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I was 11 years old when Jurassic Park was released. I vividly remember
going to see it at my local theater. The place was packed; there had
been a lot of buzz about the movie, andbeing a preteen dino
enthusiast I begged my parents to take me one Saturday afternoon so I
could see what everyone was talking about. When it was over, something
profound had occurred. It was the first time I recall feeling an
overwhelming sense of wonder at what I'd witnessed. Sure, Star Wars had
blown me away as a child, and I absorbed all things Indiana Jones; but
there was something about Jurassic Park that completely enveloped me.
Much of this, I think, has to do with seeing it on the big screen. It
wasn't only that, though; it was the seamless effects, the
just-plausible- enough-to-be-believable story, and the intense action
(too intense, perhaps, for some kids my age, but I ate it up with a
spoon) that made it absolutely unforgettable. Thus my love of cinema
was cemented forevermore.
When I learned that the movie was getting the 3D treatment I groaned. The movie wasn't designed for three dimensions, and there was absolutely no way that it would make for a convincing transfer (especially when compared to films like Avatar, which were specifically tailored for the medium). I managed to resist making too much of a snap judgment and ventured out to my local theater to see the thing (with an IMAX treatment, no less) because, heyit's Jurassic freakin' Park.
Imagine my surprise when that long-lost sense of wonderment was instantly rekindled from the very first frame. When John Williams' thundering score kicked in, the outside world melted away and I was, for all intents and purposes, a kid again. But not only that; the movie lends itself nicely to 3D, with wayward tree limbs and cascading rainstorms feeling as if they were strategically placed knowing that the movie would one day be reborn in an even more tangible manner.
If this wasn't confirmation enough that the movie had seen a successful transition, all I had to do was glance at the youngsters sitting a few seats down from me. I'm guessing they'd never seen the film in any iteration, as their reactions"ooohs" and "aaahs" in equal measurewere proof positive that this a picture perfect example of the magic of cinema. A side note: I could hardly restrain a snicker as they jolted (nearly) out of their seats when the stray velociraptor popped his head out from behind the control panel. I did the same thing when I was their age, and it's a virtual certainty that the experienceand the aforementioned sense of wondermentwill stick with them for a long, long time.
So, in case I haven't been clear, go see JP 3D. If you've never seen it, then well what are you waiting for? If you've seen it at least 500 times since its original release (like me), then trust me when I say that this new iteration is well worth the money. My hope is that the move will be re-released in another 20 years so the next generation of moviegoers can see what it's like to be transported to a world where the impossible really does exist.
Looper is a movie that's been on my radar for quite some time. It's
about mafia-types who are involved in time travel for the sake of
eliminating unwanted "garbage," and it features both the formidable
Bruce Willis and Nightwing himself, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Because I
don't have quite as much free time as I used to, I had to skip this one
in theaters. When it finally trickled down the DVD/Blu-ray format
earlier this week, however, I was all over it.
This is the perfect example of a movie that quietly made its way into cinemas without having an overabundance of pomp and circumstance paving the way. I'd taken a fleeting interest in it upon reading about the movie's story line, but it wasn't until a multitude of friends took to Facebook in order to sing its unparalleled praises that I genuinely took interest. And, I have to say, though solidly crafted it is, I found the movie to be a bit of a letdown. Let me explain why.
With any time travel flick, one expects there to be plenty of mind- bending timelines that crisscross with one another (heck, they may even congeal into something indecipherable in the final moments, but the goal is to keep the audience playing the "prediction" game throughout). While Looper does this, I found it far too easy to foresee how things would play out (this was in stark contrast to 12 Monkeys, Willis' other time travel movie). To delve into the specifics of this would put me at risk of including spoilers in my review, so suffice it to say that, though well written, there was nothing Earth-shattering about our protagonists' concluding revelation. Another point of contentionand one that has been widely discussed, I believewas the decision to drown JGL in make-up so as to make him resemble a young Willis. At times, it works, but more often than not I found it nearly impossible to not envision the actor with his true face. Would it have been better to simply allow JGL to be, well, himself, and to sparingly use CGI to fill in the awkward transition moments during his character's life? I don't know. Still, I can't ignore the fact that the make-up was more of a distraction than a boon.
