. They became occupied with how to tell these stories in lighter, darker, or higher octane ways than the next guy. The recent reboot fetish is just the latest symptom of this dearth of creativity (in its truest sense).

Then I watched Inception, director Christopher Nolan's latest work, about a band of Extractors, thieves who break into the dreams of others and steal (or plant) valuable ideas. The film is packed with great performances all around, amazing special effects, and masterful editing, but it is the idea that makes this film absolutely outstanding. Flat out, this is a creation of pure and original thought. You (or I) have never thought about dreams in this way. We have explored outer space, the planet's core, and the deepest oceans, but we have never thought of using the medium of dreams- something we're so familiar with- in this way. And Nolan and his team think through this medium and the world and logic of dreams so thoroughly that the audience has no choice but to accept it and hold on for dear life as one mindblowing development after another is thrown at them.  

The audience will recognize familiar elements. This is a heist movie in spirit- albeit unlike like one you've ever seen. It is also a psychological thriller- but one where inner turmoil is manifest in huge, earthshaking ways. It had some spy-movie DNA mixed in for good measure. Audiences will notice similarities to The Matrix, which could be considered a sister piece to it. But, for all the thought the Wachowskis put into their cyber-punk, reality-switching opus, I would argue that Nolan and his team have out-thought them, going levels deeper than they ever dared to. At the heart of all this familiarity is a concept we have never seen. And it is an extremely compelling one.

On top of being a grade-A brain-bender, Inception is a thrilling ride. Whatever slow parts there are in the setup give way to a breathless second half that is nearly impossible for me to describe here. You can't imagine it until you see it- and that is a rare thing to be said about movies nowadays.

If you see one movie this summer, make it Inception.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Give us your best idea for a college-themed app. Win a free iPad.
Give your best college app idea. Win a new iPad.
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Flashback Review: Original Karate Kid Still Has Some Kick karatekid

Flashback Review: Original Karate Kid Still Has Some Kick to It

SPOILER DISCLAIMER: Okay, so this movie is over 26 years-old, but just in case you missed the whole eighties phenomenon that was The Karate Kid, I am warning you now that there may be some spoilers. And, with that, on to the review.

Like so many eighties films, The Karate Kid had been put on the nostalgia shelf and labeled cheesy. I’d nearly forgotten the 1984 film, directed by John G. Avildsen and starring a very young Ralph Macchio and veteran Pat Morita, until news of the recent reboot surfaced. Honestly, I wrote off the reboot- I haven’t even seen it yet- as another crime in the recent remake-mania that has gripped Hollywood. And it wasn’t until my wife came across the original trilogy in a bargain three-pack at WalMart (only $13) that I decided to revisit The Karate Kid.

Sitting through the first (and best) film of the franchise, I was both charmed (by the quaintness of it) and surprised (by the weight of the performances).  You know from the first notes of the synthesizer soundtrack that you are getting an eighties movie. The after-school special camerawork only reinforces this. It would be easy to discount the movie at this point, but that would be a mistake.

Ralph Macchio
I was amazed at what a credible leading man he was. He has the looks of a 16 year-old, but he moves fluidly between humor, anger, frustration, and finally triumph. Amidst a cast of unbelievably evil bad guys, he holds your attention, never giving you reason to doubt that this is a real kid going through real struggles. Even beside Pat Morita, Macchio carries the movie.

Mister Miyagi
It’s no secret that Mister Miyagi stole his share of scenes. His zen-master sayings were ubiquitous on the playground in 1984. What surprised me this time as an adult was the depth he conveys through his sparse lines and physicality. Somehow injected into the middle of an average eighties feel-good film, the scene where Daniel finds him drinking to the memory of his dead wife was funny and heartbreaking while delivering a subtle rebuke about the treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Even today, this would have been a brave move, much less in 1980’s America when we were still too afraid to bring up racially tinged issues.

The Finale
The film transforms in the last 15 minutes as Daniel moves up through the tournament until he comes face to face with Johnny, his key antagonist. It is here that the dramatic weight of the moment really seems to catch up with the potential of its two protagonists. Cheesy sneers are hurled from the bad guy bench. Johnny sweeps Daniel’s leg as directed by his super-evil, king-of-all-bullies sensei. Mister Miyagi does his hand-rub thing to Daniel’s knee- even this comes across as cheesy. 

But when Daniel limps out onto the mat, you would have to be a corpse not to get goosebumps. The music builds. The excitement of the crowd climbs to full boil. And little Daniel, in his clean, white, Luke-Skywalker outfit, stands alone on one leg, still and ready to strike. It is a genuine movie-magic moment. I was so sucked into that moment, in fact, that I forgot to make fun of the idiotic comments the bad guys in background were making. Then Daniel strikes. Everything crescendos. You almost want to cry, it’s so cathartic.