Actually, I think Looper's greatest strength is its focus on the development of telekinesis as a part of the human genome in the not too distant future. Some of the film's best moments come as a result of this plot point, and I wish a little more focus on this would have been the order of the day.
Please don't misunderstand me. Looper is far better than the vast majority of drivel that Hollywood allows to make it past the stages of early drafting, and it makes for perfectly good viewing for anyone who enjoys sci-fi. Just don't expect it to rewrite history.
Over the past few weeks, the world has seen the release of two very
well made sports movies. First we received The Blind Side, and now
Invictus, the latest from Clint Eastwood. The 79 year old actorwhose
best known for his roles as grizzled lawmenhas certainly proved his
ability as a filmmaker during his twilight years, and Invictus is no
exception. Thankfully, he doesn't seem to be slowing down one iota.
Invictus tells the story of Nelson Mandela (Freeman), the former President of South Africa and the man credited with unifying a country riddled with racism and turmoil in the wake of apartheid. Given Mandela's astonishing achievements, one would think the movie would be laden with dramatic flashbacks that clearly highlight the struggle he suffered as a prisoner for 27 years. Eastwood, it seems, has decided to take a different approach to telling this story.
The catalyst for this particular tale is rugby; a sport that many Americans know nothing about (admittedly, I knew little about the game going into the theater, but I did feel as if I had a better grasp of the sport as a whole when I walked out). This could easily be viewed in a negative way, as the bulk of the third act is focused solely on the rugby World Cup match that took place in 1995. Eastwood clearly revels in the brutality of the sport, as it nicely symbolizes the struggle the country was going through at that time. When teams lock arms and spar over field position, it's clear just how painful the process is, and this adds even more depth to the same issues thatunlikely as it is District 9 grappled with only a few months earlier.
Matt Damon plays Francois Pienaar, captain of the South African rugby team. This is a role that seems well-suited to Damon, whose solemn determination is exactly what Mandela needed as a face for the symbolic triumph over prejudice that he saw embodied in the competition. The acting honors, however, clearly go to Freeman. If there's anyone who was destined to play Mandela, it's himFreeman's mastery of the man's mannerisms, accent, and general presence is astounding. There aren't really any scenes that call for the emotional outbursts typically needed to garner an Oscar nod, but I have a feeling the sheer power of the movie as a whole will land Freeman a much deserved nomination.
That's the thing about Invictusat its core, it seems to be nothing more than an inspirational sports film, but there are many other issues rippling just beneath the surface. One could nitpick about the decision to film this "documentary style," with only limited (extremely limited) glimpses into Mandela's past, and I'd have to agree that it leaves a little bit of a hole in an otherwise absorbing movie. The message it sends to audiences, though, is what makes the final product so effective. And that, of course, is that athletics play a very important role in any society: they act as the ultimate unifying medium. Themes of bias and discrimination generate a lot tension, but when the final match is underway, everyone puts their differences aside (and inadvertently comes to the realization that we're all one and the same).
As far as motivational sports films go, you could do a lot worse, and the patient directorial eye of Eastwood will cause you to linger on every frame. I wouldn't say the movie is unforgettable, but it is a welcome pick-me-up that takes an optimistic stance on the nature of mankind.
The International stars Clive Owen as Louis Salinger, an Interpol agent
with a blemished service record. After a colleague is murdered in an
attempt to investigate a powerful bank's role in the sale of illegal
arms, Salinger embarks on a crusade to expose everyone involved. Naomi
Watts is in this too (as an NYC District Attorney), but mostly she
cries, looks longingly at her Blackberry, and stands in the way of
There's a lot of other stuff involved in the plot, but trying to hash it all out is a headache that's not worth the payoff. Fairly obscure characters are referenced as if we should instantly know who they are, and there's a lot of discussion regardinginternational legal policy, the indestructible banking system and how we're all reliant on it, and how the only way to implement any real change is to act outside the law. While some of this may be true (and thought-provoking in its own right), the way it's presented is numbingly boring, and it's done by way of tidbits of dialogue that aren't explored or revisited with any depth. As the plot hurls us from one exotic location to the other, we're left trying to "connect the dots," scrambling to remember who said what when and why it was important. In that sense, The International suffers a fate that many thrillers steeped in international politics/intrigue seem to fall victim toan unnecessarily convoluted plot that feels like a cliché and isn't interesting.
Aside from a prolonged shootout at the Guggenheimwhich, I might add, provides ample opportunity for us to revel in the satisfaction of watching pretentious piece after pretentious piece of modern art (in the form of glass panels with images being projected on them) get totally anniahlatedthere's not much here to warrant a rental. Some may suggest that there is a theme of redemption working as an undercurrent in The International, but who cares? There's almost no characterization, so we don't have anything invested in any of the players. And it's so tedious that by the time you've reached the startlingly blunt climax you won't want to waste a second pondering the film's messages, whether they're personal, global, or present at all.
When there are other well-made political thrillers out theresuch as State of Play, which should be making its way to DVD/Blu-ray in the very near futureI'm not sure why anyone would devote a movie night to The International. I can say, however, that the previews reminded me that I need to pick up Close Encounters of the Third Kind in hi-def ASAP.
Christopher Nolan wasn't always directing caped crusaders and
dreamworld desperadoes. Once upon a time (nine years ago to be exact)
he was at the helm of a criminally underrated crime thriller by the
name of Insomnia.
Starring Al Pacino as a L.A. detective who travels to a remote Alaskan town to help identify the killer of a teen, this is one of Pacino's most recently truly great performances (a shame, I know). Hilary Swank and Robin Williams co-star as an up-and-coming local policewoman and deranged author (respectively), and both do a superb job of keeping pace with the venerable titan of Tinseltown.
What's particularly effective here is the excellent use of setting. In Nightmute (sounds inviting, huh?), because of its far-northern location, the sun doesn't set for long periods of time. This causes Detective Dormer (Pacino) to eventually start falling apart at the seams, as the sun seems to penetrate every effort he makes to lose himself in restful slumber. This naturally ties into a specific subtext that reveals much about Dormer's personality and tainted past as a detective, and it's very refreshing to see the usual them of darkness giving way to light flipped on its head.
The problem with writing a review of Insomnia is that I can't detail too much about what unfolds (in terms of plot) without ruining some of the major twists that lend genuine weight to the story as it ambles along some truly dark and disturbing corridors. Don't let the analogy fool you, though; there's nothing slow about the pacing, and it's wholly engrossing from start to finish. The sense of impending slumber is imminent, though, and this heightens the tension in the third act when "truth" starts to become a relative term for our exhausted protagonist.
Insomnia isn't nearly as stylish as Nolan's most recent offerings, but it's certainly ably directed and its tale is spun with maximum efficiency. If, for one reason or another, this gem that originally shone almost a decade ago has eluded your radar, be sure to check it out.
As for myself, it's time to get a little shut-eye.
Iron Man 2 is not The Dark Knight. And it shouldn't be.
For my money, I can't think of a movie that better embodies the term "popcorn flick." Like its predecessor, this one is all about fun. There are rock 'em sock 'em explosions aplenty, as well as some slickly filmed fight sequences that are quite memorable (but, honestly, aren't earth-shattering when compared to any number of other uber-energetic comic book films of the last decade). Don't be fooled, though; this sequel to the 2008 hit actually builds on the mythos of Tony Stark in some welcome ways.
Front and center in this particular feature is "the past"that is, it's very much focused on Howard Stark (Tony's father) and his vision of a futuristic society that thrives on the energy derived from his Arc Reactor. There are also some other juicy tidbits we learn about Stark Sr., not the smallest of which has a little something to do with rewriting the periodic table. Also thrown into the mix is a physicist who worked with Howard back in the day. He's a disgruntled Russian who feels he's been slighted becauseamong other thingsof Tony's success. He's got a son of his own named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), and he's determined to avenge his father's legacy at all costs. Yes, the plot is driven by a stereotypical variation on the revenge story we're all familiar with, but, given the already superficial nature of the film (which, let's be honest, we all expected), it works well.