By the time the credits finally roll, The Karate Kid still has plenty of kick, the kind of kick that never gets old. The cheesiness of the times often creeps into movies in any decade. But a talented pair of actors and some great moments can make those things fade into the background.
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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The sci-fi short that Hollywood wants to turn into a movie Pure awesomeness!
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Why actors don't matter in movies

Actors Don’t Matter… Directors Do

So much of marketing in Hollywood has come to revolve around the actors. After all, they are the faces we see on every poster, commercial, and trailer and throughout the two-hour running time. When we like the film, we quote their lines and mimic their moves. Interestingly, however, actors aren’t the best indicator of a film’s quality. They are more like the pretty packaging that years of writing, craftsmanship, and fine-tuning are stuffed into when it’s time to sell. No, my friends, directors, the men and women you rarely see or hear, are the best indicators of a film’s quality.

Why Actors Don’t Matter

The Hollywood marketing machine is a formidable juggernaut. If it tells us to love Lindsey Lohan, we will. If it brands a brooding, deathly pale anorexic as a teen heartthrob, women young and old buy it hook, line, and sinker and line up to adore him by the millions. If the Machine decides it hates an actor, they can call down lightning from the heavens to strike that individual until they have been shunned by every human being in the Northern Hemisphere and are working at McDonalds for seven bucks an hour. This marketing machine is at the heart of our collective misconception about actors and the quality of our movies.

Let me explain. Hollywood marketing cares little for what’s inside a movie. It does not believe that the moviegoing public is smart enough to look inside before purchasing a ticket. It believes that moviegoers are sold mostly on what’s on the outside (posters, trailers, commercials, cereal boxes, etc.)- and maybe they have the sales data to support this idea.

Who can they put on the packaging? Not the flawed, ordinary guy who made the movie. No one would know him from Adam. So they put actors out there because people know them. In this regard, actors carry the marketing bulk of most films. They are a product endorsement  and therefore no solid indicator of a film’s quality.

Observe Will Smith. There is no doubt the man makes money for movies. He is one heckuva product endorsement. Check out his box office revenues:
Keep in mind, this is the money he brought in (and he is supremely gifted at drawing in audiences on just his appearance alone), not an indicator of the quality of his movies. To determine that, we turn to the critics. Now, it is not uncommon for a few Eberts to go rogue and hate what people really like and vice versa. But when the Tomatometer gives you a score below 50% that means more than a few critics hated the movie. With this in mind, here are Will Smith's Tomatometer scores:
Will Smith uniformly performs well at the box office, which is exactly what Marketing was banking on, but his quality record is just plain spotty, swinging from 69 percent (just okay) to 27 percent (ouch). These disparities are even worse for actress Angelina Jolie and other A-listers.

When it comes to the actual filmmaking, to the construction of these complex displays of light and sound, actors usually have little to do with it. True, some actors will insist on having a say in the script. Or they won’t choose a movie unless they personally approve the script and the final cut. Or, like Edward Norton in American History X, they may end up usurping the director’s chair altogether.

These are exceptions to the rule. Most actors come on board a film long after the script has been written, the storyboards drafted, and the sets built. They did not come up with the story or the lines that come from their mouths. They had little to do with the special effects that made those aliens/zombies/dinosaurs look so real.
But I’ll tell you who did. You guessed it… DIRECTORS.

Why Directors Do Matter

No one is more involved in the filmmaking process than the director. In fact, they are usually involved in every step of the film's creation, from sketches on a napkin to the final minutes in the editing suite. A director has final say on every creative decision (Uma Thurman's great yellow jumpsuit, keep that line, hate that line, hate that actor, that robot looks better in lime green, etc.). So when you are seeing a movie, you are seeing the sum of a director's creative decisions, whether by commission or omission. Actors flit very briefly through this process. If directors are like the mothers that carry their films to full-term (and they are), actors are like the sort-of friend who stops by every couple weeks for tea.

Observe the Tomatometer. Let's take one of the most iconic directors of our time, Steven Spielberg:

Like his movies or not, Spielberg does consistently quality movies. He never dips below a 50 percent (which is bad for any Rotten Tomatoes newbies out there). He is as regular a guy as you will find in the movie business. Luckily, his high quality movies also make gobs of cash. That is why he rose to the top and why he continues to sit there today.

Of course, not every director that does a great movie is a Spielberg. Some are wildly inconsistent, soaring from a 90 percent on one film to a 20 percent their next one. Take Gladiator director Ridley Scott:

Scott's career is a case study in how certain directors can be so inconsistent. Of course, this means that when you go into a Ridley Scott film, you never know what you're going to get. But at least the man is consistently inconsistent. You understand that you are taking a risk when you walk into Robin Hood.

The last group of directors is consistently bad. They're so bad, in fact, that I won't bother creating a bar graph for them. For example, check out much maligned director Uwe Boll. Here is his recent filmography:

  • In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale - 5%
  • Postal - 8%
  • Bloodrayne - 4%
  • Alone in the Dark - 1%
  • House of the Dead - 4%
  • Blackwoods - 11%

Without a doubt, Uwe Boll's movies are crap, all of them. No inconsistency here. So even if Uwe Boll makes a movie with freaking Academy Award-winner Anthony Hopkins, you know it's going to be crap.

Trust not in actors to bring you good movies. They have nothing to do with the quality of a movie. Cover the pretty faces and names you see on movie poster and let your eyes go directly (no pun intended) to the bottom of the credits, to the name next to 'directed by'.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Brad Bird pitching in on Tron: Legacy?