Iron Man 2, quite simply, does everything a competent sequel should. In this case, it further highlights the flaws of its protagonist, and it builds on the comedy/action pairing that made the original film so successful. It even ties in new characterssuch as Nick Fury and Natasha Romanoffwho are fairly interesting in their own right while settting itself up for a third film that will (hopefully) continue the trend.
Despite all its upward momentum, Iron Man 2 does falter from time to time. As is the case with many-a-movie, our hero solves seemingly impossible "puzzles" in record time (here, we're talking about scientific enigmas that can only be deciphered with the use of improvised proton accelerators). This directly correlates with a looming sense of dangerdeveloped by a specific plot element that I won't ruin herethat's established early in the film, and, because of this ridiculously absurd "quick fix," said surprisingly tangible sense of dread is undercut in an extraordinarily premature manner.
But, again, what did you expect? This is Iron Man 2, not the philosophical diatribe of a makeup wearing psychopath. As tired as I am of this clichéd phrase, it still applies: "It is what it is." Because of that, there should be zero complaints.
Quentin Tarantino. Love him or hate him, there's no denying the man is
an auteur who has changed modern filmmaking. His films ooze a peculiar
flair that, more often that not, is reminiscent of the "style over
substance" breed of movies from yesteryear. Tarantino has a dark sense
of humor that tends to balance out his absurdly complex (though
sometimes serious) plots, and, thankfully, he's got an eye for
characterization that tends to save his movies from oblivion.
Though I enjoyed his recent Death Proof, it was somewhat underwhelming when viewed in the context of his other goliath, game-changing offerings (though that was the whole point, I still felt there was more that could've been doneand Death Proof is one instance where I think he let his "too cool for school" dialogue get away from him). But I digress; we're here to talk about Inglourious Basterds, a movie that's had a lot of buzz surrounding it ever since it went into pre-production.
Basterds is unlike anything Tarantino has ever tackled, yet it's strikingly similar to what I consider two of his greatest filmsKill Bill (Vols. 1 & 2). It explores the familiar theme of revenge, has the same "Chapter" scene dividers, and even recycles much of the same music for its soundtrack. Some might view this as lazy filmmaking, but I think it's a sign that Tarantino is starting to mature as a director. Like all noteworthy filmmakers with certain stylistic hallmarks, he seems to have found his rhythm, as it were, and has crafted a movie that's more emotionally resonant than any of his previous offerings.
The opening scene, for example, is simultaneously understated and absorbing. It features Tarantino's trademark dialogueas do virtually all other scenesand it gives all of the players involved a chance to fully flesh out their characters. To avoid spoilers I won't go into detail, but suffice it to say that it'll have your heart thumping; it's also immediately evident that Tarantino has become a master of wringing every drop of emotion from his actors and actresses.
Then, in the very next breath, we're thrust into the realm of Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and his squad of Jewish-American soldiers known as "The Basterds." Their mission is simple: to brutally murder Nazis and spread fear throughout the Third Reich. Forget what you know about the history behind World War IIthough there is apparently a kernel of truth as to what inspired the plot, Inglourious Basterds is, on the whole, a completely fictitious endeavor. While this has upset some critics, it is, in many ways, a credit to Tarantino as a writer, as this decision causes us to remain on our toes throughout the entire 153 minute runtime (because, of course, we have absolutely no idea how the events in the film will unfold).
But I digress. Let's return to our previous topicthat regarding the violence found in Inglorious Basterds. As you'd imagine, Tarantino allows Raine and company to accomplish their assigned mission by forcing us to watch the most gruesome of occurrences (such as captured German soldiers being scalped, knifed, and beaten to death with a baseball bat). While the subject matter automatically calls for an undisclosed amount of violence, there are timesas with his other filmswhere it's obvious that Tarantino is indulging his own insatiable desire to douse the screen with blood. The question, then, is this: Is all of that gory violence a bad thing?
Essentially, Tarantino has used the backdrop of World War II to create a combination revenge flick/dark comedybut Inglourious Basterds is so much more. What makes this stand out from his other movies is the fact that it's often deeply seriousmuch more so than I would've imagined, in fact. Many critics have found the movie disrespectful because of the liberties it takes with history and its comic nature. I take some contention with this assessment. Based on the emotion present here (and the care with which its so skillfully woven into what would otherwise be a blood and guts revenge story), it's clear that a fair degree of "respect" was front and center on the director's mind as he worked on this uncharacteristically affecting piece. Really, Basterds is a sort of non-comedy that knows how to keep its very adult themes serious without being so serious that they're steeped in an inaccessible gloom that makes viewers feel cold and detached from the things happening on- screen.
My only problem with the movie has to do with the shift in tone found at the ending (I'm talking the end-end the very end). Based on the level of maturity found throughout the bulk of the movie, it felt just a little too out of placejust a little too whimsical, perhapsand it seems to undermine an especially powerful scene that appears only moments before.
On the whole, though, Inglourious Basterds is superb. It's got that certain Tarantino flair, and, if you can handle the gore, you'll see a smartly written movie that's both entertaining and emotionally gripping.
Matt Damon has proved himself to be one of the most versatile actors
working today. From a super-spy with amnesia in the Bourne trilogy to a
rookie con-man in the Ocean's films, he's constantly reinventing
himself. Teaming up once again with director Steven Soderbergh, in The
Informant! Damon takes on a role that finds him treading somewhat
familiar territory. It's clear from the beginning that he's channeling
the naivety of Linus Caldwell (his part in the continuing exploits of
one Danny Ocean), and that's a very welcome thing. Damon and Soderbergh
work well together, and the dry humor the two typically generate
pervades just about every frame of this sprawling comedy.
What's so interesting about The Informant!as is the case with any number of features based on "real life events"is just how bizarre the proceedings actually are. The plot follows Mark Whitacre, a major player with a company called ADM (they do a lot of nifty stuff with corn products). He's a biochemist who's started dabbling in the business side of things, and, after discovering what goes on behind the scenes, eventually decides to put an end to an illegal price fixing scheme.
For all his seeminglyand I emphasize "seemingly"noble intentions, Mark has a real problem with lying. As things unfold, it's clear that he's not telling the FBI everything they need to know in order to fully prosecute the executives at ADM. A multitude of dirty secrets begin to emerge as the agents work with Mark, and they eventually learn of his own involvement with embezzlements, kickbacks, etc.
This all has the makings of a first rate flick, right? I thought so too. The trouble with The Informant!, though, is that it loses most of its steam when the comedic moments start to run dry. Earlier in this review I labeled the film as "sprawling"; this may seem too extreme given its 108 minute runtime, but watching the movie is a frustrating experience because any progress it makes is almost immediately undercut by a story that begins to probe the legalities of the situation a little too thoroughly.
On top of this, it should never have been billed (or developed) as a full-fledged comedy.
That's not to say that the humor that's present doesn't work. It often does, and I give all the credit in the world to Mr. Damon for injecting what would've been an otherwise only mildly amusing character with a very peculiar brand of drollery. This, coupled with his seemingly inane observations about everything he sees, makes the character of Mark someone we want to know and learn more about. The "funnies" are really ramped up when Whitacre begins collecting video evidence that will be used in court against ADM: he's constantly describing everything he sees for the hidden microphone the FBI has strapped to him, and at one point he even nonchalantly opens his briefcase during a meetingwhere price fixing is center stageso he can adjust a malfunctioning tape recorder.