Monday, July 12, 2010

The 10 Most Common Dreams inception

Friday, July 9, 2010

With Shyamalan out of it, who is the new "next Spielberg"?
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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Lost earns 12 Emmy nominations including Outstanding Drama

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

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My DVD Review: How To Train Your Dragon Takes Flight

My DVD Review: How to Train Your Dragon Takes Flight

SPOILER ALERT: I do not plan on writing anything that gives away major plot points. But should I slip, let this blurb stand as your warning.

The Fourth of July weekend was a good excuse to hit the dollar theater with my kids. With Clash of the Titans being a little too intense, we coughed up 75 cents per person (I know, eat your heart out, movie-lovers of Los Angeles and New York!) and sat down to How to Train Your Dragon, the Dreamworks animated feature that had a successful run in the spring and will probably be headed to DVD soon. After a chatty, overly busy opening, this movie comes to life in a way that few family (non-Pixar) films do nowadays.

The first act of the film is your normal kiddie movie fodder: a misfit who no one likes who also has brilliant ideas, a parental figure with whom the protagonist struggles to connect, and a magical happening that spring boards the protagonist into acts of hiding, pretending, and finally heroism and sacrifice. Honestly, I found the opening sequence in which the village is attacked by dragons to be more of the same overly self-aware dribble we typically get from Dreamworks. The protagonist/narrator scarcely has time to take a breath between delivery of hip critiques on the village's resident Vikings. Most Dreamworks films (even the great Kung Fu Panda and semi-great Monsters vs. Aliens) suffer from this mallady- they feel like a teenager who walks into their first dance and acts as loudly and stupidly as possible to get everyone's attention. Thankfully, most of these films get past this desperate-to-be-liked stage (not Shrek) and really soar. Dragon does this in spades.

Thanks to the attentive, sensitive guidance of director Chris Sanders (Lilo and Stitch), the relationship between Hiccup, the lead character, and Toothless, a downed dragon who is as powerful as he is lovable, is launched early on. This is where the film gets its lift. Hiccup's interactions in the village are mired by forced self-awareness. Every time he goes to the forest to meet Toothless, the scenes are packed with humor, drama, and finally exhilaration, as the duo takes to the skies. The flying scenes in both 3D and 2D are breathtaking, invoking the same power as the banshee scenes in Avatar. This movie makes you want to fly.

All of this hurtles to an appropriately large climax in which Hiccup and Toothless duel with a mountain-sized uber-dragon in the clouds. The dramatic tension between father and son, son and dragon, and son and friends is held until this satisfying conclusion.

My conclusion from Dragon is this: the company that produced this movie is not the same one that made Shrek or Shark Tale. Despite the tinges of Dreamwork exec meddling, this company shows the same restraint and ingenuity we saw in Kung Fu Panda. I'm guessing they are one and the same. Whatever this company is, they have every right to make their own name for they are clearly on par with Pixar.

Dragon is one of the few movies this year that truly deserves a recommendation. Once it takes off, it soars, taking the audience to feelings and places mostly forgotten in youth.
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My DVD Review: The Fantastic Mr. Fox is (Almost) Fantastic
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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My DVD Review: The Fantastic Mr. Fox is (Close to) Fantastic

So the copy of The Fantastic Mr. Fox that has been sitting in my Netflix queue for, like, four months finally arrived. I was happy to get a movie that would keep the kids' attention and in which I had at least an ounce of interest. It is indie director Wes Anderson's first outing in animation and kiddie material (in this case, an adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel of the same name). It had a host of great actors behind it, from George Clooney (as the titular character) to Bill Murray to Meryl Streep to Adrien Brody. It was a rare opportunity to satisfy my more high-brow tastes and spend quality time with the kids.

What I can tell you is that, most of all, Fox is an indie movie. Tongue-in-cheek cheekiness pervades the entirety of the film. Not that that's a bad thing. It's just a tad too subtle for youngsters and probably for most adults. In fact, the first laugh of the film came some fifteen minutes in. And it came only from me, mostly because I had just barely adjusted to Anderson's trademark deadpan humor. As the film progressed, I realized this humor defined whole film. The old-school stop-motion animation. The close-ups. The folksy soundtrack. The muted dialogue and movement. All of it seemed calculated to put all of this drab, cool casualness squarely in the audience's face.

Not that that is a bad thing.

The humor really does grow on you. The relationships between the members of the Fox family feel real and accessible. And even the heist/prison break plot generates some real thrills. What the crew accomplishes with the crude, strictly CG-free stop-motion is incredible in its own right. The no-frills approach does, however, hamper the action just as it seems ready to crescendo. Which brings me back to my original summation of the movie. It is determinedly indie. In the case of animation, an art engineered to heighten reality, the filmmakers' conscious decision to subdue this action seems forced and unnatural.

There are plenty of fantastic things about Fox. I would not have paid to see this movie in the theater, but it is worth the change blown at the Redbox or on Netflix. Watch it ready to let go of your popcorn sensibilities and just enjoy its uber-casualness for what it is.

Friday, July 2, 2010

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

How 3D will destroy movies