Despite this, the movie stumbles (as mentioned earlier) when it gets caught up in all of the legal red tape that comprises the real life story. This information would certainly need to be included to maintain accuracy, but, again, it begins to drag once the comedy dies down. Actually, this is almost offset by a brief glimmer of something deeper than mere greed that propels Mark. He's asked why he continually lies to everyone he encounters. His thoughts are spoken aloud, and he says simply, "I don't know." There's a moment of quiet reflection here that adds an interesting dimension to his character that didn't previously exist, but it's never mined on any deeper level. Had the screenwriters working on The Informant! decided to probe his psychological underpinnings in a little more depthmaybe in a way that more proportionally balanced out the rise and fall of the comedic moments this could've hit several notes that engage the audience on a more meaningful level.
As it stands, though, The Informant! is a mildly entertainingthough ultimately passablecomedy about a very specific set of underhanded dealings in corporate America. There's something more rewarding lurking just below the surface, but, for one reason or another, it never breaks free.
Believe it or not, some fanboys debate the superiority of Temple of
Doom as opposed to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The consensus seems to
be that, for all intents and purposes, Temple of Doom is the better
picture. Hashing out which one is "better" is certainly a tricky
proposition; after all, they contain many of the same elementsas noted
in my previous ramblingand are the two Indy films that feature non-
Biblical artifacts as MacGuffins.
Here's what I think: Temple of Doom is, in fact, a more solidly put together motion picture. On the flip side, I actually enjoy watching Kingdom of the Crystal Skull more than I do the former.
But let's focus on the movie in question. Temple of Doom is not Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's that simple. The story isn't as compelling, the romance is duller, and the adventure doesn't have the same sense of urgency that something like the Ark of the Covenant naturally generates. Though there's whip-crackin' aplenty, some of the more hammy scenes (again, this is pre-Crystal Skull) in the entire series rear their ugly faces in this second outing. For me, the worst of the worst is the "card playing" scene which involves, Indy, Willie, and Short Round. They've set up camp for the night in a jungle clearing, and while our protagonist and his sidekick are bickering over hidden cards and underhanded tactics, Willie is darting from one side of the set to the other, screaming her head off as a myriad of creatures converge on their location. It might draw a grin from the most ardent of Indy devotees, but it is, to be perfectly frank, an annoying scene.
Then there's the blood brain-washing. Dr. Jones is forced to consume some sort of black magic concoction that causes him to turn into a mindless Mol Ram follower. Amazingly, Short Round discovers that the spell can be broken if Indy is taunted with a white hot torch. Er what?
Okay, so a lot of this movie doesn't make sense, and it doesn't have one-tenth the charm of its predecessor. But it's still vastly entertaining. Oh, and did I mention there's a cameo by Dan Aykroyd?
Talk about a return to form.
After the decidedly underwhelming (when compared to Raiders, that is) Temple of Doom, Spielberg, Lucas, and Ford managed to put together one of the greatest action-adventure movies to ever see the light of day. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade got everything right: it had the perfect comedic duo in Harrison Ford and Sean Connery; the action topped just about everything that had occurred in the previous two Indy films; the narrative returned its focus to the ultimate villain (Nazis) and once again had the fate of the world resting squarely on the shoulders of the rugged archaeologist who was the embodiment of all things good. Last Crusade helped solidify the notion that stellar sequels are, in fact, possible.
Just about everyone has seen this, so allow me to focus on specifics. The score is every bit as classic as it was the first time we heard it in Raiders, and the bits designed specifically for this offering are, all-in-all, equally as memorable. The "booby traps" are spectacular (especially the "devices of lethal cunning" that Dr. Jones must navigate during the final leg of his journey); the decision to begin the film with a flashback of Indy in his youth is a stroke of genius, and River Phoenix perfectly imitates Mr. Ford's most subtle mannerisms; and, of course, there's the previously mentioned presence of none other than the original James Bond himself.
Connery is, for lack of a better word, the perfect foil to Ford. Whereas Indy is often reckless and tends to dive into dangerous situations headfirst, Henry Jones Sr. is calm, collected, and every bit the logical sage one would imagine the father of Indiana Jones to be.
If there's any spot where Last Crusade falls short of Raiders it has to be in regards to its leading woman. Don't get me wrong: Elsa is a great double-crossing she-devil. But superior to Marion Ravenwood? Negative.
Next up is Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. That's right. The fridge is about to be nuked.
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